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 The book of Dvarim begins on a somber note. In fact the entire book, for most of its contents and statements, is a very sobering volume. Our teacher and leader Moshe reviews for us his career and the events of his leadership of Israel over the past tumultuous forty years. He spares neither himself nor the people of Israel in his assessment of the mistakes and misfortunes that occurred over that period of time. Only at the very end of this volume with soaring poetry and exalted prose does Moshe predict the eventual happy ending to the story of Jewish and general human civilization.

But it seems apparent from the entire tenor and tone of the book that this essential success and happiness will be bought at great cost and enduring painful memories. The realistic appraisal given by Moshe of the failings of the Jewish people are difficult to absorb and appreciate. After all, this was in a certain sense the greatest generation of Jews ever – the generation that left Egypt, stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah and thereby fashioned the Jewish people for all time.
If they were so weak and failed to reach their goals then what shall we, certainly a lesser generation in spirit and holiness, expect to accomplish. But that certainly is not the message that Moshe wished to transmit to us. Apathy, giving up on goals and on our ability to achieve them, is contrary to all basic Jewish values and Torah teachings. The words of Moshe are meant to be will guideposts and warnings, pointing out the pitfalls of the past so that the goals of the present and the future can be achieved and realized.
The problems and failings discussed by Moshe and even more explicitly detailed by Isaiah in the prophetic reading of this week are all current events in our society and milieu. Before they can be dealt with, improved upon or even eliminated, they must first be recognized and admitted to exist. Much of the Jewish world, today, as in the past, indulges in the fantasy of denial.
Rather than dealing with problems, accepting challenges, recognizing the changing nature of societies, we prefer to ignore these realities and pretend that all is well. If the prophet Isaiah were to stand before us today, he perhaps would not change his message or temper his words much in viewing our world.
One feels the frustration of the prophet at having his words ignored and his message unrecognized. It is the unrealistic view of the people and of its leaders’ will, the inability to recognize the changed nature of the problems that face the Jewish society then and now that most disheartened the prophet.
Like Moshe before him, Isaiah paints for us a realistic picture of the failings of Jewish society in the hope that recognizing the problem will help, eventually, lead it to its solution and elimination. The destruction of the Temples and the ensuing troubles that marked Jewish history are usually attributed to the will of God. That certainly is true but that supposes that as in all matters of human life, it is human choice and behavior to which the will of God, so to speak, reacts.
An honest appraisal of the true nature of our society and its problems will help us rise from the sadness of these days and allow us to reach the rosy future that will inevitably come.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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