Parshat Devarim- Friday, August 1, 2014 - 5 Av 5774

Torah Reading: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22)  
Haftorah: Haftorah Isaiah 1:1 - 27                  
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 3 
Shabbat Candle Lighting: 7:53 PM 
Shabbat ends: 8:57 PM 

Conclusion Jumping
One of the tragic events recounted by Moses in this week’s Parshah of Devarim is the episode of the spies. He tells of how, almost four decades earlier, he had sent scouts to Israel and how they returned with the most negative report about the Land, triggering a mass rebellion among the Jewish people. The Parshah describes the outcry of the Jewish people after they decided they could not possibly conquer their foes in the Land of Israel: "Why are we going up? Our brothers have made our heart melt saying: 'The people (in Canaan) are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to the heavens.'" (Devarim 1:28)
The Talmud, cited by Rashi, comments on their characterization of the cities as being fortified "up to the heavens" as an exaggeration. But why would the Torah choose to use an exaggeration? Isn't the Torah G‑d's wisdom? Why would the Torah employ hyperbole when it is always insistent on being absolutely precise?
Panim Yafot (a Chassidic commentary by Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, colleague of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad) explains that by saying that the cities reached the heavens, the Torah wishes to convey a theological message. When the Jews said "heavens" they didn't mean the physical sky but rather the spiritual realm. They argued that the fortified cities of the Canaanites derived their power from "the heavens," meaning from G‑d Himself. Since it was G‑d that bestowed strength to the Canaanites and their cities, how would it be possible for the Jewish people to conquer them? The Israelites thought that once G‑d decided to give someone power, even He Himself would be incapable of removing that power from them.
The error of this thinking stemmed from comparing G‑d's bestowing of power to that of a human being. Once a person invests power in a something, he cannot retract it. For example, once a person shoots an arrow and it leaves his bow, he cannot retrieve it. Similarly, the Jews in the desert reasoned, once G‑d invested power in the Canaanites, He could not recall it. 
Thus, by stating that the cities ascended to the heavens, the Israelites were making a powerful assertion. They were claiming that the people of Canaan were invested with Divine strength that could not be vanquished.
Of course, one cannot compare G‑d's efforts to human endeavor. Chassidic thought explains that G‑d constantly imbues everything in creation with life. Unlike the arrow that can leave the jurisdiction of the archer, nothing in creation ever exists independently of G‑d. Were G‑d even to temporarily remove His life force from a certain object, it would cease to exist. Thus, while it is true that G‑d blessed the Canaanites with intense power, He could have removed that power from them at any moment. Indeed, this is exactly what happened when Joshua ultimately conquered the Land of Israel, with miraculous ease.
This then is what our sages had in mind when they declared that the description of the cities as reaching the heavens was an exaggeration. An exaggeration, as opposed to an outright lie, is when one takes something that is essentially true and stretches it to an incorrect conclusion. The fisherman who caught the fish that was "this big," wasn't entirely lying - he had indeed caught a fish. It wasn't however quite "that big." To recognize that the Canaanites power stemmed from G‑d was indeed true. However, to think that the Canaanites were absolutely invincible because of that G‑dly power was an exaggeration - it was a stretch to an incorrect conclusion. Nothing is beyond G‑d's power, even the removal of the strength that he Himself furnished.
In our own lives, we sometimes meet challenges that seem insurmountable. The lesson of our Parshah is that even as we realize that the roadblocks in our life are in fact G‑d given, we must not jump to the conclusion that they are impassable. Just as G‑d has created obstacles in our life, He has given us the ability to overcome them.
Of all of the impediments that G‑d has given us, the existence of exile, which began with the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av (which we will be observing this Sunday), is by far the most formidable and daunting one. Yet, to yield too much power to the forces of exile, to ascribe to them G‑dly license and therefore invincibility, is an exaggeration. 
To be sure, as with every obstacle, exile was initiated by G‑d. But, simultaneously, G‑d also gives us the means through which we can surmount those obstacles. In this spirit, may we celebrate this coming Tisha B'Av, not as a commemoration of destruction, but as the first Holiday celebrating the arrival of Moshiach.   
Moshiach Matters
When the well known halachic authority, Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, wrote his work on the Three Weeks, called Nit’ei Gavriel, he showed a copy to the Rebbe and asked for his blessing on it. The Rebbe blessed him and noted that the most important Halachah of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days is the obligation to not only nullify (make Batel) this mourning period, but to actually convert these days into days of joy and celebration - through bringing Moshiach to rebuild the Third Temple. (Likutei Sichot vol. 33, p. 297)  
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