The Rav of Berdichev as all the Sages of the Jewish tradition have detailed at length how God’s loving-kindness covers all troubles, ruins and destructive forces with patience that humans feel as an overtime divine action and trustfulness. “Hope leads to redemption” and this intense belief is amazingly crossing throughout the history of Jewishness. Last Shabbat Devarim introduced to the memorial day of the Ninth of Av/Tisha BeAv that seems to collect and accumulate all the powers of destruction which ended up with the ruin of the two Temples and the process of recurring dispersion of the Jews, gargantuan despise and apparently useless deportations. Indeed diasporas allowed the Reign of God to reach till some remote regions of the Antiquity. It continued to accompany and witness to God when the (mostly) Gentile Christian Church spread over Europe and Persia till the limits of Japan and down to India.
Both Judaism and Christianity persist and breathe of some inescapable though diversified “absence” in terms of “tzimtzum\צימצום”, i.e. God’s eclipse, cache, sort of concealment. This Shabbat is called “Va’etchanan\ואתחנן – and I shall pray (implore, petition) You”.
The reading portion begins with a specific word used by Moses. He utters a special demand to God. He is recollecting all the actions that led from serfdom to the gates of entering the Land of Canaan/Israel. Then Moses speaks out his mind. This is an important moment because he is known for his humbleness and never asked nor begged for any personal favor. With regards to the attitude of the Israelites as the struggle he conducted against Pharaoh, Moses proved to have acted with a rare, singular spirit of equanimity and fortitude. But, now, he definitely feels that his own life must come to the end because God will not allow him to enter the land.
He thus prays, with much intensity, as to curve or metamorphose his own destiny and his deadline that might cause internal fears. He had frequented death all along the journey, but had brought Jacob’s descent out of the land of “death and idolatry”. He knows that humans are born to die but also that God truly is the Lord of the living Whose name in Hebrew clearly indicates that humankind is called to cross the barriers of dust of disappearance: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh\אהיה אשר אהיה – I am to be/become the whole One Who I will perpetually become”. And still, the move implies to depart and accept to be a defunct servant and leader, i.e. leave his service (Latin: officium, task, duty) and give up his body and soul to the Life-giving Lord. As if the certitude that there is a world-to-come and a resurrection from the dead could seemingly resemble to some place of concealment that indeed remains invisible.
“VaEtchanan\ואתחנן” belongs to the words used for depicting the posture of the faithful in the Temple during the offerings, a bow\חנן= to show loving-kindness”. Moses dedicated his life to the true emunah/faith and worship, thus prescribing the mitzvot to donning the tefillin/phylacteries and instructing how to build up the Mishkan/Tabernacle. “Tachanun\תחנון – supplication” later became the fervent petition pronounced every morning at Shaharit / Morning-dawn prayer and also Minchah-Arbit/ Dusk,Evening prayer, except on holidays and newness events (New Moon). It is more extensive on Mondays and Thursdays after the 18 Benedictions Amidah. These personal petitions seem to date back to the Temple Service and maybe earlier in the Tent of the Meeting.
It is a “nefillat apayim\נפילת אפים – falling on the face (nostrils) without prostration” to avoid any confusion with pagan rites, but it was substituted by reclining on the left and the right side (Megillah 23a; Avoda Zara 4,1). Tachanun became a sort of confession of sins and a plea for repentance and salvation (Daniel 9:3; Ezra 9:6; Nehemiah 1:4, cf. the reconstruction of the Temple). “Chanan\חנן = to cover, caress, grace, favor” as in “You graciously endow man with knowledge (Amidah: “chonen dat”, Shabbat 104a).
It also means “to come to rest” (Berachot 30b) as in the Birkat Kohanim\ברכת כהנים / priestly blessing “vayichuneka\ויחנך = and cover you with His grace” (Num. 6:22). The blessing was peacefully used by Saint Francis of Assisi who used to make the sign of the “Tau-tav\ ת, last Hebrew letter on the forehead of his brethren. God told Moses to say a much peculiar detail to the Israelites: “You shall not prolong your days in the Land, but shall utterly be destroyed (“hishamed tishamedun\השמד תשמדון”). And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations and you shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you” (Deut. 4:26-27).
Interestingly, tachanun introduces in the Jewish prayer the recitation of the Shema Israel-שמע ישראל/Hear Israel (Davarim 6:4) which is one of the major element of the weekly Torah portion. As regards the Ten Commandments that progressively were removed from the Jewish prayer in order to make a distinction with the Christian customs, the Mishney Torah introduces special elements to allow the Israelites to enhance their prayer after the sin of the golden calf.
The original Hebrew version of the repetition of the Ten Divrot/Paroles shows that 17 letters have been added to the text usually cited from Exodus 20. The tradition considers that it shows how “goodly” God is, i.e. “t(9)-o(6)-v(2)”. This also insinuates that, in the Mishney Torah or “repetition of the Torah” i.e. “Deutero-Nome”, God is willing to repair or give full capacities to the Israelites to repair their errors and track back to the first days of the creation, when He stated that the work of creation was “tov meod\טוב מאוד – very good “ (Gen. 1:31). Newness and constant renewal is the basic motto that keeps humans alert with regard to the blessing “mechadesh maasey vereshit\מחדש מעשי בראשית – (The Lord Who) permanently renews and makes new the acts of creation”.
Still how come that Moses presents to God such a petition? His brother Aaron died before and was also told that he could not enter the Land. Well, Aaron did not show any spirit of patience and immediately forgot about God when he saw that the Israelites were in need to marinate with an old-fashioned pagan golden calf worshiping flava. He was too much “outdoors” in this wilderness. But Moses is the model of true and unique humbleness for Judaism and it should also remain for the Christians.
In the name of God, Moses told the Israelites that few of them would reside in the Land and not for a long period of time. You bet! He even warns them about their future in the country, i.e. that they will be destroyed and scattered. What a great sign of hope and consolation! Let’s simply draw a parallel with Jesus of Nazareth.
Paul of Tarsus wrote about him: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (i.e. abomination)” (Philippians 2:8). This does correspond with the weekly portion that deals with “shmiyah\שמיה = obedience”; capacity to hear and act together and respecting God’s mitzvot).
Nonetheless, there is an real connection between the repetition of the Ten Divrot/Paroles and the sincere desire expressed by the Israelites to sanctify everything linked to the Land. Resting on Shabbat is matched with the exodus: “Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Shabbat day” (Deuteronome 5:15). And thus comes the mitzvah to “honor your father and mother… that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you, in the land in which the Lord your God gives you” (Deut. 5:16). It is thus evident that the following commandment deals with slaying: “lo tirtzeach\לא תרצח – you shall not kill, remove life from any human being” (Deut. 5:16).
Here is the first point on the Shabbat after Tisha BeAv: hundreds and hundreds of years after Moses approached God with his personal petition to enter the Land of Canaan, God, in repeating with tenderness the code of the Ten Paroles obliges the Israelites to take into account the fact that He will never forget while humans may lose their memory and hide their misdeeds into some cache.
The Temple was the living House of God and the Romans razed it defiling the sanctity of the place and scattering the Jews. This was simply foretold to Moses as a possible consequence of the Israelites’ lack of respect for the Mitzvot. It is still pending at the present. Indeed, there is the Western Wall but the tachanun/supplication insists on the possible rise of the Living Beyt. “May it be Your Will, Lord… to have mercy on us, forgive all our sins, atone all our iniquities… that the Beyt HaMikdash (House of Sanctity) be rebuilt speedily and in our days, that we may offer before You the burnt-offering… as You have prescribed in Your Torah through Moses Your servant” (Shaharit/Morning prayer tahanun).
Can we only imagine God playing some role game and “Boo-yaa!”, Jews are damned for ever because others thought they survived and continue to outlive for the sake of some spiritual archaeology? Everything is prophetically on the move with God, gyrating and twirling ahead. Years ago, I explained to some Christian Church seminarists that we might one day– maybe not in our generation but this is not so important – really see the rebuilding of the Temple, not because of any Hollywood-like script and the salvation of some believers or for some political views.
It is clear in this sidra / portion that Jewish presence in the Land maybe endure or be stopped for the described compliance with the Mitzvot and certainly not because of flamboyant scenario mixing power and might. And they were so young and lacking experience that their got scared: what would happen to them?! The problem was not about the Ulam HaGoyim/Hall of the Nations, but they were taught they were to become, as priests, the first and definite leaders in the name of God. My answer was awkward because of their total ignorance of Jewishness, not only Judaism. When Christian clergy and laity are taught that there is a strong link between Judaism and Christianity, they cannot help but think that Judaism is as “submitted” to the “newnesss of the Law of Jesus Christ and the subsequent tradition of the Church and the Fathers”. And they could not feel concerned by the question that is parallel to Moses’ petition: The Holy Sepulcher is the Empty Tomb, the Anastasis (place of Resurrection). Either Jesus is risen, but nobody can prove it, or others cannot believe that to the full.
It belongs to the intimate conviction of our souls. Jesus was condemned by the Jewish High Priest Kaipha and rejected by his first apostle Kaipha /Simon-Peter. (Matthew 26:74; Luke 22:61; John 18:27). He was then crucified by the pagan nations symbolized by the Romans.
God reproaches to Moses one act that He Himself subsequently accepted by blessing His servant: Moses had killed an Egyptian. This is the point. No man, no way is ever entitled to slay or take the life from any other human being. But then, let’s have a real look at us today. We love to mirror ourselves. But we are damned killers and still blessed survivors. This midrash from the time of the Amora’im shows that any human life, the life of any enemy can be compared to destroying the Temple and, in comparison, for the Christians, as nailing Jesus to the cross. We see how often, definitely daily, we slander, calumniate, attack in words people we know or even never met with.
As we advance without the House of Jerusalem, Christianity faces the time of the Empty Tomb.Still, we have the capacity to comfort as Prophet Isaiah wrote in his vision (40,1). The power of might is that God continues to trust in us. This is real breaking news: is it audible that He trusts in us and not that we trust in Him firstly. Are humans really like on swoll scrubs or, yes, hope is graven in our beings and we shall never wreck again, God forbid.
Consolation proceeds from our will or supposed tendency to show humanness. But humanness often turns to a merchandizing affair, a professional deal that can be exploit with the logo of “faith”. It is stunning how this allows to select individuals or groups and exclude others whilst defending personal priorities in the Name of a “built-up” “God”. It can use the Mysteries or Sacraments of the Church jurisdiction. The real petition is not when we cry out because we consider that we are strong or right. The petition is submitted to a self-abandonement. This can hardly be a goal, a human goal. It is the goal we only can achieve if our own body and soul have been transfigurated beyond what we ever can fathom. It is a flash in a life-time. Just a flash and a call: suddenly a change shows and may, only may enlighten us.