Parashat Devarim opens the last of the five books of the Torah. The book of Devarim (words), also known as “Mishneh Torah”, is a summary of everything that happened to the people of Israel since the Exodus. These words are the last spoken by Moses to the people of Israel between The New Moon of Shevat until the 7th of Adar, the day of his passing (Five weeks later).
This week we are within the time frame of “Bein HaMeitsarim” prior to the fast of Tish’a Be’Av (The 9th of Av – Leo), and story of Devarim shares with us a secret to help us cope with pain and mourning.
As with the previous parasha, Masei, there is no commentary in the Zohar for parashat Devarim, implying that we are obscured; amid the days of “Bein HaMeitsarim, the days of judgment, as extensive is the veil so is the greatness of the hidden light.
The wise Kabbalists have understood for quite some time that our grasp of reality did not benefit the Jewish nation in the 2000 years of repeated persecution, wretchedness and victimization. They knew that something, apparently, is wrong in the way we apprehend reality and not in the way reality happens to us. The “uncertainty principle” in contemporary terminology states that the moment we measure reality we effect a change, so has Kabbalistic wisdom been instructing us to perceive in each story things not previously observed. Everything is contingent upon which story we’re telling ourselves.
Moses relates to the Israelites the story of the exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wanderings in the wilderness. Why does he need to tell this? Didn’t we already know the story? However, Moses is teaching us how to tell a story.
The parasha begins with “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the River Jordan in the desert in the wilderness, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Laban, and Hatseirot, and Di-Zahav. It is an eleven day journey from Horev the way through Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea…” Interpreters have had difficulty with this; why did Moses have to go into such lengthy detail? The Ari explains that when the world was created, we were created perfectly whole, in the image of The Creator, and like Him we also wanted to create and utter “Let there be light”. For this purpose there had to be created for us a place of darkness from which we can create light. The process that brought the darkness, the challenge, the possibility of failure, the stakes of victory, is essentially the story told in this parasha.
“An eleven day journey from Horev the way through Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea”, represent the eleven vessels that broke and dispersed, and whose sparks we are seeking in the course of our lives, that are the way, “through Mount Seir”, through which we must pass, as the journeys the Torah recounts in last week’s parasha, parashat Masei.
We constantly seek clarification in search of the lost sparks, whether in the pursuit of a mate, career, children, community, home, etc. For the search to succeed we had to destroy (“Le’Hahariv, from the word “Horev”) the universe for there to be enough darkness in order to find among the ruins that which we lost, and to feel that we have created wholeness from within the destruction. “Through Mount Seir” – in Kabbalistic wisdom, “Seir” are the negative forces that accompany us and challenge us throughout our search – the forces of despair and idleness, lack of faith, confusion, forgetting and dulling of the senses, to “Kadesh”, arriving at a place of holiness, hope, creation and joy of life. The compelling drive in the story of parashat Devarim, from Horev to Kadesh, in Barnea – i.e., while the Israelites were in a state of “Bar Ne’a” (Noa – On the go), wandering in exile until reaching the end of their quest, is to expedite collecting the sparks and thereby better our lives.
Parashat Devarim teaches us that the manner in which we tell ourselves our life story, so will our fate unfold. It is always preferable to tell the story from a positive perspective, in terms of “every obstacle happens for a good outcome” or “this too is for the good”. If we are tired of the way our life is going, parashat Devarim grants us the ability at this time to tell the story differently.