This week we start the final book of the Torah, Devarim, taking us all the way to Simchat Torah. Devarim takes the form of Moses’ farewell speech, as he prepares to pass away and leave them to enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.
The Hebrew language is replete with word associations created by common roots. Davar means ‘word’, and is identical to the word for ‘thing’. When we speak, we turn our thoughts and ideas into words that can take on a life of their own. They become a ‘thing’ to be reckoned with and can have untold effects.
Devarim is the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha B’Av, a day when we mourn the loss of two Temples and our subsequent exile. Talmudic rabbis teach that the Second Temple was destroyed owing to the sin of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, which often expresses itself in destructive rhetoric that sows seeds of discord between family, friends and communities.
The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (who were probably father and son), was a tragic episode of needless hatred and division that spiralled out of control to the point where the Roman emperor made the decision to put an end to Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. This is one of the few pieces of Torah one is permitted to study on Tisha B’Av because the lessons of the past are vital in helping us build a brighter future.
Through realising that a word is a thing, we realise its power. May we always use our words for the good, so Tisha B’Av can be a day of celebration and tears of joy.
Jonny is educational director of Jewish Futures Trust