Parashas Devarim

The Midrash in Eichah Rabbah Pesichasa 11 contrasts a verse in this week’s parashah with a verse in Megillas Eichah:
Had you merited, you would have encountered the verse: “And as you saw in the wilderness how Hashem your God carried you like a man carries his son, the whole way (kol ha-derech) that you traveled, until you came to this place” (Devarim 1:31). Now that you have not merited, you encounter the verse: “Not so with you, all you passers–by (ovrei derech) – [look and see whether there is suffering like the suffering that has befallen me] (Eichah 1:12).
The Maggid links this Midrash with a famous episode recorded in the Gemara (Kesuvos 66b). Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai saw the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion, a man who had been famous for his enormous wealth, gathering barley kernels from the excrement of the animals of lowly nomads. Upon witnessing this pitiful scene of abject poverty he declared: “Fortunate are you, O Israel! When you do Hashem’s will, no nation can have power over you. But when you do not do Hashem’s will, you are handed over to a lowly people – and not just to a lowly people, but to the animals of a lowly people.”
The Maggid cites a discussion of this Gemara in the Torah commentary Akeidas Yitzchak, by Rabbi Yitzchak Arama of Spain (1420-1494). Akeidas Yitzchak, Gate 84, points out that, in general, the more sophisticated a creation is, the more fragile it is. Thus, a plant is more fragile than a rock, a complex apparatus is more fragile than a simple one, and so on. When a highly sophisticated creation is marred, it becomes completely ruined. Now, the Jewish People, when they are in their proper state, represent the ultimate in sophistication. Hence, when they are marred, they suffer the ultimate in bad fortune, and become the world’s most degraded nation. Not only do the leading nations wield power over them, but also the lowliest of nations.
Thus, the outstanding prominence of the Jewish People has two facets. When Hashem exalts them, their majesty reaches heavenly heights. On the other hand, when He afflicts them,  their afflictions are without parallel anywhere in the world. These two facets have been manifested over the course of Jewish history. While we were in our land, we attained a level of majesty and splendor that was incalculably sublime and beyond all comparison. In the same way, in our current exile we suffer to an incalculably great extreme.
The Midrash reflects this pattern. In the days of the wilderness, Hashem showed us special favor: He carried us like a man carries his son the whole way that we traveled. Had we merited, we would have continued to receive such favor, and taken pride in our distinctive greatness. But now that we have not merited, the only distinction we can claim is our uniquely tragic level of degradation: “Look and see whether there is suffering like the suffering that has befallen me.” Indeed, no people has suffered as we have.
Let us strive to regain our glory. Let us plead: “Return us to You, Hashem, and we shall return. Renew our days as of old.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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