Devarim~ From Tisha B'Av to Sukkot: a journey

There is a tradition that our journey, according to Rabbi Alan Lew, begins today. Today is the 9th of Av, the day commemorating the destruction of both Temples, and because it is Shabbat we postpone the observances of the 9th of Av for one day.

Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Tishah Beav. On this Shabbat, we read the first prophecy of Isaiah as our haftarah.

In the first chapter, verse 16 and 17 are the only two mitzvot of this portion. I would like you to read them, and see if you can connect them with the haftarah.

The haftarah describes the destruction of Jerusalem, “The faithful city that was filled with justice, where righteousness dwelt but now murderers…”

How could this change happen? How could the city that was so faithful and filled with justice become so corrupt? Similarly, the journey we begin today is asking: how did we get here?
The journey begins today

(יב) אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טָרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַֽשַּׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם׃

(12) How can I alone carry your difficulty, and your burden, and your bickering?!

How did we get here? Isaiah and Jeremiah ask

(כא) אֵיכָה֙ הָיְתָ֣ה לְזוֹנָ֔ה קִרְיָ֖ה נֶאֱמָנָ֑ה מְלֵאֲתִ֣י מִשְׁפָּ֗ט צֶ֛דֶק יָלִ֥ין בָּ֖הּ וְעַתָּ֥ה מְרַצְּחִֽים׃

(21) How has she become a prostitute, the faithful city that was filled with justice? Righteousness dwelt in her — but now murderers.

(א) אֵיכָ֣ה ׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙ רַבָּ֣תִי עָ֔ם הָיְתָ֖ה כְּאַלְמָנָ֑ה רַּבָּ֣תִי בַגּוֹיִ֗ם שָׂרָ֙תִי֙ בַּמְּדִינ֔וֹת הָיְתָ֖ה לָמַֽס׃ (ס)

(1) How lonely sits the city, she that was great with people! She that was great among nations is now like a widow; the princess among states is now a captive.

איכה ישבה שלשה נתנבאו בלשון "איכה": משה, ישעיה וירמיה. משה אמר: (דברים א) איכה אשא לבדי וגו'. ישעיה אמר: (ישעיה א') איכה היתה לזונה. ירמיה אמר: איכה ישבה בדד. אמר רבי לוי: משל למטרונה שהיו לה שלושה שושבינין, אחד ראה אותה בשלותה, ואחד ראה אותה בפחזותה, ואחד ראה אותה בנוולה. כך משה ראה את ישראל בכבודם ושלותם, ואמר: איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם. ישעיה ראה אותם בפחזותם, ואמר: איכה היתה לזונה. ירמיה ראה אותם בנוולם, ואמר: איכה ישבה.

"How (eichah) does she dwell..." (Lamentations 1:1): There are three who prophesied with the language of "eichah": Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Moses said, (Deuteronomy 1:12), "How (eichah) can I carry alone...". Isaiah said, (Isaiah 1:21) "How (eichah) she has become a prostitute..." Jeremiah said, (Lamentations 1:1) "How (eichah) lonely she sits..." Said Rabbi Levi: It is compared to a noble woman who had three friends. One saw her in her negligence, one saw her in her recklessness, and one saw her in her degenerateness. So did Moses see Israel in their honor, and in their negligence, and he said, "How will I carry their burden alone?" Isaiah saw them in their recklessnes, and he said "How she has become a prostitute..." Jeremiah saw them in their degenerateness, and he said, "How does she dwell..."

One of the answers of this midrash is that we feel too secure, we become negligent, we become reckless and then fall completely out of the wagon. Because the process is incremental, it is getting used to small wrongdoings and than larger. And larger. Until all is destroyed.

Returning/Teshuvah at the end of the destruction of structures
(כא) הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ ה' ׀ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ ונשוב [וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה] חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם׃

(21) Turn us to You, Ad-nai, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.

The next month, Elul אלול is about reconnecting through teshuvah

(ג) אֲנִ֤י לְדוֹדִי֙ וְדוֹדִ֣י לִ֔י הָרֹעֶ֖ה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּֽים׃ (ס)

(3) I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine, he browses among the lilies.’

The Psalm of Elul is not about asking for stuff, but for meaningful connection with the Transcendent
(ד) אַחַ֤ת ׀ שָׁאַ֣לְתִּי מֵֽאֵת־ה' אוֹתָ֪הּ אֲבַ֫קֵּ֥שׁ שִׁבְתִּ֣י בְּבֵית־ה' כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיַּ֑י לַחֲז֥וֹת בְּנֹֽעַם־ה' וּלְבַקֵּ֥ר בְּהֵיכָלֽוֹ׃

(4) One thing have I asked of Ad-nai, that will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Ad-nai all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the Ad-nai and to visit in His temple.

A very familiar prayer

(ה) וַיֵּ֤רֶד ה' בֶּֽעָנָ֔ן וַיִּתְיַצֵּ֥ב עִמּ֖וֹ שָׁ֑ם וַיִּקְרָ֥א בְשֵׁ֖ם ה' (ו) וַיַּעֲבֹ֨ר ה' ׀ עַל־פָּנָיו֮ וַיִּקְרָא֒ ה' ׀ ה' אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת ׀ (ז) נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים נֹשֵׂ֥א עָוֺ֛ן וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד ׀ עֲוֺ֣ן אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ וְעַל־בְּנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים׃

(5) And Ad-nai descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Ad-nai 6) And Ad-nai passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘Ad-nai, Ad-nai, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; (7) keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and guilt, which is by no means cleared; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’

The prophet of Yom Kippur and teshuvah

(א) וַיֵּ֥רַע אֶל־יוֹנָ֖ה רָעָ֣ה גְדוֹלָ֑ה וַיִּ֖חַר לֽוֹ׃ (ב) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֨ל אֶל־ה' וַיֹּאמַ֗ר אָנָּ֤ה ה' הֲלוֹא־זֶ֣ה דְבָרִ֗י עַד־הֱיוֹתִי֙ עַל־אַדְמָתִ֔י עַל־כֵּ֥ן קִדַּ֖מְתִּי לִבְרֹ֣חַ תַּרְשִׁ֑ישָׁה כִּ֣י יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּ֤י אַתָּה֙ אֵֽל־חַנּ֣וּן וְרַח֔וּם אֶ֤רֶךְ אַפַּ֙יִם֙ וְרַב־חֶ֔סֶד וְנִחָ֖ם עַל־הָרָעָֽה׃ (ג) וְעַתָּ֣ה ה' קַח־נָ֥א אֶת־נַפְשִׁ֖י מִמֶּ֑נִּי כִּ֛י ט֥וֹב מוֹתִ֖י מֵחַיָּֽי׃ (ס) (ד) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה' הַהֵיטֵ֖ב חָ֥רָה לָֽךְ׃ (ה) וַיֵּצֵ֤א יוֹנָה֙ מִן־הָעִ֔יר וַיֵּ֖שֶׁב מִקֶּ֣דֶם לָעִ֑יר וַיַּעַשׂ֩ ל֨וֹ שָׁ֜ם סֻכָּ֗ה וַיֵּ֤שֶׁב תַּחְתֶּ֙יהָ֙ בַּצֵּ֔ל עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִרְאֶ֔ה מַה־יִּהְיֶ֖ה בָּעִֽיר׃

(1) But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (2) And he prayed to Ad-nai, and said: ‘I prayed to You, O Ad-nai; was not this my saying, when I was yet in mine own country? Therefore I fled beforehand to Tarshish; for I knew that You are a gracious God, and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and that You repent of doing evil. (3) Therefore now, O Ad-nai, take, I beg You, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ (4) And Ad-nai said: ‘Are you this greatly angry?’ (5) Then Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.

Rabbi Alan Lew, z''l, from This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared

...We sit flush with the world, in a ‘house’ that calls attention to the fact that it gives us no shelter. It is not really a house. It is the interrupted idea of a house, a parody of a house…So it is that the sukkah, with its broken lines, its open roof, its walls that don’t quite surround us, calls the idea of the house to mind more forcefully than a house itself might do.

And it exposes the idea of a house as an illusion. The idea of a house is that it gives us security, shelter, haven from the storm. But no house can really offer us this. No building of wood and stone can ever afford us protection from the disorder that is always lurking all around us. No shell we put between us an the world can ever really keep us secure from it. And we know this. We never really believed this illusion. That’s why we never felt truly secure in it. The Talmud offers a parable:

"It is the usual way of human beings to feel secure and unafraid while under the shelter of their own roofs. On emerging from their homes, their sense of security is diminished and they begin to feel fear. The Jewish People, however, is different. While in their homes the whole year, they are apprehensive. But when Sukkot comes and they leave their homes and come under the shadow of the sukkah, their hearts are full of trust, faith and joy, for now they are protected, not by the protection of their roofs, but by the shadow of their faith and trust in God.

The matter may be compared to a person who locks himself up at home for fear of robbers. Regardless of how many locks he uses and how strong these locks may be, he remains afraid lest the locks be broken. Once he hears the voice of the King approaching and calling, “Emerge from your chamber and join me,” he is no longer afraid. He immediately opens his doors and emerges joyously to join the King, for wherever the King is, no harm can come to him. He then goes wherever the King leads him, and trust and joy never depart from him."

In the sukkah, a house that is open to the world, a house that freely acknowledges that it cannot be the basis of our security, we let go of this need. The illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing its dance, one step after another.

At Simchat Torah, the very last day of the HIgh Holidays, the journey ends

(ט) וַיִּקְרָ֛א ה' אֱלֹקִ֖ים אֶל־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹ אַיֶּֽכָּה׃

(9) And Ad-nai God called to the man, and said to him: ‘Where/how are you?’

But we are still here, at the beginning of the journey Temple destruction first cause: Baseless/wanton hatred; free-for-all hatred; equal opportunity hatred
אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע"ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים
However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.
Among the many other causes of destruction: sticking to the letter of the law
(יט) עַתָּ֞ה שְׁמַ֤ע בְּקֹלִי֙ אִיעָ֣צְךָ֔ וִיהִ֥י אֱלֹקִ֖ים עִמָּ֑ךְ הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹקִ֔ים וְהֵבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָאֱלֹקִֽים׃ (כ) וְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַעֲשֽׂוּן׃

(19) Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, (20) and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow.

אשר יעשון זו לפנים משורת הדין דאמר ר' יוחנן לא חרבה ירושלים אלא על שדנו בה דין תורה אלא דיני דמגיזתא לדיינו אלא אימא שהעמידו דיניהם על דין תורה ולא עבדו לפנים משורת הדין:

It was taught in the baraita: “That they must perform”; that is referring to acting beyond the letter of the law, as Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Jerusalem was destroyed only for the fact that they adjudicated cases on the basis of Torah law in the city. The Gemara asks: Rather, what else should they have done? Should they rather have adjudicated cases on the basis of arbitrary decisions [demagizeta]? Rather, say: That they established their rulings on the basis of Torah law and did not go beyond the letter of the law.

מאי מצלי אמר רב זוטרא בר טוביה אמר רב יה"ר מלפני שיכבשו רחמי את כעסי ויגולו רחמי על מדותי ואתנהג עם בני במדת רחמים ואכנס להם לפנים משורת הדין.

The Gemara asks: What does God pray? To whom does God pray? Rav Zutra bar Tovia said that Rav said:
God says: May it be My will that My mercy will overcome My anger towards Israel for their transgressions, and may My mercy prevail over My other attributes through which Israel is punished, and may I conduct myself toward My children, Israel, with the attribute of mercy, and may I enter before them beyond the letter of the law.

While the Temple was standing...
שמעון הצדיק היה משירי כנסת הגדולה.הוא היה אומר, על שלשה דברים העולם עומד, על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים.

Shimon the Tzadik was of the last of the Great Assembly. He has said, On three things the world stands– On the Torah, and on the Avodah, and on Deeds of Loving kindess (gemilut chasadim).

The word Chessed means to go beyond established boundaries. Hence a Chassid is one who goes beyond the letter of the law - not necessarily dressed in black and white, with payes. Why is the word Chesed the one that points to acts of kindness? Why is it so fundamental for the standing of the world? Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld explained: A person is by nature egocentric, only concerned with his own personal needs and desires. Only when one can go beyond the boundaries of his self-ccenteredness is he ready to do Chessed.
The term Gmilut Chasadim literally means the "repaying of a favor." Even when one does a favor for someone s/he never met before, s/he is repaying the favors that God has done for her/him. There is really no way to pay God back; the only thing we can do is attempt to make it up to God by helping his children or creatures.
After the Temple was gone...

(יח) רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אוֹמֵר, עַל שְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים הָעוֹלָם עוֹמֵד, עַל הַדִּין וְעַל הָאֱמֶת וְעַל הַשָּׁלוֹם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (זכריה ח) אֱמֶת וּמִשְׁפַּט שָׁלוֹם שִׁפְטוּ בְּשַׁעֲרֵיכֶם:

(18) Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, "On three things the world stands: on judgment, on truth and on peace, as it is said (Zachariah 8:16), 'render true and peaceful justice in your gates .'"

Finding the balance between justice and peace; justice and truth; peace and truth - that is fundamental to our standing in the world; and for the world standing, existing, as a possibility. Torah, Temple worship and deeds of loving kindness were not enough, destruction came due to baseless hatred and religious intolerance, in the form of blind piety; a piety that does not see the other's sufferings, judges who only adjudicate based on the letter, and not the spirit, who can turn the words of the Holy One of Blessing into the cruelty of their own hearts.

Parashat Devarim has only two mitzvot
(טז) וָאֲצַוֶּה֙ אֶת־שֹׁ֣פְטֵיכֶ֔ם בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹ֑ר שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙ וּשְׁפַטְתֶּ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּֽין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרֽוֹ׃ (יז) לֹֽא־תַכִּ֨ירוּ פָנִ֜ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֗ט כַּקָּטֹ֤ן כַּגָּדֹל֙ תִּשְׁמָע֔וּן לֹ֤א תָג֙וּרוּ֙ מִפְּנֵי־אִ֔ישׁ כִּ֥י הַמִּשְׁפָּ֖ט לֵאלֹקִ֣ים ה֑וּא וְהַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִקְשֶׁ֣ה מִכֶּ֔ם תַּקְרִב֥וּן אֵלַ֖י וּשְׁמַעְתִּֽיו׃

(16) I charged your magistrates at that time as follows, “Hear out your fellow men, and judge justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. (17) You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s. And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it.”

(א) שלא למנות דין שאינו יודע בדיני התורה - שנמנע בית דין הגדול או ראש הגלות שלא יעמיד דין לשפט את העם שלא למד חכמת התורה ובאור משפטיה הישרים והצדיקים, ואפילו היו בו כמה מדות נכבדות, אחר שאינו יודע ובקי בחכמת התורה, אין ראוי למנותו דין, ועל זה נאמר (דברים א יז) לא תכירו פנים במשפט. וכן פרשו זכרונם לברכה (ספרי) לא תכירו פנים במשפט, זה הממנה להושיב הדינים כלומר, שאליו באה אזהרה זו. ואמרו זכרונם לברכה (שם) שמא תאמר איש פלוני נאה או גבור או עשיר או שיודע בכל לשון אושיבנו דין, לכך נאמר לא תכירו פנים וגו', לפי שנמצא מזכה את החיב, ומחיב את הזכאי, ולא מפני שהוא רשע, אלא מפני שאינו יודע.

(ב) שרש מצוה זו, נגלה הוא לכל.

(ג) דיניה, כגון מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה (תנחומא שופטים ג) שכשם שצריך הראוי להיות הדין יודע דיני התורה, כמו כן צריך להיות בעל מדות ואדם כשר, כדי שלא יאמר לו הנדון טל קורה מבין עיניך, כלומר, קשט עצמך ואחר כך קשט אחרים (סנהדרין יח, א), הרי הוא אומר בתורה גבי דינים אנשים חכמים, כלומר, יודעי החכמה לדון דין אמת, וידועים לשבטיכם, אלא שרוח הבריות נוחה מהם, אנשי חיל שהם גבורים במצות ומדקדקים על עצמם וכובשים את יצרם עד שלא יהא להם שום גנאי ושום כעור, ופרקם נאה, ובכלל אנשי חיל שיהיה להם לב אמיץ להציל עשוק מיד עושק, כענין שנאמר (שמות ב יז) ויקם משה ויושיען. ומה משה רבנו עליו השלום היה עניו, אף כל דין צריך להיות עניו. ויתר פרטיה, מבארים בסנהדרין ובמקומות אחרים בפזור [ח''מ סימן יח].

(ד) ונוהגת מצוה זו בכל מקום ובכל זמן. והעובר על זה ומנה דין שאינו חכם מחמת עשרו או טוב מדותיו, או מאהבתו אותו, או מחמת כבוד קרוביו בטל עשה ל''ת זה, וענשו גדול מאד, שכל ענש דיני שקר שידין אותו דין מחסרון ידיעתו תלוי עליו, כי הוא הגורם.

(ה) ומכלל מצוה זו גם כן לפי הדומה, שכל מי שבררו אותו בני הקהל למנות עליהם ממנים לשום ענין שישים כל השגחתו וכל דעתו, למנות מהם הראויים והטובים על אותו מנוי שהקהל צריכים אותו, ולא יגור מפני איש למנות את מי שאינו ראוי. אמרו חכמים (ע''ז נב א, סנהדרין ז, ב) על מי שהוא מעמיד דין שאינו הגון כאלו הקים מצבה, שנאמר ולא תקים לך מצבה. ואם הוא מקום שיש בו תלמידי חכמים אמרו שהוא כאלו נטע אשרה, שנאמר (שם כא) לא תטע לך אשרה כל עץ אצל מזבח ה' אלקיך. ועוד אמרו (שם) שכל הממנה דין מחמת עשרו על זה נאמר (שמות כ כ) לא תעשון אתי אלקי כסף ואלקי זהב ועוד האריכו בענין זה ואמרו (ירושלמי ביכורים פ''ג ה''ג), שדין שנתן ממון כדי שיתמנה דין אסור לעמד מפניו, ומקילין הרבה בכבודו. ואמרו עליו שהטלית שמתעטף בה יהיה בעיניך כמרדעת החמור. ודרך החכמים הראשונים שבורחין מלהתמנות דינים (סנהרין יד, א) אלא במקום שאין גדול מהם.

(1) Not to appoint a judge that that does not know the laws of the Torah: That the Great Court or the exilarch was prevented not to appoint a judge to judge people, [who] did not study the wisdom of the Torah and the explanation of its straight and righteous statutes. And even if there are several good characteristics to him, since he is not knowledgeable and an expert in the wisdom of the Torah, it is not fit to appoint him judge. And about this is it stated (Deuteronomy 1:17), "You shall not recognize faces in justice." And so [too,] did they, may their memory be blessed, explain, (Sifrei Devarim 17:1), "'You shall not recognize faces in justice' - this is [addressed to] one who is appointed to seat judges"; meaning to say that this warning comes to him. And they, may their memory be blessed, said (Sifrei Devarim 17:1), "'You shall not recognize faces in justice' - lest you say, 'That man is comely' [or] 'strong' [or wealthy or] 'knows all the languages; I will make him a judge.' Hence it is stated, 'You shall not recognize faces' - as it would come out [that] he exonerates the guilty and incriminates the innocent; not because he is wicked, but because he does not know."

(2) The root of this commandment is revealed to all.

(3) Its laws - such as that which they, may their memory be blessed, said (Midrash Tanchuma 5:3) that just as the one who is fit to be a judge must know the laws of the Torah, so too must he be someone of [good] character traits and a proper man, so that the judged not say to him, "Take out the beam from between your eyes," meaning to say, "adorn yourself [first] and afterwards adorn others" (Sanhedrin 18a); that, behold, it states in the Torah concerning judges (Deuteronomy 1:15), "wise men," meaning to say, those that know the wisdom to judge truthfully, "and known to your tribes," [meaning] that the spirit of men derive pleasure from them, "men of strength," that they are valiant about the commandments, exacting upon themselves and suppress their [evil] inclinations to the point that they do not have any disgrace and any ugliness, and their teaching is beautiful, and [also] included in being men of strength is that they have a brave heart to save the oppressed from the oppressor, like the matter that is stated (Exodus 2:17), "and Moshe rose to save them," and just like our teacher Moshe, peace be upon him, was humble, so too must every judge be humble; and the rest of its details - are elucidated in Sanhedrin in [various] scattered places (see Tur, Choshen Mishpat 18).

(4) And this commandment is practiced in every place and at all times. And one who transgresses it and appoints a judge who is not wise, on account of his wealth or good character traits or from his love for him or on account of the honor of his relatives has violated this [negative commandment]. And his sin is very great, as all of the punishment of the false rulings that this judge ruled from his lack of knowledge are [made] dependent upon him, as he is the cause.

(5) And it appears that [also] included in this commandment is that anyone who the members of the community have chosen to appoint appointees over them for any matter, that they should put all of their attention and intellect [to it], to appoint those appropriate and good for that appointment that the community requires. And he should not be frightened from any man, to appoint someone that is not appropriate. And the Sages said (Avodah Zarah 52b, Sanhedrin 7b) about someone who sets up a judge that is not proper, [that it is] as if he puts up a stone pillar, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 16:22) [soon after the commandment to set up judges], "and you shall not set up a pillar for yourself." And if it is a place where there are Torah scholars in it, they said that it is like planting a tree-god, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 16:21), "You shall not plant a tree-god, any tree, beside the altar of the Lord, your God." And they also said (Sanhedrin 7b) that anyone who appoints a judge because of his wealth, about this is it stated (Shemot 20:20), "You shall not make with Me gods of silver and gods of gold." And they spoke at length about this matter and said (Talmud Yerushalmi Bikkurim 3:3) that it is forbidden to stand [for judgement] in front of a judge who gave money in order that he be appointed a judge. And they treated his honor very lightly, and said about him that the cloak with which he wraps himself should be like a donkey saddle in your eyes. And it was the way of the early Sages to flee from being appointed judges (Sanhedrin 14a), except in a place where there was no one greater than them.

The word ‘how’—eicha—is a theme repeated throughout the liturgy of the week preceding Tish’a B’av. It is the central question of the book of Eicha, Lamentations, which is read on that day of mourning and which begins: “Eicha, How?! Instead of simply berating the people of that generation for their moral decline, we are supposed to internalize the lesson, and as we prepare for Tisha BeAv are to ask “How did this happen? What can we learn from this?” The destruction, for the rabbis, begins inside.

The external fact of the Romans’ conquest of Jerusalem is not the cause, but merely the symptom, of an internal malady. Whereas the first Temple was destroyed because obvious reasons, the second is destryed for more serious, deeper, internal reasons: equal opportunity hatred, blaming others and not examining how we treated each other, how we judge. The rabbis suggest that God decreed the destruction of the Temple because the rituals of the Temple are meaningless if the people are mired in corruption and destruction, even using judgment and the "words of Torah" as a means of oppression. Empty external piety masking inner corruption - even as Isaiah complains in our haftarah.

In Parshat Devarim only two commandments, mitzvot, appear. Both connect with the destruction of the Second Temple because of the refusal of the judicial system to relate to fairness in judgment and equality for all, because of the refusal of the judges to adjudicate with compassion: “You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgment is God’s.” When we read these two mitzvot together with the haftarah and the Book of Eicha, Lamentations, we find a deep, serious teaching: lack of compassionate justice leads to destruction.
We may be tempted to ask the question we hear again and again this week: “Eicha? How did this happen?” But a better question for this week is not eicha — how did we get here?; but eicha — how can we move on and return to justice and righteousness? Isaiah gives a suggestion: “Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.” Indeed, the greatest promise offered to Jerusalem is that she will be a city of justice once again: “After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.” Justice, equality and concern for one another will heal the broken city and the broken people. May we find, this week, the strength to begin the journey, and to keep at it, even as destruction comes and renewal seems far away.