The Jewish people had finished their travels. They were on the cusp of a new life in the Land of Israel. And so, at the beginning of Maasei, Moshe began to prepare the nation by listing to them the places they had stopped at over the last 40 years.
Rashi gives the analogy of a father who took his ill son on a journey, a quest to find a cure. When the son recovered, his father took him back the way they had come, stopping at significant points to remind his son of something that had happened to them there on their outward journey. The Bartenura explains that the Jews had been spiritually sick in Egypt. The giving of the Torah was the start of a healing process. Each stop in their 40-year trek presented a challenge which further strengthened them, until they reached the state of completion required to enter the land of Israel.
Rabbi Henoch Lebowitz OBM asks: isn’t reminding someone of his past misdeeds prohibited as hurtful words? Why did Moshe have to remind them of their previous failings?
Rabbi Lebowitz explains that Moshe wasn’t knocking the Jewish people. on the contrary, his words were given over in a way that empowered them. He wanted to show them just how much they had accomplished in the last 40 years, how far they had come since their days in Egypt, and how G-D Himself believed in them.
We read this Parsha during the three week period of mourning that commemorates the destructions of the first and second temples. As with any tragedy, the process of recovery can only start once we discover the root cause, when we understand where we went wrong. In this case, we are well-aware of what we need to fix. Our Rabbis have been shouting from the rooftops for 2000 years that baseless hatred brought about the exile and sustains it. Perhaps our problem is that we lack confidence in ourselves as a people. We forget how much we have achieved even in exile. The fact that in 2017, after 2000+ years of holocausts, inquisitions, pogroms and blood libels, there are still vibrant communities of Torah observant Jews around the world, especially in the Holy Land, is a testament to our resilience and steadfastness. And we can- we must! – do more. Much, much more!
Hashem believes in us. And so should we!
(As heard from Rabbi Doniel Staum. Access the original lecture here)