The opening chapters of the book of Deuteronomy are always read in the synagogue on the Shabbat immediately preceding Tish’a B’Av (the Ninth day of Hebrew month Av), the saddest day of the Jewish year. It was on the Ninth of Av that the scouts returned with an unfavorable report resulting in the deaths of the generation of the Exodus, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the last Jewish stronghold fell to the Romans, the Temple site was converted into a Roman colony, the Jews of England were expelled by King Edward I, the Jews of Spain were expelled and the inquisition began in 1492, World War I broke out, and other lesser catastrophes occurred. Accordingly, it is day of fasting.

 

Nevertheless, the Rabbis see in Tish’a B’Av an element of hope. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2:4) states that the Messiah will be born on the same day the Temples were destroyed, namely, the Ninth of Av. That hopeful element is also reflected in the Torah reading portion.

 

On the basis of the common use of the Hebrew word devarim in the Torah and later prophetic texts, Midrash Tanhuma (Devarim1) asserts that “all the miracles that were performed for the Israelites in the wilderness will be performed in the future for the Israelites in Zion.” For example, Isaiah the prophet foretells of the time when God shall “turn darkness into light, turn rough places into level ground. These are the promises (devarim) that I will keep without fail” (Isaiah 42:16). Moses speaks devarim to the Israelites in the wilderness; God will honor devarim to the people of Israel in the future.

 

A quintessential component of Judaism is hopefulness. The Talmud (Berakhot 7a) urges that even when a sword dangles above one’s head hope should never be lost. Even as we prepare to recall the sad events of the past we do not despair. Instead, we look hopefully to what is yet to come.