“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Yisrael, on the other side of the Jordan…”(Devarim 1:1)
Rashi notes that the words Moshe related to Klal Yisrael here contained words of rebuke for many sins the nation committed and the travails they endured throughout their 40-year sojourn.
At the beginning of Massei, Rashi, quoting Midrash Tanchuma, explains that the Torah’s recounting of the journeys of Klal Yisrael is analogous to a father who took his son on a lengthy journey to cure his disease. Afterwards the father reviewed with his son all of the travails they endured along the way: “Here you were cold, here we slept, here your head hurt, etc.”
The Rav MiBartenura notes that the analogy is precise. When the nation left Egypt they were spiritually ill, their souls contaminated with Egyptian idolatry. At Sinai they were cured, and began their trek towards Eretz Yisrael and a return to the level of the Avos. The Torah describes all the events that occurred along their route to their spiritual healing.
Harav Henoch Leibowitz, zt”l, in Chiddushei Halev, asks that when the Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) states the serious prohibition of ona’as devarim, causing another pain through words, it clearly says that reminding a baal teshuvah of his iniquitous past is ona’as devarim. In addition, what was the point of reminding the nation of their sins as they stood on the threshold of Eretz Yisrael?
Harav Leibowitz explains that reminding someone of his past can either cause him terrible anguish or it can be a source of great chizuk and pride. It depends on the context and manner in which it is said. If it is said condescendingly, with an emphasis on past deficiencies, then it will cause the baal teshuvah pain and anguish. But if it is said admiringly, with an emphasis on how far he has come and the incredible strides he has made, then it will be a source of pride and encouragement.
Hashem recounted the nation’s mishaps in the desert to demonstrate to them just how far they had come and how much they had achieved. That would serve as a great chizuk to help them realize their worthiness in entering Eretz Yisrael.
It seems that if the Torah would not have reviewed their travails the nation would not have appreciated their own growth. This is the nature of people; they generally don’t appreciate their own accomplishments and growth.
Harav Leibowitz concludes that at times a young student may be down, feeling unaccomplished and inadequate, which will undoubtedly negatively impact his ability to serve Hashem with joy. It may be because he is too focused on his previous mishaps and deficiencies, or he may not realize and appreciate how much he has achieved. It is important that one always look back on the road he has traveled and be prideful of his accomplishments, so that he will be able to continue on the road ahead with confidence and devotion.
A bachur once lamented to Harav Meir Stern, shlita, that he didn’t feel like he was growing in his learning. Harav Stern replied that he is analogous to the boy who complains to his father that he never grows. Yet every time his grandparents come for Yom Tov they can’t get over how much he has grown! Some times one must take a step back to appreciate his accomplishments.
“Hear the word of Hashem, O House of Yaakov….” (Yirmiyahu 2:4; Haftarah Parashas Massei)
Kedushas Levi notes that the three haftaros read during the Three Weeks (known as “Gimel d’piranusa,” the three haftaros of punishment), each begin with a different “sense”: “The words of Yirmiyahu” (Yirmiyahu 1:1 – Haftarah Mattos), “Hear the Word of Hashem” (Haftarah Massei), “The vision of Yeshayah” (Yeshayah 1:1 – Haftarah Devarim).
During the Three Weeks our avodah is to rectify our failings in these three areas: how we speak, what we listen to and what we look at. Our inability to connect with and feel the losses caused by the Churban is because we have denigrated these three senses. When we rectify our failings in these three areas our natural innate love of Hashem will emerge.
Rabbi Staum is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead and Guidance Counselor/Rebbe at Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch and Ashar in Monsey, NY, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.