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Outside Help

Friday, 24 July, 2020 - 9:11 am

These days I’m all about outside help.

For communicating with people, I need phones and Zoom.

For groceries, I need masks and delivery service.

For safety and wellness, I need science and prayer.

Perhaps one of the realities of living through this pandemic is that we realize how dependent we truly are on others. Before we thought we can ‘go it alone.’ Now, we realize we need more support than we ever imagined.


This week we begin reading the fifth and final Book of the Chumash (Five Books of Moshe). The parsha this week, Devarim, shares a name with the Book (Devarim/Deuteronomy).

If you were a good student until now, you might find Devarim boring and redundant. That’s because Devarim is basically a review of the first four Books of the Torah. There’ not a lot of new information. Moshe repeats the events of the past forty years, reviews some of the laws, chastises the Jewish people and charges them with a continuous mandate before his passing.

What’s the reason G-d felt it necessary to have a fifth Book of the Torah?

Some commentators point to the powerful lesson that review is always necessary. That’s true. In fact, an alternate name for the fifth Book of the Torah is Mishneh Torah, meaning Review of the Torah.

But, to get that message across, the Torah could have sufficed with one terse verse at the end of the fourth Book: “Thou shalt review.” Why add a whole book?


The key distinction of the fifth Book is that it was recited by Moshe. It is not G-d’s version of events. Rather, it is the same events as seen through the lens of G-d’s prophet, Moshe.

If we have G-d’s version, you might wonder, why do we need a human being’s version?


I might study the four Books of the Torah and imagine that I have mastered it. Even if I have not mastered it, I might imagine that a bit more review will solve the problem. I am, after all, a good student.

The need for a fifth book teaches me that as much as I try, I am still limited. I cannot fully comprehend the Torah without Moshe, without a leader showing me the way. As we are taught in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), עשה לך רב, appoint for yourself a master (teacher).

Without the viewpoint of Moshe – the collective soul of the Jewish people – my perception is limited to my own shortcomings. In order to tap into the essence and soul of Torah I need a Rebbe, a mentor.

A good student reviews. A better student learns from others.

The outside help of a mentor allows me to find my own soul, my own place in Torah. This is why Devarim is the final Book of the Torah. After Moshe’s teachings, the Jews are empowered to march forward on their own.


This message is especially relevant at this time of year. Next week we will observe Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It marks the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago. For two millennia we continue to implore G-d multiple times a day to rebuild our Holy Temple.

To the modern Jew Tisha B’Av may seem like an enigma. It’s true that the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was a sad event. But, today we are fortunate to have a Jewish-led government in Israel, freedoms that our ancestors could never have imagined and technological advances that allow us greater access to Judaism and Torah than ever before. Are we really worse off now than we were 2000 years ago?

As the Book of Devarim teaches us, we are wholly incomplete if we are unable to rise to the next level. Today, without the Holy Temple, we are devoid of parts of the Torah. And, we are missing the special connection with G-d afforded by the Home that He chose on earth.


Even without a pandemic, I need lots of outside help.

Some help is at my fingertips. For other help, I need to pray to G-d. I guess that, too, is at my fingertips.

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