Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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August 15, 2019 – Parsha V’Eschanan
This week’s parasha, V’Eschanan, begins with our review of many important laws already covered in the Torah. This review is why Devarim (Deuteronomy) is often called the Mishna Torah (Repetition of the Torah). This parasha includes such important things as the Ten Commandments and parts of the Shema.
The parasha also includes a touching moment. The Children of Israel have conquered the strong armies of Sihon and Og. Moses describes these victories as a show of God’s greatness and strong hand. Rashi explains God’s greatness refers to the attribute of God’s goodness, and God’s strong hand refers to God’s practice to temper strict judgment with mercy. Because of God’s goodness and mercy, Moses thinks this would a good time to ask God to reconsider the decree that Moses cannot enter the Land of Israel because of his sin in striking the rock in the Wilderness for water, instead of asking for water as God had told him.
But God’s decree has not changed, and answers Moses: “It is much for you. Do not continue to speak to Me any more about this matter.”
Rashi inteprets “It is much for you” not as a rebuke, but as announcing a gift – “More than this is in store for you in the World to Come”. (Rashi to Deuteronomy 3:26). God then tells Moses that, although he cannot enter the Land, he is to ascend to a cliff and will be given the power to see all of it.
Thus God comforts Moses, who longs to enter the Land but cannot.
The theme of this week’s haftorah is also one of comfort. Taken from Isaiah (40:1-46), the haftorah is the first of seven read during the Shabbats between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashonah, called the Seven of Consolation.
This weekend was Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, on which many terrible things happened to us, including the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE. On Tisha B’Av the custom is to fast and avoid pleasurable things. So, after this sadness, we are comforted each Shabbat for the next seven weeks by these haftorah readings. In fact, this week’s haftorah begins, Nachamu, nachamu – “Be comforted, be comforted.”
As we go through the weeks leading to Rosh Hashona, look for opportunities to comfort others, and be comforted yourself.
August 9, 2019 – Tisha B’Av
Friday night and Saturday are Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which is a day of mourning (more details below). Because we do not mourn on Shabbat, we observe the mourning customs of Tisha B’Av on Saturday night and Sunday. I offer this d’var Torah in memory of my father, Norman Block, Nachum ben Nachman HaLevi, whose jahrzeit is Sunday night, the 11th of Av. He was the brother-in-law, father, grandfather and great-grandfather of Scouts, and he lived the Scout Oath and Law every day. I again present a favorite d’var Torah based on the work of my friend and teacher, Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, because of his uplifting message.
Saturday night and Sunday we will observe the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, the Children of Israel received the report of the Meraglim (spies) who had scouted out the Land of Canaan and said they would not be able to conquer it, even though God had promised it to them. The people believed the Meraglim, and would not go to Canaan. On Tisha B’Av we suffered the destruction of both the First Temple (586 BCE) and Second Temple (70 CE), the city of Betar fell during the Bar Kochba rebellion (135 CE), the Jews were expelled from Spain (1492) and World War I began (1914) leading to the events that caused World War II and the Holocaust.
Customs of Tisha B’Av include fasting by those of bar/bat mitzvah age and reading the Book of Lamentations while seated on the floor or low chairs. The three weeks before Tisha B’Av are also a period when many people remember the sad events by taking on mourning customs, such as not getting a haircut or shaving and, during the last nine days of this period, not eating meat or drinking wine.
Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, late rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues in Houston, wrote that while we observe many mourning customs on the 9th of Av – such as fasting – it is also treated as a festival. Rabbi Radinsky looked to the phrase in the Talmud, “All who mourn for Jerusalem will be worthy to see her rebuilt” (Ta’anit 30b) and the tradition that the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av as signs that there is hope.
He pointed out that when we suffer, there is hope things will be better. Those who are ill have hope that they will recover. If we have done wrong and hurt people, we hope that by doing good things we will bring them joy. Those who have no hope suffer for no purpose; those who have hope may learn something from their troubles and be able to use that knowledge to better themselves or help others.
History has taught us that hope is real. The terrible suffering of so many people during World War II, including the killing of 6 million Jews and the destruction of Jewish life in Europe, was followed by the creation of the State of Israel where the Jewish people flourish.
Even the sad time of the three weeks and Tisha B’Av is followed by a time of gladness. The 15th of Av (Tu B’Av) is a day when many good things happened to the Jewish people. In Temple times, marriages were arranged on that day.
So when something goes wrong for you and you feel badly about it, try to see how you can use the experience to learn something for yourself or as a means to help someone else. Perhaps your experience will make you more understanding and sympathetic next time you see someone else has done the wrong thing.
Have a meaningful Tisha B’Av.
July 24, 2019 – Parsha Pinchas
Good camping to everyone at the World Scout Jamboree at the Bechtel Summit Reserve!
In Parasha Pinchas this week, we have an interesting discussion of leadership. God reminds Moses that he will not enter Israel, as punishment for having struck the rock for water in the Wilderness of Zin instead of asking it for water as God had commanded.
Always thinking of the Children of Israel before himself, Moses then says to God, “May the Lord, God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the assembly who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall take them out and bring them in; and let the assembly of the Lord not be like sheep that have no shepherd.”
God said to Moses, “Take to yourself Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and lean your hand upon him. You shall stand him before Elazar the Kohen and before the entire assembly, and command him before their eyes. You shall place some of your majesty upon him, so that the entire assembly of Israel will pay heed.”
Here, God teaches us a leader must have strong character or, as it is called here, “spirit”. The Hebrew word used is ruach, which also means “wind”. The spirit of the leader must be such that, like the wind, it can move others in the direction the leader thinks the group should go.
There are many kinds of spirit. In some, it is enthusiasm, like the Scout who leads campfire songs. In others, it is a quiet determination to bring out the best in others, like the wise Senior Patrol Leader who finds special talents in the troop’s Scouts and recruits them to be the troop historian, musician, or a den chief.
Each of us has special qualities that make us unique and, when strengthened and developed, help make up our spirit. What talents and traits make up your spirit? How can you use them to “help other people at all times”? When you do this, you are a leader.
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.