In the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy, we have Moshe rehashing history, but with a twist. If you compare the original scenes in the original three books of the Torah, they are told with a different lense. Moshe is unable to bring the Jews into the promised land. He is afraid when he dies, that the Jews will feel that it was he, Moshe, who had enabled all the miracles, not merely performed them. Comparing the original versions which star Moshe as the great doer, Moshe retells the stories now in Devarim, focusing on G-d, to ensure that the Jews don’t feel that when he dies, Judaism has died as well.
I want to focus on one point in this week’s Torah portion, 1:16-17: …Judge righteously between a man and his brother who disputes him. Do not show favoritism in judgment…for it is G-d who must correct the judgment…”
Justice and judging are the quintessential acts of mitzvoth bein adam l’chavero/between man and his fellow man and bein adam l’makom/and between man and G-d. We are commanded to ensure that there is just justice, for judges are acting in a G-d like capacity restoring right in a matter where one has been wronged. Righteous judges act as a conduit for G-d’s correcting injustices. It is the foundation of any community and nation.
What does this have to do with the upcoming commemoration of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples on the 9th of Av? In the book of Lamentations which we read on the 9th of Av, there is a verse, 5:17-18: Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim
18 for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with foxes prowling over it.
Chabad.org: “It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.
Said they to him: “Why are you laughing?”
Said he to them: “Why are you weeping?”
Said they to him: “A place [so holy] that it is said of it, ‘the stranger that approaches it shall die,’1 and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn’t weep?”
Said he to them: “That is why I laugh. For it is written, ‘I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses–Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’2 Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was [in the time of] the First Temple, and Zechariah was [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah’s prophecy dependent upon Uriah’s prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.]’3 With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.’4
“As long as Uriah’s prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah’s prophecy will be fulfilled.”
With these words they replied to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”
I have a simple question: why foxes? Of all the animals that could have prowled over the remnants of the temple, why specifically foxes? For the answer, I looked to Perek Shira, which most say was authored by King David. It sets forth how all of G-d’s creations praise Him. How does the fox praise G-d? “Woe he who builds his home without righteousness and his upper stories without justice, who works his fellow without payment, and does not give him his wages.”
The fox discusses what happens when a house is built without justice? What happens when you don’t treat a fellow human being with respect. It goes to the heart of why the Jerusalem Temples were destroyed, for a failure of justice and lack of respect for one’s fellow man.
It is so crucial and essential to building a nation, that it is one of the first issues Moshe addresses as he gears the Jews up to entering their land and becoming an independent Jewish nation.
We learn from G-d, “build Me a temple and I will dwell in them.” Why them and not it? Because each one of us has to be our own independent temple, so that G-d can dwell in each one of us. How do we build ourselves into a temple? With justice towards our fellow man, following the Torah to build an ethical life. If we each are responsible for ourselves and for spreading the love of Torah to others, then we build a community and then a nation…ready for the ultimate redemption, speedily in our time.
Have a meaningful fast.