Parashat Debarim- A Nation Defined by the Torah
The Aron – the ark in the Bet Ha’mikdash – featured on top of it two Kerubim, golden figurines which served as a "barometer" of G-d’s relationship with the Jewish People. At times when G-d was pleased with His nation, then the two Kerubim faced one another, but when He was displeased, they turned away from one another. The Talmud teaches that on three Regalim (pilgrimage festivals – Pesach, Shabuot and Sukkot), when Beneh Yisrael would assemble in Jerusalem, the Kohanim would open the curtain to expose the Aron, and the people would see the two Kerubim embracing one another. These occasions were times of great love and closeness between G-d and Am Yisrael, and so the Kerubim not only faced each other, but locked in a warm, affectionate embrace.
Elsewhere, the Gemara gives a famous account of what happened when Titus, the evil general of the Roman army, entered the Bet Ha’mikdash and stormed into the Kodesh Ha’kodashim, the inner sanctum of the Mikdash, where the Aron stood. Startingly, the Gemara relates that when Titus entered this chamber, he looked at the ark and the saw the two Kerubim embracing one another. On this day, when G-d unleashed His anger against the Jewish People, bringing in the Roman legions who set the Bet Ha’mikdash and Jerusalem ablaze, and killed, plundered and exiled the Jews, the Kerubim embraced, reflecting G-d’s great love for the Jewish People.
The Netibot Shalom (Rav Shalom Noach Berezovsky of Slonim, 1911-2000) explains why the Kerubim were embracing at that moment. The Jews were then leaving their homeland and being driven into what would be many centuries of bitter exile. They must have been concerned that they would no longer survive as a nation. After all, all nations share several things – including a land. No other nation retained its national identity while being dispersed throughout the world. But the Jews are an exception – the only exception – to this rule. We have remained a nation even when we did not have our land. And we did this because of the Torah. We were driven from our homeland, but we took the Torah with us, and we took the Torah with us wherever we went during this long period of exile. This is how we survived as a nation.
This, the Netibot Shalom explains, is the reason why the Kerubim over the Aron embraced on the day of destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash. The Aron, which stored the original copy of the Sefer Torah, represents the Torah. On the day we were exiled from our land, G-d assured us that our relationship with Him would continue through the Torah. We would be without a land for many centuries, but we would always have with us the "Aron" – the Torah, which we would study and meticulously observe. And this is how we would survive as a nation during centuries of dispersion.
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that the four letters of G-d’s Name ("Yod," "Heh," "Vav" and "Heh") can be arranged in twelve different configurations, and each configuration corresponds to one of the twelve months. And, the Arizal said, each configuration is alluded to in a verse in Tanach. The Arizal revealed to us which months correspond to which configuration, and according to his system, the month of Ab is represented by the configuration "Heh," "Vav," "Yod" and "Heh." This arrangement of letters, the Arizal said, is alluded to in the verse in the Book of Debarim (27:9) where Moshe says to the people, "Hasket U’shma Yisrael Hayom Ha’zeh Niheyeta La’am" – "Be silent and listen, O Israel, this day you have become a nation." The first letters of the words "Hasket U’shma Yisrael Hayom" are "Heh," "Vav," "Yod" and "Heh," alluding to the month of Ab.
At first glance, the Netibot Shalom writes, this verse seems hardly fitting as a symbol of the month of Ab. In fact, it might be the least fitting verse, as it speaks of Am Yisrael becoming a nation – and on Tisha B’Ab, we lost our Bet Ha’mikdash and our homeland. But in light of what we have seen, the Netibot Shalom writes, the answer becomes clear. On the day of Tisha B’Ab, we became a nation like no other. This was the day when we became a nation whose identity was determined by something other than a common land. On this day, we became a nation defined by the Torah, and not by anything else.
We have survived the millennia of exile, dispersion, upheaval and persecution through our commitment to Torah. And it is through this commitment that, please G-d, we will earn our final redemption and be worthy of returning to our homeland and celebrating the rebuilding of the Bet Ha’mikdash, speedily and in our times, Amen.