Every year we read Parshas Devarim before Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, 428:4). This year we read Parshas Devarim on Tisha B’Av itself. Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar (Meseches Megillah chap. 4 “Bnei Ha-ir” pg. 31b) tells us that it was Ezra Hasofer (the scribe) who arranged that the various Torah portions should be read at specific times on the Jewish calendar because the themes of the various parshiyos are somehow connected to that specific time of year.
This begs us to ask why Ezra arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av? What is the connection between the two?
The Levush (Orach Chaim, 428; Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, 1530 Prague – 1612 Poland) answers this question by saying that we read Parshas Devarim before TishaB’Av because Parshas Devarim contains the tochacha (admonishment) of Moshe Rabbenu. The tochachos of Moshe prepare us for Tisha B’Av because through the reproofs of Moshe we can improve upon ourselves a little bit more and fix the sins which brought about the churbanos (destructions) of the Batei Mikdash (Temples) to begin with.
Furthermore, the rebukes of Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim fit in with the tochacha of Yeshaya Hanavi which is read in this week’s Haftara (Yeshaya, 1-27). Both sets of tochachos prepare us for Tisha B’Av because if we improve upon ourselves as a result of these words of reproof, the Redemption will come.
This point is made even stronger in Eicha Rabbasi (preface, #11) where it basically says that Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha was administered before any churban ever happened. As such, the purpose of Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha was so that we should improve upon our ways in order to prevent a churban from occurring.
However, Yeshaya’s tochacha was administered after the churban. As such, the purpose of Yeshaya’s tochacha was so that we should improve upon ourselves in order that a new Beis Hamikdash would be built.
In other words, had we listened sufficiently to the admonishment of Moshe Rabbenu, we would not have to listen to the admonishment of Yeshaya Hanavi. But now that we did not sufficiently listen to the rebuke of Moshe Rabbenu, we must listen to the rebuke of Yeshaya Hanavi.
At this point, we are going to share another connection between Moshe Rabbenu and Yeshaya Hanavi, besides the fact that both of them reprimanded us.
The Ohr HaNer (Kitzur Gilgulei Neshamos from the Arizal) and the Medrash Talpios (#10, anaf Yeshaya, quoting the Sefer Hagilgulim) say that Yashaya Hanavi was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Moshe Rabbenu. Therefore, we find similarities between them.
For example, Moshe is described in the Torah as having a “heavy mouth” (Parshas Shemos, 4:10), meaning that he had a speech impediment, and Yeshaya also suffered from a speech impediment. A source which supports this is found when Hashem told Yashaya to share his prophecy with the Jewish people. At first, Yeshaya refused to be God’s agent, just as Moshe refused to be Hashem’s agent, at first (Parshas Shemos, 4:10-13).
Then the verse says “Then I (Yeshaya) said, ‘Woe to me for I am doomed, for I am a man of impure lips, and I dwell among a people of impure lips’” (Yeshaya, 6:5). The next pasuk says, “And one of the Serafim flew to me (Yeshaya) and in his hand was a ritzpa (coal) which he had taken with tongs from atop the Alter” (Yeshaya, 6:6). The next verse continues, “And he (the angel) touched it to my mouth and he (the angel) said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips, your iniquity has gone away and your sin will be atoned for” (Yeshaya, 6:7).
Rashi (Sefer Yeshaya, 6:6; based upon Shir Hashirim Rabba, 1:38) says that a ritzpa is a hot coal, and the angel placed this hot coal on Yeshaya’s lips because he had spoken evil about the Jewish people when he said that they were a people of impure lips. Rashi continues to say that the word ritzpa is a contracted word which can be broken into two words which are ratzutz peh (a broken mouth). Hashem said to the angel, “Break that mouth of Yeshaya because he spoke Lashon H ara about my children.”
We see from this that Yeshaya also had a speech impediment just as Moshe had a speech impediment. This similarity between the two supports the notion that Yeshaya was a gilgul of Moshe.
Therefore, Ezra Hasofer arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av so that the rebukes of Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim would compliment the reproofs of Yeshaya Hanavi in the Haftara read in conjunction with Parshas Devarim, because they were connected through gilgul, and they both intended to prepare us for Tisha B’Av so that the Beis Hamikdash would be built.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that although Yeshaya made a mistake by calling the Jews a people of impure lips, he did teshuva and became a defending attorney on behalf of the Jewish people (see Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshaya, remez 406, based on Yeshaya 6:7-8; 50:4-5).
The Shvilei Pinchas points out that not only was there a similarity between Moshe and Yeshaya with respect to them both having a speech problem, but they both got their speech impediment from a hot coal. The story with Yeshaya was already mentioned above. The story regarding Moshe is a famous one.
In Shemos Rabba (Parshas Shemos, 1:26; based on Parshas Shemos, 2:10) it tells us that Batya treated Moshe as if he was her own baby. She would kiss him, hug him, and pamper him constantly. Batya would not allow Moshe to leave the royal palace. Even Pharaoh hugged and kissed baby Moshe frequently. When Pharaoh would do that, baby Moshe would take Pharaoh’s royal crown off of his (Pharaoh’s) head and place it upon his own head.
Some of Pharaoh’s magicians were suspicious about this behavior of baby Moshe and suggested that this child might just be the one they read about in the stars who would one day dethrone Pharaoh and become a king in his own right. Some of Pharaoh’s advisors suggested to cut the baby’s neck off while other advisors suggested to burn him alive.
At that time, Yisro was one of Pharaoh’s advisors. Yisro said that the baby should be put to a test. A plate with gold on one side of it and hot coals on the other side of it should be brought into the room and placed in front of baby Moshe. If the child goes after the hot coals it would serve as a sign that this is a kid who does not know what is going on and therefore, he may be allowed to live because he poses no threat to Pharaoh.
However, if the child reaches for the gold, it would be a sign that the kid does understand what is happening which would mean that it is a sign that one day he would overthrow Pharaoh’s sovereignty. As such, he should be put to death now.
They brought the plate with gold and hot coals before baby Moshe and he began to stretch out his hand for the gold, when suddenly the angel, Gavriel, pushed his hand to the hot coals. When Moshe felt the burning of the coals on his hand, he put his hand in his mouth to cool it down and stop the pain, but the hot coal burnt his tongue, thus leaving him with a speech impediment.
We see from all of this that just as Yeshaya became heavy of mouth due to a hot coal, so did Moshe become heavy of mouth on account of a hot coal. Just as Yeshaya was healed from his speech impediment, so was Moshe healed from his speech problem once the Torah was given (Devarim Rabba, Parshas Devarim, 1:1, Reish Lakish, based on Parshas Devarim, 1:1 and on Parshas Shemos, 4:10).
Once again this explains why Ezra orchestrated to read Parshas Devarim before Tisha B’Av. It was to juxtapose the tochacha of Moshe Rabbenu with the tochacha of Yeshaya, who was a gilgul of Moshe, because the purpose of their rebukes was to awaken the Jewish people to teshuva which would either prevent the churban to begin with or it would serve as an impetus to rebuild after the churban.
There are several other Midrashim which show other similarities between Moshe and Yeshaya. For example, the only two prophets who truly understood their prophecies clearly were Moshe and Yeshaya (Medrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim, chap. 90). Another Midrash (Devarim Rabba, Parshas Vaeschanan, 2:4) says that the two greatest prophets were Moshe and Yeshaya.
In Yalkut Shimoni (Yeshaya chap. 1, remez 385), it says that Yeshaya lived to be 120 years old. The Shvilei Pinchas says that the reason why Yeshaya deserved to live to 120 years was in the merit of being a gilgul of Moshe Rabbenu who lived to be 120 years old (Parshas V’Zos Habracha, 34:7).
In Medrash Talpios it quotes a verse in which Moshe says to the Jewish people, “A Navi (prophet) from your midst from your brethren kamoni (like me) will Hashem your God establish for you, you must listen to him” (Parshas Shoftim, 18:15). When Moshe said this verse, he hinted that Yeshaya Hanavi would be like him (Moshe). This is hinted to in the pasuk’s word “Navi” which is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: nun, beis, yud and aleph. These four letters serve as the acronym for the four words, “Nishmas Yeshaya Ben Amotz” (the soul of Yeshaya the son of Amotz).
Moshe said that that Navi would be “Kamoni” (like me). Since this word (Kamoni) in this verse is spelled without a letter vov, it has the gematria (numerical value) of 120, hinting to the fact that Yeshaya would live to be 120 years old just as Moshe did.
Moreover, the Yerushalmi in Meseches Sanhedrin (!0:2) equates Yeshaya with Moshe suggesting that they were equals.
In Eicha Rabba (1:1) it points out that there were three Neviim who prophesied with the word “Eicha” (how). One was Moshe Rabbenu when he said “Eicha Esa Levadi Torchachem” (how can I carry your argumentativeness; Parshas Devarim, 1:12). The second was Yeshaya who said, “Eicha Huysa Lizona Kirya Ne’emana” (how the faithful city has become a harlot; Yashaya, 1:21). The third was Yirmiya who said “Eicha Yushvuh Budud” (how did she come to sit alone; Eicha 1:1).
The Shvilei Pinchas explains that this Midrash comes to teach us that if we would have listened to Moshe Rabbenu’s tochacha sufficiently, we would not have had to hear Yeshaya’s tochacha. Since we did not pay enough attention to Moshe’s tochacha, we had to hear Yeshaya’s tochacha. Had we heeded Yeshaya’s reproof we would not have had to listen to Yirmiya’s rebuke. But since we did not pay enough attention to Yeshaya’s tochacha, we had to hear Yirmiya’s rebuke.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this adds to our answer as to why Parshas Devarim is read before Tisha B’Av. It is because this comes to teach us that if we would have listened to one, we would not have had to listen to the other because we would have fixed whatever flaws we may have had in our personalities and the Geula (Redemption) would have come.
Before we conclude, we must share one more source from the Psikta d’Rav Kahana (13:6) which cites Rebbi Yudan in the name of Rebbi Simon who expounded upon the verse that tells us that Hashem said to Moshe, “I will establish a prophet for them from among your brethren like you” (Parshas Shoftim, 18:18). The Psikta asks how it could say that this anonymous prophet will be like you (Moshe) if another verse says, “Never again will there be in Israel a prophet like Moshe” (Parshas v’Zos Habracha, 34:10)?
The Psikta answers this question by saying that Yirmiya was only equated with Moshe regarding giving tochacha. In fact, we find several similarities between Moshe and Yirmiya.
For example, Moshe prophesied for forty years and Yirmiya prophesied for forty years. Moreover, people from Moshe’s own tribe (Sheivet Levi), such as Korach and his followers from the tribe of Levi (Parshas Korach, 1:5), rose up to oppose him (Moshe), and people from Yirmiya’s own tribe (Sheivet Levi), such as Pashchur ben Imer (who was a Kohein from Sheivet Levi) rose up to oppose Yirmiya by imprisoning him (Yirmiya) because of his prophesies, (Yirmiya 1:1 and 20:1).
Additionally, Moshe was cast into a river (Parshas Shemos, 2:3) and Yirmiya was thrown into a pit (Yirmiya 18:22). Moshe was rescued from the river by a handmaid (Parshas Shemos 2:5), and Yirmiya was rescued from the pit by a slave (Psikta Rabbasi, 26:51).
The Megaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585 – 1633, Cracow, Poland; Parshas Vaeschanan, 84) comments that we see from all of this that there were many similarities between Yirmiya and Moshe. The Megaleh Amukos adds yet another similarity between them. He says that just as Moshe wrote the Five Books of the Torah, so did Yirmiya write the Book of Eicha which consists of five chapters which correspond to the Five Books of the Torah.
Therefore, the Megaleh Amukos says that when the above verse said, “I will establish a Navi from among their brethren like you,” it refers to Yirmiya. If one were to ask how Yirmiya could ever be like Moshe if Moshe was the greatest prophet of all time, the answer is that Yirmiya was a gilgul of Moshe. Therefore, Yirmiya could like Moshe and yet that would not contradict the verse which says that Moshe was the greatest prophet because Moshe and Yirmiya were one and the same. It turns out that not only was Yeshaya a gilgul of Moshe, but so was Yirmiya.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this comes to teach us that had we listened to the words of Moshe Rabbenu, he would not have had to return to this world as Yeshaya and as Yirmiya in order to reprimand us.
This also explains why Ezra Hasofer arranged for Parshas Devarim to be read before Tisha B’Av. It was so that there would be a “chut hameshulash” (a three-ply cord which is not easily severed; Koheles, 4:12), consisting of three Neviim: 1) Moshe Rabbenu in Parshas Devarim, 2) Yeshaya Hanavi in the Haftara of Parshas Devarim, and 3) Yirmiya Hanavi in the Book of Eicha.
In the merit of the tochacha given by these three prophets, who were connected by gilgulim, we will be more inclined to do teshuva and draw the Geula close.
One practical application of this teaching would be that when we read Parshas Devarim, the Haftara from Yeshaya, and the Book of Eicha, let us make a resolution to take on one small area of Avodas Hashem that we are going to try and improve on a little bit more. Preferably, it would be wise to choose something in the realm of Bein Adam Lachaveiro (interpersonal relationships) as that will serve as a way of rectifying the primary sin which caused the Temples’ destruction to begin with.
So, may we all be blessed with the strength and humility to accept words of tochacha we hear, even if they are as hot as fiery coals, and do teshuva in order that we, the children of Israel, merit to experience the Final Geula, way before we reach the age of 120 years old.