אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל וגו'
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of the Jewish people…” (Devarim 1:1)
The verse seems to be using more words than necessary. The same thing could have been said simply, as the Torah usually writes: “And Moshe spoke to the Jewish people.” We know that every single word in the Torah carries special meaning, so what is the message behind these seemingly extra words?
There is a story about the Baal HaTanya zt”l during the time when he was imprisoned. One day an influential Russian minister who was well-versed in Scriptures came into his cell and asked if he could present a question on the Torah that has been bothering him for a while. The Torah relates that after sinning with the Eitz Hadaas, Adam and Chava hid out of shame, and Hashem called out to Adam and said to him: “Ayeka – where are you?” (Bereishis 3:9) “How could it be that Hashem, who created the entire world and knows exactly what goes on everywhere, had to ask Adam where he was?” the minister asked. “Didn’t He know?”
The tzaddik replied: “Before answering your question, please tell me if you believe with all your heart that the holy Torah is not a storybook or history book; each and every word in the Torah has an eternal message that is applicable to each person in every generation.”
“I believe,” said the minister, “that the Torah is eternal and applies to everyone at all times.”
The Baal HaTanya said: “Now you’ll be able to understand this verse. Hashem created each person with a purpose. Every person has a mission to fulfill, and as the years go by Hashem calls to him and asks: ‘Ayeka – where are you? What have you accomplished? What have you done to fulfill your mission?’” The tzaddik continued: “You are so many years old, with so many months and so many days. G-d is asking you, ‘Ayeka – where are you? What have you done with your life?”
The minister was very moved by the tzaddik’s explanation, and even more so when he heard the tzaddik tell him his exact age to the day. The penetrating question of “Ayeka – where are you?” shook him to the core. He promised the tzaddik to do everything possible to free him from prison.
The same applies to all of us. The Gemara says (Sandhedrin 37a): “A person is required to say: the world was created for me.” When Hashem created the world He had an exact plan for each creation. Everything He created serves a special purpose. We must ask ourselves: What purpose do I fulfill? When Hashem created the world He made a special spot for me, so what am I doing about it? A person who thinks this way will utilize his time in this world and try his utmost to accomplish his life’s mission. Each year that goes by serves as a reminder to listen to Hashem’s call. “Another year went by,” he tells himself, “But ayeka – where am I? What have I accomplished?”
Each year as we approach Tisha b’Av, we must make a collective reckoning: “The harvest season passed and summer went, but we still weren’t helped!” (Yirmiyahu 8:20) Another year has passed, and another, and we are still in exile. The Bais Hamikdash still hasn’t been rebuilt. What have we done this year to change that? What have we done to bring the Redemption, to spread the glory of Hashem’s Name throughout the world and rebuild the Bais Hamikdash?
This may be why the verse includes all of these extra words. The first letters of the Hebrew words for “the words that Moshe spoke to all of the Jewish people” spell two words: adam and ayeka. Moshe is telling us that Hashem is calling every single person individually – every adam – asking the searing question: “Ayeka – where are you?!” The word איכה (ayeka) has the numerical value of the word לו – to him. This question is being asked of every single person individually. Hashem is speaking to him directly!
The word ayeka has the same spelling as the word eicha, the sorrowful question with which the Tisha b’Av Lamentations begin. If only we would have paid more attention to the question of ayeka and thought more about our purpose in life, we wouldn’t have to mourn this Tisha b’Av by sitting on the floor and saying Eicha!
May Hashem help all of us that we should be able to fulfill our purpose in life. We should finally merit seeing these days transformed into days of joy. “Call upon me a holiday.” (Eicha 1:15) The day will come when Tisha b’Av will be transformed into a Yom Tov, a day of rejoicing. When will this happen? When we will all hear Hashem’s call; when we will realize that He is “calling upon me!” The time will come when “the lost ones in the land of Ashur will come, as well as the dispersed ones in the land of Egypt; they will bow down to Hashem on the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem (Yeshaya 27:13).” Everyone will do tshuva and each person will be helped with whatever he needs. May we indeed be zoche to greet Moshiach together, may it be speedily in our days, Amein.