The Power of Words

Tisha B’Av/ The 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av marks the day of destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Temples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and many other disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. Below is a kavannah for this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Devarim, and Tisha B'av (observed this coming Sunday) from Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman provided by Orot Center for Jewish Learning.

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים | Eleh Ha’dvarim
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:1-2

אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּעֵ֖בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן בַּמִּדְבָּ֡ר בָּֽעֲרָבָה֩ מ֨וֹל ס֜וּף בֵּֽין־פָּארָ֧ן וּבֵֽין־תֹּ֛פֶל וְלָבָ֥ן וַחֲצֵרֹ֖ת וְדִ֥י זָהָֽב

These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan.—Through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab,

אַחַ֨ד עָשָׂ֥ר יוֹם֙ מֵֽחֹרֵ֔ב דֶּ֖רֶךְ הַר־שֵׂעִ֑יר עַ֖ד קָדֵ֥שׁ בַּרְנֵֽעַ

it is eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea by the Mount Seir route.

These are the words.
The words that brought us here
The words that shaped this hard place
we have come to know and yet, in this place
words escape us.

Place names.
Thumbtacks on the map.
Moments of sojourning.
Encounters with struggle
and redemption.
Where are we standing?
Where have we traveled?
Where are we heading?
And what will carry us there?

יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב לֵאמֹ֑ר רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה

Our God יהוה spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.

פְּנ֣וּ ׀ וּסְע֣וּ לָכֶ֗ם וּבֹ֨אוּ הַ֥ר הָֽאֱמֹרִי֮ וְאֶל־כׇּל־שְׁכֵנָיו֒ בָּעֲרָבָ֥ה בָהָ֛ר וּבַשְּׁפֵלָ֥ה וּבַנֶּ֖גֶב וּבְח֣וֹף הַיָּ֑ם אֶ֤רֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ וְהַלְּבָנ֔וֹן עַד־הַנָּהָ֥ר הַגָּדֹ֖ל נְהַר־פְּרָֽת

Start out and make your way to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates.

- Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:6-7

You see you are stuck
quicksand holding you, rooting you
In a place familiar and
Yet you are too long in this same terrain.
The weight of this place, this mountain
Is growing far too heavy to bear.
The mountain’s shadow is
Keeping you in the dark.
Pull your feet from their habitual treads
And step
Forward on a new path
leave the broken places
Behind you.
The walls came down and left our temple bare
Vulnerable and open to assault
We return to those ruins
And look again at what the walls protected
And what is now exposed
We step into the places of destruction
search for the shafts
Of light and

"What is the recurring disaster in our life?
What is the unresolved element that keeps bringing us back to this same moment,
over and over again?
What is it that we keep getting wrong?
What is it that we precisely refuse to look at, fail to see?
The walls come down and suddenly we can see,
suddenly we recognize the nature of our estrangement from God,
and this recognition is the beginning of reconciliation…”
- Rabbi Alan Lew

The map in your pocket
marks the routes you have traveled, the ones
You know
But the way ahead may stray from the course
that feels familiar.
It may demand that you
hack your way through
the thorns and brambles.
Eleh Ha’dvarim.
These are the words.

"We die.
That may be the meaning of life.
But we do language.
That may be the measure of our lives."
- Toni Morrison

Return to the words.
For words sculpt the world
We wish to build.
The contours of
The letters
of compassionate words
Will pave our way
towards righteousness
And will
Please God
Extinguish the flames of this burning palace with
The soothing water of love.

 מָוֶת וְחַיִּים, בְּיַד-לָשׁוֹן

Death and life are in the power of the tongue... - Sefer Mishlei (Proverbs) 18:21

May we return to the primal power of the devarim - the words - that can birth worlds and kill them, and may we renew our dogged dedication to use them as holy instruments of giving life.

Shabbat Shalom and Wishing You a Meaningful Fast on Sunday.

Images courtesy of

Hebrew translation from