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D’var Torah: Tisha B’av

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What is the greatest blessing ever given to the Jewish people?

In Parshat Devarim, there is a Bracha by Moshe Rabenu which I believe would certainly qualify to be on a shortlist for such an accolade. Just prior to his death, Moshe said ‘ ה׳ אֱלֹקי אֲבֽוֹתֵכֶ֗ם יֹסֵ֧ף עֲלֵיכֶ֛ם כָּכֶ֖ם אֶ֣לֶף פְּעָמִ֑ים may the Lord, God of your fathers increase your numbers to be one thousand times more than what you are’. The Midrash tells us that Moshe here was blessing our nation from one end of the world through to the other – such was the enormity of this blessing and proof of this is the fact that didn’t say אלף פעם, he said אלף פעמים.

What does the midrash mean? In Sefer Binah L’atid he explains beautifully: you see אלף פעם would be one thousand times more than what you are. At that time we were 600,000 souls, so Moshe would have been saying to Hashem: throughout all generations bless the Jewish people to number as many as 600 million. אלף פעמים however, means: double what you have, and then double it again – when you’ve done that one thousand times – that will be the number of people throughout all time. 

To appreciate the extent of the blessing, let me share with you a legend from thirteenth-century Persia. The king of Persia summoned to his palace the creator of the game of chess and told him “I’m so impressed with this game, I love playing it. Please let me give you a prize – what would you like?” So the creator of chess thought for a moment and said “For my prize please ask your servants to arrange a very large chessboard. On the first square put one grain of wheat. On the second square, double it to two, and the third square double to four, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two and by the time they get to the sixty-fourth square there will be a lot of grain. Put all the grain into sacks and that’s what I’d like.” The king responded, “is that it?” “Yes, that’ll be sufficient.”

The king summoned the master of his granary and instructed him to do just that. After a few hours the master of the granary came back to the king and said “Your Royal Highness, I’m sorry to tell you that in your entire kingdom you don’t have sufficient wheat to give to this man.” Indeed mathematicians will tell you that by the time you get to the sixty-fourth square, there will be more than eighteen quintillion grains of wheat estimated to be more than two thousand times the amount of wheat which is produced in the world in any year today. You wouldn’t have thought it but such is the extent of this number and that is the Bracha that Moshe Rabenu was giving to the Jewish nation. 

Just like the stars of the sky, if you look at our numbers throughout the ages you will be unable to count us. This Bracha by Moshe Rabenu is read by us every year on the Shabbat immediately prior to Tisha B’av, a day on which we recall successive attempts to destroy the Jewish people. Thanks to the Bracha of Moshe, thanks to the response of Hashem, thanks to the promises in our Torah – עם ישראל חי. The Jewish people will never be destroyed, we will continue to thrive and we will continue to live forever.

Shabbat shalom