Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, and sometimes on Tisha B'Av itself. What is the significance of Devarim, and why is it connected to Tisha B'Av?1

The Talmud2 tells us that the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was said by Moses, "from his own mouth." G‑d didn't dictate it word-for-word as He did for the first four books of the Torah. Rather, Moses said it in his own words. Not that he said his own ideas. Tosafot3 explains that Moses spoke with "divine inspiration," i.e. prophecy.

The Rambam4 says that if someone says that Moses said even one word of the Torah from his own thoughts, that person is considered a heretic. In other words, the Book of Devarim was also said by G‑d. Just the transmission was different. Whereas the first four books were dictated by G‑d, the Book of Devarim entered the mind of Moses as prophecy, and the word of G‑d came "through Moses' throat."5

There are many levels of prophecy, and Moses had the highest possible level. Scripture itself attests that "there never arose another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom G‑d knew face to face."6 His prophecy had another advantage over others, in that others saw their visions as a metaphor. On the other hand, Moses had clear and direct visions. He saw exactly what he was meant to convey, or what was going to happen, not a metaphor.

A New Mode of Communication

With the book of Devarim, a new system of transmission of G‑d's word began. Until this point Moses was a messenger, relaying G‑d's words. Now, however, His word would enter Moses' mind and it would come out of "his own mouth." This is the way the word of G‑d has been communicated ever since, first through the prophets, then the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, and then the sages of every subsequent generation. And this is the way it continues to come to us to this very day, as our sages say, "Everything that a seasoned scholar will one day innovate in Torah was all given to Moses from Sinai."7 Even today, the innovations and teachings of our great Torah scholars are Torah from Sinai, the word of G‑d.8

In the book of Devarim, there are new teachings as well as teachings that give clarity to things that were taught in the first four books of the Torah. We may gather from this that the whole Torah hinges on Moses' words in the book of Devarim. By extension, the same may be said for the sages of every generation, "the part of Moses that was spread into every generation,"9 who innovate and explain the Torah. If we don't believe in them, and if we don't follow their teachings, we question the validity of the Torah itself. This is what the Midrash10 says on the verse, "They believed in G‑d, and in Moses his servant":11 One who believes in the faithful shepherd [Moses], it is as if he believes in G‑d; and one who speaks against the faithful shepherd, it is as if he speaks against G‑d.

Generational Divide

The book of Devarim was said to the generation that was to enter the Holy Land. This will help us understand why it had to be said specifically through Moses. The first four books of the Torah were said to the generation of the desert, who were totally separate from worldly matters. They lived a spiritual life and didn't need to be invested in the physical world. Therefore, they were able to receive the direct words of G‑d. Moses was just the messenger12 to convey G‑d’s exact words. However, the generation entering the land would have to contend and struggle with the physical world. They wouldn't be able to handle the direct words of G‑d. Being in the physical, they would need the Torah to come to them through the physical. By the word of G‑d entering Moses' mind and being expressed "from his own mouth," it was coming through the physical.

As the generations got further and further away from that point, they became more and more enwrapped in the physical world, and the more the word of G‑d garbed itself in the physical, through the words and directives of our Torah scholars. Not just any Torah scholars, but those who are accepted by the Jewish people as Torah leaders.13

There is a positive aspect of the generation entering the land over the generation of the desert. Even though they experienced the revelation of G‑d regularly, the generation of the desert were not privy to His essence. The essence of G‑d is drawn into the world specifically through the physical because it is in the physical that He desires to be.14 Through our Torah study and performance of mitzvot in the physical world, we draw the essence of G‑d. The further the generation, the more we are in the physical and the more of His essence we can draw. Until the final generation before the coming of Moshiach, it is we who will draw the completeness of His essence and Moshiach will come.

The Devarim Advantage

In a way, the Book of Devarim is the greatest of the five Books. This is because it enables us to bring the first four, that were said to the lofty and spiritual generation of the desert, into the physical world, and accomplish their purpose.

It is the innovations in Torah and the enactments of the Torah scholars of the last generation that make Moshiach come. It is those last enactments, the words of G‑d to the final generation, that complete the Torah of Moses from Sinai. They are the specific actions necessary to strike the last blow to bring the exile to an end.

The Three Weeks are the darkest time on the Jewish calendar. Within the Three Weeks, Tisha B'Av is the darkest day, the day that we were thrown into the exile.

The Shabbatot in the Three Weeks15 are G‑d's "preemptive remedy even before the infliction." As they are an oasis, a taste of Moshiach, in this dark time. Shabbat is so holy that we are not allowed to show any sign of mourning on it.16 Instead, we have to be happy and take pleasure in the day. On the Shabbatot of the Three Weeks, we add in joy, so as to not be seen as mourning in any way.

This idea is reflected in Jewish law. The Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, was the chief rabbi of Yekaterinoslav, modern-day Dnipro, Ukraine. There was a man who regularly wore slippers on Shabbat. In the week that he was sitting shiva, Reb Levik instructed him to wear shoes on Shabbat, so that it won't look as if he was mourning.

On Shabbat there is no exile. It reminds us that the whole exile is merely a preparation for the time of Moshiach. And because these Shabbatot are contrasted against the darkness of the Three Weeks, their light shines brighter than the Shabbatot of the rest of the year.

Understandably, the last Shabbat of the Three Weeks, which falls before Tisha B'Av or on Tisha B'Av itself, is the Shabbat in the darkest possible time. It, therefore, shines brighter than any other Shabbat. It is the ultimate "preemptive remedy before the infliction." Therefore, the parshah of Devarim, the beginning of the Book of Devarim, which makes it possible for us to draw G‑d's essence into the physical world and bring Moshiach, is read on this Shabbat. It is, in essence, the cure to the exile.

We are the last generation. We will merit to bring Moshiach. May the merit of our Torah and mitzvot hasten his coming. And may we soon see these dark days of the Three Weeks turn into days of joy and Tisha B'Av into the most festive holiday. May it happen now, before Tisha B'Av. The time has come.17