Torah Weekly

For the week ending 22 July 2023 / 4 Av 5783

Parshat Devarim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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This Torah portion begins the last of the Five Books of The Torah, Sefer Devarim. This Book is also called Mishneh Torah, "Repetition of the Torah" (hence the Greek/English title “Deuteronomy”). Sefer Devarim relates what Moshe told the Jewish People during the last five weeks of his life, as they prepared to cross the Jordan River into the Land of Israel. Moshe reviews the mitzvahs with the people, stressing the change of lifestyle they are about to undergo — from the supernatural existence of the desert under Moshe’s guidance, to the apparently natural life they will experience under Yehoshua’s leadership in the Land.

The central theme this week is the sin of the spies, the meraglim. This Torah portion opens with Moshe alluding to the sins of the previous generation who died in the desert. He describes what would have happened if they had not sinned by sending spies into Eretz Yisrael. Hashem would have given them, without a fight, all the land from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, including the lands of Ammon, Moav and Edom.

Moshe details the subtle sins that culminate in the sin of the spies, and reviews at length this incident and its results. The entire generation would die in the desert and Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. He reminds them that their immediate reaction to Hashem’s decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin. He recounts how they would not listen when he told them not to go, and that they no longer merited vanquishing their enemies miraculously. They had ignored him and suffered a massive defeat. They were not allowed to fight with the kingdoms of Esav, Moav or Ammon. These lands were not to be part of the map of Eretz Yisrael in the meantime. When the conquest of Canaan will begin with Sichon and Og, it will be via natural warfare.


Seeds for the Future

“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Aravah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Lavan, Chatzerot and Di Zahav...”.

“You know. You’re such an idiot. I don’t know why you did that. Didn’t you realize that you would hurt his feelings? Why aren’t you more sensitive to other people?”

It always surprises me how the most sensitive people to their own feelings are sometimes the least sensitive to others.

Even when offering constructive advice to someone, the worst way to do is by a direct confrontation, for immediately the listener will rise against the perceived attack with all manner of self-justification: “I couldn’t help it”; “You think you could have done better?” etc. etc.

Better, by far, is to allude to the matter at hand, subtly planting an inference into the mind of the listener. In this way, his front-line early-warning defenses are not triggered, and the idea lodges in his subconscious to grow like a seed.

This is what Moshe does in the opening lines of the Book of Devarim. The place names that are mentioned here are locations of various sins and rebellions of the Jewish People: “...concerning the wilderness...” their lusting for the flesh pots of Egypt; “...concerning the Aravah...” their immorality with the daughters of Moav;“...opposite the Sea of Reeds...” their lack of trust in Hashem at the crossing of the sea; “...between Paran and Tophel and Lavan...” their complaints about the miraculous food — the Manna; “...and Chatzerot...” the rebellion of Korach; “and Di Zahav” the golden calf.

Moshe is addressing the Bnei Yisrael in the last five weeks of his life. He wants to leave them a strong and lasting message: To beware of inherent tendencies that have already brought them into trouble.

Rather than tackle them directly and risk rejection, Moshe plants the seeds of self-examination into the collective psyche of the Jewish People so that long after his departure they will still bear fruit.

Sources: Rashi; Chasam Sofer, heard from Rabbi Naftali Falk

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