This Parsha 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 Bnei Yisrael during the last five weeks of his life, as they prepared to cross the Jordan into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe reviews the mitzvot, stressing the change of lifestyle they are about to undergo: from the supernatural existence of the desert under Moshes guidance to the apparently natural life they will experience under Yehoshuas leadership in the Land.
The central theme this week is the sin of the spies, the meraglim. The Parsha opens with Moshe alluding to the sins of the previous generation who died in the desert. He describes what would have happened if they hadnt 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. He 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; Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. He reminds them that their immediate reaction to Hashems decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin. He recounts how they wouldnt listen when he told them not to go, that they no longer merited vanquishing their enemies miraculously. They 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.
Son Of G-dzilla
“And it will be that if you hearken to My commandments.” (11:13)
One of the ten economic commandments of Hollywoodis “If it makes money, let there be born unto it a Son. A sequel. Or a prequel. “Let it contain all the same stars, and let the plot be so close to its progenitor that you’re not sure if you’re actually watching a different film or the original one.”
The second paragraph of the Shema looks like ‘Son of Shema.’ It has the same mitzvot: to love G-d and to serve him with all your heart etc.; to speak of the mitzvot when you’re sitting in you home and walking along the way, to wear tefillin; to put up a mezuza.
Haven’t we heard all this before?
The best thing, the only thing that really can be described as ‘good’ in this world is to be close to G-d. Trouble is we don’t always do what’s good for us.
All over the world there are speed limits on roads. In the States it’s a mind-numbing 55 MPH. In England it’s 70 MPH. A speed limit it placed on a road to prevent you killing yourself. Seeing as that’s the reason, why should we need a system of fines and penalties to stop people speeding? Isn’t losing your life a far more persuasive reason to slow down than losing $75 dollars for a speeding ticket?
A smaller but more immediate danger can impact us more than a danger which is greater but more remote.
In the first paragraph of the Shema, no results are stated for doing or not doing the mitzvot because it’s self-evident that doing the mitzvot brings us close to G-d. And that’s the real good.
Human nature being what it is, however, the Torah saw a need to go back and repeat those same mitzvot in this week’s Torah portion, but this time it adds that if we do them we will have rain at its proper time; we’ll gather our grain, our wine, our oil. G-d will provide grass for our cattle. We’ll eat and be satisfied. And if we don’t keep the mitzvot, then there will be no rain, the ground won’t yield its produce, and eventually we will be exiled.
None of these blessings and curses can compete with the true good of being close to G-d; it’s just that sometimes the threat of $75 speed ticket is more eloquent than possibility of not making it home at all.