This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Parshat Devarim is being sponsored by Ari and Rivka Stern of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in honor of their children and grandchildren — that they should all be matzliyach to do the Ratzon Hashem and for a refuah shleima for all of the cholim. To the Stern family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.
Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.
This excerpt from a Parsha summary written by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim (page 1) serves as a fitting beginning to the vort for Parshat Devarim:
On the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year after Yetziyot Mitzrayim, as the B’nei Yisrael stand poised to enter the land of Canaan, Moshe opens his farewell address. Prohibited by Divine decree from entering the land of Canaan, this great leader will spend the last five weeks of his life delivering a series of wide-ranging messages to his people. These messages comprise the text of Sefer Devarim.
The opening posuk of our Parshat Devarim reads:
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, across the Jordan [b’eiver HaYardein]…” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 1 as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary)
The rendering to English of this posuk is slightly different in the Artscroll Stone Chumash:
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan [b’eiver HaYardein]… (ibid, Artscroll Stone Chumash)
Either way, Torah’s words, “b’eiver HaYardein” seem puzzling. The B’nei Yisrael had not yet crossed the Yardein, and Moshe was not to cross the Yardein under Divine Command, so why; “across the Jordan” or “on the other side of the Jordan?”
It seems to this author that Rashi understood these words as self-evident.
The question of why “across the Jordan,” or “on the other side of the Jordan” was posed to two Rabbis.
Rabbi Binyamin Jacobson of Ramat Beit Shemesh indicated verbally that the Ohr HaChayim discusses the entire posuk which indicates various resting places prior to arrival at the Yardein in the context of veiled rebuke of Am Yisrael, that the B’nei Yisrael were at the edge of the Yardein when Moshe begins his address to the nation which lasts over the final weeks of his life.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, author of the five volume sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” heavily cited in this author’s weekly Parshat HaShavua, indicated in a conversation by telephone that our perspective as Jews is about Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, as the B’nei Yisrael had not yet crossed the Yardein into Eretz Yisrael, it was important to indicate and distinguish where the nation was presently located — “across the Yardein,” or “on the other side of the Yardein” from Eretz Yisrael.
A number of years ago, Rav Aba Wagensberg spoke out in a shiur that Sefer Devarim represents Moshe Rabbeinu’s Mussar to B’nei Yisrael as the time of his death drew near.
Rabbi Wagensberg gave over the thought that the B’nei Yisrael, after all of the rebellions, all of the contention, all of the failures which the rebellions and contention wrought, after the blatantly false accusations of nepotism hurled by segments of the Am at Moshe and Aaron HaKohen and more, Finally [as the famous wrestler and movie star would say] Finally, the B’nei Yisrael came to the collective, unequivocal realization that Moshe Rabbeinu, now in his final days on earth, was indeed, unequivocally Hashem’s anointed — the undisputed leader and that his words are the words of Hashem.
Shem Mishmuel (Selections on the weekly parshiyot and festivals rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski) discusses Parshat Devarim (page 373):
This book is qualitatively different from the other four. Chazal tell us (in Megillah, page 31b) that the curses in Sefer Devarim were said by Moshe himself. We may assume… that the material in Devarim, while of course presented by Hashem to Moshe, contains more human input, however slight, than the previous four books.
Perhaps it can be considered an in-between stage, bridging the gap between the main Written Torah… and the Oral Torah. Devarim contains elements of both — it is the written word of Hashem…, but with an element of human content, like [oral] Torah.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes in his introduction to his volume of Sefer Devarim of his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text” (page xxi):
1/ While traditional Torah study is based on a fundamental belief in the Divine authorship of the text, questioning and challenging the text itself is not only permitted, but encouraged. Unless we struggle with the narrative, Hashem’s word and… intent remain distant and unclear and the Torah remains a closed book.
2/ The treasures of the Torah can only be uncovered when the narrative itself is seen as truth, comprised of real events that happened to real people. The heroes of the Torah were human beings, …and the stories of their lives are not fables.
3/ No part of the text or its contents will be off-limits… We… probe Hashem’s desires for us reflected in His unfolding law and… attempt discern what Torah reveals about His Divine Will. We will seek to understand why events took place as they did and how the narrative might inform our lives, and… explore the deep philosophical currents coursing through the laws and events described…
Bearing in mind these parameters which R’ Goldin lays out, questions arise concerning historical variations between accounts in Sefer Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim Regarding the Sin of the Spies. This author’s understanding that Moshe used key words in veiled rebuke of the nation to allude to the various sins in Bamidbar is reinforced by the Artscroll Stone Chumash in a citing from both Rashi and Onkelos on Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posukim 1-5 (page 939):
…He [Moshe] began his words by reminding them of the long string of sins and rebellions that marked the forty years since the Yetziyat Mitzrayim [the liberation from Egypt]…. In order not to embarrass and offend his listeners, Moshe did not mention these sins explicitly; instead he alluded to them by using place names or other veiled references.
The Artscroll Stone Chumash gives a number of examples of such allusions (ibid, page 939) of which four are cited here:
Bamidbar — Concerning the Wilderness. Shortly after leaving Mitzrayim, in the Wilderness of Sin, the people complained that they had been led into a desert to starve. (citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 16, posukim 1-3)
Bein Paran — Between Paran. The spies were sent from the Wilderness of Paran. (citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perakim 13-14)
V’Chatzeirot — And Hazeroth. Korach’s rebellion took place in [or near] Hazeroth. Alternatively, Miriam was stricken there for slandering Moshe (citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 12, posukim 1-16), but the nation did not let the message stop them from slandering Hashem.
V’Di Zahav — And Di-Zahav. [literally, abundance of gold] Hashem blessed the Jews with an abundance of gold when they left Mitzrayim, but they used His gift to to make the golden calf.
Therefore, this author could reason that such veiled rebuke of the nation, in order not to embarrass, offend or inflame, yet conjure up memory of the various sins could account for historical variations between accounts in Sefer Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim regarding the sin of the spies as contrasted in Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posukim 1-2 The sending of the spies, 27-28, 31-33 The spies report, and Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posukim 22-23 The sending of the spies, Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 25 The spies report. (Readers may want to have Chumashim at ready reference)
Rabbi Goldin, however, goes deeper in posing questions and providing sources and commentaries which discuss the historical variations between accounts in the two s’forim regarding the Sin of the Spies (“Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, pages 23 – 30):
In our time…. we are quick to point out that the boundary between objective reporting of facts and editorializing on those facts has become increasingly blurred.
These current concerns only serve to highlight the questions before us. How do we explain the discrepancies in Moshe’s recollections of the sin of the spies? …Could Moshe be guilty of historical revisionism, or at the very least, selective memory, in his representation of the events?
What are the facts? Whose idea was it to send spies — Hashem’s or the B’nei Yisrael?
And why does Moshe glaringly omit the majority of the report brought back by the spies upon the conclusion of their mission to Canaan? By leaving out overwhelmingly negative aspects of the spies’ testimony, Moshe effectively changes the quality of the entire story. According to the reality that he presents, the spies seem to bear no blame at all, while the nation is fully at fault, having no reason to lose heart and rebel.
Rabbi Goldin provides a number of commentaries, but, in the interest of not elongating this vort, this author finds that the clearest, most concise commentary presented in answer to the above questions emerges from Rabbi Goldin’s citing of the Ramban, with explanation from Nechama Leibowitz (ibid, page 26):
The B’nei Yisrael, this scholar [the Ramban] claims, acted in natural fashion, as would any nation attempting to determine the best approach to an impending battle. Hashem, in fact, fully requires that we not rely on miracles in such endeavors, but that we do our part. Moshe, therefore, agreeing with the people’s appeal, consults with Hashem and receives the response “Shelach lecha anashim” [Send forth men]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 13, posuk 2)
Nechama Leibowitz explains that, according to the Ramban, the nature of the people’s request for spies is so obvious that there is no need for a mention of that request in the original Bamidbar narrative of the episode. In Moshe’s recollections, recorded in sefer Devarim, this great leader does refer to the peope’s request, in order to emphasize their ancestors’ direct responsibility for unfolding events. (Rabbi Goldin citing Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, pages 19-20 — Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1980)
…Moshe refers to the sin of the spies in his opening farewell address to the nation for only one purpose. He is intent on ensuring that this episode does not recur, and that the nation standing before him does not fail on the brink of success, as did their parents. To accomplish this goal, Moshe must convince each Jew that he or she alone is responsible for the moral decisions to be made; ” the existence of a provocateur does not absolve the subject of the provoation from responsibility. (Rabbi Goldin citing Nechama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, page 22)
Moshe, therefore, deliberately shades his retelling of the story to minimize the role played by the spies and to emphasize the personal decisions made by each individual Jew at the time.
Sefer Devarim, the Mussar delivered by Moshe Rabbeinu, as reduced by Hashem to the written word of Torah, contains lessons that many Jews of our generations, and particularly our modern Israeli politicians, media and intelligencia need to internalize and take deeply to heart if we are to indeed pray and hope for, that B’Ezrat Hashem, this Tisha B’av FINALLY be the last Tzom for B’nai Yisrael.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Good Shabbos, and Fast Easy on Tisha B’av!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.