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Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

The opening verses of this first Sedra Devarim of the fifth book of the Torah announce the intention of Moses “to clarify this Torah” (Deuteronomy 1:5).  At the outset Moses provides a review and running augmentation of what had occurred and is recorded for Israel in the wilderness in the previous book, Numbers, through the war against the Amorite kings and their countries, and the detailed apportionment of their conquered land east of the Jordan River.

Moses Speaks from Transjordan


These are the words (Devarim) which Moses spoke to all of Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the plain opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Lavan, Chatzerot, and Di-zahav.  It is eleven days from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barneya.

In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses speaks to the Children of Israel in accordance with all that the Eternal commanded him regarding them, after his defeating Sichon, king of the Amorites, who was dwelling in Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, who was dwelling in Ashtarot and in Edrei.

On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses proceeds to clarify this Torah as follows.


The Eternal our God told us that we had dwelled long enough at the mount of Horeb (cf. Numbers 10:11ff.) and that we should turn and journey to the hill country of the Amorites and their neighbors in the plain, in the mountain, in the lowland, in the south, on the sea coast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates.  See the land that I am giving you.  Come and possess the land which the Eternal has promised to give to your fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants.


I, for my part, told you at that time that I could no longer bear you alone (cf. Numbers 11:10-15).  The Eternal your God increased you to make you as numerous as the stars of heaven.  May the Eternal, the God of your fathers, continue to increase you, even more, a thousand times what you are today; may He bless you as He has promised you!  But how [eycha (cf. Lamentations 1:1)] could I alone bear your trouble and your burden and your quarreling? choose for yourselves from each of your tribes men who are wise, understanding and knowledgeable, and I will appoint them as your leaders (cf. Numbers 11:16ff.).  You approved.  So I took the heads of your tribes, men wise and understanding, and appointed them over you: officers of thousands, officers of hundreds, officers of fifties, officers of tens, and officials of your tribes.


I charged your judges at that time to hear cases between your peers and to exercise righteous judgment between a man and his brother, between a man and his stranger.  Show no favoritism in judgment: consider the lesser litigant and the greater litigant equally.  Fear no man, as judgment is God’s!  A case that is too hard for you to decide: bring it to me, and I shall hear it.  Thus I charged you at that time with all that you should do.


So we journeyed from Horeb through all of that great awesome wilderness that you saw, by way of the hill country of the Amorites, as the Eternal our God commanded us, until we came to Kadesh Barneya.  I said to you:  As you have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Eternal our God is giving to us, see the Land that the Eternal your God has placed before you and go up to possess it, as the Eternal, the God of your fathers, promised you; do not fear, do not be dismayed!

At that time you asked of me that we send men to explore the Land for us, in order to determine the path by which we should go up and the cities which we will encounter.  Thinking that your request was good, I selected twelve men, one from each tribe (cf. Numbers 13:1ff.).  They went up the mountain as far as Wadi Eshkol to reconnoiter the Land and returned with some of its fruit and a good report.

But you refused to go up, you rejected the command of the Eternal your God.  In your tents you murmured slanderously that the Eternal brought us from the land of Egypt out of hatred for us to destroy us by the hand of the Amorites!  How can we go up: our brothers have disheartened us with their report of a people greater and taller than us, of cities enormous and walled to the sky, and also the presence of giants!

I told you not to fear them, for it is the Eternal your God who walks before you and fights for you, as you saw Him do in Egypt and as He bore you all the way through the wilderness as a father carries his son, to where you are now!  Notwithstanding this, you did not have faith in the Eternal your God, who walks before you on the path to show you the way to go and to find a place to camp, in a fire by night and in a cloud by day.


The Eternal, hearing your words, became angry and swore that none of those men, “of this evil generation” (Deuteronomy 1:35), would see the good Land “that I promised to give to your fathers, except for Caleb ben Yephunneh” (Deuteronomy 1:35-36), whom I will give the Land on which he walked, and to his sons also, because he kept faith with the Eternal (cf. Numbers 14:1ff.).

The Eternal included me as well in his anger, because of you, and closed me out of entering the Land (cf. Numbers 20:1-13), in favor of Joshua bin Nun (cf. Numbers 27:12-23).  “Strengthen him,” said the Eternal to me, “as he will apportion the Land to Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:38).  Moreover, your infants, who you said would become spoil, and your children, who do not yet know good from evil, will enter and inherit the Land.  But you, turn to the wilderness and march into it by way of the Sea of Reeds!


Now you were burdened with the awareness of your sin against the Eternal and tried to undo it by staging an unauthorized effort of conquest (cf. Numbers 14:39-45).  The Eternal was not in your midst for this act, as He explained to me and I tried to explain to you, but you did not listen and disregarded the command of the Eternal.  The result was that the Amorites, who dwelled in those hills, came out like bees and routed you.  They crushed you in Seir as far as Chormah.  Again you cried before the Eternal, but He paid no heed.

1:46-2:7, 12

After remaining in Kadesh for many days, we turned to the wilderness and marched into it by way of the Sea of Reeds, as the Eternal instructed me, and we went around the hill country of Seir for many days.  Then the Eternal told me that we had skirted that hill country long enough and that we should turn north.  He bid me warn you that we would be passing through territory of our kinsmen, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.  Although they fear us, we must not be aggressive towards them because the Eternal has no intention of giving us any of their land, because Mount Seir is the inheritance of Esau.  We may purchase food and water from them, “for the Eternal your God has blessed you in every endeavor that you have undertaken, being familiar with your passage through this great wilderness for forty years; He is with you, you have lacked nothing” (Deuteronomy 2:7)!

The Chorites lived in Seir before the descendants of Esau, who dispossessed them and wiped them out.  The descendants of Esau then took their place, just as Israel did to the Land which the Eternal gave them as an inheritance.


We then passed from our kinsmen, the descendants of Esau, in Seir, from the road of the plain, from Eylath and from Etzion Gever, and turned to the road of the wilderness of Moab.  The Eternal told me not to harass Moab, not to wage war against them, because the Eternal does not intend to give us any of their land as an inheritance, “for I have given Ar as an inheritance to the children of Lot” (Deuteronomy 2:9).

Rephaim lived in Ar before the Moabites, who call them Emim.  They are a large and numerous people, as tall as the Anakites.


Now comes the order to arise and cross the Wadi Zered.  It took us 38 years to go from Kadesh Barneya and cross the Wadi Zered, allowing time for all of the generation of warriors to expire from the camp, as the Eternal had promised them.  The hand of the Eternal was against them to drive them towards their end.

When all of the warriors had died off from among the people, the Eternal said to me:  You are now crossing the border of Moab through Ar.  As you approach the Ammonites, then, do not besiege them or threaten them, because I shall not give you an inheritance from the land of the Ammonites, as I have given it as an inheritance to the children of Lot.

It is also considered the land of the Rephaim, who lived there before the Ammonites.  The Ammonites called them Zamzummim.  They are a large and numerous people, as tall as the Anakites, but the Eternal destroyed them from before them, and they dispossessed them and dwelled in their place, as He did for the descendants of Esau, who dwell in Seir.  Similarly, the Caphtorim from Caphtor destroyed the Avvim, who dwelled in Chatzerim as far as Gaza, and settled in their place.


Sichon, king of Cheshbon

Then the order was to arise and cross the Wadi Arnon:  I have placed in your hand Sichon, king of Cheshbon, the Amorite, and his country; begin the war of conquest!  I hereby begin to impose fear of you upon the peoples under all of heaven, such that when they learn of your reputation, they will tremble before you.

First, from the wilderness of Kedeymot, I sent representatives to Sichon, king of Cheshbon, with offers of peace:  Let me pass through your land as far as the Jordan, where I will cross over to the Land which the Eternal our God is giving to us.  We will stay strictly on the highway.  We will pay you for whatever food we eat and water we drink (cf. Numbers 21:21ff.) .  This is as the descendants of Esau, who dwell in Seir (cf. Numbers 20:14-21 and Deuteronomy 2:1-8), and the Moabites, who dwell in Ar (cf. Numbers 22:2ff. and Deuteronomy 2:9-13), did for me (Deuteronomy 2:29a).

But Sichon, king of Cheshbon, refused to allow us to pass through his territory, because the Eternal your God caused him to be obstinate in order to place him in your hand, as it is this day.  Indeed the Eternal said to me:  I am herewith delivering Sichon and his country to you; begin the conquest of his land!

Sichon and all of his people came out to engage us in war at Yahatz.  The Eternal our God was delivering him before us.  We struck him and his sons and all of his people.  We captured all of his cities at the same time and faithfully destroyed all of the male inhabitants, leaving as well no survivors among the females and the children.  Only the cattle we kept as booty—and the spoil of the cities that we captured.  From Aroer on the bank of the Wadi Arnon, and the city in the wadi valley, as far as Gilead, there was no city superior to us—the Eternal our God delivered all of them to us!  But you did not lift a hand against the country of the Ammonites, the Wadi Jabbok, the cities of the hill country, and all that the Eternal our God circumscribed.

Og, king of Bashan

We then turned and ascended the road to Bashan (cf. Numbers 21:32ff.).  Og, king of Bashan, together with all of his people, confronted us for battle at Edrei.  The Eternal said to me: Fear him not, for I have placed him in your hand, along with all of his people and his country, so that you shall do to him as you did to Sichon, king of the Amorites, who dwelled in Cheshbon.  Indeed the Eternal our God delivered Og, king of Bashan, and all of his people into our hand, and we struck him so that there was not a survivor.  We conquered all of his cities at the same time; there was not one that we did not take from them: sixty fortified cities, the entire territory of Argov, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.  The cities were fortified by high walls, double gates and bars.  In addition, there were very many unfortified, more exposed towns.  We destroyed them faithfully, as we did to Sichon, king of Cheshbon; we destroyed in every city the men, the women and the children.  Only the cattle and the spoil of the cities did we keep as booty.

Apportionment of the Land

So it was, then, that we acquired, from possession of the two Amorite kings, the land across the Jordan from Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon—the Sidonians call Hermon: Siryon, and the Amorites call it: Seneer—all of the plateau cities, all of Gilead, and all of the Bashan as far as Salechah and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in the Bashan.  Og, king of Bashan, was the last of the remaining Rephaim.  His bed of iron, which is in Capital City of the Ammonites, is nine by four ordinary cubits.

Of this land which we conquered, I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites an apportionment from Aroer along the Wadi Arnon and half of the hill country of Gilead and its cities.  I gave them from the Gilead to Wadi Arnon into the middle of the wadi as a border as far as the Jabbok Wadi, the border of the Ammonites, and the plain and the Jordan, and territory from Kinneret to the sea of the plain, the Salt Sea, below the slopes of Pisgah to the east.

To the half tribe of Manasseh I gave the rest of the Gilead and all of the Bashan, kingdom of Og, all of the Argov chain, which is all of that part of Bashan that is called the land of Rephaim.  Manasseh’s son Yair took all of the Argov chain as far as the Geshurite and Ma’achathite border and renamed them, formerly Bashan, after himself: Villages of Yair—to this day.  To Machir I gave the Gilead.

Charge to Two-and-a-Half Tribes

I then charged you:  The Eternal your God has given you this Land to possess.  You are to march before your brothers, the Children of Israel, all warriors equipped for war!  Only your wives, your children, and the abundant livestock that I know you possess, will remain in your cities which I have given you, until the Eternal shall fulfill for your brothers the benefit that you have enjoyed and they also inherit the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to them over the Jordan.  Then you may return, each man to his inheritance, as I have provided to you.

Charge to Joshua

At the same time I charged Joshua:  As your eyes see all that the Eternal your God has done to these two kings, thus may the Eternal do to all of the kingdoms to which you are crossing.  Fear them not, for it is the Eternal your God who does battle for you!


Third Haftarah of Rebuke
Shabbat Chazon
Isaiah 1:1-27

A Hopeful Offer

The vision (Chazon) of Isaiah son of Amotz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziahu, Yotham, Achaz, and Yechizkiahu, kings of Judah:

Let the heavens and the earth
be witness to this message of the Eternal:
The children I raised
have sinned against Me!

Animals are loyal to their master,
but Israel My people is not loyal to Me.
It is a sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity.

What is left to be stricken for punishment?
Wounds and sores are all over
from foot to head.
Your country is desolate.
Strangers are eating it
before your eyes.
The daughter of Zion is bereft,
abandoned like a booth in a vineyard.

Had the Eternal of hosts
not left us a small remnant,
we would be like Sodom and Gomorrah.

But tell Me, you rulers of Sodom:
What good are all of your sacrifices to Me?
I am full of your burnt offerings.
I do not need you to trample My courts
on New Moons, Sabbaths and Festivals.
I cannot listen to your prayers.
When you spread your hands,
I hide My eyes from you—
because your hands are full of blood!

So wash yourselves:
Learn to do good,
seek justice,
set straight the ruthless,
judge for the orphan,
argue for the widow.

Let us deliberate,
says the Eternal:
If your sins be as scarlet,
they can still become as white as snow.
If you are willing to learn,
you shall enjoy the good of the Land.
But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be consumed by the sword.

How [eycha (cf. Lamentations 1:1 et seq.)] the faithful city has become a harlot,
once full of justice, now a den of murderers!
Your precious silver, your fine wine,
now worthless scum.
Your rulers have rebelled:
No more champions of the orphan or the widow,
they associate with thieves
and pursue payoffs.

Therefore declares the Lord, the Eternal of hosts,
Israel’s Mighty One:
I shall be avenged of My enemies,
I shall more than wash you clean
but refine you of your alloy,
restore your judges as at first,
your counsellors as at the beginning—
after which you shall be called the City of Righteousness.

Yes, Zion shall be redeemed with justice,
those who return to her, with righteousness.


Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:7
Moses, Man of Words?

“These are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel…”
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

“I am not a man of words…”
(Exodus 4:10)

Rabbi Tanchuma taught:  This may be likened to one selling a purple garment and announcing, “Purple for sale!”  The king notices him and hears his voice, so he summons him and asks him, “What exactly are you selling?”  “Nothing,” he replies.  “But I heard your voice,” says the king, “crying, ‘Purple for sale!’ and now you claim that you are selling nothing?”  The man explains: “Truthfully, master, I am selling purple garments, but from your perspective they are nothing.”

Thus it was with Moses before the Holy One, blessed be He, who created the mouth and speech.  When Moses was summoned by God to go to Pharaoh and lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he responded, “I am not a man of words” (Exodus 4:10).  But before Israel: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel…!”

Sifre Deuteronomy 1
Words of Rebuke

“These are the words which Moses spoke
to all of Israel on the other side of the Jordan…”
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

But are these the only words offered by Moses?
Did he not write the entire Torah, as was said,
“Moses wrote this Torah…” (Deuteronomy 31:9)!
Why does Deuteronomy begin, “These are the words which Moses spoke…,”
all of the Torah are the words of Moses?

The “words” referred to here
are different from the other words that Moses spoke in the Torah.
They deserve this special introduction
because “words” here means words of rebuke:
Moses admonishes Israel ahead
for the sins that they will commit,
as he would say later,
“Jeshurun will grow fat and rebel…
forsaking the God who made him,
spurning his saving Rock!”
(Deuteronomy 32:15)

Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:4
Message over Medium

Said Rabbi Acha son of Rabbi Chanina:  It would seem fitting for the words of rebuke (see above), here attributed to Moses, to have been said rather by Balaam, who sought to harm Israel (cf. Numbers 22:2ff.), and for words of blessing, attributed to Balaam (cf. Numbers 23-24), to be said rather by Moses!  But if Balaam had been the one to admonish them, then Israel could have dismissed his words as merely the expected rebuke of their enemy.  And if Moses had been the one to bless Israel (instead of Balaam), then the nations of the world could have dismissed his words as an unremarkable blessing by their admirer.  So the Holy One, blessed be He, decided:  Let Moses, who loves them, rebuke them; and let Balaam, who hates them, bless them—so that both blessings and admonitions would be grasped unmistakably by Israel!

Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:5
Medium fits the Message

If anyone else had admonished them (see above), they could have retorted, “So what?  He is in no position to admonish us!”  But since the admonisher was Moses, of whom is written, “I have not taken even a single ass of any of them” (Numbers 16:15), it was fitting for him to admonish Israel!

If anyone else had said, “Now I know that the Eternal is greater than all gods…” (Exodus 18:11), they would have scorned his words, “Now I know…?”  But since these words were spoken by Yitro, priest of Midian, who would indeed have known, since he visited all the houses of idolatry in the world and failed to find substance in any of them, and thereafter converted to the religion of Israel, it was fitting for him to say, “Now I know…!”

If anyone else had said, “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), they would have taken his words as a reflection of his poverty.  But since these words were spoken by Solomon, of whom is written, “The king made silver in Jerusalem as plentiful as stones…” (I Kings 10:27), it was fitting for him to say, “Vanity of vanities…!”

If anyone else had said, “I blessed the Most High…whose dominion is everlasting and whose kingdom is for all generations, while all the inhabitants of the earth are of no account…” (Daniel 4:31-32), they would have thought, “So what if he says that ‘all the inhabitants of the earth are of no account?’  In his whole life he probably has not had dominion over even a pair of flies!”  But since these words were spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, of whom is written, “He has put in your hand, wherever they may live, people, wild animals and the birds of heaven, and has given you dominion over all of them…” (Daniel 2:38), it was fitting for him to say, “His dominion is everlasting…while all the inhabitants of the earth are of no account…!”

If anyone else had said, “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all of His ways are just…” (Deuteronomy 32:4), they could have dismissed him as one who has never known the weight of God’s judgment.  But since these words were spoken by Moses, about whom is written, “The Eternal executes righteous acts and judgments for all who are wronged; He gives to Moses knowledge of His ways…” (Psalms 103:6-7), it was fitting for Moses to say, “The Rock, His work is perfect…!”

Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:1
Talmud Megillah 9b
Other Languages?

These are the words…”
(Deuteronomy 1:1)

These words, of course, are written originally in Hebrew,
but here is a question of Halacha:

Is it permitted for an Israelite to write a Torah scroll in any other language?  Thus taught our Sages:  The only difference between Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot, is that the Torah scrolls can be written in any other language (cf. Mishnah Megillah 1:8).

However, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says:  The only other language in which they permitted the Torah scrolls to be written was Greek.

Said Rabbi Abbahu, said Rabbi Yochanan:  What is the reason of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel?  The verse says, “May God enlarge [yaft] Japheth (father of Yavan, Greece; cf. Genesis 10:3), may he dwell in the tents of Shem (ancestor of Abraham; cf. Genesis 11:10ff.)!” (Genesis 9:27):  May the words of Japheth be enlarged into the tents of Shem, that is, may the words of Shem be expressed in the many dialects of the language of Japheth…!

Said Rabbi Chiya bar Abba:  The verse is understood, “May God beautify [yaft] Japheth…”:  May the beauty of Japheth (the Greek language) be in the tents of Shem!

Sifre Deuteronomy 9
Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:8
Moses and Rebuke

“I, for my part, told you at that time
that I could no longer bear you alone.
The Eternal your God has increased you…”
(Deuteronomy 1:9-10)

But is it really possible that Moses was not able to judge Israel, a man who brought them out of Egypt and divided the sea for them and brought down the manna for them and brought over the quail and performed miracles and wonders for them?  How could such a man not be able to support them as their judge?

The answer lies in the words that follow: “The Eternal your God has increased you….”  When Moses spoke those words, he was thinking: He has made you, Israel, greater than the judge who presides over you!

Said Rabbi Simon:  When the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses that he should review the Torah—with words of rebuke that constitute Deuteronomy—Moses did not wish to rebuke them over what they had done.  This is because he had once rebuked them, “Listen, now, you rebels, shall we bring forth water for you from this rock” (Numbers 20:10)?!  For that rebuke, recalled Moses, I received a portion of their punishment, being forbidden to enter the Land.  So now how should I reprove them again?

Rabbi Simon likened Moses and God to a student walking with his master when the student saw a glowing coal.  Thinking that the lustrous coal was a gem, he picked it up and was burned.  Several days later the student was again walking with his master when the student saw a gem.  This time he assumed that it was a burning coal, so he was afraid to touch it.  His master said: Pick it up, it is a gem.  Thus, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: Moses, be not afraid to speak “these words” (Deuteronomy 1:1) of rebuke.

Sifre Deuteronomy 12
Moses’s Burden

“But how can I alone
bear your trouble
and your burden
and your quarreling?”
(Deuteronomy 1:12)

“Your trouble” teaches us that they were troublers:  If one of them anticipated that his opponent in a lawsuit would succeed against him, he would claim that he has more witnesses to bring, new evidence to present, insisting on a delay, even threatening to bring additional judges to hear the case.

“Your burden” teaches that they were skeptics:  If Moses left his house early, they would suggest that he must not be very comfortable in his home.  If he left his house late, they would wonder what delayed him and then proceed to suggest to others that he was using the time to devise harsh measures against them.

“Your quarreling” teaches that they were litigious connivers:  One of them would sue another for the greater coin of a maneh just in order to settle for the smaller coin of a sela.  Alternatively, one of them would sue the other for a sela in order to litigate the dispute up to two selas. 

Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:15
Deuteronomy Rabbah ed. Lieberman Devarim 18
Esau’s Reward

After remaining in Kadesh for many days, we turned to the wilderness and marched into it by way of the Sea of Reeds, as the Eternal instructed me, and we went around the hill country of Seir for many days.  Then the Eternal told me, “You have skirted that hill country long enough [rav lachem]; now turn yourselves north.”

(Deuteronomy 1:46-2:3)

Here is another question of Halacha:

What is the reward of one who upholds diligently the commandment to honor father and mother (cf. Exodus 20:12)?

Thus taught our Rabbis:  Honor of father and mother is one of those commandments for which one enjoys their fruits in this world as their principal endures in the world to come (cf. Mishnah Peah 1:1).

Said Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel:  I thought at first that no one honored his parents more than I, but then I discovered that Esau honored his father more than I honored mine.  Yes, I attended my father, but with soiled clothes, and when I went out to the market, I removed the soiled clothes and exchanged them for clean clothes.  But Esau did not do that; rather, the clothes that he wore when attending his father were his best.  We learn this when Rebecca disguises Jacob in Esau’s clothing in order to obtain for Jacob the blessing of their father Isaac: “Then Rebecca took the best clothes of Esau her older son and put them on Jacob her younger son” (Genesis 27:15).  Why “the best clothes?”  Because Rebecca knew that Esau wore his best clothes when attending his father Isaac.  Thus, Isaac, who was blind, would think that Jacob was Esau because he would feel his clean, fine clothing!

So, from this we learn that Esau was diligent in upholding the commandment to honor his father.  What was his reward?  Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses, “You have skirted that hill country (Seir, the home of Esau’s descendants) long enough…” (Deuteronomy 2:2-4): I repay according to deeds.  Whoever does good I recompense, and in this case Esau deserves credit for observing the mitzvah of honoring his father!  Even though he was wicked, I do not withhold his reward, but I pay him his reward and give him peace in this world so that he will have no cause for complaint in the world to come about how he was treated in this world.  Therefore you may not engage him in battle (cf. Deuteronomy 2:4-6)!

Said Rabbi Yudan: When Israel came to Seir with the intention of waging war against the descendants of Esau, the Holy One, blessed be He, showed Moses the hill [hahar] on which the patriarchs were buried and He instructed him:  Moses, tell Israel, you are not allowed to make war against him, for he has been worthy of reward for the honor he showed those who are buried in this mountain.  Thus the interpretation of the words, “You have skirted that hill country [hahar hazeh] long enough [rav lachem]…” (Deuteronomy 2:2): It was a great thing that you did [rav lachem] in circling this (sacred) mountain [hahar hazeh]!

Lamentations Rabbah 1:1
Talmud Berachot 32b
Loss and Recovery

Three prophets prophesied with the word Eycha ( “How…”):

1. Moses, who said, “Eycha…How could I alone
bear your trouble and your burden and your quarreling?”
(Deuteronomy 1:12)

2. Isaiah, who said, “Eycha…How the faithful city
has become a harlot…”
(Isaiah 1:21)

3. Jeremiah, who said, “Eycha…How lonely
sits the city once full of people…”
(Lamentations 1:1)

Rabbi Levi: This may be likened to a lady who had a series of three attendants.  One knew her as prosperous and sedate.  Another knew her when she had become insecure and wreckless.  Still another knew her in her degradation.  Similarly, Moses knew Israel in their glory and prosperity; hence, “How can I alone bear the burden of caring for you?”  Isaiah knew them when they had lost their way; hence, “How the once-faithful city has become a harlot!”  Jeremiah knew them in their state of degradation; hence: “How alone sits the city!”

Rabbi Elazar: Prayer is more potent than offerings, as can be inferred from the order of the prophet’s words, “What good are all of your sacrifices to Me?…And when you spread your hands (in prayer), I hide My eyes from you” (Isaiah 1:11,15)!  Rashi: If prayer were not more potent than sacrifice, then his having said, “What good are all of your sacrifices to Me?” would have been sufficient, and there would have been no need for him to add, “And when you spread your hands (in prayer)…,” because offerings would have been sufficient!

Rabbi Yochanan: A Kohen who has taken a life may not raise his hands for the priestly benediction, as the prophet said, “When you spread your hands, I hide My eyes from you—because your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15)!

Rabbi Elazar: Prayer is more effective than good deeds, as can be learned from the experience of Moses our Rabbi.  He implored the Eternal to let him see the Land (cf. Deuteronomy 3:25), and his petition was rejected, “Do not speak to Me again on this matter [davar]!” (Deuteronomy 3:26) even though he had more good deeds to his credit than anyone.  But then God’s words continue immediately in the next verse, “Go up to the top of the summit…and see the Land…” (ibid. 27); that is to say, “On this word [davar] (of prayer) (ibid. 26) go up… (ibid. 27),” because of your “word” [davar] of prayer I am granting your request to see the Land (Rashi)!  Tosafot: We understand the teaching of Rabbi Elazar to be that prayer is more effective than good deeds without prayer, and that even though Moses was credited with many good deeds, his request also required prayer!

Rabbi Elazar: From the day when the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer have been closed, as was said, “Although I cry out and plead, He has shut out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8)!  But although the gates of prayer have been shut, the gates of weeping have not been shut, as was said, “Hear my prayer, O Eternal; give ear to my cry, be not silent to my tears” (Psalms 39:13)!






How (Eycha) sits the city,
once full of people,
now alone, like a widow,
once great among the nations,
now a tributary!

Bitterly she weeps in the night,
unconsoled by any of her lovers,
now become her enemies.

Judah went into exile
from affliction and servitude,
dwelling among the nations,
finding no rest from her pursuers.

Zion’s roads are bereft of those
who walked them in celebration,
her public places deserted,
her Kohanim despondent,
her virgins in sorrow.

Her adversaries rule,
as the Eternal has punished her,
even her young children,
for her sins.

The daughter of Zion
has lost her beauty,
her princes their strength,
like deer without pasture,
helpless before the enemy.

She recalls in her depression
the former days of her prosperity,
but now that her people
has fallen to adversity
without one to help,
the adversaries laugh
at her annihilation.

For her immense sin
she is set aside as impure;
all who once honored her,
having seen her nakedness,
belittle her,
and she belittles herself
for ignoring the inevitable
consequences of her behavior.

the alien nations
have penetrated her Sanctuary,
those whom You forbade
to enter the congregation.
Her people suffer,
seeking bread,
seeking something to eat
to sustain their life.


“See, O Eternal, my affliction:
I am reduced as my enemy is magnified.
All who pass by—it should never happen to you!
See, is there any pain as great as mine,
by which the Eternal has afflicted me
in the day of His fierce anger.

“From on high He sent fire into my bones,
and a net did He spread for my feet,
throwing me backwards,
leaving me unwell.

“He fit my transgressions
as a yoke around my neck,
removing any strength
to resist those against me.

“He declared the time
for crushing my defenders;
the Lord did tread
the virgin daughter of Judah.

“For this my eye,
my eye is full of tears;
the comforter (menachem)
to restore my spirit
is not to be found:
the enemy has rendered
my children desolate.”


Zion pleads for a “comforter?”
The Eternal has set Judah’s neighbors
to be its foes,
Jerusalem forsworn among them.

“The Eternal is just,
I rebelled against His word:
witness, all you peoples,
the painful captivity
of my virgins and my young men!

“My allies have proven false,
My Kohanim and Elders have perished
seeking food;
terror of the sword
has convulsed me.

“My enemies rejoice
that there is no comforter,
that You have effected this woe;
but You will also bring
the day that You have promised,
when they shall be like me!

“May all of their evil
come for judgment before You:
do unto them
as You have done unto me;
as many as the sins
for which I have been punished
are the sighs
that my heart has suffered.”


How does the Lord becloud the daughter of Zion,
casting the beauty of Israel from heaven to earth,
angrily eschewing His footstool!

He has swallowed with merciless passion
pasture and fortress of the daughter of Judah;
He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.

He has cut down Israel’s defense,
removed His strong hand from before the foe,
burned through Jacob like a flaming fire.

The Lord has become like the enemy,
slaying the beautiful in the tent of the daughter of Zion,
swallowing palace and stronghold,
multiplying mourning.

He has demolished His Tabernacle
as if it were a garden;
the Eternal has dismissed in Zion
Festival and Sabbath,
He has spurned in His anger
both King and Kohen.

His Altar and His Sanctuary
He has handed over to the enemy,
whose voice is now heard
on the Festival day;
the walls that once protected them,
now enfeebled,
have been consigned to destruction.

Its gates have sunk,
its bars have been broken,
its king and its princes are among the nations,
there is no Torah,
its prophets find no vision from the Eternal;
elders and virgins alike
pour dust upon their heads
and sit upon the ground
in sackcloth.


My eyes are blinded with tears,
my bowels are enflamed,
devastated am I
over the catastrophe
that has befallen my people,
over the hunger and the fainting
of child and infant
in the city streets.

They ask their mothers for grain and wine
as their lives are poured out
in their mothers’ embrace.

How can I comfort you,
O daughter of Zion?
There is nothing to which
your tragedy can be compared.
Your prophets deluded you,
they failed to reveal to you your iniquity
in order to prevent your captivity!


All who pass by
make scolding noises
to embarrass you,
O daughter of Jerusalem:

“Is this the city that was called
‘the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?’

“We have swallowed her up;
this is the day
for which we have hoped!”

The Eternal has carried out
that which He planned
and that which He warned
from days of old
(cf. Leviticus 26:14ff.; Deuteronomy 28:15ff.; 32:15ff.);
He has destroyed without mercy
and gratified your enemy over you.


Their heart cries out to the Lord:
“O wall of the daughter of Zion,
Pour down your tears like a river
day and night!
Arise and cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the watches,
pour out your heart like water
before the Presence of the Lord;
lift up your hands to Him
for the life of your children,
who are dying of hunger
at the corner of every street:

“‘See what You have done, O Eternal!
Shall women be forced to eat their fruit,
the children whom they cared for?
Shall Kohen and Prophet, O Lord,
be slain in Your Sanctuary?
Young and old,
virgins and young men,
lie on the ground of the streets,
felled by the sword
by which You killed them
in Your merciless anger!

“’You called for this terror
as You might call for the Festival assembly,
and there was none who could escape;
the ones whom I cared for and nurtured
were destroyed by my enemy!’”


I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of His anger:
He has brought me to darkness, not light;
He turns His hand against me all the day;
He consumes my flesh, He breaks my bones;
He has surrounded me with suffering and misery.

He has confined me to the gloom of the dead
and shut out my prayer;
He has made my paths impassible,
He lies in wait for me as a wild animal,
He stalks me as prey,
His arrows are deep within me.

I have become a regular laughingstock,
I am sated with bitterness,
He has broken my teeth with stones,
He has lowered me into the dust,
I have forgotten what is peaceful and good,
I have lost all hope from the Eternal.


Take notice of my affliction
and my soul’s humiliation.

These do give me hope:
the never-depleted lovingkindness of the Eternal
renewed every morning,
abundantly faithful,
my soul’s portion,
therefore cause for hope.

It is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Eternal,
to bear the yoke in one’s youth,
to know that He placed it upon him,
to put his mouth in the dust with expectation,
to give his cheek to his chastiser,
for the Lord will not reject him forever.

For though He has caused him to suffer,
He will show compassion
according to the abundance of His lovingkindness.

It is not in His heart to bring suffering to the children of man,
to crush the lowly,
or betray the righteous in his cause.
Only the Most High is the Source of bad or good:
why should a living man complain, then,
when he is punished for his sins?
Let us search our ways
and return to the Eternal.


Let us elevate our hearts
as we lift up our hands
to God in heaven:

We have sinned,
and You have not forgiven;
You cover us with Your wrath,
killing us without mercy,
covering Yourself with a cloud
to keep out our prayer.

We are rendered refuse
in the midst of other peoples
as our enemies malign us;
the terror of catastrophe is ours.


My eye weeps tears unceasingly
over the catastrophe
of the daughter of my people
until the Eternal
shall see from heaven;
what I have seen
affects my soul.

My enemies hunt me for no cause;
they would exterminate me
by stoning me in the dungeon;
they would cut me off by drowning.

I call out Your name,
You hear my voice,
hide not Your ear from my plea!

You have redeemed me for other causes,
judge my cause now:
consider their vengeance,
You have heard
the constant refrain
of their reproaches against me.

Recompense them
for their acts against me;
punish them for
their hardness of heart;
track them down
and destroy them
from under the heavens
of the Eternal!


How dull the lustrous gold,
sacred stones discarded at any street corner,
Zion’s fine children worth their weight in gold
recast as clay pitchers!

Even the jackals nurse their young,
but the daughter of My people
seems like the cruel ostrich in the wilderness,
failing to nurse her infant
or feed her hungry young.
Those who once luxuriated in delicacies
now have only trash.
Harder her punishing starvation
than the quick overthrowing of Sodom:
her princes once white and ruddy
are unrecognizable
in their blackened and withered state,
her once-compassionate women
now boil their children for food.

The Eternal has exhausted His fury,
setting a fire in Zion
which consumes its foundations.


No one in the world believed
that the foe would enter Jerusalem.
Now her Prophets and her Kohanim
who spilled in her midst
the blood of the righteous
wander blindly
with bloody garments.
Driven out as untouchable,
they have been rejected also
among the nations,
for failing to respect
Kohen and Elder.

Also for us,
our failing has been
to depend upon a nation
that will not save.
We were hunted in our streets,
chased to the mountains,
trapped in the wilderness,
by pursuers swifter than the eagles of heaven.
Our very breath, the Anointed of the Eternal,
under whose protection we expected
to live among the nations,
was himself captured in their pits.

Rejoice, O daughter of Edom,
in Utz while you can (cf. Ezekiel 25:12-14),
for your turn will come
to become drunken and naked!
Your punishment, O daughter of Zion,
with its exile, is complete.
Now He will expose your sins,
O daughter of Edom,
for punishment!


Remember, O Eternal, what has befallen us,
our inheritance, our home, overturned to foreigners,
fatherless orphans we, as widows our mothers,
our water and our wood only for a price,
our necks bowed to Egypt and Assyria
for bread without rest.

We suffer for the sins of our fathers,
ruled by slaves from whom there is no escape;
at risk of the sword
do we extract bread from the wilderness.

Our skin burns from hunger,
our wives and our daughters defiled,
our princes hanged,
our elders dishonored,
our young burdened with hard labor.

The rule of our elders has ceased,
as has the music of our young;
the joy of our hearts and our dance
is turned into mourning.

Our crown has fallen, to our woe,
for we have sinned.

Our heart is faint,
our eyes are dim,
for the desolation of Mount Zion,
upon which the foxes walk.

Your throne, O Eternal, is forever;
why do You forsake us for so long?
 Take us back, Eternal One, let us return;
renew our days as of old.
For even if You have found us
deserving of condemnation,
You have shown us Your anger
in exceeding measure.

Take us back, Eternal One, let us return;
renew our days as of old.


Lamentations Rabbah Proem 24

Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman taught:

When the Temple was destroyed, Abraham was deeply dismayed.  He came before the Holy One, blessed be He, weeping and pulling out his hair, rending his garments, with ashes upon his head.  At the site of the destroyed Temple he mournfully appealed to the Holy One, blessed be He:  Why am I treated differently from every other nation and brought to such shame and contempt?

The ministering angels, upon seeing him, arranged themselves in many rows to comfort the mourner, saying: “Highways lie desolate, travelers are no more, a covenant has been broken, cities rejected, people diminished” (Isaiah 33:8)!

What did they mean by “Highways lie desolate?”  The ministering angels were saying to the Holy One, blessed be He: The highways to Jerusalem which You maintained so that the pilgrims would not cease using them—how they have become desolate!

“Travelers are no more”: The roads that Israel used to travel for the Festivals—how the travelers have ceased traveling on them!

“A covenant has been broken”: Master of the universe, the covenant of Abraham, their Father, has been renounced, the covenant by which the world is populated and by which the world recognizes You as God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth!

“Cities rejected,” literally, “He has rejected cities”: The ministering angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He, “You have rejected Jerusalem and Zion after You chose them,” as is written, “Have You indeed rejected Judah? Does Your soul loathe Zion? Why have you stricken us so that there is no cure” (Jeremiah 14:19)?

“People (Enosh) diminished,” literally, “He has not held Enosh important”: You have not held Israel to be even as important as the generation of Enosh, “who rebelled against calling upon the name of the Eternal” (cf. Genesis 4:26 s.v. Genesis Rabbah 23:7)!

At that moment the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged with the ministering angels and asked them why they arranged themselves in many rows to comfort the mourner.  They explained:  Because of Abraham, Your loyal one, who has come to Your House lamenting and weeping!  Why have You paid him no attention?  He answered them:  Since the day that my loyal one departed from Me to his eternal home, he has not come to My House.  But now, “What is My beloved doing in My House” (Jeremiah 11:15)?

Said Abraham before the Holy One, blessed be He:  Master of the universe, why have You exiled my children and delivered them into the hands of the nations, who torture them and kill them?  Why have You destroyed the Temple, the place where I offered Isaac my son as a burnt offering before You?  The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: Your children have sinned, have violated the entire Torah, every one of its words and letters!  Thus is it written: “All of Israel have transgressed Your Torah, gone astray, disobeyed You, wherefore You have imposed upon us the promised curse which is written in the Torah of Moses, servant of God, as we have sinned against Him” (Daniel 9:11)!

Then Abraham demanded: Master of the universe, say who testifies against Israel that they have violated Your Torah?  Let the Torah come forth, says the Holy One, and offer its testimony against Israel!  Whereupon the Torah came forth to testify against them.  Abraham said to her: My daughter, you are coming forth to testify against Israel that they have transgressed your commandments, but do you not feel ashamed? Recall how the Holy One, blessed be He, passed you around to every nation and tongue and not one of them wanted you, until my children arrived at Mount Sinai and received you with honor.  So now you would testify against them on the day of their calamity?!  When the Torah heard this, it stepped aside and did not testify against them.

Then the Holy One, blessed be He, announced:  Let each of the twenty-two different letters that are found in the Torah come forth and testify against Israel!  Immediately they came forth, and the Aleph presented itself first to testify against Israel that they have violated the Torah.  When it was Abraham’s turn to cross-examine the Aleph, he said to her:  Aleph, you are the first of all the letters, and you have come to testify against Israel on the day of their calamity.  Recall the day when the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed on Mount Sinai, and He began His revelation with you: “I (Anochi, which starts with the letter Aleph) am the Eternal your God…” (Exodus 20:2).  No nation or tongue would receive you except for my children, and today you are coming to testify against my children?!  Whereupon the Aleph stepped aside and did not testify against them.

Then the next letter, Beyt, came forth to testify against Israel, and Abraham said to the Beyt:  My daughter, you are coming to testify against my children, who are diligent in studying (if not fully observing) the words and letters of Torah, of which you are the first letter: “In the beginning (B’reysheet, which starts with the letter Beyt) God created…” (Genesis 1:1).  Whereupon the Beyt stepped aside and offered no testimony.

Gimmel then stepped forward to testify against Israel.  Said Abraham:  Gimmel, you have come to testify against my children that they have transgressed the Torah.  Is there any nation that upholds the commandment of tzitzit, of which you are the first letter, except for my children?  I refer to the verse, “Tassels (Gedileem, which starts with the letter Gimmel) shall you make for yourself on the four corners of your garment…” (Deuteronomy 22:12).  Whereupon the Gimmel stepped aside and offered no testimony.

When the other letters observed that Abraham had silenced the first three, they too were ashamed and stepped aside and did not testify against Israel.

Abraham then addressed the Holy One, blessed be He:  Master of the universe, when I was one hundred years old, You gave me a son, and when he was mature of mind, as a young man of thirty-seven years, You said to me: Offer him up to Me as a burnt offering.  I complied with your command, suppressing my paternal love, treating him as if I were cruel, not offering him any mercy, binding him myself—and You do not remember this to my credit and therewith show mercy to my children?!

At this point Isaac entered the conversation and said: Master of the universe, when Abba said to me, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8), I did not delay the fulfillment of Your words but willingly I allowed myself to be bound upon the altar and stretched out my neck under the knife—and You do not remember this to my credit and therewith show mercy to my children?!

At this point Jacob entered the conversation and said: Master of the universe, did I not spend twenty years in the house of Laban, and when I left his house, wicked Esau accosted me and sought to kill my children so that I risked my own life for their sake (cf. Genesis 33:1-3)?  Now they have been delivered into the hand of their enemies like sheep to the slaughter after You raised them like tender young chicks and I suffered for their sake the pain of raising children, having suffered that pain for their sake most of my days—and You do not remember this to my credit and therewith show mercy to my children?!

Then Moses entered the conversation and said: Master of the universe, was I not a faithful shepherd of Israel for forty years, running before them like a horse in the desert, and when the time came for them to enter the Land, You decreed that my bones would fall short in the wilderness?  Now that they have been exiled, You have sent me to lament and weep for them, suggesting the well-known proverb: From my master’s good fortune I derive no benefit, but I suffer from his bad fortune!

Whereupon Moses said to Jeremiah: Go ahead, and I shall follow and bring home the exiles and prevent anyone from harming them!  Jeremiah objected: It is impossible to walk along that road because of the dead that lie upon it.  But Moses insisted, and thus they walked, until they arrived at the rivers of Babylon.  When the exiles saw Moses, they said to each other: The son of Amram has come out from his grave to redeem us from the hand of our oppressors!

But the divine voice was heard: No, for that was My edict!  Moses had to explain to them: It is impossible to reverse your fortune, for the edict has already been imposed, but may the Omnipresent bring you back speedily!  And he left them there.  Thereupon they raised their voices with loud weeping until their weeping reached on high, as is written: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, and we wept, in remembering Zion” (Psalms 137:1).

When Moses returned to the Patriarchs, they asked him: What has the enemy done to our children.  He described to them all of the various murderous cruelties that were committed against men, women and children.  Master of the universe, he said, You have written in Your Torah, “Of oxen or sheep, you may not slaughter it and its child on the same day” (Leviticus 22:28), yet our enemies have already killed many many children together with their mothers, and You remain silent!

At that moment Rachel our Mother came before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said:  Master of the universe, it is well known to You that Jacob Your servant loved me with a great love and worked for me under Abba for seven years, and when those seven years were complete, and the time had come for me to marry my intended, my father determined to replace me for my husband with my sister (cf. Genesis 29:9 ff.).  His decision hurt me so very much that when I learned of it, I told my intended and gave him a secret sign between us, so he would know if my father attempted to substitute my sister for me on the wedding night.

Well, my compassion for my sister, who would have been set aside and humiliated if we had to carry out our plan, overpowered my passion for my beloved.  So that night, when my father did substitute my sister for me in the wedding bed, I gave her the secret sign so that my beloved Jacob would think that my sister was me, Rachel.  In addition, I hid under their bed so that when Jacob spoke with her, she would remain silent and I would answer for her, making him think that she was me by the sound of my voice.  Thus I showed her my lovingkindness and suppressed my envy.

So, if I, mere flesh and blood, of dust and ashes, did not treat my actual rival with envy but protected her from shame and reproach, then You, ever-living and compassionate King, why are You envious of idolatry, which has no validity to begin with and cannot be considered Your rival, why do You, because of it, exile my children into the murderous hands of their enemies?  Immediately the mercies of the Holy One, blessed be He, welled up, and He said:  Because of you, Rachel, I shall bring Israel back to their home! 

As the prophet said:

“Thus declares the Eternal:
A voice is heard in Ramah:
Mourning, bitter weeping;
Rachel is weeping for her children,
she refuses to be comforted
for her children who are lost.

Thus says the Eternal:
Restrain your voice from crying
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for what you have done—
declares the Eternal—
they shall return from the land of the enemy!

And there is hope for your future—
declares the Eternal—
Your children shall return to their home!”
(Jeremiah 31:15-17)

Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman

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