FROM THE TORAH
DEVARIM: The Forty-fourth Sedra of the Torah
The opening verses of this first Sedra Devarim of the fifth book of the Torah announce the intention of Moses “to clarify this Torah.” (1:5) At the outset Moses provides a review and running augmentation of what had occurred and been 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.
MOSES ADDRESSES ISRAEL
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 spoke to the Children of Israel in accordance with all that the Eternal had 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 proceeded to clarify this Torah as follows.
MOVE FROM HOREB TO POSSESS THE LAND
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, in 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.
MOSES APPOINTS LEADERS
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 can 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 shall 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.
MOSES CHARGES JUDGES
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.
MEN SENT TO EXPLORE THE LAND
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 out of 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 we, 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 carried you all the way through the wilderness as a father carries his son, to where you are now! Notwithstanding this, you do 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 BARS ENTRY TO THE LAND
The Eternal, hearing your words, became angry and swore that none of those men, “of this evil generation” (1:35), would see the good Land “that I promised to give to your fathers, except for Caleb ben Yephunneh,” (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.” (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!
UNAUTHORIZED ATTEMPT OF CONQUEST
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. 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.
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!” (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.” (2:9)
Rephaim lived in Ar before the Moabites, who call them Emim. They are a great people, large and tall like the Anakites.
Then the order was 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 great people, large and tall like 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.
CONQUEST OF THE AMORITES
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. This is as the descendants of Esau, who dwell in Seir, and the Moabites, who dwell in Ar, did for me.
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. 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 dwells 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!
FROM THE PROPHETS
Third Haftarah of Rebuke
The vision 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 Holidays.
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,
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 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.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:7
“These are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel…”
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. “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
“These are the words which Moses spoke
to all of Israel on the other side of the Jordan…”
But are these the only words offered by Moses?
Did he not write the entire Torah, as was said,
“Moses wrote this Torah…” (31:9)!
Why does Deuteronomy begin, “These are the words which Moses spoke…,”
when 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 Rabbah 1:4
Said Rabbi Acha son of Rabbi Chanina: It would seem fitting for the words of rebuke, here attributed to Moses, to have been said rather by Balaam, who sought to harm Israel, 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
If anyone else had admonished them, 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…” (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
“These are the words…”
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 scolls 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 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 Japheth…”: May the beauty of Japheth (the Greek language) be in the tents of Shem!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:15
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. (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: Among the commandments for which one enjoys their fruits in this world and their principal in the world to come is the honor of father and mother. (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. 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 father and mother. What was his reward?
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 on which the patriarchs were buried and He instructed him: Moses, tell Israel, you are not allowed to make war against them, for up to now has been owing the reward for honor that Esau showed those who are buried in this mountain. This is the meaning of those words: “Then the Eternal told me that we had skirted that hill country long enough…” (2:2), and this is the fulfillment of the teaching of our Rabbis, “…and their principal is enjoyed in the world to come!”