By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant The translation of this week’s Torah Parsha (CHAYEI SARAH) is ‘The Life of Sarah’. Ironically, only the first two lines of the Parsha pertain...
This week’s Torah Parsha (DEVARIM) is the first in the last Book of the Torah, DEUTERONOMY. The entire book denotes a major shift from each of the four earlier Books. We read how Moses acted as the liaison between God’s Word and the Israelites; their leader and teacher for over forty years; and, the man who sacrificed his own ‘self’ to the Lord and to the Children of Israel. He was severely disappointed to learn that Joshua, rather than either of his two sons, would be his successor. However, even more devastating, was God’s irrevocable decision that Moses would die in the desert; and, never live in the ‘Promised Land’.
It is these two facts, which lend significant poignancy to this week’s Parsha (DEVARIM).
The translation of the Hebrew word ‘devarim’ is ‘word’; and it is Moses’ words, which we read throughout the entire Book of DEUTERONOMY: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of Jordan in the desert” (1).
This week’s Parsha (DEVARIM) marks the beginning of Moses farewell address to the Children of Israel, who were born into freedom.
Our sages contend that God’s communications with Moses were much more in-depth, than what is indicated in the written text of the Torah. According to Maimonides: “Moses wrote down many of these discussions; but kept them private for his own use and as a teaching tool” (2). In effect, in this first Parsha (DEVARIM) of the Book of DEUTERONOMY, we are reading for the first time, from both the ‘Oral Torah’ and the ‘Written Torah’.
Moses speaks to this new generation, regarding the sins of their parents, with specific emphasis on the failure of ten of the twelve elders, who exaggerated the difficulties of conquering the land of Canaan. He explains how their loss of faith in God, resulted in the punishment of all of the Israelites, of that generation, to continue wandering in the desert, with no hope of ever seeing the ‘Promised Land’. Moses openly claims responsibility for his own ‘sin’; and, why Joshua will be his successor to lead this new generation into battle with the inhabitants of Canaan.
Furthermore, Moses explains the egalitarian system of justice, which was created, whereby each individual is judged equally, regardless of wealth or stature. He stresses the importance of compliance with these laws.
In his speech, Moses does not dwell only upon the sins of the last generation. He provides hope and encouragement: “The Lord, your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are today, as the stars of heavens in abundance” (3).
This first Parsha (DEVARIM) of the Book of DEUTERONOMY provides us, not only with a more profound sense of the power of the ‘WORD’; but, also the critical importance in Judaism of repetition of previous events. This is how we continue to learn ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, ‘good’ from ‘bad’, to the extent that it is intertwined with our DNA, to be passed from one generation to the next.
(1) DEUTERONOMY (1:1)
(2) Rambam, “Introduction to the Mishnah Torah”
(3) DEUTERONOMY (1:10)