Saturday 17th July 2021 8th Av 5781
Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22; Isaiah 1:1-27; Matthew 24:1-22
HOW TO REBUKE WITH RESPECT
David Nichol, Congregation Ruach Israel, Boston
One of my favorite aspects of the Jewish interpretive tradition is the mileage the sages get out of the text of Tanakh. I recently heard Rabbi Ethan Tucker compare the way the rabbis of the midrash read the Torah to how one might read a love letter. A lover who receives a letter from their beloved will find meaning in the placement of a comma or an unusual word choice. If we read the Torah as a letter from God, the more lovesick we are, the more we read meaning into every pregnant pause, unconventional spelling, and unexpected phrasing. The rabbis of the midrash exemplify this approach, seeming to say, if we yearn deeply to hear the voice of God, we take even little details of the text very seriously; we read not just between the lines, but between every letter.
So it’s no surprise that the midrash finds something of note in the very first verse of Parashat Devarim:
These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan—in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Di-Zahab. (Deut 1:1)
It begins, “V’eleh hadevarim asher diber Moshe el kol Yisra’el,” “These are the words which Moses addressed to all Israel...” Immediately we might ask, why does it not just start with vayomer Moshe, “Moses said…,” or vaydaber el kol Yisra’el, “Moses spoke to all Israel”? Why does it start with, “These are the words”?
Of course, the sages asked the same question. Rashi