Saturday 6th August 2022 9th Av 5782
PARASHAT DEVARIM Herschel
Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22; Isaiah 1:1-27; Acts 9:1-22-Matt 24:1-22
These are the words - eileh hadevarim - which
Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan
in the wilderness,
As per usual, the parasha and the entire book derives it name from the opening verse. The Hebrew word for ‘words’ is ‘devarim’. And so, the parasha is called Parashat Devarim (words) and this final book of Torah is also called Devarim.
There are also other names for this book:
Mishneh Torah - repetition of the Torah - because it is Moses' review of the history of the Jewish people with moral instruction and last minute advice.
Deuteronomy - this name compromises 2 Greek words: Deutero- second and Nomos - law.
In our parasha, Moses warns Israel that if their parents who directly experienced G-d’s mighty miracles, sinned again and again, how much more should they walk circumspectly with HaShem as He led them into the Promised Land. Moses wanted the people to understand the importance of heeding his words and not relying on their righteousness or their own strength to guarantee their future success.
He began, therefore, by chastising them for the sins that had caused them harm and had not yet been forgiven [at least, not completely]; namely,
the sin of the spies that had caused them to languish in the Wilderness for forty years, and
the sin at the rock that prevented Moses from entering the Land.
But in order not to embarrass and offend his listeners, Moses did not mention these sins explicitly; instead, he alluded to them by using place names or other veiled references (see Rashi; Onkelos). Rashi, Onkelos, and many others teach that the "place names" in verses 1 and 2 are code words for sins committed by Israel.
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. It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.
According to the Sifri, the numerous place names listed here are not landmarks indicating where Moses spoke these words -- indeed, some of these places do not even exist as geographical locations. Rather, these are words of rebuke by Moses to the people of Israel.
Instead of mentioning their sins outright, he alluded to them with these place names:
"In the desert" -- the time they complained "if only we would have died in the desert" (Exodus 17:3)
"In the Arava (Plain)" -- their worship of Baal Peor in the Plains of Moab (Numbers 25)
"Paran" -- the sin of the Spies, who were dispatched from Paran (as recounted in Numbers 13 and later in our own Parshah)
"Tofel" and "Lavan" (meaning "libel" and "white") -- their libel of the white manna (Numbers 21:5)
"Hazerot" -- where Korach's mutiny against Moses took place.
"Di Zahav" (literally "too much gold") -- the sin of the Golden Calf.
(Sifri; Rashi; et al)
So, a veiled rebuke pervades much of Moses reviewing of Israel’s history and let’s think about this in more detail! This is something common to the Patriarchs.
When we examine the prophecies that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s spoke over their progeny as they neared death, we notice that they are often rebukes. Not quite the legacy one we choose to leave with one’s children. The Sage Chazal gives 4 reasons why the rebuke happened towards the end of Moses’ life;
1. it is best to rebuke only once and not several times
2. so the those who are being rebuked will not be embarrassed by the presence of the one who did the rebuking
3. so that those rebuking did not have the opportunity to display anger or even hatred toward the one who did the rebuking
4. when a rebuke is delivered at the end of the life of one who is loved and respected, there is a good chance that his departing words would be taken seriously. People appear to manifest more respect to those who are on their deathbed.
But it is also a reminder that a rebuke is a sign of caring and love.
"You are not to hate your brother in your heart. Instead, you are to firmly rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him
The Hebrew word for ‘rebuke’ is - יָכַח - yachach – which can also be translated as ‘reason frankly’. To rebuke or correct someone is an act of love and kindness; it should not be a put down because ‘but for the grace of God, there go I’.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
1 To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction.
To rebuke the sheep he shepherded for so long, must also been difficult for Moses. How do you think he felt when he had to deliver this rebuke? Nevertheless, learning from the Patriarchs and prompted by the Spirit, he fulfilled his mandate.
Rashi explains that he did so "because of the honour of Israel". Even though the Jewish people warranted the rebuke, to explicitly mention their sins would have been too much of a disgrace to them and Moses did not want to leave this with them at the end of his life.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz derives an important lesson about rebuke from Rashi's explanation. He writes, "We learn from here how much it is incumbent upon the one who rebukes to worry about and be concerned for the honour of the person being rebuked." This infers that when one rebukes another person, one does so in humility. The motivation is to speak the truth in love without diminishing that person and without pride being present!
We would all do well to learn this lesson! More often than not, when we rebuke, it is a putdown! We diminish that person and in doing so, we diminish HaShem Himself. This is Chillul haShem!
It follows that the key factor in determining whether a rebuke will have a positive or negative effect, is one's motivation for rebuking. Moshe maintained his love and concern for the Jewish people even while speaking to them very harshly. Indeed, it seems clear that this love gave rise to this rebuke - it was purely an act of kindness.
The word clearly declares that G-d corrects and disciplines us because He loves us!
The Vilna Gaon said that a ‘tochacha’ – a rebuke – if done in the right spirit for with the right motivation – is like a mirror being held up that presents the individual looking in to the mirror, with a clear and true image of his real self. It can be very effective in bringing about teshuva and restoration.
So Moshe, in the midst of rebuking them and reminding the 2nd generations of the sins of their parent’s generation, remains sensitive to their honour while simultaneously criticizing them. The Gemara tells us that it is exceedingly difficult to rebuke someone effectively.
Nonetheless, we are not exempt from the mitzvah, and there are times when one can do a great kindness by clarifying the correct way to behave toward someone who is likely to listen. As believers, we need to take cognisance of this principle and be willing to speak with kindness and compassion into one another’s lives.