This Parsha begins the last of the Five Books of The Torah, Sefer Devarim. This Book is also called Mishneh Torah, "Repetition of the Torah" (hence the Greek/English title Deuteronomy). Sefer Devarim relates what Moshe told Bnei Yisrael during the last five weeks of his life, as they prepared to cross the Jordan into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe reviews the mitzvot, stressing the change of lifestyle they are about to undergo: from the supernatural existence of the desert under Moshes guidance to the apparently natural life they will experience under Yehoshuas leadership in the Land.
The central theme this week is the sin of the spies, the meraglim. The Parsha opens with Moshe alluding to the sins of the previous generation who died in the desert. He describes what would have happened if they hadnt sinned by sending spies into Eretz Yisrael. Hashem would have given them without a fight all the land from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, including the lands of Ammon, Moav and Edom. He details the subtle sins that culminate in the sin of the spies, and reviews at length this incident and its results. The entire generation would die in the desert; Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. He reminds them that their immediate reaction to Hashems decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin. He recounts how they wouldnt listen when he told them not to go, that they no longer merited vanquishing their enemies miraculously. They ignored him and suffered a massive defeat. They were not allowed to fight with the kingdoms of Esav, Moav or Ammon these lands were not to be part of the map of Eretz Yisrael in the meantime. When the conquest of Canaan will begin with Sichon and Og, it will be via natural warfare.
“And these are the words...” (1:1)
A person’s power of self-justification knows few bounds.
On Yom Kippur we all stand in shul klopping our chests but it’s very difficult to really admit that we are guilty of what we are reading.
Often, the best way to get ourselves to admit that we have erred is in a roundabout way. A hint that triggers our own analysis of past failings is often far more effective than a full frontal assault.
In the first verse of this week’s Torah reading Moshe conducts an extensive but veiled criticism of the Jewish People’s conduct in the desert: “…Concerning the Wilderness…” Shortly after the Exodus, the people complained that they had been brought into the desert to starve. (Shemot 16:1-3) “…concerning the Arava…” This was where the Midianite women seduced many Jews. “…opposite the Sea of Reeds…” When the Egyptians were bearing down on the Jews and the Sea was behind them, the people complained, “Were there no graves in Egypt?” (Shemot 14:11) And when they emerged on the other side of the Sea, they complained the Egyptians had probably escaped. “…between Paran…” hints to the sin of the spies who were sent into the land of Canaan and returned with a negative report. “…and Tophel and Lavan” both refer to the complaints about the manna. “…and Chatzerot:” Korach’s rebellion took place there, or Miriam slandered Moshe there. “…and Di Zahav” Di Zahav literally means “enough money” The Jews left Egypt with great wealth but they used it to make a golden calf. “…eleven days from Chorev…” G-d wanted the Jewish People to enter the Land as quickly as possible and miraculously, so He abbreviated a eleven day journey to just three days. In spite of this proof that G-d was leading them, they wanted spies to reassure them that they should enter the Land, and this led to the debacle of the spies.
The question arises, if Moshe was criticizing the people with veiled references, why then did he go back and spell out these self-same failings at great length in the following chapters?
Innuendo may be very good at getting through the psychological barrier of denial but by itself it is insufficient to change our behavior. Innuendo is only the breach in the wall. True change can only come from an open and detailed analysis of past failings.
To paraphrase a well-known twentieth-century philosopher: One who does not learn from the past — in great detail — is destined to repeat it — with the details subtly changed.
- Sources: based on Rashi, Rabbi Shimon Kraft