Parshas Devarim: Words of Rebuke, Words of Love

Sefer Devarim, Parshas Devarim.  Sefer Devarim differs from the first four books of Chumash, in that those books were dictated by Hashem to Moshe, who transcribed them, while the fifth book – Devarim – are the words of Moshe Rabbeinu himself.  In the final days of his life, preparing for his death on Ever la’Yarden (on the eastern side of the Jordan River), Moshe delivers the great soliloquy of Devarim to the nation he has loved, and led, from Egypt to the borders of the Promised Land.  In this sefer, he reviews much of what happened in the desert the past forty years, reminds the nation to always go in the ways of G-d and not to stray after foreign gods, and he teaches a small number of new mitzvos.  Sefer Devarim is majestic, poetic, emotional and sweeping in its breadth and depth.

Devarim begins with the following words:

אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּעֵ֖בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן בַּמִּדְבָּ֡ר בָּֽעֲרָבָה֩ מ֨וֹל ס֜וּף בֵּֽין־פָּארָ֧ן וּבֵֽין־תֹּ֛פֶל וְלָבָ֥ן וַחֲצֵרֹ֖ת וְדִ֥י זָהָֽבThese are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Reed Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Chatzerot and Di Zahav (Devarim 1:1).

R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch teaches, “אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים refers to the entire contents of the fifth book of the Torah… This book contains the words that Moshe spoke to his people before parting from them; for thereafter he would not be the one to guide them in the fulfillment of their mission in the land of which they were about to take possession.  The meaning of the place-names mentioned here appears to be this: They serve to establish the precise location of this place where Moshe ended his lifetime among his people, where the people last saw their leader, where they heard the words he spoke before his death.  Every word of these final orations of our leader reflects his deep-felt attachment to his people and his concern for their future welfare.

“In these orations, it is as though he imparts to his people his own spirit, to enable them to endure the trials that await them.  Yet this place in the wilderness cannot be identified by any landmark or other unique physical feature.  Hence, it is understandable that the Torah gives us the location and boundaries of this place, to preserve it in the memory of future generations.  After all, Moshe departed leaving no monument, no memorial, no earthy reminder of his life.  There is not even a grave to serve as a memorial for future generations to view.  With Moshe’s death, his whole earthly personality departed.  Only a description, recorded in the most precise terms possible, of the place where the people heard the last of his faithful words is handed down to posterity, so that if some day a late descendant of Moshe’s people comes to this place, it will echo for him these words and inspire him to follow them faithfully in the midst, and for the good, of his people” (RSRH to Devarim 1:1, Feldheim).

On a deeper level of drash, Chazal (Sifre) teach that, in fact, they are not all places where the Israelites journeyed to and from.  They are, rather, allusions to the sins of the nation in the desert.  For example, דִ֥י זָהָֽב – literally ‘enough (or much) gold’ – is a rebuke for the golden calf that they constructed and worshipped (Rashi – הוֹכִיחָן עַל הָעֵגֶל שֶׁעָשׂוּ בִּשְׁבִיל רֹב זָהָב שֶׁהָיָה לָהֶם).  Chatzerot is an allusion to, and rebuke of, the sin of Korach and his assembly (Devarim 16)  (וחצרת. בְּמַחְלָקְתּוֹ שֶׁל קֹרַח) (Rashi, 1:1).

According to R’ Hirsch, the explanation of the Sifre is that: “Moshe gave these names to certain places around the plain where Moshe used the last weeks of his life to reprove his people and to impart to them words of wisdom and moral instruction.  Moshe gave these places names attesting to national lapses, so that thereby the people would be reminded of their past sins and undertake to rectify their future” (RSRH to Devarim 1:1, Feldheim).

However, if this is the case – that these places are locations of their sins in the desert – why does Moshe rebuke them indirectly, and only by allusion?  Why does he not state their sins outright in the opening phrase of Devarim?  Rashi explains:

אלה הדברים. לְפִי שֶׁהֵן דִּבְרֵי תוֹכָחוֹת וּמָנָה כָאן כָּל הַמְּקוֹמוֹת שֶׁהִכְעִיסוּ לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם בָּהֶן, לְפִיכָךְ סָתַם אֶת הַדְּבָרִים וְהִזְכִּירָם בְּרֶמֶז מִפְּנֵי כְבוֹדָן שֶׁל יִשְׂרָאֵלbecause they are words of rebuke and because the Torah here lists all the places in which they caused anger before Hashem, therefore, he suppresses all mention of the matters in which they sinned, and mentioned them through allusion, because of the honor of Israel (ibid).

To spare the nation shame (for well known, [in]famous sins!), Moshe alluded to their transgressions, and did not state them outright.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l (1902–1979), in his famed Sichos Mussar, teaches:

משה רבינו ימים ספורים לפני מותו, כבואו להוכיח את עם ישראל על החטאים הידועים והמפורסמים לכלנזהר שלא לפרש את החטאים בפירוש אלא ברמז, כדי שלא לביישן, אף שהיה בזה מצות תוכחה, הרי זה מלמדינו מה גדולה מעלת כבוד הבריות, וחיוב הזהירות בזה

Moshe Rabbeinu, just days before his death, when the time came to rebuke Israel for their sins that were known and famous to all, including the sin of the spies and the sin of the golden calf, was very careful not to explicitly state their sins, but only to allude to them vaguely, in order to spare them shame, and even though he had the mitzvah of giving tochacha – he was obligated as their leader to rebuke them! – nevertheless, he did not do so outright.  Behold, this comes to teach us how weighty is the matter of giving honor to our fellow, and not causing them shame, to be careful with ‘kavod ha’briyos’ (the dignity and honor of our fellow man), and one must be very careful about this matter.

Even in his rebuke, and even for very grave transgressions, for which the people were deserving of the words of chastisement, Moshe nevertheless ensconced his words in allusions and hints, so as not to embarrass the nation.

As we journey through these mournful Nine Days, and recall the calamity of Churban BHM”K, let us also recall why the Temple were destroyed.  For as the Sages teach (Yoma 9b), it was the sins of baseless hatred and spears of the tongue that destroyed our Temples and exiled us from our Land.

Perhaps if we give honor and dignity to every other Jew, and act with ahava and shalom, we will rectify the sins of the past, learn from our great leaders Moshe and Aharon (see Avos 1:12), and in that merit, perhaps we will be worthy to witness the final geulah, immediately and in our days.

,בברכת מנחם אב ושבת שלום


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