Words That Build
אלה הדברים אשר דיבר משה אל כל ישראל… (א:א).
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of the Jews” (1:1).
Sefer Devarim contains the recounting of all the events which the Jews experienced throughout their forty years in the wilderness. Moshe’s life was drawing to an end and he wished to instill in them a passionate desire to continue on their journey of true service of Hashem. Let us focus on the first verse which opens this communication and draw from it Moshe’s lesson for a lifetime!
Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chid”a, 1724 -1807, a great Talmudist and Kabbalist) points out that there are two concepts being hinted from this verse. The word “אלה, these”, stands for אבק לשון הרע, borderline evil slander. The Gemara (Bava Basrah 165a) states that everyone commits this sin! The next words in the verse, “אשר דיבר משה, which Moshe spoke,” hint to the greatest words taught by Moshe, the holy Torah. Hence, the verse is hinting to two areas which need constant care. They are how one speaks about others and the importance of Torah learning and application!
I would like to point out one more hint found in the verse and then show a common theme present here. The next three words are, “אל כל ישראל, to every Jew”. This hints to the goal of achdus, unity, that the people should all be together! Let us develop this.
The first woman that Hashem created was named ‘Chava’. This name stems from the word L’Chavos, to verbalize; hence, her name means ‘talkative’! Additionally, Chazal in Kedushin (49b) tell us that women possess nine out of ten measures of chatter in the world! Before anyone takes offense, please let me explain this beautiful concept which the Torah is expressing with these two facts.
Power of Speech
Humans are superior to animals. They have intelligence, freewill and the ability to talk! Humans are called “midaber, those whom speak”. What does this mean? Speech is the greatest tool of connection and communication. When two people speak, they are able to connect to each other. Even alone, when one speaks out his ideas, he connects to them better. In fact, Chazal summarize man’s job in this world as, “to speak before Hashem in words of Torah and prayer!” Hence, we see the power of talking! When we speak in Torah and when we daven to our Master for His assistance and care, our speech is the conduit which bridges the gap between us and builds true bonds.
Now I ask you, who more than women understand this ability to connect emotionally and deeply through the medium of speech?! This is their greatness when used in the right context. To be able to talk signifies the focus on building a deep relationship and bond with other people and with Hashem. When a woman talks with love to her baby, or chats with her friend in need of an ear, or converses with her husband or family member seeking her counsel, she is forging a deep union and connection!
With the great potential and power of words comes great danger as well. Improperly used words can cause great harm, Hashem-forbid! Moshe wanted to stress to the Jews the importance of properly used speech. Hence, the entire Sefer is called Devarim, words! He opens his lesson with three hints which are one. Please speak carefully, do not speak borderline slander. This consideration will help build unity. Please use your speech for Torah, the ultimate connector to Hashem.
Power of Words
Indeed, in the rebuke that follows, Moshe lists off all of their sins that revolve around improper speech. They are shown how their words were misused for expressing complaints and questioning Hashem, the Spies slanderous report, Korach’s negative words, and the Golden Calf where blasphemous words of the idol-worshipers persuaded many to sin! Thus, Moshe stressed to them the proper usage of words and its great benefit in building their relationship with Hashem and their fellow people.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will….. emotionally scar me for life!” This is the Torah perspective. Words are powerful! Moshe begged the Jewish people to dedicate themselves to utilize their words for the great task of positive construction and harmony! Words connect us to Hashem and to each other.
…הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמר (א:ה).
“…Moshe explained thoroughly the words of the Torah” (1:5).
The word “באר” means “a spring (of water)”. Rashi tells us that Moshe explained the Torah to the Jews in all 70 languages of the world. What is the significance of a spring and the languages?
The K’sav Sofer explains that Moshe was instructed by Hashem to bring home the message that Torah applies at all times and internationally! No matter which country a Jew resides, no matter which language he speaks, the Torah is his guiding light and shows us how to achieve a happy and fulfilling life.
The Alshich in Parshas Vayeilech explains the reason that Moshe was commanded to write over the Torah so many times at the end of his life. First, he was commanded to write it in 70 languages, and then to write another thirteen Sifrey Torah to give one to each tribe and place one in the Aron Kodesh. Why did Hashem make him do all of this in one day? What was the point of this blatant miracle?
Alshich explains that Klal Yisrael were until this point able to claim that they only heard the Ten Commandments from Hashem at Sinai, but not the rest of the Torah. Hence, Hashem made this miracle to show that just as at Mount Sinai they heard all Ten Commandments in one shot, which is humanly impossible, so too here, Hashem allowed Moshe to write 70 plus 13 Sifrey Torah in one day!
Chazal tell us that every day the Torah should be viewed as new and fresh to us. This is the exact parable of the spring, it is a source of fresh water. By tasting the beauty and excitement of Torah, this will draw one to desire to immerse deeper into Torah learning.
This was the approach that Moshe stressed in giving over the Torah to the Jews. Moshe embedded in our hearts the recognition of a full commitment to the vibrant, true and meaningful Torah. The Jews are passionately dedicated to uphold the laws and ethics of Hashem.
Aspects of Wisdom
Moshe Rabbeinu recounted all of the events that transpired. He recalled how there was a need to appoint judges to assist him in establishing justice for the people. He describes them as, “חכמים ונבונים וידועים (דברים א:יג), wise, understanding and knowledgeable.” What are all of these descriptions?
The Vilna Goan in Mishley explains based on numerous sources of Chazal that there are three main levels of wisdom.
1- The first is “Chochmah, knowledge”, this is the achievement of gathering facts, it is book-smarts.
2- The next stage is “Binah, understanding”. This is the stage of expanding the raw knowledge and extracting its implications.
3- The final stage of achievement is “Daas, to connect”. This is the stage where the knowledge is in place, its implications are understood, and this leads to its fulfillment in action!
The application of knowledge is the crowning achievement of Jewish growth. This is the trait which the leaders of the Jews, their true role-models, need to possess. This is what Moshe required of the judges.
Far-reaching Small Hint
The Parsha starts off with the words of Moshe as he presented his final message to the Jews. His focus was on rebuke for their past sins and strengthening their commitment to each other and to Hashem. What is interesting is that all of his words of rebuke are offered in a most indirect way. He never spelled out the exact sin that he was referring to, rather, Chazal (brought down primarily by Rashi) explain how each word and phrase that he used was referring to the sin of the Golden Calf, the Meraglim, the complainers, Korach and all of the other calamities throughout their time in the desert. Why wasn’t Moshe more explicit?
The lesson is that when one gives rebuke, it must be done in a most unobtrusive way. No one likes to be blatantly challenged and shown their wrongdoing, rather when one is softly shown their mistake and given the respect and dignity of not being openly attacked, he or she will be most receptive of the pointer.
Life is filled with hints. The Rebbono Shel Olam sends us daily reminders about our actions. He sends us events in the world and in our own personal lives that are meant to wake us up and to get us to take the time to look into our actions and contemplate what we are here for. In a world filled with tragic news, sobering headlines, and challenging obstacles, our hearts and minds are open to contemplate and question our true purpose here (Mesilas Yesharim). Are we here to simply indulge in the pleasures of our nerve endings, or are we here to chose our legacy and to share our lives with others as we build ourselves, our family, our community, and our nation. When we take the hints to heart, we are elevated to a great nation. Chazal (Midrash Mishlei 22:4) say, “A hint suffices for a wise man, whereas even a direct punch is ineffective for the fool.” During this time period of the 3 weeks and with all of the tragedy that has befallen our nation and with all of the unrest throughout the world, it behooves us to think about the hints that have been given to us. Moshe Rabbeinu’s last will and testament is Sefer Devarim and the focus of his words is to spur us to hear the hints of Hashem. This is the time when we can put in the work on the area that we have always wanted to improve upon. “If I had the time I would work on my Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, Bein Adam L’Makom, my davening, learning, chessed, kedusha.” Our job is to find the internal motivation to begin the process and Hashem will help us keep the inspiration alive.
As Moshe’s days became numbered he felt it important to give over lasting and meaningful messages to Klal Yisrael. Sefer Devarim is all about Moshe’s parting words to the Jews. It is filled with Torah laws, inspiration and rebuke. As their spiritual leader Moshe reminded the Jews of some of their weakest moments and the importance of repentance. In the first verse in the Parsha Moshe refers to the incident of “Di Zahav, the overabundance of gold (Devarim 1:1).” Rashi (ibid.) states that this refers to the Eigel HaZahav, the sin of the Golden Calf in which the Jews donated their gold to create an idol. Rashi states that “Di Zahav means that because the Jews had so much wealth and gold, they were bound to sin and thus are slightly justified.” What does this mean and why is this so important to state?
When sharing rebuke it is important to do so in a manner that shows love and respect. If the message of care and concern are not expressed, then the rebuke will almost inevitably not be heard. Moshe showed the Jews that he was not aloof and unaware of their struggles. He showed them that he understood the dynamics of their challenge and their mistake of creating the Golden Calf. This was the most important introduction to his words which were meant to inspire them to become greater.
Chazal (Berachos 32a) explain that when one has an abundance of material wealth, human nature makes it that it often distracts him and turns him away from Hashem. They site the exact words of “Di Zahav” as the proof. Moshe was stating that because Hashem gave the Jews so much wealth when they left Egypt, they stopped relying on Him and became self-absorbed. A parable is given concerning a foolish child whose father gave him a large sum of money and placed him in a sinful area. It is inevitable that he will sin.
Relying on Hashem
The Gemara (Yoma 76a) asks, why is it that when the manna fell in the desert the Jews only got one day’s worth at a time? Why could it not have fallen once and they would have saved the manna for years? Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai answered with a parable. There was once a king who used to provide food for his son. One day he gave his son an entire year’s worth of food on one day. He did not see his son for the entire following year! At that moment the king decided that he would only provide his son with one day’s worth of food at a time. He then began to see his son every day. So too, in the desert, each parent would collect one day’s worth of food for their children and then would daven to Hashem begging Him to provide them with food. The Jews remained connected and reliant upon Hashem in a most intimate way. They lived with the daily understanding that only Hashem can provide them with their sustenance.
The issue of Di Zahav was that of self-absorption. The Jews had so much wealth that they began to feel comfortable with life. They stopped relying on Hashem. Moshe showed them that if one is blessed with wealth, he must make sure to always remember where it comes from and to stay connected with Hashem.
Sefer Devarim contains a fascinating recap of the events that transpired to the Jews throughout their journey from Egypt. Moshe told them about their greatest and weakest moments as his last charge and directive before he passed on. Rabbeinu Bechaya comments that it is important for one to reflect upon the order of the five books of the Torah to best understand their message. He writes that a most useful place to have that recollection is at the start of the final book of Devarim. The theme of the parsha is that of order and recollection as will be explained.
The Five Books
Rabbeinu Bechaya shows the flow throughout the entire Torah. (See essay on Parshas Bereishis which ties to here as well) He states that Sefer Bereishis opens the Torah with the discussion of Hashem’s creation of the world establishing Him as the Creator and Master of all. The fact that He created the world lends to the understanding of hashgacha, His Providence. Providence leads to the understanding of reward and punishment and one’s accountability for his actions. This is something that is learned from the story of the mabul, the Great Flood which Hashem brought to punish the sinners who were acting with great perversion and against Hashem’s Will for a just and proper world.
After Bereishis comes Sefer Shemos which opens with the words, “Va’Eleh Shemos, these are the names of the son’s of Yaakov.” The vav which opens the Sefer is a vav hachibur, one that connects it to the previous. Bereishis is about Hashem’s creation of the world and the choosing of the Jewish nation. Shemos is the formation of the nation itself as it developed its identity, received an Exodus from slavery and accepted the Torah at Sinai. Shemos fortified the concept of the Unity of G-d and how He is the one who has full power to orchestrate the events of this world. Sefer Vayikra discusses karbanos, the sacrifices offered to Hashem in recognition of the Power and Unity. Sefer Bamidbar discusses the Jewish goal of entering Israel, the main place where karbanos are offered. If not for the sin of the Spies, the Jews would have entered immediately. Devarim talks about the ultimate entrance of the Jews into Israel. It also concludes talking about the final redemption which is the purpose of the world. Thus, Devarim ties back into Bereishis in the sense that it completes the cycle and purpose of the creation of the world.
Back to the Beginning
Rabbeinu Bechaya discusses the importance of “sofo nautz bitchilaso, the end cycles back to the beginning.” Any well articulate point opens with a clear goal, gives clear information and the closing remarks tie it all together. The Torah is an expression of Hashem’s endless wisdom and thus it contains the blueprint for the purpose of the creation of the world. When we study the Torah we are studying the greatest guide for life available for mankind.
We know that the verses use different names of G-d to express various attributes. In Devarim we often find the name, “Hashem Elokim, G-d, the Judge.” Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that this name expresses Hashem’s ultimate kindness and His judgment and justice as well. In this world we experience both Hashem’s kindness and good and also judgment and accountability. Originally, Hashem created the world with din, strict judgment, which dictated that people got only what they deserved. There was no room for sins or their forgiveness. Hashem saw that the world which is a battlefield for good and evil urges, could not survive with only strict justice and thus He combined chessed, kindness, to the construct to give it permanence. Devarim ties together the attributes of kindness and judgment and extolls the nation to act properly in order to gain the favor of Hashem. One who performs mitzvos with dedication and love will merit to have Hashem’s protection and guidance. One who wishes to repent will be accepted with open arms. Devarim is about introspection and aligning oneself with one’s moral ideals.