Parshas Devarim

We find ourselves this week at the beginning of Moshe Rabeinu’s final words to Klal-Yisroel. Chazal tell us that the whole of Sefer Devarim was Moshe’s parting words to Klal-Yisroel, conveyed on his very last day. Moshe Rabeinu recalls various occurrences that transpired between HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu and Am-Yisroel; because of this fact the entire Sefer has a differet undercurrent than the rest of the Chumash. Many a times there are various accounts of stories that were already recorded in the Torah, sometimes with significant discrepancies between the original account and its retelling in Sefer Devarim.

Our Sedra provides one such instance right in the beginning. Moshe Rabeinu tells Klal-Yisroel that even prior to Kabbolas HaTorah their burden was too great for him to carry alone, and that he felt he couldn’t be responsible for them on his own. Thus Moshe Rabeinu explained that he felt a need to create a judicial system that would stem from him, but branch out to smaller groups at various levels with their respective judges; a system in which cases would go from lower to higher courts, eventually ending up when necessary with Moshe Rabeinu.

Although this was indeed the judicial system in place, there was no indication that Moshe Rabeinu had felt a need for it. If anything, the judicial system described by Moshe Rabeinu seems to be attributed to Yisro in the Parsha bearing his name. The Torah (in Parshas Yisro) tells us that Yisro came to visit Klal-Yisroel and noticed that Moshe Rabeinu was spending the entire day, from morning to night, judging all the disputes brought by Klal-Yisroel. Yisro pointed out to Moshe the inefficiency of such a system – for Moshe and for the people. Never in Parshas Yisro was there any indication that Moshe Rabeinu himself had actually felt that it was too much for himself. What caused Moshe to present that episode in a different light here in our Parsha? What was the message that Moshe was trying to convey?

Furthermore Moshe Rabeinu lists three issues that were too much for him:טרחכם, ומשאכם, וריבכם and Rashi explains these to mean (based on Targum Yonasan ben Uziel) that they would drag out there cases in front of Moshe and that they would challenge Moshe Rabeinu with heresy, and that they stole from one another. These problems were also never mentioned before. Why was Moshe bringing this up now? What indeed were the facts?

While the account here doesn’t necessarily contradict earlier accounts of what had occurred it does however portray the entire incident quite differently. If there is indeed no contradiction between the two accounts, the safest interpretation would be to say that what Moshe was saying in Parshas Devarim reflected what he had felt already earlier on. It would seem from the fact that these issues weren’t mentioned then, that then they were irrelevant. Hence we are now left with the questions: why wasn’t it relevant then and why is it relevant now?

Moshe Rabeinu was now on the verge of passing on. He was keenly concerned about the need for continued leadership for the people, and had already asked Hashem that Klal-Yisroel should always have a leader. Hashem had replied to Moshe and told him that Yehoshua would succeed him as the next leader of Klal-Yisroel. Klal-Yisroel finds itself at a critical junction in time, with a rapidly approaching change in leadership. Moshe Rabeinu was perceived by Am-Yisroel as being close to invincible. Moshe Rabeinu had shown himself to be an impeccable leader for Am-Hashem. Moshe understood that the transition wouldn’t necessarily be an easy one for Am-Yisroel. Moshe knew that Klal-Yisroel would likely doubt Yehoshua’s abilities. Therefore, Moshe at this point changes his tone presents things from a different angle. Moshe now lets Klal-Yisroel in on the fact that he himself had real moments of despair, he is letting Klal-Yisroel know a different side of him that they never knew before. Moshe Rabeinu is telling us that he wasn’t invincible, that there were aspects of his emotions that he concealed from Klal-Yisroel. Yisro was the right man in the right place at the right time. He came in Moshe’s hours of despair and gave him the advice that he needed.

Moshe Rabeinu is telling Yehoshua and Am-Yisroel that it is difficult to lead Klal-Yisroel but that whatever they will face will not be insurmountable and will be similar to what they have already experienced. It is natural for a leader to feel these pangs of despair and for a leader to be challenged by his people. At the same time Moshe Rabeinu is letting Klal-Yisroel know that the system for insuring future leadership was already set in place. That this judicial system opened the path for future leaders to be able to learn the required material in order to become a Torah giant, and hence the leader. Moshe Rabeinu was in essence telling Klal-Yisroel that the criterion for leadership wasn’t merely having leadership qualities. Even those, Moshe was illustrating, did not insure against moments of despair, of weakness. Rather, Moshe Rabeinu was saying, the most important requirement for being Klal-Yisroel’s leader is acquiring the Torah from the previous Torah leader.

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This week, we begin the last of the five books of the Chumash, Sefer Devarim. The whole of sefer Devarim is Moshe Rabeinu’s last words to Klal-Yisroel, which were said on the last day of his life. Chazal often refer to sefer Devarim as Mishna Torah (the repetition of the Torah)—in which Moshe Rabeinu restates a good portion of Klal-Yisroel’s history thus far, as well as parts of the Torah and Mitzvos—all in an attempt to rebuke Klal-Yisroel for various things.

As Moshe Rabeinu recaps events, there are various discrepancies from the original telling of them in the Torah. However, in the beginning of this week’s Sedra there is a rather significant discrepancy from the original story. Moshe Rabeinu tells Klal-Yisroel of the arrangement of the judicial system, which was meant to sift out the simpler issues from the more complex, and thus save only the more complex to be dealt with by Moshe. With this set up, Klal-Yisroel was provided with easier access to Piskei din rather than having to wait to speak to Moshe Rabeinu about every issue. In Sefer Shemos, this system was clearly put into place by the suggestion of Yisro; however, here there is no mention whatsoever of Yisro’s involvement in the idea. Furthermore, in this Parsha, Moshe Rabeinu says that he felt it necessary because the task was too difficult to handle alone; however, in Shemos there is no mention of anything of that sort.

What is yet even more disturbing is that none of the classic Meforshim address this discrepancy. Although that makes it harder to solve this puzzle, we will attempt to come up with a solution.

Putting all the discrepancies aside, there is really another issue: in numerous places (see Megila 15a, Chulin 104b, Nida 19b, and Avos 6:6) Chazal say that one should always quote a statement in the name of the person who originally said it. Therefore, even if it was somewhat inconsequential that Yisro suggested the idea of the judicial system and even if Moshe Rabeinu had anyway felt that it was too much for him to judge all the cases, he should have at least given credit where credit was due. Why didn’t he?

The Rambam says that although it is important to quote something in the name of the one who said it, if doing so will lessen the impact of the statement, it is better to omit the mention of the person. If Moshe Rabeinu had intended to speak in terms of rebuke and suggest that Klal-Yisroel had become too cumbersome for him then perhaps this would be a good solution. However, Moshe Rabeinu instead seems to be saying that he needed the help of others because Klal-Yisroel had become very big—which was a good thing—and they were therefore too difficult for him to handle alone. Thus, this statement was not meant to have any greater impact on Klal-Yisroel in such a sense.

However what is apparent from the Rambam is that it is not always necessary to quote something in the name of the one who said it, and that maybe sometimes it is even preferable not to.

Since Moshe Rabeinu attests to feeling incapable of handling Klal-Yisroel alone there is no reason to doubt this. Therefore, perhaps Moshe Rabeinu was feeling somewhat guilty for falling short of being able to handle Klal-Yisroel on his own, and didn’t want to shift the blame onto his father in law. Maybe Moshe Rabeinu was worried that the suggestion of the judicial system was somewhat negative. Although Moshe Rabeinu knew that the account of how and why Yisro suggested this was written earlier in the Torah, he knew that was the Torah’s objective report of events. However, if Moshe Rabeinu himself would have said such a thing, maybe it would be considered Lashon Horah.

As we approach the anniversary of the Churban Beis Hamikdash we should make that extra effort to reevaluate how much we think about what we say and how we say what we say. While Chazal tell us that someone who quotes something in the name of the person who said it brings the redemption to the world, evidently there are some times that maybe the opposite is true. We must ask ourselves: do we quote people when appropriate, and do we omit their names when appropriate as well?

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This week’s Sedra begins the last of the five books of the Torah. The bulk of Sefer Devarim consists of a review by Moshe Rabeinu of the Torah that he already taught Am-Yisroel, and of the history of Am-Yisroel during their forty years of following Hashem in the wilderness of Sinai. The Torah introduces this review with the words הואיל משה באר את התורה וכו (See Meforshim who differ on how to translate the word ho’il). The word ‘Ho-Il’ isn’t a commonly used word in the Torah. There are two other places in the Torah in which a similar word is used (see Rashi): הנה נא הואלתי by Avrohom Avinu (when Avrohom Avinu was beseeching Hashem to save Sedom), and ויואל משה when Moshe Rabeinu decided to stay and live with Yisro. It would seem that the word means something to the affect that Moshe Rabeinu favored us with this review (see Chosom Sofer that assumes the word הואיל implies that Moshe Rabeinu conducted this review on his own accord).

This explanation of הואיל presents an obvious problem: Moshe Rabeinu was not one who was eager to accept the role of leadership of Am-Yisroel, let alone to volunteer to take the leadership into his own hands. Furthermore, one of Moshe Rabeinu’s excuses for not wanting to take on the role as leader of Am-Yisroel was that he had a speech impediment. How could it be that Moshe Rabeinu who tried his utmost to shy away from the limelight and even more so from public speaking would now all of a sudden do a complete turnaround and initiate a public review?

Moshe Rabeinu doesn’t start by reviewing technical Halachos, but rather by giving Klal-Yisroel tough and potent Musar.

Moshe Rabeinu was chosen by Hashem (see Medrash Rabba) to lead Am-Yisroel because of his leadership qualities. He was chosen to lead Klal-Yisroel because of the gentle loving care that he was able to give to a mere feeble lamb. Moshe Rabeinu did not have a problem understanding all living things. Just as he easily and naturally understood sheep he understood each and every person as well. Moshe Rabeinu didn’t have an issue understanding theoretically what must be said and done. His reluctance was rather with regard to having the responsibility of leading Klal-Yisroel fall upon him. Until his very last Shiurim/Drashos to Am-Yisroel Moshe Rabeinu had to be very careful with what he said. Moshe Rabeinu understood that a nation has its power even when it is wrong. Moshe Rabeinu had to take into account how Korach and Dasan V’ Avirom might misconstrue what he said. It was only when Moshe Rabeinu was told by Hashem that he was nearing the end of his tenure and will soon pass on, that he finally felt comfortable with speaking his mind.

Moshe Rabeinu shied away from leadership not because he didn’t care for Am-Yisroel. Moshe Rabeinu left the secure confines of Paroh’s palace in order to seek out his brothers’ troubles; he did so even at the peril of his own life. He understood that leading Klal-Yisroel would impose major constraints upon his actions and words. While Moshe Rabeinu could help, and Daven for Klal-Yisroel’s well-being without being a leader, once he assumed a position of leadership he would have to make sure to lead the nation in such a way that it would follow him. Once Moshe Rabeinu became the leader he would have to become painstakingly cautious to insure that what he said and did wouldn’t be misinterpreted.

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This week’s Sedra begins a new Sefer in Chumash. Rather than opening with something momentous, the Torah starts Sefer Devarim with details. It reports where Klal-Yisroel was when Moshe Rabeinu told them the rest of Sefer Devarim. While this is on its own somewhat strange, it is even more fascinating that the Torah doesn’t give a name for the place at which Klal-Yisroel was at that time. It lists only its distances from other places. The phrasing of the Passuk is so unusual that Rashi explains it as entirely metaphorical (see Rashi).

Even after Rashi’s beautiful explanation, the passuk remains puzzling. Why does the Torah talk in such a figurative way? Why doesn’t the Torah simply say what it means?

In last week’s Sedra we read the travels of Klal-Yisroel. The total sum of travels listed is 42 corresponding to the 42 letters of Shem Hashem. Chazal explain that we learn from the number that Hashem was with us the entire time; every stop was a vital part of Hashem’s Plan.

From last week’s Parsha we see that all details are vital. Details group together to form the larger picture. If any single detail is missing then there isn’t the complete picture. If Klal-Yisroel would have only made 41 travels then we wouldn’t see the same Divine Presence in them.

It is precisely because details are extremely important that the Torah feels in necessary to tell precisely where in the middle of nowhere they were. Rashi therefore felt it necessary to expound upon these details and explain to us what we can learn from them.

In the Kinos we recite on Tisha b’Av we pray that Tisha b’Av will be transformed from a day of fasting and mourning to a festive day. We ask that all the sad fasts should become Yomim-Tovim. While we hope that in the near future we will know no more pain, how can we daven that the horrors of the past should be transformed into the Smachos of the future?

We find ourselves towards the end of a very long, painful, and difficult Golus (exile). There are so many details of how we constantly suffered. We cannot understand why we suffered so much – it is inexplicable. We pray that soon the day will come that we too will be able to look back and somehow see the Shem Hashem in our suffering. The day will come when we will be able to understand how the atrocities of the past somehow turned into good.

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This week’s Haftorah is no less disheartening then any of the two previous Haftoros. There is, however, something is very different about it. The Haftorah consists of the opening Nevuos of Yishayohu in which he relays Hashem’s message of the destruction. More than a description of the eventual destruction it is a depiction of the state of affairs leading up to the destruction. It describes how badly Klal-Yisroel was behaving, and how corrupt we had become. While the Haftorah depicts a totally degenerate nation, it is somehow infused with a spirit of hope.

Last week we read a very bleak Haftorah from Yirmiyahu. The thrust of the Haftorah was basically that we are in a state of despair. Last week’s Haftorah didn’t end with anything really positive and therefore we added on another more positive Passuk from elsewhere, whereas this week’s Haftorah concludes on a high note. In this week’s Haftorah the Navi ends by telling us that “Zion will be redeemed through justice and its returnees will return through righteousness”. This definite and strong affirmation of future Redemption is in its own right something encouraging, but the entire Haftorah seems to have some hidden element which is less depressing than those that preceded it. In order to lead up to such an ending there must have some sort of underlining theme. What is this special theme?

In the previous Haftoros the focus was more on what had occurred to Am-Yisroel. The focus was the destruction itself. In our Haftorah Hashem (through the mouth of Yishayohu) makes a direct attack on Klal-Yisroel’s behaviors that ultimately led to the destruction. The Navi says straight out “שריך סוררים” (“your princes are wayward”) – that our leaders went astray. The Passuk continues to tell us how they became corrupt, took, brides, and were ruthless. The Navi tells us exactly what was to cause the eventual Churban.

There is a saying that ‘knowing is half the battle’. In The Nevuos we read from Yirmiyohu the main focus was the actual Churban (this is partially because he lived during the Churban). The Nevuah of Yishayohu that we read this week is a prediction of what our actions were about to lead to. The fact that the Navi pinpoints the cause of the catastrophe is actually telling us that we can remedy the whole thing. This is the intent of the Haftorah’s conclusion. The Haftorah ends by telling us that through justice and righteousness Yerushalayim will be redeemed and we will come home. Through good deeds and justice we can earn and create our redemption. While this is a task that we have yet to perform in our two thousand years of Galus – the Navi’s words still resonate and transmit a loud and clear message. The Navi is clearly telling us that with a conscious effort towards justice and righteousness we can fix our world for good.