By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
July 28, 2001
MOSHE BEGINS HIS FAREWELL addresses to the Children of Israel. He
reviews many mitzvot and elaborates on them. He also introduces many new
mitzvot. He criticizes the Children of Israel for their past sins and alerts them against future backsliding. Moshe will bless them and inspire them as well.
AFTER A BRIEF INTRODUCTION that, mercifully, only hints at the previous generation's transgressions, the intent of Moshe's discourses is outlined:
And it was, in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel according to all that
Hashem commanded him for them. After he defeated
Sichon, king of the Emorites who lived in Cheshbon, and Og, king of the Bashon who lived in
Ashtarot, in Edre'i … Moshe undertook to explain this teaching (TORAH), saying . . . (Devarim 1:3-5).
CERTAINLY, WE SHOULD EXPECT an explanation of the Torah to follow, as stated. However, Moshe places the anticipated analysis of the mitzvot in the context of a recounting of events:
Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us at Chorev, saying . . . (v.6).
WE WOULD BE RIGHT TO EXPECT the Decalogue (Aseret HaDibrot) to come next, followed by the other
mitzvot. But, the Decalogue is not repeated until quite a bit later, in Chapter 5. Instead, what follows is:
· . . It is enough for you, remaining (RAV LACHEM SHEVET) at this mountain. Turn, and journey for yourselves, and come to the mountain of the Emorites and all his neighbors, in the
Aravah, on the mountain and in the lowlands and in the Negev and at the seashore, the land of the Canaanites and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Come and possess the land which Hashem swore to your forefathers, to
Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov, to give them and to their seed after them (1:6-8).
THE GREAT TEACHER MOSHE seems to have deviated greatly from his topic. Not only does he avoid explaining the Torah, but turns instead to the impending entry into the land of Canaan; his only reference to Mount Sinai, the site where the Torah was given, is after the event! Seemingly, he compounds matters even more when he talks about the place of encounter between Hashem and the people in negative terms, as if to say, "You have had enough of this place. Time to move on." Yet, Rashi interprets RAV LACHEM SHEVET in this way. The Targum (translation to Aramaic) Yonatan states this bluntly:
It would be a bad thing for you to remain at this mountain.
RASHI, QUOTING FROM THE SIFRIE (1:6), provides an alternate understanding of RAV as "greatness":
You have much greatness and reward from your having remained at this mountain: you made the Tabernacle, Menorah and utensils; you received the Torah; you appointed the Sanhedrin, leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds.
SINAI WAS THE SITE OF MANY GREAT national achievements. But, the question remains: Is this how "Moshe undertook to explain this TORAH"?
IT MUST ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED that the Torah is the program of national life in the land of Israel. And, in this sense, as R. Moshe Alshech (1508-1600) explains, while Sinai may have been the place where Torah was transmitted, Israel is the place where Torah would be lived and realized to its fullest intent. Moshe cannot undertake "to explain this TORAH" without placing it in the context of the land of Israel.
THE GENERATION MOSHE now addresses is composed of the children of those who left Egypt, received the Torah at Sinai, and were meant to enter the Promised Land, all in the span of a few months. But, the atonement necessitated by the sin of the golden calf had detained the previous generation for a year. And the next generation, at the end of forty years in the wilderness (the sin of the scouts was punished by 40 years of wandering in the wilderness), have not witnessed the kinds of miracles that their parents did. The wars fought by the young generation against Sichon and Og
(Bamidbar 21:21-35) were all through natural means.
AS ABRABANEL (Don Yitzchak
Abrabanel, 1437-1508) comments, the new generation might have despaired of receiving Hashem's direct intervention, which they will need to accomplish the Torah's goal of establishing the nation in the Land. Therefore, Moshe has to explain why their parents did not see the Torah's fulfillment in Israel. They must understand that it was Hashem's desire to take them from Sinai directly to the Land:
You have remained long enough at this mountain. Turn, and journey for yourselves, and come to . . . the land of the Canaanites . . . See, I have set
the land before you.
Come and possess the land which Hashem swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to
Yaakov, to give them and to their seed after them.
IT WAS ONLY BECAUSE OF THE SIN of the scouts (first told in
Bamidbar, Ch.13-14, and soon to be recounted by Moshe in verses 22-44) that this generation was born in the wilderness, rather than in the Promised Land. The cause was sin, and the ensuing forty years' delay was the result of direct Divine intervention. Similarly, the new generation's military victories, though accomplished naturally, could not have occurred without Hashem's Providence
(Hashgacha), as Moshe emphasizes in Chapters 2-3. As long as they will remain faithful to Hashem and His Torah, Providence will bring them to the Land and preserve them there in peace.
MOSHE'S MESSAGE IS CLEAR: Despite the fact that many great accomplishments occurred at Sinai - the Torah was received, the Tabernacle was built, the Sanhedrin was appointed - that was not Hashem's plan. The achievements at Sinai were a
means to an end. To confuse means with ends would have been, as Targum Yonatan says, "a bad thing." Hashem wanted Sinai to be a temporary stop on the way to the place where the Torah was meant to be actualized - in the Land of Israel.