By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
September 13, 2003
With the majority of the mitzvot of the Torah explained, Moshe
begins his third and final lecture to the Israelites. A central feature of
this discourse will be the Tochechah, first, words of encouragement and
blessing, followed by warning and curse (Devarim 27:11-28:69). Initially,
Moshe enjoins the people to realize the significance of this moment:
And Moshe, together with the Kohanim-Leviim, spoke to all of Israel, saying:
“Pay attention (HASKET) and hear,O Israel! This day (HA’YOM HA’ZEH) you have
become a people (AM) to Hashem, your G-d. And you shall listen to the voice of
Hashem, your G-d, and you will perform His commandments and His statutes that
I command you today (HA’YOM)” (Devarim 27:9-10).
A number of questions, both textual and historical, present themselves in
these two verses. Chief among them is, what happens to the Israelites This day
that transforms them into a people (AM) to Hashem, your G-d, and what is the
effect of that transformation?
HASKET (Pay attention)
Some commentaries translate this word as "listen" (Targum, Rashi); others as
"pay attention" (Saadia, Hirsch ). Ibn Ezra agrees with this second view, and
states here that this word has no parallel in Tanach. However, in his
commentary to Amos 5:26, he says that this word, like its Arabic cognate,
means "bear my words and accept them willingly."
Sforno, basing himself on the same verse in Amos, says HASKET means "imagine."
He argues that the root SAMECH-CHAF-TAV means "to draw"; in this, he seems to
relate this word to MASECHET, as in Shoftim 16:13-14, where it means "a woven
pattern on a loom." (This is also the view of Mahari Kara, 11th Cent.).
And you shall listen to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, and you will perform
His commandments and His statutes
is a prediction, rather than a command:
"When you conjure this up (in your mind) and comprehend, then without a doubt
you will listen to His voice."
This day (HA’YOM HA’ZEH)
Crucial to the issue of the Israelites’ transformation into a people (AM) is
the question: To which day does HA’YOM HA’ZEH refer? Rashi, characteristically
(see, inter alia, his comments to Devarim 6:6, 11:13 and 26:16), lifts this
verse out of its immediate historic content. Quoting from Berachot 63b, he
“This day you have become a people Every day they (the commandments) shall
be [considered] in your eyes as if that day He entered into the covenant with
The verse thus becomes meta-historical.
Other commentaries set HA’YOM HA’ZEH into Moshe's chronological narrative. Ibn
Ezra says that HA’YOM HA’ZEH looks ahead to the Tochechah (27:11-28:69). As
Hashem will make a covenant with you, you will become a people. Accordingly,
verse 10 is understood as a command:
And you shall listen today to His voice. [As a result] you will perform His
commandments in the future.
Malbim, looking backward, says that now that Hashem has taught you the mitzvot
of the Torah, you have become a people. Haamek Davar, on the other hand,
refers to the command (in verses 1-8 above) to write the words of the Torah in
70 languages on stones, as the Israelites will cross the Jordan into Canaan.
The purpose of this command is so the world can appreciate the role of Israel
amongst the nations. HA’YOM HA’ZEH therefore means: When you contemplate well
what is written on the stones, then you will become a people.
Because of their disagreement regarding the focus of HA’YOM HA’ZEH, Haamek
Davar and Malbim see different consequences of becoming a people (AM) to
Hashem, your G-d. Haamek Davar says that here AM (as in Bereshit 41:40 and
Shemot 1:9) means "an army." The role of the Jewish people before the nations
is to bear the message of Hashem's sovereignty to the world.
According to Malbim's analysis, the covenant made on the threshold of entering
the land of Israel serves a different purpose to that which was implemented at
These are the words of the covenant that Hashem commanded Moshe to make with
the Children of Israel in the land of Moav, besides the covenant that He made
with them at Chorev (28:69).
In brief, Malbim says that the covenant at Sinai was imposed by Hashem on the
Israelites. The result of this was that they were willing to comply with
Hashem's dictates, but it was a willingness born out of fear; this was
expressed in their affirmation:
All the things which Hashem has said we will do (NA'ASEH) (Shemot 24:3).
Then, after hearing the first details of the laws in the Decalogue, they were
ready to embark on the task of understanding the laws:
All that Hashem has said we will do and we will listen (NA'ASEH V'NISHMA)
(ibid. verse 7).
This declaration was asserted by the people's own initiative.
As a result of the Sinai covenant, the status of the Israelites in their
relation to Hashem was that of children before their Father. They needed this
dependent relationship then in order to extricate themselves from the
sinfulness that inundated them in Egypt. Moshe's role was like that of a
king's closest and most trusted adviser, who is the only one who can intervene
between the king and his son.
As they prepare to enter their land, however, their lives will become more
independent, more "adult," and thus more within the bounds of natural law.
Therefore, the covenant, which Hashem commanded Moshe to make with the
Children of Israel in the land of Moav, coming after the Israelites' receiving
the majority of the mitzvot, transforms them from children into a people
before their King. Prophets who will follow Moshe will neither innovate nor
alter the laws, but will function as ministers of the king, exhorting his
people to obey those laws.
I command you today (HA’YOM)
This moment marks our maturation, from childish reliance to adult
responsibility. With Hashem's perfect Torah as our constitution we embrace our