By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
6 Av 5764 - July 23-24, 2004
Moshe retells some of the principal events of the past 40
years. Although some occurred recently, Moshe adds important insights and
behind-the-scenes information. Prominent are the encounters with the three
nations most closely related to Israel: Edom, descended from Yaakov’s twin
brother Esav, and Moav and Ammon, descended from Avraham’s nephew Lot.
Earlier (Bamidbar 20:14-21), the Israelites, approaching their Promised Land,
passed close to the territory of Edom, known as Se’ir, along the east-west
axis, south of the Dead Sea. Having been refused passage through Edom, they
circumnavigated it. Now Moshe reveals that Hashem had said:
And command the people, saying, “ You are passing through the border of your
brethren the children of Esav, who dwell in Se’ir. They will fear you but take
great care. Do not provoke them, for I will not give you of their land even a
footstep, because as an inheritance to Esav, I have given Mount Se’ir” (Devarim
Afterwards, they proceeded northward (Bamidbar 21:10-20), skirting Moav’s
territory, Ar, alongside the southeastern half of the Dead Sea. At the time
however, no explanation was given for not engaging them. Now Moshe explains:
…and we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moav. And Hashem
said to me: Do not harass Moav, nor provoke them to war, because I will not
give you from his land as an inheritance, because to the children of Lot have
I given Ar as an inheritance. (Previously, the Emim dwelt there – a people
great and numerous, tall as Anakim — the Refaim are also considered like
Anakim; but the Moavites called them Eimim. Also, the Chorites dwelt in Se’ir
previously, but the children of Esav drove them out: they destroyed them
before themself, and lived in their place.) So has Israel done to the land of
its an inheritance, which Hashem gave to them (verses 8-12).
Then Israel requested, and was refused, passage through the territory of
Sichon, which they conquered; then they were challenged by Og, whose land they
also conquered (Bamidbar 21:21-35). Their lands extended from the northeastern
side of the Dead Sea, along the Jordan and the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). But
just to the east lay the territory of Ammon, which Israel did not invade. At
the time, the reason given for not doing so was the strength of the border
(21:24). Now, Moshe reveals that Hashem had said:
And when you come near facing the children of Ammon, do not harass them nor
provoke them, because I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon
to you as an inheritance, since to the children of Lot have I given it as an
inheritance. (The land of the Refaim too is included: Refaim lived there
previously — the Ammonites called them Zamzumim — a people great and numerous,
tall as Anakim. Hashem destroyed them before them: they drove them out and
lived in their place.) (verses 19-21).
Moshe seems to be saying: “Don’t think we avoided these three nations because
of their fearsome might. Just as Hashem drove them out before the current
inhabitants so He could drive them out before us. Rather, He said not to
provoke them because they must remain in their land.”
But why does Moshe also provide additional historical background?
Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) gives two approaches. The
first is based on Bechor Shor (R. Yosef Bechor Shor, born c. 1140). Moshe
wishes to forestall mistaken conclusions:
• Se’ir/Edom is identified with the Chivvites, since one of Esav’s wives is
Oholivama daughter of Ana, daughter of Tziv’on the Chivvite (Bereishit 36:2).
Furthermore, the Chivvites are listed among the seven nations that were given
The place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Emorite and the Perizzite
and the Chivvite and the Yevusite (Shemot 3:8).
Israel might have thought that the territory of Edom is also meant for them.
Moshe explains therefore that originally the Chorites lived in Se’ir (verse
12), meaning that they are not of the seven nations. The Talmud (Shabbat 85a)
explains that “Chivvite” is merely a descriptive nickname for the Chorites:
they could taste or smell the earth like a snake (chivia) and determine where
it was best to plant olives or figs. (Different pH levels are suitable for
different plants, which an expert can determine by actually smelling or
tasting the soil!)
• Moav is also called the land of the Refaim (verse 11), a nation mentioned
among those promised to Avraham (Bereishit 15:20). Israel might have thought
that the territory of Moav is meant for them. Thus Moshe says that the
Moavites call them Eimim, which is their primary name. They are not the Refaim
promised to Avraham.
• Ammon is also called Refaim (verse 20). Lest Israel think that their land
too is due them, Moshe explains that their main name is Zamzumim, and they are
not the Refaim promised to Avraham.
Chizkuni’s second approach refers to the Covenant between the Pieces, when
Hashem promised Avraham the land of ten nations:
The Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Chittites, the Perizzites,
the Refaim, the Emorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Yevusites (Bereishit
The first three, which are not included in the seven nations, are identified
with Edom, Moav and Ammon. Their land will not be granted to Israel until
Mashiach (Rashi there; Bereishit Rabbah 44:23; Yerushalmi Kiddushin 1:8;
Rambam, Laws of Murder 8:4; see Chizkuni on Bamidbar 24:21).
Moshe explains why the time for conquering their half-brothers has not yet
Take great care…
Their measure of sin is not complete; they do not yet deserve to be displaced.
At the actual time of these events, Israel could not fully comprehend the
reasons for Hashem’s directives. Now, Moshe provides them with a broader view,
which can be appreciated only in retrospect.
Tish’ah B’Av evokes many tragedies of our history. But when that history is
behind us, we too will gain an understanding of Hashem’s plan.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Early in his farewell address, Moshe reprimands the Children of Israel for
their response to the spies’ report. At first glance, it seems that
Moshe’s reprimand is entirely misdirected. The adult generation that had
left Egypt had already died in the desert; Moshe was speaking to their
children who were not culpable in the matter of the spies.
Devarim is always read the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, which commemorates
the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. Our Sages tell us that any
generation in which the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt must see itself as
the generation in which the Beit HaMikdash had been destroyed. The reason
is simple: if our generation has not merited rebuilding the Temple, it is
because we are guilty of the same sins which caused the destruction. (This
is especially true of sin’at chinam - needless hatred, which was the cause
of the destruction of the Second Temple.)
Facing the generation that was to enter the Land, the generation which had
not been involved in the sin of the spies, and addressing it as if it were
the guilty generation, Moshe means to issue a warning not to repeat the
sin of the previous generation. In essence, Moshe is saying: “if your
generation fails to appreciate the Land of Israel and the unique divine
providence which the Land enjoys, then you indeed will be as guilty as
your fathers’ generation.”
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254