Thursday, July 23, 2015

Parasha Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

The title for this Parasha is also the title of this new book that we are entering, the fifth book of the five books of the Torah, which have been ascribed by rabbinic tradition (as stated in the Talmud) to Moses as sole author, also known as the Pentateuch in English (from Greek – “penta” for five, and “teuchas” which can be translated scroll).  Debate regarding authorship of these books continues to this day amongst genuine bible scholars, Yeshiva students and academics, some of whom claim that the Torah must have had multiple authors, asking, for example, how Moses could have written about his own death in Deuteronomy 34:5.

This parasha begins the book of Devarim (or Deuteronomy) with a summary of where the Israelites have been, and what the Israelites have gone through to get to where they now are, which is shortly before crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land (Deut 1:3 “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month”).  It appears that Moses hope in delivering these words was to encourage the Children of Israel to remember the goodness and faithfulness of HaShem, lest they be discouraged and turn back, as they had done or attempted to do many times in the past.  Deuteronomy in general is also a “second telling” or a summary of and in some cases expansion on the four previous books of the Torah.  The name “Deuteronomy” is derived from the Septuagint title Deuteronomion, which is translated “second law”.

Deuteronomy 1:19-40 “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

“Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.

“And the Lord heard your words and was angered, and he swore, ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’ Even with me the Lord was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’

Thus the Children of Israel turned back from the Promised Land and were made to wander in the wilderness until that disbelieving generation had all perished, except for Joshua and Caleb, who were the only spies who brought a good witness and demonstrated that they had faith in HaShem moreso than in the enemies that might face them when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land.  As Caleb says in Numbers 13:30 “Let’s go now and take possession of the land.  We should be more than able to conquer it.”

Numbers 14:1-9 “Then all the people in the Israelite community raised their voices and cried out loud all that night.  They complained to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died in Egypt or this desert!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land—just to have us die in battle? Our wives and children will be taken as prisoners of war! Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” They said to each other, “Let’s choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Immediately, Moses and Aaron bowed with their faces touching the ground in front of the whole community of Israel assembled there. At the same time, two of those who had explored the land, Joshua (son of Nun) and Caleb (son of Jephunneh), tore their clothes in despair. They said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we explored is very good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This is a land flowing with milk and honey! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will devour them like bread. They have no protection, and the Lord is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.”

Deuteronomy 2:7 “For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”

HaShem continually showed the Children of Israel His provision throughout their time in the wilderness, yet they continually trusted in themselves, failing to wait upon the Lord’s timing.  Such as when they fought against the Amorites when the Lord said to Moses in Deuteronomy 1:42-43 “And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country.” And they were defeated.

Whenever they followed what HaShem had directed them to do, they found success.  Deuteronomy 2:36-37 “From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, as far as Gilead, there was not a city too high for us. The Lord our God gave all into our hands. Only to the land of the sons of Ammon you did not draw near, that is, to all the banks of the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country, whatever the Lord our God had forbidden us.”

So Moses takes this opportunity just prior to the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan to enter and take the Promised Land, to reassure Joshua and Caleb and the Children of Israel that HaShem is with them and it is He who fights for them, they need only trust in Him and follow His guidance and direction.  This reminds me of Matthew 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  Those who desire to enter the Promised Land must be confident in whom it is that they serve.

Deuteronomy 3:21-22 “And I commanded Joshua at that time, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings. So will the Lord do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’”

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