Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Parshah Devarim (Words) Deut. 1:1-3:22

Parshah Devarim (Words)  Deut. 1:1-3:22
With Shabbat Chazon – Shabbat before Tisha B’Av

It is important to first note that Parshah Devarim includes a special remembrance called Shabbat Chazon  (חזון שבת)  i.e “The Sabbath of Visions” and is often called “Black Sabbath” (not the band) due to it being the saddest Shabbat as part of the three weeks of mourning that begins on Tammuz 17th through to 9th Av.  It is during these three weeks that judgement against Israel is remembered historically and the Shabbat Chazon is the last Shabbat during this period before the grand finale on 9th Av.   

The Shabbat takes its name from the words of rebuke and doom that was coming to Israel in the Isaiah 1:1-27. אָמוֹץ -בֶן יְשַׁעְיָהוּ חֲזוֹן “Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amots -The vision of Isaiah son of Amos”.  These visions were not so great for Israel, especially the Temple, at the beginning but would eventually lead to the Salvation of Israel; so in a way, Great mourning will one day be turned into Great joy.

Back to the Parshah which is Devarim:  Deut 1:1 – 3:22.
Whilst “Devarim” is interpreted as “words”, the Bible has it written as Deuteronomy from a Greek word  “Deuteronómion” that means repetition of the Torah.  There is some discussion that this may have been a mistake from the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate of a phrase in Dt 17:18.

Devarim  is taken from the first verse which states משֶׁה דִּבֶּר אֲשֶׁר הַדְּבָרִים אֵלֶּה – “Ele HaDevarim asher diber Moshe – These are the words the Moses spoke”.  Considering that his personal speaker and brother Aaron was dead, this is particularly interesting since in Moses described himself as "slow of speech and slow of tongue" having "never been a man of words - devarim"  Exod. 4:10.  Now Moses steps up to the plate and begins a strong delivery of Torah and new Mitzvot (commandments).

This is an honest retelling of the trials and adventures of the Jewish people since leaving Egypt yet filled with mysteries and prophecy.  Take for example Deut 1:35-36 where Moses tells the people that the whole evil generation will not enter the promise land. “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!’”.   We do know that Joshua and the Levites also entered the Land but Moses was unable to.   This is truly odd, considering that Moses was the most humble man on earth; the only one to speak with HaShem face to face?    

Rambam's commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) describes Moshe as "the most perfect of all mankind."  Is Caleb (and Joshua / Levites) more worthy than Moses to enter the promise land?  For me, this is a clear picture of how faith is the way to enter the promise land.     Our best, well intentioned efforts won’t suffice either, as we see in Deut 1:41-46 when the children of Israel decided to take the Promise Land by force as a vain attempt of repentance as we see in verse 45 which says “And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you”.

Repentance (Teshuvah) is not just about fixing or being sorry for our sins, it is the direction of our being.  Teshuvah literally means "return towards".    When the Israelites attempted to take the Promised Land by their own sorry strength, they were still not facing the right direction - they were navel gazing, not heaven gazing.  

Devarim begins with Moses speaking to a new generation that may not have seen the exodus from Egypt, the fire on the mountain or heard God speak out from the fire.   They may not have understood how their sins will hamper their settlement in the Promise Land and thus Moses explains carefully what is expected.   He begins with a reminding rebuke of how sin was the reason they were stuck in the desert for so long but that even in their days in the wilderness God continued to protect them and deliver them from the hands of their enemies including the king Sihon of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan ; according to tradition, king Og was a huge giant and over 500 years old (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 19:32 / Nidah 24b / Zohar, Bamidbar 3:184a-b).     

So despite overwhelming odds, HaShem was with His people at all times.  Moses may have been using their experiences with a giant (Og) as encouragement for the people to not be afraid when they take the Promise Land this time.  It was with great regret that the story of Giants in the Land from the spies caused Israel to disbelief and sin 40 years earlier but we see throughout scripture and certainly in our own personal lives, that we often face giants in the field before taking on the real issues (even bigger Giants) in our life.  Take for example King David.  David was confident that he could win over Goliath because he had already faced lions and bears and was ready for this new giant – with HaShem.

In Deut 3:12 Moses is explaining how land had already been delivered to some of the tribes of Israel. This may have served as encouragement; in that settling in the Promise Land was not some dream that only happens to other nations. It had happened before and will happen again! It was not hope deferred but the fulfilment was to yet come – though it was close.

Some sages of the Sifre on Devarim suggest that the numerous place names listed in the first verse are not really true landmarks or geographical locations but were words to rebuke Israel of their sins in a code to keep their dignity.  Rashi stated  “These are the words.” Because they are words of admonition, he enumerated here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent; therefore he said the things obliquely, mentioning them in an allusive manner, out of respect for the dignity of Israel….”    When we read “Between Paran and Tofel and Lavan.” Rabbi Yohanan said: “We have searched the entire Scripture, and have not found any place called Tofel or Lavan. Rather, he rebuked them for the words with which they denounced the manna, which is white (lavan), saying “and we are sick of this spoiled bread” (Num 21:5). And for what they did in the wilderness of Paran in the matter of the Spies.”

Other points are:
1.     "In the desert" (בַּמִּדְבָּר ) – when they complained "if only we would have died in the desert" (Exod. 17:3)
2.     "In the plain" (בָּעֲרָבָה) - the sin with the Moabite women (and Ba'al Peor) in the plains of Moab (Num. 25)
3.     "Opposite Suf" (מוֹל סוּף) -  complaining on the shores of Yam Suf (at the start of the great exodus from Egypt)
4.     "Paran" (פָּארָן) - the Sin of the Spies, who were dispatched from Paran (Num. 13)
5.     "Tofel and Lavan" (תּפֶל וְלָבָן, "libel" and "white") - that is, their ‘libeling’ the white manna (Num. 21:5)
6.     "Hazerot" (חֲצֵרת) - that is, where Korach's mutiny against Moses took place
7.     "Di Zahav" - (דִי זָהָב,"too much gold") the sin of the Golden Calf.

The Parshah finishes on a GREAT message of encouragement. “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deut 3:22).  

So often we think we are alone in our battles against HaSatan, but it is the Lord who fights for us.  Victory was won on the cross and in Colossians 2:15 we read clearly “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

Shalom  Jon

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