Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: Deuteronomy - Devarim

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Deuteronomy - Devarim


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Towards A New Dawn

By Michael Chessen

     The book of Deuteronomy ushers in a new era for the people of Israel. After forty nomadic years, both wondrous and severely testing, their desert wanderings are coming to an end, and the former nation of slaves is now finally poised to take possession of the Promised Land as a strong and sovereign nation in the service of God. As the people leave the desert and what could be seen as the "ultimate yeshiva", (place of learning), they now need to prepare themselves for all of the demands of what could be seen as "routine" life.

     Rabbi Isaac Bernstein points out that apparently mundane day to day existence presents special problems of faith. It's not only that it is far more difficult to discern God's guiding presence in the absence of major miraculous events, but after an individual has indeed earned his daily bread by "the sweat of his brow", the tendency can more likely arise for one to begin thinking that this is solely from "the might of my hand"(Deuteronomy 8) and not through God's benevolence. Accordingly, the commandment for saying grace after meals (birchat hamazon) only appears as we take leave of the wondrous manna of the desert and begin to make use of the plow, the mill and the baking oven.

     Our first reading in Deuteronomy, Devarim, does not deal with new commandments however, rather it is primarily a repetition of past events. This repetition, which occurs throughout Deuteronomy, has earned it the Hebrew appellation "Mishne Torah"; and Professor Nechama Leibovitch draws attention to the unexpected order of Moses' present recounting of events. Why is the later sin of the spies mentioned here and the earlier sin of the golden calf only mentioned in the later reading of the Torah portion of Ekev?

     The answer seems to lie in timing, both that of the Torah's protagonists, about to enter the Land of Israel, as well as the calendar placement of Devarim for we the Torah's readers, always falling on the Shabbat preceding the Ninth of Av. The actions of the spies and the rest of Israel in the wake of their evil report, in crying for naught, led to our imminent day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temple. As Moses exhorts the generation of the desert to learn from the sorry events of the past, so should we learn from the destruction of the Temple, destroyed through free-based hatred, and seek to hasten its rebuilding, through active faith and free-based love.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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