PARASHAH: D'varim (Words)
ADDRESS: D'varim (Deuteronomy) 1:1-3:22
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
Let's begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-'Olam,
asher bachar banu m'kol ha-amim,
v'natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you, O' LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Welcome to a most wonderful book in Moshe's set of five: Deuteronomy, or D'varim ("D-var-eem") as we say in Hebrew! The literal word "d'varim" is the plural form of the word "d'var", which means, "word". I won't go into each detail of this parashah, which actually serves as a recap of the major events of B'midbar, much like the last parashah of B'midbar (please recall Parashat Mattot). The title of the first portion takes its name from the title of the book, just like every other opening parashah of the Torah.
This first parashah will function primarily as an introduction to this fifth book Moshe. First some historical background behind this book, as quoted by a modern rabbi, and then I will recall my own comments about the pattern of the menorah. This initial portion will be very light, so take a break from the scholarly approach and enjoy the fascinating insights!
Rabbi Aaron Tendler and Project Genesis (http://www.torah.org) explain,
"In the first four books G-d spoke directly to Moshe and Moshe repeated G-d's words to the Jews while he was still within the context of receiving G-d's prophecy. "It was as if G-d was speaking to the Jewish nation through the throat of Moshe." In the last book, G-d also spoke to Moshe; however, Moshe repeated G-d's words to the nation some time after receiving the directive from G-d. At the time of Moshe's delivery G-d's presence had already withdrawn from Moshe and he was no longer within the context of receiving the prophecy.
"In this regard, Divarim was heard by the nation in the same manner that all other subsequent prophecies were heard. The prophet would receive a vision. After awakening from the trance, the Prophet would decipher G-d's message and then sometime later deliver the "message" to the people."
Now whether or not I agree with the entirety of his comments concerning the reception of revelation of Moshe, we scholars must certainly agree to the pinpointed change of voices (first, second, third) in the previous writings, and Moshe's recall here in D'varim.
Consider Rabbi Menachem Leibtag's comments (website http://www.tanach.org):
"In contrast to these four books where the story (and/or mitzvot) are presented in THIRD person, the style of Sefer Devarim is very different for it is written almost entirely in FIRST person. The reason for this is quite simple: Sefer Devarim consists of a collection of speeches delivered by Moshe Rabeinu before his death.
"Therefore, to understand Sefer Devarim, we must first determine the purpose of these speeches and how they relate to one another. To do so should be quite simple, as we need only to identify each speech and then read what it's about.
"To do so is a bit complicated, for to identify each speech we must read through the entire Sefer and note the changes from third person (i.e. the regular 'narrator mode' of Chumash) to first person (i.e. the direct quote of Moshe Rabeinu).
"If you have ample time (and a Tanach Koren handy), I highly recommend that you try this on your own. If you are short on time, you can 'cheat' by reading at least 1:1-7, 4:40-5:2, 26:16-27:2, 28:69-29:2, & 30:19-32:1, noting the transition from third person to first person, and hence where and how each speech begins."
How does all of this information help you and I the average readers? By understanding the historical, linguistic, and stylistic approach to any given book or text, we can begin to understand its message in a more theologically correct way. In some cases, a misunderstanding of any of these important areas will cause us to misunderstand the author's true intent behind any given text. So let's approach the text with some caution, shall we?
Yeshua - The Living Torah!
I want to close by quoting a few familiar verses from the B'rit Chadashah (Renewed Covenant, i.e., New Testament). In these verses, we see the Word identified in a way that was most certainly shocking to the average first century reader, and still shocking to many Jewish people today.
The verses are Yochanan (John) 1:1 and 14:
"In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God."
"The Word became a human being and lived with us,
and we saw his Sh'khinah,
the Sh'khinah of the Father's only Son,
full of grace and truth."
In Hebrew these verses read (now carefully watch for the familiar word "Davar"!):
"B'resheet hayah haDavar,
v'haDavar hayah eem haElohim,
vey'Elohim hayah haDavar."
"HaDavar ni'hyeh basar v'shakheyn b'tochenu,
v'anach-nu ra-eenu eht K'vodo [Sh'khinah],
K'vod [Sh'khinah] Ben yacheed milifney Aviv,
maley chesed v'emet." (Transliteration from the Hebrew, mine)
As we can see, this Word (Heb. "Davar) is none other than Yeshua! These Words (Heb. "D'varim") are the very image of God, veiled in flesh, and clothed in grace and truth!
May we appreciate the written Word of God, as we seek a stronger and closer relationship with the Living Word of God!
The Opening of the Book of D'varim: Condemnation and Rebuke
Professor Avigdor Shenan, Hebrew Literature Department
At the beginning of the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses we find a lengthy introduction which reads as follows: "These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Aravah [plains], adjacent to Suf, between Paran and Tofel and Laban and Chazeroth and Di-Zahav. Eleven days journey from Chorev via mount Seir up to Kadesh-Barnea. In the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel of all that God had commanded him" (1:1-3). According to this introduction, which determines the place and time that the Book of D'varim was recited, or at least the opening of the book, the children of Israel were situated on the far side of the Jordan, on the eve of their entry into the Land of Canaan, at the beginning of the twelfth month (which later would receive the name 'Adar') of the fortieth year since their departure from Egypt.
Other books of the Torah also open with an introduction which describes the place where they were recited, such as the Book of Vayikra ("And he called to Moses and God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying") or B'midbar ("And God said to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month in the second year after their departure from Egypt, saying"),but the Book of D'varim is an exception in terms of wordiness of the geographical description and the Sages felt a need to express their opinions on this. Also: the verse "Eleven days journey from Chorev via mount Seir up to Kadesh-Barnea" (verse 2) seems detached from the preceding verse and for this too the Sages needed to provide an explanation.
It seems that in the Tannaic Midrash on the Book of D'varim, Sifrei D'varim (which we will deal with in 'Nahar Deah' when discussing the Torah portion of 'Eikev'), there are a number of homiletical explanations which attempt to understand this geographical detail and the emphasis on the fact that the route from Chorev to Kadesh-Barnea took eleven days. Apparently the Midrash on this verse found in the names of the places a basis for Moses' rebuking of the nation, while listing all their sins, crimes and stubbornness, one after the other:
According to the Midrash, Moses lists to the nation their many sins and in addition the Midrash says of the verse 'Eleven days journey from Chorev via mount Seir up to Kadesh-Barnea': "If Israel had been worthy after ten days, they would have entered the land, but since their deeds were unacceptable, God decreed upon them another forty years". If the people of Israel had been worthy, the whole journey of Mount Sinai, Chorev and up to Seir on the far side of the Jordan on the eve of their entry into the land, would have taken only ten days, but since the nation sinned and acted criminally, especially in the story of the spies who were sent from 'Kadesh-Barnea' (more about this place in the 'Nahar Deah' discussion on the portions of 'Mattot-Mas'ei'), the journey became one of forty years. According to this we should read the verse as follows: the usual route from Chorev to Mount Seir normally takes eleven days, but due to the incident at Kadesh-Barnea, it took forty years.
We need to ask why the Sages saw this list of places and sites as conveying deep and harsh words of rebuke. It can be claimed, that its context in the Book of D'varim was the cause of this. In Chapter 1 of the book, Moses, in his historic speech, mentions the sin of the spies (verses 22-36), its punishment that they would not be allowed into the land (verses 37-18) and the decision of the nation to rebel against God's words and to fight the Emori, a war which ended with a bitter defeat (verses 41-45). It could be that these topics, which appear during the chapter, colored the introduction with its colors of rebuke.
Another possibility, no less interesting, to understanding the Midrashim we have brought, is learnt out from the fact that during the chapter Moses mentions his intention to establish a judicial system, captains of thousands and captains of hundreds etc, in order that they help him to bear the burdens of the nation and deal with the tensions in its midst (verse 12), expressions that do not compliment the interpersonal relationships that existed within the nation. Moses phrases this, his last complaint against the nation, as follows: "I cannot bear you alone... how can I bear your struggles and your burden and your arguments alone? (verses 9-12). It is interesting to note that the word 'eicha' (=how) appears here for the first time in the Torah (and will reappear another four time in the Book of D'varim). The word 'eicha' also open the Scroll of Eicha, the Scroll of Lamentations over the destruction of the Temple and is found in it a number of times, as an expression of sadness and mourning. It must be noted that it is our custom to read the Torah portion of 'D'varim' always on the Sabbath before Tisha Be'Av (the Ninth day of the month of Av). The three weeks before Tisha Be'Av - and also the nine days from the start of Av until the fast day - are days of sadness and national stocktaking which at its basis is also self rebuke. The Sages repeatedly asked themselves which factors lead to the destruction of the Temple (both the First and Second) and found many reasons to blame the destruction on the undesirable behavior of the people of Israel, especially in the interpersonal sphere. In light of the constant connection between the Torah portion of 'D'varim' and Tisha Be'Av, and in light of the word 'eicha' in the Scroll of Lamentations and the Torah portion, can we assume that the understanding of the introduction to the Book of D'varim as words of rebuke and reprimand were born out of the atmosphere of the days on which they read this portion in the synagogues? In contrast to this captivating possibility, it must be stated that in the period of the Tannaic Midrashim the Torah reading cycle had not yet been established as a one-year cycle and therefore the portion of 'D'varim' did not always fall before Tisha Be'Av. On the other hand, recently more evidence has been found that in the land of Israel, even in the Tannaic Period, in parallel to places where the Torah was read in a triennial cycle, there were already places where the Torah was read in a set annual cycle and in might be that it was in one of these places that the Midrashim that were dealt with above were born.
The closing blessing is as follows:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-'Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v'chay-yeh o'lam nata-b'tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you O' LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy firstname.lastname@example.org