Devarim

  1. Two miracles occur in this first reading. First, Moshe speaks to “All Israel.” Before high powered speakers and mics, this wasn’t physically possible. Second, according to the Pshat he’s speaking in 9 seven places at once; many of which don’t seem to exist. Read literally the list is like: across the Jordan (downtrodden), in the desert, in the place towards crossing, cutting (circumcision) of the end/sea, between distinguished and lacking effort, pure, and courtyard/open space and enough gold. What is going on here? If it is in relation to physical places, why not name them? Moshe’s words are literally delivered to those across the Jordan in the desert who are headed towards crossing and about to cut off the end of their journey – to be the people who themselves complete the trip through the desert like Brit Milah completes birth. The people he is speaking to include those between the distinguished and the lazy/deluded and includes those who are pure, who have the luxury of wide open spaces and who have enough money. On the cusp of the land, all are pure, there are no poor or constrained. This is a description of all the people – because Moshe’s words speak to all of them, not just some. The only distinction is that some are lazy or deluded and it is to this attribute that Moshe addresses this parsha’s segment of the speech.
  2. “I can’t carry you alone” – why mention that here? Moshe is setting the table for his speech by saying that the people need to be responsible for themselves; after all, he’s leaving. The command to choose judges is the only mitzvah in Torah that doesn’t come from Hashem. It speaks directly and strongly to the community’s responsibilities to itself and a fitting opening to a talk about communal responsibility.
  3. We next go to the spies. In this version, the people charge that Hashem hates them. But this doesn’t appear in the original story. The accent here is on the people avoiding responsibility by claiming it is all Hashem’s hatred. This concept is reinforced by only Calev being mentioned as the good spy among these men (referring to the entire people). Yohoshua in only brought up in the next verse. Why? Because we are talking about the people’s responsibilities and Yohoshua has been elevated and is no longer one of the people.
  4. The Seir description is weird. Why go from Kadesh to surrounding/circling Mount Seir? In the original, the Jewish people wanted to pass through Edom (which includes Seir). What’s the point if they are already walking all the way around it? I believe this is another allegorical placename. Shaar means gate. They are literally circling around the mountain of entry. They have come from Kadesh (holiness) and the time has come to step up through the gate to Israel (action). It is one thing to have Kedusha, but you need to step up. It is only after this brief description that Edom mentioned by name – which is the actual territory they want to traverse.
  5. Why discuss the owners and previous occupants of the land? To reinforce that ownership is in G-d’s bailiwick. You have responsibility to act and do, but there is a framework set by Hashem and you can not violate it. Even giants can’t step outside this limitation – although it can be altered as we shall see later.
  6. In the first telling of the interaction with Sihon Hashem didn’t harden Sihon’s heart. The parallel I made in that parsha is reinforced here. On the exit from Egypt they start with Pharoah and go through a number of Midbar entry activities. When they are exiting the Midbar they do the opposite. In this frame, Sihon is the northern Pharoah – he believes the poetry about himself and so do others. He is defending that image and the contrary concept of Hashem’s power is antithetical to that. He is hardened by Hashem. But there is a difference between Pharoah and Sihon. Now the people have the capacity to act when Hashem stirs up the hornet’s nest. In the case of Pharoah they were totally actionless. The people have climbed the ladder of responsibility.
  7. And we end with the two and a half tribes – perhaps the greatest self-imposed responsibility. Their inheritance has now become an edict from Hashem rather than their own request. And their vow is made into a command from Hashem. This speaks to the power of the people to change the heavenly expectations and reality. We don’t just sit in the box – we can create bubbles of human-sourced Kedusha with vows and those bubbles can become real Kedusha. But we must be careful when doing so because those vows create real responsibility, and as we know this tribe didn’t live up to this responsibility.

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