Devarim: Words With A View

 by Rebbetzin Malkah

As I drive around to various locations throughout my week, I am stunned and sometimes exasperated by some of the housing prices.  What drives some homes to be exceptionally more?  Location, location.  Want to live by a lake?  See the mountains?  Live in the perfect suburbia with everything you need?  No problem.  All you need to do is sign on the dotted line and hand over your salary - you can have it all.  As we begin Sefer Devarim, we are witnessing Moshe as the first real estate broker in action for Eretz Yisrael.

What Moshe is doing , however, is more than just showing a property: he is going over the contract in great detail so that the new owners will be aware of the challenges and what is required.   He offers a first rate piece of land with promise and Hashem's blessing, and penalties if the Children of Israel default on their end.  And how does he do it?  He gives a full view of the land, in the midst of a great multitude, so that everyone knows what the selling points are.  He seeks to do what the spies did not do - sell Eretz Yisrael coupled with Torah.  As the terms of the contract are reiterated throughout Sefer Devarim, Moshe is hopeful that by the time of his end, the Children of Israel will be ready for the deal of a lifetime.  They will desire the Land and thus follow Torah.  Simply put, Moshe is selling words with a view - Torah with Eretz Yisrael - and he wants the best for all his clients for the sake of Heaven.

A Broker With Compassion

The Sages say that because of the phrasing of the first two words of Sefer Devarim, eleh devarim - these are the words - we can be certain that the words written in this book are those solely of Moshe.  The Ohr HaChaim states that these words are restrictive in their use, especially with reference to what had been recorded previously in the other four books of the Torah.  Therefore, they are his solely in nature and for a purpose.  In addition to this, never had all of Yisrael been addressed before by Moshe until this book:

"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael, on the other side of the Jordan concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Aravah..."  Devarim 1:1

So why address the people?  Moshe at this point is only thirty-six days away from his death.  What does he need to say that hasn't already been said after forty years in the wilderness? This beginning parasha gives us a glimpse into what his intentions are: rebuke and motivate the people.

It is in the final days of Moshe's life that we see his love for the people stronger than ever.  It's like a mother who lets her child ride to the park on his own for the first time; she gives him a laundry list of do's and don'ts before he leaves.  He is certain to get a recapitulation of everything Ema said over the years in thirty seconds or less.  Why?  Because G-d forbid anything should happen to him along the way.  Or even worse, that he would do something wrong and bring shame upon himself or his family.  Moshe is like that nurturing parent who is about to let his children go into the Land - and without him. This not only evokes a sense of letting go, but the desire to make sure they get it right.

He knows that the time is near when they will have the privilege to go "to the park" on their own, but he also holds the knowledge of their mistakes.  This is what is meant by the phrase "concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Aravah." He remembers full well what events took place there and knows their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities.  Will they be able to go into the Land without repeating those mistakes?  Or will they lose the Land because they forsake the Torah?

Not a Zero Down Proposition

Interestingly, we are told that Moshe began to speak to them in the month of Shevat, a time when the trees are ready to burst forth in blossoms and to begin their fruit cycle.  How fitting then for Moshe to make sure that his "trees", his people - kol Yisrael , were ready to produce good fruit.  He lovingly, but firmly gives them rebuke and the terms of the down payment.  He isn't comfortable letting them enter the land on a zero down agreement.  The Land requires of them a connection to the Torah; the Torah and the people must be as one in order for the Land to house them.  But how did he manage this without causing the people to react like the spies did upon seeing the land?  And how was he able to give veiled rebuke to the people and cause them to hear?  Like any good agent, he brought them personally to the edge to see the beauty and the potential. He roused all of the souls to recall all their mistakes, the precepts of the Torah and the promises.  Though not a Sinai experience, it was certainly a significant next phase for the people: the entrance into the Land.

"Moshe held back with these words of admonition until the Israelites had reached the banks of the Jordan.  Once they saw with their own eyes that they had come very close to their eventual destination they would be in a better frame of mind to accept admonitions.  As long as they had been a long way from their objective they would not have been in a suitable frame of mind to listen to admonitions."  Ohr HaChaim, Devarim

Moshe wanted to anoint his people before leaving with the words of Torah, and remind them of the sting sin brought them when they fell away from the Torah and faith in Hashem.  Moshe wanted no stone unturned, no single person to be without the commandments.  And though it meant bringing up some unpleasant memories, he wanted to be sure they understood the stakes.

"Another explanation: THESE ARE THE WORDS. R. Samuel b. Nahman said: God said: ' My children have been guided through the world by the righteous and the prophets like a swarm of bees.' Another explanation: THESE ARE THE WORDS. Just as the honey of the bee is sweet and its sting sharp, so too are the words of the Torah; any one who transgresses them receives his punishment..."  Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy I:6

As we commence reading the last book of the Torah, it will help us to understand that it was not easy for Moshe to carry out such a task.  When Moshe last reprimanded the Children of Israel, it came with a price.  Because he had done it with his own words, used anger against the people and struck the rock, he lost the very prize of entering the Land.  Why, then, would he want to rebuke the people now?  Again, returning to the parent model with the child going to the park alone, it was to protect them.

Another explanation: R. Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, bade Moses repeat the Torah he was unwilling to rebuke Israel for the evil they had previously done. R. Simon said: This may be compared to a disciple who walking with his master noticed a hot burning coal lying in the road, and thinking that it was a precious gem, picked it up and burnt himself. Some time later he was again walking with his master and noticed a precious gem lying in the road; thinking that it was a hot burning coal he feared to touch it. Thereupon his master said to him, Pick it up, for it is a sparkling jewel.Similarly Moses argued: When I said to them [Israel] Hear now, ye rebels (Num. XX, 10), I was punished; how then can I now undertake to rebuke them? ' Thereupon God said to Moses, ' Do not be uneasy.'        Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy I:8

The words Moshe needed to share weren't easy, but they were vital.  He sacrificed smoothing over his words for the sake of their souls.  He used the sum total of his last days to verify that everything of value on their journey was recounted.  They would receive the deed and the sale would be complete.

On the Edge

So as we stand in our synagogues, looking out upon our arks, our Torah scrolls, and the land which lies to the East beyond our arks, Moshe still reaches through the pages of Sefer Devarim to us today.  He begs of us.  We hear our Mashiach, Yeshua, calling to us.  Land for sale.  Land for sale.  Looking for my people, those who yearn for the Land.  Anyone, want to follow Torah?  The prize is the Land. She is good, she is worthy, and you will be nurtured.  You will eat and be satisfied.  Your fields will be overflowing, your bounty will be great.  Do we have the power to see beyond the physical walls - just as Moshe stood with all of Yisrael opposite the Jordan?  Or do we lack the ability to have the right frame of mind because we can't physically see the Land?  Do we hear the Torah, the words of the Sages, and Yeshua with raging ambivalence?  How can the task of our leaders, the real estate brokers for Yisrael of today, be accomplished in the ears of all of us so that we will be attentive and merit the Land?

As we approach Tisha B'Av next week, it is crucial that we come together in our congregations or communities and listen to our mistakes. We must take note of the past and realize in earnest what we need to do and what we must never do.  We have to assemble, as all of Yisrael did those last thirty-six days of his life, and gaze out longingly toward the Land and desire that Heavenly plat.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Matthew 23:37

Each week that we come together during these lazy summer days before Elul, heed the call of Mashiach Yeshua and be gathered under the wings of Torah.  Hear Sefer Devarim in a new way.  For though many of us are "on the far side of the Jordan", we still have ample opportunity to adjust our frame of mind to accept the admonition of Moshe and our Messiah.  Show up on the banks of your synagogues.  Open your minds and your hearts.  Don't let the sleepy summer days cause you to miss out on words of life - words with a view.


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