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Parashat D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

“I commanded your judges at that time, saying, “Listen among your brethren and judge righteously

between any person, fellow Israelite, and stranger.”  (Deuteronomy 1:16)

Parashat D’varim opens the fifth (and final book) of the Torah with Moses reprising the Israelites’ desert experiences.  He reminds them of their failures and his need to share the burden of leadership:  “Prepare for yourselves chachamim un’vonim, wise and understanding men, known among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.” (Deut. 1:13) Since every single word in the Torah teaches something, commentators wonder about the difference between a chacham, or wise person, and a navon, or understanding person.

Sifrei  (a 3rd Century collection of rabbinic interpretations to Numbers and Deuteronomy) uses two money changers to illustrate the difference:  both examine the coins when people bring them, but when there are no customers, the chacham sits and waits while the navon goes out to find them (Sifrei D’varim 13:3).  Rabbi Sheldon Marder (Rabbi and Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) explains the two money changers are symbols for those who deal in objects of value (the Torah) and personal agency is the distinguishing criterion between them.  Both are knowledgeable and skilled in Torah.  But the chacham depends upon others to trigger learning while the navon possesses inner resources to gain knowledge.  The chacham waits for wisdom to come, while the navon runs out to pursue it.

Leading and learning are inextricably connected in Parashat D’varim.  Leadership requires an aggressive approach to learning because knowledge is not static.  If you don’t pursue learning actively, you cannot even maintain what you already know.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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