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

“The Lord our God spoke to us at Chorev, saying,
‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.’” (Deuteronomy 1: 6)

Parashat D’varim opens the fifth and final book of the Torah (also called D’varim and known in English as Deuteronomy). D’varim comprises five speeches by Moses who begins by reprising the desert experience (which is why the rabbis refer to Deuteronomy as Mishneh Torah, the repetition of the Torah). What makes the second telling interesting is how the stories differ from their earlier versions. For example, when Moses recounts the story of the spies, the Israelites ask for the reconnaissance mission (Deut. 1:22). Yet, back in Numbers, it seems God sets it in motion (Num. 13:1). Complicating matters, God seems to blame Moses in both versions (Num. 13:1; Deut. 1:37). Is Moses just shifting the blame?

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) attempts to reconcile the two versions by stating the Israelites demonstrate a lack of faith by asking for spies (in Deuteronomy). Moses goes along, assuming when the people see his agreement, they’ll realize the spies are not necessary and drop the matter. But they don’t and God responds, sh’lach l’cha, send your spies (Num. 13:1) indicating dissatisfaction with Moses’ tactical leadership.

Rashi relies on the classic interpretive principle of ein mukdam um’uchar batorah (there is no early or late in the Torah, meaning sequential order is irrelevant) to harmonize the disparate texts. It is based on the notion the Torah is God’s perfect word (as opposed to a humanly-created document, which would permit discrepancies). How we search for meaning in the Torah depends on what the Torah means to us.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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