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

“I said to you at that time, saying, ‘I cannot carry you alone.’” (Deuteronomy 1:9)

Parashat D’varim opens the Torah’s fifth and final book. Moses no longer speaks with a “heavy tongue” (Ex. 4:10) and he now delivers five speeches, powerfully and poetically. He reminds the Israelites of their lack of faith and complaining during the desert wandering and describes God’s reaction: “And God heard kol divreichem, the voice of your words, and was angry…” (Deut. 1:34). Rabbi Ovadiah ben Jacob Sforno (~1470–~1550; Italian commentator and physician) says including the word “voice” (when it’s not strictly necessary) teaches God is angered not by what the Israelites’ say (words) but, rather, by the way they say it (voice). Sforno is bold in assigning a very recognizable human response to God.

We live our lives through conversations with others and communication mishaps often trigger relationship crises. That’s because every time we speak we offer two things simultaneously: the message (informational content, or the words) and the meta-message (how we feel, which we don’t say directly, but imply through tone, rate of speech, and volume; in other words, the voice). Now, some people pay more attention to the words (messages) while others pay more attention to the voice (meta-messages). Additionally, meta-messages are culturally bound; one person’s voice of trust may be another person’s voice of distrust. So it’s possible the Israelites complain to God the way they do to demonstrate solidarity, not realizing God hears alienation instead. This linguistic mismatch hurts God’s feelings and leads to 40 years of exile in the desert for the Israelites.

So…either God is pretty human, or hearing something different than your conversational partner is acting b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God. Who knew?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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