Skip to content

Parashat 07/16/2010

Parashat Devarim

submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Moshe Rabbeinu’s Yahrzeit is 7 Adar (this can be computed from the beginning of the Book of Joshua), and the Book of Devarim begins on the first of Shevat.  Thus these words come in the last few weeks of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life; they are aimed at preparing the people to (a) enter the Land and begin living “non-miraculously” and (b) live without Moshe Rabbeinu’s physical presence.  I believe that both these challenges were/are necessary for Israel to fulfill its historic mission of elevating and sanctifying mundane existence.

After placing his oration in context in the first 5 verses, Moshe recalls that Gd told the nation: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain [Mt. Sinai].”  Imagine, a mere 7 weeks after leaving Egyptian bondage the nation gathers “as one man with one heart” (Rashi) at Mt. Sinai and receives the Torah from Gd.  They then spend the next year living on miraculously supplied food [manna] and water [from the rock that Moshe struck – properly that time], and learning Torah directly from Moshe Rabbeinu, who of course had it directly from Gd.  If we understand “learning Torah” to mean something much more than the mere intellectual apprehension of a body of material, but rather bringing one’s individuality into complete consonance with Gd’s universality, then this level of existence is as idyllic as one could possibly imagine, and one which produced the exalted spiritual state which characterized the generation of the Exodus.  Why would they want to leave, and why would Gd have wanted them to leave?  Yet our Sages characterize them as running away from Mt. Sinai “like children running out of school” and obviously it was Gd’s intent as well that they not continue there as well.

In a way, leaving Mt. Sinai and moving towards the Land of Israel is a microcosm of the process of Creation and evolution.  Creation “begins” with Gd alone, completely unified within Himself.  At some point (and this whole process is beyond time and space so the notion of “when” or “at some point” cannot be taken too literally) Gd, as it were, said to Himself “enough for You remaining in Your splendid isolation.”  From within His infinity, Gd contracted and left a space for finite existence.  Within that finite existence He created human beings, who, uniquely in creation, have free will and can move forward towards Gd or the other way Gd forbid.  Ultimately, the purpose of human beings is to come into as close a relationship with Gd as possible, creating a level of structure and integration that, in some sense, would not have been available if Gd continued to exist all alone.

The goal of the movement away from Mt. Sinai is the Land of Israel, where the Jewish nation was to set up an ideal society, perfectly harmonious and integrated and functioning flawlessly in accord with Gd’s Will.  The judicial/legislative system that Moshe Rabbeinu set up, along with the educational system, was to keep the whole population constantly growing closer to Gd.  In this way, even with Moshe Rabbeinu gone, and with the manna gone and the well no longer needed, the entire project could continue self-sufficiently.  Infinity would be reflected in the perfect integration of the society and of its components, and the blissful, secure and sacred life lived by the community.  This society would be a beacon of purity and sanctity that would raise the level of the entire world and perfect it, bringing fulfillment to the original purpose of creation.

Unfortunately, as we know, Moshe’s final oration does not take place after the “11 days journey from Horeb [Mt. Sinai] to Kadesh Barnea [on the borders of the Land]” but after 40 years of wandering and the death of the entire generation of those who left Egypt.  When the nation did at last enter the Land, it failed to displace the Canaanites completely, it got seduced by the local society and its alien, perverted philosophy and lifestyle, and eventually was exiled and scattered among all the nations of the world.  We don’t know why it should have happened that way.  Certainly the nation was not perfect coming out of Egyptian slavery, and the various rebellions in the desert bear witness to that fact.  Perhaps also they were dragged down by their environment, or perhaps it was necessary for us to inspire all the nations of the world from “close up” rather than at a distance in our own Land.  We like to think of the various exiles and wanderings of our people as being Gd’s Plan B, made necessary by our manifold failings.  But perhaps it was built into the original plan of creation that we go through what seems to us to be an extremely drawn-out process on the way to the ultimate Redemption.  Perhaps the greater the degree of separation from Gd, the greater the level of integration and wholeness we will create upon our return.  Perhaps redemption will be all that much sweeter for its having come late.

Pirke Avot, Chapter 3

Mishnah 8

R. Elazar of Bartosa says: Give Him what is His, for you and all that which is yours are His.

A wise man once said, “Everything we get, we get to give away.”  On one level we must acknowledge that Gd is the Creator of the universe and as such everything that is in the universe belongs to Him.  Whatever we have we have permission to use only for permitted purposes, to further the ultimate purpose of creation.  On another level perhaps we can say that R. Elazar is asking us to acknowledge that ultimately, the only reality is Gd.  We ourselves have no existence independent of Gd, nor does anything else.  Giving Him what is His then would mean acknowledging that our possessions, our bodies, our minds and our souls are all part of Gd, and that our relationship with Gd is really Gd’s relationship with Himself.  When we give ourselves to Gd we come full circle, returning to the source of our existence and becoming One with it.