D’varim (Words)

wordsDeuteronomy 1:1 to 3:22

A new book of Torah begins. The book is composed of the addresses Moses makes to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land.

This week we begin a new book of Torah. As with all the other books, it is known by both the Hebrew name, D’varim, which is translated to mean “words” … specifically, the words that Moses spoke to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land….. The English name, Deuteronomy, is taken from the Greek word meaning “Second Law.” Although it is obvious that this fifth book of Torah is, in fact, a retelling of the Torah in the form of several speeches by Moses, Plaut sees the basis of this title in the words from Deuteronomy 17:18 … mishnei ha-Torah “a copy of this teaching:” “When [the king of Israel] is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests.”.(Num. 17:18 as referenced in Plaut, The Torah, a Modern Commentary, p. 159)

The “words” that Moses chooses to begin his speeches before the people enter the Promised Land look back in history. This is an interesting choice of subjects.
On this happy day … the ending of the forty-year journey through the wilderness … Moses could have presented a joyful message telling the people of all the good things that God is giving them as they enter this Land.

But, this was not the message. Moses chose to look back in history and focus on several, not-so-pleasant, events. He wanted to make sure that the people made the correct decisions as they entered this Land… and did not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Moses told the people that, early in their journey, God had told him to appoint tribal leaders to help manage the decisions affecting all the people. The job was too much for one leader. The same was true as the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land. They could have demanded a single leader as they proceeded. But, God was giving each tribe its own land and community. Decision making was to be delegated to the tribes and their leaders.

The second episode Moses addressed was that of the scouts/spies who, after going into the Promised Land, returned with a report that caused the people to fear the current inhabitants. They didn’t have faith that God would be with them … and help them … as was the case when they left Egypt and traveled through the wilderness. The people wanted to return to Egypt. This angered God. At first, God planned to destroy the people and later decided to send them on the forty year journey before entering the Land. Moses retold this message so that it wouldn’t be repeated.

Moses then listed the lands that the Israelites passed just before the reached their current location. God told the people which lands to pass by… and which to battle. God told them that his presence would be with them and they would be victorious. Again, Moses wanted to be sure that the people knew the history. He wanted them to know that history contains lessons that help define decisions of the future. Moses wanted to be sure that the people knew that God would be with them as they entered this new land …. He wanted to make sure that “history didn’t repeat itself.”

The lesson of these words… as delivered by Moses … Remember the past…. Remember what happened to the people without faith in God … The people must have faith in the words of the Eternal. With this faith in God, comes success in the Promised Land.

Earl Sabes

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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