“Devarim” means “words” or “things,” and is the Torah’s “mouth,” summarizing all that has transpired up until that point. Moses reminds the Israelites of their journey from Mount Sinai to the Land of Israel. In particular, he focuses on their constant complaining, and on how he recognized that he needed help in judging their various disputes. Moses describes how he appointed tribal leaders who would serve as judges, and he recounts the basic principles of fairness and justice.
- Moses recalls that he appointed leaders and judges to help him execute justice among the Israelites. He reminds the Israelites that justice entails being impartial in judgment, and treating the rich and the poor alike. (1:1–18)
- Moses reminds the Israelites of the mission of the spies (Numbers 13)—but, this time, he adds something new to the story. He tells the people that they “sulked in their tents,” and that they imagined that God hated them. (1:22–33)
- Moses positions the Israelites for their entrance into the Land of Israel. They will be entering from the east, passing through the territories of Seir (inhabited by the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother), Ammon, Moab, andthe kingdoms of Sihon and Og. (2:2–37)
- The Israelites engage in battle with several nations. They are victorious over them and conquer their lands, which are then distributed to various tribes. (3:1–21)
The Promise is Earned
Hashem promises Avraham and his descendants the land of Israel, yet Hashem still required an active role from Israel to not only conquer the land but also to abide by his Torah in order to stay in the land. So it is with all gifts given to us from heaven. Hashem gives us our lives, but we must take care to live according to His ways. Ecclesiastes 12:13 states “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” He gives us our children yet we must raise them up to love Hashem and teach them His Torah, which is what the V’ahavta prayer is about in Devarim 6:5-7 “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” When we give Tzedakah to the poor according to Torah, we are also acknowledging that Hashem gives us everything we need, and when we rest on Shabbat we acknowledge Him as Creator of the Universe we live in and the Giver of the precious gifts of our lives and our time. Romans 3:24 states that salvation is a free gift – yet, at the same time, Philippians 2:12 says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Hashem is God of All
Devarim 2:4-5 states, “You are about to pass through the boundary of your kinsmen, the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir, and they will be afraid of you. Be very careful. You shall not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land not so much as a foot step, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau for an inheritance.”
Hashem brings the Israelites through the domains of the descendants of Esau, Moab, and Ammon. What do they all have in common? Esau was Jacob’s brother. Moab and Ammon are descended from Abraham’s brother, Lot. As the Israelites enter the land, they must first encounter their “cousin” peoples, so that they can remember their past and where they have come from. Although Israel was Hashem’s chosen nation, it did not entitle them to conquer or mistreat others however they saw fit. Just as Hashem gave Israel the land of Canaan, he also gives each nation their land.
Fear of God Means Courage
Having the fear of God actually means that one has courage – the courage to do good in the face of adversity, to stand up for what’s right in spite of persecution. You know that even if something bad befalls you, Hashem is with you because you are walking with Him, because you are walking in His ways, His Torah. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” When you fear God, you realize that you are actually fearless, because to fear God means to be in the love of God, because you can be confident that your actions were done only to please Him. This is why 1st John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Moshe, the Mouth of God
Devarim has a special name, “Mishneh Torah” meaning “the repetition of the Torah” (not to be confused with Rambam’s codification of Jewish law by the same name). Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh says, “Its style is different from that of the preceding four books – up to this point the Torah related everything as a narrative in grammar this is speaking in the third person “God spoke to Moses, saying…” All the narration is such that “someone” tells us that God said so and so to Moses this “someone” is, of course, God Himself, as explained in Chassidic teachings. But here, suddenly, in the book of Devarim [Deuteronomy]…Here, Moses speaks for himself, he says, he speaks in the first person in this book and yet, it is an integral part of the Pentateuch, the Torah of God. And all that is said within is a revelation of God’s essence. It is all God. So how do the sages explain this phenomenon, that it is Moses speaking here? They say that “the “Divine Presence speaks out of Moses’ throat.” [He says,] “I will give you grass [in your field for your cattle…”]. There are many verses like this one, which Moses says, but, at the same time, it is God saying it. So what is going on, who is speaking? Is it Moses or is it God? So the sages teach that in the Book of Deuteronomy they are one and the same, Moses is opening his mouth to speak, but it is the Divine Presence, God, that is speaking out of his throat. This is what typifies the unique and wondrous character of this book of the Pentateuch, the Book of Deuteronomy, beginning with parashat Devarim.”
Yeshua is a “prophet like unto Moshe,” as stated in Deuteronomy 18:15. In faith, just as we believe Moshe’s words were Hashem’s words, so too were Yeshua’s words.
- “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” [John 12:49].
- “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” [John 14:10].
- “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” [John 7:16]
Yeshua clearly distinguishes between himself and the Father in these 3 verses. Yet he, just like Moshe, speaks Hashem’s words.
The Season of Devarim
Every year we begin reading DEVARIM (Deuteronomy), the last of the Five Books of Moses, on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (9th Av), when we remember the destruction of the Holy Temple. Tisha Be’Av is a call to Teshuvah (repentance), because we understand that it is because of our sin that the temple was destroyed. This prepares us for the season of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year / Feast of Trumpets), the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). We will study DEVARIM until the end of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), on Simchat Torah.