SHIUR P'TICHAH (Introductory Shiur)
MOSES BECOMES "MOSHEH RABBENU"
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
Sefer D'varim is divided into three sections (just like Bamidbar - see our
Siyyum on Sefer Bamidbar):
A) Historical Recounting (Chapters 1-11)
B) Mitzvot (Chapters 12-26)
C) Covenant Ceremonies (27-33)
(Chapter 34, describing Mosheh's death, is a topic for a separate discussion)
Although we will focus our discussion on a few of the elements mentioned in
the historical recitation/recounting (specifically those mentioned in the
first three chapters; i.e. Parashat D'varim), we will also suggest, in broad
strokes, some overarching themes of the entire Sefer - along with its purpose.
WHY ARE JUDGES MENTIONED HERE?
Near the beginning of our Parashah (1:13-17), Mosheh recounts the story of
his delegating judges to handle the many complaints and disputes among the
[There is an anomaly in our practice worth pointing out here: When we read
the Torah on Shabbat afternoon and on Monday and Thursday mornings, the
general custom is to read the first "Aliyah" of the upcoming Shabbat morning
Parashah. Only when that first Aliyah is too short to make three Aliyot
(less than 10 verses), such as Parashat Nitzavim, or when it is too long
(e.g. Ki Tissa), do we do otherwise.
During the week leading up to Shabbat Parashat D'varim, we read the first 11
verses, ending just before the verse which starts with the word Eikhah.
These 11 verses are divided into 3 "mini"-Aliyot. On Shabbat morning,
however, we end the first Aliyah after verse 10. This is done so that we
don't begin the next Aliyah with the word Eikhah; which, even though it
doesn't necessarily have a "tragic" implication here, carries the saddest
associations for us - it is the banner word of Yirmiyah's book of dirges,
known as Eikhah or "Lamentations". Since Parashat D'varim is always read on
the Shabbat just prior to Tish'ah b'Av, we don't want to begin an Aliyah
with a word that has such sad and immediate associations - so we begin the
Aliyah one verse "early".]
After reminding the people that he had told them (almost 40 years ago) that
they have become numerous and blessed by God - and blessing them that God
should increase their numbers a thousand-fold - he notes that this burden
was too much for him to bear. In response, he approached them, as follows:
Choose for each of your tribes Anashim (men) who are wise, discerning, and
reputable to be your leaders." You answered me, "Tov haDavar Asher Dibarta
la'Asot (The plan you have proposed is a good one)." So I took the leaders
of your tribes, wise and reputable Anashim, and installed them as leaders
over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of
fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. I
charged your judges at that time: "Give the members of your community a fair
hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen
or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small
and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the
judgment is God's. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I
will hear it." (1:14-17)
[Note that this story seems to be a blending of two distinct events: Yitro's
advice to Mosheh to delegate judicial responsibility (Sh'mot 18:19-26) and
Mosheh's complaint to God that the burden of the people is too great to bear
(Bamidbar 11:11-15). In addition to the "blurring", Yitro's role is omitted
here. Addressing this "slant" in historic retelling is beyond the scope of
this shiur and will be dealt with in a future shiur.]
This narrative raises (at least) two questions:
A) Why is the mention of the delegation of judicial responsibility worthy of
mention right at the beginning of Mosheh's historical recounting? Wouldn't
it have been more reasonable to mention the Exodus, the Stand at Sinai or
the Construction of the Mishkan at this point?
B) Why is Mosheh sharing his charge to the judges with the people? ("I
charged your judges...")
The same question may be asked in reference to a later verse in our Parashah:
Even with me Hashem was angry on your account, saying, "You also shall not
enter there. Yehoshua bin Nun, your assistant, shall enter there; Oto Hazek
(give him strength/encourage him), for he is the one who will secure
Israel's possession of it." (1:37-38)
Why is Mosheh sharing God's "personal" charge (to him regarding Yehoshua)
with the people?
THE FIRST ANSWER: PROPER VS. IMPROPER LEADERSHIP
I would like to suggest an answer which will only satisfy our first problem
- the very mention of the judges. It is predicated upon a methodological
approach which we regularly utilize. The Torah will often use common
language to create an association between two narratives (or areas of
Halakhah). The result may be a newly discovered similarity (such as we found
in our Siyyum on Sefer Bamidbar) - or a deliberate contrast (such as the
Bil'am-Avraham association, mentioned in this year's shiur on Parashat Balak).
We begin with an assumption that is fairly safe - that Mosheh was going to
mention the story of the scouts (M'raglim) in this historic recitation. This
is a safe assumption because that one event (solely, if not chiefly) is what
caused the present situation - only now were we prepared to enter the Land,
instead of having been there for nearly 39 years.
That being the case, Mosheh may be telling us about the judges in order to
draw an "inverted parallel" with the disaster of the M'raglim. Note how he
describes the genesis of the mission of the scouts (again, this telling is
different than that in Parashat Sh'lach - see the note above):
I said to you, "You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which
Hashem our God is giving us. See, Hashem your God has given the land to you;
go up, take possession, as Hashem, the God of your ancestors, has promised
you; do not fear or be dismayed." All of you came to me and said, "Let us
send Anashim ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report
to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will
come to." vayiTav b'Einei haDavar (The plan seemed good to me), and I took
from you twelve Anashim, one from each tribe. (1:20-23)
The association with the "judges" narrative is clear - the common Anashim is
one connection, as well as the reaction (Mosheh's in one case, the people's
in the other) - which includes the phrase Tov haDavar (albeit with some
grammatical variation). Now that we see the association of these two
stories, we can immediately spot the difference, as per this chart:
Whose Idea? - Mosheh - The People
Who Approved? - The People - Mosheh
Who Selected the Anashim? - Mosheh - The People
As we can see, the M'raglim incident, which led to a disaster of great
proportions, was handled in the opposite manner of the appointment of judges
(which was, from everything we know, a successful process). This teaches us
a valuable lesson about leadership - one which was indispensable advice to
the people as they were about to enter the Land and come under new
Ideally, the leader actually leads - he inspires the people and directs
them. Nevertheless, he cannot act without their approval and support -
hence, even though Mosheh suggested the idea of the judges, the people's
approval was a necessary step in the success of this venture. Afterwards,
however, it was Mosheh who selected the right people for the job.
When the opposite direction is taken, disaster is inevitable and imminent.
In the story of the scouts, the people made the demand and Mosheh approved
(but we get the sense that it was more of a "rubber stamp", realizing that
the people would rebel if he didn't give in) - and then the people selected
their representatives for the mission. (Look carefully at the difference
between the beginning of v. 15 and the beginning of the second half of v. 23
- it will only be clear if you look in the Hebrew).
In other words, by telling us the story about the judges (in apposition to
the scouts), Mosheh is teaching us about leadership. The leaders must be the
ones who direct, with the support and approval (referendum) of the people -
and they must execute their decisions. If, on the other hand, the people are
leading the leader, who has no choice but to approve and leave the execution
up to them - disaster is the assured result.
Valuable as this lesson is, we are still "stuck" with the second question -
why Mosheh shared his charge to the judges (and God's charge to him
regarding Yehoshua) in this recounting.
In order to answer this, we need to ask a more general question about the
first 11 chapters of D'varim.
WHY THE HISTORICAL RECOUNTING?
As we noted, the first 11 chapters are devoted to a historical recounting of
some of the events of the past 40 years - with a focus on the Stand at
Sinai. This recounting is interspersed with Mussar - rebuke and warnings
about the potential for "backsliding" waiting for the B'nei Yisra'el in the
Why did Mosheh engage in this recounting? Didn't the people already know
what they had gone through?
The first answer which comes to mind - and which is valid - is that indeed
this group had not experienced these events. Keep in mind that the
generation which had left Egypt, stood at Sinai and constructed the Mishkan
(and rejected the Land) had died out in the desert and Mosheh was addressing
the next generation. This explains the recounting - but not the style of
that recounting. If we look through the entire recitation, we note that it
is entirely presented in the second person:
"All of you came to me...and I took from you twelve Anashim..." and so on.
See, especially, the following citation:
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the
things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the
days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's
children, how you once stood before Hashem your God at Horeb, when Hashem
said to me, "Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words,
so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may
teach their children so"; (D'varim 4:9-10)
The entire stand at Sinai is presented to this generation as if they were there!
This strange (and technically inaccurate) recitation surely demands more
SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS - AND ONE MORE
In summary, we have the following questions with which to contend:
* Why did Mosheh mention the "judges" at the beginning of this historical
* Why did Mosheh share his charge to the judges with the B'nei Yisra'el?
* (Likewise) why did Mosheh share God's charge to him regarding Yehoshua
with the B'nei Yisra'el?
* What is the purpose of this recitation, in which Mosheh recounts all of
the events that happened to his audience's parents - but presents it in the
second person, without mentioning the previous generation?
* What is the purpose of Sefer D'varim?
Before addressing these, we need a quick brush-up on the notion of "themes"
within each Sefer of the Humash.
THEME OF SEFER D'VARIM
As we discussed in our introductory shiur to Sefer Bamidbar, each of the
five Humashim of the Torah reflect our relationship with God through a
different vehicle. Here is the relevant "clip" from that shiur (with some
FIVE UNIQUE BOOKS
Unlike the division into chapters, which is a foreign "overlay" onto the
Torah (generally credited to Stephen Langton, an English churchman, who
created this division in 1205 CE), the division into five books is inherent
in the text itself. Not only does every Sefer Torah contain four blank lines
between each Sefer, but each begins and ends in a style that is appropriate
for a beginning or ending (as the case may be); case in point is the end of
Vayyikra, the beginning of D'varim etc.
Each of these books reflects our relationship with haKadosh Barukh Hu
through a different perspective:
B'RESHEET: THE PEOPLE AND THE LAND
In his first comment on the Torah, Rashi asks the famous question in the
name of R. Yitzchak : Why did the Torah begin with the story of Creation -
it should have begun with the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people? His
answer gives us an insight into the nature of the entire book of B'resheet:
By committing the Creation to writing, our "deed" to Eretz Yisra'el becomes
affirmed. In the future (!), when the nations of the world will come to
dispute our claim on Eretz Yisra'el, we will show them that the Land is not
theirs - nor is it ours. The Land belongs to God (as demonstrated in the
Creation narrative); He gave it to whom He favored and then took it from
them to give it to us. B'resheet is the only book of the Torah which takes
place in the Land; it is the description of our well-anchored past there and
the development of the covenant with the Patriarchs which gives us title to
the Land. The final statement of this book is Yoseph's reminder to his
brothers that one day, God will remember them and take them out of this land
to bring them back to the land that He promised to the Avot. In summary,
B'resheet is a description of our relationship with the Almighty through
SH'MOT: THE PARADIGM OF JEWISH HISTORY
As we see through the rest of T'nakh - and in literature and liturgy until
this day - all of Jewish history is viewed through the prism of the
Egypt-Sinai- experience, known broadly as Y'tziat Mitzrayim. Whether the
focus is on the oppression of slavery, the miracles of salvation, the Song
of thanksgiving, the faithfulness of the desert experience, the stand at
Sinai or the intimacy with the Divine realized in the Mishkan, the events of
Sefer Sh'mot serve as the all-encompassing paradigm for Jewish history. In
summary, Sh'mot is a description of our relationship with God through history.
VAYYIKRA: THE MISHKAN-RELATIONSHIP
As is easily evidenced, the entire focus of the book of Vayyikra is our
relationship to God as it is realized through the vehicle of the Mishkan.
Here, unlike in Sh'mot, the Mishkan is not an end in and of itself, rather
it is that place of offering Korbanot, coming close to God - with all of the
attendant restrictions and considerations. Vayyikra is, indeed, a
description of our relationship with God through the Beit haMikdash/Mishkan.
BAMIDBAR: THE BOOK OF K'LAL YISRA'EL
Bamidbar is the description of our relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam
through K'lal Yisra'el - the interactions of the Jewish people. That is why
there is so much emphasis on our numbers (two full censuses), the placement
of each tribe, the division of the Land - and the numbers lost through the
plague at P'or. This also explains the inclusion of the interactions between
the tribal leaders and Mosheh Rabbenu (especially at the end of the Sefer),
and the dramatic challenges to Mosheh's leadership.
D'VARIM: "ASEH L'KHA RAV"
Unlike the first four books, Sefer D'varim is not said in God's "voice"; the
voice of this book is Mosheh's. God is presented in the "third person". From
the introductory line: "These are the words that Mosheh spoke..." to the
finale, the eulogy for Mosheh, D'varim is a book in which our Master and
Teacher, Mosheh Rabbenu, takes center stage. D'varim is a description of our
relationship with God through a Rebbi - through our association with
tradition via our teachers.
THE JOB OF A REBBI:
THE PERSONIFICATION OF MESORAH
The job of Sefer D'varim can best be understood through this light.
The original Divine plan was to take the B'nei Yisra'el out of Egypt and to
bring them directly into Eretz Yisra'el. In other words, the generation of
the Exodus (Dor Yotz'ei Mitzrayim) would be the same as the generation of
the Conquest (Dor Ba'ei ha'Aretz). As a result of the tragedy of the
M'raglim, this plan was subverted and these two events, Exodus and Conquest,
were "spread" between two generations. Mosheh, then, had an awesome task -
to tie these two generations together, such that the distance between Sinai
and Tziyyon would be bridged.
This is where Mosheh "earned" the title by which he is forever known -
Mosheh Rabbenu - "Mosheh, our Rebbi". Indeed, the job of a Rebbi is more
than instructive, even more than inspirational or exhortative. The Rebbi is
the bridge with previous generations, taking us back to Sinai (along with
taking us back to the Beit haMikdash, to Yavneh etc.). In simple terms, the
Rebbi's job is to turn the past into the present. [I recall experiencing
this first-hand when participating in the shiur of Rav Soloveitchik zt"l,
seeing the Tannaim, Amoraim and Rishonim all sitting around his table as he
orchestrated their debates. It was a marvelous experience, one which he
describes beautifully in "uVikkashtem Misham" (pp. 231-232).]
The first person to set out to do this job was Mosheh, as he turned the
generation of the Conquest into the generation of the Exodus. Indeed, the
Plains of Mo'av was the first "Beit Midrash" and Sefer D'varim the first
"Shiur". (See Abravanel's resolution of the challenges to Divine authorship
of D'varim [in the moving introduction to his commentary on D'varim], that
Mosheh originally taught D'varim orally and then God commanded him to commit
it to writing.)
How did Mosheh do it? One simple device which he utilized is one that became
the staple of the Haggadah - talking about the past in the present and
talking to the people as if they had experienced these events first-hand. In
other words, by saying "You approached me..." etc., they were drawn in to
the sense of "being there".
[Note that Mosheh barely mentions any of the events which this generation
"really" saw - the majority of the events mentioned belong to the previous
Mosheh was indeed "Rabbenu" - to the second generation! He was the first to
perform this function - a function which guaranteed the potential for the
eternity of the Jewish people. If it can be done once, it can be replicated
every time! If one generation can be "brought back" to Sinai, so can every
THE "THREAT" OF RENEWAL
This successful "education" project brought a terrifying danger in its wake
- one to which the master teacher, Mosheh Rabbenu, was acutely aware. He was
poised to bring them back to Sinai, to that great moment of Revelation -
after which, he would ascend Har ha'Avarim (or Har N'vo) and die. Mosheh had
already been told that that was he would die, when God instructed him to
ascend that mountain (Bamidbar 27).
Mosheh remembered well what had happened the last time he had "disappeared"
atop a mountain. When the B'nei Yisra'el had just experienced (in "real
time") the Revelation, Mosheh ascended the mountain to receive the rest of
the Law (along with the tablets). When the people were concerned about
Mosheh's disappearance (remember - they did not know how long he was
supposed to be on top of the mountain), they regressed to the idolatry of
the golden calf.
How could Mosheh avoid the same pitfall? How could he insure that the B'nei
Yisra'el would not achieve a "complete" return to Sinai, including the
tragic aftermath of idolatry after his "one-way" ascension of the mountain?
Here is where the master teacher utilized his wonderful talent for
education. In advance of retelling the people about their most glorious
moments (Chs. 4-5, including the stand at Sinai and the Exodus), he
instilled in them the understanding that he would not completely be leaving
them. He told them about the two major functions which he held - leadership
and instruction - and how he empowered others to continue his role. He
immediately told them about the judges and how he charged them, such that
even in his absence, there would be judges who would be an extension of
We now understand why Mosheh introduced the judges at the beginning of his
historical recitation - to reassure the people (as they felt closer to their
past) that his leadership would still be their guide as they conquered and
settled the Land.
We also understand why Mosheh shared his charge to the judges: The people
needed to hear for themselves about the close relationship he had with those
judges, such that they were not just filling a position, but really
continuing his role.
We can also understand why Mosheh shared God's command to him vis-a-vis
Yehoshua: Just as the people needed to hear about his connection with the
judges, they needed to hear about how his "presence" would be felt through
Yehoshua. The phrase Oto Hazek (give him strength/encourage him), said about
Yehoshua, reminds us of the empowerment which is the purpose of the S'mikhah
(laying on the hands), by which Mosheh Rabbenu transferred the mantle of
leadership to Yehoshua. (See this year's shiur on Parashat Vay'chi).
In section VI, I alluded to the difference between Sefer D'varim and the
first four books. I'd like to share the observations of an old friend, Uzi
Weingarten (firstname.lastname@example.org), as published in the insightful weekly
"Judaic Seminar" (which can be accessed through Shamash):
That Deuteronomy is called "Moses's book," as opposed to the other four
books of the Torah, is substantiated by comparing two passages in Nehemiah
that describe public readings of the Torah. On each occasion, a mitzvah that
had fallen into disuse was "found." The first was the mitzvah of sitting in
the sukkah during Sukkot, which appears only in Leviticus (23:42-43), and
the second was the prohibition on an Ammonite or Moabite entering God's
community, which appears only in Deuteronomy (23:4-7).
There is a crucial difference in how the two readings are described.
Concerning sukkah, the author tells us:
They found written in the Torah, that God commanded through Moses that the
Israelites sit in sukkot... (Nehemiah 8:14).
Regarding who can enter God's community, the author tells us:
On that day the Book of Moses was read to the people, and it was found
written in it that an Ammonite or a Moabite should not enter God's community
forever. (ibid. 13:1).
So a clear distinction is made: Leviticus is part of "the Torah that God
commanded through Moses," and Deuteronomy is "the Book of Moses." The people
did not consider the latter any less authoritative, and act on both
commandments immediately. But there is still a difference in the linking to
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.