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AUGUST 4-5, 2000 - 4 AV 5760

Pop Quiz: Which was the first nation that Bnei Yisrael conquered?

Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Then Israel sang" (Bemidbar 21:17)

"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel" (Debarim 1:1)

The entire book of Debarim was spoken by Moshe in the last five weeks of his life. It was his last will and testament to his beloved people. "hadebarim, the words," refers to Moshe Rabenu's strong words of rebuke. Moshe began his teachings here by reminding his listeners of the many national shortcomings since the Exodus. In a later verse (1:5) the Torah tells us that "Moshe began explaining the entire Torah." Because of this, Debarim is also called Mishneh Torah, a review of the Torah. It turns out that Debarim is both a book of rebuke and a book of review at the same time.

Rabbi Nissan Alpert explains that there is an important lesson in this combination of rebuke and study. Rebuke and discipline will only have an effect if coupled with Torah study. The study of Torah opens the person's heart and mind. Now the loving words of rebuke will awaken the person properly.

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of prophecy. It is the Shabbat before Tish'ah B'Ab. The prophet predicted the coming destruction the Temple in Jerusalem. We mourn this event as if it happened yesterday. The prophet asked the rhetorical question, "Why was the land lost?" He answers, "Because they abandoned the Torah," meaning Torah study. For without serious Torah study there is little hope for the observance of the rest of the Torah. Now we have a clear understanding of the prayer mentioned in Pirkei Abot (chapter 5): "Yehi rason, etc., May it be Your will that You (Hashem) shall rebuild the Bet Hamikdash speedily in our days and give us our portion in Your Torah." Today there is no doubt, and we can all feel it, that there is a great spirit in the air to learn Torah. Let us strengthen ourselves to capitalize on this spirit that is coming from above to help us study our holy Torah. Let us study with diligence and consistency. Everything else will fall into place, speedily in our days, Amen. Shabbat Shalom.


"I cannot carry you alone. G-d, your G-d, has multiplied you and behold! You are this day like the stars of heaven in abundance" (Debarim 1:9-10)

At that time the Jews numbered only six hundred thousand. Why did Moshe exaggerate?

Sometimes the Jews are compared to the dust of the earth and at other times to the stars of heaven. The difference between the two is that each particle of dust sticks to the other while stars are greatly distant from one another. Thus, when the Jews are united they are analogous to the dust of the earth, and when they are fragmented and at odds they are compared to the stars.

In expressing his frustration with the Jewish people, Moshe said, "At present you are like the stars of heaven - there is animosity and fragmentation among you instead of unity. When you behave this way, it is difficult for me alone to carry your contentiousness, burdens and quarrels." (Vedibarta Bam)


"And all of you approached me, and you said: Let us send people before us to explore the land for us" (Debarim 1:22)

Rashi states that they came to Moshe in a disorderly manner. Children were pushing the elders and the elders were pushing the leaders. At first glance this lack of orderliness seems to be just a small lack of derech eres (proper manners). Why was it mentioned together with the severe offense of the acceptance of the slander of the spies and the refusal to listen to Hashem's will to enter the land? Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin cited the reply of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin. This lack of derech eres of the people is attached to the transgression of the spies to increase the severity of their offense. The people might have tried to lessen the offense by saying that their original plan to send the spies was correct, but that later on they were negatively influenced by the evil report of the spies. Therefore Moshe showed them that right from the start something was seriously wrong. When people are involved in a project that is really proper, they will have appropriate derech eres at the very beginning of the venture. Since in the matter of sending the spies they acted rudely and unruly they should have realized that they were doing something wrong.

Derech eres is so important that if you lack it, it shows that all that follows is not proper. If you want your teachers or parents to agree with a project you wish to engage in, make certain to speak to them with proper honor and respect. Failure to do so is not merely a minor character flaw, but a manifestation that your entire motivation is not on the right level. Getting off to a good start is crucial in spiritual matters for it is a strong sign of your true inner attitudes towards what you are planning to do. (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: The Emorim (Amorites).

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