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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Devarim

These are the words Moshe spoke to all Yisrael...(1:1)

Chazal tell us that these "devarim," words, constituted the content of Moshe's speech - divrei tochachah, words of reproachment. Moshe spoke to all of the Klal Yisrael, so that no individual would later say, "Had we been present we would have challenged his words." Anyone who had an objection to Moshe's admonishment had the opportunity to challenge Moshe, although nobody did so. Offering tochachah, reproach, is a serious endeavor which should not be undertaken lightly. It obliges every member of the Jewish community to try his hardest to improve his fellow man. Indeed, as Horav Shlomo Breuer, zl, writes, "The rebellion against Hashem's Torah could never have reached such tragic proportions, if men -- by virtue of their conviction and zeal for His Torah -- did not stand idly, focused on their own personal considerations." Many people have thought that the Divine cause would continue to best be served by political expediency. In other words, they believed we should be silent, in order not to "rock the boat." Actually, the individual who admonishes truthfully -- in order to bring someone back to a life of Torah and mitzvos -- will ultimately find more favor than the individual who flatters people with a glib tongue.

Moshe Rabbeinu did not offer praise; rather he admonished Bnei Yisrael with divrei tochachah that comprised his farewell. His legacy is truth. His legacy catalyzes blessing by modelling the way to achieve closeness too Hashem. Moshe's words flowed from a heart that demonstrated love for his people. Moshe directed his words to all of the people. Why? Only a minority had sinned, only a minority had complained, only a minority had been dissatisfied and rebelled. Why should everybody have been admonished? If Moshe had not assembled the entire people, each group would have blamed the other for the sins that had been committed. The old would have blamed the young, the rich the poor, the intellectuals the ignorant ones, and so the list goes on.

Moshe lays the blame for all of the tragic events in the course of their travels at the feet of every single Jew. He directs his tochachah both towards the perpetrator and to the one who should have prevented the crime. Those who were actively involved in the sin, as well as those who were indifferent, who looked away, who ignored, who were apathetic, are all equally responsible! Our mutual responsibility towards one another demands that we work ceaselessly in convincing our fellow man to accept a life of Torah consciousness. By accepting Moshe's admonition, by standing up to their responsibility, Klal Yisrael earned Hashem's blessing.

Enough of your dwelling on this mountain. (1:6)

A year had passed in which Klal Yisrael was situated at Har Sinai. It became time to move on to Eretz Yisrael. The Midrash defines the word "rav" as "abundance"; Klal Yisrael's encampment at Har Sinai brought much benefit to them: the Torah, the Mishkan, the Zekeinim and other leaders. The Kli Yakar views the summons to leave Har Sinai as a practical lesson in attitude toward Torah. Moshe observed Klal Yisrael lingering at Har Sinai. They had become content with the Torah as a book of thought, a wonderful collection of laws brilliantly formulated by their Divine Author. They were, however, not prepared to move on to Eretz Yisrael, to put the Torah into practice. Moshe was, therefore , commanded to instruct the people to move on to the land, to build the Bais Hamikdash, to approach the ultimate destination.

All too often, many of us get bogged down "along the way," ignoring our objectives - if we have even developed them. A Jew has a purpose in life. Fulfilling that purpose must be his goal. We are here to serve Hashem in a positive manner. For some, the instrument is Torah study in its purest form, unimpeded by material or secular pursuits. For others, the vehicle is serving Hashem through active participation in community-oriented endeavors, such as various acts of chesed, kindness. One must, however, establish a set of goals which he strives to attain. Otherwise, he simply stagnates, proceeding through life as a Jew by rote, with no zest or enthusiasm, not appreciating the beauty and vigor of Yiddishkeit. Whatever one does, it should be goal-oriented. Even in Torah study, one should make demands on himself, setting specific goals and areas of accomplishment, aspiring for greatness with a sheifah, ambition, to master all areas of Torah. This attitude will not only enhance one's learning, but it will also transform his entire character.

How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? (1:12)

The word "Eichah," "how", in this context is contrasted by Chazal to the exclamations of later prophets, who also used the word eichah to allude to the churban, destruction, of the Batei Mikdash. Notably, the baal koreih, Torah reader, chants this pasuk differently than the others, singing it to the tune of Eichah, Lamentations, which is read on Tisha B'Av. The obvious connection is the single word, eichah. The Gaon M'Vilna suggests a deeper connection between the two pesukim. In the third word of the pasuk Moshe says, "levadi" "alone," (How can I alone bear?). A form of the word levadi is found in Sefer Eichah, "Eichah yashvah badad," "How the city sits in solitude." This, says the Gaon, is the common essence of the tragedy of Tisha B'Av and Moshe's complaint. They both produced conditions of loneliness.

Moshe was not complaining about the burdens of leadership. He was addressing the fact that it is lonely at the top. He was able to bear the burden of their problems only to the extent that the people were able to empathize with his position. Leadership is an awesome responsibility, but it is easier to accept when one knows that he has the support and encouragement of his flock. Moshe did not need this support; he was quite capable of directing the affairs of Klal Yisrael. The role is significantly more satisfying when the leader does not feel that he is alone. When his decision is appealing, he is popular; when it is controversial, because he does not meet the self-generated criteria of the people, suddenly the leader is under siege: He finds himself alone.

The Navi lamented a similar condition in Yerusholayim in which people were left to fend for themselves. The plight of the individual remained just that - the individual's concern. Nobody else seemed concerned with helping. There are individuals all over our communities who are alone. They do not seek charity; they do not seek any gifts. They yearn only for a bit of friendship. They do not want to be alone: A simple hello; a quick visit on Shabbos; an invitation for a meal; a ride to the store; someone with whom to share their joy and their pain; just someone to break the monotony and anxiety of being alone.

Parashas Devarim is traditionally read on the Shabbos prior to Tisha B'Av, the saddest Shabbos of the year. The Shabbos which precedes our national day of mourning carries a demanding message. "Eichah yashvah badad," "How the city sits alone." Let us make sure that no Jew will be left alone. In that merit, may the Almighty rebuild the Bais Hamikdash in our time, so that we will all together be able to worship Him in Yerusholayim.

I instructed your judges...saying, "Listen among your brethren and judge righteously." (1:16)

Moshe adjured the judges to be deliberate in judgement, to listen to the litigants and to understand their claims -- not to make rash decisions. Rashi adds, if a case comes before you two or three times, do not say, "I have already rendered my decision in this case. Rather, listen to each case, regardless of its redundancy, and be deliberate in rendering your decision". The Mizrachi contends that Rashi derives his thesis from the words, "Listen among your brothers." How do we infer from this phrase that one should view each case as original, regardless of how many times he has actually already heard it? Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, comments that the words, "Among your brothers" is the key to the lesson. If it is just another din Torah, judgement, once the judge has rendered his decision, it would remain the same despite the amount of times the case is heard. The Torah, however, admonishes the judge to view every case as involving two people, not simply the presentation of two angles of the same question. He must look at each individual that stands before him, reflecting upon the decision he will render and its impact upon the person. If this is the case, he can obviously no longer look at the case as just another case, for now it affects a person.

The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah, Men of the Great Assembly, demanded, "Hevu mesunim badin," "Be deliberate in judgement." They emphasized the benefit of rendering a well-thought-out decision and the tragedy of an ill-considered or hastily formed opinion. Formulating opinions by jumping to conclusions causes one to overlook important considerations, which could have catalyzed a change in his decision. By deliberating prior to a judgement, the judge maximizes the possibility of arriving at a settlement or compromise to the satisfaction of both litigants. Deciding in haste will invariably preclude this option.

The judge must remain impartial if he is to render a just decision. He must scrupulously eliminate all elements of self-interest and personal bias. This can only be accomplished when he approaches the case with deliberation. On the other hand, as Reb Yitzchak Bunim, zl, warns, objectivity can lead to insensitivity. Indeed, the very element of subjectivity can be most helpful in viewing the issue from the perspective of the litigant. The judge must ask himself, "How would you have acted under similar ciscumstances?" The judge must be able to discern the crucial elements in the situation which establishes its true character, as opposed to the irrelevent factors. He must always seek out the truth and nothing but the truth, because truth retains its character at all times. This outlook is the only way to preserve the integrity of his judgement.

Reb Yitzchak Bunim observes that the characteristics of deliberateness and calm in judgement do not necessarily apply only to the judge; they pertain to the litigants as well. They should not permit anger, depression, greed or immaturity to reign over them. He tells the story of a butcher who came to Rav Yisrael Salanter, zl, to determine the kashrus of an order of meat. Rav Yisrael decided that the meat was treifah, causing a great monetary loss to the butcher. Being a G-d-fearing man, the butcher accepted his loss with dignity. A short while later, the butcher once again came before Rav Yisrael, this time as a party in a din Torah, monetary dispute, involving about five dollars. Regrettably, the unfortunate butcher lost again and was told to pay the five dollars to the other litigant. This time, however, the butcher attacked the decision with derision, ranting and raving about being victimized by the rav. He just could not accept this grave "injustice."

Taken aback by the butchers's shocking behavior, Rav Yisrael asked, "A few weeks ago, when a large order of meat was rendered not kosher, you accepted the great financial loss with not so much as a whimper. Why then, today, when the decision against you will only cost a mere five dollars, are you acting in a totally uncivilized manner?"

"There is a big difference," replied the butcher. "A few weeks ago, I lost, but nobody else won. Today, however, the other man won what I lost: That is intolerable!" This simple -- but profound -- story goes to the very core of human character. We cannot "fargin" - tolerate - that someone else has won what we have lost. Addressing this and all other human failings, Chazal say, "Be calm, be deliberate in your thinking. If the law goes against you, accept it, because the law originates from a much higher authority - Hashem.

All of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land. (1:22)

Chazal claim that the key to their error lies in the word "kulchem" - all of you. All of Klal Yisrael came together in total disarray, with disrespect for their elders, each one pushing ahead of the other. This approach contrasted the situation at Kabbolas HaTorah, when everyone maintained proper decorum as they prepared to accept the Torah. The Netziv, zl, contends that "all of you" is not factual. Certainly, not everyone came forward. Only the leaders of the tribes, the noblemen who represented the masses came forward, requesting that spies go to search out the land. Horav Elyakim Schlessinger, Shlita, comments that this in itself constituted a tragic error. Leaders do not follow the common citizen. They listen; they dialogue; they explain. They certainly do not "follow" blindly, acquiescing to the demands of those who should look to them for guidance. When the leadership of Klal Yisrael came before Moshe demanding spies, because that was what the people wanted, they were demeaning the very foundation of Jewish leadership. Daas Torah demands that the gedolim, leaders, lead and articulate Klal Yisrael's mission - not the converse. Moshe reprimanded the people, saying that the initial manner in which they came to him indicated their sinful intentions.


  1. Why does the Torah list the names of the cities that Sichon and Og controlled?
  2. The sin of the meraglim caused the dor ha'midbar to die in the wilderness. What else did Klal Yisrael lose out as a result of this sin?
  3. The judges selected by Moshe were exemplary in three attributes. What were they?
  4. The pagans chased Klal Yisrael as bees. What is the meaning of the analogy to bees?
  5. Who merited that his two descendants received an inheritance on Ever Ha'Yarden?
  6. What miracle occurred when Moshe battled with Og?
  7. What merit did Og possess that caused Moshe so much anxiety?


  1. These cities were fortified and strong. This indicates the miracle enjoyed by Klal Yisrael when they conquered these cities.
  2. They would have otherwise entered Eretz Yisrael without the need to resort to war.
  3. They were all tzaddikim, chachamim, and yeduim.
  4. Bees die naturally after stinging a person. Likewise, the Emori died soon after striking Klal Yisrael.
  5. Lot, because when he travelled with Avraham to Egypt, he was silent when Avraham referred to Sarah as his sister.
  6. The sun stopped.
  7. He served Avraham.

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