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The main content of the Book of Deuteronomy contains Moses' final address to the Israelites before his death. He opens by reminding the Israelites of their past sins and rebellions from the Exodus onwards:
"See, I have put the land before you. Come and possess itů" (1:8)
But instead of immediately recalling their behavior following the evil report of the Spies, he detours by exclaiming:
"How can I bear - alone - your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?" (1:12)
The Sforno interprets contentiousness as personal squabbles, and quarrels as disputes in law and monetary claims.
The Sforno explains that they were setting out from Egypt to the Promised Land with G-d's assurance that it would be theirs. They were going from poverty to affluence, from being slaves to being landowners. But instead of putting the past behind them, they continued with their own quarrels, feuds, and vendettas - their "contentiousness, burdens, and quarrels". They would not agree to sink their differences and restart on a new page. Indeed very early on, Moses found himself settling disputes day and night (Ex. 18:13), and he had to set up an elaborate hierarchy to ensure that all could readily access justice (1:13-18).
The attitude of the Israelites may be compared to a leader assembling the poorest and most deprived people in the city with the following proposition. "Several week's journey away, huge vaults crammed with gold are waiting for you. There is enough there to make each and every one of you very rich indeed, for life. They will be yours, with my personal guarantee. Nobody will take them away from you. Come with me, and I will take you to your gold".
But once they are on their way, the people start bickering. They struggle over past claims worth a few dollars, a jibe here, a slight there. They fritter away their energies and their leader's patience and goodwill over relative trivia, completely losing sight of the gold waiting for them at journey's end. The leader sighs, and finds himself dragged into a plethora of petty squabbles. Soon, the people start planning to drop out of this fabulously enriching expedition, and return to their troubles and their poverty.
Thus the Sforno shows that Moses was rebuking them about their pettiness forcing him to have to introduce a bureaucracy. That happened because the Israelites would not see how trivial their disputes were in comparison with the great gifts of Eretz Yisrael that were waiting for them.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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