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Where, in the text and commentaries of this Parasha, may the following values be learnt?
1. Rebuke should be made with as little emphasis as necessary to be effective - non-confrontational where possible (following Rashi).
2. The time for rebuking should be chosen with care (following Rashi).
3. A person - however great - should not over-estimate his own abilities and skills (following Rashi).
4. Important proposals of national importance should be put forward by leading representatives of the people in a dignified fashion, rather than a through a mass demonstration (following Rashi and the S'forno).
5. People with ill-will towards others assume that those people have ill-will towards them (following Rashi).
6. G-d takes note of those who conduct themselves with due modesty, and He rewards accordingly (following Rashi).
7. Sometimes evil-doers constantly sin to such a degree that G-d removes from them the opportunity to repent (following the Rambam - Hil. Teshuva 6:3).
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT AND COMMENTARIES ON PARASHAT DEVARIM
1. Rebuke should be made with as little emphasis as necessary to be effective - non-confrontational where possible - is derived from Moses' simply stating the names of the places where the Israelites sinned (1:1 - following Rashi) as they traveled in the desert as a veiled reference to their need to learn from their previous shortcomings.
2. That the time for rebuking should be chosen with care may be derived from Moses having addressed the Israelites only after having already conquered the East Bank part of the Holy Land (1:4). As Moses had already carried out part of his promise in bringing them to the Land, nobody could say: 'What right does he have to rebuke us as he did not bring us to the Land?"
3. That a person - however great - should not over-estimate his own abilities and skills (following Rashi) may be learnt in the following way. When Moses organized the hierarchy of judges, he put himself at the top with the words: "What is too difficult for you [to decide], bring to me and I shall hear it." (1:17) According to Rashi, this could imply that Moses claimed that he would always have the answers ready. For that reason, G-d 'checked' him by leaving his mind a mind a blank when confronted with the problem of female inheritance of land in the absence of a male heir - the issue of the Daughters of Zelaphchad (implied in Num. 27:5).
4. Important proposals of national importance should be put forward by leading representatives of the people in a dignified fashion, rather than a through a mass demonstration (following Rashi and the S'forno) - is learnt from the wording of Moses' rebuke over the sin of the Spies. Instead of approaching Moses in an orderly fashion to send people to survey the Promised Land, 'all of you came to me' (1:22) - implying an undignified mass demonstration.
5. People with ill-will towards others assume that those people have ill-will towards them (following Rashi) - may be learnt from way the Israelites acted on hearing the reports of the Spies. They responded by slandering with the words: "G-d took us out of Egypt because He hates us." (1:27) As the people lacked love for G-d, they assumed He hated them.
6. The nations of Moab and Ammon are recorded as being the product of Lot's unknowingly making his two daughters pregnant (Gen. 19:31-38). The oldest daughter called her son 'Moab' (ibid. 19:37) - that name being a corruption of 'M-ab' - meaning 'from the father' (Lot) - taken by the commentators as an unnecessarily immodest reference to his origin. The younger son's name - Ammon - did not carry any reference to the circumstances of his birth. That Lot's descendants deserved a portion of the Land due to Abraham's children is hinted at through his keeping Sarah's real identity secret when Pharaoh's men took her captive (ibid. 12:10-20). However a distinction was made over their conditions of living, in view of the above incident. Thus the Israelites were prohibited to harass Ammon (2:19) - in any way, but that prohibition did not apply to Moab - the Israelites were only forbidden to actually go to war with them (2:9). That shows how the Almighty values due modesty in behavior.
7. Sometimes evil-doers constantly sin to such a degree that G-d removes from them the opportunity to repent (following the Rambam - Hil. Teshuva 6:3), may be learnt from the Torah's recording that 'G-d did not allow Sichon' to accept Moses' request to grant the Israelites passage though his land 'for G-d hardened his spirit and made his heart stubborn in order to deliver him into your hand.' (2:30)
ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT DEVARIM
'You slandered... and said, "G-d, in His hatred for us, brought us out of Egypt to deliver us in the hands of the Amorites…"' (1:27). Such were the words that Moses used in rebuking the Israelites before his death when he recalled the reaction of the Israelites to the report of the Spies some forty years previously. This passage brings the following questions:
(a) Why, at the early stage of the rebuke, did Moses recall the sin of the Spies, but not that of the Golden Calf?
(b) Why is the word 'hatred' included in this account, but not in the main one in Number 13-14?
(c) How was recalling the Spies relevant to the people he was rebuking? All those who had been involved had already died in the previous forty years in the wilderness.
For an attempt to answer these questions, see my contribution to the Shema Yisrael website for Devarim 5761.
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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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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