Commentary for Devarim

1 Aug

This week’s parshah begins the book of Deuteronomy. Unlike the other books, which are mostly narrative and laws written in the third person, Deuteronomy contains many speeches given by Moses to the Israelites, all recorded in the first person. A change of perspective can often give us new insights into events that we did not have before, and the book of Deuteronomy is no exception.

 

This week’s entire parshah is Moses giving a brief overview of the narrative from the time the Israelites left Egypt until the present moment, when he is addressing them as they prepare to cross into the Promised Land, from his point of view. When recalling the rebellion after the return of the spies in Num. 14, Moses says that G-d “became wroth” with the Israelites (Deut. 1:34). The Hebrew word used here, “yaviktzof,” is used to convey a sense of extreme fury; one so harsh it is only used four times in the entire Torah. Strangely, none of the other three uses of this word occur in the story of the spies. In fact, the phrase “and God became angry with the community” or something similar never appears in that story. We can certainly assume that God does become angry because God punishes the Israelites for that incident, but the true extent and severity of God’s anger is not revealed to them until Moses’ speech here.

 

We often see the world only from our own point of view. As a result, when we have hurt others, it is impossible for to truly know the extent of the hurt we have caused. We might not even realize that we have caused any hurt at all. For that reason, we cannot afford to only see the world from our own point of view. As the season of repentance approaches, we must take strides to find out what harm we have caused and how to rectify it. Whether we do that by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, or by simply listening to what those around us are telling us, as the Israelites learn to do in this week’s parshah, we need to do whatever we can to fully heal the harm we have caused.

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