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Torah Commentary - Devarim

   *Commentary courtesy of Menahem Me-Zahav

The fifth and last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, is dedicated to Moses’ farewell address. It begins with “Eile Ha’Devarim – These are the words that Moses spoke,” then assigns a location to this important event: “On the other (east) side of the Jordan in the desert…11 days (walking distance) from Mt. Horeb (1:2).” Next, we are told that, “It was the 40th year (to the Exodus) on the 11th month and the first day (first of Shevat) when Moses held his final speech to the Israelites (1:3).”

In our sidrah, Moses starts his farewell speech by surveying Israel’s journey towards the Promised Land, repeating the following topics: (a) God reaffirms His oath to give the Promised Land to the Israelites (see MVP); (b) “Eicha – How – can I bear your burden by myself (1:12).” The word Eicha reminds us of the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) that is read on Tisha Be’av. It is customary to chant this short Passuk using the same sad tune used when chanting the Book of Eicha. Moses states that he was incapable of caring for close to a million people all by himself. He then describes how he has delegated his authority down the line of command by assigning judges to be in charge of “thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (1:15).” The leaders are all people known for their honesty, high moral values, and undisputed integrity. They judge the people and mediate the disputes that do occur daily. The original idea of delegating authority came from Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law (Exodus 18:13-22). Since all the Jethro Era judges have passed, Moses finds himself appointing new judges and substantially raising the required qualifications. Integrity of character is now the dominant attribute of the Israeli judges. Moses claims full responsibility for his decision.

(c) Moses describes the disastrous episode of the scouts that caused God to punish the entire generation of the Exodus by preventing them from seeing the Promised Land. Moses includes himself among the victims who suffered because of the scouts. Moses’ reasoning: had God not been already angry of the evil deeds of the scouts, then Moses himself would have been forgiven for a much lighter transgression of hitting the rock (instead of talking) to obtain water. Moses too will not see the Promised Land (Numbers 20:1-13). (d) The Israelites were not allowed to fight the

Edomites and the Moabites for being related through Esau and Lot. (e) By contrast, the Israelites were told to request peaceful passage through Kings Sichon’s and Og’s territories. As expected, these kings declared war and were defeated by Israel. Their land, Gilead, was taken over by the Israelites. (f) An agreement was made between Moses, all tribal leaders involved, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. They will serve as front line soldiers, until the Promised Land is settled. In exchange, they will receive the Gilead east of the Jordan River, as their apportioned land. 


Haftarah Shabbat Chazon:  Isaiah 1:1-27, Page 1000

Today’s haftarah is the last of three haftararot assigned to three consecutive Shabbat readings. Admonition is the main theme in all three haftarot, the third of which always falls before the Fast of Tisha Be’Av. Today’s Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chazon, named for the first word of the Haftarah: “Chazon Yeshayahu - The prophecy of Isaiah son of Amotz.” It is the custom to chant most of the haftarah in the same sad tune that we use when chanting the Book of Eicha (Lamentations). 

In our haftarah, which seems to have been written before the Assyrian siege, Isaiah criticizes the Jewish people for their weaknesses. They act like untrustworthy children by disrespecting God. Isaiah chastises them by comparing their attitude to that of household animals: “Even oxen or donkeys do recognize their master that feeds them. Israel (however) does not know God and my people have forgotten Him (1:3).” The Judean people have been guilty of great wrongdoings. Isaiah hints that very similar evil deeds perpetrated by the people of the Israelite Northern Kingdom caused their ultimate demise. Trying to save them from a similar fate, he begs his Judean brethren to change their way of life. Instead of bringing sacrifices, they should ensure justice, help the unfortunate, and improve the lives of all the people: “Devote yourself to justice, Aid the wronged, Uphold the rights of the orphans, Defend the cause of the widow (1:17).” God will then respond as expected: “And I (God) will restore your judges and your government as of old, and afterwards you shall be called The City of Righteousness (1:26).”   

Sun, August 14 2022 17 Av 5782