Parsha Thought – D’varim

“HaShem, your God, has multiplied you and behold! You are today like the stars of the heaven in abundance.”

Deuteronomy 1:10
  • Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
  • Isaiah 1:1-27
  • Acts 7:51-8:4

This week begins the fifth and final book of the Torah, D’varim or Deuteronomy. It can be best summarized as a summary of the previous events in Moses’ own words. In fact, that exactly what d’varim means; words.

The classic commentators and the sages often refer to this book as Mishneh Torah, which could be translated as “Repetition of Torah” or “the copy of the Torah.” Throughout the different parshiot (portions) that comprise this book, we often see a reiteration of previous Commandments and Laws. The book contains approximately 200 laws, 70 of which are completely new. However, in the first chapter, Moses starts out the book with a retelling of how they got where they are now and with rebuke and admonition. I find the wording interesting as to when he began this discourse. I believe that there is, as always, hidden wisdom within the most subtle of text.

“And it came to be in the fortieth year, in the eleventh new moon, on the first day of the new moon, that Mosheh spoke to the children of Yisra’el according to all that YHVH had commanded him concerning them, after he had stricken Siḥon sovereign of the Amorites, who dwelt in Ḥeshbon, and Oḡ sovereign of Bashan, who dwelt at Ashtaroth in Eḏre‛i.”

Deuteronomy 1:4-5

Note how he did all of this after the battle had taken place. Is there something to be understood here? How does it feel to perform a difficult task when we’re doubting ourselves? If you’re like me, my brain can quickly focus on a problem or a past mistake that is completely unrelated to my current objective and I get so caught up in those feelings that I begin to falter. It’s as if in that moment, all of my past mistakes define me and who I am today no longer matters. Despite the distance traveled, the mountains climbed and the victories won, I, for some reason, believe that I no longer deserve any of it now.

Maybe Moses knew this too. He knew that he was unable to enter into the Promised Land with his people and that his time left to teach them was running out. He also knew that they needed to remember what mistakes they had struggled with so they wouldn’t make them again in the future, but he waited until they were ready to hear those words. 

When reading through this parsha this time around, I paused to reflect on Deuteronomy 1:10. We should be very familiar with the promise made to Avinu Avraham (Our father Abraham) by now, but it’s worth looking at it again. 

“And He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward the heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So are your seed.” 

Genesis 5:15

I have always focused on the multiplicity aspect of the stars before and never stopped to think that they were individually placed there by Elohim. He created each one to be unique and to shine, serving as a guidepost for the lost. We can look up and feel so small and insignificant when we see the expanse of the heavens. It’s easy to think that if we, as stars, burned out, it wouldn’t be noticed. We can “lose ourselves” in the vastness of all the others in the world. But Psalm 8:3 reminds us that these stars were not created and haphazardly placed as if someone blew glitter against a black backdrop. They were consciously ordered.

“For I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have established.”

Psalm 8:3

Established, כּוּן (kun in Hebrew), gives a firmness and purpose to that created object. It can mean to be established, to be appointed, and in some cases to be stable and enduring. The victory that Israel secured over the kings of the Amorites helped them to see that they were now ready to move forward. They had survived the trials of the desert and conquered their biggest fears because it was Adonai who had chosen them from all the nations. They could now see that their Elohim really had led them to victory, through obedience, by the hand of Moses. Just like a good coach, Moses was able to see the long game here. The job of a coach is to use their wisdom and experience to guide you to victory. In doing so, it is often necessary to point out your flaws and to show you how you can conquer them. I remember while growing up it seemed that after our biggest wins, the coach would give us the strongest correction. Why? Victory allowed us to handle the criticism that we needed to hear. Had we received the rebuke at halftime, we’d doubt our abilities and defeat would be certain. But remember, at halftime the game is only over if you’ve already given up.

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