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Devarim, D’varim, or Debarim (דברים — Hebrew for “words,” the second word, and the first distinctive word, in the parshah) is the 44th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the first in the book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in July or August. It is always read on Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath immediately before Tisha B'Av.
In the 40th year after the Exodus from Egypt, Moses addressed the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan River, recounting the instructions that God had given them. ( ) When the Israelites were at Horeb — Mount Sinai — God told them that they had stayed long enough at that mountain, and it was time for them to make their way to the hill country of Canaan and take possession of the land that God swore to assign to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their heirs after them. ( )
Moses appointed the chiefs
Then Moses told the Israelites that he could not bear the burden of their bickering alone, and thus directed them to pick leaders from each tribe who were wise, discerning, and experienced. () They did, and Moses appointed the leaders as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens. ( ) Moses charged the magistrates to hear and decide disputes justly, treating alike Israelite and stranger, low and high. ( ) Moses directed them to bring him any matter that was too difficult to decide. ( )
The Israelites set out from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea, and Moses told them that God had placed the land at their disposal and that they should not fear, but take the land. ( ) The Israelites asked Moses to send men ahead to reconnoiter the land, and he approved the plan, selecting 12 men, one from each tribe. ( ) The scouts came to the wadi Eshcol, retrieved some of the fruit of the land, and reported that it was a good land. ( ) But the Israelites flouted God’s command and refused to go into the land, instead sulking in their tents about reports of people stronger and taller than they and large cities with sky-high walls. ( ) Moses told them not to fear, as God would go before them and would fight for them, just as God did for them in Egypt and the wilderness. ( ) When God heard the Israelites’ loud complaint, God became angry and vowed that not one of the men of that evil generation would see the good land that God swore to their fathers, except Caleb, whom God would give the land on which he set foot, because he remained loyal to God. ( ) Moses complained that because of the people, God was incensed with Moses too, and told him that he would not enter the land either. ( ) God directed that Moses’s attendant Joshua would enter the land and allot it to Israel. ( ) And the little ones — whom the Israelites said would be carried off — would also enter and possess the land. ( ) The Israelites replied that now they would go up and fight, just as God commanded them, but God told Moses to warn them not to, as God would not travel in their midst and they would be routed by their enemies. ( ) Moses told them, but they would not listen, but flouted God’s command and willfully marched into the hill country. ( ) Then the Amorites who lived in those hills came out like so many bees and crushed the Israelites at Hormah in Seir. ( )
Encounters with the Edomites and Ammonites
The Israelites remained at Kadesh a long time, marched back into the wilderness by the way of the Sea of Reeds, and then skirted the hill country of Seir a long time. ( ) Then God told Moses that they had been skirting that hill country long enough and should now turn north. ( ) God instructed that the people would be passing through the territory of their kinsmen, the descendants of Esau in Seir, and that the Israelites should be very careful not to provoke them and should purchase what food and water they ate and drank, for God would not give the Israelites any of their land. ( ) So the Israelites moved on, away from their kinsmen the descendants of Esau, and marched on in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. ( )
God told Moses not to harass or provoke the Moabites, for God would not give the Israelites any of their land, having assigned it as a possession to the descendants of Lot. ( ) The Israelites spent 38 years traveling from Kadesh-barnea until they crossed the wadi Zered, and the whole generation of warriors perished from the camp, as God had sworn. ( ) Then God told Moses that the Israelites would be passing close to the Ammonites, but the Israelites should not harass or start a fight with them, for God would not give the Israelites any part of the Ammonites’ land, having assigned it as a possession to the descendants of Lot. ( )
Conquest of Sihon
God instructed the Israelites to set out across the wadi Arnon, to attack Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and begin to occupy his land. ( ) Moses sent messengers to King Sihon with an offer of peace, asking for passage through his country, promising to keep strictly to the highway, turning neither to the right nor the left, and offering to purchase what food and water they would eat and drink. ( ) But King Sihon refused to let the Israelites pass through, because God had stiffened his will and hardened his heart in order to deliver him to the Israelites. ( ) Sihon and his men took the field against the Israelites at Jahaz, but God delivered him to the Israelites, and the Israelites defeated him, captured all his towns, and doomed every town, leaving no survivor, retaining as booty only the cattle and the spoil. ( ) From Aroer on the edge of the Arnon valley to Gilead, not a city was too mighty for the Israelites; God delivered everything to them. ( )
Conquest of Og
The Israelites made their way up the road to Bashan, and King Og of Bashan and his men took the field against them at Edrei, but God told Moses not to fear, as God would deliver Og, his men, and his country to the Israelites to conquer as they had conquered Sihon. ( ) So God delivered King Og of Bashan, his men, and his 60 towns into the Israelites’ hands, and they left no survivor. ( ) Og was so big that his iron bedstead was nine cubits long and four cubits wide. ( )
Land for the Tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh
Moses assigned land to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. ( ) And Moses charged them that even though they had already received their land, they needed to serve as shock-troops at the head of their Israelite kinsmen, leaving only their wives, children, and livestock in the towns that Moses had assigned to them, until God had granted the Israelites their land west of the Jordan. ( ) And Moses charged Joshua not to fear the kingdoms west of the Jordan, for God would battle for him and would do to all those kingdoms just as God had done to Sihon and Og. ( )
In inner-biblical interpretation
Deuteronomy chapter 1
Numbers 13:1–14:45 and both tell the story of the spies. Whereas says that God told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan, in Moses recounted that all the Israelites asked him to send men to search the land, and the idea pleased him.
Deuteronomy chapter 2
Both Judges 11:17 report the Israelites’ interaction with Edom and Moab. reports that the Israelites sent messengers to the kings of both countries asking for passage through their lands, but both kings declined to let the Israelites pass.and
In classical rabbinic interpretation
Deuteronomy chapter 1
Interpreting Baraita that since the nation numbered about 600,000 men, the chiefs of thousands amounted to 600; those of hundreds, 6,000; those of fifties, 12,000; and those of tens, 60,000. Hence they taught that the number of officers in Israel totaled 78,600. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 18a.)the Rabbis taught in a
Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words “And I charged your judges at that time” in to teach that judges were to resort to the rod and the lash with caution. Rabbi Haninah interpreted the words “hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously” in to warn judges not to listen to the claims of litigants in the absence of their opponents, and to warn litigants not to argue their cases to the judge before their opponents have appeared. Resh Lakish interpreted the words “judge righteously” in to teach judges to consider all the aspects of the case before deciding. Rabbi Judah interpreted the words “between your brethren” in to teach judges to make a scrupulous division of liability between the lower and the upper parts of a house, and Rabbi Judah interpreted the words “and the stranger that is with him” in to teach judges to make a scrupulous division of liability even between a stove and an oven. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 7b.)
Rabbi Judah interpreted the words “you shall not respect persons in judgment” in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 7b.)to teach judges not to favor their friends, and Rabbi Eleazar interpreted the words to teach judges not to treat a litigant as a stranger, even if the litigant was the judge’s enemy. (
Resh Lakish interpreted the words “you shall hear the small and the great alike” in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 8a.)to teach that a judge must treat a lawsuit involving the smallest coin in circulation (“a mere perutah”) as of the same importance as one involving 2 million times the value (“a hundred mina”). And the Gemara deduced from this rule that a judge must hear cases in the order that they were brought, even if a case involving a lesser value was brought first. (
Resh Lakish (or others say Rabbi Judah ben Lakish or Rabbi Joshua ben Lakish) read the words “you shall not be afraid of the face of any man” in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 6b.) And Rabbi Hanan read the words “you shall not be afraid of . . . any man” in to teach judges not to withhold any arguments out of deference to the powerful. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 8a.)to teach that once a judge has heard a case and knows in whose favor judgment inclines, the judge cannot withdraw from the case, even if the judge must rule against the more powerful litigant. But before a judge has heard a case, or even after so long as the judge does not yet know in whose favor judgment inclines, the judge may withdraw from the case to avoid having to rule against the more powerful litigant and suffer harassment from that litigant. (
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Jose the Galilean deduced from the words “the judgment is God's” in that once litigants have brought a case to court, a judge must not arbitrate a settlement, for a judge who arbitrates sins by deviating from the requirements of God’s Torah; rather, the judge must “let the law cut through the mountain” (and thus even the most difficult case). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 6b.)
Rabbi Haninah (or some say Rabbi Josiah) taught that Moses was punished for his arrogance when he told the judges in “the cause that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.” Rabbi Haninah said that reports Moses’s punishment, when Moses found himself unable to decide the case of the daughters of Zelophehad. Rav Nahman objected to Rabbi Haninah’s interpretation, noting that Moses did not say that he would always have the answers, but merely that he would rule if he knew the answer or seek instruction if he did not. Rav Nahman cited a Baraita to explain the case of the daughters of Zelophehad: God had intended that Moses write the laws of inheritance, but found the daughters of Zelophehad worthy to have the section recorded on their account. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 8a.)
Rabbi Eleazar, on the authority of Rabbi Simlai, noted that says, “And I charged your judges at that time,” while similarly says, “I charged you [the Israelites] at that time.” Rabbi Eleazar deduced that meant to warn the Congregation to revere their judges, and meant to warn the judges to be patient with the Congregation. Rabbi Hanan (or some say Rabbi Shabatai) said that this meant that judges must be as patient as Moses, who reports acted “as the nursing father carries the sucking child.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 8a.)
Resh Lakish interpreted the words “Send you” in Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34b.)to indicate that God gave Moses discretion whether or not to send the spies. Resh Lakish read Moses’ recollection of the matter in that “the thing pleased me well” to mean that sending the spies pleased Moses well but not God. (
Rabbi Ammi cited the spies’ statement in that the Canaanite cities were “great and fortified up to heaven” to show that the Torah sometimes exaggerated. (Babylonian Talmud Chullin 90b, Tamid 29a.)
The Mishnah taught that it was on Tisha B'Av (just before which Jews read parshah Devarim) that God issued the decree reported in that the generation of the spies would not enter the Promised Land. (Mishnah Taanit 4:6; Babylonian Talmud Taanit 26b, 29a.)
Noting that in the incident of the spies, God did not punish those below the age of 20 (see Rabbi Jonathan’s name that God does not punish people for the actions that they take in their first 20 years. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 89b.)), whom described as “children that . . . have no knowledge of good or evil,” Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani taught in
Deuteronomy chapter 2
Interpreting the words “You have circled this mountain (הָר, har) long enough” in Genesis 25:28 reports, “Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his venison.” Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Gedaliah concluded that God decided to reward Esau for this. When Jacob offered Esau gifts, Esau answered Jacob in “I have enough (רָב, rav); do not trouble yourself.” So God declared that with the same expression that Esau thus paid respect to Jacob, God would command Jacob’s descendants not to trouble Esau’s descendants, and thus God told the Israelites, “You have circled . . . long enough (רַב, rav).” (Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:17.)Rabbi Haninah taught that Esau paid great attention to his parent (horo), his father, whom he supplied with meals, as
Rav Hiyya bar Abin said in Rabbi Johanan's name that the words, “I have given Mount Seir to Esau for an inheritance,” inestablish that even idolaters inherit from their parents under Biblical law. The Gemara reported a challenge that perhaps Esau inherited because he was an apostate Jew. Rav Hiyya bar Abin thus argued that the words, “I have given Ar to the children of Lot as a heritage,” in establish gentiles’ right to inherit. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 18a.)
Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba, citing Rabbi Johanan, taught that God rewards even polite speech. In Lot’s older daughter named her son Moab (“of my father”), and so in God told Moses, “Be not at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle”; God forbade only war with the Moabites, but the Israelites might harass them. In in contrast, Lot’s younger daughter named her son Ben-Ammi (the less shameful “son of my people”), and so in God told Moses, “Harass them not, nor contend with them”; the Israelites were not to harass the Ammonites at all. (Babylonian Talmud Nazir 23b.)
Even though in 2:19, God forbade the Israelites from occupying the territory of Ammon and Moab, Rav Papa taught that the land of Ammon and Moab that Sihon conquered (as reported in ) became purified for acquisition by the Israelites through Sihon’s occupation of it (as discussed in ). (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 38a.)and
Explaining why Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said (in Mishnah Taanit 4:8; Babylonian Talmud Taanit 26b) that there never were in Israel more joyous days than Tu B'Av (the fifteenth of Av) and Yom Kippur, Rabbah bar bar Hanah said in the name of Rabbi Johanan (or others say Rav Dimi bar Joseph said in the name of Rav Nahman) that Tu B'Av was the day on which the generation of the wilderness stopped dying out. For a Master deduced from the words, “So it came to pass, when all the men of war were consumed and dead . . . that the Lord spoke to me,” in that as long as the generation of the wilderness continued to die out, God did not communicate with Moses, and only thereafter — on Tu B'Av — did God resume that communication. (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 30b, Bava Batra 121a–b.)
A Baraita deduced from Gemara (some say Rabbi Eleazar) explained that the identical circumstances could be derived from the use of the identical expression “I will begin” in and in Rabbi Johanan (or some say Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani) taught that this conclusion could be derived from the use of the identical word “put” (tet) in and And Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani (or some say Rabbi Johanan) taught that this conclusion could be deduced from the words “the peoples that are under the whole heaven, who, when they hear the report of you, shall tremble, and be in anguish because of you” in Rabbi Samuel (or some say Rabbi Johanan) taught that the peoples trembled and were in anguish because of Moses when the sun stood still for him. (Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 25a, Taanit 20a.)that just as the sun stood still for Joshua in , so the sun stood still for Moses, as well. The
According to Maimonides
- That the judge not be afraid of a bad person when judging ( )
- Not to appoint as judge one who is not learned in the laws of the Torah, even if the person is learned in other disciplines ( )
- That warriors shall not fear their enemies nor be frightened of them in battle ( )
(Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Negative Commandments 58, 276, 284. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2:55–56, 259, 265–66. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4.)
According to Sefer ha-Chinuch
According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are two negative commandments in the parshah.
- Not to appoint any judge who is unlearned in the Torah, even if the person is generally learned ( )
- That a judge presiding at a trial should not fear any evil person ( )
(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 4:238–45. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1988. ISBN 0-87306-457-7.)
Devarim is always read on the final Shabbat of Admonition, the Shabbat immediately prior to Tisha B'Av. That Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon, corresponding to the first word of the haftarah, which is Isaiah 1:1–27. Many communities chant the majority of this haftarah in the mournful melody of the Book of Lamentations due to the damning nature of the vision as well as its proximity to the saddest day of the Hebrew calendar, the holiday on which Lamentations is chanted.
In the liturgy
“Mount Lebanon . . . Siryon,” another name for Mount Hermon, as explains, is reflected in which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service . (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 20. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0-916219-20-8.)
The Weekly Maqam
In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parshah. For parshah Devarim, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Hijaz, the maqam that expresses mourning and sadness. This maqam is appropriate not due to the content of the parshah, but because this is the parshah that falls on the Shabbat prior to Tisha B'Av, the date that marks the destruction of the Temples.
The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:
- 15:5 (numerous as stars); 22:17 (numerous as stars); 26:4 (numerous as stars). (Rephaim, Emim, Horites);
- Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8 (hardening of heart); 18:13–26 (appointment of the chiefs); 32:34 (command to lead the people to the Promised Land).
- 13:1–14:45 (the spies); 20:14–21; 21:21–35 (victories over Sihon and Og); 27:18–23; 32:1–33. (departure for the Promised Land);
- Joshua 1:6–9, 12–18; 11:20 (hardening of heart); 13:8–32.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 3:14:1–2; 3:15:1–3; 4:1:1–3; 4:4:5; 4:5:1–3.
- Romans 9:14–18. 1st Century. (hardening of heart).
- Revelation 17:17. Late 1st Century. (changing hearts to God’s purpose).
- Mishnah: Taanit 4:6; Sotah 7:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 315, 459. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
- Tosefta: Sukkah 3:13; Sotah 4:6, 7:12, 17, 14:4; Menachot 7:8; Arakhin 5:16. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
- Sifre to Deuteronomy 1:1–25:6. Land of Israel, circa 250–350 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:15–65. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. ISBN 1-55540-145-7.
- Jerusalem Talmud: Sheviit 47a; Maasrot 4b; Challah 45a; Bikkurim 12a. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 6b, 9, 11, 12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2009.
- Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 32a; Shabbat 85a; Eruvin 30a, 100b; Yoma 86b; Rosh Hashanah 2b, 28b; Taanit 20a, 30b; Megillah 2b, 10a; Moed Katan 15b; Chagigah 6b; Yevamot 47a, 86b; Nedarim 20b; Nazir 23b, 61a; Sotah 34b, 35b, 47b, 48b; Gittin 38a; Kiddushin 18a; Bava Kamma 38a–b; Bava Batra 121b; Sanhedrin 6b, 7b–8a, 17a, 102a; Shevuot 16a, 47b; Avodah Zarah 25a, 37b; Horayot 10b; Zevachim 115b; Menachot 65a; Chullin 60b, 90b; Arakhin 16b, 32b, 33b; Tamid 29a; Niddah 24b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
- Deuteronomy Rabbah 1:1–25. Land of Israel, 9th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Deuteronomy. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 7: 1–28. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
- Rashi. Commentary. Deuteronomy 1–3. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 5:1–44. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1997. ISBN 0-89906-030-7.
- Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 2:14. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 91. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
- Benjamin of Tudela. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Spain, 1173. Reprinted in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages. Introductions by Michael A. Singer, Marcus Nathan Adler, A. Asher, 91. Malibu, Calif.: Joseph Simon, 1983. ISBN 0-934710-07-4. (giants).
- Zohar 1:178a; 2:31a, 68b, 183b, 201a, 214a; 3:117b, 190a, 260b, 284a, 286b. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.
- Samson Raphael Hirsch. Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances. Translated by Isidore Grunfeld, 265–67. London: Soncino Press, 1962. Reprinted 2002 ISBN 0-900689-40-4. Originally published as Horeb, Versuche über Jissroel’s Pflichten in der Zerstreuung. Germany, 1837.
- Martin Buber. On the Bible: Eighteen studies, 80–92. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.
- Alan R. Millard. “Kings Og’s Iron Bed: Fact or fancy?” Bible Review 6 (2) (Apr. 1990).
- Moshe Weinfeld. Deuteronomy 1-11, 5:125–89. New York: Anchor Bible, 1991. ISBN 0-385-17593-0.
- Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, 3–38, 422–30. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. ISBN 0-8276-0330-4.
- Elie Kaplan Spitz. “On the Use of Birth Surrogates.” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1997. EH 1:3.1997b. Reprinted in Responsa: 1991–2000: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by Kassel Abelson and David J. Fine, 529, 535–36. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2002. ISBN 0-916219-19-4. (that Jews will become as numerous as “the stars of heaven” requires human help).