Parashat D'varim

Words Of Admonition

Moses, finally, at the end of his life, able to transition from a man of action to a man of words, rebukes the Israelites, who are receptive to his criticisms.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.


Parashat D'varim begins with Moses recounting the history of the Exodus, from the giving of the second set of tablets at Sinai through to the incident of the 12 spies. Moses highlights his own role as leader, and blames the people for the fact that he has been prohibited from entering the Land. Special attention is also paid to the promise of the Land. Moses notes the establishment of the Sanhedrin and the Judicial system.

Moses then jumps ahead and reviews some of the final battles that have been fought, including the battles with Sichon and Og and the acquisition of land to the east of the Jordan (in which they were standing). At the end of this portion, Joshua, who will assume the role of leadership after Moses, is assured that, just as God led Israel to victory in the wilderness, so too God will lead Israel in battle when they cross into the Land.

In Focus

These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan.... (Deuteronomy 1:1).


It is from this opening line that the Book of Deuteronomy takes its Hebrew name, D'varim, meaning "words." And that is what Deuteronomy essentially is: Moses' words. While most of the other books of the Torah since Exodus are expressed in God's words, spoken through Moses, Deuteronomy is Moses' discourse, reiterating God's teachings and exhorting the People of Israel to follow God's commands. The Rabbinic name for this book is Mishneh HaTorah--the "second law" (not to be confused with Maimonides' code of law called the Mishnah Torah), since almost everything in Deuteronomy has been stated before, albeit in a different context.

It is also notable in this opening passage that Moses spoke to all Israel. The entire people who made it to the border of the Promised land gather to listen to the words of their leader. As Rashi notes, if some of the people were absent, they might have been able to deny that Moses had said all that he said. By gathering the entire people together, all heard the same words at the same time, and all had the opportunity on the spot to reply if they so wished.


Our sages and commentators had much to say about this seemingly simple line of text. To follow on Rashi's comment above, Simchah Bunem of Prszysucha, a Chassidic sage quoted in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky's modern commentary, Sparks Beneath the Surface, taught that each word that Moses uttered was spoken to all Israel. In fact, Rav Bunem emphasized that Moses spoke to each person according to his or her character and age, and according to his or her level of understanding and perception.

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Rabbi Jordan D. Cohen

Jordan D. Cohen is the rabbi of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario. Previously, he worked as Associate Director of KOLEL - The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Prior to his return to Canada, Rabbi Cohen served as Rabbi of the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, and Associate Rabbi of the North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia.