Commentary on Parashat Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
Whereas the first one-and-a-half books of the Torah are devoted to the conception and birth of the Jewish nation, and the next two-and-a-half books describe the mitzvot ma’asiot–specific, practical behaviors–the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) stands as the “heart” of the Torah.
Though Devarim does contain several new mitzvot (commandments), as well as ample history, it stands out for its focus on a reciprocal relationship of love between Hashem and his chosen nation:
“You shall love Hashem your God.”
“You shall cleave to him.”
“You are children of Hashem your G-d.”
“You have chosen Hashem, and Hashem has chosen you.”
It is no coincidence, then, that Devarim addresses the nation on the east bank of the Jordan River, poised to enter the Promised Land, where this unique relationship will manifest itself most acutely. Only Israel is described as a land constantly under the direct watchful eye of Hashem: “The eyes of Hashem your G-d are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.”
So potent is Divine Providence in the King’s Palace that the Talmud teaches that rainfall is initially determined for Eretz Yisrael, and only what is left over is disbursed throughout the rest of the world.
And yet, God’s presence will only be felt by those who allow it. There is simply not enough room in the world for both HaShem and the haughty. It is for this reason, according to the Shlah Hakadosh (Isaiah ben Avraham HaLevi Horowitz, 1565-1630), that the land of Israel retains elements of Eretz Canaan (the land of Canaan) even after the Jewish conquest. The root of Canaan is hachna’ah — subjugation. Only one who subjugates himself to the Almighty will experience the Divinity of the land.
Perhaps this is why the “heart” of the Torah commences with subtle but poignant rebuke. According to Rashi, the locations enumerated at the beginning of D’varim are not merely names, but veiled references to assorted Jewish iniquities. While careful not to publicly humiliate the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu (our teacher) understood the importance of recognizing one’s shortcomings and limitations. Only then could the nation collectively and individually maximize their experience of the Divine in the Land of Canaan.
A devout Hasid once approached the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1789-1866) with the idea of relocating to Eretz Yisrael. Conscious of the perilous conditions prevailing in 19th century Palestine, the Rebbe advised to instead “make this place Eretz Yisrael.” Though we live in a generation fortunate enough to be able to make aliyah with relative ease, the Rebbe’s message remains equally relevant. Eretz Yisrael is not simply a place but an ideal, to be carried within the Jewish heart regardless of physical location. This is why the Prophet Zechariah refers to Jerusalem as being devoid of borders.
The symbiotic love of HaShem for his children also knows no bounds–other than those that are self-imposed. A dose of humility goes a long way in providing the space necessary for HaShem to return His glory to Jerusalem, thereby ensuring that our national days of mourning are transformed to days of “sason vesimchah u’mo’adim tovim” (joy and happiness and festive times).
Reprinted with permission from the Orthodox Union.
Pronounced: a-LEE-yuh for synagogue use, ah-lee-YAH for immigration to Israel, Origin: Hebrew, literally, “to go up.” This can mean the honor of saying a blessing before and after the Torah reading during a worship service, or immigrating to Israel.
Pronounced: AHVR-rah-ham, Origin: Hebrew, Abraham in the Torah, considered the first Jew.
Pronounced: KHAH-seed, Origin: Hebrew, a Hasidic Jew, a follower of Hasidic Judaism, a stream within ultra-Orthodox Judaism that grew out of an 18th-century mystical revival.
Pronounced: TALL-mud, Origin: Hebrew, the set of teachings and commentaries on the Torah that form the basis for Jewish law. Comprised of the Mishnah and the Gemara, it contains the opinions of thousands of rabbis from different periods in Jewish history.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: hah-SHEMM, Origin: Hebrew, literally, “the name,” word used to refer to God.