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Parsha Devarim

07/19/2018 09:33:19 PM


Sefer Devarim begins with Moshe rebuking the nation for all their wrongdoings of the past 40 years.  Moshe’s rebuke is at times explicit, at times implicit, and still sometimes veiled within his collective narrative of the events that transpired in the desert.  Assuming that Moshe’s lecture was indeed somewhat of a scolding, Moshe’s opening remarks seem strangely out of place and incongruous with the harsh criticism that follows.  The first topic Moshe discusses is how the large numbers of the nation made leading them single-handedly an exhausting task, and that Moshe therefore appointed many other heads who were each in charge of separate segments of the people.  After relating this point, Moshe then continues to the story of the Miraglim and the mistakes of the people.  What exactly is Moshe’s lesson in his first topic?  Moreover, in what way does this point flow into the mistake of the Miraglim?

Rashi explains Moshe’s initial reluctance to being the sole judge for the Jews based on the great accountability that judges have for any errors they may make.  After Moshe makes this point, he makes an additional point, based on Rashi’s comments, that he could not bear the people’s tactical legal maneuvers in court, the burdens of their personalized slander, and their disputes with each other.  The old adage of “two Jews, ten opinions” was manifest in the Dor Hamidbar, and their cunning and sly tricks in court, their malicious gossip, and propensities for fighting made judging them alone an impossible task.  Although it seems like the appointment of many subordinate leaders was a perfect solution, the reality is that it was a necessary solution and yet a tragic solution that only exacerbated the root of the problem.  Ideally, Moshe’s position of leadership was an opportunity to provide a single voice that would communicate with God and set the proper perspectives for the people.  After witnessing the great miracles Moshe performed, the nation should have adopted a deferential attitude towards Moshe’s views that would have allowed a truly unified sense of vision for their journey in the desert.  They should have understood that God and Moshe invariably had their best interests in mind, and become trusting and accepting of Moshe’s messages as what they themselves wanted.  However, the Jews were Jews, and they quickly turned to inner squabbles, gossiping against their own hero, and sneaky court tricks that forced Moshe to turn the leadership over to others.  While this alleviated some of Moshe’s burden, it only furthered the division of opinions amongst the nation.  More leaders means the inevitability of more opinions and a society of way too much free thinking for a nation in its embryonic state.  Instead of everyone meeting with Moshe personally, the new solution kept Moshe and his power somewhat distanced and aloof from the general population.  Moshe concludes his point by saying that when he proposed this idea the people were excited in their support of having many leaders, a point that Rashi explains is subtly alluding to more rebuke.  Instead of realizing that the new solution would inhibit them from meeting with Moshe, who heard the Torah directly from God, the people were already excited about the new chances to bribe the new leaders to turn decisions in their favor.  With this background, Moshe starts the topic of the Miraglim by saying “But you all approached me and said “Let’s send men…”  Rashi explains “you all approached me” implies that they approached Moshe like a rowdy mob without any sense of structure or order, with the young before the old and others shoving the leaders aside to make their point.  This was reflective of the problems that compelled Moshe to appoint other leaders, and that only grew and grew until it finally exploded in the demand for Miraglim.  Even as they were rebelling, there was no unified voice, but rather the uproars of many small individual opinions of loose, naïve, and inexperienced thinking.

When Moshe said that he could not handle being the sole judge of the people, he used the word “Eicha,” a word that is used to express a sense of horrific astonishment.  The Midrash notes that “Eicha” was used by Moshe, Yishaya, and Yirmiya, and when this Pasuk is read on Shabbos, our custom is to chant it with the morbid tune reserved for reading Eicha on Tisha B’av.  Moshe uses this word to invoke the true feelings of tragedy that were behind the seemingly innocuous appointment of other leaders- the tragedy of losing unified opinions and vision for the people.  In today’s Israel, a common joke is that each citizen believes they know better than the Prime Minister, a funny and yet telling point that has always hurt the Jewish People.  It is this problem that Moshe began his rebuke with, because it is this problem that is the root behind many of the mistakes that were committed then and that still hurts us today.    

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782