Devarim – A Recapitulation

This fifth book of the Torah has Moshe recounting the journeys, experiences, occasions of revelation and the laws which the Israelites received in the forty years since leaving Egypt.


Nechama Leibowitz wrote that this parasha, Devarim, could be divided into two parts. The first covers the generation which left Egypt, and the second part, the destiny of the new generation, the generation of the desert, and their good fortune. They had scored victory after victory, and conquered the mightiest of kings.


Moshe spoke of the lesson to be learned from the mistake made by the spies and by the first generation of Israelites. He emphasised that it was the people who had needed the report from the spies. He also did not mention that they were leaders of their tribes. He implied that it was up to the Israelites to correctly interpret the spies report and they had believed them instead of trusting G-d and his prophet Moshe. He stated the simple fact that “they would not go up” to the land. By emphasising that they had heard that the land was good, he reminded them that their ancestors had ignored the information and distrusted G-d who had promised to give it to them.


Nechama Leibowitz wrote that Moshe was demonstrating in his recapitulation of these events that in the end, every individual is responsible for the misdeeds of the group. Each one is obliged to resist evil and do good, and not excuse himself on the grounds that he was influenced by others. Each individual has to ultimately be his own leader, responsible for his every action, and not just a small part of the society. Nechama Leibowitz quoted from the liturgy “because of our sins we are exiled from our land” and linked this to the sin here of the Israelites, their refusal to go forth and conquer the land “rebelling against the word of G-d”. This is one of the links between this parasha and the 9th of Av.


Moshe said in this parasha, “How (eicha) can I bear the burden of this people” and this links with the first word of Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations “How (Eicha) does the city sit desolate?” This book is read on Tisha B’Av.

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