Weekly Cycle

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Desert in Words: "All of Israel" and the Torah Portion of Devarim

This past week we began a new Book of the Torah: Devarim ("Words") in Hebrew. In keeping with the month of Av, and Tisha B'Av, which is upon us, the words that open the Book are actually words of rebuke. Rashi points out that the rebuke, however, is said quite indirectly.

א. אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר משֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין פָּארָן וּבֵין תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת וְדִי זָהָב:

1. These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.

Rashi: These are the words: Since these are words of rebuke and he [Moses] enumerates here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent, therefore it makes no explicit mention of the incidents [in which they transgressed], but rather merely alludes to them, [by mentioning the names of the places] out of respect for Israel (cf. Sifrei)

Rashi also notes that these words were said to every single person of Israel:

Rashi: to all Israel: If he had rebuked only some of them, those who were in the marketplace [i.e., absent] might have said, “You heard from [Moses] the son of Amram, and did not answer a single word regarding this and that; had we been there, we would have answered him!” Therefore, he assembled all of them, and said to them, “See, you are all here; if anyone has an answer, let him answer!” - [from Sifrei]

Rashi then starts listing each of the places mentioned in the above verse and relating it to each of the major sins of the Jews in the desert. There is, however, one apparent gap in Rashi's analysis. Rashi begins by mentioning "in the desert," as the first place, related to the sin of having angered Hashem in the desert. In the above verse, though, "in the desert," is not the first place mentioned. Rather, the first geographic position noted is, "on the side of the Jordan," in Hebrew, "בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן (B'Ever HaYarden)."

Why did Rashi not link this place to one of the sins of the Jewish people. The answer perhaps is that this one is a reference not to any particular, but to the whole. It appears to be connected to the previous part of the verse,  "to all Israel," as B'Ever HaYarden is reminiscent of the first partriarch of the Jewish people, Avraham Ha'Ivri (the Hebrew). Avraham is called Ha'Ivri because he stood on one side (believing in One G-d), while the entire world stood on the other. It may well also be a reference to the other side of the Jordan as well. The Jordan itself also symbolizes the all-encompassing whole. It runs from the Sea of Galilee, in the north of Israel all the way to its south, down to the Dead Sea.

There is however, also a hint to concept of the sins of Israel as a whole. The Hebrew word for Jordan, Yarden, is composed of the word Yarad (descended) and the final Nun, Nun-Sofit. The Nun is often associated with the word Nephilah, fall. However, the Nun is also associated with the redeemer, Moshe, and the final Nun with the final redeemer, Mashiach. (See Book 6, on the current, 14th cycle of 22 days of the year, here)

Every descent is only for the sake of a greater ascent. In order to learn how to walk, sometimes it is necessary to fall first. The main thing is to remain united, connected to the whole. If we do so, we are certain to merit

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