Devarim 1:1-3:22 [על-התורה] דברים א א-ג כב
Haftarah: Yeshayahu 1:1-27 (Sefardi and Ashkenazi) | Yeshayahu 1:21-31 (Teimani)
[על-התורה] ישעיהו א א-כז (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | ישעיהו א כא-לא (תימנים) | ההפטרה השלישית של תלת דפונענותא
- The Opening of Moshe’s Address
- Retelling of the Meraglim (12 Spies)
- Retelling of the Conquests East of the Yarden
- Retelling of the Apportionment of Land East of the Yarden
- Haftarah summary: Chazon Yeshayahu
This parsha, which opens Sefer Devarim, begins with Moshe’s words (devarim) of address to Bnei Yisrael on the far side of the Yarden (Jordan River), before they are to cross into Eretz Yisrael. As with Parashat Masei, we are given the context of the moment present in the text, including place and time, always noteworthy in Mikra.
The Opening of Moshe’s Address
First, we are given an exact location of where Moshe delivers this address: through the wilderness to the Arava (עֲרָבָה), across from Suf (סוּף), between Paran (פָּארָ֧ן) and Tofel (תֹּפֶל), Lavan (לָבָן), Chatzerot (חֲצֵרֹת), and Di Zahav (דִי זָהָב). The wanderings of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, through the desert, and to Arvot Moav (the steppes of Moav) were just detailed at the beginning of the previous parsha, Masei. Now, the journey is reviewed by Moshe in terms of its signal events. It is noted that it was then the 40th year of wandering, on the 1st of the 11th month, i.e. Shevat, after the defeat of Sichon and Og.1
Moshe starts by saying that after the encampment at Chorev (Har Sinai), G-d commanded Benei Yisrael to go towards the lands of the Amorites and the Aravah and go inherit the promised Land. At this juncture, Moshe remembers, he asked G-d for help in leading the people, after which he was appointed tribal heads and judges to adjudicate cases.
Retelling of the Meraglim (12 Spies)
Moshe gives his account of the Meraglim, the story of the twelve representatives sent to scout the land (generally called the 12 Spies in English) told in Parashat Shelach. Moshe says:
וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ וְיַחְפְּרוּ לָנוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ דָּבָר אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה בָּהּ וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן: וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינַי הַדָּבָר וָאֶקַּח מִכֶּם שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֲנָשִׁים אִישׁ אֶחָד לַשָּׁבֶט:
“Then all of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead to reconnoiter the land and bring back word on the route we should follow and the cities we will come to.’ I saw your words as good, and selected twelve men, one from each tribe.Devarim 1:22-23
Moshe then reviews how the twelve men came back bearing fruit from the Land and positive reports, to which the people responded with fear over their impending doom at the hands of the Amorites and others. They regretted, Moshe recalls, having left Egypt. Moshe reassures the people, reminding them that Gd has been with them throughout the journey thus far. However, Gd condemns “this evil generation” (הַדּוֹר הָרָע הַזֶּה) to die outside the Land, wandering; it is only the next generation that will enter Eretz Yisrael. The two noted exceptions are Kalev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua Bin Nun. Moshe adds:
גַּם בִּי הִתְאַנַּף ה’ בִּגְלַלְכֶם לֵאמֹר גַּם אַתָּה לֹא תָבֹא שָׁם׃
I, too, was subject to Hashem’s wrath on your account, and He said: “Neither shall you enter there.”Devarim 1:37
Moshe also recounts that G-d said:
טַפְּכֶם אֲשֶׁר אֲמַרְתֶּם לָבַז יִהְיֶה וּבְנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ הַיּוֹם טוֹב וָרָע הֵמָּה יָבֹאוּ שָׁמָּה וְלָהֶם אֶתְּנֶנָּה וְהֵם יִירָשׁוּהָ:
And your little ones, who you said would be carried off, and your young children, who today do not [yet] know right from wrong, they will enter there, and I will give it [the Land] to them and they shall inherit it.Devarim 1:39
Bnei Yisrael are then ordered to turn around and return to Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds). At this point, Moshe says, they regretted their decision and found the courage to fight. Moshe informs the people that this is not G-d’s will, and He will not be among them, but again they are intransigent. They are routed by the Amorites and remained at Kadesh a long time.
Retelling of the Conquests East of the Yarden
After long years of wandering in the wilderness, by the Sea of Reeds and Seir, Gd tells Moshe that the wandering has lasted long enough and it’s time to turn northward. Benei Yisrael are cautioned not to harm the descendents of Esav in Seir, paying them back for any food or water procured on their land, out of respect for their inheritance of it. After that, Benei Yisrael turn away from the road of the Aravah (from Eilat and Etzion Gaver) and go in the direction of Moav. They are not to provoke the Moabites, who have inherited their land rightfully from the Emim (אֵמִים), whom are like the enormous Anakim (עֲנָקִים) and like the Anakim are considered as Refaim (רְפָאִים).
They cross at Nachal (wadi) Vered, and it is noted that the time spent in travel between Kadesh-Barnea and the crossing of Nachal Vered was 38 years, i.e., 40 years have passed since the exodus from Egypt, the first 2 years occurring en route to or at Kadesh-Barnea. At this point, it was “the end of the entire generation of warriors from the camp [of the Israelites], as Hashem had pledged to them” (עַד תֹּם כָּל הַדּוֹר אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה מִקֶּרֶב הַמַּחֲנֶה כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע ה’ לָהֶם).
Again, Bnei Yisrael are warned not to provoke the Moabites and others who have inherited the lands on which they dwell rightfully. The first battle is to be against Sichon the Amorite, king of Cheshbon, in whom fear is incited. Although Bnei Yisrael offer to pass through his territory in orderly fashion, paying for any food and water, Sichon refuses. A battle ensues in which Yisrael is victorious. All of Sichon’s cities are captured and no survivors are left. Meanwhile, as commanded, the land of the Ammonites was left alone.
The next battle is against King Og of Bashan. Again Benei Yisrael are victorious, capturing all cities, including heavily fortified ones, and leaving no survivors. This completes the conquest of the land from Nachal Arnon to Har Chermon (Mount Hermon).2 King Og is left with a remnant of Refaim, and his enormous bed is discovered among the wreckage.
Retelling of the Apportionment of Land East of the Yarden
Reuven and Gad receive the lands from Nachal Arnon and half the hill country of Gil’ad. The remainder of Gil’ad, plus the territory of Bashan, specifically the Agrov district which is also called Refaim, is granted to the half tribe of Menashe. More specifically, Yair the son of Menashe is given the Agrov district that constitutes Bashan, which he calls Chavot Yair. Makhir (another son of Menashe) is given the Gil’ad.
The remainder of Benei Yisrael congregate on the conquered lands of the Aravah, along the banks of the Yarden River from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) down to the Dead Sea (also called Yam ha-Aravah, “the Sea of Aravah”) and east of the slopes of Pisgah. The male members of the two and a half tribes are reminded of their pledge to help with the conquest, only leaving behind women and children East of the Yarden. Bnei Yisrael are told that just as Sichon and Og were roundly defeated, so too will be the peoples dwelling in the Land of Canaan.
Haftarah summary: Chazon Yeshayahu
This harsh prophecy that opens the book of Yeshayahu echoes the themes of the haftarah for Matot, relating to warnings to the people regarding their behavior in the land into which they are about to cross, as well as the themes of Tisha be-Av. So badly will the nation err that “your many sacrifices (zevacheikhem) will not be wanted” (לָמָּה־לִּ֤י רֹב־זִבְחֵיכֶם֙). In other words, ritual cannot effect a relationship when one’s behavior continues to be wayward. However, if the people can “learn to be good and seek justice, aid the wrong, bring justice to the orphan, and advance [the cause of] the widow” (לִמְד֥וּ הֵיטֵ֛ב דִּרְשׁ֥וּ מִשְׁפָּ֖ט אַשְּׁר֣וּ חָמ֑וֹץ שִׁפְט֣וּ יָת֔וֹם רִ֖יבוּ אַלְמָנָֽה׃), then their repentance will be complete: “If your transgressions are crimson, like snow they will whiten” (אִם־יִֽהְי֨וּ חֲטָאֵיכֶ֤ם כַּשָּׁנִים֙ כַּשֶּׁ֣לֶג יַלְבִּ֔ינוּ).
Image: A photograph I took of the approach just north of the Dead Sea, from the Israel side.
- It is also stated here that it is “eleven days from Chorev to Kadesh-Barnea by the Mount Seir route” (אַחַד עָשָׂר יוֹם מֵחֹרֵב דֶּרֶךְ הַר שֵׂעִיר עַד קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ), a statement about which the commentators have highly varied understandings.
- See the map here – you can toggle English on at top left.