The First Oration in the Book of Devarim (Chapters 1-3): The Historical Introduction

  • Rav Elchanan Samet
 
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Dedicated in memory of Miriame bat Yitele
whose yarzeit is Rosh Chodesh Av
Family Rueff
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IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Jeffrey Paul Friedman
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
לע"נ
יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
ת.נ.צ.ב.ה
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The entire book of Devarim, from beginning to end, contains the great oration that Moshe delivered to the people of Israel in the days before his death, from the first of the month of Shevat (1:3) to the day of his death on the seventh of Adar.[1] Thus, the book presents us with a special and rare literary genre in the Bible – the broad oration.
 
It is clear that Moshe's oration does not constitute a single substantive continuum, but is rather comprised of separate units. In other words, the book of Devarim contains many speeches of Moshe, which differ one from the other regarding the day of their delivery, their content, and their purpose. Just as in the narrative sections of Scripture it is the individual story that constitutes the unit that bears the message, so in the book of Devarim the unit that carries the message is the individual oration, which differs from the oration before it and from the one after it. The proper study of the book of Devarim must therefore begin with marking the boundaries of the individual speech, as a prerequisite for understanding its structure and the course of its ideas and comprehending its full meaning.
 
What can help us in the demarcation of the individual speech? Generally speaking, it is difficult to rely on the content of the speech – its unique theme – since the theme is the very thing that we are looking for. Nevertheless, when the content is uniform and evident, it too can help us (much like the plot of a story). The main factors that help us delineate the individual speech in our book are the stylistic and literary features found in it.[2] Occasionally, it is possible to receive help from outside the speech itself, as will become clear below.
 
In several places in our book, the sequence of Moshe's direct speech (the speaker speaking in the first person) is interrupted by the words of the Torah itself, which describe Moshe in the third person. These places are intended throughout most of the book to differentiate between its major divisions, but by the way they also help in demarcating the speeches before and after them.
 
It is with such verses, which speak of Moshe in the third person, that the entire book of Devarim opens (1:1-5). Moshe's oration begins only in v. 6, and from there it continues consecutively until 4:40. At that point, the oratory continuum is interrupted by a short report of the Torah:
 
4:41-43: Then Moshe separated three cities beyond the Jordan toward the sunrising; that the manslayer might flee there… Bezer… and Ramot… and Golan….
 
Thus, chapters 1-4 constitute the first division of orations in our book.[3] What are the speech units that make up this division?
 
Chapters 1-3 are characterized by a review of various events from the past, starting with Israel's departure from Chorev after an extended stay there, through their journey in the wilderness and an account of the sin of the spies and the punishment for it, and ending with the conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og and their being given to the two and a half tribes. This speech thus includes an account of the more than thirty-eight year period of Israel's journey from Mount Chorev to the camp in Arvot Moav, where Moshe delivered his oration,[4] serving as sort of a "historical introduction" to the continuation of Moshe's great oration. Indeed, an examination of the events chosen to be included in this oration teach us its purpose: It is the intention of this historical review to clarify how Israel reached the point in time and place where they are now found and what special circumstances delayed their arrival at this place for a whole generation. In this way, the oration lays the factual-historical foundation for the rest of the book.
 
Where does this speech end? It seems that the division of the chapters, which concludes the speech shortly after the opening of Parashat Va'etchanan, at the end of chapter 3 (v. 29: "So we abode in the valley over against Beit-Pe'or") is correct. For even Moshe's prayer to enter the land – "And I besought the Lord at that time" (v. 23) – and its rejection – "Let it suffice you… for you shall not go over this Jordan. But charge Yehoshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over… and he shall cause them to inherit the land" (vv. 26-28) – are both part of that speech, which describes the various events that brought Israel to the point in time and place in which they are found: near the point where they will cross over the Jordan and enter the Israel, and close to the time when their leader Moshe will be replaced by Yehoshua.
 
4:1 begins a new speech unit, and its solemn opening is clearly evident (even though its opening word is intended to create a linguistic connection to the previous oration):
 
And now, O Israel, hearken to the statutes and to the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, gives you…
 
The nature of this new speech is very different from that of its predecessor. In this speech, Moshe does not review the events of the past, but rather educates and exhorts the people to keep the mitzvot as a condition for taking possession of the land and living in it. Even when he mentions in this speech an event from the past – e.g., the assembly at Chorev – he does not describe it in the way one describes a chapter of history. Instead, he brings it in the framework of a religious demand relating to the present and future and in the style of vigorous preaching.[5]
 
In this study, we will deal with the structure and purpose of the first oration in our book (chapters 1-3).[6]
 
II. The special nature of the oration that opens Sefer Devarim
 
The delineation of the first speech in our book, which we discussed in the previous section, did not involve any special difficulty, because of the special nature of this speech, which is different from all the speeches that follow it in Devarim. In this oration, Moshe reviews various things that happened to the people of Israel from the time they set out on their journey following their extended stay at Mount Chorev until the very recent past. This review contains no words of rebuke from Moshe, nor is it accompanied by any educational-religious or practical conclusions. This "neutral" nature of a purely historical lecture changes significantly already in the following speech. Starting with the second speech in our book (4:1 and on), and throughout all of the subsequent speeches, the tone of instruction, education, and rebuke dominates. Any past event that is mentioned in these speeches is explicitly presented for the purpose of confirming a claim that preceded it[7] or for the purpose of drawing an educational-religious conclusion after it.[8]
 
It is precisely the nature of the speech that opens the book of Devarim, as much as it facilitates the delineation of the speech, that raises a different kind of difficulty: Does this speech have a purpose of its own other than serving as an introduction to the rest of Moshe's great oration? What does Moshe have in mind when he describes events that for the most part were known to all, including those that took place just recently? Moshe does not express his intention explicitly, and it may only become clear from an analysis of the speech.
 
Several questions must guide us as we approach this speech in order to understand its overall intention:
 
  • Which events did Moshe choose to include in this historical review, and which important events did he not mention at all?
  • Of the events that he did mention, which ones have a parallel in the earlier books of the Torah, and which do we learn about only from this speech?
  • Regarding the events that have a parallel in the earlier books of the Torah, how did Moshe formulate them in his speech? What are the differences and what is their purpose?
  • What is the structure of the oration, and how are the various events arranged in the framework of this structure, both chronologically and in terms of the amount of space given to the description of each event?
 
A complete answer to these questions requires a systematic and orderly study of each section in this speech. Only then can an overall conclusion be drawn in relation to the speech in its entirety. In this study, for the sake of brevity, we will not take this path. Rather, we will try to reach conclusions primarily by considering the structure of the speech, while also touching on the other questions we have presented here.
 
III. The historical and literary distinction between the two parts of the oration
 
An examination of the various events described in Moshe's speech in chapters 1-3 shows that they are divided into two periods that are separated by a large gap in time. In the first part of the speech, from its opening (1:6) to the first verse of chapter 2, Moshe recounts the events relating to the generation of the Exodus from Egypt; this account extends over forty-two verses. The last event described by Moshe in this part of his speech is the punishment imposed upon Israel in the wake of the sin of the spies – the cancellation of this generation's entry into the land and the commandment to turn around and retrace their steps (1:40): "But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way to the Sea of Suf" – and the fulfillment of this command (2:1): "Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way to the Sea of Suf, as the Lord spoke to me; and we compassed Mount Seir many days." These "many days" extended for thirty-eight years, about which Moshe says nothing in his speech.[9]
 
Beginning in 2:2, Moshe begins to describe the events relating to the second generation (which is about to enter the land) in the fortieth year to the Exodus – its path to the land of its inheritance. This description continues until the end of this speech (3:29), across sixty-five verses.
 
This chronological-historical distinction between the two parts of the oration is not explained in the body of Moshe's words; it is based on our knowledge of the times of the various events described in the speech from the book of Bemidbar.[10] Nevertheless, we will immediately see that the division of the speech into two parts – two time periods – is proven from the body of the speech itself.[11]
 
Let us compare the openings of the two parts of the oration:
 
Opening of Part I – the first generation – 1:6-7
Opening of Part II – the second generation – 2:2-3
6. The Lord our God spoke to us in Chorev, saying: You have dwelt long enough in this mountain;
7. turn you, and take your journey, and go to the hill-country of the Amorites…
2. And the Lord spoke to me, saying: 
3. You have compassed this mountain long enough;
turn you northward.
 
 
These are God's two commandments to the two generations to embark on their journey towards entering the land and conquering it. The difference between the two generations lies in their respective situations before receiving their command. The generation of the Exodus had been camping for about a year at Mount Chorev. Therefore, God commands them: "You have dwelt long enough in this mountain." The generation of their children had been wandering for an extended period in the wilderness, with no goal or end, as had been decreed upon their fathers in the wake of the sin of the spies and as is stated at the end of the first part of the speech (2:1): "And we compassed Mount Seir many days." Therefore, God commands them: "You have compassed this mountain long enough."
 
When we compare the endings of the two parts of this oration, we see that the use of the two verbs yod-shin-bet and sin-bet-bet, which we saw distinguish between the two openings, distinguish also between the two endings, but in reverse:
 
Ending of Part I – the first generation – 2:1
Ending of Part II – the second generation – 3:29
And we compassed [va-nasav] Mount Seir.
So we abode [va-neshev] in the valley over against Beit-Pe'or.
 
 
Is there any significance to this chiastic parallelism between the opening and ending of the first part of the speech and the opening and ending of the second part, in terms of their use of verbs derived from the roots yod-shin-bet and samekh-bet-bet and with respect to what these two verbs represent?
 
The root yod-shin-bet denotes rest and stability, and when it characterizes the situation of Israel it describes a positive situation; the root samekh-bet-bet denotes aimless movement, and when it characterizes the situation of Israel it, of course, describes a negative situation. The answer to our question, then, is that the chiastic reversal in the description of the two generations, in terms of the point of departure and the end point of the course taken by each of them, creates an opposition of great significance between them. The generation of the Exodus reached its great achievements when it dwelt at Mount Chorev. There it received the Torah and there it made a covenant with God; there it built a Mishkan for God that would accompany it later on its journey, and there it made the preparations for the journey to the land that had been promised to it. But owing to the great sin shortly before entering the land, that generation ended its story with "and we compassed Mount Seir many days" – with aimless wanderings in the wilderness, with unstable life that is not described at all in the Torah.
 
The experiences of the second generation was the opposite of those of their fathers. They began with the lengthy compassing that had been imposed upon their fathers, in which the sons were forced to take part. However, they ended with extended dwelling "in the valley over against Beit Pe'or" – the starting point for entry into the land. In that place, the generation of the children made a new covenant with God – the covenant at Arvot Moav – and in that place they heard the repetition of the Torah by the mouth of Moshe and made the necessary preparations for entering the land. It turns out that Arvot Moav for the second generation was like Mount Chorev for the first generation.
 
The entire speech that opens our book is built on this reversal between the two generations, as we shall see below.
 
IV. The first part of the oration
 
The composition and theme of the first part
 
In the first part of the oration, we can identify the following sections:
 
  1. 1:1-6: God's command to turn from Mount Chorev toward the land of the Canaan and take possession of it.
  2. 9-18: The appointment of judges.
  3. 19-21: Journeying in the wilderness until Kadesh Barne'a and the command to take possession of the land.
  4. 22-40: The incident involving the spies and the punishment imposed upon the people.
  5. 41-2:1: The failure of the people who went up to the hill-country, and the turning back to the wilderness.
 
It is easy to define the theme of this part of Moshe's oration, since four of the five sections listed here revolve around this theme: How the generation that came out of Egypt disrupted the Divine plan to bring them into the land by refusing to keep God's command to go up and take possession of it.
 
Until v. 21, a description is given of God's will and his command to Israel regarding their entry into the land, and from v. 22 until the end of this part of the oration – the verses that comprise the main portion of this part – an account is given of the sin committed by and the punishment imposed upon Israel, who with their actions irreparably disrupted the Divine plan for that generation.
 
Only one section, ten verses long, does not, at first glance, fit into this theme – the description of the appointment of judges (9-18). This section divides between God's command to turn toward the land of Canaan and take possession of it (section 1), and the description of the fulfillment of that command by way of journeying to its southern border and the delivery of God's command to take possession of the land from Moshe to the people (section 3). In terms of the context in which this section is placed, it should be connected to the preparations on the part of God or on the part of Moshe for Israel's entry into the land,[12] but how is it connected?
 
The Abravanel noted that the appointment of judges described in Moshe's oration had two purposes:
 
And because the appointment of judges… relates (1) to the settlement of the land, the districts and the cities, (2) and it also relates to war, he [Moshe] said that taking possession of the land appeared so close to actualization that he immediately endeavored to appoint over them officers and judges, who would go out and come in before them [in war] and judge the people in their cities [in the land of Israel]. All this was because he thought that possession and conquest of the land would quickly be in their hands.
 
The strong proof for the military aspect of the appointment of judges is their enormous number. The baraita in Sanhedrin 18a relates to their total number: "It turns out that the judges of Israel numbered 78,600!” The Abravanel remarks about this (in the sixth question that he prefaced to Parashat Devarim):
 
For the matter of justice, captains of thousands would have sufficed. What need is there for captains of hundreds, and all the more so captains of tens… If until then Moshe by himself sufficed for all of Israel for the matter of justice, how afterwards did they not content themselves with ten or twenty leaders, that he selected so many leaders?… This is very strange.
 
Such a vast apparatus of captains of thousands, captains of hundreds, captains of fifties, and captains of tens, in addition to the officers (v. 15), attests to a hierarchical military structure in which the military officers served also as judges for the people subject to their command.[13]
 
Moshe's intention in describing the appointment of the judges was therefore to create a contrast between his efforts and the seriousness of the preparations that he made for entering the land and the people's rejection of God's command and of Moshe's preparations. This contrast may find linguistic expression in Moshe's oration:
 
Moshe's initiative in anticipation of entry into the land
The people's initiative in rejecting entry into the land
9. And I spoke to you at that time, saying…
14. And you answered me, and said: The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do.
22. And you came near to me every one of you, and said:
23. And the thing was good in my eyes…
 
 
The events mentioned in the first part of the speech that have no parallel in the book of Bemidbar
 
Does everything in this part of the oration have parallels in the earlier books of the Torah? Certainly not. We will mention here several matters that have no parallel in what preceded our book:
 
Section 1: God's command to turn from Mount Chorev to the land of Canaan and take possession of the land is not written in the book of Bemidbar![14] In Parashat Beha'alotekha (Bemidbar 10) a description is given of the journey from Mount Chorev "to the place which the Lord said: I will give it to you" (Moshe's words to Chovev in v. 29), but a command like we find in Devarim 1:6-8 is not found there.[15]
 
Nor does section 3 have a parallel in the book of Bemidbar in the appropriate place at the beginning of Parashat Shelach (Bemidbar 12),[16] and its absence is due to the lack of a parallel to section 1: Since in the book of Bemidbar there is no mention of God's command found in our book, "Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the hill-country of the Amorites," there is also no record of the fulfillment of that command as it is found in section 3: "And we journeyed from Chorev, and went through… by the way to the hill-country of the Amorites,[17] as the Lord commanded us." Since there is no mention in the book of Bemidbar of God's command, "Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land," there is also no mention of the delivery of this command to Israel as we find in section 3: "Behold, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you." 
 
In section 5 as well we encounter words of God that have no clear parallel in the book of Bemidbar. To those members of Israel who wished to go up to the hill-country after their punishment had already been imposed, God responds:
 
1:42: And the Lord said to me: “Say to them: Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest you be smitten before your enemies.”
 
In the parallel place, in the description of the sin of the ma'apilim in Bemidbar 14, it is stated:
 
14:41: And Moshe said: “Why now do you transgress the commandment of the Lord, seeing it shall not prosper?
42: Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that you be not smitten down before your enemies.”
 
While it is possible that in his words in the book of Bemidbar, "You transgress the commandment of the Lord," he is referring to the word of God that he cites in his oration,[18] there is no citation there of this word of God.
 
What is the common denominator of all these things that we learn from Moshe's oration, but are not stated explicitly in the book of Bemidbar? The common denominator is that in all of them, there appears the explicit word of God that directs and guides Israel.
 
Both the sin of the spies and the sin of the ma'apilim who tried to go up on their own to the land of Israel appear in Moshe's oration as a blatant act of rebellion against the explicit word of God that preceded these sins. The intention of Moshe in his oration to present these two sins as a rebellion against the explicit word of God is clearly expressed in his words:
 
The sin of the spies: 1:26: Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God.
 
The sin of the ma'apilim: 43: But you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and were presumptuous, and went up to the hill-country.
 
It should be noted that the first rebellion involved unwillingness to go up to the hill-country of the Amorites, while the second rebellion involved going up to it with presumptuousness.
 
It turns out that the historical framework serves in this part of Moshe's oration to describe the attitude of the generation that went out of Egypt toward the land of their destination. This is a generation that rebels against the commandment of God through its attitude toward the land. They do not go up to it when God explicitly commands them to do so, and they presumptuously go up to it when God explicitly commands them not to do so.
 
V. The second part of the oration
 
The composition and the theme of the second part
 
            In the second part of the oration, we can identify the following sections:
 
  1. 2:2-81: God's command to turn north and pass through the border of the children of Esav, the prohibition to contend with them, and the fulfillment of these commands.
  2. 82-16: Passing by way of the wilderness of Moav and God's commandment prohibiting contending with Moav in battle; a description of the passing of the Zered brook.
  3. 17-23: God's commandment prohibiting contending with the children of Amon.
  4. 24-37: God's commandment to fight against Sichon and take possession of his land, and its fulfillment.
  5. 3:1-11: God's commandment not to fear Og king of Basha, but rather to take possession of his land, and its fulfillment.
  6. 12-22: Giving the conquered land to the two and a half tribes and the command that they should pass over armed before the rest of Israel; encouraging Yehoshua.
  7. 23-29: Moshe's prayer to enter the land and its rejection.
 
The theme of this part of Moshe's oration is also evident: the path taken by the present generation to the land of its inheritance and the beginning of its successful conquest of the land. Even the last section (7) is part of this theme by way of contrast: In the verses before this section, Moshe describes the words of encouragement that he said to Yehoshua: "And I commanded Yehoshua at that time, saying: Your eyes have seen all the Lord your God has done to these two kings; so shall the Lord do to all the kingdoms to where you go" (3:21). The success of the present generation in its wars on the east bank of the Jordan is an advance on the main event, before the war of conquest of the land of Canaan that stands before this generation. However, this advance only applies to the members of this generation and to Yehoshua, who will become their leader, while Moshe, who thought that his part in the success of the current generation would grant him the privilege of completing what he had started, will not merit this.
 
The events in the second part of the oration that have no parallel in the book of Bemidbar
 
We now come to the clarification we made in the previous section in relation to the first part of Moshe's oration: What in the second part of the oration repeats that which we were already told in the book of Bemidbar, and what is new here?
 
The events that took place in the fortieth year and are described in this part of the oration parallel what is told in Parashat Chukat in the book of Bemidbar, but in Moshe's oration, the description is broader and contains many new details that relate both to the journey on the east bank of the Jordan (sections 1-3) and to the wars fought against Sichon and Og (sections 4-5).
 
The report of Israel's passing through the wilderness of Moav and near the children of Amon (sections 2-3) has no parallel in Parashat Chukat.[19] Even with regard to the description of their passing through the borders of the children of Esav, which has a parallel in the book of Bemidbar, there seems to be no similarity between the story in Bemidbar 20:14-21 and the words of Moshe in his oration. It turns out that the two sources relate to different stages in the journey. The book of Bemidbar describes the negotiations that Moshe conducted with the king of Edom when Israel was still in Kadesh about direct passage through the land of Edom from Kadesh, which is to its west, to the area north of the land of Edom. Israel was denied this direct passage owing to the obstinacy of the king of Edom, and they were forced to go around the land of Edom from the south (from Etzyon-Gever) and from the east – by "the way of the wilderness of Moav." The Divine command that is described in Moshe's speech was given to Israel at Etzyon-Gever, after they had compassed Mount Edom many days, and before they began to turn north and advance along the eastern border of the children of Esav.[20]
 
What characterizes the description of Israel's journey on the east bank of the Jordan in Moshe's oration? Without a doubt, the explicit commands of God that preceded each stage of this journey. The first command mentioned here is that which was discussed in section II3 above (2:3): "You have compassed this mountain long enough; turn you northward," which parallels the command given to the previous generation at Mount Chorev (1:7): "Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the hill-country of the Amorites."
 
From here onward we find a series of commands issued by God that limit Israel with respect to the manner in which they may relate to the three nations through whose borders they will pass: Edom, Moav, and Amon:
 
2:4-5: You are to pass through the border of your brothers the children of Esav… Contend not with them;
for I will not give you of their land… because I have given Mount Seir to Esav for a possession.
9: Be not at enmity with Moav, neither contend with them in battle;
for I will not give you of his land for a possession; because I have given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession.
18-19: You are this day to pass over the border of Moav, even Ar; and when you come near over against the children of Amon, harass them not, nor contend with them;
for I will not give you of the land of the children of Amon for a possession; because I have given it to the children of Lot for a possession.
 
The nature of the part of the oration under discussion in this section changes beginning in v. 24 – from the fourth section: Instead of the restraint and limitation that characterize Israel's journey until they cross the Arnon stream, the continuation of their journey to Arvot Moav – to the point of entrance into the land of Israel – turns into a series of wars and conquests in two lands of the Amorites on the east bank of the Jordan, the kingdoms of Sichon and Og.
 
The description of these wars and victories in Moshe's oration repeats with several expansions what was related in Bemidbar 21:21-35.[21] Which important details not reported in the book of Bemidbar appear for the first time in Moshe's speech?
 
The most striking element introduced in Moshe's oration in his account of the war against Sichon is once again God's commands that accompany Israel in this war. Together with the command to cross the Arnon stream, Israel is told:
 
… Behold, I have given into your hand Sichon the Amorite, king of Cheshbon, and his land; begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.
 
And after Sichon's refusal to allow Israel to cross his country, another command is issued:
 
And the Lord said to me: Behold, I have begun to deliver up Sichon and his land before you; begin to possess his land.
 
In the story of the war against Sichon in the book of Bemidbar, there is no hint to these commandments.[22]
 
How did Israel respond to all of these Divine commandments that are revealed to us in the second part of Moshe's oration? Did they fully comply with them? The answer to this is an absolute yes; sometimes it is explicit in the text and sometimes it is implied from it.
 
Regarding the command not to contend with the children of Esav (2:4-6), it is stated:
 
2:8: So we passed by from our brothers the children of Esav, that dwell in Seir…
 
That is to say, we did not invade their land, but passed at a distance from them. The route of Israel's journey took them on "the way of the wilderness of Moav," which goes north through the wilderness east of the land of Edom, and there Israel bought food and water from the Edomites, as they were commanded in v. 6: "You shall purchase food of them for money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water of them for money, that you may drink." We learn about the fulfillment of this command from the offer of peace that was sent to Sichon (28-29): "You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink… as the children of Esav that dwell in Seir… did to me."
 
The fulfillment of the command not to contend with Moav in battle (in v. 9) is not described in Scripture, but it is implied by the fact that Israel continued northward along the way of the wilderness of Moav, to the east of the land of Moav, and crossed the Arnon stream (the northern border of Moav at the time) without any fighting.[23] In the continuation of their words to Sichon, the beginning of which was cited above, they say to him: "As the children of Esav that dwell in Seir, and the Moavites that dwell in Ar, did to me," which implies that as they acted toward the Edomites, so they acted toward the Moavites: They purchased from them food and water at their full price.
 
            The fulfillment of the command not to contend with the children of Amon is described between the account of the war against Sichon and the account of the war against Og the king of Bashan:[24]
 
2:37: Only to the land of the children of Amon you came not near;
all the side of the river Yabok, and the cities of the hill-country, and wherever the Lord our God forbade us.
 
And how did Israel react to God's opposite commandments – the commandments to fight against Sichon and Og? They did, of course, keep these commandments, and God delivered them into their hands:
 
2:33-36: And the Lord our God delivered him up before us;
and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.
And we took all his cities at that time…
there was not a city too high for us:
the Lord our God delivered up all before us.
 
Even the command to fight Og without fear was fulfilled by Israel:
 
3:3-4: So the Lord our God delivered into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people;
and we smote him until none was left to him remaining.
And we took all his cities at that time;
there was not a city which we took not from them…[25]
 
We can summarize and say that in the second part of this oration Moshe uses the various events that have just taken place, in the fortieth year of Israel's exodus from Egypt, to describe the character of the present generation about to enter the land in relation to the land of their destiny. The character of this generation is the complete opposite of that of its predecessor, as becomes evident through the similar test that each one faced – the test of their attitude toward the land. The present generation strictly and faithfully fulfills the commandments of God in relation to the land. They refrain from fighting the inhabitants of the land, when God forbids that,[26] and they fight heroically and without hesitation against the other inhabitants of the land when God commands them to do so.
 
VI. The structure and purpose of the entire oration
 
We can now understand the relationship between the two parts of the speech that opens the book of Devarim, and with it the theme of the whole speech and Moshe's purpose in delivering it.
 
In section II3 we showed that the frameworks of the two parts of the speech stand in contrasting parallelism, and we explained the meaning of this opposition between the two frameworks: This is the contrast between the generation of the Exodus and the generation of their children, the contrast upon which the speech is built.
 
Indeed, an examination of the content of the two parts of the speech showed us that the selection of the events described in each part, the addition of new details we did not know from the book of Bemidbar and the things that Moshe emphasizes in each part of his speech, were intended to characterize these two generations based on the contrast between them.
 
The test for the characterization of these two generations is their attitude toward the land – whether it accords with God's commandments or not. The generation of those who left Egypt failed with respect to their attitude toward the land; they rebelled against God with respect to everything that God commanded them. The current generation, in contrast, acted in accordance with God's command in everything related to the land and even succeeded in their actions.
 
The deeds of these two generations, rebellion against the word of God or compliance with it, determined their respective fates. The first generation was punished for their rebellion and did not merit entering into the land, but rather died out in the wilderness after aimless wandering through it. The second generation, in contrast, not only merited defeating two nations and taking possession of their lands and reaching the gates of the land of Canaan, but were also promised, because of their consistent obedience to the word of God concerning the land, that they would continue to succeed and defeat the kings of Canaan and merit taking possessing of the land that they were destined to receive.
 
This optimistic lesson in relation to the current generation is well-formulated in the words of Moshe to Yehoshua towards the end of this speech:
 
3:21: And I commanded Yehoshua at that time, saying: Your eyes have seen all that the Lord your God has done to these two kings;
so shall the Lord do to all the kingdoms to where you go over.
You shall not fear them; for the Lord your God, He it is that fights.
 
Several commentators understand that Moshe's purpose in this oration was to rebuke Israel for their sins, and that the speech in general is a speech of rebuke.[27] This is not reasonable, for the sins that Moshe explicitly mentions are the sins that were committed by the generation that came out of Egypt and perished in the wilderness. There is no point in rebuking the children for the sins of their fathers, when the deeds of the children are not at all similar to the deeds of their fathers, but rather the opposite. An examination of the content of the speech, in both of its parts, and an examination of its structure lead us to the opposite conclusion: This is a speech of encouragement given to the generation that is about to enter the land! The first part of the speech is meant only to serve as a dark background to the bright second part of the speech. The preoccupation with the sins of the fathers does not constitute a rebuke of the children, but rather serves as a preparation for the speech of praise for the children, who chose a path so different and opposite from that of their fathers. That which the psalmist of Tehilim 78 hoped for was already fulfilled by the generation that was about to enter the land:
 
78:6: That the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born; who should arise and tell them to their children,
7: That they might put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments;
8: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation;
a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.
 
So too, a quantitative analysis of the two parts of the speech reveals that the second part, which is dedicated to the current generation, is significantly longer than the first part, which is dedicated to the generation of those who left Egypt. This is the case even though the events mentioned in the second part took place just recently, and so there is no apparent reason to repeat them. This analysis also shows that the second part of the speech is the main part.[28]
 
Before finishing this study, we wish to examine whether there a clear literary parallel between the two parts of the oration (apart from the overall contrast between them, which we discussed above, and apart from the contrasting parallelism between the two parts of the oration, which we discussed in section III).[29]
 
In the first part of the speech, two commandments of God are cited, against both of which the generation of the Exodus rebelled:
 
1) The command to go up and take possession of the land (which comes from God in section 1 and is repeated by Moshe in section 3) and the rebellion against it through the actions of the spies (as is described in section 4, and in a concise manner in v. 26: "Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God").
 
2) The command not to go up to the land and not to fight that was given because of their previous sin and because of the punishment that was imposed upon them (section 5, v. 42), and the rebellion against it through the actions of the ma'apilim (in that same section in v. 43: "So I spoke to you, and you hearkened not; but you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill-country").
 
Quantitatively there is no resemblance between these two descriptions in the first part of the speech: Three sections containing 25 verses are devoted to the first command and the rebellion against it, whereas only one section containing 5 verses is devoted to the second commandment and the rebellion against it. This great gap is understandable: The main sin of the generation of the Exodus was its unwillingness to go up and fight; this was its great test, in which it failed. It was only out of this failure that their second (and surprising) failure developed, going up and fighting, once again against the command of God.[30]
 
In the second part of the oration, many of God's commands are quoted, which, as stated at the end of the previous section, were all fulfilled by the members of the current generation. These commands can be divided into two different time periods and into two types of commands:
 
1) The commands to avoid fighting Edom, Moav, and the children of Amon, and their fulfillment over the course of Israel's journey through the east bank of the Jordan on the borders of these peoples (sections 1-3).
 
 2) The commands to fight against Sichon and Og and their fulfillment (sections 4-5).
 
Between these two accounts there is near quantitative equality: Three sections containing 22 verses are devoted to the first commandments, whereas two sections containing 25 verses are devoted to the second commandments.[31] The relative importance of the first set of commandments and their fulfillment in this part of the speech is understandable: The current generation which grew up as a free people in the wilderness, and whose yearnings to finally enter the land and settle in it were great, is not afraid to fight. On the contrary, it is happy to go out to battle and is confident in its ability to defeat its enemies.[32] Its great test is obeying God's command through the exercise of self-restraint, and not provoking war with weaker nations who refuse to allow them to pass through their borders. So too its readiness to fight at God's command is worthy of praise and an extended account, for in so doing it repairs the failure of the fathers.[33]
 
The contrasting chiastic parallelism between the two parts of the oration now stands out:
 
Part I
God's command to go up and take possession of the land (sections 1-3)
and the rebellion against it in the sin of the spies (section 4)
 
God's command not to go up and fight
and the rebellion against it in the sin of the ma'apilim (section 5)
 
Part II
God's command not to fight Edom, Moav and the children of Amon
and its fulfillment (sections 1-3)
 
God's command to fight and to take possession of the lands of Sichon and Og
and its fulfillment (sections 4-6)
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

* This study is taken from the study of our parasha printed in the second series of our studies; in the framework of the VBM, it is being published here for the first time.
[1] Although the date of Moshe's death is not explicit in Scripture, the gemara (Kiddushin 38a) calculates the date based on the verses in the book of Yehoshua as the seventh of Adar.
[2] Mention should be made here of the doctoral dissertation of the late Dr. Israel Broida, "Ha-Ne'um Be-Sefer Devarim Signono Ve-Emtza'av Ha-Retoriyim" (Tel Aviv University, 1973). In this work, the author notes the unique stylistic elements of the book of Devarim that stem from its rhetorical nature as a speech, and on occasion makes use of these stylistic observations to delineate the speech units in the book.
[3]  Chapters 5-26 constitute the second and principal division of orations in the book of Devarim, after which the Torah goes back to describing Moshe in the third person (27:1-2): "And Moshe and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying: Keep all the commandments… And it shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Jordan to the land… that you shall set you up great stones…"
[4] As stated in 2:14: "And the days in which we came from Kadesh-Barnea until we were come over the brook Zered were thirty and eight years; until all the generation, even the men of war, were consumed from the midst of the camp, as the Lord swore to them."
[5]  In order to clarify the difference between a historical review and an exhortation, it is enough to compare the description of two events in the two places: (1:20-26) "And I said to you: You are come to the hill-country of the Amorites… And you came near to me every one of you, and said… And the thing pleased me well; and I took… and they turned and went up… and they brought us back word… Yet you would not go up"; (4:9-15): "Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget… but make them known to your children… the day that you stood before the Lord your God in Chorev, when the Lord said to me… And you came near and stood under the mountain… Take you therefore good heed to yourselves, for you saw no manner of form on the day that the Lord spoke to you in Chorev."
[6] We dealt with the speech in chapter 4 in our study of Parashat Va'etchanan, second series.
[7]  For example, in chapter 9 the claim is sounded against Israel: "… for you are a stiff-necked people. Remember, forget you not, how you did make the Lord your God wroth in the wilderness; from the day that you did go forth out of the land of Egypt, until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord" (vv. 6-7). In order to confirm this claim, the sin of the golden calf is described at relative length (vv. 8-2), and mention is made also of the sins at Tav'era, at Masa, and at Kivrot ha-Ta'ava (22), and then the sin of the spies is mentioned once again (23).
[8]  For example, chapter 8 describes the various miracles that God performed for Israel while they were in the wilderness (vv. 2-4), so that this account should precede the demand that follows (vv. 6-20) – that when the people come to the good land, their hearts should not be lifted up by the wealth and they should not forget God.
[9]   This is not unique to Moshe's oration. The book of Bemidbar similarly does not describe what happened to this generation after the sin of the spies and the rebellion of Korach, which took place apparently shortly after the sin of the spies. Regarding this point, see our study of Parashat Chukat, first series, pp. 215-216, and n. 3 there.
[10]  See the study referred to in the previous note, in its entirety.
[11]  Despite the division of the speech into two clear parts that parallel each other (as will be explained below), it is clear that these are not two equal halves of the literary unit, since the second part is much longer than the first. The gap in size between the two parts of the speech is somewhat diminished if we consider the fact that in the second part of the speech there are several parenthetical historical observations, which presumably were not sounded when the speech was given, but were added by Moshe Rabbeinu when it was committed to writing (the verses are: 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:9, 11, 132-14, for a total of about 11 verses), as argued by R. D. Tz. Hoffman in his commentary to the book of Devarim, p. 19. But even if we subtract these verses from the second part of the oration, the gap in size between the two parts remains large. It seems that the division into two equal halves that characterizes Biblical prose and poetry (and even certain halakhic passages) does not necessarily apply to the literary units that make up the book of Devarim, in the isolated speech. The matter requires further examination (see also note 28 below).
[12] It is therefore difficult to accept the Seforno's interpretation of verse 12: "He related this to remind them of their sin, for even though he informed them that they would enter the land without any fighting… this did not prevent quarrels arising between the people… to the point that every ten people required their own judge, and this was only because of the evil in their hearts." This explanation does not fit the location of the description of the event in this part of the oration.
[13] a. One of the proofs that the Abravanel brings for the military significance of the appointment of the judges (in the seventh question that precedes our parasha) is from the story of the war against Midyan (Bemidbar 31:14): "And Moshe was angry with the officers of the host, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who came from the service of the war" – are these not the same captains of thousands and captains of hundreds who were appointed as judges and whose appointment is described by Moshe in our parasha?
b. Based on this meaning of the description of the appointment of judges in Moshe's speech, the Abravanel explains the reason for the lack of mention of Yitro in Moshe's words and the attribution of the time of the appointment to the time when Israel set out from Mount Chorev;  see his remarks at the end of his explanation of the appointment of the judges, beginning with the words, "ve-hineh nish'ar le-va'er eikh lo yiches" (in Shotland ed., Chorev Press, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 30-31. See also there editor's note, no. 10).
[14] The closest thing to the commandment of God quoted in the words of Moshe is what is stated in Shemot 33:1-3 following the sin of the golden calf, but that command was given before the atonement for the sin of the calf and the renewal of the covenant (Shemot 34) and before the building and dedication of the Mishkan. These events brought Israel to remain in Chorev for many months (about eight), and they caused a delay in the fulfillment of God's commandment at the beginning of chapter 33 and a great change in its nature ("for I will not go up in the midst of you" – v. 3). In contrast, the command cited by Moshe in his speech relates to the end of Israel's extended stay at Mount Chorev (more than a year), and therefore it opens with: "You have dwelt long enough in this mountain."
[15] This is not the case in the Samaritan Bible, where the following addition appears in the book of Bemidbar, chapter 10, after the mitzva of the trumpets: "And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn you and take your journey," and from here, word for word, as in Devarim 1:6-8. See also the next note.
[16] This is not the case in the Samaritan Bible, where the following addition appears in the book of Bemidbar before the story of the spies (beginning in chapter 13): "And Moshe said to the children of Israel: You are come to the hill-country of the Amorites," and from here, word for word, as in Devarim 1:20-21. See the previous note. (Similarly, the continuation of what is stated in Devarim is reported there in the third person: "And they came near to Moshe, and said… Let us send men before us… And the thing was pleasing to Moshe" – as in vv. 22-23 in Devarim.) Needless to say, an artificial correspondence was made here between the two books.
[17] That is to say, the road that leads to the hill-country of the Amorites.
[18] We discuss this question in our study of Parashat Shelach, second series: Ha-Ma'apilim, section II2. The opinion of the Ramban is as we wrote above, but in the opinion of the Bekhor Shor and the Chizkuni, Moshe's words, "You transgress the commandment of the Lord," refers to what God had previously decreed against Israel in the wake of the sin of the spies.
[19] a. See Bemidbar 21:11-13, and 24.
b. However, in the words of Yiftach to the king of Amon (Shofetim 11:16-18), there is a parallel to the report about Israel's passing through the wilderness to the east of Moav and their refraining from harming Moav.
[20] What Moshe means to say in v. 8: "So we passed by from our brothers the children of Esav, that dwell in Seir, from the way of the Arava, from Eilat and from Etzyon-Gever," is that we did not cross through the center of the land of Edom, but rather circled it at a distance "from our brothers the children of Esav," and we were at the end of the way of the wilderness, in the area of Eilat and Etzyon-Gever (which is the southern border of the land of Edom), we turned from it ("from the way of the Arava") northward (as we were commanded there, "turn you northward"), "and we turned, and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moav" – by the way that passes east of Edom, at the edge of the wilderness, and goes up to "the wilderness of Moav."
[21] The account of the request to pass through the land of Sichon is broader and more detailed in Moshe's speech than in the book of Bemidbar. So too the description of the conquest of Sichon's land contains several details that do not appear in the book of Bemidbar: the destruction of the inhabitants of the conquered cities and the taking of the cattle as spoil.
On the other hand, the description of the conquest of Ya’azer (Bemidbar 21:32), which was apparently a separate kingdom between the kingdoms of Sichon and Og, is missing in the speech in the book of Devarim.
[22] This is not the case with regard to the war against Og. Here, God's command appears both in the book of Bemidbar (21:34) and in Moshe's speech in the book of Devarim (3:2), where it is repeated word for word.
[23] This point, that the people of Israel refrained from any provocation of Moav and therefore refrained from entering his land and bypassed it from the east, is explicit in the words of Yiftach (see note 19b).
[24]  The reason for this that it was only the conquest of the kingdom of Sichon that brought Israel in close proximity to the border of the children of Amon, but when they passed by "the way of the wilderness of Moav" until they crossed the Arnon stream, they did not come into real contact with the border of the children of Amon, for the kingdom of Sichon stood between the place where the people of Israel arrived after crossing the Arnon and the kingdom of the children of Amon. This distance is alluded to in God's command regarding Amon (2:19): "And when you come near over against the children of Amon, harass them not…"
[25]  The fulfillment of the command to fight Og is greater than the fulfillment of the command to fight Sichon for two reasons. First, the war against Sichon was necessary so that Israel could reach the Jordan and the land of Canaan. Since Sichon barred them from passing through his country in peace, and went to war against them, Israel was forced to fight against him and conquer his land. But the war against Og was not necessary, and even had Israel avoided it, their entry into the land of Canaan would have been possible.
Second, from Moshe' speech it becomes clear (3:11) that "only Og king of Bashan remained of the Refa'im" (and in 2:11 it is stated: "these also are accounted Refa'im, as the Anakim"), behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabba of the children of Amon? Nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." And so too the cities of Og (3:5): "All these were fortified cities, with high walls, gates, and bars." For these reasons, the war against Og frightened Moshe, and therefore God commands him what He did not command with regard to Sichon: "Fear him not" (Bemidbar 21:34; Devarim 3:2).
The two reasons for fearing Og – his being a remnant of the Refa'im and the fortified cities in his land – are the reasons that were sounded by the spies when they came to deter the people from entering the land (Bemidbar 13:28): "However the people that dwell in the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and moreover we saw the children of Anak there." It turns out that it was particularly through the fulfillment of God's command to fight against Og that the current generation demonstrated that they were not like the generation of their fathers who participated in the sin of the spies.
[26] It should be clarified that the ban on provoking the three nations that are close to Israel is in fact connected to Israel's attitude toward the land. The east bank of the Jordan in general is also fit for Israel and their settlement there, as indeed happened in the kingdoms of Sichon and Og, "from the Arnon stream to Mount Chermon" (3:8). The lands of Edom, Moav, and Amon are included in the east bank of the Jordan, and they were forbidden to Israel only because they were given to those nations in accordance with God's will, that the descendants of Esav and Lot should also receive their inheritance in close proximity to the land of Canaan and near Israel. This is stated explicitly in God's three commandments regarding these nations (Edom: 2:5, 12; Moav: 2:9; Amon: 2:19-22).
[27] So it would appear from the remarks of Rashi at the beginning of the book, though it is not clear whether the words, "because they are words of rebuke," refer to the oration with which the book opens, or also to the rest of the book.
This is what the Ramban says regarding Moshe's prayer at the beginning of Parashat Va'etchanan (which concludes the second part of the oration!): "He mentions this in order to tell them that the land was exceedingly dear to him, and he did not merit [entering] it because of them; all this belongs to his rebukes" (end of his commentary to v. 23). See also his remarks at the beginning of chapter 4: "He completed the rebukes…" The Ramban says this in particular in his introduction to the book of Devarim: "Before he starts to explain the Torah (5:1 and on), he begins to rebuke them and to remind them of their sins, how they rebelled against Him in the wilderness… And further, that they should be rebuked by his words so that they not return to their perversion, lest they be consumed in all their sin…"
See also the words of Rashi, Rashbam, and Chizkuni to the verse that concludes this speech of Moshe (3:29): "So we abode in the valley over against Beit-Pe'or."
[28] See our remarks in note 11, which we concluded with the words: "The matter requires further examination." It is possible that there is a special reason for the striking inequality in the length of the two parts of the oration.
[29] Our remarks from here on are based on what was stated already in sections IV-V, and therefore there will be repetitions of things that were stated there.
[30]  For the sin of the ma'apilim and the ambivalent attitude toward it, both in the Torah itself and in the words of the commentators, see our study of Parashat Shelach, second series.
[31] Perhaps we should have added section VI (giving the east bank of the Jordan as an inheritance to the two and a half tribes, and Moshe's words to these tribes and to Yehoshua) to sections IV-V, and then of course the ratio between the two components of the second part changes. The description in sections IV-V is the opposite of that of section IV in the first part of the speech – the war against Sichon and Og is a "repair" of the sin of the spies of the generation of the Exodus by the current generation (see note 25). It is possible, therefore, that the description of the settlement of the territories conquered in these wars – section VI – is a "repair" of the decree that was issued against the generation that sinned with the sin of the spies: "Surely there shall not one of these men… see the good land" (1:35).
[32] See what we wrote about this generation in our study for Parashat Chukat, first series, in the last part, pp. 224-229.
[33] See what we wrote in note 25 about the connection between the war against Og and the words of the spies, and about the repair of the sin of the spies through the willingness of the current generation to fight against Og and defeat him.