"אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל"
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel.” (1:1)

QUESTION: What is the Torah emphasizing by beginning the Book of Devarim with the word “Eileh” — “these are”?

ANSWER: Moshe started delivering his legacy speech to Klal Yisrael on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, and he passed away thirty-six days later on the seventh day of Adar. The word “eileh” (אלה) has the numerical value of thirty-six, and the Torah is alluding to the fact that for thirty-six days he spoke words of admonishment to Klal Yisrael.

(אור החיים)

* * *

QUESTION: Why did Moshe admonish them for thirty-six days?

ANSWER: In the Midrash Rabbah (Lamentations 1:1) Rabbi Levi says, “The Jewish people did not go into exile until they had renounced the thirty-six ordinances in the Torah, for which the penalty iskareit — excision.” (The word eichah (איכה) — “how” — which is the opening word of the book of Lamentations, has the numerical value of thirty-six.)

According to the Zohar, the three hundred and sixty-five negative commandments in the Torah correspond to the three hundred and sixty-five days of the solar calendar, and by transgressing a negative commandment, one adversely affects the day corresponding to that negative commandment. (See Zohar, Bereishit 170b, Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah.)

Moshe knew through Divine inspiration that the Jews would ultimately be exiled for violating thirty-six negative commandments (Sanhedrin 104a), which would affect thirty-six days of the year. Therefore he admonished them for thirty-six days as a corrective.

(בית יעקב - ברכות טוב)

* * *

It is interesting to note that Parshat Devarim is always read on the Shabbat preceding Tishah B’Av, the day when the book of Eichah — Lamentations — is read.

"וחצרת ודי זהב"
“And Chazeirot and Di-zahab.” (1:1)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that “Chazeirot” refers to Korach’s rebellion, which took place near Chazeirot. “Di-zahav,” which literally means “abundance of gold,” is a reference to the golden calf, which the Jews made from the gold with which Hashem blessed them when they left Egypt.

Since the sin of the golden calf took place before Korach’s rebellion, the order in the pasuk should have been reversed?

ANSWER: When Hashem became angry at the Jews for making the golden calf, Moshe pleaded on their behalf, “Why are You upset with Your beloved children when they actually did not violate any of Your precepts? In the commandments You gave on Sinai, You spoke in the singular. Thus, in the prohibition against making idols and idol worship, You said “Lo yiheyeh lecha” — “There shall not be to you [singular].” If you intended this to apply to the entire population, You should have said “lo yiheyeh lachem” — “There shall not be to you [plural]” (see Shemot 20:2, Rashi).

When Korach and his cohort fought with Moshe and Aharon, they argued, “The entire assembly is holy and Hashem is among them. Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem?” They meant, “You are no holier than anyone else since at Mount Sinai Hashem spoke to everyone and not only to you” (see Bamidbar 17:3, Rashi).

Consequently, as long as the Korach rebellion had not yet occurred, Moshe’s argument in defense of the Jews stood firm, and he had no grounds to rebuke them. However, when Korach proclaimed that “Everyone is holy because everyone heard Hashem’s voice at Sinai,” he refuted Moshe’s defense. Hence, the sin of Jewish people became apparent and it was necessary for Moshe to rebuke them for making the golden calf.

(שם משמואל)

"בין פארן ובין תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב"
“Between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Chazeirot, and Di-Zahav.” (1:1)

QUESTION: The expression “bein” — “between” — is superfluous. It should have just said “v’paran v’tofel” — “and Paran and Tofel” — as in the phrase “vachatzeirot vedizahav” — “Chatzeirot and DiZahav”?

ANSWER: Superficially, it is puzzling that Moshe admonished the Jews for speaking against the manna, the incident of the spies, and making the golden calf — without mentioning mei merivah — the waters of strife — where they contended with Hashem and vehemently complained, “Why have you brought the congregation of Hashem to this wilderness...and why did you have us ascend from Egypt to this evil place...and there is no water to drink” (Bamidbar 20:4-5).

Rashi explains that “Paran” is a reference to the spies, who were sent after they journeyed from Chazeirot and encamped in Paran (Bamidbar 12:16). “Tophel” is a reference to the words “shetaflu” — they slandered — the manna which is Lavan — white — and they said, “our soul is disgusted with the insubstantial food” (ibid. 21:5).

The Jews’ complaint about the lack of water and the smiting of the rock took place before their murmurings against the manna (ibid. 20:2-14). Consequently, it happened after the sending of the spies (Paran) and before the complaint about the manna (Tophel). Hence, with the extra word “bein” — “between” — Moshe was actually alluding to the iniquity of complaining about lack of water which was committed between (the iniquities of) Paran and Tophel.

The reason Moshe did not rebuke them openly about the “mei merivah” — “waters of strife” — was that he feared that they were likely to bring up his sin of smiting the rock, and he would be faced with a situation where instead of rebuking them, they would retort “take the beam from between your eyes” (see Bava Batra 15b). Therefore, he sufficed with hinting to the waters of strive subtly.

(כלי יקר)

"דבר משה אל בני ישראל"
“Moshe spoke unto the Children of Israel.” (1:3)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that Moshe rebuked them only when he was close to death in order to avoid rebuking them again and again. How does this accord with the statement of the Gemara (Bava Metzia 31a) that the Torah command, “Hochei’ach [tochiach...] — “You shall reprove [your fellow]” (Vayikra 19:17) — means even one hundred times?

ANSWER: There are two kinds of rebuke:

1) Direct confrontation: specifying the wrongdoing and admonishing the perpetrator for committing the act.

2) A more subtle method: not mentioning the iniquity directly, but encouraging the person to improve his conduct. The advantage of the latter is that the erring individual is spared embarrassment.

When the Torah says “Hochei’ach tochiach” — “You shall reprove” — it concludes “velo tisa alav cheit” “and do not bear a sin because of him” — which can also be explained literally to mean, “Do not bring up the sin to him” — that is, be careful not to mention the particular sin, and thus he will not be embarrassed. This type of rebuke may and should be repeated, even one-hundred times. However, since Moshe’s current rebuke consisted of specifying through veiled references, the sins committed, he waited until immediately before his death so that his words would be accepted and they would not have to face him constantly and be embarrassed.

(דברי שאול)

"אחרי הכתו את סיחן מלך האמרי אשר יושב בחשבון ואת עוג מלך הבשן אשר יושב בעשתרת באדרעי”
“After he had smitten Sichon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtarot in Edrei.” (1:4)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe wait to deliver his rebuke until after the conquest of Sichon and Og?

ANSWER: Moshe, the first leader of Klal Yisrael, was conveying a message to the leaders of future generations. It is human nature to reject rebuke. Therefore, if a rebuker wants his words to be accepted, he should not only rebuke but also do positive things to benefit the erring community or individual. Once he is recognized as a good friend, his words of admonishment will be accepted favorably.

Sichon and Og posed a serious threat to the Jewish people. After Moshe risked his life to defeat the Jews’ enemies, he earned their respect and thus considered the time opportune to reprimand them.


"הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת"
“Moshe began explaining this Torah.” (1:5)

QUESTION: The word “ho’il” — “began” — appears superfluous. It could have just said, ‘bei’ir Moshe et haTorah hazot” — “Moshe explained this Torah”?

ANSWER: In Torah study there are many difficulties and questions which remain unanswered. In many such cases, the Talmud concludes a discussion with the word “teiku” (תיקו) which is an abbreviation for “Tishbi yetareitz kushi’ot ve’abayot” (תשבי יתרץ קושיות ואבעיות) — “[Eliyahu the] Tishbi will resolve all difficulties and questions.” Eventually when Eliyahu comes to herald the revelation of Mashiach, he will also explain and clarify all the unanswered difficulties and unresolved Torah issues.

The letters in the word “ho’il” (הואיל) can be rearranged to read “Eliyahu” (אליהו). While Moshe explained the Torah very clearly, he knew that in future generations difficulties would arise in comprehending Torah subjects and, therefore, he hinted that any lack of clarity will ultimately be elucidated through the prophet Eliyahu.

(עשרה מאמרות)

"לא אוכל לבדי שאת אתכם, ה' אלקיכם הרבה אתכם והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים לרב"
“I cannot carry you alone. G‑d, your G‑d, has multiplied you and behold! you are this day like the stars of heaven in abundance.” (1:9-10)

QUESTION: At that time the Jews numbered only six-hundred thousand. Why did Moshe exaggerate?

ANSWER: Sometimes the Jews are compared to the dust of the earth (Bereishit 28:14), and at other times to the stars of heaven (ibid. 15:5). The difference between the two is that each particle of dust sticks to the other while stars are separated by great distances. Thus, when Jews are united, they are compared to the dust of the earth, and when they are fragmented and at odds they are compared to the stars.

In expressing his frustration with the Jewish people, Moshe said, “At present you are like the stars of heaven — there is animosity and fragmentation among you instead of unity. When you behave this way, it is difficult for me alone to carry your contentiousness, burdens, and quarrels.”

(אפיקי יהודה)

"ה' אלקי אבותיכם יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים"
“May G‑d, the G‑d of your forefathers, make you so many more as you are a thousand times.” (1:11)

QUESTION: The word “kachem” — “as you are” is superfluous?

ANSWER: When the Jews heard Moshe’s harsh rebuke they fell into despair. In order to uplift their spirits and comfort them, Moshe told them what the Gemara (Sanhedrin 44a) says regarding the Jewish people, “Af al pi shechata Yisrael hu” — “A Jew is a full-fledged Jew even when he has sinned.” Though you have committed some iniquities, do not despair. You retain your Jewish essence and will undoubtedly continue to exist.

“It is my fervent wish and prayer that Hashem multiply you a thousand times, and that there be many more Jews ‘kachem’ — ‘as you are.’ ”

(עיטורי תורה)

"ה' אלקי אבותיכם יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים"
“May G‑d, the G‑d of your forefathers, make you so many more as you are a thousand times.” (1:11)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (1:13) writes, “If we look [well] into the blessings of Moshe, we shall find that they contain blessings from one end of the world to the other. This is evident from the words ‘elef pe’amim;’ in the plural, in lieu of elef pa’am in singular, which indicates an astronomical figure, not simply ‘a thousand times.’ ”

Both elef pa’am and elef pe’amim basically mean “a thousand times.” How does the Midrash derive that Moshe meant to bless them to reach such an astronomical figure?

ANSWER: If Moshe had said, “G‑d make you so many more as you are elef pa’am — one thousand times,” it would have meant that the population of six hundred thousand should be multiplied by one thousand, making the Jews a nation of six hundred million. Moshe’s berachah was much greater: By saying “elef pe’amim” he meant that their number should be doubled one thousand times. In other words, starting with six hundred thousand, after the first “making you so many more as you are” they will be one million two hundred thousand, then when this is doubled, they will be two million four hundred thousand, then four million eight hundred thousand, etc. Thus, as this is repeated one thousand times, the population will very quickly reach an astronomical figure.

(בינה לעתים)

* * *

It is related that the king of Persia was very impressed with the person who created the game of chess and offered to grant him any wish. The man said to the king, “There are 64 squares on the chess board. I would be satisfied if you would put a grain of wheat in the first square and double in the next, and so forth.” The king laughed about this meager request, but soon realized that he would not have enough wheat in his country to fill the request. In the second square there would be two grains, in the third square there would be four. In the tenth square there would be 512, in the twenty-first there would be over a million, and in the thirty-first there would be over a billion.

(מעינה של תורה)

"ה' אלקי אבותיכם יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים"
“May G‑d, the G‑d of your forefathers, make you so many more as you are a thousand times.” (1:11)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (1:13) writes, “If we look [well] into the blessings of Moshe, we shall find that they contain blessings from one end of the world to the other. This is evident from the words ‘elef pe’amim’ in the plural, indicating superabundance — in lieu of ‘elef pa’am.’

How does the word “pe’amim” indicate “a blessing from one end of the world to the other”?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Eruvin 55b) says that the camp of the Israelites was three parsa [square]. (A parsa equals 2.385 miles.) The Gemara (Pesachim 94a) says that the world is six thousand parsot i.e. the sun travels 6,000 parsaot in its circuit across the world from east to west — sunrise to sunset (Rashi).

The word “pe’amim” (פעמים) is a plural for “pa’am” (פעם), and the minimum of a plural is two. Consequently, “elef pa’am” — “one thousand times” — can mean that the Jewish people should be spread over a territory which is one thousand times larger than the current territory (1000 x 3 parsa = 3,000 parsaot), and “elef pe’amim” means to spread over a territory which is two thousand times larger than the current territory (2000 x 3 parsa = 6,000 parsaot).

Since Moshe blessed the Jews that their camp should be spread over an area of six thousand parsa, his blessing is actually “from one end of the world to the other.”

(חנוכת התורה)

"ה' אלקי אבותיכם יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים"
“May G‑d, the G‑d of your forefathers, make you so many more as you are a thousand times.” (1:11)

QUESTION: Why a thousand times?

ANSWER: When the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Hashem’s anger flared up and He wanted to annihilate them. He told Moshe, “Ve’e’esheh otecha legoi gadol” — “I shall make you a great nation” (Shemot 32:10). When the spies returned and incited the people against going to Eretz Yisrael, again Hashem wanted to annihilate them and He again said to Moshe, “Ve’e’eseh otecha legoi gadol” — “I shall make you a great nation” (Bamidbar 14:12).

The Tosefta (Sotah 4:1) says that Hashem’s reward for a good deed is five hundred times greater than the deed itself. Therefore, since Hashem told Moshe twice, “I shall make you a great nation,” each time He meant a people five hundred times as large as the Children of Israel, totaling a thousand-fold increase. Hence, Moshe was saying, “I am now blessing you with what Hashem offered me, and thus, may He make you a nation one thousand times as large as you are currently.”

(פנים יפות)

"יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם"
“Make you so many more as you are a thousand times and bless you as He has spoken of you.” (1:11)

QUESTION: Rashi writes that the Jewish people complained to Moshe, asking why he had set a limit to their blessings. Moshe responded, “The blessing of one-thousand times is mine, but may He bless you infinitely as He promised you.”

Why did Moshe specify one-thousand times in his blessing?

ANSWER: The name Moshe (משה) has the numerical value of three-hundred and forty-five, which is also the numerical value of א-ל ש-ד-י — “A-mighty G‑d.” When the letters of these two words are spelled out in full — אלף, למד, שין, דלת, יוד — the numerical value, counting the entire statement as one (known in Gematria as “im hakollel”) is one-thousand.

When the Jewish people complained that Moshe’s set a limitation on their blessings, he responded “Zeh-hu misheli” — “The one-thousand that I am giving you is absolutely all that I possess. I am giving you everything that is included in my name, and may Hashem bless you according to His Divine powers.”


"ותקרבון אלי כלכם ותאמרו נשלחה אנשים לפנינו ויחפרו לנו את הארץ"
“All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the land.’” (1:22)

QUESTION: Rashi writes that Moshe told them, “At the receiving of the Torah the young honored the elders, letting them go ahead, and the elders honored the leaders by letting them go before them. At the sending of the spies, however, all of you approached me in confusion, the young pushing the elders and the elders pushing the leaders.”

Why, in admonishing them for their improper behavior, does he also bring in their good behavior at Mount Sinai?

ANSWER: Moshe was admonishing them not only for their behavior in connection with the spies, but also for their behavior at the receiving of the Torah. He said to them, “Originally I admired your behavior at Sinai. It was encouraging to see how the young honored the elders and the elders honored the leaders.

“However, after observing such refined character traits, I was greatly puzzled when I saw the opposite take place in regard to Eretz Yisrael. In retrospect, I then realized that you are far from a refined people. I surmised that since Torah represents spirituality and requires diligent study and performance of mitzvot, your deference to the elders was not an expression of respect, but, rather the consequence of spiritual apathy. Since you were uninterested in a spiritual life you said, ‘Let the elders, who are already retired and less interested in worldly matters, engage in the study of Torah.’

“I reached this conclusion when, motivated by desire to enter Eretz Yisrael, a place blessed with all kinds of physical and material delights, you stampeded, pushing the elders and leaders aside and running before them.”

(כלי יקר)

"וישמע ה' את קול דבריכם ויקצף"
“G‑d heard the sound of your words, and He was incensed.” (1:34)

QUESTION: The word “kol” — “sound” — is superfluous? The pasuk could have just said, “And G‑d heard your words”?

ANSWER: A story is told about Reuven who spread a rumor that Shimon was a thief. Shimon brought him before the Rabbi and it was ruled that on Shabbat morning, Reuven was to publicly announce, “What I said about that Shimon is a thief is a lie.” On Shabbat morning Reuven ascended to the podium and announced as ordered, “What I said that Shimon is a thief is a lie?!” (with a question intonation)

Shimon immediately ran to the Rabbi exclaiming, “Rabbi, this announcement is ruining my reputation. The situation is now worse than before.”

The Rabbi summoned Reuven and asked him, “Why did you do such a thing?”

Reuven answered, “Rabbi, I said the exact words you told me to say. Is it my fault that I am not a chazan and do not know how to sing properly?”

When the messengers returned from Eretz Yisrael their report was that “Good is the land that G‑d, our G‑d, is giving us” (1:25). If this was their report, why was Hashem upset with them? The reason was that although their words were superficially proper, the problem was the “kol” — the voice (tone) with which they said them. The message the people heard was, “Good is the land that G‑d, our G‑d, is giving us?!” — a question rather than a declaration.

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

"זולתי כלב בן יפנה...גם בי התאנף ה' בגללכם לאמר גם אתה לא תבא שם יהושע בן נון...אתו חזק כי הוא ינחלנה את ישראל”
“Except for Kaleiv son of Yephunneh...With me, as well, G‑d became angry because of you, saying: ‘You, too, shall not come there.’ Yehoshua son of Nun...Strengthen him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.” (1:36-38)

QUESTION: Moshe was denied entry into Eretz Yisrael because of the “mei merivah” — “waters of strife” — as Hashem clearly said, “Because you did not believe in Me...Therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I have given them” (Bamidbar 20:12). The episode with the waters of strife took place almost forty years after the episode with the spies.

Why, when admonishing them about the spy incident, does Moshe state, “With me, as well, G‑d became angry because of you, saying: ‘You, too, shall not come there’ ” which implies that Moshe’s not going to Eretz Yisrael was the fault of the spies?

ANSWER: In his rebuke Moshe speaks of the provocations of the people, and the iniquity of the spies, which caused Hashem to swear, “If even a man of these people, this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to your forefathers except for Kaleiv and Yehoshua” (1:35). Superficially, it is puzzling that Moshe — in the middle of listing Kaleiv and Yehoshua as the two exceptions who would come to Eretz Yisrael — mentions something apparently completely unrelated, “With me, as well, G‑d became angry because of you, saying, ‘You, too, shall not come there.’ ”

Although Kaleiv and Yehoshua were the only survivors of the Generation of the Wilderness who came to Eretz Yisrael, there is a great difference between their roles. Kaleiv merited “to see the land” and receive his portion. Yehoshua, on the other hand, not only would come there, but “cause [the entire people of] Israel to inherit it.” Why is there such a great difference between them?

Moshe is explaining that the reason for the major distinction between the two survivors is that “I should have been there to apportion the land to the people of Israel. However, in the interim the incident with the waters of strife caused me to lose the privilege of going toEretz Yisrael. Therefore Yehoshua will be my successor, and he will cause the people to inherit the land.”

Hence, Moshe’s statement regarding himself, between references to Kaleiv and Yehoshua, is not rebuke, but is inserted parenthetically to explain why Yehoshua will hold such a prominent position when the Jewish people would enter Eretz Yisrael.

(לקוטי שיחות חי"ד)

"פנו לכם צפנה ואת העם צו לאמר אתם עברים בגבול אחיכם בני עשו הישבים בשעיר"
“Turn yourselves northward. You shall command the people, saying, ‘You are passing through the boundary of your brothers the children of Eisav, who dwell in Seir.’” (2:3-4)

QUESTION: Why was it necessary to tell them “penu lachem tzafonah” — “turn yourselves northward” — the essential instruction was that “You will be passing through the boundary of your brothers the children of Eisav, do not provoke them”?

ANSWER: The descendants of Eisav are very jealous of the descendants of Yaakov. They contend that everything the Jews possess actually belongs to them, because Yaakov deceived Yitzchak to steal the berachot, which were really intended for their ancestor Eisav. They, therefore, despise the Jewish people and seek ways to seize their possessions.

Unfortunately, many Jews at times forget that we are in galut — exile — and at the mercy of the secular world. Hence, they “flash” their wealth in the eyes of the Gentiles, provoking their wrath. While the Jews indeed deserve the affluence Hashem has bestowed upon them, they must be careful not to exhibit it before the eyes of the nations.

The word “tzafonah” (צפנה) is not only the northward direction, but can also mean “hidden.” On the night of Pesach, for instance, the afikoman we eat at the end of the meal is called tzafun (צפון). because it is hidden throughout the entire seder. Hashem told Moshe to tell the Children of Israel, “Since you are coming into the boundary of the land of Eisav, it is important to remember that ‘penu lachem tzafonah’ — go in the direction of tzafun — hiding — i.e. keep your wealth and success concealed. Do not arouse their animosity, and jealousy.

(כלי יקר)

* * *

One who recites the Shemoneh Esreih should face mizrach — east. However, the Gemara (Bava Batra 25b) says, “If one desires to become rich, ‘yatzpin’ — he should turn towards tzafon — northeast.” Since the word “tzafon” does not only mean "north,” but also “hidden,” the sages are possibly intimating that if one wants to be rich, “yatzpin” — he should act modestly and not flaunt his wealth in the eyes of the public. For by doing this he may invite unwanted “predators,” who will take away his wealth, or the “evil eye” which may have an adverse effect on his wealth.

(אוצר חיים בשם גלילי זהב)

"רק הבהמה בזזנו לנו"
“Only the animals did we loot for ourselves.” (2:35)

QUESTION: Further on in the text, while discussing the looting of the kingdom of Og, the pasuk says, “And the booty of the cities “bazonu lanu” (with one zayin) — “we looted for ourselves” (3:7). Why here does it say “bazaznu lanu” (with two “zayins”) — “did we loot for ourselves”?

ANSWER: Regarding the Amonites and Moabites Hashem instructed, “You shall not distress them and you shall not provoke war with them” (2:9, 19). However, since they were already conquered by Sichon and technically no longer in control of their lands, it became permissible for the Jewish people to take the lands for themselves (see Gittin 38a).

Consequently, now, when the Jewish people took the booty of the cities, not only was there property of the Amonites but also of the Sichonites. In allusion to the double booty, the word “bazaznu”(בזזנו) is written with two “zayins.”

(וידבר משה)