Chapter 1

1 He did not mention their sins explicitly: In referring to the Jewish peoples’ sins obliquely, Moses was also alluding to the mitigating circumstances that softened the severity of their sins:

The Desert: The desert through which they traveled was both harsh and dangerous.1 It was therefore understandable for them to have panicked when faced with the possibility of running out of provisions.

The Plain: This was the plain of Moab, and the Moabites were notorious for their depravity.2 In that licentious milieu, it was exceptionally difficult to resist the overtures of the Moabite temptresses.

Opposite [the Sea of] Reeds: Here, they were penned in on all sides—the impassable sea in front of them and the Egyptians closing in on them from behind. It was understandably difficult to remain levelheaded in such circumstances.

In Paran: The scouts returned from their reconnaissance mission with a frightening report. The Jewish people in themselves would never have doubted God’s ability to help them conquer the land; only after hearing the scouts’ report did they lose heart.

Maligning the white [manna]: Even though the manna tasted like anything the person eating it wanted it to,3 it nevertheless always had the same, nondescript, white color. Having to eat food that looks the same all the time is ample cause for finding reason to complain about it.

Chatzerot: Korach instigated this mutiny on his own; the people by themselves would never have thought to rebel against Moses.

The Golden [Calf]: It was only because God Himself lavished them with such an abundance of gold when they left Egypt that the Jewish people succumbed to the temptation to misuse it.4

Thus, even while rebuking the people, Moses was careful to vindicate them. This is because he understood that rebuke or punishment is not an end in itself; rather, its purpose is to improve the recipient. Similarly, we should realize that the purpose the Divine rebuke we are presently enduring—i.e., keeping us in exile for so long—is to elevate us to a higher level of Divine consciousness in preparation for the imminent Redemption.

Because God’s presence is so hidden during exile, it is especially hard for us to behave consistently in line with our inner beliefs; we are therefore forced to occasionally rebuke ourselves or each other. Nonetheless, we should take care not to speak disparagingly when doing so; we must keep in mind that the purpose of rebuke is to help us improve, preparing us for our individual and collective redemption.5


On other occasions, and even further on in this same address, Moses did mention the people’s sins explicitly. It follows, therefore, that there are two types of misconduct and two corresponding types of rebuke: open wrongdoings, which require open rebuke; and more subtle types of misbehavior, which require a veiled rebuke.

The epitome of the latter type of misconduct is the people’s lack of appreciation for the manna. They simply could not believe that the manna, which was miraculously absorbed into their bodies without producing any waste products, would not one day explode in their stomachs.6 However, the fact that it was white (i.e., colorless) indicated that although it assumed physical form when it descended into the world, it remained essentially spiritual (which is why its taste could change according to the preference of the person eating it), and there was therefore no reason to fear that it would at some point explode in their stomachs. It was this characteristic of the manna that irked the people: they wanted real bread, which would behave as bread should behave.

This insensitivity to spirituality—and even disdain for it—is symptomatic of an unhealthy disconnectedness between the rational and supra-rational facets of the soul, in which reason, pragmatism, and empiricism are overemphasized at the expense of the aesthetic, transcendent, and intuitive sides of the personality. But since this depreciation of the spiritual is a hidden fault, it requires a hidden rebuke.

Bread, the nourishment of the body, is an allegory for the Torah, the nourishment of the soul: just as there is physical bread and spiritual bread (manna), so does the Torah possesses both a physical, external dimension (its laws and the study of their derivation) and a spiritual, inner dimension (its philosophical and mystical aspects). The Israelites’ disdain for the manna is thus nowadays synonymous with the reluctance to engage in the study of the Torah’s inner dimension. Moses’ implicit and explicit forms of rebuke remind us that in order to be well-rounded individuals, fully dedicated to our Divine mission on earth, we must study both dimensions of the Torah.7

On the side of the Jordan: The Torah, on more than one occasion, has already pinpointed the Israelites’ location for us in more precise terms: the plains of Moab.8 The reason it here uses the vaguer, more general description of “the other side of the Jordan” is because the Book of Deuteronomy is addressed to the generation that will shortly enter the Land of Israel. Even before they enter the land, their orientation is to be so focused on it that they consider their present location to be the other side of the Jordan. Contrast this attitude with the words of the tribes of Reuben and Gad: “We will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan; our inheritance has come to us on the east side of the Jordan.”9 Since their perspective was firmly anchored on the east bank, they referred to the west bank as “the other side.”

The message for us, as we stand on the threshold of our entry into the Promised Land with the advent of the Final Redemption, is that we should already be so focused on our final destination that it is as if we were already living in it. If circumstances force us to be presently outside of it, we should still consider ourselves not at home but somewhere “over there.”

The same applies to any stage in our lives in which we are awaiting some form of redemption. The first prerequisite of redemption is the awareness that we belong in the redemptive state, and that the present, preceding state of exile is precisely that: exile, not home.10


On a deeper level, the Torah specifies the Jewish people’s location as “the other side of the Jordan” rather than as “the plains of Moab” in order to describe the nature of redemptive consciousness.

The plains of Moab was the last of the forty-two stations in the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. As has been explained previously,11 the purpose of this journey was to neutralize the forces of evil embodied in the desert; therefore, the plains of Moab—the final stop—signifies the completion of this process. Before entering the Holy Land, it was necessary to subdue these forms of evil so that they would not be able to undermine the Divine consciousness associated with it. (Similarly, the purpose of the present exile is to transform the world’s remaining evil into good; in this way, evil will be unable to trigger another exile after the Redemption.)

Subjugating and transforming evil leaves a person’s (or nation’s) Divine consciousness significantly more powerful and intense than it was before. The person’s awareness of God is now so profound that it leaves no room for the particular sort of evil (i.e., absence of or antagonism to God-consciousness) that has been vanquished. The light now experienced contrasts sharply with the darkness that formerly had to be contended with.

Nonetheless, the heightened consciousness we achieve by negating evil does not compare to the consciousness intrinsic to the redemptive state itself. The former, despite its advantage over the prior state of consciousness, is still only a preparation for the latter, redemptive state.

Therefore, the Torah now describes the location of the Jews as “on the other side of the Jordan,” i.e., focused on the redemptive state of the Promised Land, rather than “in the plains of Moab,” i.e., having completed the prerequisite conquest of evil.

(Nonetheless, in order to emphasize that there is at least a subordinate appreciation for the consciousness attained by contending with evil during the period of exile, “the land of Moab” is mentioned in adjunct to “the other side of the Jordan” the second time the Jewish people’s location is given.12)13

4 Moses also waited: A further reason Moses had for waiting to rebuke the Jews until after he had conquered the Amorite kings is the fact that people accept rebuke more readily after having received some material benefit from the person administering the rebuke.

The material favor in this case is not an act of hypocrisy. By rebuking someone, we are doing them a spiritual favor, so by preceding this spiritual favor with a material favor, we ensure that both parties relate to the rebuke in the proper light. Otherwise, one of the parties might consider the rebuke as an opportunity to fulfill some sadistic drive or other form of malevolence. The material favor creates an atmosphere of goodwill and neutralizes defense mechanisms. Even if the favor does not prove as successful as intended, we still fulfill thereby the commandment to love our fellow Jews as ourselves.

By his example, Moses showed us that this principle applies even when the individual or group is in need of rebuke for a sin as grave as that of making the Golden Calf. From Moses’ example, we learn that we must reach out even to those whom we might consider an unwholesome influence. Once we take due precaution that our contact with such individuals or groups not prove detrimental to us, we can and should follow Moses’ example and extend them our fullest help—both material and spiritual, and even if doing so requires endangering our own wellbeing—in order to put them back on the proper path in life.

By helping others in this way, we in turn earn God’s help in finding our own proper path in life, besides His assistance in providing for our own material needs and those of our loved ones.14

5 In the seventy original languages: As has been noted,15 the Jews preserved their knowledge and use of Hebrew throughout their Egyptian exile. Although the non-Jewish mixed multitude certainly did not speak Hebrew when they joined the Jews at the Exodus, forty years in the company of the Israelites probably sufficed for them to become fluent enough to understand it. And even if there were some who still found Hebrew difficult, this still does not explain the need for Moses to expound the Torah in all seventy original languages of humanity! We must therefore conclude that this oral translation of the Torah—as well as the later inscription of the Torah’s translation in those same seventy languages16—had a more profound, spiritual purpose.

Inasmuch as the Written Torah is the explicit word of God, logic would dictate that only studying the Torah in the original is considered bona fide study, through which we fulfill the commandment to study the Torah. After all, the subtle nuances of meaning and implication inherent in the text—not to mention its allusive and mystical subtexts—can only be noticed and appreciated in the original. Similarly, since the Oral Torah was originally communicated by Moses in Hebrew, it would seem that only studying it, too, in Hebrew should count as bona fide Torah study. Therefore, by having Moses explain and inscribe the Torah in all seventy seminal languages, God set the precedent for all further Torah study in secular languages.

Although, for the reasons mentioned, it is preferable to study the Torah in the original, there is nevertheless an advantage in studying it in secular languages, namely, that using these languages to study the Torah elevates and sanctifies them, at least while they are being used for this purpose. Furthermore, expressing the Torah’s concepts in secular idioms allows the sanctity and message of the Torah to permeate even those layers of existence that are a priori antithetical or antagonistic to Divine consciousness.

Studying the Torah in the vernacular can also be seen as a reversal and rectification of the fall suffered by reality in the generation of the Dispersion at the Tower of Babel. Prior to this fall, all humanity spoke Hebrew, which, being the language of creation, is uniquely suited to expressing the underlying Divine unity that permeates the universe. In contrast, the other, derivative languages convey this subliminal tenor to a much lesser degree. By using them to study the Torah, something of the original linguistic-religious unity of humanity is restored.17

6 You have dwelt too long at this mountain: God here is alluding to the lesson that we should never remain too long on the same level in our relationship with Him, without advancing and ascending. This idea is also articulated in the Prophets, where the human potential to progress in Divine consciousness is contrasted with the angels’ lack of this potential: “If you go in My ways…I will make you into those who walk [i.e., constantly move forward] among these [angels, who merely] stand here.”18 Angels, being personified emotional states of involvement with God, are static, whereas human beings can progress from one level of emotional involvement with God to another. In fact, we should strive to reach the next level of spirituality as soon as we become aware of its existence.19

Furthermore, this verse teaches us not to cloister ourselves in the study hall, devoting ourselves exclusively to our own self-refinement. Rather, God challenges us to leave this pristine and holy environment, traveling to a place far from “His mountain,” to illuminate even these distant places with the Divine light of the Torah.20

11 You complained: Why did Moses express his blessing in a way that made the people feel obligated to challenge its scope? Could he not have made it clear that he was simply adding, so to speak, to the limitless blessing already promised by God?

Moses knew that God desires His people’s prayers and that their prayers and fervent desire are what elicits Divine bounty. He therefore spoke this way in order to arouse the Jews to pray and request God’s blessing themselves.21

16 Hear between your brothers: The Ba’al Shem Tov interpreted this phrase allegorically:

Hear: One who has a spiritual sense of hearing can “hear” (i.e., be sensitive to) God’s boundless love for every Jew.

Between your brothers: The root of the Hebrew word for “between” (bein) is the same as that of the word for “understanding” (binah). Thus, a person with a spiritual sense of hearing understands the innate greatness of your brothers—i.e., of every Jew—and will therefore appreciate them and socialize with them. Therefore,

Hear: If someone desires to reach such a level of spiritual sensitivity—

Between your brothers: he should associate with the simple folk and be sensitive to the fact that each and every Jew, even the simplest among them, is “your brother.”22

A Closer Look

[18] I commanded you: The following are the procedural differences between civil and capital cases: (1) Civil cases may be adjudicated by a court of three judges; capital cases require a court of 23 judges. (2) In civil cases, the arguments presented first may be either in favor of or against the defendant; in capital cases, the arguments presented first must be in favor of the defendant. (3) In civil cases, a ruling against the defendant may be decided by a majority of one; in capital cases, a ruling against the defendant requires a majority of two. (4) In civil cases, if further evidence is produced after the verdict has been pronounced, it may be used to reverse the verdict either in favor of or against the defendant; in capital cases, only in favor of the defendant. (5) In a civil case, apprentice judges may speak either in favor of or against the defendant; in capital cases, they may speak only in his favor. (6) In civil cases, a judge may retract his vote either in favor of or against a defendant; in capital cases, he may retract it only if it was against the defendant. (7) In civil cases, if the court’s discussion of the case continues into the night, the judges may render their decision at night; in capital cases, they must postpone rendering their decision until the following day. (8) In a civil case, if the court decides against the defendant, they may pronounce their verdict on the same day the case was discussed; in a capital case, they must wait until the next day to pronounce the verdict in order to allow time for additional evidence to be brought in his favor. (9) In civil cases, the eldest judge gives his opinion first, but in capital cases, the youngest gives his opinion first in order that no judge be influenced by the opinion of an elder judge. (10) A judge of illegitimate birth may serve in a civil case, but not in a capital case.23

27 You slandered God: Until the Final Redemption, when there will no longer be any obstacles impeding the full revelation of God’s goodness, opportunities will unfortunately remain to mistake God’s love for us for cruelty. Our challenge then, until that time, is to remain fully aware that God is at all times manifesting His love for us, even if it occasionally appears exactly the opposite. Remaining conscious of this love will inspire us to reciprocate it by fulfilling His will to our utmost ability, which will in turn eliminate the last remaining impediments to the Final Redemption.24

Chapter 2

4-5, 9, 19 Take great care that you not provoke them: In God’s original pact with Abraham (the Covenant between the Halves), He promised to give his descendents the land occupied by ten nations: the Kenites, the Kenizites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.25 But God did not allow the Jewish people to conquer the first three lands (later occupied by Ammon, Moab, and Edom, respectively) the first time they entered the land, in the days of Moses and Joshua. Only in the messianic future will “Edom and Moab be subject to them and the children of Ammon obey them.”26

As has been explained,27 the reason for this is because these ten nations embodied the three intellectual and seven emotional attributes that constitute the unrectified human personality (the “animal soul”). The spiritual correlate of conquering Canaan and transforming it into the Land of Israel is conquering all of these attributes and transforming them into their holy counterparts.

Our present psychological makeup only allows us to rectify the seven emotional attributes, not the three facets of the intellect. This is because the way to rectify any aspect of reality is by correcting its source. Our emotions can generally be governed by our intellectual understanding. If we understand, for example, the rewards for proper behavior and the consequences of improper behavior, we should develop the corresponding emotional responses to them. By using our intellect, forcing ourselves to think through the implications and ramifications of proper and improper behavior, we can trigger the desired emotional response. If we do this consistently, we will eventually have trained ourselves to love and fear that which it is proper for us to love and fear. This is using the intellect to rectify the emotions.

The condition of exile, however, is that no such avenue exists for us to influence the functioning of our intellect. The intellect is governed by the supra-intellect—the supra-conscious aspects of our personalities—and the tools to harness this aspect of ourselves have not yet become completely available to us. Therefore, we were only allowed to conquer the seven nations that embody the seven emotions; the three nations that embody the three facets of the intellect remain beyond our control until the messianic era.

Nonetheless, as we approach the advent of the messianic era and the light of the future begins to shine, we can “taste” the future order through studying the teachings of Chasidism in depth. These teachings tap the supra-conscious aspects of our souls; through studying them, we can indeed begin to rectify the intellect as well as the emotions.28

A Closer Look

[16-17] Detachedly…amicably: The difference between these two is indicated by the exclusive use of the root אמר in all references to God addressing Moses from the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy until this point,29 and the abrupt switch to the root דבר in this verse.30

36 (& 3:4) There was not even one communal city: The difference between a “regular city” (ir) and a “communal city” (kiryah) is that the inhabitants of the latter have united in some common bond, and thus act more as a more cohesive unit than do the inhabitants of a typical city.

As was seen in the episode of the Tower of Babel,31 the merit of societal unity protects a society from danger—even from Divine retribution. Sichon and Og were aware of this protection afforded by societal unity and therefore took pains to galvanize the inhabitants of their cities against the threat of Israelite invasion.

Nonetheless, a society’s ability to achieve unity is limited to the extent to which its individual members can negate their egos and submit to a common goal. Inasmuch as the Jewish people are expected—and are therefore given the ability—to surrender themselves totally to their Divine mission, whereas non-Jews are not, the unity that Sichon and Og’s people could achieve could not compare to that of the Israelites. The Israelites were therefore able to overcome even these special, communal cities.

We see here the tremendous power inherent in Jewish unity and the need to foster it to the greatest extent possible, especially since, as we know,32 our present exile is a result of baseless hatred and disunity among the Jewish people.33

Chapter 3

4 Including all the territory of Og’s royal palace: In the original account of the conquest of Bashan,34 the royal palace is not mentioned. Only in the book of Deuteronomy, whose theme is the physical and spiritual transition into the Land of Israel, does this detail become significant. This is because the Land of Israel, relative to the rest of the world, is “the royal palace,” i.e., God’s home on earth. When the Jewish people conquered this area, they transformed it from the region of the non-Jewish king’s palace into part of the palace of the true King, God.

Still, the Talmudic sages differ over whether olive oil from this region—which is considered second in quality only to oil produced in the Tekoa region of the Land of Israel—may be used for the Temple service.35 According to one opinion, only oil produced in the Land of Israel proper possesses the requisite holiness for use in the Temple. According to the other opinion, the acquired holiness of the parts of Transjordan that were conquered (and thereby sanctified) by the Jewish people suffices to qualify it for Temple use.

On a deeper level, this discussion concerns the degree to which a person can abnegate his selfhood in the face of God’s reality when he is outside the Land of Israel.

Oil allegorically signifies the attribute of selflessness (bitul), since it is produced by crushing olives and is consumed in lamps that produce light. Light is necessary for vision, and the soul’s inner vision (i.e., perception) is its ability to expand its conceptual horizons by receiving new insight. The prerequisite for new insight (chochmah) is selflessness (bitul), since a self-satisfied and self-assured individual will not admit that his present way of looking at the world is lacking anything. Thus, just as the consumption of oil antecedes sight, selflessness antecedes insight.

We cannot achieve absolute selflessness on our own, since any level of consciousness we can achieve on our own is our own accomplishment and therefore an expression of our selfhood. Only when graced by a revelatory experience that sweeps us up into transcendent awareness can we lose ourselves completely. All we can achieve on our own is relative selflessness, a lesser state of egocentricity than we evinced previously.

Thus, since the holiness of the Land of Israel is intrinsic while that of Transjordan is acquired, it follows that only the Land of Israel is conducive to achieving absolute selflessness and true dissolution of the ego in awareness of God.

The dissenting opinion agrees that the degree of holiness attainable in Transjordan cannot compare to the intrinsic holiness of the Holy Land. However, inasmuch as God assented to the request of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and gave them this land, it also possesses a degree of intrinsic holiness and can therefore assist a person in attaining virtual selflessness.36