As we have pointed out, the Book of Deuteronomy is in effect a restatement of the first four books of the Torah, couched in such a way as to make them relevant for the generation that was about to enter the Land of Israel. As such, the first parashah of Deuteronomy, parashat Devarim, parallels Genesis, the first book of the Torah. Just as the Book of Genesis describes the historical background for the Torah in general, detailing the necessity for the creation of the Jewish people, so does parashat Devarim describe the historical background for the restatement of the Torah in the Book of Deuteronomy, detailing the events that necessitated the forty-year detainment in the desert and the rise of a new generation that would enter the land.

The present parashah, parashat Va’etchanan, parallels Exodus, the second book of the Torah. The Book of Exodus laid the theological underpinnings of the Jewish people’s existence: their distinction from other peoples (the Exodus), their unique covenant with God and attendant belief system (the Giving of the Torah), and their purpose as a people (to make the world a home for God, as encapsulated in the Tabernacle). In a parallel manner, parashat Va’etchanan describes the spiritual uniqueness of the new generation (as we will discuss presently), restates the covenant with God on their level (the repetition of the Ten Commandments), and transforms the imperative to make the world God’s home into the basic, central statement of Judaism: the Shema.

This explains why, in parashat Va’etchanan, Moses recounts historical events that preceded those he reviewed in parashat Devarim. Although the events reviewed in parashat Devarim took place later chronologically, in terms of the thematic development of the Book of Deuteronomy they come first: they provide the rationale for the repetition of the drama of Mount Sinai and the Giving of the Torah that forms the subject of parashat Va’etchanan.


Parashat Va’etchanan opens with Moses’ description of how, at the end of the forty-year detour in the desert, he once again pleaded with God to let him enter the Land of Israel, and how God refused his request. In light of what we have just said, it would seem that this should form part of the historical material reviewed in the preceding parashah, which concludes with the events immediately preceding Moses’ prayer. Why then, is it placed here, at the beginning of parashat Va’etchanan?

Moses knew that the generation standing before him was not on the same level of spiritual perception as that of the preceding generation, who had witnessed the miracles of the Exodus and the Giving of the Torah. He therefore understood that their confrontation with the materiality of the physical world would be a struggle, and that it would take time—perhaps a long time—until they would accomplish the purpose for which they were entering the land. He therefore wanted to accompany them into the land in order to boost their Divine consciousness, as much as possible, to his level. True, they had not seen what he and his generation had seen, but they might be inspired by the intensity of his communion with God. If he would cross the Jordan with them, it might give them the strength to conquer the land and take possession of it in the fullest, most spiritual sense.

As we will see,1 the spiritual perception of the generation of the desert compared to that of the generation of the conquest was like that of sight compared to hearing. When we see something, we do not need to be convinced of what we saw: we know it to be so; after all, we saw it. In contrast, when we hear something (or hear about something), we may be convinced of what we heard, but our conviction can be overturned by persuasion and argument. Seeing is a direct perception and therefore incontrovertible, whereas hearing is indirect and therefore subject to challenge. Thus, even if the Jews of the generation entering the Land of Israel would not doubt the truth of their Jewish beliefs for a moment, the façade of materiality would still have a louder voice in their minds than it ever could have had in their parents’. The reality of God and the subordination of the physical to the spiritual had simply not been burned into their souls with the same intensity.

Thus, Moses wanted to impart this spiritual sight to the new generation. “God, You took the initiative to show Your servant Your magnanimity…. Please let me cross over and see the good land….”2 Had he been able to see the land from within with his eyes, it would have looked different to the entire Jewish people.

But God only let him see the land from afar. “Ascend to the peak of Mount Nebo and lift up your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see it, but only from afar, with your eyes—for you will not cross this Jordan River.”3 Resigned to the fact that his people would not attain this level of Divine perception, he instructed them to at least “listen to the decrees and the laws that I am teaching you,”4 thus setting the tone for the rest of his address to them, and indeed, for the rest of the Book of Deuteronomy.


But why did God refuse Moses’ request to enter the land? Why did He not want the Jewish people to attain Moses’ level of spiritual perception, which would enable them to accomplish their task in the land that much swifter and better?

The answer, of course, is that despite the advantages of sight over hearing, there is also an advantage of hearing over sight. True, when we see something, our sense of the reality of what we see is much stronger than when we only hear about it. However, this experience of certainty is solely due to the force of the experience and not to any work we have done in refining our perception. It is a certainty imposed upon us from without rather than one that solidifies gradually from within. Therefore, its effect on us as people, albeit powerful, is superficial and ephemeral. Once we are no longer looking at what we saw, our experience of it begins to fade, eventually becoming weak enough to be challenged.

In contrast, the conviction of truth we arrive at indirectly engages us to a much greater and more profound degree. In the course of reaching this conviction, we have to struggle with the arguments and perceptions posed by the world, which challenge and conflict with this truth. By answering and overcoming these tests, we are changed in the process.

Since, as we know, the purpose of creation is that Divine consciousness permeate reality to the greatest extent possible, that our entire being be filled with the knowledge of God, it is clear that in order for this to be accomplished, it was imperative that Moses not accompany the Jewish people across the Jordan. When we will have refined reality to the greatest extent possible by dint of our own efforts, we too will be granted the spiritual perception of Moses, as it is written, “And the glory of God will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together.”5


Nonetheless, as we have learned,6 the prayer of a righteous person is always fulfilled in some way. So, Moses’ request that the Jewish people be given his level of spiritual vision was indeed granted on some level. Thus, each of us possesses an inner vision of reality that affords us absolute certainty with regard to issues of Jewish faith. Based on this inner sight, this unshakable inner conviction, we can withstand any of the worldly deceptions with which material reality challenges us; we can preserve our own Divine consciousness and disseminate it throughout the world, as well. This undertone of certainty enables us to enter our own promised land, our arena of life-challenges, and confidently stride forward toward the ultimate and final Redemption.7