The Poem

32:1 Moses began,Today I am going to die. I know that the Israelites will never deny that God gave them the Torah nor that they are duty-bound to observe all its commandments. However, they might deny that they entered into a covenant with God,1 obligating them to be bound to Him beyond the contractual relationship circumscribed by the commandments,2 and if they do deny having entered this covenant, I will not be there to refute their denial. I will therefore now invoke heaven and earth, who will continue to exist beyond my lifetime, as witnesses to this covenant. Of course, heaven and earth cannot testify verbally, but they can respond to the people’s behavior in other ways: if the people fulfill their side of the covenant, I call upon them to reward them with dew, rain, and agricultural fertility; and if the people fail to fulfill their side of covenant, then, in accordance with the rule that the witnesses be the first to administer the penalties for idolatry,3 I call upon them to be the first to administer corrective punishment—by withholding the dew, rain, and agricultural fertility4—and only afterwards, if this punishment is not sufficiently effective, will the people be exiled from their land by conquering nations.5

Listen, therefore, O heaven, and I will speak. Hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

2 This is the testimony you will be called upon to give:

Addressing the people, Moses continued, “My doctrine, the Torah I taught you, drops down from ‘heaven,’ giving life to the world as does the rain. But whereas rain sometimes causes damage as it vitalizes the world, my speech, the Torah, flows into the world, giving life as does the dew and not causing any damage.

The Torah is like the winds that blow upon vegetation,strengthening it and making it grow: it makes those who study it mature and flourish. It is like raindrops upon the grass.

3 Therefore, when I proclaim the Name of God, who gave you this Torah, ascribe greatness to our God by blessing His Name.

4 Although God is strong as a rock, His retributive action is perfectly measured, never exceeding the minimum necessary to achieve its punitive purpose, for all His ways are quintessential equity.

He is a reliable God, who can be depended upon to reward justly, even if His providence requires that some or all of the reward be deferred until the afterlife. He even repays the wicked for the good they do, without injustice, albeit in this life, so they forfeit receiving it the afterlife.6

He is therefore universally recognized as being righteous, and it is proper foreveryone to recognize Him as such.

5 Thus, if during the course of history, one of the generation of your descendants becomes corrupt and suffers the consequences, they cannot blame God’s inequity! Their corruption is their own doing, not His. Being His wayward children, they are responsible for their ownmoral flaw.

Their corrupt behavior will have proven them to be a crooked and perverse generation.

6 They should be asked: Is this how you repay God for all the good He has done for you? Why do you grieve Him when you know He will punish you for your misdeeds and reward you for your good deeds?You are a foolish people for forgettingyour past, and you are unwise for not considering the consequences of your actions.

Is He not your father, who acquired you as His chosen people, who settled you securely in your land and equipped you with all that you need? He made you intoa nation and established you as a self-sufficient people, capable of providing yourselves with your own religious and lay leaders.

Second Reading 7 Recall what happened in the olden days when people provoked Him to anger. Contemplate how God dealt with corruption in the years of the generation of Enosh7 and the generation of Noah.8

And if you refuse to recall God’s punishments in the olden days, then at least contemplate His promises of reward in the future years, the generation of the Messiah and the generation of the future Resurrection.

Ask your father—i.e.,a prophet9and he will tell you about God’s promises for the future; inquire of your elders—i.e., the sages—and they will recount to you the events of the past.

8 Consider how God loves His chosen people: When He, the supreme One, gave the nations their inheritance after the Flood, and when He divided the descendants of Adam after the Tower of Babel into separate nations,10

He did not destroy them on account of their misdeeds; rather, He firmly established the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the descendants of Israel who descended to Egypt11,i.e., 70.12

9 He did this because God’s portion, i.e., His people, the Israelites, was latent in these nations.

The Israelites are His chosen people by virtue of being descendants of Jacob, who is the ‘rope’ of His inheritance: just as a rope is made up of three intertwining cords, so did Jacob internalize a threefold merit: that of his grandfather Abraham, that of his father Isaac, and his own merit. Ishmael and Esau, in contrast, did not possess this threefold merit.

10 Indeed, God found the Jewish peoplefaithful to their destiny, for when He sought to give them the Torah in a desert land, they willingly followed Him into a desolate wasteland filledwith howling creaturesto receive it. Furthermore, they accepted the Torah in a threefold manner, parallel to the threefold merits of their forefathers: They undertook to use their intellect to study it—thereby emulating Jacob, who was particularly devoted to studying the Torah;13 beyond this, they undertook to fulfill any of God’s decrees that were beyond their ability to grasp intellectually—thereby emulating Abraham, who actively sought to subject humanity to God’s kingship;14 beyond even this, they undertook to submit their entire lives to God, as a servant does to his master15—thereby emulating Isaac, who was prepared to sacrifice his life for God.16 The descendants of Ishmael and Esau also lived up to their destiny: when God offered them the Torah, they did not accept it.17

Hence, as signs of His affection, He surrounded them with the Clouds of Glory,18 with the tribal banners,19 and even with Mount Sinai itself, by suspending it over them.20 He instructed them; He guarded them from hostile animals and nations as if they were the pupil of His eye.”

The first half of this verse also carries the following, allegorical meaning: He provided for them in the desert, in a dry, parched land. He made them surround Him, as it were, by commanding them to camp around the Tabernacle.

11 As an eagle awakens its nest mercifully, hovering gently over its young so as not to startle them, so did God reveal Himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, manifesting Himself from four directions21 in order not to overwhelm the Israelites with the intensity of a direct revelation from only one direction.

Similarly, just as an eagle spreads its wings when picking up its youngand carries them on its pinions in order to protect them from birds of prey attacking from below, so did God interpose His cloud between the attacking Egyptians and the Israelites when He took the latter out of Egypt.22

12 God, unassisted, guided them safely through the desert, and during this entire time there was no other deity that could contend with Him by successfully attacking His people.

Third Reading 13 He made them figuratively ride on (i.e., helped them subdue) the Land of Israel, the highest place on earth,23 in order that, as soon as they entered the land, they might eat the quick-growing and quick-ripening produce of its fields.

Even the rockiest ground in the Land of Israel produces exceedingly succulent fruit: He nurtured them with honey that oozes even from figs grown in soil hard as a rock, and oil that oozes even from olives grown in flint-stone.

14 And later, He fed them with cream from the milk of the herd, milk from the flock,24 the fat of fat lambs,25fat rams from Bashan, he-goats, and wheat that was as fat as kidneys.26 You will drink fine, strong wine, the blood of the grape.”27

These two verses also carry the following, allegorical meaning:28 [13] “He settled them in strongholds of the land; they ate the spoil of their enemies; He gave them the spoil of the kings of cities and the wealth of those who dwell in strong cities. [14]He gave them the spoils of these nations’ kings and rulers, along with the riches of these nations’ leaders and strong ones, plus the people of these nations’ land and their inheritance, with spoils of their armies and camps. The blood of their mighty ones will be spilled like water.

15 But instead of appreciating God’s bounty and using it properly, the formerly upright people, Yeshurun [from yashar, “upright”],29 i.e., the Jewish people, got fat from overindulgence and kicked rebelliously. You became fat, then thick, and finally covered with fat.

The nation forsook God who made it, and scorned the rock of its salvation.

16 They provoked Him to jealousy by worshipping strange deities. They angered Him by engaging in abominable acts, such as forbidden sexual relations,30 idolatry,31 offering up unfit sacrifices,32 divination,33 and fraud.34

17 They sacrificed to demons of no utility, which was far more vexing than had they worshipped heavenly bodies or forces of nature, which at least provide some benefit to humanity. They sacrificedto a deity whom they had not known beforehand.

These new deities were not only foreign to them; they came into the pantheon of deities only recently, when the Jews started worshipping them, and therefore the non-Jews considered them Jewish idols, even though your fathers had neither feared them nor deified them.

18 You have forgotten God, the Rock who gave birth to you. In so doing, you have prevented Him, so to speak, from bestowing good upon you.

You have forgotten God, who brought you forth from the womb.

Fourth Reading 19 When God saw this, He was disgusted, because His sons and daughters had angered Him.

20 He said, ‘I will hide My face from them. I will see what their lot will then be in the end.

For they are a generation that transforms My good will into anger; they are children who act uneducated. Shortly after vowing to obey Me and listen to Me at Mount Sinai,35 they were unfaithful to Me and made the Golden Calf, for which I continue to add to their demerits whenever I punish them for subsequent transgressions.36

21 They have made Me jealous with a non-god; they have angered Me with their vanities.

Reciprocally, I will make them jealous of their captors by making them subject to a “non-people, i.e., a disreputable nation;37 I will anger them with a debased, atheistic nation.

22 For My wrath kindled a fire, and it blazed in your midst to the very foundations.

It consumed the land and its produce. It set fire to the Temple city, which is set up on mountains.

23 I will heap evil upon evil upon them until I exhaust all My evils upon them, so to speak.

I will use up all My figurative arrows on them. But even so, I will not spurn them completely; they will survive.

24 They will grow hairy from hunger as their bodies try to keep warm, and demons will attack them.

The destruction caused by the demon Meriri38will befall them. I will set even the teeth of cattle and other domesticated animals on them—not only those of wild animals—along with the venom of serpents that crawl in the dust.

25 Outside their cities, the sword of their enemies will destroy them, while inside their homes, dread of their enemies and of pestilence will kill them.

The sword of their enemies will destroy them, bothon account of the idols they worshipped outside their homes in the streets of their cities,39as well as on account of the idols they worshipped indoors.40

Their enemies will kill indiscriminately: the young man, the young girl, the nursing baby, and the old.

26 I would have said, “I will abandon them as completely as I have commanded them to abandon the corners of their fields;41 I will erase their memory from humanity,”

27 were it not that the anger of the enemy is built up against them, and therefore I cannot annihilate them lest their adversaries ascribe their victory to their own, foreign deity,

and lest they say, “The power of our hand is supreme, and it is not God who has done all this.”

28 For these enemies are bewildered nation, and they possess no understanding.

Fifth Reading 29 For were they wise, they would understand this.

They would understand the reason behind all that befell Israel in their end.

30 They should have understood and asked, “How could one of us pursue 1,000 of them, and two of us cause 10,000 of them to flee,

were it not that God, their Rock, sold them, and that God delivered them into our hands?”@’@”

31 Moses continued in his own voice, They should have understood that their rock is not like our Rock, and that until now, no one could overpower us.

Yet now, our enemies judge us. Obviously, then, God is responsible.”

32 Moses continued, reverting to God’s voice, I would have done this to Israel (were it not that their enemy would ascribe its victory to itself or to its deity) since their vine is the vine of (i.e., they act like) Sodom, and their deeds are from the field of Gomorrah.

Their grapes are the grapes of bitterness, and since their actions are bitter, their clusters from which they squeeze wine to drink (i.e., their rewards) deserve likewiseto be bitter.

33 Their wine (i.e., their cup of punishment) is like the venom of dragons.

Their ‘wine’ is like the cruel, poisonous venom of snakes.

34 Is not all that they do stored away with Me? Is it not all sealed in My memory’s storehouses? Do they think they can hide their actions from Me?

35 I have the means to avenge them, and these means will repay them when their foot falters (i.e., when the merit of their ancestors is exhausted).

For the day of their calamity is near (i.e., it is easy for Me to make it occur whenever I so please), and their destiny will come upon them quickly at that time.”

36 Moses continued, All the above describes how God will administer corrective punishment to you for your future misdeeds. After this punishment has served its purpose, God will comfort you. After God will have chastised His people, He will relent of His anger toward His servants.

When He sees that the strength of their enemies is growing, and that no one among His people is being saved, either by a ruler or by one who strengthens them,

37 He will say to His people, ‘Where are your false deities that you served, or the rock in whom you trusted for protection,

38 who “ate” the fat of your sacrifices and “drank” the wine of your libations?

Let these deities arise and help you! Let that rock be your protection!

39 See, now, from this punishment that you have defenselessly suffered and from the help I will now give you, that it is I who raises up and I who cuts down, and there is no deity on par with Me who can prevent Me from doing anything.

I kill and I bring to life; I strike and I heal, and no one can deliver those who rebel against Me from My hand.

Sixth Reading 40 For in My anger against your enemies, I raise My hand to heaven to swear, and say, “I live forever—so to speak—only

41 if I will sharpen the blade of My sword so it glistens like lightning, and only if My hand will dismiss My attribute of mercy, with which I behaved toward your enemies until now, and will instead take hold of My attribute of judgment, which I will now exercise toward them! For I was only temporarily angry with you, whereas they persecuted you beyond what I required of them.42

I will execute vengeance on My adversaries, and repay those nations who cause others to hate Me by denying Me.

42 I will make My arrows drunk with the blood of your enemy; My sword will devour their flesh, in order to avenge the blood of the slain and captive of Israel as well as to avenge all your enemy’s other sins, and those of their ancestors, from the very first breach the enemy made in your security.

Nonetheless, I am always in full control of the means I employ to execute justice; thus, even if I send a lightning bolt, I can withdraw it before it reaches its target if the offender repents in time.”@’@”

43 Moses then addressed the nations of the world: “Nations! Praise God regarding His people, who remained true to Him throughout their sufferings, for they knew that all He did was for their good, for He will avenge the blood of His servants thatHis enemies shed.

He will requite vengeance to His adversaries for the robberies they committed and the violence they perpetrated against Israel,43 and appease His land by appeasing His people for the miseries that they suffered.”

Listening to the Poem

Seventh Reading 44 Moses came to the assembly he had convened and spoke all the words of this poem so the people could hear it. Afterwards, in order to demonstrate that authority was now passing from him to Joshua, and also in order to forestall any objections that the people might raise to Joshua’s authority after Moses’ death, Moses had Joshua repeat the poem, assisted, as was Moses’ custom with his own discourses, by a paraphraser who elucidated his words in a form suitable for all. Although Joshua had been delivering his own public discourses assisted by a paraphraser for some months now, as God had told Moses he should,44 this time Joshua repeated the same message that Moses had just delivered. Thus, this was Joshua’s first official act of leadership. Thus, on that day, Moses served as the people’s leader together with Joshua. Despite this honor, Joshua comported himself modestly, as if he were still the novice he was when he was only known as Hoshea,45 the son of Nun, rather than as if he were Moses’ successor.46

45 Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel

46 and said to them, “Pay close attention to all of the words that I testify for you this day, so that you may command your children to safeguard the Torah’s teachings by studying them diligently, in order to properly do all that is contained in the words of this Torah. Indeed, your eyes, heart, and ears must all be focused on the Torah if you hope to understand it correctly.

47 For it is not an unrewarding pursuit for you; rather, it is your very life, and by means of this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land into which you are crossing over the Jordan River to possess. In addition, you will be duly rewarded for every word of the Torah that you properly expound.

Instructions for Moses’ Death

Maftir 48 God spoke to Moses on that very day, saying,

49 “Ascend this Mount Avarim to Mount Nebo, which is in Moab, and which faces Jericho, and behold Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites as a possession,

50 and die on the mountain that you are climbing and be gathered to your people in the manner you requested,47 i.e., exactly as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.

51 As you requested, I will mention the reason why you are not being allowed to enter the Promised Land: it is because you led the people to betray Me—and you did this publicly, in the midst of all the Israelitesin the incident of ‘the waters of dispute’ in Kadesh, in the desert of Tzin. You made them betray Me because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the Israelites.48

52 Look at the land, for since I know how much you cherish it, I will allow you to see the land from afar. But as you know, you will not enter there, i.e., to the land I am giving the Israelites.”

When the people heard about these instructions, they vowed that they would not let Moses ascend the mountain to die. God, hearing their intentions, said that He would instruct Moses to ascend the mountain in broad daylight, in full view of everyone, but that nonetheless, no one would be able to prevent Moses from doing as he had been instructed.49