These are the words [of subtle rebuke] which Moshe spoke to all the Jewish people in [the Plains of Mo'av, on the east] bank of the Jordan. [He then mentions the places where they rebelled against G‑d:] "In the wilderness, in the plain[s of Mo'av], at the Sea of Reeds, [in the wilderness] of Paran, between Tofel and Lavan, at Chatzairos and at Di-Zahav."1

Classic Questions:

What did Moshe say to the Jewish People? (v. 1:1)

Rashi: These are words of rebuke, since all the places where they angered G‑d are listed here. But, out of respect for the Jewish people, Moshe was vague with his words and he only hinted [at their sins, by mentioning the places where the sins occurred, and not the sins themselves]:

"In the desert"—he rebuked them for angering G‑d in the desert when they said, "If only we had died [in Egypt],"2 etc.

"In the plain"—the sin of Ba'al-Pe'or at Shitim, in the plains of Mo'av.3

"At the Sea of Reeds"—their rebellion at the Reed Sea.4

"Paran"—what they did in the Desert of Paran, through the spies.

"Between Tofel and Lavan"—Rabbi Yochanan said: We have searched the entire Torah, but we have found no place named Tofel or Lavan! However, this means that he rebuked them because of the foolish things they had said (תפלו), about the manna which was white (לבן), saying, "We're disgusted by this insubstantial bread."5

"Chatzairos"—with the rebellion of Korach. Another explanation: He said to them, "You should have learned from what I did to Miriam at Chatzairos because of slander. But you spoke against G‑d."

"Di-Zahav" (lit., "enough gold")—He rebuked them for the calf they had made as a result of their abundance of gold.

The Rebbe's Teachings

Moshe's Subtle Rebuke (v. 1)

Rashi's comments on verse 1 prompt the following questions:

  1. What problem at the literal level was troubling Rashi, leading him to conclude that the list of locations in verse 1 was a subtle rebuke of the Jewish people?

  2. Why did Rashi need to stress, "All the places where they angered G‑d are listed here"? Surely it is obvious that Rashi is speaking about our verse? Rashi could simply have written, "These are words of rebuke, since all the places where they angered G‑d are listed."

  3. Rashi writes that "all the places where they angered G‑d are listed here." However, this does not appear to be the case, since the verse does not refer to the rebellions at Marah6 and Refidim.7

The Explanation

  1. Rashi was troubled: Why does the verse state, "These are the words which Moshe spoke to all the Jewish people on the bank," without even mentioning what Moshe's "words" were?

    Rashi concluded that our verse must contain the actual words that Moshe said to the Jewish people. Thus, the list of locations at the end of the verse is not, as it first appears, a description of where Moshe said his words, but rather, they are Moshe's words themselves.

    This leaves us with the question: Why did Moshe list a series of locations to the Jewish people? Rashi explains that this was a form of subtle rebuke, in which Moshe admonished the Jewish people for their various past rebellions. But out of respect, he did not rebuke them directly, but indirectly, by mentioning the locations of their various rebellions.

  2. To stress the above point, Rashi writes, "All the places where they angered G‑d are listed here," i.e., the reader should not think that "the words which Moshe spoke" are recorded elsewhere. Rather, Moshe's words are cited "here" in our verse.

  3. With the phrase, "He rebuked them for angering G‑d in the desert, when they said, 'If only we had died [in Egypt],' etc.," Rashi makes clear that he is not referring to one particular rebellion, but rather, to all the rebellions in the desert, beginning with the complaint in the Desert of Sin, "If only we had died [in Egypt]." I.e., Rashi's use of the word "etcetera" indicates that Moshe was alluding here also to the complaints of the Jewish people that followed this one. Therefore, Rashi writes, "All the places where they angered G‑d are listed here."

However, this begs the question: If all the desert rebellions had already been indicated by the word "etcetera," then why does Rashi continue to specify the complaints about the manna, the sin of the spies and the incident with Korach? Surely these are also "desert rebellions" which were already indicated by the word "etcetera"?

It would seem, therefore, that when Rashi refers to the rebellions "in the desert," he does not mean those incidents which occurred geographically in the desert, but rather, he is referring to the rebellions which occurred as a direct consequence of being in the desert. Thus, while the word "etcetera" alludes to the complaint in Refidim about a lack of water—a problem associated with being in the desert—it does not allude to the incidents of the spies, Korach, and the Golden Calf, which were caused by other factors.8

One problem that remains with this explanation is that Rashi's "etcetera" is written after the verse which describes the Jewish people's rebellion in the Desert of Sin (in Shemos 16:3). However, the rebellion at Marah (regarding the bitter, undrinkable water) occurred before this point, and thus does not appear to be included in Rashi's "etcetera" which only alludes to rebellions subsequent to that of the Desert of Sin. So how is the rebellion at Marah alluded to in Moshe's words (in keeping with Rashi's statement that "All the places where they angered G‑d are listed here")?

Upon closer examination of Rashi's choice of words, this question fades away: Rashi writes, "All the places where they angered G‑d are listed here." But in the Torah's description of the rebellion at Marah, it says, "The people complained to Moshe" (ibid. 15:24), suggesting that this was not a direct rebellion against G‑d, but rather, against Moshe.

Thus, when listing "All the places where they angered G‑d," Moshe did not mention Marah, since Marah was a rebellion against Moshe's own leadership, and not directly against G‑d. So, while Moshe felt it appropriate to admonish the Jewish people for their sins against G‑d, Moshe did not seek to defend his own honor by rebuking the people for rebelling against him.

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Devarim 5725)