These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the desert, in the Aravah, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzerot, and Di-Zahav (Deuteronomy 1:1)

According to the Sifri, the numerous place names listed here are not landmarks indicating where Moses spoke these words—indeed, some of these places do not even exist as geographical locations. Rather, these are words of rebuke by Moses to the people of Israel. Instead of mentioning their sins outright, he alluded to them with these place names:

“In the desert”—the time they complained: “If only we would have died in the desert” (Exodus 17:3).

“In the Aravah (Plain)”—their worship of Baal Peor in the Plains of Moab (Numbers 25).

“Opposite Suf”—the trouble they made at the shores of Yam Suf, the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:11 and Rashi on Exodus 15:22).

“Paran”—the sin of the spies, who were dispatched from Paran (as recounted in Numbers 13 and later in our own Parshah).

“Tofel” and “Lavan” (meaning “libel” and “white”)—their libeling the white manna (Numbers 21:5).

“Chatzerot”—where Korach’s mutiny against Moses took place. 

“Di-Zahav” (literally, “too much gold”)—the sin of the golden calf.

(Sifri, Rashi, et al)

It would have been fitting that the rebukes (in the Book of Deuteronomy) be pronounced by Balaam, and that the blessings (in the Parshah of Balak) be said by Moses. . . . But G‑d said: Let Moses, who loves them, rebuke them; and let Balaam, who hates them, bless them.

(Yalkut Shimoni)

These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel (1:1)

It was only to the people of Israel that Moses spoke of their iniquities and failings. To G‑d, Moses spoke only of the virtues of Israel, and justified them no matter what they did.

(Chassidic saying)

It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea (1:2)

Moses said to them: see what you have caused! There is no shorter way from Horeb (Mount Sinai) to Kadesh-Barnea than by the way of Mount Seir, and even that is a journey of eleven days; nevertheless, you traversed it in three days

—for on the 20th of Iyar they set forward from Horeb (Numbers 10:11) . . . and on the 29th of Sivan they sent the spies from Kadesh-Barnea (Talmud, Taanit 29a); deduct from this period the 30 days they spent at the “Graves of Lust,” where they ate meat for a “month of days” (Numbers 11:20), and the seven days they spent at Chatzerot for the seclusion of Miriam there (ibid. 12:15–16); consequently, they traveled that entire way in three days—

So much did the Divine Presence trouble itself for your sake to hasten your entry into the Land! And because you acted corruptly [in the incident of the spies], you were kept going round Mount Seir for forty years.


Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this Torah (1:5)

He translated it for them into seventy languages.


G‑d spoke to us in Horeb, saying: “You have long enough stayed at this mountain. Turn away, and take your journey . . .” (1:6–7)

The mountain we’re talking about is Mount Sinai, scene of the most monumental event in human history: G‑d’s revelation of His wisdom and will to man. Still, G‑d says: “You’ve been hanging around this mountain long enough. Move on!”

In our lives we also have moments, days or years of revelation, times when we learn and grow and are enriched. But the purpose must always be to move on, move away, and carry the enlightenment and enrichment to someplace else—some corner of creation that awaits redemption.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Bring forth wise and understanding men, known among your tribes, and I will place them at your head (1:13)

The word va’asimeim (“and I will place them”) is written in the Torah lacking the letter yud, so that the word can also be read as va’ashamam, “and their guilt.” This comes to teach us that the faults of a generation rest with its heads and leaders.

(Talmud; Rashi)

When someone comes to a rebbe and seeks his counsel and assistance in dealing with a spiritual malady, the rebbe must first find the same blemish, if only in the most subtle of forms, in his own soul; only then can the rebbe help him to refine and perfect his self and character. This is the deeper significance of that which our sages have said, “The faults of a generation rest with its heads and leaders.”

(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)

Do not give anyone special recognition when rendering judgment (1:17)

An impoverished widow once came to the beit din (courthouse) of the great sage Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna. Weeping bitter tears, she begged him to summon to the court a man she accused of having wronged her.

Rabbi Yehoshua summoned the man to appear before the court, but referred the case to another rabbi, refusing to preside over it himself. “The Torah forbids the taking of bribes,” he explained. “Do you think that a bribe is only a gift of money? Tears can also be a bribe that ‘blinds the clear-sighted’—especially the tears of a poor widow.”

(Maayanah Shel Torah)

You all approached me, and said: “We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land. . . .” And the thing pleased me well (1:22–23)

Moses consulted with G‑d, and G‑d said “Send for yourself” (Numbers 13:2)—as your mind dictates. I am not instructing you; if you so desire, send. . . . By your life, I shall now give you the option to err.

(Rashi; Talmud)


Moreover, we have seen the sons of the giants there (1:28)

The descendents of Shamchazai and Azael, who fell from heaven in the generation of Enosh.


The Chassidic masters explain that the generation of the spies was loath to enter the Land because they feared the transition from the spiritual life they led in the desert (where they were sustained by “bread from heaven” and all their physical needs were provided by miraculous means, and their sole occupation was the study of Torah and the service of G‑d) to a life on the land and all the material entanglements this brings.

This explains the spies’ mention of the “sons of the giants” they encountered in the Land. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 44) relates the story of these “fallen angels”: In the years before the Flood, when violence and promiscuity pervaded the earth, two angels, Shamchazai and Azael, pleaded before the Almighty: “Allow us to dwell among the humans, and we shall sanctify Your name!” But no sooner had the two heavenly beings come in contact with the material world than they too were corrupted.

If these heavenly beings—the spies were saying—could not survive the plunge to materiality, what could be expected of us, mortal and fragile men?

(From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Also with me was G‑d angry for your sakes, saying: “You, too, shall not enter [the Land]” (1:37)

G‑d said to Moses: “With what face do you request to enter the Land?” This may be illustrated by a parable. It is like the case of a shepherd who went out to feed the king’s flock, and the flock was abducted. When the shepherd sought to enter the royal palace, the king said to him: “If you come in now, what will people say? That it was you who have caused the flock to be carried off!”

So too did G‑d say to Moses: “Your greatness is that you have taken the 600,000 out of bondage. But you have buried them in the desert, and will bring into the Land a different generation! This being so, people will think that the generation of the desert have no share in the world to come! No, better be beside them, and you shall in the time to come enter with them.”

(Midrash Rabbah)

They chased you, as bees do, and beat you down in Seir (1:44)

Just as a bee, as soon as it stings a person it dies, so too these [Emorites]—no sooner did they touch you than they died.


G‑d said to me: “Behold, I have begun to give Sichon and his land before you” (2:31)

G‑d bound the supernal minister of the Emorites under Moses’ feet, and made Moses tread on his neck.


G‑d said to me: “Fear him not . . .” (3:2)

In the case of Sichon, it was not necessary for G‑d to reassure Moses in this way. Why did Moses have more cause to fear Og than Sichon? Because he was afraid lest there stand by Og the merit that he served Abraham, as it is written (Genesis 14:13), “The refugee came and informed Abraham [of the capture of Lot]”—and this was Og.