Daniel D. Stuhlman

Devarim – End Date is Near

Imagine that for the past 39 years you never had to purchase or prepare food, never needed to purchase new clothes, and never had to pay any rent, mortgage, or utilities.  Imagine not doing very much to earn a living or having anything to do with the financial or administrative tasks to run your personal, family, or communal life.  Sounds like a vacation, no? That is close to the condition that the Israelites find themselves in the months before entering the land of Israel. The journey in the desert was to prepare the people for what they would need to know to settle the land. Moshe provided religious, moral, and civil instruction and arranged for courts to adjudicate disputes.  But for most of the population the instructions were more abstract than concrete and more theoretical than practical.  For example, the book of Devarim reviews the pilgrimage holidays because the observing of them in the Land of Israel would be totally different from the dessert, while the Shabbat would be almost the same before and after the entrance to the Land.

Many of my comments on the Torah portions are connected to business or organizational lessons that one can learn from the narrative, instructions, and laws given by God. Moshe, despite knowing his leadership had an end date, begins his most important series of teachings.  He remains dedicated to his leadership role.  His first discourse is a reminder that we came from Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya’akov, caused the people to multiply, became slaves in Egypt, God brought us out of Egypt, journeyed though the wilderness, now face new challenges.  Moshe warns us not to repeat the mistake of the spies or fear the peoples who seek to prevent the conquest of Israel.

Two hundred mitzvot appear in the Book of Devarim that focus on national institutions, political and judicial system, the laws of war, social justice. Most of these laws are connected to the theme of creating a Jewish society. For example, there are laws against intermarriage.

The business lesson is that one has to prepare people for the mission of the organization. People in the organization need a body of culture that unites them.  Sometimes the mission is more important than the details.  For example, observance of Shabbat pushes aside all the mundane work week activities.  Oneg Shabbat does not include activities that are against the rules of melacha (work).  Sometimes the law or ethics supersedes monetary considerations.

The calendar is arranged so that we always read the beginning of Devarim on the Shabbat before the Ninth of Av. Last week the double portion was read just to keep on the same portion as the Land of Israel. Tisha b’Av is a reminder to not fail in following Moshe’s instructions. Someday, we hope in our prayers, Tisha b’Av will be a time for joy and gladness and the words of Yeshayuha (1:27) found at the end of today’ haftorah will be true.

צִיּ֖וֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט תִּפָּדֶ֑ה וְשָׁבֶ֖יהָ בִּצְדָקָֽה׃

Zion shall be saved with justice;  Her repentant ones return with righteousness..


Discussion Questions

1 A whole generation died in the journey during the 40 years in the wilderness.  Why do we not have any memorials to these people? They suffered in slavery and never merited to live in the Land of Israel.

  1. How does a leader turn on basic life skills such as raising crops, preparing food and keeping house, when no one alive has any memory of the activities?
  2. In verse 1:5 Ha-torah hazot mean? בְּעֵ֥בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֖ן בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מוֹאָ֑ב הוֹאִ֣יל מֹשֶׁ֔ה בֵּאֵ֛ר אֶת־הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את


Dedicated this week as a Mazel Tov to Yehudah Dov ben Yona HaKohen v’Meira on his upcoming marriage Shira bat Eitan v’Shifrah. May he learn the lessons of history in this week’s parsha and create a bayit ne’eman b”Yisrael where he and his wife are lights to the world.



About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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