Israel Drazin

Disobedience to God’s ways has consequences

There are multiple changes in spellings and repetitions in Deuteronomy. This contradicts Rabbi Akiva’s view that God dictated the Torah to Moses, even every letter. He claimed that God is perfect and has no need to repeat what is communicated. If there is a change in spelling and seeming repetitions, they must be understood as God’s method of teaching additional lessons. They must be studied carefully to unearth and unravel the divine teachings. It is easy to understand the changes in spelling. Deuteronomy is Moses’ version of the past. It is his words. But why are there so many repetitions?  The prior biblical portion frequently repeated several different terms that God requires certain acts, and doing what God desires will result in a good life, while failing to do so would provoke opposite results. Why does Moses repeat this and do so many times?

  • It is likely that the answer to this question is simple. Moses was convinced that his people, during his lifetime and after that, would, because of human nature, act contrary to what will benefit them. They would act impulsively without adequate thinking. And, like a concerned father, he felt the need to repeat often, with many examples, that harmful acts in life have consequences. Moses was correct. This is a lesson most of us still need to learn.
  • The assassin and spy Jason Bourne, in Robert Ludlum’s “The Bourne Supremacy,” advised his accomplice that if you want to persuade a person, show them things or speak of something they saw. You cannot convince with generalities, morality, or arguments. Moses did this. He reminded the misbehaving Israelites of events they saw or were involved in and criticized them for how they acted when the occasions occurred.
  • In the weekly-read biblical portion Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, a word that Targum Onkelos and Saadia Gaon translate as the reward,[1] Moses assures the people that God loves them and has made their life pleasurable and addresses their needs. He does not speak to his people as their shepherd, the vision he had in Exodus 3 when he was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, in the farthest end of the wilderness, near the mountain of God, in Horeb, also called Sinai. He saw a bush that burned with fire but was not consumed.
  • God spoke to him there and insisted, despite Moses’ reluctance, that he return to Egypt to rescue and shepherd his people.
  • Some scholars explain the burning bush resulting from burning oil beneath it. This is clever. However, I see the event as Moses’ vision, the insight he drew from shepherding. It is good, even kind, to care for sheep. But it is far better to do so for people. Then, despite feeling safe and comfortable at home with his wife and two sons in Midian, he listened to his inner voice and returned despite his internal struggle to remain or go.
  • Now, after forty years of leadership, he addresses his people. Not as a shepherd, but as later rabbis called him, Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher. He instructed his flock and us today during the final year of his life.
  • He mentions how God saved them from Egyptian slavery. He warns them that God does not want them to mimic pagan practices.
  • He repeatedly stresses verbs that emphasize action close to thirty times, the roots sh-m-a, “accept,” sh-m-r, “do” and “be careful,” a-s-h, “do,” and a-v-d, “do.” An additional fourth action word is added, as we will see below.
  • He recaps the half-dozen required acts mentioned in the Shema in Va’ethchanan 6:4-9.
  • He also reminds his people of the consequences, rewards and punishment, following occasions in their past. He speaks of the people’s rebellions during the desert sojourn. He recalls the construction of the golden calf.
  • The portion contains well-remembered sayings, “Humans do not live by bread alone, but they live by everything that comes from the mouth of Y-h-v-h” (8:3). “Do not say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand got me this wealth” (8:17). “You should love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (10:18-19).[2]
  • Moses states that he neither ate nor drank during the two occasions when he ascended Sinai to obtain the first and second Decalogue – the second needed after he shattered the first – for forty days each time. Should we accept this as true?
  • At the same time, he states that God wrote the Decalogue with His finger. This obvious metaphor indicates that God somehow dictated or inspired the Decalogue. It is likely that his claim of abstention from food and drink for eighty days is likewise metaphoric and means he worked hard without indulgencies.
  • Similarly, Moses asserts he was on the mount each time for forty days and nights. The number forty appears often in scripture. Isn’t it also metaphoric, suggesting an extended period?
  • Rashi notes that the Hebrew word for “tablets” in 9:10 lacks the letter vav, which makes it singular, “tablet.” Following the notion of Rabbi Akiva, he writes that this indicates that the two tablets were alike. As mentioned, spelling differences are generally frequent in Deuteronomy and the Bible.
  • In verse 9:23, Moses berates the Israelites for velo he’emantem, which many anachronistically translate as “you did not believe him.” The meaning “believe” was given to the word post-biblically. The translation here does not fit the context, which speaks about improper, even rebellious acts, not a wrong mindset. The root of the word is a-m-n, “accept.” This is why Jewish law states that when a person responds amen when another makes a blessing, it is considered an act of acceptance. It is as if the person saying amen made the blessing him or herself.
  • In short, Moses emphasizes that Jews in the past and today must act, but only when they think and know the consequences of the behavior.
  • Thinking is more precious than all five senses.[3]

[1] Nachmanides renders it “because [you will hearken…].

[2] Rashi states this is a significant matter because all people, especially strangers, need help, as the patriarch Jacob when he left home and was a stranger in a new land.

[3] The correct understanding of the Chassidic Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.