Torah Readings for Saturday, August 2, 2014Shabbat Chazon
Devarim (Words)1:1-3:22 Devarim (Deuteronomy)
Devarim (Deuteronomy) is the name of the fifth book of the Torah. It is also the name of the first sedrah or weekly reading. The Hebrew word Devarim means “words.” Devarim takes its name from the first significant word in the reading, “These are the words (Devarim) that Moshe spoke to all
.” Deuteronomy, the English name for this
book, is a term meaning “the second telling or repetition of the law.” This English name is actually consistent with
an older Hebrew name for this book - Mishneh Torah or a “Recapitulation of the
Torah.” Traditionally, Devarim is viewed
as Moshe’s last will and testament to the Jewish People. Picture the aged leader, with only five weeks
to live, standing on the plains of Moab reviewing the past forty years in the
Wilderness. He has so much to tell these
people. He has new laws for them to
follow once they cross the Israel Jordan River. Plus which, he is afraid they are going to
louse things up. After all, he knows how
badly they behaved when he was alive.
What are they going to do once they get to Canaan,
with all of its additional temptations and he is not around to lead them? As has been said before, he probably had the
same panic that parents do when their children leave home for the first
time. So you sit them down the night
before they leave for college, or whatever, and you just tell them everything
that they need to know that you are sure that you have not told them and that
they will not figure out on their own.
If you have ever been through that, you can probably appreciate what
Moshe was going through at a human level.
From a presentation point of view, Devarim can be divided into five parts - Three Discourses by Moshe, followed by a Song, and then the Final Blessings of the Israelites. The book actually ends with the death of Moshe. According to Telushkin’s listing, two hundred of the six hundred thirteen commandments are found in this book. Other commentators point out that these commandments are not all repetitions of previous themes since there are at least seventy that are “completely new.” There is an undercurrent of rebuke in much that Moshe has to say. The Israelites need to be reminded of their transgressions, not so that they can be ashamed, but so that they will understand how they got to where they are and so that they will not commit these transgressions again. Devarim is unique among the books of the Torah because Moshe is speaking directly to the people. It does not say, God spoke these words to Moshe saying speak to the Israelites. Rather the text says, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all
.” This is a unique shift worthy of discussion
at a Shabbat Kiddush. Israel
The Book of Devarim plays a unique role in the history of the Jewish people. Chapters 22 and 23 of the Second Book of Kings (one of the books in the second section of the TaNaCh) describe a religious reformation that took place under King Josiah. Josiah was King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, from 640 B.C.E. until his death in 608 B.C.E. Workmen repairing the
found a book referred to as the Sefer
Ha-Torah or The Book of the Teaching.
When Josiah read this book, he undertook sweeping religious reforms that
brought the errant nation back to the path of God. For a variety of reasons, including the
nature of the some of the reforms he instituted, the Sefer Ha-Torah is assumed
to be an early version of Devarim. This
story leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which was
how the book came to be lost in the first place. As you will see, the teachings in the Book of Devarim
are the source for many customs and beliefs practiced, in whole or in part, by
most Jews today. According to the editors
of Etz Hayim, these include the Shema which is the statement of the core
belief in the Oneness of God; the weekly reading of the Torah; the recitation
of the Grace After Meals; the chanting of Kiddush on Shabbat; the placement of
the mezuzah on the doorpost; wearing tzitzit (and by extension the talit);
laying tefillin and giving charity to the poor.
Additionally, Devarim provides us with five of the “Six
Remembrances.” We will discuss these in
more detail as we encounter them in upcoming weekly readings. Temple
Devarim is the sedrah that is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. The sedrah is basically a recapitulation of the events that occurred from the time the Israelites were at
until they arrived at the Plains of Moab where Moshe agreed to let the two and
one half tribes settle on the east bank of the Mt. Sinai . Having just finished reading Bamidbar, you
might find it interesting to compare that version of the story with Moshe’s
summary. There will be no attempt here
to summarize a text that is already a summary.
However, there are a few salient points that are worth noting. Jordan
Criticism: Commentators view the opening verses (1:1-5) as Moshe chastising the Israelites. The references are oblique. This is in keeping with the practice of not shaming people when mentioning what they have done wrong.
Divine Purpose: Moshe clearly states the reason why they have made the journey. God told the Israelites it was time to
Sinai and take
possession of the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (1:6-8). In other words, they are not just a bunch of
wandering nomads; they have a divine mission to perform. At the same time, they cannot perform it by
hanging around leave
Mt. . They must leave that holy place and take the
Torah into the world. Mt.
Denial: Moshe is told in Bamidbar that he will not be entering the Promised Land. At that time, he accepted God’s judgment without comment. But in a recurring theme of the book of Devarim, Moshe expresses his displeasure with this divine decision. “With me, as well, the Lord became angry because of you, saying: ‘You, too, shall not come there.’” In other words, Moshe is blaming the Israelites for fact that he is not going to cross the
. Those who view Moshe as this mythic figure
may find these words troubling. But if
you remember that Moshe is a human being, capable of expressing anger and
disappointment, then you may find poignancy and a richer meaning to these angry
Leadership: Moshe is vitally concerned about the orderly transfer of power. He is constantly promoting Joshua as his successor. But he also takes care to remind Joshua that his success will be tied to the Lord. Moshe reminds Joshua that he does not have to base this trust on blind faith, but rather on the deeds he has already seen performed (-22).
414. The injunction to appoint competent judges ().
415. The judge’s obligation to act fairly and without fear of the litigants ().
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Words and Things“Devarim” is usually translated to mean “words.” “Devarim” may also be translated as “things,” “incidents,” or “occurrences.” The opening line of the sedrah could then be translated as “These are the things (incidents or occurrences) that Moshe spoke about.” The listing of the places in the next verse is a form of shorthand referring to episodes where the Israelites showed a lack of faith in God or otherwise did not measure up to the task at hand. In other words, as Weisblum puts it, the opening verse should read, “These are things that you have done wrong.”
The Mouth of MosheWhen God called to Moshe at the Burning Bush, Moshe told God that he could not accept the job because he was not a man of words, “Ish Devarim.” After all, he had a speech impediment. Yet here we are, forty years later and Moshe’s book is called Devarim, words. In fact, he has enough words in him that he will talk to the people for the last five weeks of his life. What happened to our tongue-tied shepherd? Could it be that the zeal for the Lord and knowledge of Torah overcame his speech impediment? That is one question that I will leave to each of you to answer.
The Sedrah and the CalendarThis sedrah is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word “Aycha” is used for the first time in the TaNaCh in this sedrah (1:12). “Aycha” is translated variously as “Alas” or “How.” “Aycha” appears for the third time as the first word in the Book of Lamentations, which is read on Tisha B’Av. The Hebrew name for the Book of Lamentations is Aycha. You will have to read the rest of this Guide to find when the word “Aycha” appears for the second time in the TaNaCh.
Judges and JusticesJudaism is a religion thick with laws. The concepts of justice and a just society are themes that recur throughout Jewish writings. Devarim places a special emphasis on this concept. We see it for the first time in -15 when Moshe provides us with the characteristics of a good judge and the manner in which a case should be adjudicated.
Delegation of AuthorityMoshe reminds the people of how he chose judges to hear their cases while they were still camped at
MinyanThere are numerous explanations as to why ten is the minimum number of Jews for quorum for public, communal worship. This sedrah provides another. In Devarim 1:15, ten is the smallest number over which a chieftain presided. If Moshe stopped with ten, then it is assumed ten is the smallest number for communal prayer. Moshe also references the ten spies who did not want to go into the land. They were an “edah” or a congregation. If ten could work for an evil purpose - thwarting God’s plan to go into the Promised Land - then in typical Jewish fashion, ten could also be an “edah” for good - communal prayer including the reading of the Torah.
Love and the LawAs Blu Greenberg points out in “Challenge to Convention,” her commentary on this week’s portion, Devarim is thick with laws. According to her, the book contains 200 of the 613 mitzvoth. At one point, the Talmud divides these laws into two categories: laws that govern relations between humans and God and laws that govern relations between one person and another. For those in need of a visual, think of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. On one side are the laws that begin “I am the Lord thy God” and on the other side are the laws that start, “Thou shalt not murder.” But then the Rabbis double back on themselves by saying that violating laws that govern relationships between people really violate the covenant with God. For example, we are told not keep a false set of weights. This sounds like one of those human to human laws. But the text tells us not to do this because it offends God. In other words, the line of demarcation is not clear. Since each person is God’s creation, hurting that person is really a manifestation of “hurting” God. How do we show our love for God? By treating each person with love. How do we know what it means to love God? He has given us the law so that, among other things, we can manifest that love. Love does not replace the law. Love is a feeling, an emotion. The challenge is to find a venue for demonstrating that love. In Judaism, “observance of the law is linked to love. ‘And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only this, to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.’” ().
The Antiquity of DevarimA whole body of literature has developed over the last two centuries attacking the antiquity of the Book of Devarim. I have neither the time, nor the space nor the expertise to do justice to this topic. Some critics claim that the priests wrote Devarim during the reign of King Josiah, just before the workmen repairing the
Echoes of EgyptThe description of the encounter with King Sihon of Heshbon (2:26- 2:35) raises the question of free will versus predestination that we dealt with in the story of the Exodus. When Moses dealt with Pharaoh, God would “harden his heart.” When Moses asked King Sihon for the right to pass through his land, the king “refused to let us pass through, because the Lord had stiffened his will and hardened his heart in order to deliver him in your power…” Reading the text as written, God deliberately intervened to affect the course of history. So, why does God intervene here and remain the absent bystander in other episodes? If God could intervene with the King of Heshbon, why didn’t he intervene (I will leave it to supply the event which will finish the question)? And now you have another item to discuss when you sit down to Shabbat Kiddush for I do not have an answer.
Devarim Quiz Time1. What analogy did Moshe use to describe the current population of
2. How did Moshe describe God’s advice about passing through the hill country of Esau? ()
3. According to Moshe, who died in the 38 years from the time the Israelites left Kadesh Barnea until they crossed the Zared Valley? (2:1)
4. What possession that belonged to Og, King of Bashan, did Moshe find worthy of mention? ()
5. According to Moshe, what was he not going to be allowed to do because God was angry with him? (3:4)
(Source: Nelson’s Amazing Bible Trivia)
The Man and The Book: This is not the first time we have read about Isaiah, nor will it be the last. Fifteen of the fifty-four haftarot read on Saturday mornings come from the Book of Isaiah. In fact we will be reading about Isaiah for eight straight weeks, since the seven haftarot all come from the Book of Isaiah. After a while, the challenge will be to tell you something you do not already know. Therefore, I am going to deviate from the normal practice, and just provide you with direct material from various cites over the next several weeks. By drawing directly on authors, you will not feel like you are getting nothing more than a re-hash of material you have already received.
Isaiah was a paramount shaper of the prophetic vision. He was active over an extraordinarily lengthy period of time: "The prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, who prophesied concerning
and Judah in the reigns
of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Jerusalem " (Isaiah 1:1). Isaiah was the most "political" of
the prophets. In the face of Assyrian
expansionism he counseled a passive political and military approach. He put his faith in divine salvation, which
would certainly follow from a necessary change in the moral leadership and in
the people's spiritual tenacity. Every
"earthly" attempt to alter the course of events was foredoomed, since
the mighty Assyria was no more than a "rod" in God's hands with which
to punish the sins of Jerusalem:
"Again the Lord spoke to me, thus:
'Because that people has spurned the gently flowing waters of Siloam
assuredly, my Lord will bring up against them the mighty, massive waters of the
Euphrates, the king of Assyria and all his multitude’" (8:6-7). When the comprehensive religious reforms
introduced by King Hezekiah seemed, at first, to justify the hopes held out for
him by Isaiah, the prophet supported him in the difficult moments of the
Assyrian siege: "Assuredly, thus
said the Lord concerning the king of Assyria:
He shall not enter this city; he shall not shoot an arrow at it, or
advance upon it with a shield, or pile up a siege mound against us. He shall go back by the way he came, he shall
not enter this city declares the Lord" (37:33-34). However, Isaiah took an unwaveringly dim view
of Hezekiah’s attempts to forge alliances with Judah and with the envoys of the
Babylonian king Merodach-baladan, as a wedge against Assyrian
expansionism. Such efforts, he said,
attested to insufficient faith in the Lord.
Isaiah is also considered the most universal of the prophets: "In the days to come, the Mount of the
Lord's House shall stand firm above the mountains.... And the many peoples shall go and shall
say: Come; let us go up to the Mount of
the Lord..."(2:2-3). Egypt
From the “New Jerusalem Mosaic” Website sponsored by the
The Message: The haftarah comes from the first 27 verses of the Book of Isaiah. The prophet opens by declaring that this is his “Chazon” or in English, his “Vision.” In other words, what we are about to “hear” is prophecy in the truest sense of the word. Please note, I said “hear.” The language is majestic and must be read aloud if it is to be fully appreciated.
There is a three-part indictment. The people have broken the covenant by turning their back on God. “Children I have reared and brought up, And they have rebelled against me” (1:2). The people have turned the religious practices into meaningless sham. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?” (). “Bring no more vain oblations” (). Finally, they have perverted the very system of justice ordained by God. “Everyone loves bribes, and follows after reward; They judge not the fatherless, Neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them” (). For this land will be laid waste and the transgressing Israelites will be punished. “And the daughter of
is left as a booth in a vineyard”
(1:8). “Therefore saith the Lord…I will
ease Me of Mine adversaries, And avenge Me of Mine enemies” ().
But as is always the case, the haftarah ends on a positive note. “ Zion
shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return with righteousness” (). Zion
Theme-Link: According to tradition, the link here is not with the content of the sedrah but with the calendar. This is the third of three Haftarot of Rebuke read after the Seventeenth of Tammuz and before Tisha B’Av. The Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon. It takes its name from the first word of the haftarah. Chazon literally means vision as in, “The vision (Chazon) of Isaiah son of Amoz which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (1:1). The Vision is the vision of the destruction of the land and exile. This is certainly an appropriate theme for the last Shabbat before commemorating the destruction of the Temple and the exile from the Promised Land. Modern translations such as Etz Hayim and Plaut translate Chazon to mean “prophecies.” They may have the better of the linguistic case although the word “Chazon” does mean “vision.” More to the point, their translation betrays the majesty of the sentence and the sense of the special Shabbat, which is the Sabbath of the Vision. A second reason for reading this haftarah is that it uses the Hebrew word “Aycha” (). This word is translated as “how” or “alas.” As we already know, the word “Aycha” appears only four times in the TaNaCh and it is the Hebrew name for the Book of Lamentations which is read on Tisha B’Av. It may not be intentional, but there does appear to be a thematic link between the sedrah and the haftarah. In the sedrah, Moshe sets out the requirements for justice including impartiality, hearing all cases, and avoiding bribes. In the haftarah, Isaiah tells the people that violating these very admonitions about judicial fairness will lead to exile and destruction.
Lyndon Johnson and Isaiah: As Senator or President, when Lyndon Johnson sought to reach a compromise on some thorny issue, he would open with “Come now, let us reason together” (). Johnson knew the words came from Isaiah; he often gave the prophet credit for the line. But I wonder if Johnson knew the context in which they were uttered. They certainly were not intended to be the opening gambit in political wheeling and dealing, no matter how noble the cause. Instead, as Dr. I.W. Slotki points out in verses 18 - 20 (which are quoted in their entirety), God is reasoning with His people, offering pardon and prosperity to the pertinent and death and destruction to the rebellious: “18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken.” Actually, this is a pretty unique concept of the God-Man relationship. God is not commanding, He is not threatening with divine thunderbolts. God is “reasoning” with Man to get him to follow in His path.
Raoul Wallenberg Shabbat - Remembering The Righteous Among The NationsThe USCJ calendar designates August 4, the birthdate of Raoul Wallenberg, as Raoul Wallenberg Day. It is customary among Jews to mark the anniversary of the death of a person as a time of memorial. But in Wallenberg’s case, nobody is sure how or when he died; only that he died in the hands of the Soviets. There is a tragic similarity between the fate of Wallenberg and the fate of the people he sought to save. Nobody ever stepped in to try and save Wallenberg when he was captured. And nobody did anything to try to and find him once the Soviets had dumped him into their prison system. He was a victim of silence and “the big picture” every bit as much as the Jews were. It is our custom to designate the first Shabbat as Raoul Wallenberg Shabbat in honor of his efforts and so his name would never be forgotten. Thanks to the efforts of Temple Judah, Governor Chet Culver “proclaimed August 4, 2007, the 95th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg as Raoul Wallenberg Day, in honor of his courageous humanitarian efforts in war torn Hungary during World War II.” This was the first such recognition by the state of Iowa. Over time, we have expanded our effort to include all of those whom are considered “The Righteous Among The Nations” such as Aristides de Sousa Mendes who defied his government and issued transit papers to Jews so they could escape across the Pyrenees or Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who defied his government by issuing transit papers to Lithuanian Jews so they could escape the Holocaust. Both of them lost their jobs, their careers and died in an impoverished state. We have done a great job of remembering the killers. We owed it to these people to tell and remember their tales. For it behooves us to speak up for the “widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst” not just because God tells us to but because there were people who made the effort when everybody else closed their doors to us and closed their ears to our screams.
Raoul Wallenberg, Righteous Gentiles and DevarimThis Torah portion places special emphasis on the qualities of leadership. Regardless of their titles, each of those who acted to save a life showed real leadership. Unfortunately, the Shoah reminds us that too often those who held the mantle of leadership were unworthy of it and their behavior led the people to destruction.
Copyright, August, 2014, Mitchell A. Levin