Rabbi Finkelstein


FIRST ALIYAH- The Ramban, in his introduction to the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the fifth book of the Torah, writes that mitzvot such as those involved in levirate marriages and divorce law, though given at Sinai, are first recorded in this book, designed to relate to the new generation about to enter the land of Canaan. This book, also known as Mishne Torah, is designed to review the laws of the Torah mentioned in previous books with the exception of laws pertaining to sacrifices and to the Kohanim. The Kohanim are well versed in the applicable laws to them, and do not require a review.

The Ramban further discusses the words of rebuke that Moshe expresses to the people of Israel, in light of their intransigence and reluctance to follow the word of G-d in various locations in the wilderness, as hinted in the opening sentence of the parsha. (See Rashi for a detailed explanation of the meanings of those names that are mentioned, and as to how the particular sin that was committed in that location is identified through the name of the location. Despite the rebuke, Moshe reminds the Israelites that G-d is compassionate, and that they are witnesses to the Divine Promise to enter Canaan, as they stand near the Jordan River.

According to Rashi, Moshe reserves these words of rebuke to give the people of Israel to the period of time prior to his death, so as not to be challenged. The Ohr Hachaim, on the other hand, indicates that the people are receptive to these words at this point prior to entry into the land, for they say that the stated goal of reaching the Promised Land has been fulfilled. Had Moshe rebuked the people earlier, they would not have been receptive because of the travails of travelling in the unwelcoming wilderness.

SECOND ALIYAH- One has to note that Moshe’s review of what events occurred in the desert is not in chronological order, but reflective of the messages Moshe is transmitting to the Israelites to obey the word of G-d when Joshua succeeds him. Moshe speaks about the selection of judges, an idea prompted by Jethro, Moshe’s father-in-law, to deal with all kinds of legal matters, leaving the major issues for Moshe to decide. The judges have to be knowledgeable, wise, perceptive, and known to the population. Rashi indicates that apparently there are no perceptive people who qualify for those judgeships.

Judges are admonished not to show favoritism, and to respect all cases, big or small. The Talmud states that a judge must perceive that his neck is in a collar (in the original meaning, referring to a chain around his neck), and that there is a sword dangling over him, to impress on him the seriousness of judging the law properly. The Ramban describes the judge as the agent of G-d, and that perhaps explains why the judge is called Elohim in certain verses in the Torah. His decision is a determining factor in the future of the litigants standing before him.

THIRD ALIYAH- At this point, Moshe reminds the Bene Israel about the debacle with the spies whose false report about the land of Canaan persuades the population to retreat back to Egypt. Moshe opens up this account with his indication that he readily accepts the people’s desire to send spies, even though they mob him with this demand. Rashi cites that the people approaching Moshe are disorderly and disrespectful to their elders, in contrast to the orderly fashion pursued by the people when it comes to the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  The Kli Yakar while agreeing with Rashi that the demand for spies is done disrespectfully, takes issue with Rashi in regard to the receiving of the commandments at Sinai. At Sinai, the Kli Yakar writes, the young people who allowed the elders to have the opportunity to receive the teachings of the Torah first, are basically sending a message that the goal to receive the Torah is not of paramount importance to them. The Torah is only for the old people, they claim. The Ohr Hachaim adds that the punishment condemning the people of Israel to die in the desert is not simply and exclusively related to their accepting the spies’ false report. It is a culmination of numerous examples of disbelief demonstrated by the people of Israel in regard to any number of miracles G-d performs for them in the desert.

FOURTH ALIYAH- This Aliyah recounts the feeling of contrition the people feel after having learned they are to die in the desert. They suddenly believe they can simply say they are sorry for their acceptance of the spies’ false report, and that they can go up and conquer the land of Canann. Moshe recalls trying to persuade them not to attempt to conquer the land, but to listen to the word of G-d. They do not listen, and are beaten back ferociously by the Canaanite inhabitants nearby.

The Kli Yakar compares their weak expression of repentance to those of Cain and Saul. After Cain is challenged by G-d as to the whereabouts of Abel, his brother, whom he has just killed, Cain responds almost quizzically that his sin is too great to bear. King Saul, in failing to carry out G-d’s command through Samuel to destroy Amalek, apologizes weakly after hearing that as a consequence, his family will lose the kingship to someone far better than Saul, namely David.

FIFTH ALIYAH- The Aliyah continues with G-d’s admonition, as Moshe recounts, not to engage the Edomites, the Moabites and the Ammonites in war. We are also given a brief lesson in the history of the Middle East dealing with the wars between Philistines and native armies, leading to a planned attack by the Israelites on the forces of Sihon, the Amorite king.

What is interesting to point out is the caustic comment of the Kli Yakar in regard to the requirement by G-d not to engage in war with the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, estranged brother of Jacob. Jealousy and hatred are the two significant reactions of the Edomites toward the Israelites, stemming back to Jacob’s purchase of the birthright and of the receiving of his father’s blessing. Unfortunately, the Kli Yakar writes that the Jews of his community in Europe, ostensibly Esau’s territory, wear the finest clothing and expensive apparel angering and inciting others against them.

SIXTH ALIYAH- SEVENTH ALIYAH- The Torah continues with a description of the battle against Og of Bashan, an Amorite king, who as Rashi cites is the soldier who tells Avraham that his nephew, Lot is captured in battle, prompting Avraham to gather his men to rescue Lot. (See Bereshit 14:14). The parsha concludes with Moshe giving a quick review of the deal undertaken by the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe to assist the other tribes in settling the land of Canaan, in exchange for receiving the eastern side of the Jordan as ancestral property. The Torah speaks of the exploits of Yair ben Menashe who renames territory he has captured after himself. While one automatically assumes that Yair is from Menashe, the Ibn Ezra indicates he is from Judah