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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Devarim

This week we begin the last of the Five Books of the Torah with parashas Devarim. By the way, Devarim is always read the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av. The sedra and the whole book of Deuteronomy is Moses' farewell talk to the People. In it he reviews his history as their leader; gives the people admonishment but also inspiration for the future.

Deuter. 1:1 These are the words that Moses addressed to all of Israel across the Jordan (river) in the Wilderness, on the Arava plain, opposite Suf between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzeiros and Di Zahav.


These are the words: Rashi: Because these are words of admonishment and because he [Moses] intended to list here all the places where they angered G-d, he therefore said these words in an obscure way and only hinted at them [their sins] to protect the honor of Israel.

Rashi's words - that Moses only hinted at the sins of the People so as not to detract from their honor - have given rise to some questions.

What would you ask?

Hint: See further on in this chapter Deut 1:26-7 and 32 also 9:22 and following,

Your question:


A Question: In the verses cited above Moses explicitly - without hinting or beating around the bush - blames Israel for the sins of the Spies and the Golden Calf. So why does Rashi think that Moses in our verse was hinting at sins to preserve the honor of the People, since we see that he doesn't hesitate to openly accuse them of disgraceful behavior later on?

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Several answers have been suggested. One is based on a Rashi-comment in Numbers 9:1. There Rashi says that the Torah did not want to begin a new Book with something negative about the People Israel. So to avoid this it recorded events not in correct chronological order. We can use the same reasoning here. Moses was particularly sensitive not to begin the Book of Devarim with open rebuke, but once inside the Book, he had no qualms about chastising the people openly.

Another answer has been suggested by a beautiful midrash. The midrash offers an analogy (mashal): A man was walking with his young son when the boy saw a glistening stone on the road. The boy bent down to pick it up, touched it and yelled. It was a burning coal and he burnt his hand. The next day they went walking again, this time the boy also saw a glistening stone on the road, but this time he refrained from picking it up - "once burnt, twice shy", as they say. The father saw the beautiful stone and told his son, it was OK he should pick it because it was valuable - and not hot.

So too in our case. Moses had openly rebuked the People because they cried out for water (at mei meriva) and G-d punished him for reacting so strongly ( "listen you rebellious ones") to their reasonable request for water. Moses was burnt for his criticism then. So now at the end of his days he hesitated (twice shy) and did not want to openly rebuke them. But G-d told him it was OK to recall their real sins, (Spies & Golden Calf) so then Moses rebukes them openly, with G-d's approval.


After all his years leading this stiff necked people, Moses was still unsure exactly how to deal with them.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

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