Friday, July 16th
We start the last book of the Torah this week with an opening speech that Moshe delivers to the people just before he is going to die, and they are about to enter Canaan. It is a recapitulation in prose and poetry of the events and laws of the past forty years. In it, there are several differences between the events as described earlier and here.
For example, in Dvarim (1.21) the Torah says that God commanded Moshe to send men into Canaan to get a picture of the land they were about to invade. Forty years later here in Devarim 1, it says that the people gathered around, and they demanded of Moshe that men be sent. Was one right the other wrong? Did memories change over forty years?
These might be theoretical possibilities, but the Torah often repeats events and laws. It is its style. Each time there are small differences and nuances. I do not think it is accidental. We know enough about the human mind that it hears and sees things in different ways. It often plays tricks on us. Having different narratives, like different dimensions, provides layers and depths to a command or a story that enable us to understand the picture and the message more clearly and comprehensively.
The message is that it takes two parties. It requires a command, but it also takes the human agency to carry it out. Sadly, the people did not always get the message. divine command and the will of the people to carry it out.
Another example concerns the appointment of the seventy Elders repeated here. In the original version in Shemot (18.21-23), it is Yitro, Moshe’s father- in -law who suggests the idea as a way of sharing the burden of justice and government. The Torah says
“Look for strong men of truth who fear God, men you can trust who hate bribery.”
Whereas here in Devarim (1.16-17) it says
“I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, full of wisdom…and I instructed the judges at the time saying listen to the claims of you brothers and judge righteously between them and the stranger. Do not favor individuals in judgment, listen to the small person as well as the large and do not judge based on fear, for justice is God’s .”
It says the same thing in general but adds clarification, depth, and detail. Giving laws is one task of the Torah, but so is clarification. The Ten Commandments lay down broad principles, but the details need to be filled in. Over time any system of law needs clarification and updates. But most of all, you also need honest and strong people, with a sense of morality and spirituality to administer it. Something that we simply do not see anywhere nowadays.