Friday, August 12, 2005

parshat Devarim: Why Begin Here?

Earlier I suggested that rather than Devarim being rebuke, it was actually a pep talk. Thus the talk of other nations that took control of various territories because God wished to grant them it as an inheritance, even taking the territory from giants. This, we read, is what frightened the Israelites after the spies brought back their evil report.

I would suggest another motivation. To cite the first Rashi on sefer Bereishit:
In the beginning Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded, (for the main purpose of the Torah is its commandments, and although several commandments are found in Genesis, e.g., circumcision and the prohibition of eating the thigh sinew, they could have been included together with the other commandments). Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, "The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.
Now, sefer Devarim does not begin with a Creation narrative. However, it begins with reluctance to take the land of Israel, and mentions how Hashem had caused many nations to uproot and inherit the previous residents, which was in Hashem's power, and Hashem's right as the Creator and Owner of the world. If the nations of the world should say "You are robbers," we could point out many other nations did the same, under the same rightful justification, and in fact many of the ones complaining themselves conquered land belonging to others. Additionally, that which Hashem did not give permission to conquer, because Hashem wanted them to have it as an inheritance, the Israelites did not take.

If sefer Devarim is supposed to be a mishneh Torah, a review and repetition of the rest of Torah, then here it gets off to a good start.

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