How could Moshe have wished to cause Yisrael to be considered wicked by his reproval?
(1,1) “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael on that side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzeros and Di Zahav.”
Whenever the Torah writes the word “these” it is coming to exclude something. What is it coming to exclude here?
Another problem that we have here is that by reproving Yisrael and mentioning their sins Moshe caused Yisrael to be considered wicked. How is it possible that Moshe would do such a thing?
But we can answer this question with the teaching of the Midrash which says that our posuk can be explained by the posuk in Mishlei 28:23 “He that rebukes man with regard to Me will find favor” - this refers to Moshe. Hashem said: He rebuked Me with regard to Yisrael, and rebuked Yisrael with regard to Me. To Yisrael he said “You have sinned a great sin”, but to Hashem he said “Why are You so angry at Your people?”. We see from this that he accused Yisrael of wickedness and spoke to them harshly only when he addressed them, but when he spoke to Hashem he defended them and said that they are not sinners at all.
This is what our posuk means: “These are the words which Moshe said” - all the harsh words and rebukes which Moshe said, mentioning their sins, was only to “all Yisrael”, but when he spoke to Hashem he said the opposite and portrayed them in a good light. And this was what the Midrash intended to teach when it brought the seemingly unrelated posuk from Mishlei.
What did Yisrael think about Moshe’s teachings before forty years had passed?
(1,1) “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael on that side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan and Chatzeros and Di Zahav. Eleven days from Chorev by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. And it was in the fortieth year…that Moshe spoke to the children of Yisrael according to all that Hashem had commanded him concerning them. After he had smitten Sichon the king of the Amorites…and Og the king of Bashan.”
The explanation of these posukim is according to the teaching of Chazal in Nedarim 37a on the posuk in Devarim 4:5 “Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances as Hashem, my G-d, has commanded me” - just as I am for free, so too are you for free. Also, Chazal taught in Avodah Zorah 5b that a person does not fully understand his teacher until forty years have passed, as it says in Devarim 29:3 “Hashem did not give you a heart to know…until this day”, after forty years in the wilderness.
According to this we can explain that until forty years passed Yisrael suspected that whatever Moshe said and taught to them was all for his own glory and benefit, because they did not yet understand their teacher. But after forty years had passed and they now understood him they realized that it had not been for his own glory, but rather it was all for their benefit. And especially when they saw what he had done to Sichon and Og when it was clear that Moshe would afterwards die and would not personally benefit and nevertheless he still carried it out, they realized retroactively that he had never intended for himself.
Thus the posuk “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael” means that according to what they initially thought, that Moshe intended for his own glory, that which he said in those places on that side of the Jordan are called the words of Moshe, because they were for himself. But this came only from their lack of understanding, since it was only “eleven days from Chorev…to Kadesh Barnea” - it was only eleven days since Moshe had become their teacher and they could not understand him in such a short time, and therefore they thought that he taught them for his own glory.
But “in the fortieth year”, when a person already understands his teacher, “Moshe spoke to the children of Yisrael according to all that Hashem had commanded him concerning them”. They now understood that just as Hashem commanded Moshe for free, without receiving any reward, so too did Moshe command them, and did not intend, G-d forbid, for his personal benefit.
And the Torah brings a further proof that the words of Moshe was only because of his love for them and not for his personal glory, because it was “after he had smitten Sichon”, and at that point he already knew that he would die in the wilderness and would not benefit from conquering Sichon, yet nevertheless he strove on their behalf. From all this it was clear that his intention was only for the benefit of Yisrael, and not for his personal benefit.
How was Moshe’s speaking until now not his own?
(1,1) “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael…”
The Midrash on our posuk writes that Hashem said: See how beloved is the language of the Torah, that it heals the tongue. The Midrash brings several posukim from the Prophets and Writings as a source to this teaching, but R. Levi challenged this and asked why we don’t learn from the Torah itself. Because behold, before Moshe acquired the Torah he said “I am not a man of words” (Shemos 4:10), but once he had acquired the Torah his tongue was healed and he began to speak. From where do we know this? From the posuk “These are the words which Moshe spoke”.
This Midrash is puzzling, because before the receiving the Torah we find that Moshe spoke many things, and also after the receiving the Torah it says many times “and Moshe spoke”, and yet the Midrash has not commented on it until now. But it seems that the Midrash is coming to answer the same question that we raised earlier - what is being excluded by the word “these”?
Now, the posuk “I am not a man of words, neither yesterday, nor the day before, nor from when You spoke to Your servant” is difficult to understand, because if he was not able to speak then he had never been a man of words, so why did he specify that it was only “from when You spoke to Your servant”. Also, the phrase “I am not a man of words” requires explanation, because he should have simply said "I am not able to speak".
But we know from the Midrash that at a very young age his tongue was burned in such a way that normally he would no longer have been able to speak. But Chazal taught that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) spoke from the throat of Moshe, and therefore whatever Moshe needed to speak the Shechinah spoke for him but it seemed as if Moshe himself was speaking. However, before Moshe had reached the great level when Hashem spoke with him face to face he did not realize that the words that he spoke were not his but the Shechinah speaking from his throat.
But now, at the burning bush, Moshe said to Hashem that the reason why Hashem Himself does not tell Pharaoh to send Yisrael out of Egypt is because it is not befitting Hashem’s honor that He Himself should speak to Pharaoh, and therefore He desires that it should be done through an emissary. But if so, the emissary must be someone who himself can talk, so that Hashem will speak with him and he will repeat to Pharaoh what Hashem had told him. But since I am not able to speak by myself, but rather my speaking is the Shechinah speaking from my throat, if I go to Pharaoh to speak with him it will really be the Shechinah speaking with him and not an emissary.
This what he meant when he said “I am not a man of words” - even though I am speaking I am not the man of the words, because in reality it is not me who is speaking but the Shechinah speaking for me. But all this I didn’t realize until two days ago “from when You spoke to Your servant”, but before then I did not know this.
And this is also the meaning of the Midrash on the posuk “Moshe said to Hashem: Please, my Master” (Shemos 4;10). He said to Hashem: You are the Master of the World, and You want me to be an emissary? Behold, “I am not a man of words”. The logic of this Midrash is difficult to understand - why would being Master of the World be a reason why He should not want Moshe to be an emissary?
But the meaning is like we just explained. Moshe was saying: Since You are Master of the World it is not fitting for You to speak directly to Pharaoh. But still, how could You wish me to be the emissary, because if I am You will in any case be speaking directly to Pharaoh since “I am not a man of words” but rather You speak from my throat. So how will making me an emissary help? In response to this argument Hashem promised him that Aharon would speak to Pharaoh.
And similarly Moshe pointed out in all his speeches that he was only needed because the Shechinah spoke from his throat. But now when he came to sefer Devarim he was healed completely, and he could speak everything by himself without the need for the Shechinah to speak from his throat. And this was for two reasons - firstly because he needed to repeat the Torah to Yisrael, and secondly, since he had now received all the Torah and mitzvos he was now completely healed. But as long as he did not yet know the whole Torah and was missing some of the mitzvos which he had not yet heard, he was not healed.
Therefore now, at the beginning of sefer Devarim when he had already acquired all of the Torah and he could speak by himself, it says “These are the words which Moshe spoke” - these are the words that he spoke by himself, and not the earlier words which he did not speak by himself. And now how beautiful are the words of the Midrash that we brought above - that before Moshe acquired the Torah he said “I am not a man of words”, but once he had acquired the Torah his tongue was healed and he started to speak his own words. From where do we know this? From the posuk “These are the words which Moshe spoke”.
What does the posuk mean when it says “whether small, whether big, you shall hear them”?
(1,17) “You shall not favor people in judgement, whether small whether big you shall hear them, you shall not fear any man for the judgement is G-d’s, and the matter which is too difficult for you bring to me and I will hear it.”
Behold, since the posuk already said “you shall not favor people in judgement”, why does it need to further state “whether small whether big you shall hear them” - this is the same thing which it previously stated!
It seems to me that we can explain it according to what it says in Choshen Mishpot Siman 14, that when two litigants argue about their case, with one demanding to have the case judged in their city and the other demanding that they go to have their case judged by a greater Beis Din, we force the latter to have the case judged in their city, even if the judges are not familiar with the law and have to request help from the greater Beis Din. The litigant cannot argue that since in any case they have to send an inquiry to the greater Beis Din they should go and litigate there, but rather we force him to have the case judged in his city and those judges will send an inquiry to the greater Beis Din, and according to what the greater Beis Din replies, so shall they decide the case.
And behold, Yisro said “every big matter they shall bring to you and every small matter they shall judge themselves (Shemos 18:22)”, from which we see that a "small matter" is that which the judges are able to decide themselves, and a "big matter" is that which the judges do not know and need to ask a greater Beis Din how they would decide the matter.
According to this we can explain that “whether small whether big” does not refer to the litigants but to the case itself, and means “whether the case is small” and you yourselves are able to decide it, “whether the case is big” and you are unable to decide it yourselves but will need to ask someone else, nevertheless “you shall hear them”, and not force the litigants to go in front of a greater Beis Din.
Even if one of the litigants does not want to litigate in front of you, arguing “since in any case you need to ask a greater Beis Din let us go and litigate there”, you must force him to litigate here, and “not fear any man, because the judgement is G-d’s”. And if when you hear the arguments the matter “is too difficult for you”, then “you shall bring it to me” - you, the judges, shall bring it to me, and not the litigants themselves, and whatever the greater judge tells you, so shall you decide the case.
Why were Yisrael warned not to trespass on Eisav’s territory?
(2,4) “And command the people, saying: You are passing through the territory of your brethren, the children of Eisav, who dwell in Se’ir, and they will be afraid of you, so guard yourselves well.”
The Yalkut Shimoni expounds on this verse: You are passing, but the children of Se’ir (the descendants of Eisav) are sitting (dwelling), as it says in Bereishis 36:20: “These are the children of Se’ir the Chorite, the inhabitants of the land”. This teaching is very enigmatic, but it seems to me that we can explain it as follows:
Behold, Eisav and Yaakov were brothers, and they divided up amongst themselves the inheritance of the two worlds – Yaakov took the world to come, and Eisav took this world. And behold, the word sitting or dwelling is only relevant to a person who is living in his own city, in his own private dwelling, but when a person needs to travel to his home city and goes through other areas not his own, he is called one who is just passing through. And behold, would it be right for a person who is staying in someone else’s house to do something bad to his host whilst he is staying there!
Hence, all of this current world belongs to Eisav, and it is called Eisav’s domain because it is completely his. Yisrael on the other hand, owns no part of this world, but by blessing Yaakov, Yitzchok appropriated from Eisav permission to pass through this world, in order that he would be able to get to the world to come.
Because it is impossible to get to the world to come without passing through this world, as the Rabbis teach in Avodah Zorah 3a “one who toils on Erev Shabbos (in this world) will eat on Shabbos (in the world to come)”. And the gemora in Eruvin 41b teaches that extreme poverty is one of the three things that impair a person’s ability to do the will of his Creator, (and thus making use of this world to alleviate ones poverty is an absolute necessity).
Therefore Yitzchok blessed Yaakov with permission to pass through Eisav’s domain, i.e. this world, but it is not ours and it is not our place. Thus we are called passersby, and can a guest supervene upon the host!
Therefore the Torah gave us here the reason why it is forbidden for us to do something bad to Eisav – because this world is all his and we are merely passing through our brother’s domain. And furthermore, since he is our brother, he has the right to take a share in the inheritance of the two worlds, and so if we take his portion – this world, he will take our portion – the world to come.
Therefore it says: “And you shall command the people, saying: You are passing through the domain of your brethren, the children of Eisav”, as if to say: you are merely passing through this world, which is the domain of your brethren the children of Eisav, like the explanation of the Yalkut that we quoted earlier: “but the children of Se’ir are sitting”. For this reason our verse says “who dwell in Se’ir”, because it is completely theirs.
Therefore you are not permitted to encroach on his domain, especially as he is your brother and thus has equal inheritance rights, and so if you take his portion, he will take yours, as we mentioned earlier. The words of the Yalkut have now been satisfactorily explained.
How was Yisrael’s punishment in the wilderness ultimately good for them?
(2,15) “And also the hand of Hashem was against them, in order to destroy them from amongst the camp, until their completion. ”
It seems to me that the Torah is coming to show us here that their punishment in the wilderness was not something that was just bad, but rather it was also for their good. Because through their punishment they became whole again, cleansed of their sin, and thus through this they came to the world to come, as our Rabbis taught on the verse in Shmuel II 14:14 “so that the one who is cast out will not be cast away from him”, see there.
And this is especially clear from the teaching of our Rabbis, that during the entire forty years in the wilderness they had no spiritual satisfaction, and it appears that this was for their good, to punish them in this world in order to bring them unblemished to the world to come.
And behold, it is well known that whenever the Torah mentions the four-letter name of Hashem it denotes the attribute of complete mercy.
This is what the verse is saying: “And also the hand of Hashem was against them” – not only did the attribute of justice which desires man’s suffering agree to this punishment, but “also the hand of Hashem”, the attribute of mercy, agreed with the attribute of justice in this counsel, “in order to destroy them from amongst the camp” – to first of all trouble them and afflict them in this world, “until their completion/perfection” – so that through this process they would become unblemished and clean, and thus arrive in the world to come completely free of sin.