Ask The Rav

> > > Parshat Devarim

Parshat Devarim

Behold, Hashem your G-d has placed the Land before you; go up and inherit it, as Hashem, G-d of your fathers spoke to you, do not fear or be anxious" (i, 21).
There is no doubt that in order to emerge victorious from war we are in need of strength and power (as we ourselves can see…). Yet it is not only in war but throughout one's life that one must be strong. Strength results from the revealing of previously hidden life-forces.

Eretz Yisrael is capable of revealing all our national powers, and hence it is there that we are in greater need of our strengths, so that we can utilize the Divine forces within in. Rav Kook writes: "Independent Israeli creativity in thought as well as in various aspects of life and activity is only an option for Israel in Eretz Yisrael." "It is not possible that an Israelite's dedication and faithfulness to his thoughts and reflections outside the Land should retain the same quality of faith as in Eretz Yisrael" (Orot, 10).


Moshe gathers Israel together in the fortieth year, a short time before their entrance into the Land, in order to reprove them and instruct them in matters essential for a nation living in Eretz Yisrael. Up until this point the nation had lived in the wilderness. This was a preparatory stage, a period of adolescence in which we were not yet required to employ all of our strengths. Now the demands made on us change, and we are expected to live full and complete lives with strength and force. The Torah writes: "And it was in the fortieth year in the eleventh month on the first of the month, and Moshe's words were addressed to the children of Israel just as Hashem had commanded him concerning them" (i, 3). We would have expected that this would be followed by Moshe's speech to the people, yet the next pasuk states: "After he smote Sichon king of the Emorites who lived in Cheshbon, and Og king of the Bashan who lived in Ashterot in Edre'i" (4). Rashi follows Chazal's lead in posing this question and answers: "Moshe said: Were I to reprove them before they had entered any part of the Land, they would say – What does he want from us? He is merely looking to criticize and find an excuse for his inability to bring us into the Land. He therefore waited until he had defeated Sichon and Og for them, and until their lands had been conquered, and only then did he reprove them." (Rashi teaches us an important lesson here regarding leadership and Israel's leader. The leader must be aware of the weaknesses of various sections of the people and the claims that are likely to be voiced as a result. Certain leaders would say that they have no interest in the people's weaknesses, as they know what's right. Yet a true leader, humble and loving Israel, will act out of consideration for the people and its strengths. It is only in this manner that he will successfully raise up the people, step by step. Unfortunately, in the short history of Israel's return to its Land in recent times we have not seen too many leaders of this caliber…)

According to what we explained above regarding the attribute of strength, Rashi's question can be resolved in a different fashion. Moshe demands of Israel that they should live a life of strength for no other existence is possible in Eretz Yisrael. It is well-known that the first rule of leadership and education is personal example. The Torah emphasizes that Moshe himself smote those two powerful kings, Sichon and Og, and he thus has the right to demand from Israel that they should live with might and strength.
The Torah's phraseology is intriguing: "And it came to pas when all the men of war had finished dying from the midst of the people" (ii, 16). Who are those men of war who died? Rashi explains: "Those aged twenty and above, who go out to war." Why does the Torah choose to emphasize that those aged twenty and above were the ones who went out to war? Based on our approach we can suggest that they were supposed to enter the Land and fight for it with strength but instead they became frightened of the Land's inhabitants and therefore had to die in the wilderness. Eretz Yisrael cannot be approached out of weakness and fear, and certainly there is no chance of remaining there for any length of time unless we possess those life-giving strengths. Only thus can we fulfill our broader tasks in a worthy manner.
Our first encounter with other nations is with the descendants of Eisav. "And you shall command the people saying: You are passing the border of your brothers the children of Eisav who live in Se'ir; they will fear you, but you must be very careful" (ii, 4). Hakadosh Baruch Hu informs Moshe that the descendants of Eisav will fear him. If  why must they be careful? Rashi explains: "'But you must be very careful' – what is this care? Do not provoke them." We have explained that the entrance into the Land necessitates strength. But this does not just refer to strength in war but also to withdrawal and restraint, as Ben Zoma states: "Who is strong? One who overcomes his inclination, as it says, 'Better one of great patience than the strong, and one who rules his spirit than the conqueror of a city'" (Avot, 4:1). The descendants of Eisav are scared of Israel, and this weakness can be exploited. Yet the Torah tells us, "but you must be very careful" – do not provoke them. The Torah continues: "Do not provoke them, for I will not give you a single foothold in his land, for I have given mount Se'ir to Eisav as an inheritance" (4). Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch writes: "The tribes of mankind were guided in their search for their place on earth by Hashem's providential Hand. Israel must keep this in mind when it receives its Land from Hashem. When Israel finds its place amongst the nations, it must be wary of the nations' rights to their inheritance. It should not see itself as a conquering people striking fear amongst the nations so that no nation would be able to live peacefully in its land. Rather, its acts and displays of war should be limited to the one Land that Hashem designated for us from the moment of its formation in history." The attribute of strength in withdrawal, tempered by moral standards, is also expressed in the Torah's commands, "You can purchase food from them for money so that you may eat, and you can also buy water from them for money so that you may drink" (6). You may not abuse your strength in order to ransack the descendants of Eisav. You are required to live pure and full lives, without so much as touching the money of others.
Afterwards Am Yisrael encounters Moav and Ammon. Hakadosh Baruch Hu commands Israel: "Do not oppress Moav, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you of his land for an inheritance, for I have given Er to the descendants of Lot as an inheritance" (ii, 9). Once again we find an emphasis on the moral aspect of Israel's war. At this stage they are not entitled to Moav's land, and therefore "do not provoke them to war." The same command recurs by the children of Ammon: "Do not oppress them nor provoke them, for I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon an inheritance, for I have given it to the descendants of Lot as an inheritance." Yet there is a difference between the command regarding Moav and that of Ammon. Rashi writes as follows: "Regarding Moav only actual war was forbidden to them, but they intimidated them and flaunted their arms as they ransacked and plundered them. Regarding the children of Ammon, however, it states: "Do not provoke them" (without any mention of war) – do not irritate them at all, in recompense for their mother's modesty, who did not make her father's shame public like the elder daughter (of Lot) who called her son "Moav," meaning "from father." This teaches us that our attitude towards each nation depends on its spiritual level. At time we must fight ruthlessly so as to strike fear into the enemy's heart, at others to a lesser extent. We are demanded to be very precise in our wars with the enemy, so that we should act in accordance with Divine morality.
Our two other encounters with nations from the eastern side of the Jordan were the battles with Sichon and Og, whom we engaged and defeated. This victory left its mark on the inhabitants of Eretz Canaan. Rachav says to the two spies who arrive at her house: "For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and what you did to the two Emorite kings on the other side of the Jordan, Sichon and Og, how you utterly destroyed them. We heard and our hearts melted and no man retained the spirit to withstand you, for Hashem your G-d is G-d of the heavens above and the earth below" (Yehoshua, ii, 10-11). The comparison that Rachav makes between the crossing of the Red Sea and the wars with Sichon and Og is an interesting one. Even though the ones doing the actual fighting were the Israelites themselves, she understood that it was really Hashem who was fighting for Israel. This is certainly an idea that must be internalized during these days. We must understand that the more our fighting is for the sake of Heaven, for the sake of warding off evil, and for the sake of our acquisition of the Land that Hashem has given us for an inheritance, the more the nations will come to realize that this truly is a war of Hashem. Rav Kook writes concerning David's wars: "A war of existence, the existence of the nation, is internally recognized as a war of Hashem" (Orot, p. 14). Internally they knew that their war is truly Hashem's war.


In the war against Sichon, Hakadosh Baruch Hu commands: "Behold I have given into your hands Sichon king of Cheshbon the Emorite and his land; Begin to conquer, and provoke him to war" (ii, 24). Even though Hakadosh Baruch Hu commands Moshe to start fighting Sichon, Moshe acts otherwise. "And I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemot to Sichon king of Cheshbon, words of peace, saying" (26).
Why does Moshe not carry out Hashem's command? The following observation can be found in Yalkut Shimoni (Bemidbar 764): "Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Moshe: I said 'Begin to conquer, and provoke him to war,' and you send messengers of peace?! Moshe replied: 'And I sent messengers from the wilderness of Kedemot.' Now is there such a place as the wilderness of Kedemot? Rather, I learnt from You who was before [kedam] Your world. When You wished to take Israel out of Egypt You said 'Go and I will send you to Pharaoh.' Hakadosh Baruch Hu replied – You have done well; from now on before Israel enters any city they must first offer peace." The Midrash implies that Hakadosh Baruch Hu wanted Moshe to sue for peace, but He waited for Moshe to do so of his own accord. Earlier we explained that strength in war must be moral, for only holy ones know to aim at the truth. In this manner the war will neither get out of hand, nor will it become soft and hesitant. Moshe Rabbeinu approaches Sichon in peace, but when he is rejected, he wages a war of destruction with him and prevails.
It is thus surprising that in the immediately subsequent war with Og, Moshe does not send a peaceful greeting. It appears that Og did not wait in his land but came out to war at once. "And we turned and ascended the way of the Bashan, and Og king of the Bashan came out to greet us, he and all his people for war in Edre'i" (iii, 1). In such a situation there is no need to speak of peace.


We learn from this that Am Yisrael is expected to show true strength in all its walks of life, both in times of war and peace, in secular as well as in spiritual matters. Only in this manner can it fulfill its Divine mission and sanctify the Name of Heaven. This strength must be a moral one – not the sham morality of the nations, but rather the holy morality which we learn from Hashem and His Torah. When we act accordingly we will merit to defeat all enemies that fight us with cruelty, and Hashem's name will be exalted and sanctified.

Print this page
Send to friend
Top of page
"BEIT OROT" is a registered trademark of American Friends of Beit Orot, Inc.  All Rights Reserved   |  Contact Us  |  Site Map
site by entry