Weekly Reading Insights

Devarim 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Devarim, Shabbat Chazon
To be read on 4 Av 5763 (Aug.2)

Torah: Deut. 1:1-3:22; Haftorah: Isaiah 1:1-27 (last of 3 "Haftorahs of Punishment")

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Three

Stats: Devarim , 1th Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and 44th overall, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 196.5 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 26th out of 54 in overall length.

All of the Book of Devorim takes place in the last forty days of Moshe's life. He begins by  reviewing many of the Jews’ desert travels, wars and conquests, the appointing of judges, the spies’ sin and the nation’s subsequent punishment. G-d promises to help Yehoshua conquer in the Land of Israel as He helped Moshe conquer the lands of the Emorites and Bashan (the present day Golan) which were given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and part of Menashe.



"These are the words…." (1:1)

In transmitting the first four Books, Moses acted strictly as G-d's emissary, repeating the message word for word without involving his own intellect in the process. Deuteronomy, however, was filtered through Moshe's intellect and understanding, in response to the exact needs of the people and its particular spiritual level. Accordingly, Deuteronomy, given to the Jewish people just prior to their entry into the land of Israel, and the new lifestyle it would entail, contains many explanations of concepts that were only alluded to in the first four Books.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

The Parsha of Devarim is always read in the three weeks of mourning, culminating in the fast of the Ninth of Av; its content is most appropriate at that time.

The reason we have lost the Temple and have been sent into exile is that we were guilty of violating those Torah laws designed to perfect our soul, body and financial dealings. Our sages have said that during the period of the first Temple, Israel sinned by worshipping idols, engaging in sexual licentiousness and committing murder. (Jerusalem Talmud Yoma 1:1).
Ever since the destruction of the first Temple, the damage done by committing these sins has not been repaired, not even when the second Temple was built. This is why five important manifestations of G-d's presence (proof of the high spiritual level of the Jewish people) were missing during all the years that the second Temple functioned.

The sin of worshipping idols is essentially one of the soul; the very thought that there are other deities besides G-d is prohibited.

Sexual licentiousness is, of course, a sin committed by the body. There is no other sin that involves as many limbs and organs simultaneously as engaging in sexual intercourse.

Murder also involves all parts of the body; all the organs and limbs of the victim are rendered useless. Jerusalem had been described as "filled with blood" (Isaiah 1:15).

That same generation had also been guilty of unfair dealings in monetary matters, as described by Isaiah 1:23: "Your rulers are rogues and cronies of thieves; all of them greedy for bribes."

The making of vows, or failure to honor them, also involves one's soul. The immediate cause of Nebuchadnezzar's attack on Jerusalem was King's Zedekiah's having broken his solemn oath to the former not to rebel against his rule (II Kings 25:1). According to the Midrash the oath of loyalty had been taken on the golden altar, i.e. in the Sanctuary.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The Lord your G-d spoke to us in Horeb saying, "You have sojourned too long! Turn and travel and arrive at the Amorite mountain and all of its neighbors…."

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah and is different than the first four. In Deuteronomy, Moses gives advice for spiritual survival, not only for the first generation that entered the Holy Land but also for every generation afterwards, including (and especially) us. In this week's portion, Moses quotes G-d telling the Jewish people, "You have sojourned too long!" (Deut. 1:6-7). Our soul's natural inclination is to grow; "sojourning" alludes to staying at one level without trying to move on to the next stage, i.e. "going around in circles".

The verse continues "…at this mountain", referring to Mount Sinai. Even remaining at Sinai, sponging up Torah, is not the optimum. We also have to make an impact on others, influencing them for the better, especially those different or distant from ourselves. Exclusively focusing on personal self-development, one's own individual activities and embellishments only, will eventually prevent a person from advancing, and even to spiritually regress.

The passage continues, "…Turn and travel and arrive at the Amorite mountain and all of its neighbors". In Kabbala, the nation of Amor represents our negative side, that which opposes holiness. By referring to the "Amorite mountain" we are encouraged to perceive that negativity (bad character traits, keeping G-d at a distance, valuing the world over spirituality) like a mountain - difficult to climb, out of our reach and not at all attractive. This is why the verse emphasizes the word "arrive".


Judaism is a specific journey; the mitzvahs are taking us to a specific place. We are not meant to meander around true spirituality, just to pass though. We are supposed to arrive at the perception that the negative is an absolute barrier in front of us. The classic source Tanna D'bai Eliyahu understands "arriving" to mean taking it in, inheriting and integrating. In this sense, the concept of inheritance reminds us that we are supposed to be retaking the sparks that were lost, that only we have the potential to liberate.

After all this is navigated successfully, we come to the end of verse Deut.1:7, "…until you come to the great river, the Pras River". The Pras River was far away from Israel, designating the expansion of Israel's borders. Through the service of the above - distancing ourselves from negative forces and positively influencing our environment - we will merit expanding Israel's borders into the land of the Kini, Knizi, and Kadmoni. (From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1958)

Rav Chaim Vital, the Ari's main student, explains the verse "The Lord your G-d spoke to us in Horeb, saying that the fact that G-d spoke to the Jews in Horeb, where He gave them the Torah, is what made them great. Through this, the Jews were then able to go into Israel and defeat their enemies. So, the time had come that G-d could say to the Jews, "Turn and travel onwards".

The Shla writes in his Tractate Taanis (page t328) that the weekly Torah readings are connected to the calendar events that happen around them. The Shla asks how can it be that the same three portions, Matot, Masai and Devarim, are always read during the Three Weeks? These portions speak about the victories of the Jewish people over the nations, the dividing of the Land and the final preparations for entering Israel. This appears paradoxical to the period of the Three Weeks!

The answer is that the fast days and all of these days of mourning will be transformed into holidays and days of happiness. Specifically through our efforts now in these days of exile and our heartfelt desire to see the Jewish people reunited in Israel with the 3rd Temple, we will bring the final redemption and our everlasting dwelling in the Holy Land.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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For all our insights for this parsha from last year

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