Posted on July 16, 2021
This week we begin the 5th book of the Torah, Sefer Devarim, Deuteronomy. Devarim, which literally means “words”, consists of the final speeches of Moshe Rabbenu before he dies and the People of Israel enter the Land of Israel without him. Moshe begins by saying:
“The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb saying:
רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה You have stayed long enough at this mountain.
פְּנ֣וּ וּסְע֣וּ לָכֶ֗ם וּבֹ֨אוּ Turn and go yourself towards. . . ”
You have stayed long enough at this mountain. What does that mean? Stayed long enough doing what? Rashi, drawing on a midrash from Sifrei Devarim 5:2, says that the people were involved with excellent endeavors: “God has given you much distinction and reward for your having dwelt in this mount: you made the Tabernacle, the candlestick and the other sacred articles, you received the Torah, you appointed a Sanhedrin for yourselves, captains over thousands and captains over hundreds”. In other words, the people spent the time preparing themselves to be ready to enter the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Kushner, in our Etz Hayim Humash, reads “רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה You have stayed long enough at this mountain” very differently. He comments: “There is a danger that the people Israel will grow too comfortable where they are and will be reluctant to move on into the unknown. There are times when our fulfillment as individuals or as a group requires us to leave the familiar and move on towards a goal.”
These two readings seem to be opposites. Either the people of Israel were well prepared to enter the Land or the people of Israel were dawdling because they did not want to move forward. Which is it?
Ibn Ezra picks up on the unusual phrasing of the next clause: “פְּנ֣וּ וּסְע֣וּ לָכֶ֗ם וּבֹ֨אוּ Turn and go yourself towards. . . ” Go yourself– סְע֣וּ לָכֶ֗ם? Why does it not just say “Go”? For what does it need the word lakhem, yourself? It is an extraneous word.
Perhaps a better, if idiomatic, translation would be: “Pick yourselves up and go.” Gather yourselves. You have been preparing. You have all you need. You are ready even if you don’t feel ready. Pick yourselves up and go.
Perhaps Rashi’s reading and Rabbi Kushner’s reading are not such opposites after all. Sometimes we can have all we need to go forward and still be stuck and unable to take that first step. We can prepare and get ready and still be hesitant to move forward.
At which mountain have you stayed long enough? What have you done to prepare and what is going to be your first step forward?
Wishing you a meaningful 9 b’Av.