Devarim: A Path to Follow

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di’zihab; eleven days from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.
Devarim/Deuteronomy 1:1-2 (Stone translation)

“These are the words” launches Moses’ long rebuke of the people. The first verse, according to commentaries beginning with the Third Century Sifrei Devarim, uses place names as code for sins:

Di-zahab refers to gold [zahav], referencing the Golden Calf (Exodus/Shemot 32);

Tophel refers to rebellion at the Sea of Reeds (suph = [reed]) — “Were there no graves in Egypt?” (Exodus/Shemot 14:10-12) — and/or tiphlot [calumny], associated with rejection of manna (Numbers/Bamidbar 10:12 and 11:6);

Laban [white] also references manna-related sins;

Paran, whence the spies are sent out, references the people’s sin in that episode (Numbers/Bamidbar 13-14);

Hazeroth is code for the episode of Aaron and Miriam “speaking against” Moses (Numbers/Bamidbar 12) and/or Korach’s rebellion, both of which took place in/near there.

Rebuke and Hate

Why are rebukes heard from Moses and not from an enemy of Israel, such as Balaam (see portion Balak)?

But had Balaam uttered rebukes, Israel would have said, “An enemy rebukes us. [So what?]” Had Moses blessed them, the nations of the world would have said, “A friend blesses them. [So what?]” Therefore the Holy One declared: Let Moses, who loves them, rebuke them, and let Balaam, who hates them, bless them, so that the genuineness of the blessings and the rebukes bestowed upon Israel will be made clear.
— Bialik/Ravnitzky, The Book of Legends, #96, p.346

There are teachings — found in the Talmud and discussed in writings of Chofetz Chaim (aka R. Yisrael Meir Kagan) — regarding the relationship of hate and rebuke. Many focus on the verse in Leviticus/Vayikra 19:17: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.”

I know I have read that rebuking someone you hate is dangerous, if not forbidden, based in part on fears that the rebuke will not be well-founded, but also from the standpoint of how well the rebuke is likely to be received. At the moment, I cannot find the exact text I think I recall, but here is one discussion guide on the topic of rebuke.


Bialik and Ravnitzky cite Deuteronomy Rabbah, available in partial translation at sacred-texts, as the source of this midrash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: