Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
Parashat Devarim - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Devarim ("words")

Click on the links to display the Scriptures:





Brit Chadashah


Deut. 1:1-3:22

Isaiah 1:1-27

Acts 9:1-21

Click for the blessing

Torah Reading Snapshot:

The final book of the Torah of Moses is called Devarim ("words"), which comes from the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words...").  In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word that means "repetition of the Torah," derived from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh haTorah (Deut. 17:18). The book of Devarim has 34 chapters divided into 11 weekly Torah readings. The first traditional Torah portion of the book is named after the book itself, which begins:

Chagall - Moses
Deut 1:1 (BHS)

"These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel
beyond the Jordan in the desert..." (Deut 1:1)

General Introduction

The book opens 37 days before Moses was to die, namely, during the fortieth year since the Exodus from Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month (of Shevat). As such, the book has the overall tone of a farewell discourse from Moses to the children of Israel.  In fact, unlike the previous four books of the Torah, the speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses himself, and even the recounting of various laws and ordinances are recorded as part of the addresses he gave. (Note that some commentators believe that Deuteronomy is actually a compilation of discourses that Moses gave while the Israelites were in the wilderness, since Deut. 1:1b can be read as "on the other side of the Jordan - through the wilderness," that is, while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.)

The parashah (and book) opens with the Israelites in the land of Moav (Moab), just east of the Jordan, shortly before they would enter the Promised Land. Since Moses was disallowed entrance to the land, his first discourse is concerned with "making plain the Torah" to the people (Deut. 1:5) so that they would clearly recall the LORD's instructions once they took possession of the land.

Moses begins his discourse by reviewing the events that occurred in the course of their 40-year journey from Egypt to Sinai, and then from Sinai to the land of Moab. The intention of this review is to be a sort of prologue to the entire book, leading up to the laws he repeats in chapters 4-28. 

An abbreviated outline of the parashah is given here:

  1. Leaving Sinai (Deut. 1:1-8)
  2. Appointing of roshim or leaders (Deut. 1:9-18)
  3. The sin of the spies and the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea (Deut. 1:19-33)
  4. The penalty of Israel's unbelief (Deut. 1:34-46)
  5. The wilderness years (Deut. 2:1-23)
  6. The defeat of Sichon (Deut. 2:24-37)
  7. The defeat of Og (Deut. 3:1-11)
  8. The allotment for the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh (Deut. 3:12-20).
  9. The message delivered to his successor, Yehoshua, who was charged with leading the Israelites in the conquest of the Promised Land

It has been noted that the structure and form of the book resembles an ancient middle-east covenant treaty between a sovereign king and his vassals, with a preamble (1:1-5), a historical prologue (1:6-4:49); covenantal obligations (5:1-26:19); blessings and curses (27:1-30:20), and a concluding section (31:1-34:12). The LORD, the sovereign, would be the King of the land that He was giving to the Israelites, and they, in turn, were to love and obey Him as His vassals.

Moses begins his speech

According to the sages of the Mishnah (the Sifri), the numerous place names listed in verse 1 are not landmarks or geographical locations, but rather words of musar (rebuke) by Moses to the people of Israel. That is, instead of detailing their sins outright, he alluded to them with code words:

  • "In the desert" (בַּמִּדְבָּר) - that is, the time they complained "if only we would have died in the desert" (Exod. 17:3)
  • "In the plain" (בָּעֲרָבָה) - that is, their most recent sin with the Moabite women (and Ba'al Peor) in the plains of Moab (Num. 25)
  • "Opposite Suf" (מוֹל סוּף) - that is, the complaint of Israel at the shores of Yam Suf (at the start of the great exodus from Egypt)
  • "Paran" (פָּארָן) - that is, the Sin of the Spies, who were dispatched from Paran (Num. 13)
  • "Tofel and Lavan" (תּפֶל וְלָבָן, "libel" and "white") - that is, their libeling the white manna (Num. 21:5)
  • "Hazerot" (חֲצֵרת) - that is, where Korach's mutiny against Moses took place
  • "Di Zahav" - (דִי זָהָב,"too much gold") the sin of the Golden Calf

According to midrash, Moses' speech was heard literally by kol yisrael - all of Israel - meaning that all 600,000 people heard the message as if it were spoken directly to him. 

After the book's preamble (Deut. 1:1-5), Moses reminded the people that God had said, rav-lachem shevet bahar hazeh ("you have stayed long enough at this mountain"), referring to Chorev (i.e., Horeb, a synonym for Sinai), and commanded them to get on with the journey to possess the Promised Land.

But Moses was overwhelmed, since the people had multiplied in fulfillment of the LORD's promise to Abraham. Moses certainly wasn't complaining at the increase of Israel, and he even interjected the following blessing:

Adonai Elohei avoteikhem yosef aleikhem kakhem elef p'amim vivareikh et'khem ka'asher dibber lakhem

May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase your numbers a thousandfold, and bless you as He promised you. (1:11)

This blessing hearkens back to the promises made to Abraham to whom the LORD promised that his descendants would be as innumerable as the stars in the heavens (Gen. 15:5), the grains of sand on the seashore (Gen. 22:17), and as the dust of the earth (Gen. 28:14). v'imru, Amen.

Though it is not stated in this parasha, Moses received counsel of his Midianite father-in-law Yitro to appoint judges for Israel to help him lead the people. These leaders, or roshim, were to be wise (chakam) and discerning (binah), consecrated to judge various disputes righteously. They were not to be "respecters of persons" but impartial in their judgment, hearing the small and the great alike. Most importantly, they were not to be intimidated by men, since the truth of judgment is from God (hamishpat leilohim).

Kadesh-Barnea and the Sin of the Spies

Moses recounted that two years after leaving Sinai, the Israelites were poised to enter the land. However, they became fearful of the prospect of battling the seven Canaanite nations living there and insisted that meraglim (spies) be sent ahead to reconnoiter the land. The LORD acquiesced to the people's demand and Moses selected one tzaddik from each tribe to be sent (the tribe of Levi was exempt from this mission).

On the 9th of Av, after 40 days scouting the Promised Land, the spies returned to the camp of Israel at Kadesh. Instead of reporting back to Moses and Aaron, however, the spies appealed directly to the people, warning Israel that it would be impossible for them to conquer the nations who lived there, especially since they lived in fortified cities. Only Yehoshua and Kalev showed genuine emunah (faith) and insisted that the land could be vanquished, just as the LORD had promised.

Upon hearing the evil report of the ten spies the people wept and murmured about their situation. "Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to one another, "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt." (Num. 14:3-4).

Now Moses fills in some gaps of the account given in Shelach Lekha:

    Then I said to you, 'Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.'

    Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.

    And the LORD heard your words and was angered, and he swore, 'Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!' 

    Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, 'You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.' (Deut. 1:29-40)

Only after Moses interceded for Israel did the LORD relent from His anger at the people. However, the decree was made: because of their unbelief, Israel's entry into the land would be delayed for no less than 40 years - a year for each day that the spies were in the land (with two years already served).  During this 40 year exile, every person 20 years of age and older were fated to die in the wilderness - except for Yehoshua bin Nun (Joshua the son of Nun) and Kalev (Caleb) the son of Jephunneh, the two spies who showed faith in the word of the LORD (the other ten spies were immediately killed by a plague sent by the LORD).

After hearing the judgment of the LORD, a group of remorseful Israelites decided to "repent" by taking matters into their own hands. Without either the "ark of the covenant of the LORD" or Moses' leadership, they presumptuously decided to storm a mountain on the border of land, but were summarily routed by the Amalekites and Canaanites. The first battle for the Promised Land, alas, was done in the strength of "the flesh" and resulted in disaster for Israel.

The land of Promise was to be obtained by trusting and submitting to the LORD alone for victory over the powers of darkness. Moses told them that God would have given them all of the land (from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates) without needing to engage in conventional warfare, but their unbelief tragically led to exile from the land (Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11,18; 4:3).

The Wandering Begins

After the disaster at Kadesh, Israel finally decamped and set out toward Mount Seir, otherwise known as Edom and the place where Jacob's brother Esau settled. The LORD explicitly commanded Moses not to attack the Edomites because they were given this land as their possession. In fact, there were three nations that bordered the Promised Land and that the Israelites were forbidden to attack:

  1. The Kingdom of Edom (Deut. 2:1-7). The Edomites (אֲדוֹמִי) were descendants of Jacob's brother Esau (עֵשָׂו), and the land surrounding Mount Seir had been given to Esau and his descendants by God as an inheritance.
  2. The Kingdom of Moab (Deut. 2:8-9) - The Moabites were descendants of Lot's firstborn son Moab (מוֹאָב) from his oldest daughter (Mo'ab means "from av - father") who were given the land of Ar an inheritance. Later Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, would come from the Moabites.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon (Deut. 2:19). The Ammonites were descendants of Lot's second son Ben-Ammi (בֶּן־עַמִּי) from his youngest daughter (Ben-ammi means "son of my people"). From the Ammonites whom would come Na'ama, who married King Solomon and bore his successor, King Rechav'am (Rehoboam).

According to Midrash, the LORD blessed the children of Lot based on Lot's zechut (merit). Lot knew the truth when Abraham traveled to Egypt and pretended that Sarah was his sister, but he kept the secret, despite the risk involved. Also, the daughters of Lot were ascribed a certain merit for wanting to repopulate the earth after the apocalyptic horror they experienced during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

On the other hand, the Amorites (הָאֱמרִי) were descendants of Noah's son Ham (i.e., the 4th son of the disgraced Canaan: Gen. 10:16) who later became a nomadic people of Mesopotamia that eventually founded Babylon. They are regarded as one of the "seven Canaanite nations" who were marked to be destroyed from the land (Exod. 34:11-12; Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18; Acts 13:17-19). The Amorites are also identified as generic "Canaanites" (Num. 14:43; cp. Deut. 1:44) and therefore were "squatters" who had to be displaced from the land given by God Almighty to Israel. Spiritually understood, the seven nations of Canaan were occultic usurpers of the land who were "planted" by the devil in an attempt to thwart God's purposes of redemption.

The Fate of the Wilderness Generation

According to the Midrash (Eichah Rabbah), every year until the fortieth year, on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moses would command the people, "Go out and dig," and the people would leave the camp, dig graves, and sleep in them overnight. The following morning a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" Fifteen thousand would die that very night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another year.

This occurred year after year, but in the fortieth year no one died. Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights until the fifteenth of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that there calculations were correct, and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would die. They subsequently declared Tu B'Av a day of celebration. The "desert generation" had finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the land!

Note that crossing the "brook of Zared" (Deut. 2:13-16) symbolically divided the desert generation that had died off at Kadesh Barnea during the previous 38 years from the new generation that was going to take possession of the land.

The Wandering Ends: Wars with Sichon and Og

For 38 years the Israelites wandered until all the men of war who partook of the Sin of the Spies at Kadesh had died. Then Moses was instructed to go to war with the Emorim (Amorites). Moses sent a delegation to Sichon (Sihon) King of the Amorites asking for permission for Israel to pass through his land but was denied. According to midrash, Sichon was one of the nephillim who had (somehow) survived the great mabul (flood) of Noach's time. Sichon arrayed his army and fought Israel at Yahaz but was defeated, and Israel took possession of the land to the border of the Ammonites.

Sichon had a half-brother named Og, who was also one of the nephillim. When Og heard about Sichon's death, he assembled his army to avenge his brother.

Jewish midrash states that Moses was afraid to go to war with Og because Og was believed to be over 500 years old with special powers. Moreover, Og was said to have once helped Abraham when Lot was captured and even was even circumcised by Abraham himself! 

The LORD reassured Moses to attack Og, however, and the midrash says that Moses himself killed Og during the battle. So Israel completely destroyed Og, his armies and his people and took possession of the land of Bashan.

After these two climactic battles, Israel journeyed to the wastelands of Moav (Moab), poised to cross the Jordan and capture Jericho.

Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh

The tribes of Reuben and Gad asked permission to settle in the pasture land of Gilead (on the east of the Jordan, formerly the land of the Amorites), since they had large herds of cattle.  At first Moses hotly disapproved of their request, since he feared that the other tribes would lose heart if these two tribes stayed behind during the conquest of Canaan. However, when the tribal leaders promised that they intended to join the fight while their families remained in Gilead, Moses finally agreed - but charged Yehoshua (Joshua) with ensuring that they kept their promise, otherwise they would forfeit any claim to settle there.

The parashah ends with Moses encouraging his successor Yehoshua with these words: 'Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.'

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

The Haftarah for Devarim is from the prophet Isaiah 1:1-2:27.  This portion is read on the Sabbath that precedes Tisha'h B'Av since "the vision of Isaiah" concerns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision was still future, and the Israelites still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since the Jews did not repent, calamity overtook them. Today the haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Judah and Jerusalem.

Chapter 1 of the Haftarah recounts the wickedness of Judah and her utmost corruption. Without authentic repentance, all the rituals and forms of sacrificial worship are meaningless. Chapter 2 then shifts to a scene in the heavenly court, where the case is made against Judah and the judgment is made sure.

According to Chaza'l, the haftarah ends on a positive note because they did not want to give punishment the last word. Therefore "Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness." There is hope for Israel, even in light of the tragedy that is commemorated during Tishah B'Av.

Brit Chadashah Snapshot:

The reading from the Brit Chadashah concerns the conversion of the Apostle Paul, then known as Rav Sha'ul, on the road to Damascus. Like Rav Sha'ul, who was the consummate "Torah-Observant" Jew, those who would follow the Torah of Moses are in need of radical teshuvah, a complete about-face from the way of obtaining merit through works of righteousness. The first generation of Israelites could not enter the land of promise on account of their unbelief, and even Moses himself was forbidden to enter the land.  It was through Yehoshua (Joshua), a type of Mashiach, who brought the people in through trusting in the promises of the LORD.


Click for the blessing

Word of the Week

based on the Torah portion

Related Discussion:

Hebrew Audio Files:

Click the following links to hear the desired chapters read from this week's Torah:

Deuteronomy 1

Deuteronomy 2

Deuteronomy 3

Online HTML Hebrew text (offsite resource)

<< Return


Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.