Parashat Devaim - “Mishneh Torah: Moshe’s Concluding Speech”

[Tal Chermon]

The entire book of Devarim is one long speech given by Moshe Rabbenu before his death and before Israel enters the Promised Land. In his humility, he had protested to being appointed, saying: “I am not a man of many words” (Shemot 4:10). Forty years later, at the age of 120, he encompasses the whole history and geography of Israel in his final speech - addressing both the individual and the Nation as a whole.
What is so special about the book of Devarim? The Ramban (in his introduction) explains that it is directed to those who will inherit the Land, as is written: “See, I have taught you statutes and laws as Hashem, my G-d has commanded me, so that you should follow them in the Land which you are going to inherit” (Devarim 4:5). Devarim is not a book of abstractions but of the fulfillment of the Torah on earth, in Eretz Israel. It is not a repetition of the rest of the Torah, neither is it completely new. It is an explanation or expansion, showing the old in a new light - the light of the practical application of Torah principles to our Nation in our Land.
Moshe’s closing speech is delivered “after he had slain Sichon, the King of Emori, who dwelt in Cheshbon and Og, the King of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtarot in Edrei” (Devarim 1:4). These two wars are the prerequisite for understanding Moshe’s words. What connection can there be between war and Torah? We are the connection. Fulfillment of Torah in Israel necessitates military action at times. Abstract religion, separated from any connection to territory, needs no military defense. A national entity in its own land, however, must have sovereignty, and a military arm with it. It is up to us to bring all aspects of Torah "down to earth," with all that that entails, even war. This is what the Spies could not fathom. Now, “after he had slain Sichon,” it is conceivable. We have experienced our power to defeat two mighty kings, as the parashah ends: “And I commanded Yehoshua at that time, saying, ‘Your eyes have seen all that Hashem, your G-d did to those two kings, and so shall G-d do to all the empires where you pass. You shall not fear them, for Hashem, your G-d is the One fighting for you’” (ibid. 3:21-22). Today too, great and mighty nations surround us. The situation is no different than it was in Yehoshua’s time, in David’s time or in the Maccabees’ time. We know that G-d is on our side, it is He Who will make us victorious.Long before Rashi and Ramban composed their commentaries on the Torah, “Moshe began to explain this Torah” (Devarim 1:5). Certainly, Moshe, G-d’s most loyal servant, provided the truest explanation, and this is how he began: “Hashem, our G-d, spoke to us at Chorev, saying, ‘You have dwelt long enough at the mountain…’” (ibid. v. 6). The Torah could not be properly fulfilled in the desert. “Turn, and start your journey, and go to the mountain of the Emori and to all its neighbors in the lowland, in the mountains, in the plains, and the desert, and along the coast, the land of the Canaanite and the Lebanon up to the great river of Perat” (ibid. v. 7). The Torah’s directive is to take possession of and settle the Land. “Who is like Your nation Israel, one people in the Land” (Amidah prayer of Shabbat afternoon). Complete fulfillment of the Torah is only possible in Eretz Israel.
Throughout the past century, a great debate has been going on regarding whether it is up to us to conquer and settle the land, or whether we should sit and wait for G-d’s promise to be fulfilled. This week’s parashah contains the promise: “See, I have presented you with the Land” (ibid. 1:8). Although this seems to imply that G-d will ensure that we get the Land, we are immediately commanded: “Come and possess the Land which Hashem swore to your fathers, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, to give to them and to their descendants after them” (ibid.). “Hashem swore,” but it is up to us to ensure that His word be done. It is both a promise and a command. We must not rationalize that if Hashem swore, there is nothing for us to do but sit and wait. It is precisely because He swore that we know that our efforts are meaningful, and that they will bear fruit. We must conquer and settle the Land.