While Jews believe that all 24 books that comprise the Hebrew Bible, known as the “Tanakh,” are the word of God, there is a distinction made when it comes to the first five books of Moses. Known in Hebrew as the “Chumash,” meaning ‘five,’ Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are on an even higher level, since God communicated each word directly to Moses. In contrast, the 19 books of the Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) were based on God’s prophetic word to His individual messengers, but written in their language. This underscores how Moses’ prophecy was unmatched, based on his particularly close relationship with the Almighty, as attested to in Scripture, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom God had known face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). As such, the Book of Deuteronomy, or Devarim, marks the conclusion not only of the Torah part of the Tanakh, but the end of God’s direct word to Moses, and must therefore be mined carefully for its precious lessons.
Written in the last year of the life of Moses, Devarim is a summary of his final lessons to the Jewish people in the Wilderness before they enter the Land of Israel. Hundreds of commandments are repeated and reviewed, some with minor differences that teach important lessons. The quantity and diversity of the various commandments does not distract from one primary theme that is repeated over and over again throughout Devarim, and that is the primacy of the Land of Israel. In one of the most beautiful and incisive descriptions, Moshe describes the Land of Israel unlike anyplace else on earth:
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou didst sow thy seed, and didst water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down; a land which the LORD thy God careth for; the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)
The Land of Israel Bible elucidates the uniqueness of the land featured repeatedly in the Book of Devarim, a land where God’s presence is fully manifest, and where our relationship with Him is more profound and more complete. May our study of Devarim contribute to our own deeper love of God and the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Naphtali Weisz
The Portion of DevarimThis portion marks the beginning of the final book of the Torah. After leading the Children of Israel valiantly through the desert for forty years, Moses prepares to part from the people. What follows in the book of Deuteronomy is his farewell speech, delivered over the final six weeks of his life. As the… Read More >>
The Portion of Va'etchananIn this week’s portion, Moses continues his farewell speech to the people. Here, he repeatedly warns the people against falling into the trap of idolatry. He reminds them of the incident at Ba’al Pe’or, in which the people sinned and a plague wiped out thousands, as well as the revelation at Mount Sinai. He tells the… Read More >>
The Portion of EikevOur portion carries a promise of Godly assistance in conquering the Land of Israel and blessings for following His commands. Moses warns the people that they will be punished for disregarding God’s word and reminds them of several incidents in which they had sinned, but mostly focuses on the good that God will bring them… Read More >>
The Portion of Re'ehThis week’s portion focuses on changes which will take place upon the people’s entry into Israel. First, they are told to wipe out all forms of idolatry which remain from the land’s previous inhabitants. They are then told God will set aside a special place for them to serve Him. Moses tells the people how… Read More >>
The Portion of ShoftimContinuing Moses’s farewell address to the Children of Israel, this week’s portion deals extensively with the legal system the people must establish when they enter the land. From courts to kings and priests to false witnesses and murderers, the portion details what God expects the people to do in each case. The portion then… Read More >>
The Portion of Ki TeitzeiThis week’s portion covers an array of commandments for a variety of circumstances, from marriage and relationships to caring for the less fortunate. Some of the commandments pertain to man’s relationship with God, but most of them address the relationship between fellow humans. Like the rest of the book of Deuteronomy, this is part of… Read More >>
The Portion of Ki TavoThis week’s portion contains the extended blessings and curses which the Children of Israel will earn, depending on whether they keep or violate God’s covenant. It also details the ceremony of the first fruits which must be brought to the Temple, as well as the declaration over the second tithe. Read More >>
The Portion of NitzavimThis week’s portion is one of the shortest in the Torah, with a mere 40 verses (next week’s Vayelech has only 30). Even when the two are combined, which happens most years, they number fewer verses than most other single portions. The verses themselves, however, are longer than those in most other portions. The… Read More >>
The Portion of VayelechThis incredibly short portion tells of Moses passing the torch onto Joshua. He tells the people that Joshua will lead them into the land of Israel, and offers Joshua words of encouragement. God does likewise. Also in the portion, God tells Moses to record a song which the Children of Israel will learn, so they… Read More >>
The Portion of HaazinuThe portion of Haazinu contains the song mentioned in last week’s portion, which God told Moses to teach the Children of Israel so they would always understand the consequences of their actions. It ends with Moses preparing to die before the people cross into the Promised Land. Read More >>