Originally Posted August 2012

Overview of Sefer Devarim: Three Sections

Before we enter into parshas Devarim in detail, let’s take an overview of the sefer as a whole. According to the Malbim, Sefer Devarim is divided into three sections

  1. The Tochachah (rebuke): The first eleven chapters of the sefer, beginning with the words Eleh HaDevarim. Includes parshios Devarim, Vaeschanan and Eikev.
  2. The Mitzvos: Chapters 12 through the beginning of Nitzavim, beginning with the phrase KeChol Asher Tzivah Hashem Oso Aleiheim
  3. The Biyur (explanation) Hoil Beier Moshe Es HaTorah HaZos

Giving Tochachah

Looking deeper into the nature of the tochachah, Rashi identified two forms: tochachah nisteres (hidden tochachah) and tochahah meguleh (revealed tochachah).

א אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן:  בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת–וְדִי זָהָב.  ב אַחַד עָשָׂר יוֹם מֵחֹרֵב, דֶּרֶךְ הַר-שֵׂעִיר, עַד, קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ1)Devarim 1

The sefer begins with the hidden tochachah. It is comprised mainly of a series of seemingly unintelligible place names. There is no real translation for these names. Rather they are a code, hinting at the things which happened there. Why did Moshe begin his sefer with this type of esoteric rebuke? What is the difference between the two types of tochachos?

Sometimes people need to have their problems fully explained to them. They need outside guidance to properly frame their issues and find the right way to deal with them. This type of clear, straight-forward rebuke is not always effective, though. Sometimes, a person can be fully aware of his problems, the need to change, and even the way to change them, but just can’t find the strength to make the change. For such a person, clearly laying out his problems can be like pouring salt on the wound. Rather than encouraging him, it can be counter-productive.

ח  אל-תוכח לץ, פן-ישנאך; הוכח לחכם, ויאהבך2)Mishlei 9:8

Sefer Mishlei advises “Don’t reprove the scoffer. Rebuke the sage and he shall love you.” Only chachomim will appreciate the rebuke. The Shlah HaKadosh takes the idea a step further, instructing us to make the target of our rebuke a chachom in our eyes. Don’t give straight out tochachah, rather say “You are a great person with much potential. this thing you’ve done is not fitting of you”.

Hashem’s revealed presence is too much for most people to bear. we’d prefer to imagine that we’re just fine with the distance between us and Hashem. Someone who says “i don’t want to be great, I just want to be normal” is really saying “I don’t want to work hard to be a shaleim”

The next part of the tochocho is about the land. God promised Avraham ten lands, but since the sin of the spies, the people were only given seven. The remaining three (Amon, Moav, and Seir) would only be given at the end of history.

The third point is also related to the spies.

References   [ + ]

1. Devarim 1
2. Mishlei 9:8