Torah Reading:  Parshat Devarim,  Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22

Haftora: Isaiah 1:1 - 27

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:01 PM

Shabbat Ends: 9:05 PM 

Devarim - Shabbat Chazzon


Tempered Criticism

The Book of Devarim-Deuteronomy begins with Moses rebuking the Jewish people. However, as Rashi points out, his criticism was tempered. Moses delivered it in coded terms. Instead of itemizing their sins by name, Moses alludes to the places where the people sinned.

By displaying such sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish people Moses demonstrated his abiding love for them. The people of the Jewish nation were able to realize that his rebuke was motivated by an intense love.

While Rashi demonstrates that Moses’ criticism was tempered, other commentators explain that these sin-tainted locations actually allude to positive traits of the Jewish people.

The following will attempt to demonstrate that each location also alludes to one of the Ten Mitzvah campaigns launched by the Rebbe to accelerate the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

The first place mentioned is: 

“On the Other Side of the Jordan”

The Israelites vanquished two formidable enemy nations that inhabited “the other side of the Jordan.” The twin nations of Sichon and Og represented powerful negative spiritual energies. Sichon and Og were hired by the rulers of Canaan to bar the entry of the Jewish nation. According to the Chassidic work Igra D’kalah, they were the spiritual opposites of the Mezuzahs which we place on our doorposts to protect our homes both materially and spiritually.

The Jewish people were then endowed by G‑d with the power of the Mezuzah. With that power we were able to remove the impediments to our ability to enter into and conquer the Land of Canaan and transform it into the Land of Israel.

Other Chassidic masters demonstrate that Sichon and Og personified the antithesis of the Mitzvah of Tefillin. Sichon reigned in the city of Cheshbon, which can be translated as “thought” and alludes to the negative thoughts which are erased by the Head Tefillin. Og attacked the Jews at a place called Edrei. In Aramaic, Edrei means an arm; this alludes to the Arm Tefillin, which help us counter evil actions.

“The other side of the Jordan” is thus a hint to the “twin” Mitzvah Campaigns of Mezuzah and Tefillin, which protect our minds, hearts, and homes from evil influences and prepare us for the Final Redemption.

“In the Desert”

The Midrash states that G‑d specifically chose to give us the Torah in the desert because it is a place that nobody can claim exclusive rights to; the Torah is everyone’s possession.

Moreover, our Sages teach, the barren and parched desert is also a metaphor for the state of humility that one must have when studying Torah, realizing that it is Divine wisdom and, as such, can only truly be appreciated and internalized when we approach it with humility.

The “desert” thus alludes to the Mitzvah Campaign to study Torah with humility. 

“The Aravah”

This refers to the location at which the zealot Pinchas saved the Jewish people from destruction. It was an act of supreme self-sacrifice motivated by his love of the Jewish people.

This location thus alludes to the Mitzvah Campaign to love your fellow as yourself. 

“Opposite the Red Sea”

This references the courage and faith of Nachshon, who jumped into the sea before it split.

This is an allusion to the Mitzvah Campaign for family purity, which involves immersion in a Mikveh. Throughout Jewish history, including in the former Soviet Union, Jewish women risked their lives to immerse in secret Mikvas to bring purity and holiness into their family life.

“Between Paran”

Paran was the location from which Moses sent the 12 spies into Canaan. Although 10 returned with a negative report, between them were Joshua and Calev, who took exception to their slanderous and rebellious report. Most dramatically, while all the men cried that night of Tisha B’Av, the women did not. Their faith in G‑d and Moses was not diminished.

This episode alludes to the Mitzvah Campaign to light Shabbos candles and symbolizes the shining faith with which women are endowed.

The reason women have a special affinity for this Mitzvah is that the candle is the symbol of the soul, the wellspring of faith. When the soul’s light is covered, we can lose our faith and trust in G‑d. Women have a greater capacity to keep their souls’ lights from being concealed. This prevented them from following the masses who lost faith over time. The spiritual light of the women was not concealed or dimmed. This is reflected by the Mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles.

“Between Tofel”

Tofel can be related to children. In Hebrew one of the words for a child is taf. Although it is spelled with the letter tes, whereas tofel is spelled with the letter tav, they share meanings. The word tofel with a tes means subordinate, like a child who is dependent on his parents. The word tofel with a tav has a similar meaning, one of attachment, implying that one entity is latching on to another. Tafel with a tav also can be retranslated as uncooked or unsalted meat, implying that it is an inferior or preliminary state of food preparation.

This location thus refers to the Mitzvah Campaign of chinuch, education of our children, introducing them to the teachings of Judaism to create a foundation for the future.

“And Laban”

Laban, which means “white” is a reference to the white Manna from heaven. It is the ultimate kosher food and teaches us that when we eat kosher food it is, in a sense, a replication and expression of Manna from Heaven. When we eat kosher food, after thanking G‑d for it, the food is elevated into the realm of holiness and heavenliness.  

This location thus refers to the Mitzvah Campaign of keeping kosher.

“And Chatzeiros”

Chatzeiros means “courtyards” and is related to the Houses of Study in which we learn and teach Torah. When we fill our homes with Torah books, we transform our personal houses into religious Houses of Study. Our homes become the “courtyards” and appendages to the actual Houses of Study.

When the Rebbe referred to this Mitzvah Campaign, he often associated the idea of a house filled with Torah books to the city of Yavneh and its Sages. The Sanhedrin’s original home was in the Bais Hamikdash. However, exile conditions forced it to relocate to the small town of Yavneh.

When Vespasian was close to destroying the Second Temple, the leader of the Jewish people, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, successfully pleaded with him to spare the city of Yavneh and its Sages.

This alludes to the idea that in exile the closest we can come to entering into G‑d’s home is to create a satellite home away from that Home. This we do by transforming our homes into dwellings filled with the knowledge of Torah.

It is, therefore, no coincidence that Korach, whose rebellion occurred in Chatzeiros, challenged Moses with a question concerning a “house filled with books.” Korach unwittingly established that we can recreate the atmosphere of a House of Study by filling our houses with Torah books.

“And Di Zahav”

The literal meaning of Di Zahav refers to the abundance of gold the Jews possessed after leaving Egypt and from which they contributed to create the Golden Calf. However, it can just as easily refer to the abundance of gold which they contributed later for the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary.

Thus, Di Zahav alludes to the Mitzvah Campaign of giving Tzedakah, which the Talmud states hastens the Redemption.

Nine Places and Ten Campaigns

In short, all ten of the Mitzvah Campaigns of the Rebbe are represented in the nine places named by Moses.

We read this section of the Torah right before Tisha B’Av, the day the two Holy Temples were destroyed. However, it is also the day that the soul of Moshiach entered into this world for the first time, as recounted in the Jerusalem Talmud.

It follows then that by rededicating ourselves to these Mitzvos in particular we will have prepared ourselves for the imminent revelation of Moshiach and the building of the Third Bais Hamikdash. When that happens, the fast of Tisha B’Av will turn into the “feast” of Tisha B’Av.