Rabbi Shelton J. Donnell
In Parashat Devarim Moses begins his last speech to the Israelites. He recounts to them their journey from Egypt through the wilderness to the borders of the land of Canaan. For forty years Moses led the people, and now he turns to remind them where they have been together. Forty years! Why such a very long time?
According to Professor Nechama Leibowitz the generation that left Egypt was weak and lacked the courage necessary to conquer the land. In fact, when they actually saw the inhabitants of the land they became afraid and said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” (Num. 13:31). So now, the second generation following the Exodus from Egypt has arisen and the situation has reversed – now the Israelites are strong and fearsome, “Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own” (Deut. 2:4-5).
Rashi explains that the words “They will be afraid of you, but be very careful…” in this way, “What is meant by careful? Do not provoke them…” It is clear that the Torah is suggesting here that the Israelites are strong and that the inhabitants of the land – even the descendants of Esau – fear them. And more, perhaps there is a warning here that we should understand that there is danger in possessing an abundance of strength, just as there is danger in being weak.
- Why did Moses open his speech by recalling the people’s journey?
- In your opinion, were the forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness for their benefit or a form of punishment?
- Would you agree that there is danger in a situation when you have an abundance of strength? If so, in how?