Parshas Devarim is the first Parsha in the book of Devarim (also known as Deutronomy). Devarim is a very unique Parsha. It recounts the history of the Israelites, including the various sins they commited, and the laws they were given, during the 40-year journey from Egypt to Sinai and then the Promised Land. Moshe Rabbenu delivers this repetition of the Torah, and rebukes the Israelites, as well as commanding them to observe the commandments G-d gave them. Various commentators and gadolim have found a number of amazing insights in Devarim. Moshe Rabbenu’s actions in this Parsha are a wonderful reflection of his humble personality, and we can derive important lessons from his behaviour.
Moshe Rabbenu’s devotion to the Torah- the word of G-d- was amazing. He was truly very close to G-d and his love for the Creator was amazing. So great was his respect for G-d’s word, that he made every effort possible to spread it. He led by example, for sure, and certainly realised that “actions speak louder than words”, but he also knew that the Israelites needed a solid set of guidelines to live by. We learn from Rashi’s commentary on Devarim (1:5) that he translated the Torah into seventy languages. This is just one example of the topic of words appearing in the aptly-named Parsha. Moshe’s translation feats were truly remarkable, and are mirrored by the actions of various individuals today. As various websites and publishers keep releasing new translations of Holy works, they strive towards Moshe Rabbenu’s goal of making the Torah available and accessible for everyone.
From Yalkut Shimoni, we also learn that G-d said, “Let Moshe, who loves them, rebuke them, and Bilaam, who hates them, bless them”. Although Moshe may have seemed harsh and uncaring in Devarim- just as Pinchas was accused of bloodthirst for his act of love- he was actually trying to give the Israelites the greatest gift of all- the Torah. By enjoining them with Torah observance, he was placing a “crown” on their heads, the crown of Torah. We learn from this that sometimes, rebuke is necessary, although unpleasant. In fact, it is a Torah commandment to rebuke, although this must be done without hatred, and with the best intentions. For Moshe Rabbenu, this was certainly the case, for the truly loved the Israelites.
And yet, Moshe Rabbenu also practiced discretion and tact. He made sure that his words resonated with the Israelites, and didn’t self-censor, but he also knew that offending the Israelites was not the answer. Although the Talmud decries flattery, aggression is also frowned upon. Rebuking someone is one thing, but insulting them is another. In his rebukes, Moshe Rabbenu does not always refer explicitly to the sins the Israelites committed. Instead, he refers to the various locations where they took place- “In the desert”, “opposite Suf”- knowing that the Israelites would understand him, but seeing no reason to shame them. There’s a delicate line between the commandment to rebuke your fellow, and the prohibition on shaming him. Moshe Rabbenu knew exactly where this line lay.
Despite his piety and devotion, Moshe Rabbenu ultimately never entered the Promised Land, dying within sight of it. In Midrash Rabbah, we read that G-d said; “Your greatness is that you have taken the 600,000 out of bondage. But you have buried them in the desert, and will bring into the Land a different generation! This being so, people will think that the generation of the desert have no share in the world to come! No, better be beside them, and you shall in the time to come enter with them”. Moshe Rabbenu made the ultimate sacrifice for his people, and has set the standards for leadership so high, that they can likely not be reached until the coming of Moshiach (may it be speedily and in our days). However, we can all strive to act as righteously as Moshe Rabbenu did in Parshas Devarim, and learn from the valuable lessons he imparted.