These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. Through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab….
In Torah reading Devarim, we begin the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ final speech to the Israelites in the last five weeks of his life. The man who once described himself as “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex. 4:10) now has a great deal to say. Moses rebukes the people for their lack of faith and repeated misbehavior in the wilderness, and recounts events that occurred and laws that were given during their forty-year journey.
Moses begins his epic lecture by mentioning certain places where the Israelites provoked God to anger. Rashi explains that Moses simply mentions the place names and not the sins committed there “out of honor for the Children of Israel.” But isn’t Moses criticizing the people? How does he honor them at the same time?
Rav Yosef Nendik has a beautiful interpretation. When a person has no self-awareness and is oblivious to what he has done wrong, he needs a long explanation about why he is being reprimanded. For one who already understands his mistake, a simple hint is enough. Imagine a family on a cross-country road trip. At Mt. Rushmore the kids can’t stop bickering and it ruins the experience for the whole family. At a later date, their mother wants to teach a lesson about what happens when they bicker and she says simply, “Mt. Rushmore.” She doesn’t need to remind them of the insults they traded, or the family’s inability to enjoy the national monument. The children know full well what they did wrong that day. It is to the Jewish people’s credit that we needed only a small allusion to our sins to understand why we were being rebuked.
Image: “Study for the figure of Moses” by Jacob de Wit, c. 1730