Rabbi Berel Wein
This week’s Torah reading begins the oration by our teacher Moshe during the final months of his life. In this oration, he reviews the 40-year sojourn of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert and prophesizes regarding their future, first in the Land of Israel and then throughout history. The Torah tells us that Moshe began his speech when the Jewish people were located between certain landmarks in the Desert of Sinai. Rashi, following the ideas of the Midrash, explains that the locations that were identified were not meant to be specific geographic localities but were intended to highlight events that occurred to the Jewish people during their 40 years in the Sinai.
We have a rule that while there are myriad interpretations to the eternal words and to the depth of the narrative verses as written in the Torah, the Talmud cautions us that while we should always be aware what the Torah really means, the simple explanation of the words is primary to our understanding of the values and message of the Torah. Therefore, the listing of these geographic locations where Moshe begins his oration to the Jewish people is an intrinsic value by itself. Moshe wants us to realize when, where, and under what circumstances the message and speech to the Jewish people is being delivered. By describing the place from which he is speaking, he is giving context and background to the message that he is attempting to deliver. All statements, no matter how profound and eternal, must be understood within the context of place and time. It is difficult to communicate any message to a generation that is living miraculously in a barren desert. The audience must utilize imagination and be able to deal with promises and issues concerning a country that they have never seen.
It is also very difficult to speak to people about the future, which is so uncertain and, to a great extent, mysterious. But Moshe’s oration addresses both these concerns. He wants the listener to know that he is speaking from the desert but that his message is also for the future of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, when they settle the land. And Moshe also looks far into the future, warning them of destruction and exile, horrendous events, but the eventual redemption and hope. The greatness of Moshe is that he can speak in the present, from a place of identifiable geographic location, and project a message that will last for thousands of years. It will be valid and vital wherever one finds oneself on this planet. This is what makes Moshe the greatest of all prophets of the Jewish people, in all areas of life and faith, and for all eternity.