Parshat דברים Devarim 1:1 – Aids for learning Torah

Deuteronomy 1:1 “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahav. ”

Berachot 32a: “… And Di Zahav.  What does Di Zahav mean?  They say in the study house of Rabbi Yanai: This is what Moses said before the Holy One Blessed is He: Master of the world, the silver and gold with which You showered the Israelites until they said enough[1] caused them to create the golden calf”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #1:

There is no doubt that this homily and others like were said by way of a hint and support or to help memorize these sayings, for, by the strict letter of the law, it is forbidden to write down that which is oral.  These must be repeated orally. [In these times, however, it is permitted to write them down because of deficiency of knowledge[2]].  They sought methods make it easier for those learning and for their capacity to memorize.  They made mnemonics for everything as the Talmud says (Eruvin 54b): Make markers for the Torah and (Eruvin 21b): And besides that Koheleth was wise, he also taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs[3] – he taught them by way of signs.  Rashi explains: He established a tradition and sings, be it for the written word or the versions of the Mishnah.  Also see Shabbat 104b regarding making signs for the Torah and the Jerusalem Talmud (Shabbat chapter 19 Halachah 1): any Torah without a household is not Torah.  This means that any Torah that does not have an example from somewhere else is not Torah, i.e., it will not endure for it will ultimately be forgotten because it has nothing to hold on to for support.  We have discussed this, elsewhere, at length [the end of Parashat Tisa[4] and Parashat Hukath 21:18[5]].  This is the subject of this homily.  Chazal had a tradition that Moses defended the Israelites claiming that the great amount of silver and gold, which He showered upon them, caused them to make the golden calf.   The verse repeats this idea saying: “And Jeshurun waxed fat and rebelled.  They supported this idea based on the hint and mnemonic Di Zahav as explained and as will be explained further.

I investigated and discovered, however, that it is not the way of Chazal to associate homilies, such as this, to the wording of a verse unless they have a specific nuance or remark in the language of the verse, such that, it cannot be explained in the plain sense as we have noted many times in this work and as any wise person, who looks closely at all the places where similar homilies appear, scrutinizing the deep character of the language, the order and the like will discover.

Here, in this homily, it appears that the intent of the question, what is the meaning of Di Zahav, that they were not content to explain it in the plain sense as the name of a place, is based on what is expressed in the Sifrei and other Midrashim.  Every place mentioned here, about which, Moses spoke to the people, is not a reference to the name of the place, rather concerning what occurred to the Israelites there, chastising them for the events.  Only out of reverence for the Israelites did Moses refer to all these events as places as Rashi explains.  The plains refer to the sin of Baal Peor which occurred in the plains of Moab.  Over against Suf refers to the rebellion by the reed sea.  Tophel and Laban refer to Israelites degrading the manna.

Because of this, the Midrash states “what is Di Zahav”, that is, corresponding to which event, did Moses call the place Di Zahav.  Chazal interpreted it as an allusion to the place where the Israelites made the golden calf — where they gave their gold and made it as described in Parashat Tisah.  According to this reason, however, it would suffice to refer to the place only as Zahav.  The reason for referring to it as Di Zahav was expounded in the study house of Rabbi Yanai.  Because of the severity of the act of making the golden calf, Moses defended the people that the abundance of silver and gold that He showered upon the people, until they said enough, caused them to perform this act.  As the Gemara explains: a lion does not roar for of a box of straw — only for a box of meat.  There are other similar proverbs in the Gemara all based on the verse in Parashat Eikev[6]:” then thy heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage;” and Parashat Haazinu[7]:But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked–thou didst wax fat, thou didst grow thick, thou didst become gross–and he forsook God who made him, and contemned the Rock of his salvation.” explaining this idea.

Editor’s note: The Torah Temimah shows how important it is to create ways to preserve the Torah so it will be remembered.  Even today, when one is permitted to write down the oral tradition, when everything is available in book and on-line, it is good to employ this technique to remember words of Torah.  The Torah Temimah explains that Rabbi Yanai specifically associated this homily with Di Zahav, the sin of the golden calf, instead of the other events to which Moses alludes, because it was the most severe.  The Midrash explains that while Moses was chastising the people for the events that occurred, he was also defending the people at the same time.  The lesson is that one should never be too quick to judge even when chastising a person, the chastiser should judge the other person favorably.


[1] The name of the place Di Zahab can also be read in Hebrew as Dai (enough) Zahav (gold)

[2] קוצר דעות – literally shortness of knowledge perhaps attributed to the descent of the generations as time progresses from the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai

[3] Ecclesiastes 12:9

[4] Exodus 34:27 Note 40:

[5] Note 18

[6] Deuteronomy 8:14

[7] Deuteronomy 32:15

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