Category Archives: Parshat דברים

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

Parshat דברים Deuteronomy 1:13 – Wisdom Alone is Not Sufficient Criteria for a Judge

Deuteronomy 1:13 – Prepare for yourselves wise and understanding men, known among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.

Sifri: “They should be known to you”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #9:

The Sifri explains that it is not appropriate to appoint a judge when it is not known “who he is” even though he may be a great scholar. The Rambam in Chapter 2, Halacha 7 of Sanhedrin explains the phrase “known among your tribes” is in reference to the known saying that a judge must be someone who is pleasing to the people. This is according to the Gemora Sanhedrin 88b that states “Anyone who is wise and pleasing to the people may be appointed as a judge.”

However, it does need to be explained how the Rambam connects the idea of being “known to the tribe” to the idea of being pleasing to the people, especially since the Gemora itself does not use our verse to support this teaching. Perhaps one can say that the idea of “being known” is that people can see the content of his soul and can see his good actions and that through this the [potential] judge is someone beloved to the tribes. This is also alluded to in the previous note where it states that the word “men” means that a judge’s humanity is what needs to be known. [שבאנושיותם יהיו ידועים]  

In other words, the judges need to be righteous, beloved and pleasing to the people.

Editor’s Note: The Torah Temimah says that one cannot appoint a judge unless his “menshlichkeit” or humanity is known.

Parshat דברים Deuteronomy 1:16 – The Judge Should Be Equal to the Punishment

Deuteronomy 1:16 –And I commanded your judges at that time, saying, “Hear [disputes] between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother, and between his litigant.”

Sanhedrin 7b: Rabbi Yochanan said that [the command referred to here in the verse] was a [corresponding] warning to judges to be careful [zealous] regarding the stick and the strap

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #11:

It says in the book Chiddushei Aggadot that the reason why [Moshe needed to give a special command to the judges regarding punishing people with a stick [or lashes] was because in that generation [of the desert], the Jews then were more stubborn and prone to arguments and quarrels. This is consistent with the verse that mentions Moshe complaining to God (Devarim 1:12) “how can I alone carry their burden, their load and their quarrels”. For this reason the judges at that time were reminded about the corporal punishments with a stick or a strap.

This explanation doesn’t make any sense at all. Behold Moshe commanded many mitzvot at that time. Also the idea that specifically for this reason were the judges commanded then about the stick and the strap also makes no sense. The punishment of corporal punishment was not for just that generation but also for later generations. Also, that is the way of the world, that all court systems include punishments. Additionally, what does the Gemora mean to say when it adds that the judge needs to be extra careful or zealous regarding the stick and the strap? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to just state that among the tools of a judge are a stick or a strap or a shofar or a sandal (as it is alluded to in the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim). Also, why is there no special care needed for the shofar or the sandal? Lastly, how is the word “corresponding to” appropriate here?

Rather the truth appears that the explanation is in line with that which it says in Psikta Rabbati, Chapter 33. Rabbi Shabbtai says “a judge must be according to the stick or according to the strap or according to whatever punishment he uses. The judge must not be suspect in any way while using a big stick or a big strap.”

The explanation of this is that the judge must not use corporal punishment to rule over others for his own gains. Additionally, it is forbidden for the judge to use a corporal punishment that is beyond the endurance of the convicted person. This is also mentioned in Midrash Rabbah Devarim Chapter 5 as follows “The actions must correspond to the stick and the staff, it must not be that it is the judge who has the need to hit.” In other words, when more lashes than are appropriate are meted out, or if the strap or stick is larger than it should be, then it is the judge, himself, who becomes liable for the punishments.

This idea is also mentioned in the Sifri on Parshat Ki Tetzei on the verse “forty lashes, not more”. [if the verse already mentions “forty” why does it also need to say “not more”?] It is explained there that there are two types of “overdoing” on the punishment. One type is on the number of lashes, and not going beyond thirty nine. The other type of “overdoing” is that if the judge sees that the person can only endure a given lesser number (such as ten) then it is forbidden to give more lashes than that lesser number. This type of extra caution and discernment by the judge is what required the extra degree of warning [mentioned in the Gemora].

Editor’s Note: One who is judging others needs to first measure himself and be sure that he is not meting out punishment for his own needs.