Parshat Devarim

Parshat Devarim

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


The last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy “Second Law” or Devarim “Words,” are the final sermons of Moses before his death. Devarim has the special characteristic of begin Moses’ commentary on the previous books of the Torah and his interpretation of the Jewish people’s experience. Moses attempts to draw out the key lessons of that experience. He warns of the dangers that lie ahead and also of redemption in the future.


Devarim 1:17

You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike. Fear no person, for judgment is God’s And any matter that is too difficult for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it.


For Thursday

Avot D’Rabbi Natan 10:2

Do not act as an advocate for one side. How so? This teaches that if you came to the house of study and heard a general teaching or a legal teaching, do not respond immediately. Rather, sit and ask about the reasoning [behind their teaching, and in what context they made such a judgment. To the one who gave the legal teaching, ask first about the legal principle and the timing of the case.] When two litigants come before you for judgment, one poor and one rich, do not say to yourself: How can I make sure to exonerate the poor one and charge the rich one? Or how (can I exonerate the rich one and charge the poor one? For if I charge the poor one, then he will become my enemy, but if I exonerate the poor one, then the rich one will become my enemy. And do not say to yourself: How) can I take this one’s money and give it to that one? For the Torah says (Deuteronomy 1:17), “Do not be partial in judgment.”

For Saturday

Ya’akove Yosef of Polonnoye, 18th century, Ukraine

This is what I heard from my teacher [the Ba’al Shem Tov], in the name of the Ramban, who commanded his son [as follows]: If some action seems uncertain to you, because there might be two paths of action, or if it is uncertain whether it is a mitzvah or not, and whether to do it or refrain from it — whatever gives pleasure will lead you to try to find a reason to permit that which is forbidden. Therefore, before [you undertake] anything, remove from the doing of this action any pleasure for yourself or your honor. After [you have done] this, you will see which way to turn. Then God will let you know the truth, and you will walk securely. “Words from a wise person’s mouth are gracious” [Ecclesiastes 10:12] …

Hence, [the following] may be understood: “And the case that is too difficult from you” — where you don’t know what to do or to refrain from doing, the uncertainty arise “from you,” because [your choice] contains within it something that pleases you. Therefore, remove your honor and your pleasure from the action, “you shall bring [it] to me [elai],” where elai is more internal than li. The point is that [your action] should be for the sake of heaven, without any ulterior motive or pleasure. Then, “I shall hear” how to behave. This is easy to understand.


Devarim 1:31

and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you [all] traveled until you came to this place.


For Thursday


Taanit 21a:11

And why did they call him Naḥum of Gam Zu? The reason is that with regard to any matter that occurred to him, he would say: This too is for the good [gam zu letova]. Once, the Jews wished to send a gift [doron] to the house of the emperor. They said: Who should go and present this gift? Let Naḥum of Gam Zu go, as he is accustomed to miracles. They sent with him a chest [sifta] full of jewels and pearls, and he went and spent the night in a certain inn. During the night, these residents of the inn arose and took all of the precious jewels and pearls from the chest, and filled it with earth. The next day, when he saw what had happened, Naḥum of Gam Zu said: This too is for the good.

When he arrived there, at the ruler’s palace, they opened the chest and saw that it was filled with earth. The king wished to put all the Jewish emissaries to death. He said: The Jews are mocking me. Naḥum of Gam Zu said: This too is for the good. Elijah the Prophet came and appeared before the ruler as one of his ministers. He said to the ruler: Perhaps this earth is from the earth of their father Abraham. As when he threw earth, it turned into swords, and when he threw stubble, it turned into arrows, as it is written in a prophecy that the Sages interpreted this verse as a reference to Abraham: “His sword makes them as the dust, his bow as the driven stubble” (Isaiah 41:2).

There was one province that the Romans were unable to conquer. They took some of this earth, tested it by throwing it at their enemies, and conquered that province. When the ruler saw that this earth indeed had miraculous powers, his servants entered his treasury and filled Naḥum of Gam Zu’s chest with precious jewels and pearls and sent him off with great honor.

When Naḥum of Gam Zu came to spend the night at that same inn, the residents said to him: What did you bring with you to the emperor that he bestowed upon you such great honor? He said to them: That which I took from here, I brought there. When they heard this, the residents of the inn thought that the soil upon which their house stood had miraculous powers. They tore down their inn and brought the soil underneath to the king’s palace. They said to him: That earth that was brought here was from our property. The miracle had been performed only in the merit of Naḥum of Gam Zu. The emperor tested the inn’s soil in battle, and it was not found to have miraculous powers, and he had these residents of the inn put to death.


For Saturday


Elazar of Worms, 12th century, Germany

[The text begins:] “And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen that the Eternal thy God carried thee”– in the singular, but it continues, “in all the way that you walked, until you came to this place” [in the plural]. For no [two] miracles are the same. Some saw what another did not see. Some carried [God] on the cloud; some higher, some lower; some were as if they had walked. Therefore, [the verse says] “carried thee” [as well as] “that you walked.”