Get ready to hear the Torah explained by the greatest Torah teacher of them all – Moshe Rabeinu, as we begin his review of the Torah in the Book of Devarim. In this week’s parsha, Moshe goes over the teachings of the Torah as the Israelite Nation stands poised to enter the Promised Land. The Spies and their rebellious generation had all died in punishment for not wanting to make aliyah, but the pernicious influence of their tragic misunderstanding still remained. So at the very beginning of the Book of Devarim, Moshe begins to explain the Torah, as it says, “Moshe began to explain the Torah….” (Devarim, 1:6).
Rashi comments that Moshe explained the Torah in 70 languages. Apparently, he prophetically knew that the Jews would one day be scattered around the world, where they would speak French and Spanish and German and Russian and English and Yiddish, and Moshe didn’t want them to have the excuse, “We didn’t know we were supposed to live in Israel – we don’t speak Hebrew, so how can you blame us for not understanding the Torah?” So Moshe made sure to teach the Torah in 70 languages, so that every Jew would know.
And what is the very first thing Moshe teaches the Nation, who are all waiting to hear the explanation of the Torah from Moshe himself? You can read the words yourself:
“Moshe began to explain the Torah, saying, the Lord our God spoke to us in Horev, saying, ‘You have dwelt long enough in this mountain – TURN AND TAKE UP YOUR JOURNEY – go to the Land of Israel! BEHOLD, I HAVE SET THE LAND BEFORE YOU, GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO YOUR FATHERS, AVRAHAM, YITZHAK, AND YAACOV TO GIVE THEM, AND TO THEIR SEED AFTER THEM” (Devarim, 1:6-8).
The Torah wasn’t given to be kept in Sinai, nor in Brooklyn or Beverly Hills. The Torah isn’t a “religion” like Buddhism or Christianity, God forbid. The Torah isn’t some abstract spirituality floating like a cloud in the sky. The Torah has an EARTHLY BASE. Not Sinai. Not Lakewood. Not Antwerp or on the outskirts of Mexico City. The Torah is the DIVINE CONSTITUTION of the NATION OF ISRAEL, and every NATION needs its own LAND. And the holy CHILDREN OF ISRAEL have their own unique HOLY LAND.
What is the first and fundamental message that Moshe explains when he teaches the Torah to Am Yisrael? Not Shabbos. Not kashrus. “Do you want to know what Torah is?” he asks them. “You really want to keep it? GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND! That’s the basis of Torah. Only in the Holy Land will you be able to understand what the Torah is all about, and only there can all of the Torah be kept.”
This is the teaching which Moshe wanted to sink into our hearts in order to uproot the tragic error of the Spies. We are to be our own HOLY NATION with our own HOLY LAND, and not live as a minority in someone else’s country performing a small handful of religious precepts. That may be the “Judaism” of the exile, but it isn’t real Torah.
What is this like? It’s like a Jew who returns home from shul on the first night of Sukkot when the moon is full and the stars are shining in the sky and eats his Yom Tov meal in his home under the roof of his salon. Obviously, he hasn’t performed the mitzvah. Why? Because there is a place where the seudah of Sukkah night must be performed. The same thing is true with the Torah.
You don’t have to listen to me. Listen to Moshe. Listen to the roaring echo of his words, resounding out today from Torah scrolls all over the world:
YOU HAVE DWELT LONG ENOUGH IN BROOKLYN AND BEVERLY HILLS – YOU HAVE TARRIED LONG ENOUGH IN PARIS AND ANTWERP – YOU HAVE RUN AWAY FOR TOO LONG IN MELBOUNE AND MANCHESTER ENGLAND - GO UP AND POSSESS THE LAND!!!!
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". He recently published "From Hollywood to the Holy Land".His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."