Parshas Devarim – The fundamental split between the first 2 generations of the Jews

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By: Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld

This week’s פרשה can be split nearly perfectly down the middle. In length and in theme there is a beautiful halfway point in the פרשה. Moshe begins by telling the people the journey that began when the left har Sinai. They were meant to travel an 11-day distance in 3 days. They were to advance to the land of the Amorites, Hashem would destroy their enemies and give them the land. But the people sent spies who gave a negative report of the land and everything went downhill from there, and they end up circling הר שעיר for many days as the פסוק for says. Then we hear nothing at all about the 38 years of their wandering, the Torah jumps straight to the story of the children of those who left Egypt. And this story is a very close replica to the story of the generation that left Egypt. I think these 2 generations represent 2 prototypical avenues in which we can serve Hashem. Let’s call them the incubator generation and the farmer generation.

The generation that left Egypt was not active and they were very rarely proactive. They heard from their parents that Hashem would redeem them, they watched as Hashem brought Egypt to its knees, and then they followed Hashem into the desert. They received food and shelter from heaven, their clothes grew with them and Clouds of Glory stopped their enemies for them. The highlight of their story is when they receive the Torah. Their relationship with Hashem is reactive, where they receive and do not venture out on their own. You may think this sounds petty and childish, but I think quite the opposite, the strength this generation needed was immense and not to be taken lightly. Following blindly is not always easy, and these people didn’t know that the sea would split, they didn’t know that they would get מן or a traveling water rock. They blindly jumped after Hashem and trusted that He would provide for them. And provide He did, and for they had all their needs met. They were in Hashem’s incubator so to speak.

The generation that entered the land was proactive, they were those that would become farmers of the land. Toiling the dirt, getting food from the ground, and working with dirty cattle. And even before they entered the land, they lost the ענני הכבוד, they lost the traveling well, and they actively fight in wars and destroy other nations. They are born into the incubator but are not destined to stay there, they are the farmers that work in the areas where Hashem is not so visible and see the clarity in that which looks unclear. They take physical things and prove that they can find their Source no matter how far down they have to dig.

To prove that these are two viable and correct approaches to Hashem the Torah linguistically gives the 2 generations the same commandments:

1- רב לכם שבת בהר הזה = רב לכם סב את ההר הזה. The incubator generation gets told you have sat at הר סיני for long enough, and the farmer generation gets told you have circled הר שעיר for long enough, go travel to the land!

2- פנו וסעו לכם = פנו לכם צפונה. The same verbiage for turning around to travel is used.

And thematically as well, both generations go to the land of the Amorites and both engage in a war with the Amorites, but the first generation does so incorrectly, and they get smitten while the second generation does so correctly and destroys סיחון and עוג to take over and inhabit their land. And when the incubator generation tried to act by sending spies, it went horribly wrong. Almost as though they aren’t meant to act, they are meant to react.

Nowadays, I think both avenues exist on a macro level as well as on a micro level. There are those that feel a deep sense of security in throwing themselves into Hashem’s arms and engaging in nothing other than studying Torah. They trust in Hashem and know that He will take care of them regardless of how daunting or scary it may seem, and this is an incredible feat that is not easy to genuinely attain. And there are those that go out into the world, fight “wars” on unfamiliar territory to capture a land and make it a holy place. They operate in spaces where holiness is not so readily available or obvious and they manage to find and highlight Hashem’s presence, similar to the way that the farmer finds Hashem in an apple or a cucumber.

And I think regardless which type of person we each are, we all have weeks, days and even hours of each type. Some days you get up and feel Hashem’s embrace, you feel as though you have the most security possible and are able to live without a worry in the world. And some days all you see in front of you is an open field that you need to plant, harvest, sow, wait for crops to grow only to get the raw products that you need to process in order to get your bread.

Moshe’s farewell speech begins with the juxtaposing of these two prototypes to set the way for us. And I think that as you read through ספר דבריםthere are so many repetitions of earlier stories and laws that we had in the Torah, but because they are being given over to the farmer generation they are phrased slightly differently. It is those differences that highlights and bring out the points which we can use to further identify and cultivate these two forces inside of us and use them to be able to dynamically connect to Hashem in all possible situations. 

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