Often referred to as the Mishneh Torah, implying an earlier iteration, the Book of Deorim is actually characterized by the provision of additional historical information and descriptions of the mitzvot not previously mentioned.
Thus, for example, in the second chapter we find:
- The people should not go to war against Esau’s descendants, because that land has been inherited by Esau (2:4-5).
- They cannot fight against the Moab, because their land has been inherited by their ancestor Lot (2:9).
- Amon is also out of bounds, given to Lot as an inheritance (2:19).
What is the relevance of these instructions to Parshat Devarim? In the Parashat Chukat, which describes the events when they were actually taking place, we are only told that the people of Israel had asked Edom (Esau) permission to pass through his land peacefully. We were not given any additional information regarding this request, such as why war with Edom was not an option. Similarly, there is no mention of any order against going to war with Amon or Mo’av? Why are we being told all this now?
The answer is that it is also part of the rebuke for the sin of the spies mentioned in the first chapter, says Reb Leib Heyman, (Chikrei Lev, Parashat Devarim). To understand how, let us go back to a verse at the beginning of our parasha.
At the beginning of Chapter 1, those who have been camping around Har Sinai for almost a year are instructed to proceed to the Promised Land: “Travel and come to the mountain of the Amorites and all their neighbors” ( Devrim 1) :7).
We know that the Amorites were one of the seven inhabited nations of Canaan that the people had to conquer. Who, however, is the phrase referring to with the phrase “and its neighbors”? Rashi, citing Siphrei, states that the reference is to the three nations of Amon, Maw, and Seer (Esau).
What is the intention of the people to come to those three nations?
We are familiar with the idea that the land of Canaan was occupied by the Seven Nations, which the people of Israel needed to conquer. However, when we look back at the event when Avram was promised the land, known as Brit bein Habetrim (the covenant between the pieces), we see that the land of 10 nations is mentioned. The last three are Keni, Kenizi, and Kadamoni (Beerechites 15:19). Who are those three nations? The Rashi, citing Midrash, (Berishit Rabbah 44:23) state that they are none other than Amon, Moav, and Edom (Esau).
It emerges that those three nations are involved in the full inheritance of the land. Indeed, the village of Vilna (Ederet Eliyahu, Parashat Devarim) explains that this is the meaning of Hashem’s instruction to the people of Har Sinai to “come to the Imori and its neighbours”, that is, it was for the purpose of conquering their lands! However, as we have noted, and as described in the second chapter, when the time came, we were warned not to approach them. What happened?
Answer: The “meraglim” (spy) sinned.
As a result of that sin, we were no longer at a stage where we could inherit the land in full. That is why marking the three nations as the border, which was not mentioned in Parashat Chukat, is mentioned in our Parash – because it is part of the rebuke for Merglim’s sin!
If we had not sinned, those nations would have had any merit that would have given them authority over those lands, which would have disqualified them for the full fulfillment of brit bein habetarim because of the merit of the people of Israel. Now, however, with the decline in our level of competence, the merits of those three nations came to the fore and were taken into account.
It turns out that Merglim’s sin not only postponed our entry into the land for 40 years, but also limited the amount of land we were able to inherit at that time. The lands of the last three nations that were originally promised to Avram were placed beyond our reach until future times until the arrival of Masiach.
May we always be able to see the good in the land of Israel, and receive full remission of the sin of the spies, so that we may see the full fulfillment of Hashem’s covenant with Avram in our days.
Excerpted from Rabbi Emmanuel Bernstein’s Devrim 2020 issue “Dimensions in Torah” – a weekly Parasha Shiur.
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