Hearing, Considering, Agreeing, Acting

This sheet on Deuteronomy 1 was written by Molly Morris for 929 and can also be found here

This first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses’ retelling of all that has transpired for the Israelites. Until know we most often read of Moses’ speaking to the people prefaced with “God spoke to Moses saying…”, followed by Moses relaying the message. But in this instance the chapter begins simply with “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel.” We are led to understand that now we are going to hear from Moses directly - his take on what is most relevant for the Israelites to hear again as they embark on their new life, and challenges, in the land of Israel.

And where does Moses begin? With the reminder that God gave them this land to possess (v. 6-8), and a reminder of their journey to reach the land. But this recollection is interrupted with Moses recalling the instructions to the people about setting up a judicial system comprised of a hierarchy of leaders and judges (v. 9-18). Moses goes into some detail about how the judging is to be carried out. The first step of the judicial process is to “hear your brothers” (v. 16) and judge righteously between them. This admonition to hear is further broken down in the next verse with “small and great alike shall you hear.” The Ohr ha-Hayim suggests the importance of that first step in litigation - that of “hearing” is to remind us of the patience required by judges to hear out the litigants in order to ensure they get at the truth.

Daniel Elazar, from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, writes about the book of Deuteronomy, describing it as essentially the first constitution of the Jewish people, and refers directly to this word “hear”, defining it as an “act of hearing, considering, agreeing and then acting...a sign of human freedom.”

Could this have been Moses’ intention: to remind the Israelites of their obligation of judicious self-determination as a condition of their new-found freedom?

(ו) יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב לֵאמֹ֑ר רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה׃
(6) The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.

Molly Morris holds a Masters degree in Leadership and Community Engagement. Molly participates in the 929 initiative with a dedicated group from the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto congregation.

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