Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Parshat Devarim

Fighting in the Mountains

In the first of his three final addresses to Israel before his death, Moshe recalls the incident of the spies, the episode that caused Israel to wander for thirty years in wilderness.

Ironically, the immediate aftermath caused Israel to find its courage: "We have sinned against the Lord; we will go up and fight" (Devarim 1:41). However, by then it was too late and Moshe warned them of the pointlessness of impending battle. Again, the people would not listen: "So every one of you girded his weapons, and you prepared yourselves to go up to the mountain" (ibid).

Interestingly, from this and the following pessukim it is clear, Israel was in the valley, while the enemy held the mountain. The height disadvantage was disastrous for Israel: "The Emori dwelling in that mountain came out towards you and pursued you as bees do, and beat you down in Seir" (ibid 44).

This pattern was counter distinctive to Israel's battle plans during the biblical period.

Throughout that time, Israel lacked proper weaponry and until, King Shaul, an army. As a result, Shamgar's army was forced to fight using agricultural implements (Shoftim 3 :31), Shimshon made weapons from dead animals (15:16), while on the day of war in Shau'l's first army "neither sword nor spear was found in the possession of all the people" (I Shmuel 13:22).

No wonder, Sisera's 900 chariots were able to persecute the entire country in Devorah's time, and other enemies found Israel vulnerable.

Israel's response was to fight in the mountain, such as with Ehud (Shoftim 3:27), Devorah (ibid 4:6) and Gidon (ibid 6:33 & 7:9). Israels enemies, with superior weaponry, preferred the lowlands, while used the geography of the land as weapon by fighting in the highlands.

This situation was so much so that after a particularly humiliating defeat for Aram, their commission of enquiry concluded that the reason for their defeat was because "a God of mountains is their God: therefore they overpowered us. However, if we fight them in the plains, [you will see] if we will not overpower them" (I Melachim 20:23).

And so a year later, Aram again attacked, this time on the plains. However, the result was the same, "Because the Arameans said that God of the mountains is the Lord and He is not the God over the valleys, I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand and you will know that I am the Lord" (ibid 28).

Thus concludes Israel's successes and failures. Israel was defeated when the men attacked from the ground up the mountains, not just because their tactics were flawed, but because God had declared: "I am not among you" (Devarim 1: 42).

The message is clear: When God is among us we succeed, when God is not among us we fail. We must work hard to ensure that God is always among us.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Devarim, entitled: "Devarim, Chazon and Tisha Be'Av" appears at

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