By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
We find ourselves this week at the beginning of Moshe Rabeinu’s final words to Klal-Yisroel. Chazal tell us that the whole of Sefer Devarim was Moshe’s parting words to Klal-Yisroel. Moshe Rabeinu recalls various occurrences that transpired between HaKadosh-Baruch-Hu and Am-Yisroel; because of this fact the entire Sefer has a differet undercurrent than the rest of the Chumash. Many a times there are various accounts of stories that were already recorded in the Torah, sometimes with significant discrepancies between the original account and its retelling in Sefer Devarim.
Our Sedra provides one such instance right in the beginning. Moshe tells Klal-Yisroel that even prior to Kabbolas HaTorah their burden was too great for him alone to carry and that he felt he couldn’t be responsible for them on his own. Thus Moshe Rabeinu explained that he felt a need to create a judicial system that would stem from him, but branch out to smaller groups at various levels with their respective judges; a system in which cases would go from lower to higher courts, eventually ending up when necessary with Moshe Rabeinu.
Although this was indeed the judicial system in place, there was no indication that Moshe Rabeinu had felt a need for it. If anything, the judicial system described by Moshe Rabeinu seems to be attributed to Yisro in the Parsha bearing his name. The Torah (in Parshas Yisro) tells us that Yisro came to visit Klal-Yisroel and noticed that Moshe Rabeinu was spending the entire day, from morning to night, judging all the disputes brought by Klal-Yisroel. Yisro pointed out to Moshe the inefficiency of such a system – for Moshe and for the people. Never in Parshas Yisro was there any indication that Moshe Rabeinu himself had actually felt that it was too much for himself. What caused Moshe to present that episode in a different light here in our Parsha? What was the message that Moshe was trying to convey?
Furthermore Moshe Rabeinu lists three issues that were too much for him:טרחכם, ומשאכם, וריבכם and Rashi explains these to mean (based on Targum Yonasan ben Uziel) that they would drag out there cases in front of Moshe and that they would challenge Moshe Rabeinu with heresy, and that they stole from one another. These problems were also never mentioned before. Why was Moshe bringing this up now? What indeed were the facts?
While the account here doesn’t necessarily contradict earlier accounts of what had occurred it does however portray the entire incident quite differently. If there is indeed no contradiction between the two accounts, the safest interpretation would be to say that what Moshe was saying in Parshas Devarim reflected what he had felt already earlier on. It would seem from the fact that these issues weren’t mentioned then, that indeed then they were irrelevant. Hence we are now left with the questions: why wasn’t it relevant then and why is it relevant now?
Moshe Rabeinu was now on the verge of passing on. He was keenly concerned about the need for continued leadership for the people, and had already asked Hashem that Klal-Yisroel should always have a leader. Hashem had replied to Moshe and told him that Yehoshua would succeed him as the next leader of Klal-Yisroel. Klal-Yisroel finds itself at a critical junction in time, with a rapidly approaching change in leadership. Moshe Rabeinu was perceived by Am-Yisroel as being close to invincible. Moshe Rabeinu had shown himself to be an impeccable leader for Am-Hashem. Moshe understood that the transition wouldn’t necessarily be an easy one for Am-Yisroel. Moshe knew that Klal-Yisroel would likely doubt Yehoshua’s abilities. Therefore, Moshe at this point changes his tone presents things from a different angle. Moshe now lets Klal-Yisroel in on the fact that he himself had real moments of despair, he is letting Klal-Yisroel know a different side of him that they never knew before. Moshe Rabeinu is telling us that he wasn’t invincible, that there were aspects of his emotions that he concealed form Klal-Yisroel. Yisro was the right man in the right place at the right time. He came in Moshe’s hours of despair and gave him the advice that he needed.
Moshe Rabeinu is telling Yehoshua and Am-Yisroel that it is difficult to lead Klal-Yisroel but that whatever they will face will not be insurmountable and will be similar to what they have already experienced. It is natural for a leader to feel these pangs of despair and for a leader to be challenged by his people. At the same time Moshe Rabeinu is letting Klal-Yisroel know that the system for insuring future leadership was already set in place. That this judicial system opened the path for future leaders to be able to learn the required material in order to become the Torah giant, and hence the leader. Moshe Rabeinu was in essence telling Klal-Yisroel that the criterion for leadership wasn’t merely having leadership qualities. Even those, Moshe was illustrating, did not insure against moments of despair, of weakness. Rather, Moshe Rabeinu was saying, the most important requirement for being Klal-Yisroel’s leader is acquiring the Torah from the previous Torah leader.