I led you through the wilderness forty years; the clothes on your back did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet; 5 you had no bread to eat and no wine or other intoxicant to drink — that you might know that I the Lord am your God. (Deut. 29:4-5)
There’s something odd about these two verses. It’s as if there’s a non sequitur. How does the first verse connect with the second? (BTW, if you are reading these verses from a non-Jewish bible, you may find them numbered differently.)
The context itself is confusing and unclear. The chapter opens saying that “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them:” so that one might suppose that it is Moses doing the talking. Yet by the time we get to verse 5, it seems as if it is G”d talking. Now, it is not unusual for G”d to be speaking through Moses, or for Moses to be relaying to the people what G”d told him to say (though we also know that Moses is not always the most entirely accurate and reliable in his retransmission of G”d’s words. There. I said it.) However, in this instance (and numerous others in Torah) the context appears just a little hazy. (You know, like – G”d/Angel? Angel/G”d? Or with whom or what Is Jacob wrestling, and so many other places.)
So was it G”d or Moses that led the people through the wilderness for 40 years? What’s with the clothes and sandals thing? They wore the same clothes and sandals for 40 years? Yuck. A podiatrists nightmare (or boon.) What is it that Moses (or G”d) is trying to say here? Surely it’s not a comment on the quality of manufacture. Is it actually being suggested that Moses/G”d made the journey easier on them – allowing their clothes and sandals to withstand the rigors and hardship? Yeah, this was an easy journey alright. Not.
Then all of a sudden we shift from what appears to be a description of protection and favors to a description of the people’s self-sacrifice in order to know their G”d. They had no bread on the journey? No wine or intoxicants? Yeah, they just let all those grapes that the 12 scouts brought back from their reconnoiter go to waste. No bread? It didn’t have time to rise, but what was that they brought out of Egypt them? Wasn’t it…bread? What was that they were doing at Sinai while waiting for Moses to come down? Can you imagine the people partying without bread and wine? (Though I suspect a lot of clothes and sandals were coming off…) Yes, Torah does tell us that the people ate the manna for 40 years until they came to the border of the promised land. I got this bridge in Brooklyn…
Why isn’t Rashi bothered by these verses? I sure am. Jeff Tigay in the JPS Commentary offers the rather blithe suggestion that this was all about G”d recognizing that the people were seemingly incapable of sustaining their belief and reverence for G”d, so G”d provided for their material needs so that they would have the time to contemplate the Divine. He says that it was on the manna, quail, and water provided by G”d that the people survived. (Yep, these thousands of people wandered the wilderness for 40 years with their flocks and herds, and they never sacrificed and ate on of the animals. There’s the bridge in Brooklyn again…
These were a stubborn and obstinate people, always forgetting all that G”d had done for them. In forty years wandering, they never ate anything but the manna (and the quail?)
Yet the classic explanation does help connect the two verses. Might it be best to apply Occam’s Razor here?
Me, I don’t like my Torah smoothed out with the bumps removed. I want it, warts and all. So I’m going to keep digging and looking for another explanation about these two seemingly disparate verses. That ought keep me busy this Shabbat. What about you?
©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Ki Tavo 5773 – Catalog of Calamities (Redux and Greatly Revised 5760)
Ki Tavo 5772 – Mi Yitein Erev? Mi Yitein Boker?
Ki Tavo 5771 – Curse This Parasha!
Ki Tavo 5769 – If It Walks and Talks Like a Creed…
Ki Tavo 5767 – Uncut Stones
Ki Tavo 5764-Al Kol Eileh (in memory of Naomi Shemer, z”l)
Ki Tavo 5763–Still Getting Away With It?
Ki Tavo 5760–Catalog of Calamities
Ki Tavo 5761–Rise & Shine
Ki Tavo 5762–Al Kol Eileh