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Dvar Torah - Chukat Balak

This week we read about the conquest of Sichon and Og's lands on the river's eastern bank. As with many events in the book of Bamidbar, the Torah retells the story in the book of Devarim (this time in chapters 2-3). However, in Devarim, it is told much longer than in Bamidbar. In addition, there are specific differences in emphasis between the two stories.

  • In Devarim, the story is much longer and much more strongly emphasises the role of Hashem in helping the Jews in their military victories.

  • Devarim is much briefer when describing the allocation of the eastern bank of the Jordan to Reuven, Gad, and half of the tribe of Menashe.

  • Many small details are omitted in one story or emphasised much more in the other.

Why are the two stories told so differently? The conquest of Sichon and Og came at a specific historical junction. They had wandered in the desert for 40 years. The generation which left Egypt had passed away. Now was the time to build better people capable of undertaking their divine mission, including settling the Land. They would need self-confidence, which the spies' generation sorely lacked, to do that. By leading them to war and portraying that war as one they won by force of arms, Moshe helped the Children of Israel build that confidence. Moshe also emphasised their volition and power over their destiny by telling the story of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe in extensive detail.

Devarim had a different purpose. The speech in Devarim comes in the context of the revelation at Mount Sinai and the spies' sin. It's not just about the Jews' ability to conquer the Land. It's about the imperative that they live there in Hashem's light, connected to their G-d. As such, they needed to understand that their astonishing victories were miraculous.

The Torah's two tellings of these stories give us two different narratives, both true, to explain the same events. They teach us about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves. Our stories can make us stronger or make it harder for us to succeed. If we heed the lesson, we will couch our lives in stories that enable us to overcome our challenges and achieve our goals.

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