Devarim: A Thousand-fold or Like the Dust?
Saying farewell is never easy, all the more so for people who have been together for many years, through thick and thin, and have developed a strong relationship.
This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, commences Moses’ farewell speech to the Jews. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Moses to bid farewell to the nation that he had led for so many years, after having gone through so much together? After having experienced some of history’s most monumental events and some of history’s greatest trials, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, to say the least. Nonetheless, after G-d informed Moses that his end was near, he stepped up to the podium and took up the challenge. He gave a farewell speech over the last thirty seven days of his life. He spoke words of blessing, encouragement, rebuke, and reviewed the entire Torah, some of which the Jews had already learned, while some laws were taught for the first time.
Several sentences into his speech, Moses offers a blessing to the Jewish people. He says: “May G-d the Lord of your fathers add a thousand-fold more like you and bless you as He spoke to you” (Deuteronomy 1:11). On the surface, it sounds like a beautiful blessing. But upon further scrutiny, the wording seems a bit perplexing. Moses begins with his own blessing that the nation be multiplied by a thousand-fold, and than concludes by saying that G-d will bless the Jewish people “as He spoke to you.” What blessing of G-d was Moses referring to?
Rashi (1040-1105), the classic commentator, fills us in on some dialogue. Moses blessed the Jewish people by saying, “You should multiply a thousand fold,” to which the Jews responded, “That’s it? Only a thousand-fold? G-d promised Abraham that we would multiply like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). Moses, why are you shortchanging us?!” Moses replied, “The blessing of a thousand-fold is my personal blessing, but G-d will definitely keep His blessing.” Hence, the conclusion, in Moses’s wording, “and bless you as He spoke to you.”
This leaves us with the question of what Moses was adding with his own blessing – if you were blessed to be a billionaire and I then bless you to be a millionaire – what have I added?
Rabbi Moshe Sofer, better known as the Chasam Sofer (1752-1838), offers a fascinating interpretation of what went on here. Moses wanted to test the Jewish people. What was their outlook on having children? Did the Jews view having children as simply an extra pair of hands around the house, or did they view their families as a means to reach a higher spiritual goal? He therefore blessed them, “You should multiply a thousand-fold.” If their children were just going to be extra help in the home, a thousand-fold would be just enough, and they would be satisfied with this blessing. But if they considered their children in a more spiritual sense, they wouldn’t be satisfied with a cap on the number of children his blessing had to offer.
Indeed, when the Jews heard Moses say a thousand-fold, they complained, citing G-d’s promise to Abraham that they would multiply like the dust of the earth. They understood that having children is, in essence, becoming a partner with G-d in fulfilling His master plan. G-d created the world to give human beings the ultimate reward that awaits them in the afterlife, in the World to Come, Olam Habah. In order for this plan to follow its course, the world needs to be continually inhabited. What a privilege it is to bring children into this world! Now we can understand why the Jews protested the blessing of a thousand-fold: They did not want to limit their partnership with G-d in continuing to bring His master plan to its maximum potential.
Rabbi Mayer Erps, TheZone staff