By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
And we dwelled in the valley opposite Beis Peor.
“And we dwelled in the valley, etc.”—And you attached yourself to idol worship, but even so, “and now, Yisrael, listen to the statutes” (Devarim 4:1), and then everything will be forgiven you. But I (Moshe) did not merit forgiveness (Sifri Pinchas, ad loc.).
Obviously, Rashi is troubled by something about the order of the pesukim, which he therefore finds necessary to explain. According to the Mizrachi (ad loc.) what is troubling him specifically is that the pasuk above seems to be totally out of place. The pesukim immediately preceding it describe Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayers to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael and Hashem’s response. The pesukim that follow begin Moshe’s preamble to the repetition of all the commandments. Why is it relevant to mention at this juncture where the Bnei Yisrael were encamped?
One might suppose that the order is simply chronological. That is, Moshe first pleaded to enter the land and then the incident of Ba’al Peor occurred, in which many members of Klal Yisrael stumbled in idolatry and met their deaths. That would explain why Moshe mentions here that they were dwelling “opposite Beis Peor,” an allusion to the tragic events that took place at this time.
A support for such an explanation can be seen in the fact that just a few pesukim further on, Moshe says: “Your own eyes beheld what Hashem did with regard to Ba’al Peor, for every man that went after Ba’al Peor, Hashem your G‑d destroyed him from your midst.” (Devarim 4:3)
This approach is impossible, however, because Moshe’s prayers mentioned at the beginning of our parashah definitely did not precede the incident of Ba’al Peor. The proof is as follows:
The story of Klal Yisrael’s encounter with Ba’al Peor is related at the very end of Parashas Balak and continues on into Parashas Pinchas (Bamidbar Ch. 25). This is followed by the census that was conducted at least in part because of the deaths that occurred at that time, as Rashi tells us in Bamidbar 26:1. After the census, Moshe is told that Eretz Yisrael is to be apportioned in accordance with this census (ibid., 26:52–56), which leads into a discussion of the laws of inheritance (27:1–11). The discussion of inheritance then prompts Moshe to ask that his own sons be allowed to inherit his position as leader of Klal Yisrael (Rashi, 27:16). As you can see, all these events are interconnected and are therefore clearly in chronological order. Yet it is only after Moshe Rabbeinu makes his request on behalf of his children, understanding fully that he will not be able to enter Eretz Yisrael, that he is told definitively that Yehoshua is to be the next leader (Bamidbar 27:16 and Rashi ad loc.).
It turns out, then, that in Sefer Bamidbar it is clear that the announcement of Yehoshua’s succession was made after the episode of Ba’al Peor, whereas in Parashas Va’eschanan the announcement of Yehoshua’s succession is part of Hashem’s response to Moshe’s prayers to enter the land. In pasuk 28 Hashem tells him: “And you shall command Yehoshua and strengthen him and encourage him, for he will cross over before this people and he will inherit for them the land that you behold.” (Devarim 3:28)
This is the pasuk immediately preceding the one with which we began (“And we dwelt in the valley opposite Beis Peor”), so if these verses were in chronological order it would mean that the announcement of Yehoshua’s succession took place before the incident of Ba’al Peor, which we have already seen is not true. The only conclusion, then, is that the order of the pesukim in Devarim is not chronological. Rather, the order here is meant to teach us something. This is the background to Rashi’s comment in which he explains the logic of the order.
The logic is this: After Moshe Rabbeinu tells the people how he pleaded unsuccessfully to be allowed to enter the land despite the “sin” he committed at Mei Merivah, he then contrasts this with Klal Yisrael’s more fortunate situation. For despite their much more serious offense of idol worship, alluded to in our pasuk (“opposite Beis Peor”), all they need do is keep the chukim and mishpatim—the statutes and laws—that Moshe is about to remind them of, and they will be forgiven. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. Now in print:
Machat shel Yad Vayikra.