"אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה מול סוף בין פארן ובין תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב."
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel on the far side of the Yarden, in the desert, in the wilderness, across from Suf, between Paran and Tofel, Lavan, Chatzeiros and Di Zahav.”
Rashi explains that the names of these places are subtle references to the sins Bnei Yisrael committed during their journey through the desert. Moshe rebuked Bnei Yisrael before his passing, but rather than directly confronting them with their sins, he relied on these subtle hints in order to preserve the honor of Israel.
In particular, Rashi explains that Di Zahav (lit. “Abundance of Gold”) is a reference to the Eigel HaZahav - the Golden Calf. Hashem, in His great kindness, had bestowed upon them the vast riches of Egypt, including an abundance of gold. Rather than using their newfound wealth in the service of Hashem, they used it to make a Golden Calf. In a similar vein, Hosheia rebuked Bnei Yisrael in Hashem’s Name, saying: “I gave them an abundance of silver, and they donated their gold to Baal.”
Here, the expression “Di Zahav” is used as in admonishment. Yet, in seeming contradiction, the Gemara uses the same expression in defense of the Jewish people. The Gemara states as follows:
אמרי דבי רבי ינאי כך אמר משה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבונו של עולם בשביל כסף וזהב שהשפעת להם לישראל עד שאמרו די הוא גרם שעשו את העגל. אמרי דבי רבי ינאי אין ארי נוהם מתוך קופה של תבן אלא מתוך קופה של בשר. אמר רבי אושעיא משל לאדם שהיתה לו פרה כחושה ובעלת אברים האכילה כרשינין והיתה מבעטת בו אמר לה מי גרם ליך שתהא מבעטת בי אלא כרשינין שהאכלתיך. אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן משל לאדם אחד שהיה לו בן הרחיצו וסכו והאכילו והשקהו ותלה לו כיס על צוארו והושיבו על פתח של זונות מה יעשה אותו הבן שלא יחטא.
In the Academy of Rav Yannai they taught: Moshe said to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, “Master of the Universe, the silver and gold that you bestowed on Bnei Yisrael until they said, ‘Enough!’ (dai!) is what caused them to make the Golden Calf.”
The Academy of Rav Yannai further taught: A lion does not roar from a trough filled with straw, but from a trough filled with meat.
Rebbe Oshiya taught: This can be compared to a man who had a malnourished cow. He fed it grains and it began to kick him. “What caused you to kick me, if not for the grains that I fed you?” he asked.
Rebbe Chiya bar Abba said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan: This can be compared to a man who had a son. He bathed his son, anointed him with oil, gave him food and drink, hung a purse of gold around his neck, and then stood him before a house of ill-repute. What could the son do but sin?
On the one hand, the reference to Bnei Yisrael’s riches raised an accusation against them. Why did they not show their appreciation to Hashem, their benefactor? Why did they not use His gifts in His service, rather than in the service of idolatry? On the other hand, the very same point stood in their defense. The sudden ascent from slavery into fabulous riches is bound to be fraught with danger. “What could the son do but sin?” Moshe asked.
Moshe Rabbeinu was forced to stand on both sides of the debate. He had to show how Bnei Yisrael were on the one hand guilty of using their Heaven-sent gold to rebel against Hashem, while on the other hand they were not truly to blame, since sudden wealth is known to have a corrupting influence.
The leaders of Israel serve a dual role. They must encourage Bnei Yisrael to fulfill their obligations to Hashem, and they must show Hashem the beauty and grace of Bnei Yisrael by advocating in our defense. The Zohar refers to these roles as “Shushbina D’Malka” (attendant of the King - Hashem) and “Shushbina D’Malchasa” (attendant of the Queen – Bnei Yisrael). Tzaddikim such as Moshe Rabbeinu thereby draw Bnei Yisrael close to our Creator.
The Stars and the Sand
"ה' אלקיכם הרבה אתכם והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים לרב."
“Hashem, your G‑d, has blessed you; and behold you are today as the stars of the Heaven in multitude.”
Hashem blessed Avraham Avinu that his descendants may be like the stars of the Heaven and the sand on the seashore. These blessings refer not only to the quantity of Bnei Yisrael, but also to the special qualities that we are destined to achieve. Bnei Yisrael are like the lofty stars of the Heavens, a reference to the spiritual heights we attain through our Torah and mitzvos which elevate us over the rest of creation.
Sand, in its humble simplicity, cannot compare to the lofty beauty of the stars, yet it boasts its own unique advantage nonetheless. Whereas the stars are separated by vast expanses of space, the sand on the seashore is locked together in a unified, monolithic front. If not for the unity among them, the grains of sand would no doubt be swept into the sea. However, each grain holds the grain beside it in place, thus creating an invincible buffer against the waves.
So, too, must every Jew strive for the spiritual advancement symbolized by the stars. However, we must also join together in unity like the sands of the seashore, since this is the secret of our survival. Our Sages tell us that the soldiers of David HeMelech were righteous in many ways, while the soldiers of Achav were idolaters. Nevertheless, David’s soldiers fell in battle since their generation was plagued by lashon hara, while Achav’s soldiers returned from battle unharmed – since they were free of this one terrible sin. Here we see the great importance of unity, which creates a shield of Heavenly protection, as Hosheia HaNavi revealed: “Ephraim is united in their idolatry. Let them be!”
The Midrash comments on this verse as follows:
רבי אומר גדול השלום שאפילו ישראל עובדים עבודת כוכבים ושלום ביניהם אמר המקום כביכול איני יכול לשלוט בהן כיון ששלום ביניהם, שנאמר "חבור עצבים אפרים הנח לו", אבל משנחלקו מה הוא אומר "חלק לבם עתה יאשמו." הא למדת גדול השלום ושנואה המחלוקת.
Rebbe (Yehuda HaNassi) taught: Peace is so important that even if Bnei Yisrael were to worship idols but there would be peace among them, the Omnipresent would say, as it were: “Because there is peace among them, I have no power over them [to punish them].” [This is] as it is stated, “Ephraim is united in their idolatry. Let them be!”
However, when there is strife among them, the verse states, “Their hearts are divided, now they shall bear their guilt.” From here we see how important is peace and how detested is controversy.
This is an important message for us all, as we enter the period of mourning for the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara states as follows:
מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני שלשה דברים שהיו בו עבודה זרה וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים ... אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות עבודה זרה גלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים ... שאלו את רבי אלעזר ראשונים גדולים או אחרונים גדולים אמר להם תנו עיניכם בבירה.
Why was the First Beis HaMikdash destroyed? Because of the three heinous sins of idolatry, illicit relations and murder … However, why was the Second Beis HaMikdash – when they studied Torah, observed mitzvos and practiced acts of kindness –destroyed? Because senseless hatred was among them. This teaches us that senseless hatred is equivalent to the three heinous sins of idolatry, illicit relations and murder…
They asked Rebbe Elazar, “Which was more worthy – the era of the First Beis HaMikdash or the era of the Second?” He said to them, “Set your eyes towards the Castle,” [referring to the Beis HaMikdash, which was rebuilt despite the sins of the first era, but was not rebuilt after the sins of the second.]
We pray each day for the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt, and for Bnei Yisrael to be redeemed from our exile. Yet, as the Chafetz Chaim warns, we cannot possibly hope for our prayers to be answered as long as the very reason for exile still exists. Therefore, let us purge our hearts, our homes and our communities from the strife that threatens to destroy us. Only then can we reach towards the glorious heights of the stars and the unified front of the sand – as Hashem blessed our forefathers and as is our ultimate destiny.
 Devarim 1:1
 Rashi, Devarim 1:1
 Hosheia 2:10
 Berachos 32a
 Zohar III, Metzora 53
 Devarim 1:10
 Bereishis 22:17
 Talmud Yerushalmi, Pei’ah 1
 Hosheia 4:17
 Hosheia 10:2
 Bereishis Rabbah 38:6
 Yoma 9b, see Rashi