Which means, that given the increasing ratio of prose and poetry in what is known as “Mishne Torah” (the repetition of the Torah), words count.
Moshe writes in the first person, and over the course of the book will freely switch voice between himself and Hashem , but the fact that the source is anonymous, or ambiguous, can teach us a whole lot.
So here’s one which Chazal (our learned sages) treat as a throwaway, but I think is most significant. Moshe’s discourse intends to castigate Israel for their adherence to the negative testimonies of the ten spies. After using his editorial privilege to imply that all of the spies had delivered a purely positive report (fake news was a thing even back then…) Moses states in 1:26: “You did not wish to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of the L-rd your G-d.”
The words which jump out at me are “v’lo avitem la’alot,” (you did not wish/desire to ascend). The Hebrew verb “la’a lot,” implying ascendence, is classic. Its derivations include “Making Aliya,” (moving to Israel). An Aliya to the Torah is an honor. Even the Aramaic version, where we say “l’eila” in Kaddish, gets augmented during the High Holidays to “l’eila l’eila,” (higher and higher).
So, what are B’nai Yisrael being criticized for in the opening verses of the final book of the Chumash?
Taking a step up requires putting your foot on the first step, then proceeding to the next. That’s how you ascend a literal, moral, or spiritual staircase. It’s far easier to stay on the landing or to descend. But that’s not the implied lesson, is it?
Moshe admonishes the nation that they missed taking that first step. But by extension, he is faulting us if we if we fail to do so as well.
We all have opportunities to take the first step to ascend to the next level. We can all go up, but we can also go even higher.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen