Rav Lakhem: How Many Rav’s is Enough?

This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Shira Silver

The root רב, meaning “much,” “many,” or “great,” appears in various forms at least ten times throughout Parashat Devarim and plays a subtle yet important role in connecting two seemingly unrelated ideas: the passage of time and the greatness of peoples.

In describing the passage of time, רב appears in two forms: רב־לכם (Devarim 1:6 and 2:3) and ימים רבים (Devarim 1:46 and 2:1). These two phrases (meaning “long enough” and “a long time,” respectively) characterize the passage of time in a parsha that describes Bnei Yisrael’s 39-year journey through the wilderness. More specifically, when Bnei Yisrael has stayed in one place for too long, G-d uses this choice of words to tell them it is time to move on.

But grammatically, רב־לכם is not the best way to convey “long enough.” As the Siftei Chakhamim notes on Devarim 1:6, “די לכם” may actually have been a better choice. Perhaps, as the Kli Yakar suggests, this language is deliberately reminiscent of Korach’s rebellion and the subsequent rebuke he receives (“רב־לכם בני לוי”). Alternatively, Rashi brings an Aggada to justify this phraseology, suggesting that רב־לכם refers not to the time passed, but to the distinction and reward (“גְדֻלָּה וְשָׂכָר”) accumulated by Bnei Yisrael at the mount.

I would like to offer an additional explanation for the use of the phrase רב־לכם. The repeated and conspicuous use of the root רב in describing Bnei Yisrael’s time in the wilderness serves to draw attention to the use of the term רב in describing great nations. Indeed, throughout Parashat Devarim we witness G-d’s role in facilitating the rise and fall of great nations.

The story of the meraglim, which is repeated in the parsha, broaches this theme. As Bnei Yisrael prepare to enter the land of Israel, they are frightened that they will not be able to overcome the great nations that live there. In Devarim 1:28, they make the following plea:

אנה אנחנו עלים אחינו המסו את־לבבנו לאמר עם גדול ורם ממנו ערים גדלת ובצורת בשמים וגם־בני ענקים ראינו שם

What kind of place are we going to? Our kinsmen have taken the heart out of us, saying, ‘We saw there a people stronger and taller than we, large cities with walls sky-high, and even Anakites.’” (All translations are from Sefaria unless otherwise noted.)

The sin of the meraglim is commonly described as a lack of faith that G-d will help them defeat the great nations inhabiting the land of Israel. Now, 39 years later, Bnei Yisrael stand where their ancestors stood. Moshe tells them the story of the meraglim to remind them of where the previous generation went wrong, encouraging them not to make the same mistake again. The רב language, which both follows and precedes the meraglim story, reinforces this message.

The reference to great nations shortly after the meraglim story sends the signal that Bnei Yisrael have no need to fear because when G-d wants a certain people to possess a certain land, G-d makes it happen. This is seen in how the descendants of Lot, with G-d’s help, defeat great nations to ultimately possess their rightful inheritance.

The Moabites defeat the Emim:

האמים לפנים ישבו בה עם גדול ורב ורם כענקים

It was formerly inhabited by the Emim, a people great and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. (Devarim 2:10)

The Ammonites dispossess the Refaim:

עם גדול ורב ורם כענקים וישמידם יהוה מפניהם ויירשם וישבו תחתם

a people great and numerous and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD wiped them out, so that [the Ammonites] dispossessed them and settled in their place (Devarim 2:21)

It is particularly telling that the language of גדול ורב ורם found in each of these pesukim is mirrored in Bnei Yisrael’s fear in the meraglim story, when they speak of עם גדול ורם as well as ענקים.

So the reference to great nations immediately after the meraglim story supports the point that Bnei Yisrael have no reason to fear. But what about the reference immediately before the meraglim, where Moshe addresses how G-d has made Bnei Yisrael into a great nation?

יהוה אלהיכם הרבה אתכם והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים לרב

The LORD your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Devarim 1:10)

The commentators are provoked by this line for a number of reasons. They question whether, in fact, Bnei Yisrael are truly numerous or have even grown recently. They also comment on the redundancy of הרבה and לרב. Haemek Davar uses the double רב to distinguish between greatness in quality and quantity. Rashi, building on ככוכבי השמים, suggests that Bnei Yisrael, though not numerous, exist forever, just like the sun, the moon, and the stars. In short, what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality.

Further, it is important to note that G-d is active in this pasuk. Bnei Yisrael are great because G-d makes them so. This highlights, once again, G-d’s role in the destiny of great nations. Here, too, the language of רב bolsters the message that Bnei Yisrael should have confidence that G-d will help them.

These observations bring us back to the use of רב־לכם in Devarim 2:3. Daat Zkenim makes a beautiful observation, connecting this language back to an episode in Sefer Breishit:

רב לכם סב. בלשון שדבר עשו ליעקב שאמר לו יש לי רב נשתלם לו שכרו:

רב לכם, סוב. “you have been skirting this land enough, now turn around (in a northerly direction) The word רב here is used in the same way as Esau used it in his encounter with Yaakov in Genesis 33:9 when he first wanted to refuse to accept Yaakov’s gift and said to him:יש לי רב אחי “I have lots, my brother;” he meant that he had been repaid sufficiently for any harm Yaakov had caused him in the past.

In other words, רב־לכם tells us that G-d is giving Bnei Yisrael a clean slate and a second chance to get it right. So much of Parashat Devarim is crafted to assure Bnei Yisrael that G-d will help them conquer the land of Israel. The variations on the root רב constitute a linguistic mechanism that holds it all together.

May we, too, recognize the presence of G-d in our lives and proceed forward without fear.

Shira Silver (WWBM 2018) is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, studying Philosophy and Computer Science.

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