If there is one term that typifies the book of D'varim, it is "transition" - or "avor" in Hebrew, stemming from the root. e.v.r, (ayin, vet/bet, resh) meaning to "traverse, cross over, pass by or through, transgress, get angry/cross, other side, for the sake of and fords, or passageway," being also the root for the word “Hebrew”. This term, with some of those derivatives, shows up many times in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is why we will follow it not only there, but also throughout the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy). This excursion will also provide an opportunity to observe, once again, patterns of the Hebrew mindset and the compactness of the language, as well as the mutual effect of thought and language on each other. We will see how “avor” lends D’varim its special character, and in turn how it expresses the calling of the People of Yisrael.
Sh'mot (Exodus) the Hebrews passed over from one state of existence (slavery)
to another (freedom and redemption) as well as to a new geographical location,
by crossing the
in Dvarim’s opening verse we see Moshe addressing "all
In recounting the wilderness journey and its adventures, Moshe says, "We came through [a'va'rnu] the nations which you passed by [a'va'rtem]… "(Deut. 29:16 italics added). About these nations, he made earlier comments, recalling YHVH’s words to him: "You are passing [ovrim] by the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau" (2:4). And as to the actual event: "And we passed [va'na'vor] and turned beyond our brother the sons of Esau… and we passed [va'na'vor] by way of the Wilderness of Moab" (2:8). “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over [avarnu] the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as YHVH had sworn to them" (2:14). Although the wording here appears to be recounting technical details, it captures the tragedy that the Israelites brought upon themselves - the passing on of an entire generation. Preceding the crossing of this river (Zered), YHVH exhorted the Israelites: “Now rise up, and go over [e’e’vru] the river Zered! And we went over [va’na’avor] the river Zered” (2:13, italics added).
The next “crossing over" [o-ver
in Hebrew] (2:18) was through the
This was also the land requested by the
tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, who had to meet one condition:
"All you men of valor shall cross over [ta'avru]
armed before your brethren, the children of
In addition to the above promise, there is an even greater one (preceded by the words "Sh'ma Yisrael - Hear O Israel" in 9:1): "Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over [ha'over] before you as a consuming fire" (9:3 italics added). And moreover, "YHVH your Elohim Himself crosses over [over] before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over [over] before you, just as YHVH has said" (31:3 italic added). The "crossing over [ovrim] to possess" or "inherit" the land is also an inseparable part of the description of the Land itself, as everything about its conditions constitutes a major change-over and transition from the setting of the desert (for details see 11:10 -12).
And while Moshe was thus preparing the
nation, which he had so greatly nurtured and for whom he had been willing to
give up his life, he did not conceal from them and from posterity the sad fact
that he had "pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying: ‘O my Adonai YHVH,
You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand… I
pray, let me cross over [e'ebra] and see the good
land beyond [ever] the
continues to relate his plight, as pronounced by YHVH: "Go up to the top
of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the
east; Behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over [ta'avor]
text the covenant and the commandments are not 'passed over' either. In his discourse, Moshe elaborates
extensively on these issues. YHVH made another covenant with the Children of Yisrael,
Finally, "And it shall be, on the day
when you [plural] cross over [ta'avru] the Jordan to the
land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves
large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the
words of this law, when you have crossed over [be'ovre'cha], that
you may enter the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, a land flowing
with milk and honey, just as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers promised you.
Therefore it shall be, when you [plural] have crossed over [be'ovre'chem]
The root e.v.r, however, is also being
applied to the enemies of Yisrael. Prior to the actual crossing, Yehoshua sent
two spies to Yericho (
Interestingly, the Hebrew translation for Hebrews 6:20, speaking about the Place of the Presence (behind the veil), states that Yeshua has “gone over” (in Hebrew - ‘o’ver’) there for us, as a forerunner.
closing, let us pause briefly on “va’etchanan”, the title of our
Parasha, which takes us back to its opening verse (3:23) where Moshe pleads
with YHVH to let him cross the Yarden. “And I pleaded” or
implored…” – etchanan – is of the root ch.n.
Note: In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are placed in an ark called “teiva”. When the representative of the congregation who prays on their behalf stands before the ark, he too is said to be “passing [over] before the teiva”.
Hebrew Tools for Everyday Use
Many of the Hebrew words which we encounter in the Tanach are not used in Modern Hebrew, while others are still in use, but differently than in the scriptures. Let us take a look at a few of the variations of the common root ayin, bet, resh in its contemporary usage.
I am moving (away) from here
Ani o’ver mi’poh (m.)
Ani o’veret mi’poh (f.)
It is forbidden to transgress the law (literally, forbidden to transgress/pass over the law)
Asur la’avor al ha’chok
Over the sea
Parents do much for their children
(literally, parents do much for the children theirs)
Horim osim harbeh avur haye’ladim she’la’hem
(ha’ye’ladim she’lo – the children his
ha’ye’ladim she’la – the children hers)