ParshaNut: The Original Chabad – Parashat Devarim


by Rabbi David Kasher, Kevah‘s Senior Rabbinic Educator

This week, we take a journey into the realm of Jewish epistemology. That ten-dollar word, epistemology, refers to theories of knowledge – attempts to answer the fundamental questions of how we know things and what can be known at all.

But in the world of parshanut, even the most rarefied philosophical investigations begin, as Torah commentary always does, with a textual difficulty. So here’s the problem: when Moses is recounting the process by which he first selected judges to resolve disputes for the Israelites, he says he asked them to:

Bring, from each your tribes, men who are wise, understanding, and knowledgeable, and I will appoint them as your heads. (Deuteronomy 1:13)

הָבוּ לָכֶם אֲנָשִׁים חֲכָמִים וּנְבֹנִיםוִידֻעִיםלְשִׁבְטֵיכֶםוַאֲשִׂימֵםבְּרָאשֵׁיכֶם.

If you happen to have some familiarity with Jewish mystical literature, you may already be noticing three words which are related to key terms in Kabbalistic systems of thought: Chochmah(חכמה), Binah (בינה), and Da’at (דעת) – three types of cognition often translated as ‘wisdom,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘knowledge.’

But let’s hold off on examining those concepts for just another moment, and finish with the textual dilemma, which comes two verses later, when Moses says:

So I took your tribal leaders, men who were wise and knowledgeable, and appointed them as heads over you. (Deuteronomy 1:15)

וָאֶקַּח אֶתרָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶםאֲנָשִׁים חֲכָמִים וִידֻעִיםוָאֶתֵּן אוֹתָם רָאשִׁיםעֲלֵיכֶם:

We have nearly the same phrasing here, but with one adjective missing: ‘understanding.’ Moses asked for men who were wise, understanding and knowledgeable; but he ends up recruiting men who are just wise and knowledgeable. So what happened to understanding? 

Read the entire PashaNut at

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