In our parasha, Moshe mentioned the appointment of judges. He was looking for “smart, wise, well known in your tribes,” and they were to be ”put at the head of the people” (Devarim 1:13). The judges were commanded to “hear among your brothers and rule with justice between man and his brother” (ibid. 16). The appointment of judges is hinted at as early as Parashat Beshalach (Shemot 15:23-25), right after yetzi’at Mitzrayim. The appointment of proper judges is spelled out in the pre-Sinai context of Parashat Yitro (ibid. 18:21-22). The commandment “for all generations” to make these appointments is found in Parashat Shoftim (Devarim 16:18).
The parasha and sefer start with an introduction to Moshe’s address to Bnei Yisrael, consisting of an apparent list of places: “the other side of the Jordan, in the plain, in the desert, opposite Suf, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Chatzeirot, and Di Zahav” (Devarim 1:1). The simplest explanation is that of Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskit, who said that these are not all names of places but are references to events that occurred (Sifrei, Devarim 1). Rabbi Yehuda (ibid.) sees these as rebuke regarding ten improper actions of Bnei Yisrael, including the matters of the spies, the Golden Calf, and the slav.