Parshat Devarim

August 9th, 2019

The book of Devarim is Moshe’s final speech standing on his feet for several days reviewing the Torah given at Sinai and the wandering of the forty years in the wilderness. A review makes sense, particularly as in the words of Rabenu Behaye, he is talking to new young generation, most of whom were not present at the giving of the Torah at Sinai. We are told in verse 5 “On the other side of the Jordan, in the Land of Moab, Moshe began explaining the Torah.” In Hebrew the words used for began –Ho’il and to explain – be’er, are open to various interpretations of Moshe’s actions

Rashi translates “ho’il” as began and “be’er” that Moshe explained the Torah in the seventy languages of the time. The Talmud in Sotah tells us that the Torah was etched in stone three times. Moshe did it here and Joshua when crossing the Jordan and at Gilgal. The Ktav VeKabalah explains that this does not actually mean Moshe translated it into seventy languages, but we have an expression, there are seventy faces to the Torah, which is the Oral Law or as we are doing now, we are interpreting the Torah. Moshe was teaching this young generation, how to study and pass on the Oral Law. He adds that the Hebrew word “ho’il” is more of an expression of power and strength, Moshe was teaching the them power of study and learning, and how to look at what was written in many different ways.

The Sfat Emet goes one step further explaining why Moshe presented this after mentioning the defeat of Sihon and Og which was a great effort, a battle fought by the people. The written Torah was handed down at Sinai by Hashem, but the Oral Law requires effort from the people to study. He adds that this effort can only be truly completed when living in the Land of Israel. In the words of the Sfat Emet – “just as Mount Sinai was prepared by Hashem for the giving of the Torah, so the Land of Israel was prepared for the explanation of the Torah.”

R B H Epstein notes that the word “ho’il” is used elsewhere to mean “wanting to do something of your own choice,” and is used to describe Moshe taking up Yitro’s offer and deciding to stay in Midian when he ran away from Egypt many years before. For this reason, Rashi explains that the word “ho’il” is used here differently, to avoid the interpretation that Moshe was giving his own interpretations of the Torah, but as it says in verse 3 “according to everything Hashem had commanded him.

The Netziv explains, that the writing in stone was not only for the seventy nations of the world but for Israel themselves. In this way the words of the Torah were set in stone and would be remain, so no one could mistakenly change, miss out or forget any part of the Torah. The Netziv bring a Midrash that says that Moshe was saying to them, I have written out the words of the Torah for you in stone, but now I need to teach you how to study and learn from them. Only now, did Moshe explain to them how to interpret and implement the law (Halacha). He taught them how to build the Oral Law from the Written Law.

Writing the whole of the Torah in stone would be quite a challenge, but in the opinion of the Ramban quite possible, if the stones were large enough. In fact, there is the well known archaeological find of the code of Hammurabi from 1th century BCE written on a large rock. What a long way we have come, where today we do not even need to write the words of the book on paper and we have it online. Shay, one of our grandchildren, had a prize this week in a reading competition, I am not sure whether he read all the books or just was the one who took the most books out of the library, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and wish that he not just read but enjoyed them.