Parshat Devarim 5778: Who Authored Sefer Devarim? Hashem or Moshe?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Devarim is being sponsored by Matis and Marla Sklar of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for a full and complete Refuah Shlaima for Matis’ Father Shmuel Chaim ben Shaina. To the Sklar family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate the Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Devarim 5778: Who Authored Sefer Devarim? Hashem or Moshe?

by Moshe Burt

This author opens by excerpting a Parsha summary written by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim (page 1):

On the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year after Yetziyot Mitzrayim, as the B’nei Yisrael stand poised to enter the land of Canaan, Moshe opens his farewell address. Prohibited by Divine decree from entering the land of Canaan, this great leader will spend the last five weeks of his life delivering a series of wide-ranging messages to his people. These messages comprise the text of Sefer Devarim.

A number of years ago, Rav Aba Wagensberg spoke out in a shiur that Sefer Devarim represents Moshe Rabbeinu’s Mussar to B’nai Yisrael as the time of his death drew near.

Rabbi Wagensberg gave over the thought that the B’nai Yisrael, after all of the rebellions, all of the contention, all of the failures which the rebellions and contention wrought, after the blatantly false accusations of nepotism hurled by segments of the Am at Moshe and Aaron HaKohen and more, Finally: came to the collective, unequivocal realization that Moshe Rabbeinu, now in his final days on earth, was indeed Hashem’s anointed — the undisputed leader and that his words are the words of Hashem.

In fact, R’ Wagensberg wrote in an email vort a few years ago on our Parshat Devarim:

The Yid Hakadosh (Rebbi Ya’akov Yitchak Rabinowitz, 1766-1813, Pshischa, Poland) said that his favorite Mussar sefer was Sefer Devarim. So attached was the Yid Hakadosh to Sefer Devarim that he read several verses from it each day of the year.

He explained the reason why. He said that Sefer Devarim has a huge advantage over any other Mussar sefer out there. This advantage can be understood in the following way.

It is more beneficial to hear rebuke from a living person than it is to read it from a book. This is because when a person admonishes another from a place of true care, love, and concern, we can then apply the age old adage which states, “Words which come from the heart enter into the heart” (preface to Likuttei Amarim). This feeling is absent when reading reproof from a text.

This is why it more beneficial to study Mussar from Sefer Devarim than from any other source. This is because the Divine Presence spoke through Moshe Rabbenu’s throat (Zohar, Pinchas, pg. 232a). Since Hashem is eternal, it is as if Moshe Rabbenu is still speaking to us right now. The words of Sefer Devarim are emanating from Moshe’s heart right now. As such, they are penetrating our hearts this very moment. This live rebuke is something which is missing from other Mussar books.

This is why the opening verse of Sefer Devarim says, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to ALL of Israel” (Devarim 1:1). This does not just mean that Moshe spoke these words to all the Jews that were alive at that time, but it means that Moshe spoke these words to ALL the Jewish people throughout the generations. Every time we open a Sefer Devarim to study from, it is as if we are streaming it live, with Moshe Rabbenu speaking to us directly.

This is why the Yid Hakadosh preferred Sefer Devarim over any other Mussar work, to the point that he would study a few verses from it every single day. When a Jew studies Sefer Devarim, he will not walk away empty handed. Rather, it will have a positive impact on him by opening his heart.

Not only does Sefer Devarim have the capacity to open the heart, but it even has the ability of opening the heavens.

Shem Mishmuel (Selections on the weekly parshiyot and festivals rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski) comments on our Parsha (page 373):

This book is qualitatively different from the other four. Chazal tell us (in Megillah, page 31b) that the curses in Sefer Devarim were said by Moshe himself. We may assume… that the material in Devarim, while of course presented by Hashem to Moshe, contains more human input, however slight, than the previous four books. Perhaps it can be considered an in-between stage, bridging the gap between the main Written Torah… and the Oral Torah. Devarim contains elements of both — it is the written word of Hashem…, but with an element of human content, like [oral] Torah.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin comments, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim (page 3):

The opening words of sefer Devarim [cited above in Rav Wagensberg’s vort] immediately set this text apart from the other Divinely authored books of the Torah.

Devarim is Moshe’s book. Recorded almost completely in the first person, this sefer consists primarily of Moshe’s farewell addresses to the B’nei Yisrael on the eve of his death and their entry into the land of Canaan.

Tellingly absent from Devarim, until the sefer’s closing perakim [Sefer Devarim, Perek 31, posukim 14, 16 and Perek 32, posuk 48], are all variations of the familiar phrase “and Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying…”

Much of the text of Devarim, instead, seems to spring spontaneously from Moshe’s heart.

And so, R’ Goldin cites several Scholarly and Rabbinic opinions and comments while posing these questions (ibid, pages 3-10):

Who is the author of sefer Devarim, Hashem or Moshe?

Normative rabbinic opinion maintains that the first four s’forim of the Torah were dictated by Hashem to Moshe verbatim, each word emanating from a Divine source [Among other sources Ramban, introduction to sefer Devarim]. Are we to understand, however that the text of Devarim is somehow different, with Moshe taking a more active role in its formulation?

Do the Rabbis view the primary content of sefer Devarim as text “conveyed by Moshe, of his own accord”? Furthermore, if Moshe actually authored sefer Devarim, what place does this sefer have as part of the Divinely authored Torah text?

While Rashi renders this phrase [Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 5] as ” Moshe began to explain this Torah,” the Ramban supporting his position from texts in the Prophets insists that these words mean “Moshe desired to explain this Torah.” Moshe, explains the Ramban, wants the nation to know that “he, himself decided to [explain the law]. He was not commanded to do so by Hashem.”

Similarly, Rabbi Saadia Gaon understands this phrase to mean that Moshe “waxed lengthy in his explanation of the Torah” (apparently of his own volition) [Saadia Gaon on Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 5], while the Sforno sees this passage as indicating that Moshe “explained those areas of law concerning which he was worried there would be uncertainty after his death. [Sforno on Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 5]

While the above disputants with Rashi seem to accept a certain degree of independence on Moshe’s part in the authorship of sefer Devarim, the Ramban himself, in his introduction to sefer Breish’t, …emphatically declares:

Moshe served as a scribe copying from an ancient book… for it is true and clear that the entire Torah, from the beginning of sefer Breish’t until the words “to the eyes of Israel” [the final words of sefer Devarim], were spoken from the mouth of the Holy One Blessed Be He directly to the ears of Moshe (Ramban, introduction to sefer Breish’t)

….Abravanel strenuously disagrees with much of the Ramban’s view concerning the general character of [sefer Devarim]…. Devarim, the Abravanel maintains, consists primarily of Moshe’s explanation of laws and concepts about which uncertainty had developed during the years in the wilderness. After Moshe offers his independent analysis concerning these laws, however, Hashem then commands him to include that analysis in the final redaction [to put into suitable literary form; revise; edit] of the text. By doing so, Hashem weaves Moshe’s contributions into the Divinely authored text of the Torah. (Abravanel, introduction to sefer Breish’t)

Other scholars are either in accord or differ with those cited above, as to the extent of Moshe’s contribution or authorship of sefer Devarim, but to expound on them here would further elongate this Parshat HaShevua many more pages. R’ Goldin concludes by citing Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l, the most recent Lubavitcher Rebbe (Sefer Devarim, page 9):

…Moshe actually serves not simply as a scribe, but as a prophetic messenger vis-a-vi the first four s’forim of the Torah…. With the advent of sefer Devarim, however, Moshe experiences a “joining” with the Divine that he has not experienced before…. “The Divine Presence enclothed itself in his [Moshe’s] conceptual processes until the two were united in a bond so powerful that ‘the Divine Presence spoke from his [Moshe’s] throat.” (Likkudei Sichot, Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l, volume 10, Devarim)

From the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s perspective, Hashem’s direct involvement in the authorship of Torah text increases, rather than decreases, with the advent of sefer Devarim. In this sefer, and in this sefer alone, Hashem’s words emerge directly, and unchanged through Moshe.

Sefer Devarim, the Mussar delivered by Moshe Rabbeinu, as reduced by Hashem to the written word of Torah, contains lessons that many Jews of our generations, and particularly politicians claiming religious stripes, need to internalize and take deeply to heart if we are to indeed pray and hope for, that B’Ezrat Hashem, this Tisha B’av FINALLY be the last Tzom for B’nai Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — th refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of four years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos, and Fast Easy on Yom Rishon Haba — Deferred fast of Tisha B’av!!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.