Parshat Devarim 5782: Torah-Based Governance, Based on the Moshe Rabbeinu Model, in Our Time?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShavua, Parshat Devarim is being sponsored by Ari and Rivka Stern of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated in honor of their children and grandchildren — that they should all be matzliyach to do the Ratzon Hashem and for a refuah shleima for all of the cholim. To the Stern 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 Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-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

Parshat Devarim 5782: Torah-Based Governance, Based on the Moshe Rabbeinu Model, in Our Time?

by Moshe Burt

Sefer Devarim opens:

“Eileh HaDevarim asher dibeir Moshe el kol Yisrael…” “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel…” (Rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah with Rashi Commentary,” Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 1)

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

The opening words of sefer Devarim 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 (Rabbi Goldin citing 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.

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

Rabbi Wagensberg gave over the thought that the B’nei 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.

We learned from the previous two Parshiyot, Matos and Masei that the B’nei Yisrael learns that Moshe would not be leading the B’nei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. This author wonders if it was this recognition that sunk into the collective consciousness of B’nei Yisrael as they realized, as the oft-recorded 80s disco tune goes, “You don’t know what you got ’til you lose it”? And what, if any, are comparable lessons to be learned in our contemporary generations?

Shem Mishmuel (Selections on the Weekly Parshiyot and Festivals rendered to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski) writes (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.

R’ Wagensberg explained that near the end of Sefer BaMidbar, we began to see indications, via the story of Zelafchad’s daughters, as well as the desire of Sh’vatim Reuven and Gad to settle east of the Jordan, and their offer to lead the B’nei Yisrael in combat, etc., that the B’nei Yisrael finally desired to accept Moshe Rabbeinu’s teachings and his Mussar which was meant to bring about the perfection of the Jewish people in emulation of the ways of Hashem as they were about to enter Eretz Yisrael.

R’ Wagensberg also made an analogy between the collective recognition of and desire for Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership and mussar, and the sequence of donning and removing the tefillin shel yad and shel rosh. He noted that the shel yad is donned first before the shel rosh and then, after tefillahs, the shel rosh is removed first and only afterwords the shel yad. The tefillin sequence equates with a person’s active learning of Jewish law (Halacha) and Jewish history and then, receiving Mussar concerning the practical, day-to-day real-time, real-life applications of what has been learned.

So, in essence, the donning of the shel yad first, and the removal of it last equates with applying in the world outside what has been learned in Beit Knesset and/or the Beit Medrash.

Every believing Jew, whatever his level, must take on day-to-day real-time, real-life reality application of his learning, and translate it into his own righteous leadership mantle within the body of B’nei Yisrael, but without the contentiousness of a million generals.

And so, R’ Goldin cites several Scholarly and Rabbinic opinions and comments while posing these questions,(“Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim, pages 3-9):

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 as ” Moshe began to explain this Torah” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 5), 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.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Devarim, Perek 1, posuk 1)

Similarly, Rabbi Saadia Gaon understands this phrase to mean that Moshe “waxed lengthy in his explanation of the Torah (apparently of his own volition)” (Rabbi Goldin citing 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. (Rabbi Goldin citing 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 (Rabbi Goldin citing 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. (Rabbi Goldin citing Abravanel, introduction to Sefer Devarim)

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 cites 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.” (Rabbi Goldin citing 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.

Every Jew, every Israeli must look deep within himself and come to true, consistent answers as to why he’s here, why there is a divine connection of, and legacy between the Jews and their land — Eretz Yisrael and how he individually relates to the murderous hatred by the Arab, Islamic nation (in their “Palestinian” facade’) and by the Nazis before them. This seems an accounting, a cheshbon of ALL Jews equally (irregardless of whether religious or secular). Every Jew, every Israeli must recognize the manifestations of hatred and loathing existent, to varying degrees, either on the surface, or just beneath the surface, throughout the gentile world — throughout the nations. This murderous hate defies analysis, rationalization or attempts to remediate by way of Israeli misguided, misdirected kindness (misread by murderous enemies as weakness), bogus “morality”, “political correctness” or calls for “land for peace.” And every Jew must similarly look deep within himself and come to terms with how he treats his fellow Jew, regardless of sector — Bein Adam L’Chaveiro and whether it meets the spirit, the intent of V’Ahavta L’rei’echa Kamocha.

Every Jew, as his own leader — thinking back to that quote from Golda Me’ir of years past, if he thinks deeply enough, must come to the inescapable conclusion that the Arab’s irrational lust for death to the Jew and destruction of the State of Israel emanates from Shemayim, as a form of what’s written in Parsha Toldos.

Yitzchak Aveinu, in his remaining Bracha for Eisev said;

“…your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 27, posuk 40)

The Artscroll Stone Chumash renders Rashi;

“When you are aggrieved” as meaning; “If Israel ever transgresses Torah, and is thus undeserving of dominion, you will have a right to be aggrieved that he has taken your blessing and you may cast off his yoke from your neck.” (Artscroll, Stone Chumash page 141: Rashi on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 27, posuk 40)

The Chumash explanation of the posuk concludes in this way;

“This is in consonance with the prophecy given to Rifka while she was pregnant: Her two sons would not be able to coexist; when one ascended, the other would decline.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 25, posuk 23, as rendered in Stone Chumash, page 141)

Jews, whatever their level of emunah and observance, must of necessity come together, despite the various deep differences among various sectors, as the masses of the modern-day medinat Israel once were as when they fought the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War or when Israeli soldiers rescued the 100 hi-jacked Entebbe hostages. They must again, once and for always, shed or subvert sectorial disputes and jealousies in the interest of unity and toward the larger national interest of seeking and bringing to power a true Jewish Leadership. Such a true Jewish Leadership will enable us, in Unity to “take back Israel” rather than continuing to collectively tolerate and fall prey to the cancerous rot of divide-and-conquer, monetarily and morally corrupt, self-interested, self-enriching, weak and indecisive governance.

A true, authentic Jewish leadership: Torah-based governance, based on the Moshe Rabbeinu model, is only as effective as our people’s unity with, recognition of and desire for the application of such leadership. It seems that real Jewish leadership flows from a unified people actively seeking such leadership — a leadership with the audacity to tare down, to deconstruct the entrenched, cancerous rot of present-day Israeli bureaucracy and governance with its expedience, political-correctness, band-aids and political power goaltenders.

In other words, an effective, righteous Jewish leadership which evolves upward with the Am actively recognizing, endorsing, seeking, demanding and encouraging Torah-based leadership and governance and it’s application thereof.

Our contemporary entrenched cancerous rot encompasses agendized governmental ministerial institutions as well as the university faculties and campuses, agendized courts and justice system, agendized intelligencia and media, the vast majority of Knesset members, as well as ministerial and local bureaucracies. And let us not forget about the consolidation of wealth within the hands of a relative handful of families who control Israel’s financial standing, as well as sectors of communal religious leadership which often seem handcuffed and incapable of tzedek — justice when it comes to handling issues of business ethics, domestic and child abuse, fraud, criminality and more.

But maybe, that genuine Jewish leadership, the true Godol HaD’or, the Torah-true head of state is out there, obscured, hidden and waiting for the people to bring about the proper climate for his leadership. This proper climate can seemingly only come about through the deconstruction of the cancerous rot which is modern-day medinat Yisrael’s governance as well as the deconstruction of the rot of sectorial rivalries among the religious, as well as eliminating an atmosphere seemingly devoid of V’Ahavta L’rei’echa Kamocha on a one-to-one level.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 10)

The inclusion of Sefer Devarim thus embeds in the Torah’s structure a fundamental truth that will shape the development of our nation’s tradition across time. The fabric of Judaism’s experience is as much a product of people and personalities as it is a product of technical statute and law.

The Torah would not have been complete without a glimpse of Moshe. That glimpse is provided by Sefer Devarim. With this sefer, Hashem teaches us to be mindful of the partnership between HaKadosh Borchu and man in the defining of Judaism’s experience until the end of time.

B’Ezrat Hashem, as we pray and hope for each year, that this Tisha B’av FINALLY be the last Tzom for B’nai Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of seven 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. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 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.