Skip to content

Parashat Devarim 5779 — 08/10/2019

Parashat Devarim 5779 — 08/10/2019

Devarim 1:1 – 3:22

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of “Vision,” after the beginning of the Haftarah portion, “The Vision of Isaiah.”  It is the third of the “three of retribution” read on the three weeks between the fast of 17 Tammuz and Tisha B’Av.  Shabbat Chazon always comes on or right before Tisha B’Av.  This Shabbat is actually Tisha B’Av, so the fast begins in the late afternoon of Shabbat (the “third meal” of Shabbat becomes the pre-fast meal of Tisha B’Av) and goes until after nightfall on Sunday.  As on Yom Kippur, there are 5 restrictions:  No eating or drinking; No bathing; No anointing (e.g. hand cream); No wearing leather shoes (leather shoes were the comfortable shoes back in the day, nowadays we have very comfortable canvas shoes); No marital relations (or extramarital relations either!).  Tisha B’Av is a pretty difficult fast as it comes in the summer, so it’s very important to hydrate properly before the fast.  If it’s a really hot day, try to avoid going out.  You can drive to synagogue, so if it’s oppressively hot turn on the A/C, drive, don’t be a martyr.  The point of the fast, of course, is repentance.  This is a good time to take stock and reflect on the ways we can improve our thoughts and our behavior, so that next year the Temple will be restored and we won’t have to fast on Tisha B’Av any more.

We now return you to your regular programming:

Who wrote the book of Deuteronomy? A better question might be, what is the nature of the prophecy in Deuteronomy? And why are these even questions?

It seems clear, even to a casual reader, that the 5th of the 5 Books of Moses is different from the other four. It is mostly Moses’ oration(s) to the people, exhorting them to keep the faith as they move forward. From someone who felt he was tongue-tied at the beginning of his mission, Moshe Rabbeinu is now a powerful speaker who can aim his words directly at his listeners’ hearts. The question is, how are “these words” different from all the other words that Moshe spoke in Gd’s Name? In Sefer Devarim the text pointedly reads, “These are the words that Moshe spoke…” rather than the usual formula “And Gd spoke to Moshe saying…” It appears that the impetus for these words is from Moshe and not from Gd. Yet we believe that Gd gave the entire Torah to Moshe. How can we reconcile this apparent contradiction?

Needless to say, the classical sources provide support for both views and for various combinations of these views. Here are some of R. Goldin’s summaries:

The Ramban, for example, argues with Rashi concerning the interpretation of the introductory Biblical phrase ho’il Moshe be’er et haTorah hazot (1:5). While Rashi renders this phrase 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 Gd.” (Ramban to 1:1)

After quoting R. Sa’adia Gaon and Sforno, who give a similar take to Ramban’s, R. Goldin goes on:

While the above disputants with Rashi seem to accept a degree of independence on Moshe’s part in the authorship of Devarim, the Ramban himself, in his introduction to the book of Bereishit, clearly disabuses the reader of this notion. After discussing Moshe’s exceptional use of the first person in the book of Devarim, the Ramban 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 the book of Bereishit until the words “to the eyes of all Israel” [the final words of the book of Devarim], were spoken from the mouth of the Holy One Blessed Be He directly to the ears of Moshe.”

The Ohr haChaim (R. Chaim ibn Attar, 1696-1743) points out that the first words of the book of Devarim: eileh haDevarim, mean a separation from what went before. He understands this to mean that unlike the first 4 books, Devarim was “spoken independently by Moses” (Ohr haChaim to Devarim 1:1). Others, unwilling to forgo either the Ohr haChaim’s great and acknowledged sanctity, but also unwilling to admit that Moshe could have acted independently, reinterpret his words to conform with more standard teaching.

Finally, the Maharal of Prague (1520-1609) posits that the first four books of the Torah are written from Gd’s perspective as the giver of knowledge, with humankind as the passive recipient. Gd literally speaks through Moshe, because direct speech was too much for the Israelites to handle. In Devarim, Moshe becomes a prophetic messenger for Gd’s Word, able to take a more active role in shaping the message. Now the human perspective becomes more predominant. The entire Torah is Gd-given; only the methodology of transmission has altered slightly in Devarim.
And in a Chassidic twist, the Lubavitcher Rebbe upends the whole discussion – while Moshe serves as a prophet in the first four books, which thus necessarily partake of his individuality, by the time we get to Devarim, Moshe’s union with the Divine has reached a such peak of intimacy that it is really impossible to distinguish between Moshe the individual and the universal, speaking through Moshe’s mouth. He has become as perfect a conduit for the Divine Word as one can be and still maintain some individuality.

I think the Rebbe has given us an incredible insight into the nature of Moshe Rabbeinu – he experienced a growth in consciousness throughout his leadership, culminating in the majestic volume we have just begun. It would make perfect sense that Moshe would grow closer and closer to Gd as the relationship progressed, as is the case in any relationship based on love, even one as infinitely unbalanced as that between Creator and creature.

We have already discussed that the Torah was given by “Gd speaking to Himself and Moshe hearing on his own.” Moshe cognized Torah from within his own deepest consciousness by being sensitive to the finest internal fluctuations in this level of silence. It only makes sense that as his perception became more and more refined, his identification with these fluctuations would become more and more profound – that is, Gd’s speaking with Himself became, as it were, more and more of an internal conversation within Moshe’s own universal consciousness. Devarim is the culmination of this process – it has the greatest degree of both Gd and Moshe in it. We can only behold it in awe.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Devarim

Parshat Devarim begins with “and these are the words Moses spoke” and ends with “Do not fear them [other nations] for the Lord, your Gd, is fighting for you.”

As I began to think about “devarim”, words, I began to think about the letters that make up the words, the grammar that connects the words, and the different levels at which words, letters, and grammar exist and their connection to a life without fear in which we experience, without needing to be told, that Gd is fighting for us — and transforming our world into a world in which we have no enemies, neither outside our self nor inside our self. Not people, not thoughts or feelings, not storms or droughts or other acts of Nature.

The mention of “40” often occurs in Torah as a symbol of completeness and here it occurs as 40 years spent in the desert between leaving Egypt (Mitzraim: Restrictions) and preparing to enter Canaan (“Synchronicity, Integration”), the Promised Land. This put in my mind the Kabbalastic view of the 10 Sefiroth (qualities of Gd) times the four worlds (the world of Emanation: Atzilut; the world of Creation,: Beriah; the world of Formation Yetsirah; and the world of Action, Asiyah). This equals 40. And so when we experience the 10 qualities times the four worlds we have 40, a symbol of completeness.

“Forty” is used by Dr. Tony Nader, PH.D, MD, MARR, in showing the connection between the Veda and the Vedic Literature with human physiology, as a way of illustrating that our human body is not only flesh, bones, muscles and so on but in essence, it is Consciousness. “Consciousness” is a scientific way of referring to Totality, One without a Second, which from a religious point of view we refer to as Gd. Dr. Nader shows that 40 aspects of the Veda and its Literature correspond to 40 different aspects of our human body.

So by exploring, intellectually, emotionally, experientially, the words and letters of Gd, the grammar of Gd, the different qualities of Gd in the different stages of manifestation (within Gd), we become capable of entering a world in which we directly experience that Gd is Totality, we are expressions of Gd within Gd, Gd goes before us, makes our path safe, transforms any possible enemies into friends and we live a life very unafraid, very aware that Gd is filling our life with Joy, Love, words and actions of truth.

Such a life is one in which we fulfill Gd’s command: “Be thou holy, for I am holy” and in which we “Love the Lord, thy Gd, with all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and we “Love our neighbor as our self” and are loved by our neighbor the same way.

Such a life is a fulfilled life.

Let it be today!
Let it be Now!

Baruch HaShem