Our Jewish sages call the book of Deuteronomy, “Devarim” [de-var-REEM], which means, “words.” The book begins with, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel.” Within Deuteronomy, we note one item of interest immediately: the text lacks the phrase, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, „Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them the following command,‟ or „command the Children of Israel thusly.‟”
Hashem declared the majority of the Torah from one of two places: either from atop Mt. Sinai or from within the Tent of Meeting. At or about the Tabernacle‟s first birthday, Hashem declared that we hung around the Mountain for too long. We pulled up stakes and headed for the Promised Land but met disaster when we listened to the spies‟ bad report. The commands thereafter in Torah provided community rules based upon further mutiny and concerns. Once we get to Deuteronomy, our wilderness journey ends, and Moshe begins a series of sermons. As Moshe speaks, he reminds us of commands already revealed since our liberation from Egypt. He adds depth and definition to some, changes the wording on others, and punctuates many with additional information. With these insights and refinements, Moshe created for us the foundation on which Oral Torah and all our traditions rest.
While the nuances between Deuteronomy and the rest of Torah may seem trivial to some, their existence is vital to our ability to interpret and apply Scripture for our day. So, the humble beginnings of our Oral Torah may begin with Moshe in Deuteronomy. Later, the hermeneutic principles developed and perfected by our rabbinic leaders and found within the pages of the Talmud, similarly help us to mine the depths of Scripture like our ancestors and come away with a life-changing direction for our lives.
Since Hashem revealed no new commands while they camped in the plains of Moab, the Rabbis often call this book “Mishneh Torah ,” which means “explanation of the Torah.” Since this book is the basis for Jewish hermeneutics, Moshe declared [Deut 31.10] the whole nation was to listen to the reading of the Torah every sabbatical year during the festival of Sukkot:
At the conclusion of the first Holy Day of Festival of Sukkot in the eighth year, after the close of the seventh year, they prepared for him in the Temple Court a platform of wood and [the King] sat thereon as it is said, “At the end of seven years at the appointed time, etc.” The Minister of the Synagogue took a scroll of the Torah and gave it to the President of the Synagogue… …to the Prefect of the Priests… …to the High priest… …to the King, and the King stood and received it and read it sitting… and he read from the beginning of “These are the words…” …until he concludes the whole portion… [m. Sotah 7.8]
Thanks to Rabbi Fischer for his editorial eye.
It’s always better to have two or three brains on a project.
A task always shines better when polished by multiple hands.
Image of a Romanian holocaust-survived Torah Scroll, clipped from http://torahscroll.com