A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
9 Av 5758/July 31-August 1, 1998
Who wrote the Book of Deuteronomy (Sefer Devarim)?
On the one hand it appears that God did not pen Devarim as the phrase "And the Lord
spoke to Moshe (Moses) saying " appears nowhere in the last book of the Torah.
On the other hand, the very idea of Torah min ha-shamayim, Torah from heaven, means that
all of the Torah comes from God.
In his introduction to Devarim, Abrabanel, the fifteenth century Spanish commentator,
distinguishes between the spoken word of God and that which God mandated to be written.
Although God, of course, speaks in the Torah, not every word in the Torah was said
by the Almighty. On countless occasions human beings speak (e.g. Avraham, Pharoah,
etc) sometimes under Divine inspiration, sometimes not. Separate, however, from
these spoken words is the axiom that every word of the Torah was written by God in that
God testifies that these words were said and upon His dictation and approval, recorded by
Moshe in the Torah.
Our question is therefore answered. In the words of Abrabanel, "although Moshe
delivered his address to Israel on his own, the words as recorded in the Torah were not
written on his own...However, God concurred with the words of His loyal representative,
and by dictating and arranging these words....He revealed them, and Moshe heard and
recorded them, like every part of the whole Torah."
Hence, the Book of Devarim begins with God's declaration," These are the words that
Moshe spoke to all Israel...in the fortieth year....Moshe began explaining this Torah
saying." (Deuteronomy 1:1-5) In other words, these were the words of Moshe as
approved by God.
Several ideas emerge from this
analysis. First, Torah min ha-shamayim does not mean that God spoke every word of
the Five Books of Moses at Sinai. After all, Moshe spoke Devarim at the end of the forty
year trek through the desert. Second, the position of the Bible critics, that
bearing in mind the different styles of writing in the Torah, it must have had numerous
authors, falls by the wayside. After all, in the written Torah God records the way
different personalities spoke--their tone, their style, their language may have been
Third, as God is eternal, so is the
Torah eternal. After all, the Torah in its entirety is an expression of God's
revelation. No wonder our portion is read on the ninth of Av. Despite the
calamity of the destruction of the Temples, we can take comfort in the recognition that
God and His Torah are eternal. And so is the Jewish people to whom God gave the
Torah. Am Yisrael Chai.
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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