Who said that?
Here’s Parshas Devorim in one paragraph. The yiddin are about to enter the land, Moishe Rabaynuu is five weeks from dying and spends most of it reviewing, rebuking and inspiring the yiddin to get closer to the RBSO. It begins with Moishe’s veiled rebuke in which he makes reference to the many sins and rebellions of the past forty years, and there were taka many. He then recounts several of the significant incidents which occurred to the BNY (the Jews) in the desert, further illuminating earlier accounts. Next: He reminds them, in great detail, of the failed mission of the miraglim (spies) shifting the blame on the Yiddin: Ten of the twelve men sent to scout out the land returned with oversized fruit, bad mouthed the land, and because of the people’s lack of faith in the RBSO, the Yiddin were condemned to another 38 years of valgering (wandering) in the desert during which time they partied hearty and then mostly died or were killed. Moishe then skips forward to discuss the BNY’s war conquest on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, and concludes with words of encouragement for his successor, Yehoishua. Could it be more depressing? It’s no wonder we read this Parsha yearly during the three weeks and always on the shabbis before Tisha B’eav. Shoin, the gantze parsha in under 200 words and most of you are wondering why I don’t do this more often. But are you tzifriden (content) or do you want more? Too bad and who asked you anyway?
This past Sunday morning, a more than choshova (esteemed) Rabbi, one I taka look up to, zicher avada mamish (surely) concerned about what the Oisvorfer might cover in Parshas Devorim, warned me that the next two weeks were a shtikel dry, not too much content, and suggested that efsher I concentrate on Aicho which we will read next Monday evening as we mourn the events of Tisha B’eav some 20 plus centuries ago. And who am I to ignore such sage advice? On the other hand….had I listened to my Rabbis over the years, would I today be known as the Oisvorfer? Then again, as you read just above, was he wrong?
Nu, chevra: I was going to delve into the parsha but was sidetracked and mesmerized learning, as any good teacher should, all the gemoros and medroshim, not on the parsha, but on the entire Sefer Devorim. As we say hello to book number five of the Chamishey Chumshay Toirah (five books) a centuries old debate rages: who wrote this Sefer, also known as Deuteronomy and Mishna Toirah? Had you even a clue that for centuries a debate has been raging over who wrote this fifth book? Did anyone ever teach you that there’s a machloikes (argument and what else is new) about its authorship? Mistama not! Altz kiind (as a child), avada no one taught me that this was an issue: I assumed that the RBSO wrote Devorim just like He wrote the others. And even through the myriad Yeshivas my parents had the pleasure of sending me to, not one uttered a word about this controversy. Ober (but) gevald (omg), it exists and many square off about this topic, even the goyim.
Can we sort this out in a few pages? Do you really care? If it doesn’t involve zenus (marital infidelity) and forbidden relations… nu… some of my less than choshova readership is already sleeping and the rest complaining that the Oisvorfer has gone too mainstream. Ober Raboyseyee, I only give what the parsha gives me, and this week, it’s devoid of such topics. Does that mean we shouldn’t learn the heylige parsha? You mamish disgust me!
In order to chap all this or at least some of it, we will need to learn some gemorah- so halt kup (pay attention): Here we go, but first some more background.
Ershtens (firstly), let’s taka learn what all the noise is about and let’s try to answer the first question first- namely, who wrote this sefer? Did the RBSO, as we were taught to believe as kinderlach (children) also write Sefer Devorim or did Moishe, feeling epes (somewhat) empowered, think he was no longer but a messenger and write his own book? What’s p’shat here? Is it at all even thinkable that the RBSO only wrote four books and that Moishe authored the fifth? Avada some of you heard of taking the fifth but authoring it? Let’s explore but before we do, is it even permissible to discuss this topic without being ostracized, considered apikorsim, excommunicated and worse?
Veyst tzich ois (apparently) it’s ok to talk about this subject, many before the Oisvorfer have, but zicher (surely) we must be politically correct lest giferliche things start happening to us. Says the Rambam, in Hilchois Teshuva (3:8), a topic we might consider dusting off this time of year, “Three fall into the category of heretics who deny the Toirah and two of those three are: Someone who says that the Toirah is not from the RBSO; if he says of even one possik or even one letter, that Moishe composed it himself, then he is a heretic.” It does appear that the Rambam had a definite opinion on the matter, you think? So why would we even kler (think) differently?
Seemingly, the first person wording of Devorim coupled with stylistic and other differences, has given rise to this question and has, over the years, caused many to believe that Devorim was written, or may have been written, by Moishe himself. Mamish from its opening sentence and throughout the entire Sefer, we will see that Devorim is different from the first four. Instead of the usual introductory statement, “God spoke to Moses, saying,” we read:
|“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel on the far side of the Jordan River …” (Deut. 1:1)|
Unlike the other four books, Deuteronomy is largely a record of speeches that Moishe delivered to the people before his death. The heylige Gemorah (Megillah 31b) confirms that the prophetic nature of this sefer (book) is qualitatively different than the others. While the other books of the Toirah are a direct transmission of the RBSO’s word, seemingly Moishe said Deuteronomy mipi atzmoy (“on his own.“). Was he out of line? Did all this talking to the RBSO get to his head, chas v’sholom? It’s also clear that Devarim is written in a different voice than the rest of the heylige Toirah. Devorim is written in the first person, from Moishe’s perspective, and the RBSO is spoken of in the third. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the Toirah, in which Moishe is spoken of in third person.
On the other hand, the heylige gemora treats the many Mitzvois (commandments) that appear exclusively in Devarim as completely Biblical commandments. Did Moishe have authority to promulgate his own mitzvois and laws? And the gemorah accepted them as if they came directly from above?
Wait, I’m not done yet. The debate over Devorim’s authorship continued through to the Rishonim (early Sages). The heylige gemorah (Sanhedrin 99a) tells us clearly that the claim that even one sentence in the Five Books that was not written literally, word for word by Moishe from the mouth of the RBSO, is heresy mamish! Are we confused yet?
On the other hand, the gemorah in Megillah (31b) states that the Toichocho (curses) of Devorim are not as strict as those in Vayikra, and therefore, the curses of Devarim may be broken into different Aliyos, while those of Vayikra must be read without pause. The reason given is that the Vayikra curses are recorded by Moishe directly from the mouth of the RBSO, while the Devarim curses represent Moishe’s own re-iteration of them. Says Rashi: that in Vayikra, Moishe was made a messenger to say, ‘thus said God,’ for behold, [the curses are written in the language of the first person, while in Devarim, it states “Moishe spoke these on his own”, as if to say if you break His commandments, He will repay you. Was one gemorah contradicting another? Why not? It keeps the mind sharp; isn’t that what gemorah is mostly about?
Other opinions: The Ohr Hachayim hold that the first possik (verse) of this fifth book serves to clarify that only this book was written by Moishe, but the rest of the Toirah was dictated by the RBSO.
The heylige gemorah (Bava Basra 15a) considers who wrote the final 8 pisukim of the Toirah which describe events after Moishe’s death. Rebbe Yehudah holds that Moishe wrote , under the RBSO’s guidance, the gantze (entire) Toirah except for the last 8 pisukim, which were written by Yehoishua. Avada this makes sense given that Moishe is dead. Ober, Rebbe Shimon says that being dead is not necessarily a deterrent to writing. Hey- haven’t we seen wills written after the person died without one? Rather, until the last 8 verses, the RBSO spoke and Moishe wrote; thereafter, He spoke and Moishe wrote it in tears (bedema). Rambam seems to rule in his famous introduction to the Mishnah ( Perek Chelek) in support of Rebbe Shimon: “The 8th principle is that Toirah is from Heaven, i.e. we should believe that THIS ENTIRE TOIRAH WHICH WE HAVE TODAY IS THE ONE GIVEN BY MOISHE OUR TEACHER, MAY HE REST IN PEACE, DICTATED ENTIRELY BY GOD (dead or alive). Moishe was like a scribe to whom one dictates and he writes.”
And how do we reconcile these two views? Says The Vilna Gaon: that the statements of Rebbe Yehudah and Rebbe Shimon may taka be reconciled, why not? Says the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 1:1), that the Toirah was all written even before the world was created, so our inquiry should not be restricted to the final 8 verses but to the entire Toirah! How then could Moishe write “And Moishe died …” (Devorim 34:5), and how could the whole Toirah have been written prior to the occurrence of the events described? Says the Gaon that the text of the Toirah is formulated by combinations of the RBSO’s names. Before creation, the Toirah existed in its hidden, primordial (good scrabble word) state. As world history unfolded, the RBSO revealed to Moishe how to write the words of our Toirah but only up to the final 8 verses. The remainder, He taught to Moishe in a concealed form (word jumble). Therefore, we can now chap that Moishe taka wrote the text of the last 8 verses, but without being made aware of the spaces between words so it all looked like one long string of letters! Shortly afterward, the RBSO disclosed to Yehoishua where to insert the spacing in order to make sense of these final words. And you finally chap why he was the Vilna Gaon and you’re nothing but a bum and an Oisvorf.
Got all that? Case closed or is your head too farshtupped (stuffed) with other devorim betalim (other nonsense) and you can’t absorb all this gevaldige Toirah? If you chap this last p’shat, you can understand why the commandments in Devarim are treated completely as are those in the other books. Also, Art Scroll is avada happy: more books to sell.
And says the heylige Zoihar that we needn’t worry about others who maintain that Moishe is its author, despite such support from the first-person wording of the Sefer which contradicts the very basis of our faith in the Divine origin of the entire Toirah; it’s all narishkeyt (bs). How many times have I told you not to mess with the Zoihar? It’s mamish dangerous! Moreover, how could Moishe have taken this project upon himself, for didn’t we learn in the heylige gemorah (Shabbis 104a) that a Novee (prophet) is not allowed to say in the RBSO’s name what he did not hear directly from above? Was Moishe out of control? Ok-what’s the big deal? Let’s just all agree that the RBSO wrote it and all is good; do you really care who wrote it? It’s here so we try to keep a few mitzvois here and there and say I’m sorry on Yoim Kippur for those we couldn’t, didn’t or otherwise ignored. Isn’t that what the holiday is for anyway? Case closed? Not so fast, as many commentators insist that Sefer Devorim was written by Moishe in his own words; are they all just rabble rousers? How are we to understand this?
Says Abarbanel azoy: At first Moishe taka (indeed) said these words of his own initiative, ober (but) the RBSO had his back. After he (Moishe) expressed himself, the RBSO agreed and commanded Moishe to reduce his words to writing. The RBSO then dictated the same words in exactly the same way as He had dictated the previous books. Is it good to have friends in High places or what? Beautiful! According to this p’shat, there is nothing unique about the nature of this Sefer, since we have found similar instances in the other Books as well: Lemoshol (by way of example), various personalities who appear in the Toirah (Paroy the minuvil, Bilem, his ass, and others) uttered their own words, and eventually the RBSO dictated their words back to Moishe, and they have been included ever since as an integral part of the RBSO’s heylige Toirah. This too sounds good to me.
And while your head is mistama spinning trying to figure all this out, let’s taka take a quick look at Moishe’s oratory skills. Here in Sefer Devorim, he is depicted as a stirring orator. Not too long ago, it was this same Moishe (Shemois 4:10), who, when asked by the RBSO himself at the burning bush, and who can say no to a burning bush, if you chap, at first rebuffed the RBSO claiming that he was the wrong man for the job- not a man of words. Was Dale Carnegie giving classes in the Midbar?
Shoin: It’s settled! The bottom line is that we have five books and that’s what we have to learn. This doesn’t, of course, satisfy many goyim who have differing views on who wrote it but that’s for another day. Mistama (likely) you’re not aware that kimat (nearly) all liberal scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, deny the authorship of Moishe and among their reasons is that he could not have written the last Pisukim (following his death). I mean he was good, but writing Toirah after dying? Nu, that’s for another day. And, of course you wouldn’t know that, and why should you? You barely know anything about your own religion, are you expected to know what the goyim are thinking? And who cares? Ginig shoin (enough already), we’re kimat (almost) 4 pages in and we haven’t looked at the parsha yet.
And for the record: The Oisvorfer, despite his other shortcomings, is avada mamish a believer that the RBSO is behind the gantze Toirah kulah (the entire enchilada) especially during these nine days when he’s mamish spooked about everything.
As I mentioned just above, Sefer Devarim has yet another name: In rabbinic literature it’s known as Mishneh Toirah (Repetition of the Toirah) so called, because many of its laws are similar to those found in the other four books. Some of the mitzvois taught contradict earlier versions given. We will be introduced to 100 new ones, including divorce law, Yibbum, and more. Divorce law? What’s yibbum you ask? Nu- that’s for another day, ober divorce law you zicher know. And who doesn’t know a chaver or two that hasn’t been divorced at least once? I have chaverim that have done it multiple times and will continue until they get it right. In fact one acquaintance just got done with spouse number 5. Anyway, where was I? But do we want to hear the other 500+ again? Maybe they should cut out laining during the summer weeks so that we can vacation without having to worry about missing kriyas hatoirah?
Ober Raboyseyee we have to learn Devorim because it mashma (appears) that even some of the old laws have come back with new twists and some history is being revised, say it’s not so…but it is. Lemoshol (by way of example) Moishe recounts the story of the Meraglim (spies) this week but the facts seem to be not what they were way back in Parshas Shelach. In fact, had there been a trial, it’s likely that a mistrial would have been declared.
And after such a serious introduction, what’s happening in the parsha itself? But before we answer that, if we ever get to it, let me say this. The entire Sefer Devorim is basically three separate sermons delivered by Moishe to the Yiddin just before he died. According to tradition, the three speeches took 36 days to deliver – beginning on the first of Shevat and ending on the sixth of Adar and you thought your Rabbi was long winded. These sermons stress the RBSO’s special relationship with the BNY. The people are reminded that they are not more virtuous than the other nations of earth; it is only through their loyalty to the heylige Toirah that their unique role in history will come about. Moishe also reminds them, though in a veiled manner about the eygel (golden calf) incident. Who needs to be reminded so many years later about their past misdeeds? Zicher not the Oisvorfer, if you chap. Is he now acting girlish? Another very famous choshovo rabbi friend once told me azoy: women, when angry, don’t become hysterical- instead they become historical and remind their spouses or other significant others about his every misdeed since birth. Taka the Oisvorfer’s own eishes chayil and others he knows (and you know who you are) taka practice this with regularity. Women!
Why Moishe was scolding this generation when the sinners of the previous generation had all died out, nu, this I taka don’t chap: efsher one of my choshovo readers (like Reb Milton) has a teretz (answer)?
A gitten shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv