Devarim. Timeless Torah; Timely Torah
This week we start a new book of Torah – Devarim – Moses’ final speech. What did Moshe set out to communicate? The Rabbis iddentified Devarim as “Mishneh Torah” – Deutero (second) Nomos (law) – as if to say that here Moses reviewed or repeated the law for the Jewish people. But every review has a purpose. Why do we repeat things?
Here is the introduction to the speech. We will offer two approaches to these lines, which offer surprisingly contrasting readings:
It was in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses addressed the Israelites in accordance with the instructions that the Lord had given him for them, after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and King Og of Bashan, who dwelt at Ashtaroth [and] Edrei. On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this Teaching.
Reading 1: Sifrei. Repetition for Memory, Accuracy
Moses undertook to expound this Teaching (lit. Torah): Moses said to them, I am close to death. Whoever heard a verse from me and forgot it, come and study it accurately; If you heard a “parasha” and forgot it, come and hear it and commit it to memory. (Sifrei)
For the Sifrei, Deuteronomy is about reviewing laws that have been forgotten, texts that have been remembered inaccurately. Students are invited to check in with Moshe and ask all their questions. In a few months, the great lawgiver will be gone, and now is the time to ensure that the text of the Torah will be immaculate, flawless, now is the time to cano