We’re going to focus on the nature of ספר דברים, and on the first 5 פסוקים:
Last week I cited the Lubavitch Rebbe and disagreed with his interpretation, so in apology today’s shiur is based on Likutei Sichot 36 for Rosh Chodesh Shevat (double points to whoever can figure out the connection between דברים and Rosh Chodesh Shevat!).
We start with a chassidish dvar Torah:
Which certainly makes me feel better about giving this shiur in English.
With that, I want to talk about JEPD. The fact that the entire Torah is the literal word of G-d, written by Moshe, is one of the עקרי אמונה, but it has to be said that different parts of the Torah read like separate documents. The sections of ritual law are different from the narrative sections, and different rules of מדרש apply; this is the separation of P from JE. And the narratives that use the שם הוי׳ are different from the narratives that use שם אלוקים; we call this מדת הרחמים vs. מדת הדין, or J and E. And ספר דברים reads very differently from the rest of the Torah. D feels like a separate document, and חז״ל acknowleged that:
And many sources point out that it is not just the קללות:
So are we all אפיקורסים?
The Dubno Maggid brings down one explanation (quoted in the Artscroll Chumash) in his commentary on the Torah:
So ספר דברים is the book of Moshe’s נבואה. The first 4 books are the literal word of G-d. This is how Moshe, a human being, recorded his experience of hearing the word of G-d. The introduction, אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה, is similar to that of other ספרי נבאים:
There’s an interesting footnote in the אהל יעקב:
And this has implications for the way we understand the Torah:
This all views Moshe as a נביא, recounting the words of ה׳. But there’s another model for how human beings participate in the Divine conversation: the concept of תורה שבעל פה. And that hinges on a subtle point of translation:
The word הואיל appears twice in the story of Abraham:
Rashi does not comment at all on the first הואלתי (though from his comments on דברים it is clear that he understands it to mean “began”), but does comment on the second (the שפתי חכמים explains that the second cannot possibly mean “began”):
The Ramban translates our הואיל like Rashi’s second translation:
Dr. Yaakov Elman explains the difference:
Dr. Elman further demonstrates his point with Ramban’s comment on וזאת הברכה:
If it is necessary to say that the ברכות are ברוח הקדש, then the rest of ספר דברים must be at a lower level. And this is important. נבואה is never voluntary; רצון is not relevant. When G-d says speak, you speak (תנ״ך is full of stories of prophets trying to evade their responsibilities). If G-d doesn’t command you to speak, you don’t. If Moshe decided to review the history of Israel and its laws, then what he is saying is a very human form of דבר ה׳, the תורה שבעל פה of his מסורה (that he had received 40 years earlier at סיני) and his understanding of it.
And this is the way the Zohar understands the משנה תורה:
The Artscroll Chumash puts it together similarly:
I’m not sure that Rabbi Scherman realized how radical this concept is: that G-d took Moshe’s retelling of the Oral Law and made it into Written Law.
The Lubavitch Rebbe carries this further and shows the relevance to our own lives: