Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • D'varim
To dedicate this lesson

The Book Of Dvarim


Rabbi Berel Wein

The book of Dvarim, the fifth book of the Torah, differs from the previous four books of the Torah in language, style and content. The book is a product of the words of our teacher Moshe told to the Jewish people in the eastern plains of the Jordan Valley during the last months of his life. Jewish tradition ascribes to this book of Dvarim equal divinity with the four books of the Torah that precede it. Nevertheless, nuances of difference - even as to methods of Oral Law interpretation - exist between the book of Davrim and the other books of the Torah. Many commentators point out that the four books of the Torah that precede Dvarim are so to speak authored by God and written down and confirmed by Moshe. The book of Dvarim is of Moshe’s authorship but confirmed so to speak by God thus granting those words a divinity of Torah that no other human words can achieve. The words of Moshe to the people of Israel in Dvarim are very strong and sometimes quite critical and sharp. He recounts for them all of their failings and rebellions, pettiness and shortage of vision. The generation of the desert failed the challenge of freedom that confronted them. Even though they were at the same time the greatest generation of Jewish history - the generation that received the Torah at Mount Sinai - they were an unfulfilled generation. Moshe is saddened not only by what happened to his generation but by the realization of what might have been. And perhaps that is the type of sadness - the realization of opportunities lost and that will never return - that is most bitter and depressing.

The book of Dvarim suffered differing fates over the millennia of Jewish life. In the Book of Mlachim we read that it was apparently hidden away from public view and perhaps even knowledge for a period of time until it was rediscovered by the High Priest Chilkiyah during the reign of the King of Judah, Yoash. Scholars have long wrestled with the problem of how such an occurrence could have happened - an entire book of the Torah lost and forgotten from public view and knowledge. Many theories have been advanced but I know of no satisfactory answer to this occurrence, except for the simple truth that if attention is not paid to the Torah then it may disappear even from the midst of the kingdom of Judah. Perhaps because of this occurrence, Moshe described for us the mitzvah of hakhel that occurred once ever seven years when the king of Israel would read the entire book of Dvarim to the assembled masses of Israel that assembled in the Holy Temple’s courtyard for the occasion. He foresaw that there would be a day that Dvarim would be forgotten - it is not pleasant to listen to criticism, to be reminded of faults and lost opportunities. People prefer to put such scrolls away in storage and not be troubled by them. Therefore at least once every seven years the people have to be reminded of the contents of the book of Dvarim. The book of Dvarim is the wakeup call to the Jewish people - remember what happened and don’t repeat those errors once again.

The Jewish people have a custom that on the night of Hoshana Rabah, the conclusion of the Days of Judgment and Mercy, the book of Dvarim is read publicly. This is undoubtedly a remembrance of the mitzvah of hakhel in Temple times. But it is more than that. It is the penance of the Jewish people for once having dared to think that the book of Dvarim could safely have been forgotten. It is our form of apology to Moshe for ignoring all of his final words to us and for allowing ourselves to be deluded into thinking that we could pick and choose between the words of the Torah and adopt only those phrases that were pleasant to our ears and soothing to our egos. The book of Dvarim is read in the late summer months - a time of vacations and a slowing of life’s usual hectic pace. Because of this, the book of Dvarim does not perhaps receive the attention it deserves in our lives and souls. Its reading occurs at a wrong time in our calendar of yearly life. Too bad, for it really is important for us to study and absorb the lessons of this great and holy book. Moshe speaks to all generations. We should pay attention to his words
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