A Drash for Dvarim (5771)
by Marc Mangel
All of the commentators agree that Dvarim is the original Mishneh Torah – review of the Torah. And after that, they pretty much stop agreeing. Today, I will provide a broad overview of their thinking, and illustrate the challenge for us.
Nachmanides divides Dvarim into three parts:
Words of Reproof: Ch 1, 1 to Ch 3, v 29
The Main Show, being a recapitulation and elaboration of the statutes and ordinances: Ch 4, v1 – Ch26, v 15
The end of the book, consisting of blessings, curses, and a song: Ch 26, v16- end
For the Ramban, Devarim is a utilitarian volume for those who are about to conquer the land — there is nothing new in it that was not given at Sinai but people need to be reminded of the practical issues of mitzvoth that did not mean much until now.
Abarvanel notes that the reproof consists only of the story of the spies and wonders by the Golden calf is not in there. He concludes that the spies represented more of a lack of faith in God than the Golden calf did — that the lesson of history is not to lose faith.
For Abarbanel, Devarim is a book meant to explain the beliefs and instructions that Moses had been given at Sinai, but which were improperly understood or where an incorrect view had developed among the Jewish people.
The Vilna Gaon also divides the book into three sections, but differently than the Ramban. For him the first five verses are an introduction and the book is divided so that the new section parallels the start of the middle three books of the Chumash:
1:1 – V’aleh Ha Devarim matches V’aleh Shmot
5:1 — Vayikra, ditto
27:9 VayDabar Moshe matches VayDabar Adonai (start of BaMidbar)
In response to the Dubno Maggid, the Vilna Gaon explains that in the first four books, the voice emanating from Moshe was God himself speaking, whereas in Devarim, Moshe acts like a prophet – repeating what we hears from HaShem
The Maharal disagrees and says that throughout the Torah HaShem placed words in the mouth of Moshe but in the Mishneh Toah Moshe speaks by himself, as a messenger of HaShem.
The last Lubavitcher Rebbe goes in a different direction and says, based on Zohar VaYikra, that in Devarim the Shechinah and Moshe are united as one which is why
Moshe speaks in the first person .
Kli Chemdah agrees with Ramban that the entire Torah with all details was given to Moshe at Sinai but that only when specific mitzvoth became applicable were they revealed to the people. In the first four books, the mitzvoth are given to the people just as HaShem said them to Moshe, but in Devarim Moshe expanded on some of the mitzvoth himself.
For Kli Chemdah, HaShem commanded Moses to write down the entire Torah at this point – the first four books given directly by HaShem in which there is no precedence of one parsha over another but the Mishneh Torah arranged by Moshe with a specific intention of the order of the parshiot (and approved by HaShem).
So what are we to do? I say revel in this apparent confusion and try to make sense of conflicting opionions and make new discoveries in Mishneh Torah.