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Parshat Devarim

The Word Of Moshe


Rabbi Ari Kahn
Both ancient and modern readers of the book of D'varim have discerned a change
in style from the other four books of the Torah. The book begins:

These are the words of Moshe which he spoke to the Children of Israel on
the other side of the Jordan. (1:1)

After this introduction the text switches to a monologue delivered by Moshe in the
first person. This type of a syntax dominates the book of D'varim, and is clearly a
departure from the other books of the Torah, where the more familiar, "and G-d
spoke to Moshe saying; speak to the children of Israel..." is prevalent.

While modern secular scholars have quite comfortably suggested a different


"source" or author for this book1, traditional opinion, both ancient and modern,
insists that the entire Torah is the word of G-d. Even the suggestion that the Torah
contains alien teachings is beyond the pale of traditional thought. The Talmud
states that if a person denies the Divinity of even one word in the Torah they are
guilty of heresy.

Another [B’raita] taught: ‘Because he has despised the word of the Lord’ —
this refers to one who maintains that the Torah is not from Heaven. And
even if he asserts that the whole Torah is from Heaven, excepting a
particular verse, which [he maintains] was not uttered by G-d but by Moshe
himself, he is included in ‘because he has despised the word of the Lord.’
And even if he admits that the whole Torah is from Heaven, excepting a
single point, a particular ad majus deduction or a certain gezerah shavah, —
he is still included in ‘because he has despised the word of the Lord’.
(Sanhedrin 99a)

This opinion has been codified by the Rambam (Mishne Torah, Teshuva 3:8), and
reflects normative Jewish law. Therefore, for the believing Jew, the flippant
suggestion of different authorship of D'varim is not an option.

There is, however, another passage in the Talmud, which is somewhat difficult to
understand, given these limitations. While discussing details of public reading of
the Torah, the Talmud states that in Vayikra, in the portion of the Tochecha
(rebuke), the reader should not stop in the middle of the description of the
calamities. In D'varim, on the other hand, the Talmud states that it is permissible
to stop in the middle, and divide the reading into two.

1
There is a certain tautology in their argument. D’varim is clearly, primarily a speech by Moshe, therefore the style is
different. Had the style been the same, the secular scholars would have argued that surely Moshe authored the other four
Books as well!
"Abaye said; this was only taught regarding the rebuke in Torat Kohanim
(Vayikra) but in the rebuke in Mishne Torah (D'varim) you may stop. These
(Vayikra) were written in the plural, by Moshe by the Mouth of the Almighty
(M'pi haGevura), while those were written in the singular, by Moshe, by
himself (M’pi atzmo)-[literally, by his own mouth] (Megila 31b)

This teaching seems to present tremendous difficulties. How can the Talmud
suggest that even a portion of the Torah was "authored" by anyone other than G-
d, even Moshe? At first glance our two Talmudic sources seem contradictory. This
passage has sent Talmudic and biblical commentaries scurrying in various
directions in order to resolve the inconsistency. The Zohar deals with this issue in
a number of places:

Come and see, the verse says Moshe spoke and the Lord responded in a
loud voice. It was taught, what does it mean "with a ... voice"? With the
voice of Moshe, for Moshe achieved a level beyond all the prophets, ... the
voice was the Shechina (the Divine Presence). Rav Shimon said; We were
taught that the rebuke in Vayikra was {written by} Moshe in the name of
the Divinity, and in Mishne Torah, it was Moshe by himself (M’pi atzmo). Do
you think that Moshe said even one small letter by himself? No; it is written
with precision. It doesn't say that Moshe said it by himself, rather that it
came out of Moshe's mouth, this was the voice which "possessed" Moshe
(Zohar V'etchanan 265a)

In this passage, the Zohar poses the same question. How can we even consider
that part of the Torah is not directly from G-d? The answer the Zohar offers is
elegant: Of course, the entire Torah is Divine, but not all the Torah was
communicated in the same manner. The Zohar thus introduces a concept, which
has become known as "The Shechina speaking from the throat of Moshe". This
phrase, which apparently does not have a source in Talmudic or Rabbinic
literature2, became quite popular, and can be found in the great works of the 18th
- 20th centuries, Chassidic and Mitnagdik sources alike 3. The idea itself is clearly
stated in the Zohar: at times Moshe, who rose to such a profound level of
prophecy, literally had the Shechina speak from his throat.

The idea of Moshe possessing Divine diction is based on a number of verses: the
first recounts Moshe’s hesitation to represent the people due to his limited ability
to speak.

2
In the encyclopedic Michlol Hamamarim v hapitgamim it states conclusively that the precise phrase is not found in
Rabbinic literature. Tiferes Yisrael (Yoma 6:20) uses this idea to explain the High Priest’s ability to bless the people with
the ineffable name.
3
The list reads like a virtual 'Who's Who', from The Ba'al haTanya - Tanya1:34, to Rav Chaim of
Volozhin-Nefesh Hachaim 3:14, from Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv – Kedushat Levi Toldot,
Titzaveh, Vetchanan to the Meshech Chochma- Bamidbar 20:11,32:31,Divarim 4:36, from Rav
Tzadok of Lublin - Tzidkat hatzadik 183, (and numerous other citations) to the Mishna Brura
428:18. It is interesting that the Alshech Hakadosh does not use the phrase, even though he describes the
concept in his commentary Torat Moshe to Bamidbar 12:8.
And Moshe said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither
yesterday nor the day before, nor since you have spoken to your servant;
but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.’ And the Lord said to him,
‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing,
or the blind? Is it not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your
mouth, and teach you what you shall say.’ (Shmot 4:10-12)

Here G-d reminds Moshe that all voice comes from G-d. And G-d’s voice will
“accompany” Moshe. The second verse is a description of the theophony at Sinai:

And Mount Sinai was altogether in smoke, because the Lord descended
upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the
whole mount trembled greatly. And when the voice of the shofar sounded
long, and became louder and louder, Moshe spoke, and G-d answered him
by a voice. (Shmot 19:18,19)

Moshe’s voice at Sinai invites a response from heaven, and a Divine duet rings
forth. At the next stage we are told that when G-d speaks the people prefer
Moshe’s speech:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the sound
of the shofar, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they
were shaken, and stood far away. And they said to Moshe, ‘Speak with us,
and we will hear; but let not G-d speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moshe said
to the people, ‘Fear not; for G-d has come to test you, and that his fear may
be before your faces, that you sin not.’ And the people stood far away, and
Moshe drew near to the thick darkness where G-d was. And the Lord said to
Moshe, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel…’(Shmot 20:15-19)

This idea of Moshe being the mouthpiece for G-d is stressed in another episode,
when Moshe’s uniqueness as a Prophet is questioned. G-d chastises Miriam and
Aharon:

And the Lord spoke suddenly to Moshe, and to Aharon, and to Miriam,
‘Come out you three to the Tent of Meeting.’ And the three came out. And
the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the
Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forth. And he said,
‘Hear now my words; If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make
myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream. Not so
with my servant Moshe, for he is the trusted one in all my house. With him I
speak mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in dark speech; and he behold
the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my
servant Moshe? ‘(Bamidbar 12:4-8)

Moshe’s prophecy is described as “mouth to mouth” – from the mouth of G-d to


the mouth of Moshe.

The Zohar further explains this phenomenon:


It is also written in the same passage: “Moshe spoke and G-d answered him
by a voice” (Ibid. 19). This voice, as has been elsewhere explained, is the
voice of Moshe, the Voice to which Moshe attached himself. It may be
asked, does it not say further on that “G-d spoke” (Ibid. 20, I), and not
Moshe? Some explain that the reason was because the people said to
Moshe: “Speak with us and we will hear, but let not G-d speak with us” (Ibid.
19). But, in fact, there is no word in the Torah which Moshe spoke on his
own authority. Hence it says, “Moshe spoke” with his own voice, “and G-d
answered him with that mighty Voice”, confirming what he said.’ (Zohar
Vayikra 7a)

The Zohar explains that these verses represent a metamorphosis, which


transpires in Moshe:4

And Moshe spoke before the Lord, saying: ‘Behold, the children of Israel
have not hearkened unto me, how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of
uncircumcised lips?’ How did Moshe dare say this? Had not the Holy One
already promised him, when he said that he was not eloquent, that He “will
be with his mouth” (Ex. IV, 10-12)? Or did the Holy One not keep His
promise? However, there is here an inner meaning. Moshe was then in the
grade of “Voice”, and the grade of “Utterance” was then in exile. Hence he
said: “How shall Pharaoh hear me”, seeing that my “utterance” is in
bondage to him, I being only “voice”, and lacking “utterance”. Therefore G-
d joined with him Aaron, who was “utterance” without “voice”. When Moshe
came, the Voice appeared, but it was “a voice without speech”. This lasted
until Israel approached Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Then the Voice was
united with the Utterance, and the word was spoken, as it says, “and the
Lord spoke all these words” (Ex. 20, I). Then Moshe was in full possession of
the Word, Voice and Word being united. That was the cause of Moshe’
complaint (v. 23), that he lacked the word save at the time when it broke
forth in complaint and “G-d spoke to Moshe”(VI, 2). On this occasion the
word began to function, but it ceased again, as the time was not yet ripe;
hence the verse continues, “and said to him, I am the Lord” (Ibid.). Only at
the giving of the Law Moshe was, as it were, healed of his impediment,
when the Voice and the Utterance were united in him as their organ. Before
that event the power which is Utterance guided Israel in the desert, but
without expressing itself until they came to Sinai. (Zohar, Sh’mot, Page 25b)

We now understand that the idea of the Divine presence emanating from Moshe’s
throat teaches that Moshe did not "author" this section of the Torah, rather it
emanated from his mouth, as the Shechina occupied his throat. The "problematic"
passage in the Talmud never said that Moshe “invented” or “authored” the text of

4
Similarly, the Midrash observes: (Midrash Rabah D’varim1:1) R. Levi said: … For see, of Moses before he was
privileged to receive the Torah Scripture writes, I am not a man of words (Ex. IV, 10); but after he had proved himself
worthy of the Torah his tongue became cured and he began to speak words. Whence do we know this? From what we
have read in the passage under comment, THESE ARE THE WORDS WHICH MOSES SPOKE.
D’varim. Rather it was Moshe "M'pi Atzmo," from his own mouth; but in his mouth
was the Shechina, G-d’s presence.

This idea helps us reconcile the problem of these two specific passages, namely
the Halachic differences between the Tochecha (rebuke or curse) in Vayikra, and
D’varim. But it does not seem to help for the larger issue, namely the "style" of
the rest of D'varim.

In a second passage, the Zohar opens the door for more sections which emanated
from the mouth of Moshe;

In the book of Aggada of the study hall, it states: even though the entire
Torah is the word of G-d, some is from the words of Moshe as well. Which
part? For example, the rebuke in Mishne Torah (D'varim). Afterwards the{se
words} were included in the Divine (M’pi hagevura), as the verse indicates
'Moshe spoke and the Lord responded aloud(Zohar Vayikra 7a)

Here we see that the section of rebuke is merely an example of this


phenomenon--"For example, the rebuke in Mishne Torah (D'varim)”. The Zohar
implies that there are other sections which were "produced" in a similar manner.

In another section of the Zohar we find;

"That which is called Mishne Torah, Moshe said it [all] m'pi atzmo - from his
own mouth... (Zohar V’etchanan 261a)

Here we see that the Zohar is willing to make a much broader assertion: the entire
Book of D'varim was communicated via the mouth of Moshe, with the Shechina in
his throat - in a type of Divine ventriloquism. The implication is that the stylistic
differences in D'varim are of Divine origin. Most of the Torah comes from G-d, as
dictated to Moshe, while D'varim is spoken by G-d via the mouth of Moshe. Why,
then, did the Talmud only mention the section of the rebuke? Arguably, because
that was the section under discussion, and therefore, when describing the
difference between the sections, the Talmud introduces this principle which,
according to the Zohar, applies equally for the entire Book. Furthermore,
according to this approach, when the Shechina speaks, it speaks in the first
person, as if it were Moshe, for Moshe’s essence as been inextricably linked with
the Shechina.5

While a technical answer has been set forth, in a sense the major question has
been avoided: Why is the style of this book different? Why, specifically at this
5
The Dubno Magid Ohel Yaakov Midubna, Parshat Devarim, cites in the name of the Vilna Gaon, that the first 4 books
where written by Moshe as the shechina emanated from Moshe’s mouth, in an instantaneous fashion, while D’varim was
revealed to Moshe and afterwards conveyed to the people, in a speech based on the revelation, in a manner similar to
other prophets. The Or Gedalyahu (Parshat D’varim), cites a different teaching of the G”ra, based on the Aderet Eliyahu
(Balak; 4th edition): There are 50 levels of understanding and Moshe at Sinai achieved the 49th. The 50th, which remains
the Divine realm, was revealed when G-d said “I am…” in the first of the 10 commandments. When Moshe repeated the
10 Commandments in D’varim, it was Moshe “Mipi Atzmo,” Moshe speaking from this 49th level, which was beyond the
other 48 prophets who only achieved the 48th level.
juncture, do we find a shift in the Divine modus operandi? As stated at the outset,
the question of the authorship of D'varim occupied many of the early sages and
many answers have been offered. The Abarbanel, in his introduction to D'varim,
expands a teaching of the Ramban, in the following manner:

The book of D'varim is referred to as "Mishne Torah", which means the repetition
of the Torah or of the law (in English, Deuteronomy- which means quite literally
-repetition of the law). In this Book, many laws are restated. On what basis did
Moshe repeat these laws? The Abarbanel answers very simply, that the Oral Torah
is what Moshe taught at this later opportunity. We know that G-d's communication
with Moshe on Sinai was much more in-depth than what is indicated in the written
text of the Torah. At Sinai, all of Judaism was taught by G-d to Moshe. Not all that
G-d taught Moshe at that juncture became part of the written Torah. Certain ideas
remained unwritten, or verbal.

According to the Rambam, Moshe wrote down many of these teachings, but kept
them private, for his own use and as a teaching tool. These notes were not meant
to be passed on, at least not in the written form (Rambam, Introduction to the
Mishne Torah).

We may draw the following conclusion: The essential difference between the
Written Torah and the Oral Torah was not that one was written and the other not
written. Rather, one was meant to be passed on in written form, and the other
was meant to be passed on verbally. Furthermore, the text of the Written Torah is
sacrosanct, while in the Oral Torah, it is the ideas which are holy.6

Let us return to the Abarbanel. Moshe, now in the last days of his life, will soon
take leave of his beloved nation. Therefore, he teaches them the laws of the Torah
yet again. What does he use as the basis for his lectures? The answer is simple--
the Oral Torah which was taught to him by G-d at Sinai. According to this
approach, the Mishne Torah, the book of D'varim, is in actuality the oldest source
of Oral Torah extant. At the conclusion of Moshe's lecture, G-d asks him to write
down his words7. At that point they become part of the Written Torah as well.
Therefore, the Book of D'varim has both the status of the Oral Torah, and of the
Written Torah8. The words are arguably the words of Moshe, based on the
teachings that he heard from G-d. Again, we must recall that the holiness of the
Oral Torah is the concepts. Therefore, Moshe would have been expected to teach
6
Rashi in Gittin 60b has a different understanding of this concept, which has enjoyed much more
popularity than the Rambam's concept, outlined above. Rashi understands that there was a
prohibition to write the Oral Law. These two approaches, of Rambam and Rashi, may mirror
different versions of the Letter of Rav Shrira Gaon, which circulated in Sfarad and Ashkenaz
respectively.
7
This may be included in the verse (D’varim 31:19) ‘Now therefore write this poem for you, and teach it to the people of
Israel; put it in their mouths, that this poem may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.’ This verse refers to the
tochecha, which we referred to earlier, but according to some approaches refers to the entire book.
8
When Rabbi Soloveitchik taught these ideas, he explained that the Talmud utilizes different methodology in D’varim for
this very reason. See Brachot 21b:“And should you say that R. Judah does not derive lessons from the juxtaposition of
texts, [this does not matter] since R. Joseph has said: Even those who do not derive lessons from the juxtaposition of
texts in all the rest of the Torah, do so in D’varim; for R. Judah does not derive such lessons in all the rest of the Torah,
and in D’varim he does.”
these ideas using his own words. Only after they are written, based on word by
word, letter by letter dictation by G-d, do they achieve the status of Written Torah
as well. This means that the books of Bereishit through Bamidbar were dictated by
G-d to Moshe, and are, literally, the Word of G-d—the syntax, the words, the
letters and the spelling. D'varim is based on the teachings Moshe learned from G-
d at Sinai, but the words are Moshe's. However, after Moshe addressed the
people, G-d dictated to Moshe the text that became the fifth Book--the very words
that Moshe had already used! G-d’s dictation of these words gives them equal
status with the preceding Books of the Torah, making them part and parcel of the
Written Torah as well9.

Perhaps this teaching of the Abarbanel, which is based on the Ramban and
echoed by many authorities including the Vilna Gaon and Malbim,10 is actually
referred to in the Zohar cited above:

"In the book of Aggada of the study hall, it states: Even though the entire
Torah is the Word of G-d, some is the words of Moshe as well. Which part?
For example, the rebuke in Mishne Torah (D'varim). Afterwards they were
included in the Divine (M'pi hagevura) (Zohar Vayikra 7a)

Here the Zohar states that the section in question is both by Moshe and G-d, first
stated by Moshe, then repeated by G-d. In other words, the 'Shechina speaking
from the mouth of Moshe' may be understood as follows: the words Moshe used,
indeed came from G-d. They are based on what Moshe heard at Sinai, when
Moshe stood in proximity to the Shechina. They are the words of the Oral Torah,
oral in the sense that they are received through the mouth of Moshe! Later, when
these words are written-- based on clear, unequivocal instructions by G-d-- these
words become part and parcel of the Written Torah, having the same authority as
any other words in the Five Books. The Book of D'varim is quite special, as it
comes from the Mouth of G-d to the mouth of Moshe, to the quill of Moshe by the
word of G-d.

9
The Chatam Sofer describes the process. Moshe intended to give a speech using his own words, as it appears… When
he spoke the Shechina occupied his throat and spoke, without changing a word, from Moshe’s formulation. (Stern
edition, year 5590).
10
See Malbim beginning of D’varim. Rav Tzadok Hakohen echoes this idea when he describes D’varim
as the root of the Oral Law (Pri Tzaddik volume 2, page 39,40).