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The Book of Deuteronomy

The Book of Deuteronomy

A summary of Sefer Devarim

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© Ahuva Klein
© Ahuva Klein

Nearing his 120th birthday, Moses, the wise leader of 40 years, gets personal with his flock, many of whom were not yet alive at the Exodus. Not just conveying messages from G‑d, but talking to his people from his own perspective. The result: the Book of Deuteronomy.

What Is It?

The fifth of the Five Books of Moses, the Book of Deuteronomy primarily contains Moses’ last will and testament to the Children of Israel as they are poised to enter the Promised Land.

In Hebrew the book is commonly referred to as Devarim, meaning “words” or “things,” based on the opening line, “And these are the words that Moses spoke to the children of Israel.”1 Since Moses uses this book to recount many events and commandments previously recorded in the other books of the Torah, it is also known as Mishneh Torah,2 “a second Torah,” or Deuteronomy (from the Greek words for “second law”).

Moses revisits many of the high points and low points in the Jews’ 40-year sojourn in the desert.

Addressing the Jewish people, Moses revisits many of the high points and low points in the Jews’ 40-year sojourn in the desert. He uses the opportunity to urge the people to follow the mitzvahs and live a G‑dly life. Many mitzvahs and laws are also found here. Some are repeated from the previous books; others are taught here for the first time.

Some Major Landmarks

The 10 Commandments: Moses recounts the event at Sinai, and repeats the 10 Commandments with some minor additional explanations.3

Shema: The verse that has become central to Jewish worship and belief, “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one,” is followed by the paragraph of Veahavta, where we are told to love G‑d, learn Torah, recite the Shema, teach our children, wear tefillin and affix mezuzahs.4

Shirat Haazinu: The penultimate portion, Haazinu, is largely a poetic song (arranged in two side-by-side columns) in which Moses exhorts the people to remain faithful to G‑d and admonishes them for not doing so.5

Finally, Moses delivers an individual message and blessing to each of the tribes.6 The last lines of the book tell us of Moses’ passing, and how G‑d Himself buried Moses in an unknown place on Mt. Nebo.7 Who wrote those last lines? According to one Talmudic tradition, those eight verses were written by Joshua after Moses’ death. Others, however, say that G‑d dictated them to Moses, who transcribed them in tears.

The Bridge

The Torah contains two parts, the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition (which was first committed to writing in the Talmudic era). Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ written transcript of his oral exhortation, bridges these two bodies of Torah.

Footnotes
1.

1:1.

2.

The words are actually found in 17:18.

3.

5:6–18.

4.

6:4–9.

5.

32:1–43.

6.

Chapter 33.

7.

34:5–12.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Anonymous wc July 25, 2012

Admonish seems this time around, i am caught up in the semantics of admonish and rebuke. When i read Devarim i do not think of Moses as a lightweight teacher.

At Sinai, Mose smashed the tablets when he saw the Golden Calf. It is one of the greatest lessons of all time. Don't make idols ! there is only one G-d !

In Devarim Moses goes over all the mistakes of his people. Those mistakes he tells them have prevented him from fulfilling his dream to enter The Promised Land. All i see in the constant barrage of wrongs done is a bitter man. There is no shame in it. The grievances Moses spoke of were intended to send a message. Change ! Big change ! Kindness is always appreciated. Sometimes you have to shake people up because it is the right thing to do, especially the stiff necked

I am caught up in all this because i always had the image of Moses making hard hitting rebukes and admonishments. This year i am reading about the politeness of the rebukes. Can that work with stiff necked people. Reply

Bruce Portnoy, O.D. Indian Creek July 24, 2012

Reflections after reading the article about Moses. Thank you for refreshing long lost memories of studies well over 40 years ago. Am I wiser in my old age, have I done all that I should for my People. All of that remains to be seen. The choices that I have made reflect ignorance in some cases and downright foolishness in others. That said, the Good Lord, Hashem has always been kind to me, providing teachers as needed and comfort when I am afraid, always encouraging me to go on understanding we Jews are never alone.Todah Hashem Reply

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