The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, Devarim, which means “Words,” is named for the opening statement in the book:

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan.1

The Torah continues:

It came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the L‑rd had commanded him regarding them.2

Toward the end of Moses’ life, as the Jews were about to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land, Moses spoke to his beloved people. He repeated all the commandments written in the first four books and he retold the stories of their sins and shortcomings of the past 40 years, in hopes that his words would help them learn and grow from their negative experiences.

While the first four books are written in third person (as in the very common verse “And G‑d spoke to Moses”), the fifth book is written in first person, in the voice of Moses himself. This difference is significant. It represents a change in Moses’ role, and a change in the way we are to understand the Torah.

Moses received the Torah from G‑d and transmitted it to us. Moses’ role was to be a loyal conduit who would convey the words of the Torah precisely as they were given to him. In the fifth book, however, Moses was no longer a mere transmitter. The words, ideas and teachings were internalized within Moses, and he therefore spoke them in his own voice.

This explains how both themes of the book of Devarim, the repetition of the Torah in Moses’ own voice and the words of rebuke, are interrelated. The purpose of rebuke was to inspire the Jewish people to return to G‑d. But how would a person who rejected the voice of morality, and the will of G‑d, be inspired to return? The inspiration comes not from heeding the voice from above, but rather from listening to the voice that emanates from within ourselves. The commitment and courage to return to G‑d comes from the teachings and values of the Torah that have become part of the Jew.

Like Moses, we experience both of these steps in our own study of the Torah. At first, we listen and learn. We seek to hear and understand that which the Torah is teaching us. This is the first stage, the stage represented by the first four books, in which we seek to receive the Divine words handed down to us.

And then we arrive at the fifth book. It may not happen overnight, it may take 40 years of wandering, but over time we begin to discover the ideas of the Torah within our deepest self. Over time, the words of the Torah become our own. We identify with them, and they express our own point of view. In the second stage of study, in the fifth book, we speak the words of Torah in our own voice.3