The writer sits at her desk, pen poised. The sheet is blank.

Ideas bombard her mind. Will her message be powerful? She discards, develops, refines, and expands. Words, sentences, and paragraphs. She trims, fine-tunes, and gropes for clearer phrases.

The final version is before her. The page is messy, full of blotches, scribbles, and indentations strewn in every which direction. But with these words she has created—given birth to—her idea. This is the power of words.

The process is a metaphor for life itself. The journey begins with a blank sheet of paper. There are many paths and daily crossroads. There are mistakes and revisions, so many crossed-out false starts, and actions clumsily added like the asterisks on the side of her paper.

But in the end, she has created something meaningful.

“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel . . .” (Deut. 1:1)

With this sentence, the fifth book of the Torah, the book of Devarim, or “Words,” begins.

Although all the five books of the Bible were transcribed by Moses, the Talmud differentiates between the book of Devarim and the first four books: they were transcribed, word for word, as dictated by G‑d to Moses, while Devarim was written by Moses “in his own name.”(Megillah 31b)

Nevertheless, the book of Devarim is regarded as one of the five books of the “Written Torah,” implying that even the words themselves (not only the concepts and ideas) are divinely given. This is because Moses had nullified his own ego to be completely in tune with G‑d’s will, to the point that “the divine presence spoke from his mouth.” (Zohar III: 232a; Shemot Rabbah 3:15)

The Torah is comprised of two basic elements: the Written Torah (the five books of Moses) and the Oral Torah (Mishnah, Talmud, codes and commentaries).

Both the “Written Torah” and the “Oral Torah” derive from the revelation at Sinai. But while the Written Torah was set in writing at the time by Moses, the Oral Torah developed—and continues to develop—over the generations.

Because of the unique way in which book of Devarim was transcribed—generated by the mind of Moses, yet at the same time unequivocally the words of G‑d—it acts as a bridge between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.

The Written and the Oral Torah need this bridge, because they represent two dimensions of our developing relationship with it.

The Written Torah speaks with the voice of authority and transcendence. It is a voice that cannot be challenged or altered. Even a single letter cannot be contributed to it or erased from it.

The Oral Torah, on the other hand, is a continuing dialogue of constant growth, analysis, and application. The Oral Torah goes back and forth in discussions and conclusions, adapting to situations as they arise.

Both the written and oral traditions are undeniably parts of the divine Torah. Both are G‑d’s voice on how to lead our lives to create a better world.

But while the Written Torah takes the “masculine” form in speaking to us from above, the Oral Torah takes the “feminine” approach in speaking through us. Both work jointly to express G‑d’s will for our world and to create the Judaism that adapts to every circumstance without inherent change. But only the second aspect of the Torah, the feminine Oral Torah, involves our participation as it emerges and develops through time.

The Written Torah and the Oral Tradition represent two phases in our relationship with the Torah.

On the first level, the mind is preoccupied with the Torah as an intellectual performance. The relationship at this level can be compared to a subject-object encounter, an “I” facing “it.” The second level emerges when Torah becomes, not just an acquisition of knowledge, but a personal meeting place, an “I” facing “you,” or better yet, a “we” relationship.

While our relationship with Torah might begin as an intellectual activity that requires exertion, concentration, and absorption, this is not the ultimate intent. Only in the second stage, have we reached the point whereby we have entered into a personal experience with Torah.

G‑d wants us to be His partners in creation, so that we are not only transcribing His will into our life’s story, but, in addition, His will has become an intrinsic part of our personality, so that we can use our own words and actions to express it. We are no longer like a student mechanically writing notes on a professor’s lecture, but rather one so bound up with his personal mentor that the student’s words spontaneously reflect the ideas, positions, and philosophies of his teacher.

In order to be truly personal, G‑d’s message had to be universally accessible. Thus the sages tell us that Moses did not speak only these words of Devarim, but that he also translated the entire Torah into the seventy languages of the original seventy nations of the world. (Bereishit Rabbah 49:2)

This translation not only reflects the bridge that the book of Devarim forms to the Oral Tradition, but it also opened up the Torah to future translations. It represents the personal communication and understanding of Torah by all kinds of people at all times.

The book of Devarim was addressed to the generation who were about to enter the Holy Land. The translation reflected what that generation and each successive generation would need.

Their parents had left Egypt forty years before and witnessed the wondrous giving of the Torah in the miraculous, secluded, spiritual setting of the wilderness. But this new generation was the one that would enter the Land of Israel to live an existence that was in harmony with nature. The Torah could not remain a closed spiritual/intellectual exercise—as something that they had objectively witnessed—but rather it needed to become something with which they were intimately familiar, that they would communicate among themselves, within the context of their new circumstances, in their own country.

This new development could only happen if they learned from their leader, Moses, how to use their own words to create a G‑dly communication. Moses demonstrated to them how to experience Torah. He was the bridge from the objective experience of the Written Torah to their more personal experience of the Oral Tradition.

While the translation and opening up of the Torah to our own input and dialogue might seem to detract from its holiness and divine absoluteness, in truth this is the ultimate elevation. G‑d desires that Torah become a part of our experience, which is far more intimate and meaningful than the objective study of a static text.

That is why this section of the Torah is always read on the Shabbat before the Ninth of Av, the saddest day on our national calendar. It reminds us that, like the “opening up” of the Torah, the loss of the Temples and the subsequent exile will also result in a greater elevation. In the final redemption, in the Messianic era at the end of our journey, we too will experience a more intimate relationship with G‑d, precisely because of our encounters within exile.

Devarim, “Words,” teaches us the power of our words, in being used as an ongoing G‑dly dialogue.