Subsuming Personal Identity

Our Sages state1 that Moshe delivered the Book of Devarim “on his own initiative.” Tosafos adds that he was: “Inspired by ruach hakodesh (the holy spirit)”.

There are many different levels of ruach hakodesh. Nevertheless, with regard to Moshe, the Torah explicitly states:2 “No prophet like Moshe ever arose within Israel,” indicating that Moshe’s prophecy was on the highest level possible.

For this reason, the Book of Devarim is considered an integral part of the Written Law. The fact that Moshe delivered these teachings “on his own initiative” does not alter the fact that they were granted by G‑d.3 This is reflected in the Rambam’s ruling4 that anyone who says that even one word of the Torah was related by Moshe independently is considered to have denied the entire Torah. Certainly, this applies with regard to an entire book of the Torah.

Thus when Moshe delivered the Book of Devarim, G‑dliness united with his being to the extent that “the Divine Presence spoke from Moshe’s throat.”5

For this reason, when Moshe says:6 “I will grant rain.... I will grant grass,” the pronoun refers to G‑d. The Divine Presence was speaking.

Thus the difference between the Book of Devarim and the previous four books of the Torah involves only the method of communication. The previous four books were also conveyed by Moshe; only the two commandments:7 “I am G‑d, your L‑rd....” and “You shall have no other gods...” were heard directly from G‑d. With regard to the other 611 commandments, our Sages apply8 the verse:9 “The Torah (תורה, numerically equivalent to 611) which Moshe commanded to us...,” i.e., it was he who communicated them to us. Nevertheless, with regard to the other four books, Moshe was considered an agent,10 while the Book of Devarim was recited “on his own initiative.” In the latter instance, the Divine Presence enclothed itself in his conceptual processes until the two were united in a bond so powerful that “the Divine Presence spoke from [his] throat.”11

A similar concept applies with regard to the insights developed by the Sages of the Talmud and the Torah giants of subsequent ages. These men are all metaphorically referred to by the name Moshe,12 and it is said:13 “Every new concept developed by an experienced sage was given to Moshe at Sinai.”

Every new Torah concept is thus “the word of G‑d.”14 It is just that G‑d’s word is enclothed in the mind of the Sage who developed the idea. Needless to say, there are differences in the levels and the types of enclothement, but in essence these teachings are all the word of G‑d.

Not only does the Book of Devarim introduce several new Torah concepts, it reviews and clarifies many of the concepts introduced in the previous four books. The same motif also applies with regard to rulings by “the extensions of Moshe in every generation,”15 the Torah leaders of the Jewish people throughout the centuries. Their rulings are “the word of G‑d.” A person who disregards them is lacking, not only in the observance of the particular law which the later sages instituted, but in the adherence to the Torah as a whole.

In a similar vein, the Mechilta interprets the verse:16 “And they believed in G‑d, and in Moshe His servant,” as indicating that the Jews’ belief in Moshe is equivalent to their belief in G‑d Himself. A person who refutes the authority of Moshe is considered as having refuted the authority of G‑d.

Fitting the Clothes to the People

Moshe communicated the Book of Devarim to the Jews before their entry into Eretz Yisrael.17 The implication is that for the Jews to enter Eretz Yisrael, a new phase of revelation was necessary. The previous revelations were not sufficient, and Moshe had to convey the Torah “on his own initiative,” i.e., the Torah had to pass through an intermediary. This, however, did not create distance. For Moshe was a mimutzeh hamechaber, “an intermediary who connects.”

The rationale is that the entry into Eretz Yisrael began a different phase of Divine service, one that befits “a settled land.”18 In Eretz Yisrael, the mission of the Jewish people was to elevate material existence. In the desert, their Divine service was focused on the spiritual, so there was no necessity for an intermediary. But after the entry into Eretz Yisrael, when they were concerned with material entities, the Jews were no longer able to receive G‑dly light without an intermediary.19

This pattern continued in subsequent generations. As the spiritual level of the generations declined, it became necessary for “the word of G‑d” to be garbed in more and more garments. This explains the difference between the Written Law and the Oral Law, and within the Oral Law itself, the difference between the Sages of the Mishnah, those of the Gemara, the Rishonim, and the Acharonim. In order for the Torah to reach people on a lower spiritual level, it had to be enclothed in more garments.

This process of enclothement involves merely the number of garments; the Torah’s essence remains unchanged. This applies to the differences between the first four books of the Torah and the Book of Devarim, and on a larger scale to the differences between the Written Law and the Torah concepts developed by sages of the present generations and accepted by the Jewish people as they are spread throughout the world.20 They are all the word of G‑d, “given by one Shepherd.”21

Through Descent, Ascent

As explained previously,18 the Divine service of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael possesses an advantage over their service in the desert, because it is through the refinement of material reality that we tap G‑d’s essence. G‑d created the material universe because He “desired a dwelling in the lower worlds.”22 By involving ourselves with material entities, we can shape this world into a dwelling for G‑d’s essence.

In the desert, the people were able to perceive G‑dly light without any concealment. They ate bread from heaven, and drank water from the well of Miriam. In Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, they were dependent on the natural order. G‑d’s blessings were granted, but they followed the pattern: “And G‑d will bless you in all that you do,”23 i.e., man was required to act within the natural order.

Involvement in the natural order, however, does not involve a fundamental change with regard to the nature of Divine influence received. Their entry into Eretz Yisrael did not cause the Jewish people any loss. On the contrary, “the land is very, very good,”24 i.e., in Eretz Yisrael, the Jews received unbounded G‑dly influence.

Similarly, with regard to the Torah: Not only is the Book of Devarim notlacking anything when compared to the other four books, in this portion of the Torah, G‑d’s will is more overtly revealed. For by carrying out the directives of the Book of Devarim regarding our conduct in Eretz Yisrael, we develop a revealed bond with G‑d’s will.

Similar concepts also apply with regard to the Torah concepts and rulings developed by the sages in every generation. As the generations descend, the teachings and rulings of the sages reveal a higher light, for it is through these teachings that we will reach the ultimate revelations to be experienced in the Era of the Redemption.

(To express this concept in a different context: The Book of Devarim draws down and explains the laws mentioned in the previous four books in a form that can be comprehended by mortal intellect. This reflects a more elevated source. For the potential to draw concepts down to a lower level implies a higher source.)

The above also relates to an allusion at the conclusion of the Book of Devarim. Our Sages interpret25 the phrase, “until the last sea,” as “until the last day.” To explain the connection: As explained above, the Book of Devarim relates G‑d’s word as enclothed in Moshe’s initiative. This is continued by “the extension of Moshe in every generation.” Through the directives of these Torah leaders, we empower ourselves and the world to receive the revelations of “the final day,” the Era of the Redemption.

So That There Will Be No Tears

We always begin reading the Book of Devarim on the Shabbos before Tishah BeAv (or on Tishah BeAv itself, when it falls on Shabbos). Thus there is a connection between the Book of Devarim and the period of Bein HaMetzarim, the three weeks preceding Tishah BeAv.26

The Tzemach Tzedek explains27 that the Shabbosos in Bein HaMetzarim “prepare the remedy before the blow.”28 When a remedy comes after a blow, the damage remains unameliorated for a time. Moreover, even after the damage has been repaired, a blemish remains. This is reflected in the expression: “a sick person who was healed,” i.e., even after the healing, he is referred to as having been “sick.”

When, by contrast, the healing comes before the blow, it is as if the blow was never inflicted.29 Indeed, the remedy is on a higher plane and does not allow for the possibility of damage.

This is the intent of the statement that the Shabbosos of Bein HaMetazrim “prepare the remedy before the blow.” They are above the level of exile and mourning, and prevent these influences from having an effect.

In this vein, we can appreciate our Sages’ statements30 regarding the first Shabbos: that the sun shone from Friday morning until Saturday night. To explain: The source for all sins is the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.31 This sin (the very opposite of “the light of the Torah and the candle of mitzvah32 ) brought the darkness of night into the world. Nevertheless, on the first Shabbos, there was no darkness at night. Although man had already sinned, the sun continued to shine during the night. On Shabbos itself, the sin had no repercussions.

Just as the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, the source of all the sins, did not affect the Shabbos, so too the sins that result from it do not have an effect on the Shabbos. Nor do the effects of these sins — the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile — have any influence on Shabbos.33

For this reason, Torah law34 requires that on the Shabbosos during Bein HaMetzarim, on the Shabbosos in the Nine Days, and even when Shabbos falls on Tishah BeAv, there be no public expressions of mourning. On the contrary, it is a mitzvah to delight35 and celebrate36 on these Shabbosos. For Shabbos is above all opposition, concealment and veils.

Not only do these Shabbosos transcendthe negative aspects of Bein HaMetzarim, as mentioned above in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek, they represent “the remedy for the blow.” They can heal the damage done by the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

In general, Shabbos is above the concept of destruction. In addition, these Shabbosos possess a unique quality, for their intent is to transform the period of Bein HaMetzarim to a nachalah bli meitzarim (“a boundless inheritance”). As such, they are on a higher plane than the other Shabbosos of the year.

All the Shabbosos of the year are transcendent in nature, above sin and the exile that comes in its wake. The Shabbosos of Bein HaMetzarim, however, also possess the potential to transform the exile and reveal its inner purpose: the preparation for the Redemption. These Shabbosos are a foretaste of “the day which is all Shabbos and rest for life everlasting,”37 the era in which we will say: “I will thankfully acknowledge You, O G‑d, for having chastised me.”38 At that time, the positive aspects of our sufferings in exile will be revealed.

This concept is also alluded to in Nigleh, the revealed teachings of Torah law, for it is stated that on the Shabbosos during Bein HaMetzarim, one must be more careful not to show public signs of mourning than on other Shabbosos.

(In this context, it is worthy to mention a story concerning my father: There was a person who would usually wear slippers, even on Shabbos. He became a mourner, ר"ל, and asked my father whether he could wear his slippers on Shabbos during the week of mourning. My father ruled that he should not, because such shoes are worn by mourners, and it might appear that he was mourning on Shabbos.39 )

Everything that exists in this world is brought into being through the Torah. Accordingly, we may presume that the book of Devarim is read on the Shabbos before Tishah BeAv40 because this Shabbos reveals the inner, positive intent within exile. The Book of Devarim is appropriate for this because overtly it centers on Moshe’s rebuke of the Jewish people, which reflects the Jews’ descent. Nevertheless, it concludes with an allusion to “the last day,”41 pointing to the ultimate and complete Redemption to be led by Mashiach. May this take place in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Va’eira, 5714
and Sichos Shabbos Parshas Matos-Masei, 5717)