Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1087ff;
Vol. XIX, p. 9ff

The Uniqueness of Deuteronomy

This week’s Torah reading begins:1 “These are the words that Moshe spoke to the entire Jewish people.”

Noting the distinction between this book and the previous four, which are all “the word of G‑d,” our Sages explain2 that Moshe recited the Book of Deuteronomy “on his own initiative.”

This does not, ח׳׳ו , mean that the Book of Deuteronomy is merely a mortal invention. Our Rabbis3 immediately clarify that Moshe delivered his words “inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Similarly, when the Rambam defines the category of “those who deny the Torah,”4 he includes: “a person who says that the Torah even one verse or one word does not emanate from G‑d. If one would say, ‘Moshe made these statements independently,’ he is denying the Torah.”

Not a single commentator maintains that there is a difference in this regard between the Book of Deuteronomy and the four preceding books.

For the Book of Deuteronomy are merely Moshe’s words. Moshe’s identification with G‑dliness was so great that when he states:5 “I will grant the rain of your land in its season,” he speaks in the first person although the pronoun “I” clearly refers to G‑d. “The Divine Presence spoke from his mouth.”6

On the other hand, it is also clear that the book involves Moshe’s own thinking process. To give an example: there is a difference of opinion among our Sages as to whether the proximity (semichus) of two subjects in the Written Torah is significant or not.7 One opinion maintains that it is, while the other explains that although when mortals structure their thoughts, order is important, but “Since the Torah was granted by the Almighty, the order of precedence is not significant.”8

With regard to Deuteronomy, however, all authorities agree to the significance of the sequence of subjects. “Moshe arranged it passage after passage for the sole purpose of allowing for extrapolation.” Because Deuteronomy was recited on Moshe’s initiative, comprehension of this book demands that the rules of mortal wisdom be taken into consideration.

Above the Limits of Creation

The explanation of the above concepts depends on the appreciation of the relationship between the Torah and our world. Our Sages state: “The Torah preceded the world.”9 Here, the concept of precedence is not chronological, for time like space is a creation, relevant only after G‑d brought existence into being. Rather the intent is that the Torah is on a level of spiritual truth which transcends our material frame of reference. Although the Torah “descends” and “enclothes itself” in our world, speaking of seemingly ordinary matters such as agricultural laws, codes for fair business practice, and the proper structure for marriage and family relations, this is not its essence. The essence of the Torah is “G‑d’s will and His wisdom,” united with Him in perfect unity.10

Since the Torah is fundamentally above our worldly framework, for it to enclothe itself in the world, it must pass through an intermediary connected to both the Torah’s spiritual core and to our mortal nature. Moshe our teacher possessed this attribute.

On one hand, Moshe represented the ultimate in bittul, selfless dedication to G‑d a commitment which transcends worldly thought. Simultaneously, he represented perfection in human intellect, emotion, and even physical strength and stature.11 As such, he was able to render the transcendent spiritual truth of the Torah in a form that mortals can comprehend.12

Two Contrasting Patterns

In particular, Chassidic thought describes two ways in which a go-between functions:13

a) derech ma’avir: the intermediary acts merely as a funnel. He does not change or modify the influence he receives; he merely transfers it. As such, even as the message is brought to a lower plane, it remains transcendent.

b) derech hislabshus: the intermediary puts the concept into his own words. This changes the form of the concept’s presentation, and thus allows it to be grasped by the recipients.

And so it is with regard to the Torah: The first four books were transmitted though Moshe without any input on his part; he conveyed them to the Jewish people as he received them.14 With the Book of Deuteronomy, by contrast, G‑d’s word became part and parcel of Moshe’s own thought.

Based on this explanation, we can see why all authorities agree that it is possible to derive points of law from the order of subjects in the Book of Deuteronomy. With regard to the first four books of the Torah, the order is structured by Divine wisdom, according to a pattern beyond mortal thought.15 Since the interpretation of Torah law is “not in the heavens,”16 but rather given over to mortal intellect, there are opinions which maintain that the proximity of passages in those books cannot serve as a guide.

The Book of Deuteronomy, however, was filtered through the medium of Moshe’s intellect, and the order of its verses corresponds to that of mortal thought. Therefore, the proximity of subjects in this text can serve as a basis for the derivation of Torah law.

Internalized Knowledge

But why is the Book of Deuteronomy necessary? Enclothing the Torah in human intellect seemingly does nothing but lower its spiritual content. What purpose is served?

Nevertheless, this is G‑d’s intent in giving the Torah: that it permeate mortal thought and thus elevate man’s understanding. Whenever a person studies Torah, regardless of his spiritual level, he is making its infinite truth part of his personal nature.

Were there to have been only four books in the Torah, it would have been impossible for our powers of understanding to unite completely with the Torah. It was only by having the Book of Deuteronomy pass through Moshe’s intellect that this goal accomplished. Moreover, Moshe’s review of the Torah in he Book of Deuteronomy gives us the capacity to understand the previous four books in a similar fashion.

Elevating the Torah

Enclothing the Torah in mortal intellect does not merely grant man the opportunity for advancement, it also introduces a higher quality to the Torah itself, as it were. For clothing limitless spirituality in the confines of mortal intellect represents a fusion of opposites that is possible only through the influence of G‑d’s essence.17 Because His essence transcends both finiteness and infinity, it can weld the two together, bringing the spiritual truth of the Torah within the grasp of mortals.

On the Banks of the Jordan

Moshe recited the Book of Deuteronomy as the Jews stood on the banks on the Jordan, preparing to enter Eretz Yisrael. The crossing of the Jordan River was to be a spiritual as well as a geographic movement. During their journeys through the desert, the Jews depended on miraculous expressions of Divine favor: they ate manna, their water came from the Well of Miriam, and the Clouds of Glory preserved their garments. After entering Eretz Yisrael, however, the Jewish people were to live within the natural order, working the land and eating the fruits of their labor.

To make this transition possible, they required an approach to the Torah that would relate to man as he functions within his worldly environment. It was for this purpose that Moshe taught the Book of Deuteronomy.

Herein lies a connection to the present day, because we are also “on the banks of the Jordan” preparing to enter Eretz Yisrael together with Mashiach. It is through the approach emphasized by the Book of Deuteronomy fusing the word of G‑d with mortal wisdom18 that we will merit the age when “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d,”19 the Era of the Redemption.