Dedicated in loving Memory of HaRav Avraham Ben HaRav David
“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel…” [1:1]
The Medrash tells us that HaShem said, “see how dear is the language (lashon) of Torah, for it cures the tongue (lashon, meaning here the ability to speak).” How do we know this? Because it is written (Proverbs 15), “the tree of life heals the tongue;” and the “Tree of Life” is only Torah, as it says (Proverbs 3), “it is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it.”
The Medrash then says that “the language of Torah frees the tongue,” and discusses various proofs for this statement. Reish Lakish says, “why do we need to learn this from elsewhere? Let us learn it from here! Moshe, before he knew the Torah, said about himself (Ex. 4:10) ‘I am not a man of words’ [Rashi explains that Moshe stuttered]. Once he merited to know Torah, his tongue was cured, and he began to speak on his own. How do we know this? Because we read here, ‘these are the words that Moshe spoke!'”
The Sfas Emes explains that it is only logical that Torah should cure speech – for Torah gives life to all Creation, for “with the Torah, G-d created the world.” So Moshe himself had seen how the Torah gives life, and he was living proof of this every time he spoke. And what a lecture he gave! In one class, Moshe “reviewed” the Torah – the entire book of Devarim / Deuteronomy was said by Moshe during the last several weeks of his life, from Rosh Chodesh Shevat (the beginning of the month of Shevat) until his death on the seventh of Adar (with a debate in the Talmud as to whether he wrote the last eight verses). Moshe taught the generation that was to enter the land of Israel, ensuring that they would keep learning the Torah and doing Mitzvos.
The Ramban notes that Moshe did not teach the laws relating to the Cohanim and the Temple, because “the priests are zealous” to do the commandments properly. Rather, he reviewed the laws that applied to the entire nation, sometimes in order to further explain the commandments, and sometimes only to add warnings – the Ramban gives the example of idol worship, concerning which we find one rebuke after another in portions of the text. The Ramban is careful to point out that even those Mitzvos which are written here for the first time, had been said previously at Sinai or from the Tent of Meeting in the Tabernacle. Moshe’s primary intent in this book, Devarim, was to reinforce.
Yet even before discussing the commandments, Moshe begins by criticizing the people, reminding them of their various sins in the desert, and also reminding them how G-d had shown mercy at every turn. Why did he do this? To show Israel that they could not succeed?
Heaven forbid – quite the opposite. The Ramban explains that Moshe was telling them that just as they had seen mercy in the desert, so too would G-d always treat them with compassion and forgiveness. This too was reinforcement.
Moshe himself had seen how the Torah gave life. His very ability to speak came from Torah. And he wanted us all to know that the Torah is a Tree of Life for us as well – to strengthen us, and help us to face the world. It is our gift; let us claim what is ours!
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.