parshat devarim, devarim 1
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on August 4th 2022. The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Mishneh Torah which means the Second Torah or the Repetition of the Torah. We use this as an opportunity to explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Deuteronomy in Greek and referred to as Mishneh Torah in Hebrew… both of which mean the Second Torah or the Replayed Torah. Join us as we explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time. So put on your headphones and set up your turntable as we spin… A Second Torah.
Well, welcome! I wasn’t prepared to celebrate Simchat Torah in the middle of the summer. But the truth is, at the end of last week’s podcast Rabbi, you reminded us that it was a Hazak Hazak moment, we had finished the book of Numbers. And really, if you take a few verses from Deuteronomy; Devarim that we’re gonna start reading today, and you put on the end of Moses’ career, you really have finished the whole Torah, it is a complete literary unit. And that is why so many people hear a different voice in the book of Deuteronomy. And why as I said in the intro, even the name that we refer to it literally means the second or repeated law in Greek. And we’ll see in a second to that it’s also called Mishneh Torah. Similar to Lechem Mishneh, which is the two pieces of bread or mana that they got before Shabbat, Mishneh is like shenayim, it’s repeat its turn it’s dual. So let’s just jump in to verse 1: 1 in Deuteronomy, which is where the other name of Deuteronomy comes from. And it says אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. So the Hebrew books, our names for them, are very similar to the names we give the parshiot. Pretty much, you just take the first word that comes up. And that’s why we have Bereshit and Vayikra. And so that’s really, without any significance or meaning, why the other name for the book that we’re starting today is Devarim. But it does already kind of tickle my fancy by saying, These are the words that Moses addressed on the other side of the Jordan, already, it’s changing the voice of the whole book that we’re going to hear, which is ultimately a bunch of sermons in the voice of Moses. I think that’s kind of fascinating. And I think it’s so important that we have that in mind as we read it because it really does…… And we’re going to take a few examples today in our own parsha about how the voice is different. But it is kind of radical. It’s a new start today. mazal Tov, Simchas Torah. Here we are. Fantastic, can’t wait to begin.
Geoffrey Stern 03:29
So, the word that מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה comes from is actually a few chapters ahead in 17: 18. And it talks about this ceremony where the king not only had to write the Torah, but he had to also read it. And it says in 17: 18, when he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this teaching written for him on a scroll by the priests. And it refers to מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה the second the re-learning. I mean, we know the word Mishnah. From our how we refer to the Oral Law of Yehuda HaNasi, which we’ll see in a second is also a repetition, is a repeat of the Torah. So, everything here has to do with how this is unique on the one hand, but how it’s also a reflection and a redux, so to speak, on what we heard at Sinai, and so even if you look at our portion, it says in Deuteronomy, 1: 6, our God spoke to us at Horeb saying, you have stayed long enough at this mountain. So, if you look at the Hebrew it says ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב all of a sudden it’s a different tense. You pointed out a number of podcasts earlier Rabbi how in every blessing, we change our tense. And here you have ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ. and it’s not a quote of a blessing or a quote of a verse. It’s actually Moses saying: and this is what God said to us. He’s talking to the people of Israel directly. And I must say, I was struck by the fact that he says a few times in this week’s parsha רַב־לָכֶ֥ם, you stayed at Sinai too much. And of course, we know רַב־לָכֶ֥ם that’s gonna be next year’s podcast, because I don’t know if he was rubbing in it or not. But let’s keep on track here. It says in Deuteronomy, and our portion 1: 22, in his recounting the history, the recent history, and it says, then all of you came to me and said, Let us send agents ahead to recontour the land for us, and bring back word on the route we shall follow, and the cities we shall come to, and I approved of the plan. And so I selected from among you, 12 participants. I mean, it’s almost as though God didn’t play a part in Numbers. 13: 1. it says God spoke to Moses saying, Send the agents to scout the land of Canaan. It’s almost as though we’re reading the notes on a video or the outtakes or the editors or the producers edition. Are you struck by that the way I am?
Adam Mintz 06:35
Yeah, I mean, So first of all, the Mishnah Torah, the book of Devarim is written in Moses, his voice, that’s really the point you made of ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ Moses is the one who’s speaking. That’s different than the rest of the Torah. The rest of the Torah is in the voice of the narrator, Vayomer Hashem el Moshe Laymor, right most of the Torah is a third party and God spoke to Moshe but in Devarim in Mishneh Torah it’s in Moses, his voice ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ, he’s telling the people our God spoke to us. It really makes it very personal. And actually, it’s not this week’s parisha next week’s Parsha, where we see V’etchana Hashem, that Moses begged God to let him enter the land. It’s really the last time that Moses begs God to enter the land. It’s clear from this first person, you know, dialogue of Moshe, that it’s really a tragedy that he’s not given the opportunity to enter the land. Yeah, the voice thing is absolutely fascinating. I think the other thing is if we look at the word Mishneh Torah in the in the rabbinic literature, this is not an interpretation. This is literally what it was called. So if you look at the Sifrei Devarim, when it deals with the requirement that I mentioned before of the King having to write a Sefer Torah it says this tells me only of the Mishnah Torah meaning the book of Devarim where do we derive that the mitzvah also applies to the rest of the Torah? So it was so common language common nature, that when it says Mishnah Torah it meant that book of Devarim, that now the rabbis are asking, how do we know the king has to write a complete Sefer Torah and so it learns it from a another source. But then it says So why was it written Mishneh Torah if in fact, you have to write the whole Torah. And then it says, because in the days of Ezra, they are destined to change the script. So now we’re starting to get a little bit of a sense, and you know, me, Rabbi, I always try to combine what contemporary critical scientific thinkers say about our Torah and rabbis. And we’ll see very soon that there are many modern-day scholars who believe that the whole book of Devarim was written in the time of Ezra, and it’s made for the people returning to the land. But here we have in the Talmud itself, this sense that the book of Devarim, all of a sudden, was written in בכתב אשורית in this different script. And so you definitely get a sense that even the rabbi’s understood that not only was there something different here, but the language, the language was different. And let me just quote a little bit more from the Talmud in Sanhedrin that says that he had to write the second Mishneh Torah it says because the script is apt to be changed. וכתב את משנה התורה הזאת כתב הראוי להשתנות למה נקרא אשורית and of course להשתנות is very similar to Ma Nishtana, how will it be changed? So why is this script called Ashurite? Because it ascended with the Jewish people from Assur when they returned from their exile in Babylonia. So the rabbis are in no shape or form agreeing the biblical critics who said that this thing was written at a later date in the exile coming back from the exile. But what they are saying is, at least it was written or rewritten in a script that came from the exile. And maybe because it was talking specifically to the people coming back from the exile, you know, some of the ideas in Devarim that are different is it really focuses on getting rid of the idles on monotheism, it focuses on returning to the ways. So I just see a confluence here that we really don’t have to disagree, we can all look at it, specifically from a traditional or a scientific perspective, but come up with the same conclusion. That’s great. I love that, you know, because it’s so difficult to know what that means that it’s written in a different hand and a different formation of the letters. What does that mean? But of course, what it means is that it was written for a different group, it was written for the people who were returning to the land and exactly what you said, you know, the idea of anti-idolatry. While it does appear, it appears in the 10 commandments. It’s not a theme of the first four books of the Torah. And all of a sudden, in the book of Devarim, they are literally obsessed with idolatry. And clearly what they’re worried about is they’re worried about this, these people who are idle worshipers, right? That’s what it’s about.
Geoffrey Stern 11:56
Yep, absolutely. And now I’m going to quote from Ramban, Nachmanides in his introduction to the book of Devarim. And again, he is recognizing the difference. He says, this book is known to constitute a review of the Torah, in which Moses our teacher explains to the generation entering the land, most of the commandments of the Torah, that pertain to Israelites as opposed to priests, he does not mention anything relative to the law of the priests, neither about the performance of the offerings, nor the ritual purity of the priests and their functions, having already explained those matters to them. He goes on to say, Thus, there are in this book many admonitions regarding idolatry, that follow one after another, as well as chastisements, and a sound of terror, casting upon them the fear of all the punishments for the transgressions. Additionally, he proclaims commandments, which have not been previously mentioned at all. So here, it’s kind of fascinating. He’s making a major move now, on the one hand, he’s saying that, in agreement with what we were talking about, that this is for people returning to the land are coming to the land for the first time. And it really is focused not on all of this cultic stuff, but on getting rid of idolatry. But now he makes a fascinating move. And he says, There are new commandments here. And he says, Now all these laws had in fact been declared to Moses, either on Sinai, or in the tent of meeting. He is talking about the book of Devarim is the first inkling, the first insight we have to an Oral law, because we are now hearing about things in the book of Devarim that we didn’t hear before. But Ramban is claiming they were said before, this was a total revelation to me as I prepared this week.
Adam Mintz 13:56
That’s a great thing. I mean, you know, that’s kind you know, the tension about how exactly the Torah was given, you know, up to now, the Torah has basically been a chronological history of the Jewish people, every once in a while, you have some Rashi, saying, you know, this story is out of order. But more or less, it’s a chronological history of the Jews. And all of a sudden, now you have this reflection of Moshe, it’s not exactly clear when this reflection happens, and how it kind of plays itself out. For instance, in this week’s Parsha, you have a retelling of the story of the spies. It’s the same story, but you know, when Moses tells it, it’s a slightly different story than when the Torah originally told him. When the Torah originally told it. It seems like Moses sent the spies but when, but when we’ve retold it this week, it sounds more like the people sent the spies you know, Moses changes it a little bit to kind of take some of the blame away from himself. It really plays Moses as a very human character, which is fantastic.
Geoffrey Stern 15:08
You know, I’m gonna, kind of continuing what you’re saying and combine it with what I just heard the Ramban say. The Rambam said that there are new laws here that not were not invented here they were given before in the tent of meeting, and they oral until they were written down into the rim. But what you were saying was something fascinating because what you’re saying is that Midrash was also put into divine because isn’t it? Midrash? When you describe the same event slightly differently? I mean, isn’t that what our Aggadata is all about? Isn’t that what all the lore and legend of Judaism is all about? It’s about taking the original story of the spies. And then we packaging it. We citing it. And I think if that’s what you were saying, I’m with you, 100%. It’s really amazing.
Adam Mintz 16:03
That’s exactly what I’m saying. It is it’s a restaging of some of the stories in next week’s parsha, you have the 10 commandments, even the 10 commandments, can you believe it? The 10 commandments are not exactly the same. For instance, the commandment about Shabbat when it first appeared in the book of Exodus, it said Zachor et Yom haShabbat, you should, you should remember the day of Shabbat, and in next week, parachuters Shamor, you should guard and they say zachor means the positive ways of observing Shabbat and making kiddush and eating food and all those things. And next week, we have the negative commandments of Shabbat, which is so interesting. I just want to make a point, which is not related to this, but I said, I marked down and I was gonna say it, you know, this week, I think it’s important to mention something. And that is that this week, Shabbat goes into Tisha B’Ab the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, the day in which we commemorate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And what’s interesting is and it relates to our Torah reading as well. What’s interesting is that actually, the ninth of Ab on the calendar is is Saturday. It’s Saturday, it’s not Sunday, but we don’t observe Tisha B’Ab on Shabbat, we push it off to Sunday, Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat, the idea that you eat and you enjoy that beats out the mourning of Tisha B’Ab. And that’s a great our religion believes that celebration beats out morning. And I think that’s a very powerful kind of idea. The only fast day that actually can be observed on Shabbat is Yom Kippur. You can fast on Yom Kippur on Shabbat. That’s different because Yom Kippur is not considered to be a sad day. It’s a serious day. But it’s not a sad day. But Tisha B’Ab is a sad day. We don’t have sad days on Shabbat. That’s why I know Orna just finished Shiva. But if the Shiva were to were to conflict with a holiday, then actually the Shiva is canceled on behalf of the holiday, because celebration always beats morning in Judaism. So I think that’s a nice lesson, especially for this Shabbat this week.
Geoffrey Stern 18:31
I think it’s an amazing lesson. And it’s a wonderful segue into what I want to talk about now in terms of picking up on where Ramban left off. I’ve already alluded to the fact that Mishnah Torah has in it the word Mishnah, which is the Oral law, written down by Rob Yehuda HaNasi, after the destruction of the temple, after Yohanan, ben Zakkai, decided that it was more important to give the Jews a future with a Yavneh and it’s wise men. And so in a sense, there’s a total connection between what we’re talking about today, whether it’s in the book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, or later in the mission of made by Yehuda HaNasi. To the fact that life takes precedence and where that life is, is in the living dynamic traditions that we have that are constantly being renewed, replayed, and reflected. So I think that the the person who took the word Mishnah Torah and made it the most famous was a medieval scholar named Maimonides and Maimonides did something very radical. He took all the laws of the Talmud, and instead of requiring that every Jew be learned and enough to go through all of the spins and tails and curves of the Talmud, he codified it. And he made it into an indexed …. a phonebook of Jewish law, if you will. And that was considered very radical. And he called it Mishnah Torah. And he wrote an introduction to the Mishnah Torah, that basically gives the history of Torah being renewed. And so in the introduction, he says, All the word that I commanded you ye shall observe to do is written in Deuteronomy 13: 1 and he says, this is the source of the oral law that we know in the Torah, because it relates to this word, that there was an oral tradition. And he said that Joshua likewise continued throughout his lifetime to study it orally. So we have this book of Devarim, which according to the Ramban is already the beginning of writing down in oral tradition, but certainly preserving it. And then he goes to Rabbi Yohanan, son of Zakkai, had these five disciples, and He passed it on to them, and then Rabbi Gamaliel, the elder, and then it finally gets to our holy master, Yehuda, HaNasi, Judah, the prince, who compiled the Mishnah. And it says, Our Holy Master compiled the Mishna. From the days of Moses our Master till our Holy Master (Judah the Prince) no text book of the Oral Torah for public instruction had been issued, the practice theretofore being for the president of a tribunal or a prophet who flourished in a given generation to keep privately written memoranda of his Masters’ oral teachings, out of which he, in turn, instructed the public. So Maimonides goes into detail how actually, there was not only this tradition, but a very strong tradition to the extent of almost being a prohibition against writing all of these things down. And then he explains that Yehuda HaNasi realized that the people were being dispersed, the temple had been destroyed. so that the Oral Torah be not forgotten from the midst of Israel. But why did our Holy Master thus, and did not leave the matter as it was heretofore? Because he observed that the number of students continued to decrease, whereas the volume of oppression continued to increase with renewed strength; that the Roman Empire continued to spread out its boundaries in the world and conquer, whereas Israel continued to drift aimlessly and follow extremes, he, therefore, compiled one book, a handy volume for all, so that they may study it even in haste and not forget it. And his whole lifetime, he sat together with the members of his tribunal and gave public instruction in the Mishna. So really, if you want to talk about the connection between this week’s Parsha and, Tisha B’Ab, it’s all here. It’s the dialectic between preserving, rewriting and renewing our tradition, and the oppression that was so representative by the Romans. So he goes into very great detail about what Rav Yehuda HaaNasi did. But of course, the punch line, because this is the introduction to his revolutionary book. He says, Therefore, I Moses son of Maimon of Spain, girded up my loins and supporting myself upon the rock, bless it be he made a comprehensive study of all of these books. And he goes on to explain what he’s going to be doing in his book, because he knew it was controversial. And I think it’s a wonderful history of how the oral tradition and the renewal of the written tradition have been renewed in order to let us survive.
Adam Mintz 23:59
So that’s beautiful. The Rambam says in his Mishnah Torah, that basically you a Jewish library, only needs two books. It needs a Torah, and it needs a Mishneh Torah. So, he actually saw his mission, a Torah, his Encyclopedia of Judaism, as a Mishneh Torah, the way the book of Devarim is a Mishneh Torah, which is kind of a summary of the Torah, so it’s not just that he’s borrowing the phrase, he’s actually using it in exactly the same way, which is an amazing thing. And he was criticized, because he was they thought that he was too arrogant actually. They said, Who are you to say that you don’t need any other books except for the Torah and your Mishneh Torah? What about the whole tradition of books? What about the whole tradition of scholarship? Why don’t you need that and Maimonides basically thought that the average person that he would distill all the law for the average person. And the average person did not need any other books. It’s an amazing idea.
Geoffrey Stern 25:08
I mean, I love the fact that you, you reference how controversial it was, but also the hubris involved or as we Jews say in Latin, the chutzpah of it all. I mean, if you look at his language, he writes the whole scope of pure language and concise style. the Oral Torah be entirely methodical in the mouth of everybody, without query and without repartee, without the contentious thus of one and such of another, but clear text, cohesive, correct, in harmony with the law which is defined out of all these existing compilations and commentaries from the days of our Holy Master till now; … so that all laws be open to young and old, whether they be laws concerning each and every commandment. He is basically saying, he sounds almost like someone standing up and saying, I have a new gadget, it’s going to replace everything in the house. It can do anything you want. And he writes it in this manner after this long introduction. But he introduces this concept of, you need to have a little bit of chutzpah to do this. And we all know, in his mind anyway, that Yehudah HaNasi needed Chutzpa to do it. He needed to stand up against people who were saying he was giving up on Jerusalem, he was giving up on the temple. It’s fascinating especially when we look at people in our history, who stand up and go against the current and how they are criticized. Here are individuals and books that were written because of them that were radical in their day, and ultimately played a role because I don’t think that Maimonides at the end of the day was correct. The last thing we would want would be to throw away the Talmud and all of that’s involved in it and just look at his homogenized processed product. But nonetheless, he founded Jewish law in a way that the people own the law and that the Shulchan Orach could be written and that people could find out what was the right path to take for decentralized Judaism.
Adam Mintz 27:24
Yeah, so what you just said is very interesting. The Rambam was wrong. That’s absolutely right. The Rambam was wrong. We couldn’t have managed with just the Torah, and the Mishneh Torah, and Maimonides’ encyclopedia. It’s interesting what he thought, right? I mean, what do you mean, the Rambam is wrong. He was pretty smart. He’s probably was as smart as we are. So why was he wrong? I think he was wrong, because he underestimated the Jewish mind. And the commitment of the people. He kind of shortchanged everybody, he said, you know what, they’re not going to really study the Talmud. They’re not going to really study the other commentaries. Let me write a book that’s easily understandable, that’s accessible. We have the phrase today we use user-friendly, right? Well, let me give them a book that’s user-friendly. And basically, we don’t need user-friendly all the time, we can work hard, right, the way you put together your Sefaria Sheets, you know, people have been putting together Sefaria sheets for generations. Now, they didn’t have Sefaria. It wasn’t as easy in the old days. But the same idea of going to the different sources and seeing the variety of opinion, is really the richness of the tradition. But in a way, that’s a sophistication, right? to be able to understand the richness of tradition based on different traditions is actually kind of sophisticated. And Rambam says, you know, I’m not sure that everybody is so sophisticated. It’s an interesting discussion. It’s an interesting debate. So you say the Rambam was wrong, but he wasn’t just that he was wrong. He had a very specific view, which turned out not to be correct, because, we’re better than the Rambam thought.
Geoffrey Stern 29:05
Well, and, you know, maybe it’s as trivial as he didn’t have a vision of the printing press. You know?
Adam Mintz 29:12
How could he possibly, right?
Geoffrey Stern 29:13
So when I say he’s wrong, I don’t think he’s wrong in writing the Mishneh Torah, the Mishneh Torah is a brilliant work. We both agree upon that. But I think you’re right, we can disagree about whether his prognosis for the Jewish people who ultimately has its own genius inside of it was shortchanged. You know, I’d like to end because as you say, we are right in front of Tisha B’Ab and the destruction that that involves is, you know, to say that really in Kings, there is a story about a scroll that is found by in the times of King Josiah and many people, including the rabbinic authorities believe that they found the scroll of the Mishnah Torah amongst the rubble. And I have that vision here. I also have the vision of Yohanan, ben Zakkai, who had to be smuggled out of Jerusalem because there was zealots surrounding it. And they didn’t want anybody to compromise their vision of martyrdom. And he put himself in a coffin so that he could be smuggled out and create Yavneh V’Chachamecha; Yavneh and it’s wise men, and I look at these two visions of finding a scroll the destructed part of the temple, the desecrated part of the temple, and of this coffin going out, and both of them have to do with rewriting the book in a new way in a new day. And I think that ultimately is the positive vision that we need to take away from Tisha B’Ab that brings us into the Nachamu and the 15th of Ab that we spoke of last week.
Adam Mintz 31:07
Right and we definitely will. So, we look forward next week, I will be in Be’er Sheva, I’m officiating at a wedding so we will do a lunch and learn at noon next Thursday. So, look forward to seeing everybody new next Thursday. Want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the Devarim. I think we showed some of the richness of the text and of the discussion of the whole topic of Mishneh Torah. Have an easy fast, everybody and we look forward on the other side to a time of Nachamu and of good things. Shabbat shalom, everybody be well. Shabbat Shalom Rabbi have a nesia tova, a good trip to the holy city of Be’er Sheva and to everyone else. Let’s all enjoy this new book, seen through a new lens. Shabbat Shalom.
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