Friday, June 22, 2012

Theme of Sefer D'varim

ויהי בארבעים שנה, בעשתי עשר חדש, בראש חודש שבט, הקהיל את העם ואמר להם: הגיע זמן מותי, ואם יש בכם מי ששמע הלכה ושכחה, יבוא וישאלני ואבאר אותה, וכל מי שנסתפקה עליו שאלה יבא ואפרשנה לו, כמו שנאמר " הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמורRepitition or Review
Rambam, based upon Chazal, says that before his death Moshe offered one last opportunity to remember Halachot that had been forgotten, and to ask questions that remained unresolved. Upon reflection, this offer of a "final review" is highly problematic.

First of all, the Torah's term used to characterize this final teaching " הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמור" is "biur" which refers to "explanation" rather than "review".

In addition, for Moshe to push the people to learn halachos they had neglected, would be a sharp departure from his lifelong educational method. Clearly it was known that the Jews were forgetting Halachot, yet Moshe, wisely, followed a developmental approach, giving the Jews room to grow in Talmud Torah at their own rate. Why would he change this educational strategy at the end of his life?

The efficacy of offering one last review is also highly questionable. Moshe must have covered all the halachot many, many times during the 40 years in the desert. As Chazal point out, Moshe offered to review forgotten Halachot, not to teach new ones. Why would one more cycle of study solve the problem of forgetting Halachot, when 40 years had failed to do so?

The questions rest upon the assumption that Sefer Dvarim offers another instance in the same curricular cycle that had been going on for so many years. From this point of view, doing one more cycle of a curriculum which for 40 years has faiLed to remove forgetfulness from the people is irrational, inconsistent and futile. Rather, Rambam's reading of "הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמור presupposes viewing Sefer D'varim as a fundamentally new framework of study.

Up until Sefer Dvarim, study had been in the context of Talmud Torah, which by nature is ordered around personal development. From its very beginning the courts were set up to deal, first and foremost, with Mishpat, resolving disputes over property, the quintessentially personal domain.

In contrast as the name of the Sefer- "Dvarim" - suggests, Moshe's final teaching articulated a complete formulation, a precise order of D'varim which would serve as a new framework of Mesorah for all generations. Moshe saw the time of his death as a unique opportunity to frame Torah in its Mesorah context. It is in the moments prior to death, when the leader's objectivity is most evident, that such a perspective is possible. The follower is naturally focused on the reality of continuity, in light of the leaders approaching demise. Mussar that a youthful follower would previously have angrily rejected as an intrusion into his personal affairs, will at the proper historic moment, be perceived in its civilizational, rather than personal context.

It is in this context, that the last teaching is properly understood. This review is meant as an integral part of the emergence of a systematically presented Mesorah in clear, precise "Dvarim". In this sense, the review is in fact a true "biur" of the Torah not as another instance of the Talmud Torah that had been done up till then.

1 comment:

moonlight1021 said...

Rabbi Sacks,

When you mention "The shift from personal Talmud Torah to Mesorah...", are you saying Torah can be learned in 2 ways: one for personal development and one in order to teach the generations to come (as tradition)? But were the children of Israel not aware they would have to teach their children and future generations Torah or was it just a different emphasis now in their learning approach because Moshe wouldn't have been around anymore?

Thank you.