Among the most gifted commentators on the Chumash in Israel today is Rabbi Francis Nataf, a longtime associate of the noted Jewish theologian and thinker, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo of Jerusalem. Recently Rabbi Nataf finished his long-awaited commentary on Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy, which will be the focus of this week’s essay.
“Redeeming Relevance: In the Book of Deuteronomy — Explorations in Text and Meaning” (Urim Publishers, 2016) details some of the little-known themes in Devorim. The following teachings by Rabbi Nataf will hopefully motivate you to obtain and read the full text for a better understanding of what motivated Moshe in his last days of leadership of our people.
“Most readers are aware that the book of Devarim is significantly different from the other books of the Torah,” writes Rabbi Nataf in an introduction entitled “Moshe’s Torah.”
“For instance, words and expressions that don’t appear anywhere else in the Torah suddenly appear here. This is especially pronounced when we encounter a new word or phrase that describes the very same object or concept referred to by different terms on other books.”
Further on, the author is more specific:
“Moreover, entire stories and commandments from the four previous books are now given completely different treatments. Moshe’s new rendition of the incident of the spies that we already know from the book of Bemidbar is the most famous. Many other stories, such as the appointment of administrative judges, and to a lesser extent the actual giving of the Torah, are recounted from a new vantage point as well.
“Yet the most significant change is that Moshe generally now speaks in the first person, often telling us that “God told me…” as opposed to the more common narrative wherein we are told “God spoke to Moshe…” The most obvious reason for this is that the majority of the book of Devarim records a series of Moshe’s speeches given to the Israelites at the end of his life, a time which, significantly, coincides with the end of their journey.”