Sefer Devarim and the sad story of Tisha b’Av


Talmud Bavli, Baba Batra 14b-15b, teaches that the Tanach was written by a community of writers. While the entire Torah is Torat Moshe, Sefer Devarim stands out most prominently as Moshe’s book.

The very first pasuk proclaims the personal nature of this final volume of the Torah. Instead of the oft-found phrase, “And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying,” we encounter: “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Hazeroth and Di Zahav.”

In other words, this sefer is both divrei Elokim emet and the heartfelt expression of Moshe’s unique love and concern for klal Yisrael. Chazal refer to Sefer Devarim as Mishneh Torah. Tosafot and the Ramban explain this term as “repetition of that which was already stated.”

In sum, according to the Netziv, our Sages coined the name Mishneh Torah to connote Sefer Devarim’s emphasis on meticulous Torah study. Consequently, mishneh, in this instance, means depth-level analysis and knowledge of the Torah, inclusive of its language, laws, and musar.

The Netziv cites a fascinating midrash that gives voice to the preeminent position of Sefer Devarim within Rabbinic thought: “Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: Sefer Mishneh Torah was the standard (signon) of Yehoshua. [We know this because] at the very moment the Holy One Blessed be He revealed himself to Yehoshua, He found him sitting [and learning] with the Mishneh Torah in his hands.”

Why was Yehoshua deeply engaged in studying Sefer Devarim rather than one of the other books of the Torah? After all, they, too, incorporate crucial halachot and ethics. The Netziv’s answer helps us understand the unique nature of Mishneh Torah: “We may learn [from this midrash] that this sefer, in particular, incorporates the entire gamut of moral and ethical principles [that are found throughout the Torah].”

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In a few days, we will commemorate the heartbreaking events that befell our people on Tisha b’Av. Based on the Netziv’s interpretation of Mishneh Torah, Sefer Devarim emerges as the most appropriate sefer of Chamisha Chumshei Torah to read and study on the Shabbat preceding this day.

Beyond question, Tisha b’Av teaches us the necessity to treat our fellow Jews with compassion and understanding — whoever and wherever they may be.

This lifelong quest is fraught with innumerable trials. As such, we are blessed that Torat Moshe in general, and Mishneh Torah in particular, provide the roadmap we need to guide us on this challenging journey. Like Yehoshua, may Hashem grant us the wisdom to implement its eternal message as our own. V’chane yihi ratzon.