Parashat Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1 to 3:22

For Shabbat, July 21, 2023

This Shabbat we begin the fifth book of Torah, and its name, Devarim, meaning ‘words,’ is also the title for the entire book (in Hebrew). The English title Deuteronomy, comes from the Latin, meaning ‘the second law, or teaching.’ So in rabbinic literature our book is sometimes referred to as the “mishneh torah,” the repetition of the Torah.

The three and half chapters of this ‘sedrah’ find Moses rehearsing the most recent events in Israel’s odyssey in the desert. The repetition of well-known events highlights God’s covenant love for the Jewish people, and these stories show our inadequate response to God’s redemptive power.

A classic midrash about verse one starts with the comment that the Torah scroll may be written in any language. How come? Because Torah heals every “lashon,” every ‘tongue.’ So for example, it’s permissible to write a Torah in Greek, because the Torah will repair all foreign languages. What is the proof for this? At the beginning of Moses’ career, Moses said, “I am not a man of words!” He admitted that he was tongue tied as a young leader. Now in Deuteronomy, after forty years of teaching in the desert, Moses has become loquacious.

Hence he begins the book with this: “these are the words that Moses spoke to the Israelites!” So you see that Torah heals all tongues, both anatomically and linguistically.

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