Parshat Devarim

For part of our study of Devarim, we will be using the commentary Moses: A Human Life, by Avivah Zornberg.

Devarim 1:1- (Robert Alter, trans.)

These are the words that Moses spoke to all the Israelites across the Jordan.  … Across the Jordan in the land of Moab did Moses undertake to expound his teaching, saying … ‘I cannot carry you by myself … O, how [eicha] can I carry by myself your trouble and your burden and your disputing?

Robert Alter

the words: The prevalent Hebrew title for Deuteronomy, following the convention of using the first significant word in the text as title, is Devarim, “Words.” … an alternate ancient Hebrew name of the book, means “second law” or “repetition of the law” … But Devarim as a title has the advantage of highlighting the preeminently rhetorical character of this book, which is structured as a series of long speeches …

to expound this teaching: The verb be’er, “to expound” or “to explain,” provides a central rationale for the whole book. The teaching, Torah, that has already been enunciated is represented as requiring further exposition or explaining … Torah is still a verbal noun that means “teaching,” but the repeated stress of Deuteronomy on its textual character begins to push Torah in the direction of the meaning it would subsequently have, the name not only of this book but of all the Five Books of Moses. The act of expounding and explaining, moreover, announces the … theme — in all likelihood, drawing on Hebrew Wisdom traditions — that sets off this book from the preceding four.

Bava Batra (Avivah Zornberg, trans.)

Moses wrote the story of Balaam, the book of Job, and his book [Devarim].

Avivah Zornberg

In the end, he writes Deuteronomy, his own book. In the first person, he speaks his own unique being to and for his people. Though his relations with them remain fraught to the end, they are by now his people.

it is his own because a large part of it — the final speeches, including his memory of his interactions with his people — is forged in the creative fire of his own mind. Like all creation, Moses’ words surprise. Instead of repeating his past speeches, he gives new shape to a complex knowledge whose implications are for the first time revealed.