“When Moses had put down in writing the words of this Teaching to the very end…” (Deuteronomy 31:24)
(“With the portion of Haazinu and the portion of Zot HaBracha”–Sforno.)
In the portion of Devarim we explained that there are verses which were written at later periods and by different authors, and in the portions of Ki Tavoand Nitzavim we wrote that the Torah does not mean to prophesize the future to come. Here we will clarify that the author of the Torah did not mean–it did not even occur to the author to claim–that this is the Torah text which Moses wrote. The nameless author relates that this is what happened to the Israelite people and Moses their leader during their sojourn in the desert.
See for yourself: After the portion of Mishpatim the Scripture says, in Exodus 24:7, “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people.” Ibn Ezra wrote on Exodus 24:4, “And Moses went and repeated to the people all the commandments of the Lord and all the rules; and this is the Book of the Covenant.” Similarly, Ibn Ezra wrote on 23:33, “They shall not stay in your land…Until here is the Book of the Covenant. That is, Moses wrote a special book called “the Book of the Covenant,” and that book written by our teacher Moses starts with the words “Thus say to the Children of Israel” (20:18) and ends with “They shall not stay in your land” (23:33); all this is according to what Ibn Ezra wrote on Exodus 24:3. It is clear that the Book of the Covenant written by Moses did not include the verse “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do'” (Exodus 24:4-7) for Moses himself was the one who read the Book of the Covenant and then the people said, “We will faithfully do.” It seems clear that the author speaks of what was written and then Moses read it to the Children of Israel (after the Giving of the Law), and the author writes what happened as one who looks on from a distant time and place.
Another example of the matter is in Exodus 17:14, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this in a scroll as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua; I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven!'” but following it are no words at all about Amalek. Ibn Ezra brings, in his commentary, two possibilities about the Scripture’s intent: “in a document”–this is, indeed, the Torah itself, but this section was said in the fortieth year (see something strange, that according to Ibn Ezra this verse was put where it did not belong, for the next verse, “And Moses built an altar” is a continuation of “And Joshua overpowered”) and Moses did write in Deuteronomy 25:17, “Remember that which Amalek did to you…” The second possibility is “or perhaps they had another book which was called ‘The Book of G-d’s Wars’ and we do not have it.” R’ Saadiah Gaon wrote in his Arabic commentary on the Torah: “In a scroll — pi kitab“, and Rav Kapach in his notes on R’ Saadiah’s commentary wrote: “None of these are but scrolls and not an actual book, for according to our rabbis at first Moses wrote the Torah scroll by scroll, and only at the end did he gather them together into a book.”
According to all the commentaries Moses wrote many different books or scrolls, such as the Book of the Covenant or the Book of G-d’s Wars. The author of the Torah we have brings the reasons for the writing of some of these books, such as the Divine commandment to Moses, “Write this in a scroll.” Moses himself did not write these words, but began his speech about Amalek as was appropriate: “Remember that which Amalek did to you.”
This is the case in our portion. The author tells that Moses, after he finished writing his book, commanded the Levites, “Take this book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your G-d.” It is clear that this commandment was not written in the same book which the Levites placed beside the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, for if this were the Torah itself, the rest of the Torah could not have been written in it, since it was in the Ark.
Another proof of the matter: The Scripture says in Deuteronomy 31:9, “Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests…And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths…you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.” And which “this Teaching” did Moses mean should be read every seven years? Chazal, in Tractate Sotah 41a: “What is the king’s reading?…He reads from the beginning of ‘These are the words’…and the blessings and curses, until the end of the whole section.” Maimonides, in the Laws of the Feast Sacrifice, says, “Until the end of the blessings and the curses, until ‘aside from the covenant which He made with them at Horev’ and there he ends,” that is, until verse 28:69.
So you see that the Torah which Moses instructed be read to the Children of Israel, which he called “this Teaching,” is from the beginning of Deuteronomy to the end of chapter 28. It is clear that the book which Moses wrote and gave to the priests did not include the verse, “And Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests.”
See something interesting: Maimonides counts the positive commandments in his “Sefer HaMitzvot,” and Commandment 18 is: “He commanded that each person should have his own Torah scroll.” Where did he learn this obligation to write for each person a Torah scroll? The Gemara in Tractate Sanhedrin 21b: “Even though his fathers left him a Torah scroll, it is a commandment to write his own, as is said, ‘And now write for yourself the song’.” This is odd, for the command is only about the portion of Haazinu, which is the ‘song’ (and we should say as a side-note that the Scripture says about the song of Haazinu “When the many evils and troubles befall them–then this song shall confront them as a witness.” But despite the Torah’s explicit words, we have not seen nor heard religious people referring to this song in time of trouble. When troubles come, what do they do? They leave aside the words of G-d and turn to the Psalms of King David, songs written by a man) so how did they learn from here that there is a commandment to write the whole Torah?
Maimonides explains how Chazal learned from the verse that there is an obligation to write the whole Torah: “It is not permitted to write the Torah section by section, for He really intended, in saying ‘the song,’ to the whole Torah, including this song.” Thus Maimonides relates to the author of the Torah as though He cannot say his words plainly. Could He not simply have said, “Write for yourselves the Torah, from ‘In the beginning’ to “before all of Israel'”?
Another thing: Look at chapters 17 and 18. “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him.” Here, too, Chazal say that the intent is to the whole Torah, as it is written in Sanhedrin 21b, “Two scrolls (does the king have written). One goes out with him and comes in with him, and one rests in his treasury.” But how is it possible that in the scroll which the king has written are the words “and let him read it all his life”? Similarly, we have always wondered that we write in a mezuzah theShema, in which it is written, “and write them on the door posts of your house and at your gates,” while any reasonable person understands that the commandment “and write them” refers to words or commandments which were said previously, as Ibn Ezra said on Deuteronomy 6:6, “‘And these things’–the deniers say this means the Ten Commandments, and about them is said, ‘write them on the door posts of your home,’ but the truth is it refers to all the commandments.” According to Ibn Ezra we must write all 613 commandments on the door posts of our homes.
Thus we showed and proved that the books Moses wrote were the Book of the Covenant, The Book of G-d’s Wars, the song of Haazinu, and the words which a king is commanded to write, but the Torah as a whole is the work of another author who tells the stories as one who looks on from the side.
We speak of the commandment of writing a Torah scroll, and we again see how the Torah’s commandments change from generation to generation according to the issues and realities of that generation. The Rosh, in the Laws of a Torah Scroll, section one, writes, “And I say it is a great commandment to write a Torah scroll…in earlier generations they would write a Torah scroll and learn from it, but now that they write a Torah scroll and leave it in the synagogue to read from it in public, it is a positive commandment for each person who can afford it to write out the Pentateuch, the Mishna, the Gemara, and the commentaries so that he and his sons may study them, for the commandment of writing a Torah scroll is to learn from it, as is written, ‘And teach the Children of Israel to have it in their mouths,’ and based upon the Gemara and the commentaries he will know the meaning of the commandments and the laws clearly; therefore they are the books which a man is commanded to write.”
We have already written many times that the Torah is like a broken shard, and therefore the Rosh is correct in saying there is no reason to write a Torah scroll and study it–to the extent that the Taz wondered in Yoreh Deah 270, section 4: “How can a positive commandment of ‘and now write for yourselves’ be nullified by changing generations?” And the author of “Pitchei Teshuva” wrote in section 10: “There are three parts to the commandment of writing a Torah scroll. In the time of the Tannaim, who were expert in defective and plene spelling, there was a commandment from the Torah that each person should have a Torah scroll he wrote for himself. In the time of the Amoraim, who were not expert in defective and plene spelling (see what we wrote in pamphlet 9) but who did learn from the Torah scroll, there was no commandment from the Torah, but there was a commandment of the Rabbis, for were it not so, the Torah would have been forgotten by the Jews…And nowadays there is no commandment, even of the Rabbis.” This is a testimony to how the commandments change according to the generation and the issue at hand, and even in a simple and clear commandment from the Torah the times change, and the gist of the commandment changes, and there are even those who outright nullify it!
The Chatam Sofer, too, in his collection of responsa, section 55, explained why we no longer make a blessing on the writing of a Torah scroll. “We are not expert in the verses and defective and plene spellings because of discrepancies in the tradition. In Tractate Niddah 33a he word hanose [“and he who carries”] is written defective, without the vav (and see the Tosfot, first reference) while in our Torah scrolls it is, according to tradition, written plene. So, according to the Talmud, our scroll is invalid.”
From this you lean a great thing, that not only the Tannaim or Amoraim can invalidate a commandment if the reason behind it has changed (as Hillel did in enacting the prozbol), but even the Rishonim can invalidate commandments. As we have already said in the portion of Shoftim, Jepthe in his generation was as Samuel in his. Only in recent generations has paralysis struck the Halachic arbiters, and even if they see that the times and reasons have changed, they continue to plow the furrow set by the previous generations. About these it is literally said that “If the previous generations were as people, we are as donkeys,” for a person leads and the donkey is led.
Words of True Knowledge