On the other side of the Yarden, in the land of Moav, Moshe began
explaining this Torah, saying…..
What Did You Say?1
Be’er Mayim Chaim: The word leimor / “saying” been explained in different
ways. Some2 see it, especially in the familiar formulation “And
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying…” as an instruction. That is, whatever I have
told you, convey to the rest of the people. Others3 see leimor
as statement of fact, i.e. the listener then did in fact convey the words to
the nation. Still others4 explain leimor as a clear,
unambiguous communication, especially owing to Moshe’s unparalleled level of
prophecy. Another explanation5 sees leimor as indicating a
fuller communication, one that included all the detail and nuance that was
All these approaches share a common feature – none of them work in regard to
our pasuk! Moshe was not instructed here to say or do anything. And he was
doing the communicating, not receiving it.
We could make a number of suggestions concerning what the Torah wishes to
teach with this enigmatic word.
It might hint to the efficacy of pronouncing words of Torah, rather than
just thinking them. Moshe was preparing to review parts of the Torah with
the people before his death. All of that Torah was accessible and available
to him. Leimor might mean that Moshe took pains to express all the words of
Torah that he would go on to explain, because verbalizing Torah is important
in retaining it, and in achieving the full impact it is meant to have on our
Another possibility is that leimor underscores the importance of the
unembellished words of Torah according to the plain sense meaning of the
text. Chazal tell us that no verse can lose its plain sense meaning. This is
important not only as an approach to studying any Torah text, but because
the teaching of Chazal might seem to indicate the contrary. The
Zohar6 establishes that the Torah should be seen as a series of
Names of G-d, grouped in different combinations and permutations. The
implications are staggering. Once a person begins looking for hidden Names
of Hashem in any verse, the plain meaning can easily seem completely
unimportant, almost a let-down. The Torah therefore emphasizes that the
plain meaning should never be disparaged, but remains important.
That importance is not independent of all deeper layers of meaning. The
peshat and sod of a pasuk – or of one of our ancient prayers – do not occupy
parallel universes. They are organically connected. The peshat contains
allusions to the inner, deeper meanings of sod. Peshat serves as the
manifest garb of the hidden element within. The connection between them is
essential, not casual.
We should realize, however, that not only does the peshat relate to the sod,
but the sod must animate the peshat in our minds. When a person concentrates
only on peshat, he can cheapen and vitiate it.
For example, a person can (and should) focus on the plain meaning of all the
requests in our daily Shemonah Esrei prayer. When a person concentrates only
on that plain meaning, however, he can turn it into something completely
self-serving, rather than an avodah, a service of Hashem Himself. If all he
cares about in reciting his laundry list of requests is his own safety and
comfort, then prayer is not service of G-d, but an expedient to acquire what
he needs or wants. In essence, he serves himself, rather than Hashem.
Should his recitation of the peshat be animated by an appreciation of the
sod, his prayer changes into true avodas Hashem. He understands that his
words are effective in bringing Hashem’s Will to its practical application.
He realizes that the inner content of requests for health and prosperity
reflect Hashem’s desire, kivayachol, to shower the world with these
benefits. In His interaction with Man, however, He has stipulated that
Divine blessings only vest in this world after we trigger Divine beneficence
with our words of tefillah. We thus play an active role in providing these
benefits. We create the space for them with our davening; we thus become His
partners, and allow His Will to bear tangible fruit. Our davening ceases to
be self-centered, but devoted to the fulfillment of His Will.
It would seem to me that this thought is behind the penultimate phrase in
the majority of petitionary berachos: “Because You are a G-d Who is good and
does good;” “Because You are a G-d, King, a reliable healer.” By this we
mean that we do not ask Him for our food merely because we are hungry, and
for healing because we are concerned for those who are not well. We
emphasize that we know that He wishes to provide us with sustenance, that He
wishes to provide healing to those who need it. We pray because we
understand that we assist Him, in a manner of speaking, in transitioning His
Will in those areas into tangible blessing.
We can conclude with a third understanding of leimor. Chazal tell us that
part of the explanation of the Torah that Moshe embarked on was making it
available in seventy languages so that it would be accessible to all human
beings. Surely, however, not everyone is supposed to access the inner
content of the Torah. That is reserved for those who have lived their lives
according to the mitzvos of the Torah, and changed their inner selves though
them. Within that group, it is only a special few who are accorded the
privilege to probing deeper.
Our verse alludes to this. Hashem wanted an explanation of the Torah in its
broadest strokes to be available for all, unlike its more esoteric sense.
Leimor can be taken as instruction to Moshe and to us. We are to speak to
the rest of the world, offering them a basic understanding of the beauty of
Torah. The more profound, inner aspects of Torah, however, do not fall
under the leimor umbrella. They are reserved for special people from among
the Bnei Yisrael.
1. Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Devarim 1:5
2. Radak, Sefer HaShorashim; Rashi Sotah 27
3. Rashbam Shemos 1:22
4. Ramban Shemos 6:7
5. HaKesav v’ha-Kabbalah, Vayikra 1:1