Insights Vol. 8 # 39
The fifth, final book of the Torah is clearly much different than the other four books, as Ramban (Nachmanides) points out in his introduction to the Torah. Throughout the Torah, Moshe speaks in the third person; even when mentioning his own birth and events, he does not use the first person: "I." However, the final book is largely expressed in first person: "I commanded the judges at that time..." (Chap.1 verse 16).
Devarim is the record of an oral discussion. Shortly before he passed away, Moshe repeated the Torah to the new generation. Thus, its content is entirely different. "These are the words which Moshe spoke to the children of Israel..." (Chap.1 verse 1) is the beginning, rather than "G-d spoke to Moshe saying..." (found throughout the first four books). These were Moshe's words. See the Ohr Hachayim.
The Malbim explains that Moshe chose the words to speak; G-d later commanded him to say the same words in the order which G-d chose, and then to write these words exactly -- again, in the order in which G-d chose. Thus, every word of the Torah is G-d's word, although Moshe originally said the last book on his own.
We know that Moshe was not allowed to enter the Land, because of the incident that occurred at Mei Merivah. Why could he not atone for the error?
In chapter 1, verse 37, Moshe indicates that G-d was angry at him because of the people. In next week's parsha, V'eschanan 3:23-26, Moshe relates that he prayed vigorously, but G-d refused to pardon him -- again, due to the people. Why could Moshe not be forgiven?
There are a variety of explanations regarding the actual error which Moshe made. Regardless of the explanation, the Torah insists that it entailed a "Chilul Hashem," (profaning G-d's name, see Bamidbar 20:12). The general rule is that atonement for Chilul Hashem can only be achieved with one's death. See tractate Yoma and the Laws of Yom Kippur.
Nonetheless, the Talmud in tractate Rosh Hashanah maintains that even the "Chilul Hashem" can be forgiven in one's lifetime. Torah study and acts of kindness are examples of special mitzvos which can obtain atonement even for extreme cases.
The Jerusalem Talmud includes tefilah -- prayer -- as a mitzva with the ability to procure atonement for Chilul Hashem. (The Asarah Ma'amoros claims that the prayer referred to is specifically the "tachanun" tefilah.) In this case, our question returns. Moshe prayed hundreds of special tefilos to be forgiven, as is related in the beginning of next week's parsha. (The "tachanun" prayer, too, is actually derived from Moshe's actions in parshas Korach.)
In Devarim 4:21, it is mentioned that G-d swore that Moshe would not enter the Land. A decree enjoined with an oath is not to be relinquished (Talmud). Why was G-d so angered so as to guarantee that Moshe could not be forgiven? Every "Chilul Hashem" is not accompanied by such an oath!
See the entire discussion there, in verses 21-23: "G-d was angry with me because of your words, and He swore that I not cross the Jordan... I am to die... be careful lest you forget the covenant with G-d... and make an image..." Rav Chavel quotes a commentary that Moshe could not be allowed into the Land under any circumstance -- for there was sufficient reason to believe that Moshe would become so honored that the people would worship him!
(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97