Sefer Devarim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu addressing the B’nei Yisroel
before his impending death. Moshe followed the lead of Yakov Avinu (See
Rashi, others) who rebuked his children for their misdeeds right before
his death. Moshe pointedly referred – often in coded language – to the
sins of the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar. (See Rashi, Devarim 1:3, quoting
the Sifri, for an explanation of why Yakov waited for the time of his
death to rebuke his sons.)
‘EXPLAINED WELL’ – IN MANY LANGUAGES
The Torah relates at the onset of Parshas Devorim (1:5) how Moshe began
explaining the Torah to the Jews in ‘Ever HaYardein’ – after defeating the
nation of Emori and Og, the King of Bashan. Rashi explains that the
word ‘b’air’ (to explain well) in this pasuk means that Moshe translated
the Torah to all seventy languages. Sifsei Chachamim explain that Rashi’s
thoughts on this pasuk are congruent with his comment later in Sefer
Devarim (27:8) relating to the incident when Moshe instructed the Bnei
Yisroel to inscribe the words of the Torah on stone tablets. There too,
the words ‘b’air heitev’ (explained well) are used. Rashi, quoting a
gemorah in Meseches Sotah (32a), comments that ‘explained well’ means that
Moshe instructed the Jews to elucidate the words of the Torah on these
stones in all languages.
I would like to suggest an additional reasoning for Rashi’s contention
that ‘explained well’ refers to translating the Torah to many languages.
It would be inconceivable to assume that Moshe did not explain the Torah
properly to the Jews during the forty-year sojourn in the Midbar. He
surely used every opportunity during that time period to teach the Jews
the eternal lessons of the Torah. Therefore, this reference to ‘explained
well’ must have a different meaning. Hence the commentary that ‘b’air’
means that he translated the Torah to many languages.
WHY AT THIS TIME?
The question arises, why would Moshe Rabbeinu pick this particular time to
translate the Torah into many languages?
The Peninim Yekarim draws on the very first Rashi in the Torah (Bereshis
1:1) to shed light on this question. Rashi comments that the Torah begins
with Bereshis – the narrative regarding the creation and history of the
world and not a simple listing of the mitzvos in order to pronounce that
the world was created by Hashem. It is therefore His to distribute among
the nations at His will. Thus, when the Jews will conquer and banish
the ‘seven nations’ upon entering Eretz Yisroel, we can stake our legal
claim to the land on the fact that Hashem gave it to us as our eternal
inheritance. It is therefore quite logical that Moshe would begin to
translate the Torah to all languages at the time that the nations of ‘Ever
HaYardein’ were defeated – in order to pronounce in all native tongues
that the stewardship of Eretz Yisroel is our birthright.
TWO ALTERNATE VIEWS
The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe translated the Torah as he was nearing
death, to prepare his children for all future generations. He wanted to
share with them that the eternal lessons of the Torah must be studied in
the language with which the people are most comfortable.
In a similar vein, the K’sav Sofer comments that Moshe was informing the
Bnei Yisroel of the perpetual nature of the Torah’s message. By
translating the Torah to all languages he was teaching them that these
mitzvos and lessons were not intended merely for the generation of the
Midbar, when the Jews were dwelling in close proximity to Hashem’s
Shechinah (Divine Presence) and exposed to a constant flow of miracles.
Moshe was preparing the Jews for the more challenging times when they
would be dispersed among the nations of the world.
Moshe Rabbeinu, ever the master rebbi and leader, used his final days to
deliver powerful and everlasting lessons. He lovingly and firmly rebuked
his children, informing them of the need to improve their lives. He
reminded them to elevate themselves and avoid the petty complaints that
caused them such heartache during their forty-year trip in the desert.
He also prepared all future generations by translating the Torah, and
informing us that its teachings are eternal and meaningful – regardless of
the language used to convey its everlasting lessons.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.