By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Talmud in Megilah 31b, described the difference between the admonitions -
Tochacha in Vayikra and the Tochacha in Divarim as follows. "The first was
said by G-d Himself. The second was said by Moshe." This does not mean that
Moshe was speaking on his own rather than repeating the words of G-d exactly
as he had heard them. This does not mean that Moshe received the admonitions
in Divarim any differently than he received them in Vayikra.
The eighth Ani Maamin states," I believe with perfect faith that the entire
Torah that we now have is that which was given to Moshe (by G-d)."
The Rambam in the third Perek of the Laws of Teshuva states, " There are
three individuals who are in the category of "those who deny Torah." A) A
person who says that the Torah does not come from G-d, even if he only says
this with respect to one verse, or even one word. B) A person who claims that
Moshe wrote the Torah on his own. C) One who denies that the Oral Law was
also given to Moshe by G-d."
In Vayikra, G-d spoke the admonitions to Moshe while Moshe was in a conscious
state rather than a trance. So too in Divarim, the admonitions were presented
to Moshe in the same conscious state. Because Moshe was in a conscious state
rather than a "trance" G-d's prophecy / words did not require Moshe to
decipher and interpret G-d's intentions. The prophecy was spoken to Moshe
exactly as G-d fully intended Moshe to hear and repeat to the nation.
In Vayikra Moshe delivered the words of G-d to the people in the exact manner
that he had received them. In Divarim Moshe also delivered the words of G-d
to the nation in the exact manner that he had received them. However, the
difference between Moshe's delivery in Vayikra and his delivery in Divarim
was the timing.
The Maharal and the Vilna Gaon (See the ArtScroll introduction to Divarim)
extend the difference between the admonitions in Vayikra and Divarim to
explain the uniqueness of the entire Sefer Divarim in contrast to the other
In the first four books G-d spoke directly to Moshe and Moshe repeated G-d's
words to the Jews while he was still within the context of receiving G-d's
prophecy. "It was as if G-d was speaking to the Jewish nation through the
throat of Moshe." In the last book, G-d also spoke to Moshe; however, Moshe
repeated G-d's words to the nation some time after receiving the directive
from G-d. At the time of Moshe's delivery G-d's presence had already
withdrawn from Moshe and he was no longer within the context of receiving the
In this regard, Divarim was heard by the nation in the same manner that all
other subsequent prophecies were heard. The prophet would receive a vision.
After awakening from the trance, the Prophet would decipher G-d's message and
then sometime later deliver the "message" to the people.
Why was the last book of the Torah, G-d's final instructions o the Jews, said
in this manner?
As we have noted many times before, the focus of Sefer Divarim was preparing
the Bnai Yisroel for leaving the desert and entering the Promised Land. The
transition from G-d's overt miraculous mastery in the desert to His subtle
mastery as manifest within the workings of nature when they entered the Land
demanded preparation and instruction. The most important aspect of the
nation's successful transition into Eretz Yisroel was the relationship that
they would have with their Torah leadership. To the degree that the nation
would trust their Torah leadership as true spokesmen of G-d's intentions
would be the degree that they would succeed in their mission as G-d's holy
nation and kingdom of priests.
When G-d first appeared to Moshe at the Burning Bush Moshe argued against the
concept of intermediaries. Rather than appoint prophets as go-betweens
between G-d and the nation, G-d should talk directly to the people. Moshe
argued that any intermediary would dilute the power and veracity of G-d's
words. Avoid the intermediary and avoid the dilution!
Moshe was certainly not wrong. Whether a Korach who proclaimed, "The entire
assembly are holy and Hashem is among them! Why do you exalt yourselves over
the congregation of G-d?" (Bamidbar 17:3) Or, Aharon and Miriam who asked,
"Was it only to Moshe that G-d spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?
(Bamidbar 12:2) The presence of an intermediary in delivering the word of G-d
was a theological quagmire. The great and the small could easily stumble into
the confusion of its clutches and be sucked down into a spiritual abyss.
Nevertheless, G-d insisted on having intermediaries. G-d insisted on speaking
through prophets and teachers. It is interesting to note that Moshe is called
Moshe Rabbeinu - our teacher, rather than Moshe Hanavi - the prophet.
Although Moshe was the greatest of all the prophets who ever lived before and
after him, his identification is as the teacher who delivered the word of G-d.
Why did G-d insist on prophets and teachers rather than the more guaranteed
process of direct transmission without intermediaries?
The answer should be traced back to before the sin of Adam and Chava as well
as before the sin of the Golden Calf. At both of those junctures in history
the relationship between G-d and the world could have been established
without intermediaries. However, that did not happen. In essence, humanity
lost the right to be the recipients of G-d's direct instruction. Instead, G-d
instituted intermediaries in the form of teachers (parents) and prophets
(mothers - just joking). However, I believe that there is a practical reason
as well to G-d's institution of intermediaries.
Moshe delivered Sefer Divarim to the Bnai Yisroel a month and one week before
he would die. Within sight of the Promised Land, Moshe began his final
discourse to prepare his children for the future that he would not share with
them. Over the preceding 40 years in the desert, Moshe successfully weathered
challenge and rebellion. For 40 years Moshe attempted to regain the absolute
trust that had been granted him following Kriyas Yam Suf. "And they believed
in G-d and in His servant Moshe." In his final moments as their teacher,
Moshe understood that the entire future success of his ministry and the
destiny of his nation rested upon those words, "and in His servant Moshe."
Somehow, the importance of "the Teacher" had to be secured.
The rebellion of Korach, the incident with Baal Peor, and the final chapters
of Bamidbar have the common theme of a nation struggling to find their place
within G-d's world. Korach's rebellion was one man's ego clashing with G-d
and Moshe. It was easier for Korach to take aim at Moshe and Aharon than at
G-d. However, make no mistake, his rebellion was motivated by his desire to
do as he wanted rather than subjugating himself to the word of G-d. Years
later, Baal Peor was the Jewish nation's first encounter with the surrounding
nations. Knowing that Moshe would soon die they rationalized their own
prurient desires under the guise of socializing with the surrounding nations
for the sake of teaching them about G-d. However, instead of being honest
with themselves and exposing their logic to the scrutiny of Moshe Rabbeinu,
they brought disaster and death to themselves and their people. It occurred
at the end of the 40 years and it showed the nation how ill prepared they
were to engage their destiny on their own.
In the final days of his life Moshe knew that he had to emphasize the
critical importance of the teacher and the Mesorah in keeping the Torah and
applying its truths and values to all future decisions. Teachers were the
only method for guaranteeing the transmission of the Oral Torah because G-d
decided that Torah would have to be taught, in word and by example, not just
from a book. It assured that age and wisdom would be a constant in the
transmission of Torah.
Teachers and prophets are a system of checks and balances that can test the
true intent of individual and national decisions by exposing them to the
scrutiny of scholarship and wisdom. However, age and wisdom are meaningless
unless the elders and prophets are revered and trusted by those who follow
them. Therefore, the final words of G-d's Torah carry the eternal focus and
imprint of "Moshe the Teacher." True, the words were still the words of G-d.
True, their meaning was still the truth as taught to Moshe on Mount Sinai.
However, the final discourse to a nation in transition between a miraculous
past and an immortal future began with the words, "These are the words that
Moshe spoke to all of Israel." It is not our right to interpret the words of
G-d. It is our obligation to study and apply the words of Moshe our Teacher.
Laws of Erev Tisha B-Av & Tisha B'Av
This year, Erev Tisha B-Av is Wednesday, August 9th. Erev Tisha B'Av is no
different than the rest of the Nine Days except in regard to preparing for
the fast and the Seudas Hamafsekes (the dividing meal).
1. The accepted custom is to eat a large meal before Mincha in preparation
for the fast. It is different from Erev Yom Kippur when there is a mitzvah to
eat. On Erev Tisha B-Av there is no mitzvah to eat. In fact the Halacha
suggests that a person who is able to fast on Tisha B'Av without eating a lot
on Erev Tisha B'Av should do so.
2. After Mincha, before sunset, the Seudas Hamafsekes is eaten. This consists
of a piece of bread, a cold hard-boiled egg, with the bread dipped in ashes.
The meal is eaten while sitting on the floor, and three men should not sit
together so that they avoid the need for making a Zimun. If three men do sit
together they still do not make a Zimun. Regular shoes can be worn during
this symbolic meal.
3. After the Seudah Hamafsekes it is advisable to verbally say, "I do not
accept the fast upon myself until sunset".
4. Keep in mind that all the laws of Tisha B-Av take effect at sunset. Before
sunset all eating and drinking must stop and leather shoes must be removed.
5. Some Poskim forbid learning Torah after midday on Erev Tisha B'Av, except
those topics permitted to be learned on Tisha B-Av; however, many others
Tisha B'Av, like Yom Kippur, is a 24+ hour fast, with additional
The following are prohibited: Eating, drinking, wearing leather shoes
(referring to leather construction such as the soles or uppers, not leather
strips or ornamentation), washing any part of the body, marital relations,
and the use of moisturizing creams, lotions, or oils. Anti-perspirant and
medicinal ointments for rashes and irritations are allowed.
The prohibition against bodily washing is directed toward pleasure, not
necessity. However, on Tisha B'Av the Halachik criteria for necessity is
actual dirt. Therefore, washing one's face first thing in the morning is
categorized as pleasure, and is prohibited. Netilas Yadayim is performed by
washing the fingers till the knuckles. Women do not go to Mikvah on Tisha
B'Av night, and it is recommended that all preparations for going to the
Mikvah Thursday night, be done on Wednesday, Erev Tisha B'Av.
The distinction between Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av is in the reason for the
restrictions. On Yom Kippur, which is a serious but not a sad day, we project
an elevated sense of sanctity and purpose that renders physical pleasure and
sustenance irrelevant. On Tisha B'Av, which is both a serious and a mournful
day, we project a sense of loss and mourning that renders physical concern as
unimportant. Therefore, on Tisha B'Av we have the following additional
customs that reflect our status as mourners:
- Until 1:00 p.m., we sit on the floor or a low stool (not higher than 12").
- Like an Avel, we should not greet each other all of Tisha B'Av.
- It is forbidden to learn Torah all day except for those topics relating to
the laws of mourning or the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
- One should not go to work on Tisha B'Av; however, if you feel that you
must go to work, it is best do so after midday - 1:00 p.m. Tisha B'Av is not
to be used as a day to catch up on housework or repairs.
- Tallis and Tefillin are first worn at Mincha, and Tzitzit should be put on
in the morning without a Bracha.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.