Of Prophets and Teachers
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The Talmud in Megillah 31b, describes the difference between the admonitions -
Tochacha in the Book of Vayikra and the Tochacha in the Book of Devarim as
follows. "The first was said by G-d Himself. The second was said by Moshe."
This does not mean that in Devarim Moshe spoke his own thoughts rather than
repeating the words of G-d exactly as he had heard them.This does not mean
that Moshe received the admonitions from G-d in Devarim 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 Devarim, 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 Devarim 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 Devarim
was the timing.
The Maharal and the Vilna Gaon (See the ArtScroll introduction to Devarim)
extend the difference between the admonitions in Vayikra and Devarim to
explain the uniqueness of the entire Sefer Devarim 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, Devarim 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 to the Jews,
said in this manner?
As we have noted many times before, the focus of Sefer Devarim 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-between
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 Devarim to the Bnai Yisroela 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 (transmission of Torah
from generation to generation) 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
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
Laws of Erev Tisha B-Av & Tisha B'Av
This year, Erev Tisha B-Av is Shabbos, July 28. Mincha should be early enough
to give enough time to eat Shalosh Seudos before the beginning of the fast.
Eating and drinking must end at sundown, as well as all other restrictions
except the prohibition against wearing leather shoes. Leather shoes should be
removed after the beginning of Mariv. (Approx. 45 minutes after sundown)
Some Poskim forbid learning Torah after 1:00 PM (Chatzos) on Erev Tisha B'Av,
except for those topics permitted on Tisha B-Av. However, many others permit
Tisha B'Av, like Yom Kippur, is a 24+ hour fast, with additional
restrictions. 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 creams, lotions, or oils. Anti-perspirant
and medicinal ointments for rashes and irritations are allowed. Netilas
Yadayim is performed by washing fingers till the knuckles. Women do not go to
Mikvah on Tisha B'Av night.
On Tisha B'Av the following additional customs reflect our status as mourners
- Until mid-day (approx. 1:00 p.m.), we sit on the floor or a low stool (not
higher than 12").
- Like anAvel, we should not greet each other all of Tisha B'Av. 3. 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 must, it is best
do so after midday.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 © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.