It doesn’t seem possible but here we are already in the parsha of Devarim. It only seems a short time ago we were reading and studying parshat Bereshit, but here it is August (Av) with the 9th of Av, a fast day and one of the saddest days in our history, and the start of the last book of Torah. In just a month we will be entering Rosh HaShannah, followed by Sukkot and then Chanukah.
Devarim is the closing words of Moses to the people of Israel, whom he has led for forty years through the wilderness. It is a summary of all that came before since the Exodus out of Egypt all those years earlier. With the passing away of the majority of those original escapees from the land of their bondage Moses is compelled to reiterate to their offspring what has transpired over the last four decades.
The parsha opens with this introduction:
“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab; eleven days from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. It was in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, when Moses spoke to the Children of Israel, according to everything that HaShem commanded him to them…”
This introduction is quite specific as to when, where, why and to whom it was to be addressed. Why was this so? Moses, now an old man of 120 years was not only saying good bye to his people since he would not be leading them himself into the Land of their fathers and mothers, but he was also wanting to ensure that all that HaShem had taught him and all that Adonai had shared with him and them for the last four decades would be firmly fixed in their hearts and minds during a time that would await them in the future. He knew that although the Land was theirs, it would take much time and effort for them to realize the full extent of G-d’s promise. The commandments would be their guidepost, in whatever situation they would find themselves, those same commandments, the Torah, would be their instruction manual for living as the people of HaShem; it would be their conscience and their comfort. It is for that reason that our Sages of Blessed Memory have always considered Devarim to be the Mishnah Torah (the repetition, explanation and scrutinized review of the Torah) giving it a very special place in the daily life of every Jew for the last 3300 years.
While the original giving of the Torah by HaShem occurred within the first year after leaving Egypt nearly all those alive at the time of its presentation to the people directly from G-d to Moses to them were now dead and it is their offspring, the inheritors of the promise who were now able to see and hear the Torah from Moses in its entirety, preparing them for entrance into the Land of Promise under new leadership from Joshua and Caleb.
Therefore, with only one month of life left to Moses he gathered the people on the other side of the Jordan and related to them all in exquisite detail what the LORD had spoken from atop Mount Sinai all those years ago.
Sages, rabbis and scholars have pointed out that there are slight differences between Devarim and the first four books of Torah. There is a logical and reasonable explanation for this. According to the Oral Torah found in Megillah 31b the first four books of Torah (Genesis - Exodus - Leviticus - Numbers) came straight from the mouth of HaShem to Moses who passed it on word for word to the people, while Devarim (Deuteronomy) came from the mouth of Moses in much the same way the prophets related the message of HaShem to the audience meant to hear it.