Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who Wrote Devarim?

A decade ago, Rabbi Ya'akov Charlop wrote an article discussing the authorship of the book of Devarim. Recently, while teaching tractate Megillah, I had reason to bring up his major points, that I realized afterwards was perhaps a bigger step than most attendees were ready to take at face value.

It is clear that Devarim is written in a different voice than the rest of the Five Books of Moses. Much of it is written in the first person, from Moshe's perspective, and God is spoken of in the third. This is in contrast to the rest of the Torah, in which Moshe is spoken of in third person. On the other hand, the Talmud treats the many commandments that appear exclusively in Devarim as completely Biblical commandments. The tension is clear. Who actually wrote the book of Devarim?

There is an argument in the Talmud as to the author of the book, which is carried through to the Rishonim.

In Sanhedrin (99a), the Talmud states clearly that the claim that there is even one sentence in the Five Books that were not written literally word for word by Moses from the mouth of God is heresy, and a fulfillment of the verse, 'כי דבר ה' בזה.' The Ramban (in his preface) and the Maimonides (Laws of Prayer, 13:6) agree to this view, and hold that the change in voice and motive in the book is a purely stylistic one, and does not represent a change in authorship.

On the other hand, the Talmud in Megillah (31b) states that the curses of Devarim are not as strict as the curses of Vayikra, and therefore, the curses of Devarim may be broken into different עליות, while those of Vayikra must be read without pause. The reason given is that the Vayikra curses are recorded by Moshe directly from the mouth of God, while the Devarim curses represent Moshe's own re-iteration of them. Rashi explains that "[in Vayikra] Moshe was made a messenger to say, 'thus said God,' for behold, they [the curses] are written in the language of [first person] , ex. ונתתי, while in Devarim, it states 'יככה ה,' Moshe spoke these on his own, [as if to say] if you break His commandments, He will repay you..."

The Ra'avan holds in accordance with this view, and cites the fact that the amora'im treated the verses in Devarim differently with regards to certain kinds of exegesis (most notably, סמוכים). Also, the אור החיים holds this way, and says that the first verse of the book serves to clarify that only this book was written by Moshe, but the rest of the Torah was dictated by God.

The Vilna Gaon (whose view I unknowingly expressed the week before at my shiur), explains that the first four books were literal transmissions from God to the Jewish people, with Moshe as the medium. None of his personality was present in the message. This is the אספקלריה המאירה, the perfectly translucent prophecy that was unique to Moshe. However, the book of Devarim was given to Moshe closer to the manner of the prophecies of other prophets. God would implant a vision, and it was up to the prophet to translate that into a message to the People. Thus, the message was colored by the individual prophet's persona. Thus, the book of Devarim was conceptually the word of God, but it was Moshe who wrote it.

According to this, we can understand why the commandments in Devarim are treated completely as commandments in any other book, while the actual writing and the textual scrutiny that the Sages applied may be different than the other books. The book of Devarim is a sort of bridge between the writings of God and the writings of the prophets.