While Jews believe that all twenty-four books comprising the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, are the word of Hashem, there is a distinction between the first five, the books of Moshe, and the others. Known in Hebrew as Chumash (חומש), meaning ‘five’, Sefer Bereishit, Sefer Shemot, Sefer Vayikra, Sefer Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim are on a higher level of holiness than the rest of the Bible, since Hashem communicated each word of these books directly to Moshe. In contrast, the nineteen books of the Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) are based on God’s prophetic communications to His individual messengers, but are written in their own language. This underscores the idea that Moshe’s prophecy was unparalleled, based on his particularly close relationship with the Almighty, as the Bible states explicitly, “Never again did there arise in Yisrael a prophet like Moshe – whom Hashem singled out, face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). As such, the Book of Devarim, or Sefer Devarim, marks the conclusion the Torah portion of the Tanakh, and with it the end of God’s direct word to Moshe. It must therefore be mined carefully for its precious lessons.
Written in the last weeks of Moshe’s life, Sefer Devarim is a summary of his final lessons to the people in the wilderness, before they enter the Land of Israel. Hundreds of commandments are taught or reviewed, some with minor differences that teach important lessons. The quantity and diversity of the various commandments does not distract from one primary theme that is repeated multiple times throughout Sefer Devarim: The primacy of Eretz Yisrael. In one of the most beautiful and incisive descriptions, Moshe describes the Land of Israel as being unlike any other place on earth:
For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There, the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. It is a land which Hashem your God looks after, on which Hashem your God always keeps His eye, from year’s beginning to year’s end. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)
The Israel Bible elucidates the uniqueness of the land featured repeatedly in the Book of Devarim, a land where God’s presence is fully manifest, and where our relationship with Him is more profound and more complete. May our study of Sefer Devarim contribute to our own deeper love for Hashem and the Land of Israel.