While Jews believe that all 24 books that comprise the Hebrew Bible, known as the “Tanakh,” are the word of God, there is a distinction made when it comes to the first five books of Moses. Known in Hebrew as the “Chumash,” meaning ‘five,’ Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are on an even higher level, since God communicated each word directly to Moses. In contrast, the 19 books of the Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) were based on God’s prophetic word to His individual messengers, but written in their language. This underscores how Moses’ prophecy was unmatched, based on his particularly close relationship with the Almighty, as attested to in Scripture, “Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom God had known face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10). As such, the Book of Deuteronomy, or Devarim, marks the conclusion not only of the Torah part of the Tanakh, but the end of God’s direct word to Moses, and must therefore be mined carefully for its precious lessons.
Written in the last year of the life of Moses, Devarim is a summary of his final lessons to the Jewish people in the Wilderness before they enter the Land of Israel. Hundreds of commandments are repeated and 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 over and over again throughout Devarim, and that is the primacy of the Land of Israel. In one of the most beautiful and incisive descriptions, Moshe describes the Land of Israel unlike anyplace else on earth:
For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou didst sow thy seed, and didst water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water as the rain of heaven cometh down; a land which the LORD thy God careth for; the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)
The Land of 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 Devarim contribute to our own deeper love of God and the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Naphtali Weisz