Commentary of Parashat Devarim

Last week we finished reading the book of Numbers and this Shabbat we are starting the reading of the book of Deuteronomy.

The name Deuteronomy is made up of two Greek words: Deuteron – means second (the following) and Nomos – means the Law. In other words this book in Greek is called “The Second Giving of the Law.”

In the end of the book of Numbers the children of Israel are encamped on the plain across from Jericho getting ready to cross the river into the land of promise. Moses is getting ready to obey God and climb up Mount Nebo – to see the Land and he never comes down from this mountain. Moses dies at the end of the book of Deuteronomy and no one knows his grave site.

The first chapters of the book of Deuteronomy present to us the content of the book. Moses is now ready to die and he is addressing the nation of Israel one last time:

“These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. 2 It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. 3 eIn the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them. . .” (Deut. 1:1-3)

The Hebrew name of the book is like the other books of the Torah – it is not a name it is just the first words with which the book starts: Devarim – “The Words.”

Now why is this book of Devarim called in Greek – Deuteronomy?

Because the content of this book is actually a second giving of the Torah (The Law of Moses). What does it mean “The Second giving of the Torah?”

If we look at the content of the book we find out that actually every commandment given by God in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, is changed. Not one commandment is the same, not even the 10 commandments are exactly the same as in Exodus chapter 20. Moses introduces several changes when he recounts the giving of the Torah in Mt. Sinai, and this is especially visible in the commandment to keep the Shabbat. The Jewish people noticed this a long time ago and that is why in the prayers for the Shabbat they synchronize the two and say, “To Keep and to remember in one command.” Because one says “Keep” the Sabbath Day and the other says “Remember the Sabbath Day.”

So, what does it mean that the commandments have changed and are different between the book of Deuteronomy and the other three books of the Torah? Well, here is a short list of what it means that Moses is giving of the Torah a second time with many amendments and updates, changes, and even editions. One example for an addition is the issue of the circumcision of the heart. It does not exist in the other books of the Torah, but it does exist twice in the book of Deuteronomy.

There are only three times that circumcision of the heart appears in the “Old Testament” and in the Torah it only appears in the book of Deuteronomy.

Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. – Deut. 10:16

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deut. 30:6

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds. – Jer. 4:4

Here are some of the important reason for Moses making these changes:

There is a major change of circumstance about to happen to the children of Israel. They are about to change from a group of nomads – wonderers in the wilderness of Sinai to city dwellers.
They had the tabernacle of God with them right in the center of the camp. God actually dwelled (the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night) with them for 38 years. They had daily guidance from God and their leaders, Moses and Aaron, spoke to God regularly and had divine solutions for all their problems, water, food, meat, equality of women . . . Now they will be spread on a much larger territory and Tabernacle of God will be stationary. They will have to go to the Tabernacle only three times per year.

They will be land owners for the first time ever. With the ownership of land there comes a major life-style change, farming the land, life stock that is stationed on private property and common grazing grounds. Defense issues with neighboring nations.

The type of government will change from Moses and Aaron and tribal leadership – to national leadership and later on even a King like the other nations around them have.

These sociological and political changes must be addressed by the laws and therefore the commandments of God must change and adapt to the circumstances.

We must remember that the Torah is deposited in our hands but it is God’s Torah and it is HIS instructions for us to live by. So, He can change things any time He wants to change things. In fact God has changed many of the laws many times. If you look at Jeremiah chapter 31, and I know that most Christians know that the term “New Testament” or “New Covenant” is taken from Jeremiah chapter 31:31, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . .” However, many people don’t know that just in the preceding verses God actually changes one of the important laws of the Torah and the same is recorded in Ezekiel chapter 18 and elaborated upon by the prophet.

“And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD. In those days they shall no longer say: “the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”” (Jeremiah 31:28-30)

It is not accidental that the prophet Jeremiah precedes the announcement of the giving of a “New Covenant” with this prediction of a change of the law of relationship between our sin and our offspring.

So, the book of Deuteronomy is actually the second giving of the Torah to the children of Israel. It has the laws for the kings that did not exist in the other books of the Torah because a KING was not relevant during the 40 years of wondering in the wilderness; God Himself was their King!

This article originally appeared as a part of the Jerusalem Prayer List by Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry, August 11, 2016, and reposted with permission.