The End of the Torah by Yakir Forman


As the Torah approaches its end, it spends much time focusing on its own importance. The primary instance of this is Shirat Ha’azinu, which details the punishment that will befall Bnei Yisrael if they do not keep the Torah. Chazal, consistent with the implication of the Shirah's placement at the end of the Torah, connect the Shirah to the entire Torah when they derive the Mitzvah to write an entire Sefer Torah from the Pasuk, "VeAtah Kitvu Lachem Et HaShirah HaZot," "So now, write this song for yourselves" (Devarim 31:19). Since it details what will happen if the Torah is not kept, Shirat Ha’azinu is one expression of the Torah's immense importance.

Immediately afterward, however, Moshe focuses on a seemingly different expression of the Torah's importance. He tells Bnei Yisrael, "Ki Lo Davar Reik Hu Mikem Ki Hu Chayeichem UVaDavar HaZeh Ta’arichu Yamim Al HaAdamah Asher Atem Overim Et HaYardein Shamah LeRishtah," "For it (the Torah) is not an empty thing from you, for it is your life, and through this matter shall you prolong your days and the land to which you cross the Yardein, to take possession of it" (32:47). Even when considered alone, this Pasuk is vague; how could the Torah be considered "empty," and how is it considered "your life"? Furthermore, it is unclear what the word, "Mikem," "From you," adds to Moshe's meaning and how the preposition "from" fits into the Pasuk. Apart from but connected to these issues, there is a more general question: what is the relationship between this Pasuk and the other expression of the Torah's importance, Shirat Ha’azinu?

Furthermore, immediately after this Pasuk, Hashem tells Moshe to climb Har Nevo and see Eretz Yisrael, since his death is imminent. The Pesukim, however, seem to unnecessarily stress the fact that Moshe has been barred from entering Eretz Yisrael as punishment for his actions at Mei Merivah. The Torah first adds that Moshe will die "KaAsher Meit Aharon Achicha," "Just like Aharon, your brother, died" (32:50). This leads into the reason for the deaths of both brothers: "Al Asher Me'altem Bi...," "Because you trespassed against Me…" (32:51). Finally, Hashem reminds Moshe of what exactly his punishment is: "Ki MiNeged Tir’eh Et HaAretz VeShamah Lo Tavo El HaAretz Asher Ani Notein LiVnei Yisrael," "For from a distance shall you see the land, but you shall not enter there, into the land that I give to Bnei Yisrael" (32:52). The emphasis on punishment seems to connect this section to the earlier section of Shirat Ha’azinu, which focuses on the punishment for not keeping the Torah. Why are the two sections of punishment separated by the Pasuk of "Ki Lo Davar Reik..."? What is the connection, if any, between the Pasuk of "Ki Lo Davar Reik..." and the section describing Moshe's punishment?

In his first explanation of the Pasuk of "Ki Lo Davar Reik...," Rashi states that the beginning of the Pasuk, like the end of the Pasuk, discusses the Sechar for Torah. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that Torah is not a "Davar Reik," meaning that Bnei Yisrael do not keep it without reward. Rather, "it is your life," and you will be greatly rewarded for it. Thus, the beginning of the Pasuk states the same idea as end of the Pasuk, "UVaDavar HaZeh Ta’arichu Yamim Al HaAdamah Asher Atem Overim Et HaYardein Shamah LeRishtah," which also discusses the reward for keeping Torah. If the Pasuk refers solely to reward, it can be seen simply as the flipside of the descriptions of punishment by which it is surrounded. Before this Pasuk, Shirat Ha’azinu describes the punishment for not keeping the Torah; after this Pasuk, Hashem instructs Moshe to accept his punishment for not keeping Hashem's word. If one keeps the Torah, however, he does not receive these punishments; rather, "Ki Hu Chayeichem UVaDavar HaZeh Ta’arichu Yamim...."

Rashi then offers a second explanation. He explains that there is nothing in Torah that is a “Davar Reik” – nothing in Torah is without meaning; rather, one is rewarded for expounding any detail of the Torah. This explanation highlights a twofold theme in this Pasuk – a description of the significance of the Torah, since everything in it can be expounded, and a promise of reward for keeping the Torah, since this expounding provides reward.

Neither of these explanations, however, explains the use of the word “Mikem,” “from you.” The Pasuk can be explained, solving this problem, as stating that the Torah is not a “Davar Reik Mikem” – it is not emptier than Bnei Yisrael, meaning that it is not less comprehensive than the entire range of the human intellect and experience. Rather, the Torah way of life includes all pursuits of the human intellect and directs human actions in all of their various experiences. It is not emptier than Bnei Yisrael; rather, “Ki Hu Chayeichem,” it includes their entire life. This explanation, like Rashi’s second explanation, focuses on the immense significance of the Torah way of life.

The two themes that clearly emerge from all three explanations of the Pasuk are the theme of reward, which is expressed at the end of the Pasuk and perhaps at the beginning also, and the theme of the significance of Torah, which may be expressed in the beginning of the Pasuk. Both of these themes are appropriate for the closing of the Torah. Just as the Torah, at its closing, provides negative reinforcement by noting Bnei Yisrael’s punishment for not keeping the Torah (Shirat Ha’azinu) and Moshe’s punishment for disobeying Hashem’s word, it provides positive reinforcement to itself by promising reward. Furthermore, the Torah wishes to note its own significance and importance and its closing, as a reason for Bnei Yisrael to keep it.

The Pasuk of “Ki Lo Davar Reik…” also serves as a bridge between the national punishment expressed in Shirat Ha’azinu and Moshe’s personal punishment. The Pasuk promises reward in the plural, suggesting that keeping the Torah is a remedy for the national punishment of Shirat Ha’azinu. However, the reward promised is, “UVaDavar HaZeh Taarichu Yamim Al HaAdamah…,” life in Eretz Yisrael, which is a remedy for exile. Exile is not  the only theme of Shirat Ha’azinu; it is, however, the essence of Moshe’s personal punishment. Thus, the Pasuk describing the reward for keeping the Torah connects to both the national punishment of Shirat Ha’azinu and Moshe’s personal punishment. By doing so, it expresses that keeping the Torah is important on both a national and a personal level and is a remedy for both national and personal punishments. This is also hinted to by the twofold nature of the Mitzvah of studying Torah – there is a communal Mitzvah of Keriat HaTorah as well as a personal Mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Thus, Torah is important on both a communal and a personal level.

As we begin the new year, may we all take each of the messages of the end of the Torah to heart.


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