Parashat Devarim begins with the words, “Eileh HaDevarim Asheir Dibeir Moshe El Kol Yisrael BeEiver HaYardein,” “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, on the other side of the Jordan” (Devarim 1:1). The Vilna Ga’on comments that the first four books of the Torah were heard by Moshe directly from Hashem and then transmitted verbatim to Bnei Yisrael. However, with regard to the fifth book, Sefer Devarim, Bnei Yisrael heard the words of Moshe himself, not Hashem’s. Moshe became like every other Navi who succeeded him; communicating with Hashem, and then, later, transmitting His words to the nation in their own way once the state of prophecy had been removed from him.
The approach of the Vilna Ga’on poses a major issue to two independent statements of Rambam. In his Mishneh Torah, Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:6) that one who denies the Torah has no portion in Olam HaBa. He then writes (3:8) that one who says, “Moshe made these statements independently,” is denying the Torah. How, then, can the Vilna Ga’on say that Moshe didn’t speak the words in Sefer Devarim directly from Hashem? Additionally, Rambam, in his Ikarei Emunah (Introduction to the 10th Perek of Sanhedrin), states that every Jew must believe that Moshe was the “father” of all prophets before and after him. Rambam conveys to us that Moshe was drastically different from any other Prophet to have ever walked this earth. How can the Vilna Ga’on claim that Moshe became like every other prophet? These two statements of Rambam seem to pose great difficulty to the Vilna Ga’on’s view on Moshe’s last will and testament.
One could suggest that while the Vilna Ga’on is saying that Moshe was, in a sense, like every other Navi, he is nonetheless not contradicting the words of Rambam. Moshe did not make these statements independently, as Rambam warns us against thinking. Rather, Moshe spoke these words through divine inspiration. Unlike the four previous books of the Torah, Moshe was able to think about Hashem’s words before speaking them to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe in no way misconstrued the words of Hashem, but rather, thought about them before relaying them to the Jews. Moshe, in the final weeks before his death, had achieved a level of Kedushah in which he was able to be trusted by Hashem to speak divine words and have the ability and consciousness to first contemplate them.
Why was Moshe doing this now, when the Jews are about to enter Eretz Yisrael? The Jews had been in the desert for the past forty years, guided by a cloud during the day and a fire at night. They were given sustenance, water, and shelter from Hashem. They were connected to Him and were constantly seeing His great miracles. During Sefer Devarim, they are about to enter the land of Israel. They would face the challenge of the transition between the Midbar, where there was a complete and clear connection to Hashem, and Eretz Yisrael, where they would have to search out and find Him in order to connect. The Jews could no longer hear the words of Hashem directly, but had to slowly be weaned off. They needed a human to transmit God’s words in human terms. Bnei Yisrael would never have a closer relationship with Hashem in their history, and therefore needed to rely less on his open miracles and more on human effort in order to maintain their relationship with Hashem.
At the same time, the Jews would never again have a prophet like Moshe. As great as Yehoshua, Moshe’s successor, would be, he would never be on the level of Moshe. It was therefore required that Moshe assist in the transition between himself and Yehoshua in addition to the transition between Hashem’s presence in the Midbar to Hashem’s presence in Eretz Yisrael. Moshe was, in a sense, like every other prophet, in order to facilitate this transition and ease Bnei Yisrael into their journey to Eretz Yisrael.
Nowadays, we do not experience miracles involving violations of the laws of nature such as Keriyat Yam Suf or the daily appearance of the Man. However, we have inspiring leaders—our Rabbis. We must look to them to transmit the words of Hashem and bring us closer to Him in relatable terms, just like Moshe did in Sefer Devarim to Bnei Yisrael.