The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One such requirement is that it must be written across 12 lines. Tosafos (Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word “get” has the g’matria (numerical value) of 12. Tosafos then gives another answer, one much more enigmatic: In total, there are 12 lines separating the five books of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between every sefer in the Five Books of Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the sefer Torah as well, requiring 12 lines. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original “document” of the world. It therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of the Torah. The document of separation, therefore, contains 12 lines, corresponding to the 12 lines of separation in the Torah.
However, there is a major problem with this answer. Between each sefer in the Torah, there are four blank lines. There are five books in the Torah, for a total of 16 lines. Why, then, are there 12 lines in a get, not 16?
Tosafos explains that the lines between BaMidbar and D’varim are not taken into account because D’varim is not considered a sefer of its own; it is purely a repeat of everything that came before it. This idea has multiple expressions. The Latin name for D’varim, Deuteronomy, originates from the Greek word for repeat. D’varim is a unique sefer amongst the Books of the Torah, belonging to Moshe Rabbeinu in a certain sense. The commentators explain that Moshe spoke the words of D’varim of his own volition, and these became words of Torah. However, this explanation opens up many questions in its own right. How can Moshe’s words be included in the Torah? The fundamental nature of Torah is its Divine authorship. And returning to the lines of a get, why does D’varim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being included in the lines in a get? There are still four lines separating BaMidbar and D’varim! In order to understand the deep nature of Sefer D’varim, and to answer these questions, we must develop an essential principle that underlies this entire discussion.
The Transition to Torah She’b’al Peh
The initial stage of Torah is that of Torah She’bichsav. Torah was transmitted through the mechanism of n’vuah, reflecting the open revelation of Hashem and truth in the world. There was little to no machlokes (dispute) and virtually no human creativity, opinion, or input. If you had a question, you went to a navi (prophet). The navi made himself a receptacle to receive and transmit Hashem’s word verbatim. Once n’vuah ended, however, the canon of Tanach was closed, and a new age began: the age of Torah She’b’al Peh.
The light faded, the darkness thickened, but something wondrous happened: The makom (place) of Torah transitioned from Shamayim to the hearts and minds of klal Yisrael. “Lo BaShamayim Hi” – the clarity and authority of Torah’s revelation is no longer in the Heavens, given clearly and freely from Hashem. It rests in the hearts and minds of the Jewish Sages, who become the walking, living embodiments of Torah, radiating light in a darkened world. The gift of Torah clarity was lost; we now have to rebuild it ourselves, poring over the pages of the Gemara, and exerting every ounce of our strength to absorb its meaning.
However, once we accept this unique role and ability of the Chachamim (Sages), we still must ask: How are they entrusted with this unique power? How can humans create Torah? Where do we find such a precedent?
The answer lies in the sefer of D’varim, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sefer. As the Maharal and Vilna Gaon explain, Sefer D’varim is an expression of the first four s’farim of the Torah. Moshe first became a pure vessel for Torah, a perfect receptacle. The first four s’farim were written by Hashem, the giver, while Moshe served purely as a channel. As Chazal put it, “Sh’chinah m’daberes mi’toch grono shel Moshe,” Hashem spoke through the throat of Moshe, placing the words in his mouth. D’varim, however, was Moshe’s creation. He took everything that came before, and expressed it through his unique lens. The Maharal and the Or HaChayim describe this process as Moshe’s transformation into a normal navi, one who expresses Hashem’s n’vuah through his own unique and personal lens. Instead of Hashem Himself speaking through Moshe’s throat, Hashem spoke to Moshe and then, at a later point, Moshe expressed this to klal Yisrael in his own words. As a result, Sefer D’varim possesses the “style” of Moshe. The Malbim elaborates on this point and explains that once Moshe uttered his own words, Hashem then ratified them as being part of the Torah. In other words, Hashem commanded Moshe to write Sefer D’varim as a documentation of what Moshe himself had already said of his own accord.
This is the root of our ability to engage in Torah She’b’al Peh, to become part of the creative process of Torah. At root, Torah She’b’al Peh is the process of taking the seed of Torah She’bichsav and fully expressing it, developing it, without losing or betraying any of its inner meaning. It’s a beautiful and elegant balance of being completely loyal to the written text of the Torah itself, while still finding room for personal creativity and innovation. Of course, there are rules and limitations and very clear guidelines to this process. Only Jews who are an Aron or Mishkan for Torah, who have first connected themselves completely to the vast mesorah of Torah, can contain the Sh’chinah of Torah She’b’al Peh. Only those who completely give themselves over to Torah, like the g’dolim in every generation, can become the true pillars of Torah She’b’al Peh and halachic reality. However, in a deep way, each and every one of us can tap in to that mesorah and become a part of this magical process, as well.
The root of our ability to become partners in the creative process of Torah comes from Sefer D’varim, from Moshe Rabbeinu’s unique input. Moshe completely connected himself to the first four s’farim of the Torah, embraced and embodied it, and then expressed something unique from within himself. This was the first example of Torah She’b’al Peh in Jewish history.
Sefer D’varim as a Unique Sefer
We can now explain Tosafos’ description of Sefer D’varim in regard to the 12 lines of a get. In a way, Sefer D’varim is unique and distinct from the other four s’farim of Chumash. It is the only one written by Moshe himself, and in a sense, is a completely separate sefer. Viewed from this angle, it is possible to suggest that the four lines between Sefer BaMidbar and Sefer D’varim do not count as a form of separation, because Sefer D’varim holds its own status as a completely separate sefer. Therefore, only the lines that separate between the first four books of the Torah are taken into account to determine the format of a get.
However, there is an even deeper answer to this question. Sefer D’varim is not counted as a separate volume of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, not because it is a completely separate sefer, but for the exact opposite reason: It is subsumed within the first four books. This mirrors the deep relationship between Torah She’b’al Peh and Torah She’bichsav. Torah She’b’al Peh is not a distinct entity from Torah She’bichsav; it is a genuine expression of it. All the details and elements of Torah She’b’al Peh are revealed aspects of truth that are buried within Torah She’bichsav. Therefore, Torah She’b’al Peh is one with Torah She’bichsav. D’varim is not a new sefer; it is an actualization and expression of everything that is in seed, root form within the first four books of the Torah. Therefore, there is no separation or gap between BaMidbar and D’varim, because everything within Sefer D’varim stems from the previous four books of the Torah.
Our Role in the World
This is our unique role in the world. When the light fades, when translucence becomes opaque, we must shine a light in the darkness, we must reveal the truth of Torah in a post-prophetic age. Only when the lights go out and darkness reigns can a candle serve as a source of illumination. When the world is incandescent with spiritual clarity, humanity serves as a loyal channel and receptor of truth. When that light fades, we can become part of the creative process itself, not just shining the light, but creating it, as well. May we be inspired to strive for Torah truth, listen closely in a world of darkness, and gather the shards of multiplicity into a singular oneness of higher truth.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.