Josh sat in his living room excitedly opening his birthday presents. He had already received a few new toys from his grandparents, but his parents told him that their present was special. He’d be able to use it to light up whatever he wanted, to make cool shapes on the walls, and to play games in the backyard. As he took his brand new flashlight out of the box, he excitedly flicked the switch to turn it on. Nothing happened. He flicked the switch off and back on, and again nothing happened. He pointed it around the room, then ran outside to the backyard and pointed it around out there as well. It must be broken, he thought sadly, as he walked back in and ate his birthday cake dejectedly.
That night, he went to sleep with all his toys in his room – even his broken flashlight. As he was falling asleep, his mom knocked loudly on the door. He opened it, and quickly noticed that all the lights in the house were off. His mom asked if she could use his flashlight, as there had been a power outage. He took his flashlight and started explaining to her that it didn’t actually work. As he flicked it on, though, the hallway was suddenly bathed in light! As he moved around the house, the flashlight filled the dark house with a warm glow of illumination. His parents, noticing his confused expression, explained to him: “Your light is powerful beyond measure, but in the presence of sunlight, your flame is subsumed. Only in the dark, when the light has faded, can your small flame shine bright and be seen for what it truly is.” This powerful message relates to a deep theme in this week’s parshah, Parshas D’varim.
Twelve Lines of Separation
The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a specific format. One feature of its design is that a get 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 that seems more enigmatic: There are 12 lines used to separate the five books of Chamishah Chumshei Torah within every sefer Torah; since a get is a document of separation, it therefore adopts this feature of separation – its requirement of 12 lines – from the sefer Torah, as well. This is a compelling answer, as the Torah is the original “document” of the world. Therefore, it seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational Torah document. The document of separation must therefore contain 12 lines, corresponding to the 12 lines of separation in the Torah document. 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 has come before it. This idea certainly seems to have backing. The Latin name for D’varim – Deuteronomy – originates from the Greek word for repeat. It is a unique sefer amongst the books of the Torah, belonging to Moshe in a certain sense. The commentaries 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 its connection to a get, why does D’varim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being counted in determining the number of lines in a divorce document? 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 can be defined as 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 (argument) 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 magical happened: The makom (place) of Torah transitioned from shamayim (the heavens) to the hearts and minds of klal Yisrael. “Lo ba’shamayim hi” (D’varim 30:12, Bava M’tzia 59a) – 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 Gemara and exerting every ounce of our strength to absorb its meaning. However, we must ask: Where did the Chachamim (Sages) get this unique power of Torah She’b’al Peh? How can humanity have the ability to create Torah? Where do we find such a precedent?
D’varim: The Root of Torah She’b’al Peh
The answer lies in the sefer of D’varim, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sefer. As the Maharal and the 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, only a 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, who expresses Hashem’s n’vuah through his own unique and personal lens. Instead of Hashem Himself speaking though Moshe’s throat, Hashem spoke to Moshe and then, at a later point, Moshe expressed it to klal Yisrael in his own words. As a result, Sefer D’varim therefore has 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 on 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 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 extreme 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. In other words, only people who completely give themselves over to Torah, like the g’dolim in every generation, can become the true holders of Torah She’b’al Peh and halachic reality. However, in a deep way, each and every one of us can tap into 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 Moshe Rabbeinu’s Sefer D’varim. He connected himself to the first four s’farim of the Torah, embraced them, embodied them, and then expressed something unique from within Himself. This was the very first example of Torah She’b’al Peh in Jewish history.
Sefer D’varim As a Unique Sefer
We can now explain Tosafos’ unique description of Sefer D’varim in regards to twelve lines in a get. In some sense, Sefer D’varim is “more unique” and distinct from all the other four s’farim combined; it is the only one written by Moshe Himself and should therefore be counted as a completely separate sefer. If that were the case, we could suggest that the reason the four lines between Sefer BaMidbar and Sefer D’varim are not counted as a separation is because Sefer D’varim holds its own status as a completely separate sefer, and therefore, only the lines of separation in the first four s’farim of the Torah are considered significant regarding a get.
However, there is an even deeper answer: The reason why Sefer D’varim is not counted as a separate volume of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah is not because it is a completely separate sefer, but the complete opposite; it is subsumed within the first four books. This is based on the deep nature of the 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, but is rather 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 isn’t a new sefer, it’s an actualization and expression of everything that was already there in seed and root form within the first four s’farim 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 Torah
This is our unique role in the world. When the light fades, when translucence turns opaque, we strive to shine a light in the darkness, to reveal the truth of Torah in a post-prophetic age. As the Zohar states, 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 only shining the light, but creating it, as well. May we be inspired to strive after Torah truth, listening closely in a world of darkness, and strive to gather the shards of multiplicity into a singular oneness of higher truth.