This Shabbat we began the study of Deuteronomy (D’varim) – The Fifth Book of the Hebrew Bible (The Five Books of Moses)
From: ETZ HAYIM Torah and Commentary
The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Parsha 1 – D’varim
Edited from the introduction by Jeffrey Tigay
…The book’s core is the second discourse, in which Moses conveys laws that the people commissioned him to receive from God at Mount Sinai 40 years earlier.
Several themes in Deuteronomy stand out. Among the Torah’s books, it is the most vigorous and clear advocate of monotheism and of the ardent, exclusive loyalty that Israel owes God. It emphasizes God’s love justice and transcendence. He is near to Israel but in a spiritual not a physical sense. Only God’s name , not God himself. dwells in the sanctuary.
This book stresses the covenant between God and Israel, summed up in 26:I619. Established with the patriarchs, affirmed at Sinai and in Moab, it is to be re-affirmed as soon as Israel enters its land (4:3l, S:2,28:69,27).
Deuteronomy Iooks toward Israel’s life in the Land of Israel where a society pursuing justice and righteousness, living in harmony with God and enjoying His bounty, can be established. (4:5-8, 7:12-13).
The promise of this land is conditional. Israel’s welfare depends on maintaining a society governed by God’s social and religious law. These laws are a divine gift to Israel unparalleled in their justice and their ability to secure God’s closeness. (4:5-8).
The Torah’s humanitarianism is most developed in Deuteronomy’s concern for the welfare of the poor and disadvantaged. Deuteronomy proclaims the unique rule that sacrifice may take place only in the religious capital, in a single sanctuary. (chap. 12).
Its aim is to spiritualize religion by freeing it from excessive dependence on sacrifice and priesthood. It urges instead God’s studying law and performing rituals that teach reverent love for Him. These teachings probably laid the groundwork for non-sacrificial, synagogue-based worship.
Deuteronomy has a strong intellectual orientation. It urges all Israelites to study God’s laws. Its style is didactic and sermonic, explaining the meaning of events and the purpose of laws, to secure Israel’s willing, understanding assent.
Deuteronomy strongly influenced later Jewish tradition. The core of Jewish worship is the recitation of the Sh’ma (6:4) and the public reading of the Torah. Also based on Deuteronomy are the duty of blessing God after meal, Kiddush on Shabbat, affixing mezuzas to doorposts, wearing tefillin and tzizzit and charity to the poor (e.g., If:8).
Deuteronomy is the source of the concept that religious life should be based on a sacred book and its study. As the biblical book that deals most with beliefs and attitudes, it plays a major role in Jewish theology.
In the theological-ethical introduction of his digest of Jewish law, the Mishnei Torah, Maimonides cites Deuteronomy more than any other book, starting with the command to believe in God and Him alone.
Deuteronomy’s effect on Jewish life cannot be overstated. No idea has shaped Jewish history more than monotheism, which this book asserts so passionately. And no verse has shaped Jewish consciousness and identity more than Deuteronomy’s classic expression of that idea – the Shema prayer.
Jeffrey Howard Tigay (born December 25, 1941) is a modern biblical scholar who is best known for the study of Deuteronomy and in his contributions to the Deuteronomy volume of the JPS Torah Commentary (1996). Educated at Columbia University and gaining his B.A. in 1963, he continued toward rabbinic ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (M.H.L., 1966). He earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from Yale University.
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