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The Power of Personal Narrative and the Oral Torah

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“See, the Lord your God has placed the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Fear not and do not be dismayed” (Devarim 1,21).

As we open up the Book of Devarim, the fifth and final book of the Torah, there is an important question waiting for us: what is left to tell? All the stories of the Torah have already been told. The passing of the leadership has already taken place from Moshe to Yehoshua, and from Aharon HaCohen to Eliezer. The next saga of the Jewish story, the crossing of the Jordan and the tales of entering the promised land, is for the next chapter in the Jewish story, the Book of Yehoshua.

Most of The Book of Devarim is a retelling; but what was wrong with the first version of these stories that we need them repeated?

True, Sefer Devarim is a repetition of the stories and many of the mitzvot (though next week we’ll discuss that more). As a matter of fact, our Sages nicknamed this last of the five books the Mishneh Torah, or the repetition of the Torah. But as we open this book, we should keep in mind an important principle: everything in the Book of Devarim adds to what was already presented.

How does it add? Let’s look at the uniqueness of the text of this book as compared to the four that came before it. From a literary perspective, the point of view of the narrator is totally different. Up until now the text has been told from the third-person perspective, i.e., he, she, and they. The entirety of the text has been told by an omniscient narrator, as we see over and over again with the phrase, “and God said to Moshe, saying.”

But the Book of Devarim is wholly different. We are thrust into a much more personal and intimate........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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