August 23, 2019 |

Honing the Message

Parshat Devarim starts the book of Deuteronomy, or "Second Words", which contains Moshe's final speech to the children of Israel as they prepare to enter the Land of Israel.

It is frequently noted that material found in Devarim repeats, sometimes verbatim (or almost verbatim) material found elsewhere in the Torah. With the assumption that the Torah does not waste words, the question emerges: Why is there so much repetition in Devarim?

One way to look at this is to see in Devarim Moshe's second shot at delivering his message. The first time there were clearly some communication problems, resulting in at least two broken tablets, seventy years of wandering, and many thousands dead of various plagues. This time around, it is interesting to note how Moshe chooses his words, and to compare them to last time around. Like a lecturer honing the message with each speaking engagement, Moshe learns his audience, and learns what to focus on.

To take one famous example: The Ten Commandments in Exodus read "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy". Soon thereafter, the first recorded transgression of the Sabbath is recorded.

The version in Devarim states, "Guard (shamor) the Sabbath Day to keep it holy". Perhaps Moshe first tried the gentler, "Remember it", hoping that would be enough. When he saw that things didn't take as he had hoped, he elected the stronger "Guard" when he revisited the message. It's not enough to just make a note that it is Shabbat -- it's a hard enough requirement that it requires guarding, like something that is easily lost if not carefully tracked.

With this interpretation, we learn from the first and greatest of Jewish teachers that we can each experience growth -- do something once and have it not quite come out write, hone our message, learn about the people we speak to, and improve our thoughts and communication with time.

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Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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