Deuteronomy is Revisionist History

On this Shabbat, we begin the 5th book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. The name of the book derives from two sources, one Hebrew and one Greek.

The first line of Deuteronomy is: Eleh ha-d'varim - These are the words (that Moses spoke to all of Israel). Each of our 54 Torah portions are named after a word that occurs very close to the beginning of the portion. Each of our 5 books of the Torah are named after the first portion contained within; B'reishit, Sh'mot, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and now, D'varim.

Deuteronomy has a second etymological source; Greek. Deuteronomium means second law. The book of Deuteronomy relates to Moses' re-telling of the Israelites' history. Most of the book is a recapitulation, a summary, as Moses recounts his peoples' remarkable journey.

But these D'varim, these words that Moses addressed to all of Israel are not a repeat of everything that has happened before. If we read closely Moses' recapitulation of what happened, we see that he gets some things wrong.

In this sense, Deuteronomy is a kind of revisionist history. It contains inaccuracies, inconsistencies, changes of timeline ... so much so, in fact, that when the 10 commandments are repeated, they are different!

Deuteronomy is indeed a second law, as Deuteronomy comes from Moses' words ... Moses' perspective. Perhaps Moses did in fact remember events in this manner. And perhaps, he needed to remember events in this manner, so that he could be at peace with his life and his choices. Each of us undoubtedly has several powerful memories that are also Deuteronomical in that they probably did not happen exactly as we remember.

Deuteronomy is the textual counterpart to Picasso's cubism. Taken from our secular Torah of Wikipedia, In Cubist artwork, objects are analyzed, broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context.

The book of Deuteronomy is one viewpoint. The narration of the previous books is another.

Deuteronomy forces us to look at these different perspectives, and also to form our own Deuteronomy - our own 're-telling.' After all, this is the entire point of Torah, to make it ours - to take the Torah into our hearts and lives. We see how Moses made it his. What is yours?

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