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Who Wrote The Torah? #748

10/14/2022 05:41:56 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

V'Zot HaBrachah: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses...” Deuteronomy 34:10

Who Wrote The Torah?


A controversial line found in the final three sentences of the Torah has challenged the Jewish people for hundreds of years.

It appears just after the death of Moses and reads:

“Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses....” (Deuteronomy 34:10)

Rabbis, scholars, theologians and others have discussed this sentence for centuries, leading to one of the most debated questions within all of Judaism.

Is it possible that someone offered this retrospective comment many years after Moses’s death, and if so…

“Who wrote the Torah?”

Was it God - according to Jewish tradition - who dictated it to Moses about 3,400 hundred years ago?

Or was the Torah compiled of sacred scrolls and accounts - edited by Ezra the Scribe about 1,000 years later - to inspire and uplift the Jews during challenging social, economic and multi-cultural times?

In addition to this sentence, “biblical critics” point to some names and places that did not exist during the time of the Exodus. Were these texts written at some later date?

Or, according to traditional Judaism, does the futuristic statement “never again....” reflect God’s and Moses’s prophetic capabilities?

Indeed, it is the traditional view that through deep study, guided by great commentators, such as Rashi or Maimonides, we can gain a better understanding of God and the divine nature of the universe.

So, the question remains: Whose words are contained in the Torah?

In my view, it doesn’t matter. A better question is, how can we apply Torah to our everyday lives - and what role do we play in the story?

In any case, whatever its authorship, the Torah was far ahead of its time.

The Torah contains the Ten Commandments. It teaches that there is a higher transcendent power inspiring us to pursue meaning above pleasure.

The Torah instructs us to use words kindly, to empathize with our fellow human beings, to “honor our neighbor as ourselves.”

The Torah espouses the value of diversity, the significance of taking care of the environment and the immeasurable importance of “doing” rather than declaring or feigning belief.

In short, the Torah is a way of life.

Indeed, whoever put these words to parchment – God through Moses or scribes through Ezra - the Torah is a living document.

And each us inherits that tradition from Moses.

The Talmud tells the story of Moses being time-traveled by God 1,500 years into the future to the study hall of the great sage, Rabbi Akiva, who is discussing various issues of the day with his students.

In the story, Moses is saddened because he does not understand the content of these future discussions.

A student asks Rabbi Akiva the source of some of his teachings, and Rabbi Akiva replies that they are based on the laws of Moses.

And Moses is comforted.

This has been the story of the Jewish people. Throughout history, we have been able - through discussion, debate and even disagreement – to apply these ancient words to contemporary issues we, as a people, and the world face.

In its opening sentence, Pirkei Avot, our ancient collection of wise sayings, tells us that Moses received Torah at Mount Sinai.

Torah - Not the Torah.

Torah means that the teachings of these sacred books, which we complete this week, are more than words on the page – they are values to inspire us.

Therefore, it is up to each of us - by learning, debating and even questioning Judaism - to become part of the journey.

There are so many denominations, perspectives and approaches to the practice of Judaism. I believe each one to be sacred.

At many tables after High Holiday services, there were discussions – based on prayers, readings and sermons - about what it means to be a good person on this earth, and how to live life with meaning.

No matter what our background, level of education or practice, each of us explores daily what it means to be a mensch and how to get there.

The Torah tells us this week that there would never be a prophet quite like Moses. The Torah - perhaps God - knew that in advance.

We cannot be Moses. But, as tradition teaches, each one of us was at Mount Sinai in spirit, and therefore each of us possesses the capacity to become the greatest teacher within our own home.

This Torah’s final pages remind us of that. Whether or not you read Hebrew, whether or not you go to temple, whether or not you follow traditional practices, to those who look to you, you are the universe’s greatest role model.

Let us remember the potential within each of us as we complete the Torah and return next week to the beginning.  

Indeed, whether you are a traditional Jew, a critical Jew or a wandering Jew, we can agree - thousands of years later - that there has never been a prophet quite like Moses.

This beautiful chain of Torah links each of us to Mount Sinai and the story of Moses and the Israelites.

It makes each one of us within Judaism so valued and special.

Indeed, there never was - and never will be - a prophet like Moses.

But according to our tradition, to present and future generations, there will never be a teacher quite like you and me.

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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