Parshas Devarim; chazara
Welcome to chumash and parshas Devarim; described to me by one of my chavrusas as his favourite mussar sefer. The entire chumash is in essence Moshe repeating mitzvos to the Bnei Yisrael and warning to keep them faithfully. This ‘repetition/chazara’ is what gives it the name Mishneh Torah (lit. the repetition of the Torah) and thus the name Deuteronomy (The ‘Deu’ root in latin meaning two – duo, duet, duel, deux for all the French out there…). Anyway, Latin aside, the issue of going over things (chazara) is an important one and one we shall try to dwell on a bit. The dilemma is the following; the chumash is rightly entitled Mishneh Torah for it repeats much of the mitzvos (it repeats much of the mitzvos it repeats much of the mitzvos it repeats much of the mitzvos it repeats much of the mitzvos), yet many new things/halachos about each mitzvah are learnt from these ’repetitions’ (which were of course also given at Har Sinai). Therefore, the question is why is the chumash called ostensibly a ’repetition’ if (many) new things are produced from it?
This allows us to talk about the general theme of chazara; going over things again. This is not limited to revising things one has learnt in Torah, but includes repeating the same events each year for example (as we have the annual cycle of chaggim).
The idea is that chazara is not merely a repetition – a mere dry reoccurrence of that which one has done before (an ’anniversary’) – rather it always produces and creates something new each time. Let us bring some examples.
Firstly, the Jewish calendar is basically an annual cycle of chaggim. Some might call this a circle in which the same events are repeated each year, but it should be termed a spiral; where each event produces new growth and by the time that same event comes along the next year, one is looking down from the same point at where they were last year.
Again this idea is based on the 3 growth stages we have mentioned (I think from Rabbi Tatz) – the first a short-term burst (that is the event itself), then a steady build-up to cement that burst (the ensuing days/weeks/year) and then the third level of peak (that same event next year). Really, this was the way the world was set up with the short-term (it only lasted a matter of hours) greatness of Adam HaRishon (Chazal say he was so great, the angels could not distinguish between him and HaShem), then his fall, and our steady rebuilding ourselves across thousands of years to climb back up towards that level. And the third level of peak will be Moshiach and the 3rd Beis Hamikdash; and please G-D it should come soon (Av is the month!).
The point is that the repetition creates something new and is not just a repetition of the old.
A great example of this can be found in the Vilna Gaon’s explanation of the opening paragraph of the shmonah esrei. He says that the paragraph starts off with the phrases relating to HaShem, and the rest are explanations of what those phrases entail.
Thus, we start off ‘hakel’ and the explanation of this is kel elyon. Similarly, hagadol means gomel chassadim tovim, etc. Again, the theme is that there is an initial intorduction of a concept, with only the later chazara being a full expansion of this idea to reach its proper understanding.
This idea of chazara creating something new is also seen in the study of Torah.
The gemarra says that ‘one who learns but does not go over it is like one who plants but does not harvest’ (halomed v’eino chozer k’zorea v’eino kotzer.) Now, if chazara merely a repetition of the old, then the gemarra should say that ’…it is like one who starts to plant but does not finish planting’ – the fact that there are two different processes mentioned shows that the chazara is an entirely new process and not just the repetition of the previous learning. In fact the Or HaChaim (vayikra 21;3) quotes the Midrash (koheles rabbah 3;10) which says that the reason that HaShem set it up that we are prone to forget our learning is so we have the new excitement in learning it again.
Similarly, the gemarra (chagigah 9b) says that going over something 101 times is a much greater level of serving HaShem than going over it 100 times; since each time produces a new and deeper understanding, and each time it is absorbed with greater effect.
Therefore, the chumash is still called Mishneh Torah despite the fact that many new things are learnt from it, for this is what chazara is – getting new things too.
Perhaps (and this is at most a ’perhaps’) this is why the sedra and chumash is called devarim and not hadevarim, as it appears in the pasuk.
For hadevarim means these specific words, whilst devarim means words in general. Perhaps the point is that the theme of the sefer is not these specific words that Moshe spoke, but rather that of Mishneh Torah – that words were spoken; that there was a chazara and the subsequent importance of chazara. Though one must note that, as a chavrusa pointed out to me, the sedra mishpatim is also not called hamishpatim, despite its appearance in the pasuk as hamishpatim.