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    Why is it called Deuteronomy? – D’varim

    In English the Book of D’varim, which we begin this Shabbat, is Deuteronomy.

    The Hebrew name is easy to understand: D’varim is the first important word in the text. But Deuteronomy?

    It is from Greek and was introduced by the Septuagint; its meaning is “Second Law”. This is actually closer to the Hebrew Mishneh Torah, from Deut. 17:18, which is the rabbinic term for the Book.

    It is not so much a Second Law as a restatement of earlier commandments, some of them promulgated nearly forty years earlier when the people stood at Mount Sinai.

    The legal tone is unmistakable, but it is wrapped up in poetry and spirituality that makes it an especially memorable farewell message from Moses, summing up his life’s work on the verge of the entry into the Promised Land and his own death.

    One might get the impression that the Moses who is delivering the message is a legislator, but Ahad HaAm rightly points out that “lawmaker” is not the best way of summing up the great leader. Nor is “general” or any of the other epithets that attempt to characterise the long and distinguished career of Moses.

    As far as Ahad HaAm is concerned, the best word for Moses is “prophet”, not in the popular sense of someone who foretells the future but in his capacity as the spokesman whose task is to forthtell the word of God.

    Jewish tradition accepts that Moses was the father (in the sense of chief) of the prophets but its general term for him is not Moshe HaNavi but Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses our Teacher”.

    If Abraham founded the Jewish people, Moses founded Judaism – the faith that hears the Divine teaching and dedicates its history to studying the Word and passing it down from generation to generation.

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