The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One such requirement is that it must be written across twelve lines. Tosafos (Medieval commentaries on the Talmud; Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word "get" has the gematria (numerical value) of twelve. Tosafos then gives another answer, one much more enigmatic: In total, there are twelve lines separating the five books of the chamishei chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between every sefer (book) in the five books of Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the Sefer Torah as well, requiring twelve lines. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original "document" of the world. It therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of Torah. The document of separation therefore contains twelve lines, corresponding to the twelve lines of separation in the Torah.
However, there is a major problem with this answer. Between each sefer in the Torah, there are four blank lines. There are five books in the Torah, for a total of sixteen lines. Why, then, are there twelve lines in a get, not sixteen?
Tosafos explains that the lines between Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy) are not taken into account because Devarim is not considered a sefer of its own; it is purely a repeat of everything that came before it. This idea has multiple expressions. The Latin name for Devarim, Deuteronomy, originates from the Greek word for repeat. Devarim is a unique sefer amongst the books of the Torah, belonging to Moshe in a certain sense. The commentators explain that Moshe spoke the words of Devarim of his own volition, and these became words of Torah. However, this explanation opens up many questions in its own right. How can Moshe's words be included in the Torah? The fundamental nature of Torah is its Divine authorship. And returning to the lines of a get, why does Devarim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being included in the lines in a get? There are still four lines separating Bamidbar and Devarim! In order to understand the deep nature of Sefer Devarim, and to answer these questions, we must develop an essential principle that underlies this entire discussion.
The Transition to Torah She’baal Peh (Oral Torah)
The initial stage of Torah is that of Torah Shebiksav (Written Torah). Torah was transmitted through the mechanism of nevuah (prophecy), reflecting the open revelation of Hashem and truth in the world. There was little to no machlokes (argument) and virtually no human creativity, opinion, or input. If you had a question, you went to a navi (prophet). The navi made himself a receptacle to receive and transmit Hashem's word verbatim. Once nevuah ended, however, the canon of Tanach was closed, and a new age began: the age of Torah Sheba'al Peh.
The light faded, the darkness thickened, but something wondrous happened: the makom (place) of Torah transitioned from shamayim to the hearts and minds of Klal Yisrael. “Loh Bashamayim Hih” — the clarity and authority of Torah's revelation is no longer in heavens, given clearly and freely from Hashem. It rests in the hearts and minds of the Jewish Sages, who become the walking, living embodiments of Torah, radiating light in a darkened world. The gift of Torah clarity was lost, we now have to rebuild it ourselves, poring over the pages of Gemara and exerting every ounce of our strength to absorb its meaning.
However, once we accept this unique role and ability of the chachamim (sages of the Talmud), we still must ask: how are they entrusted with this unique power? How can humans create Torah? Where do we find such a precedent?
The answer lies in the sefer of Devarim, Moshe's sefer. As the Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague, a 16th century Jewish scholar) and Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, an eighteenth century Talmudic scholar in Vilna) explain, Sefer Devarim is an expression of the first four sefarim of the Torah. Moshe first became a pure vessel for Torah, a perfect receptacle. The first four sefarim were written by Hashem, the giver, while Moshe served purely as a channel. As Chazal (our Sages) put it, "Shechinah mi'daberes mi'toch grono shel Moshe," Hashem spoke through the throat of Moshe, placing the words in his mouth. Devarim, however, was Moshe's creation. He took everything that came before, and expressed it through his unique lens. The Maharal and Ohr Ha’Chaim (Chaim ibn Attar or ayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, an 18th century rabbi of Morocco) describe this process as Moshe's transformation into a normal navi, one who expresses Hashem's nevuah through their own unique and personal lens. Instead of Hashem Himself speaking through Moshe's throat, Hashem spoke to Moshe and then, at a later point, Moshe expressed this to Klal Yisrael in his own words. As a result, Sefer Devarim possesses the "style" of Moshe. The Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, a 19th century from Eastern Europe) elaborates on this point, and explains that once Moshe uttered his own words, Hashem then ratified them as being part of Torah. In other words, Hashem commanded Moshe to write Sefer Devarim as a documentation of what Moshe himself had already said of his own accord.
This is the root of our ability to engage in Torah Sheba'al Peh, to become part of the creative process of Torah. At root, Torah Sheba'al Peh is the process of taking the seed of Torah Shebiksav and fully expressing it, developing it, without losing or betraying any of its inner meaning. It's a beautiful and elegant balance of being completely loyal to the written text of the Torah itself, while still finding room for personal creativity and innovation. Of course, there are rules and limitations and very clear guidelines to this process. Only Jews who are an Aron (Ark of the Covenant) or Mishkan (Tabernacle) for Torah, who have first connected themselves completely to the vast mesorah of Torah, can contain the Shechinah (the settling of divine presence) of Torah Sheba'al Peh. Only those who completely give themselves over to Torah, like the Gedolim (great rabbis) in every generation, can become the true pillars of Torah Sheba'al Peh and halachic reality. However, in a deep way, each and every one of us can tap in to that mesorah (transmission of tradition) and become a part of this magical process as well.
The root of our ability to become partners in the creative process of Torah comes from Sefer Devarim, from Moshe Rabbeinu’s unique input. Moshe completely connected himself to the first four sefarim of the Torah, embraced and embodied it, and then expressed something unique from within Himself. This was the first example of Torah Sheba'al Peh in Jewish history.
Sefer Devarim as a Unique Sefer
We can now explain Tosafos' description of Sefer Devarim in regards to the twelve lines of a get. In a way, Sefer Devarim is unique and distinct from the other four sefarim of Chumash. It is the only one written by Moshe himself, and in a sense, is a completely separate sefer. Viewed from this angle, it is possible to suggest that the four lines between Sefer Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim do not count as a form of separation, because Sefer Devarim holds its own status as a completely separate sefer. Therefore, only the lines that separate between the first four books of the Torah are taken into account to determine the format of a get.
However, there is an even deeper answer to this question: Sefer Devarim is not counted as a separate volume of the Chamishei Chumshei Torah, not because it is a completely separate sefer, but for the exact opposite reason: it is subsumed within the first four books. This mirrors the deep relationship between Torah Sheba'al Peh and Torah Shebiksav. Torah Sheba'al Peh is not a distinct entity from Torah Shebiksav, it is a genuine expression of it. All the details and elements of Torah Sheba'al Peh are revealed aspects of truth that are buried within Torah Shebiksav. Therefore, Torah Sheba'al Peh is one with Torah Shebiksav. Devarim is not a new sefer, it is an actualization and expression of everything that is in seed, root form within the first four books of Torah. Therefore, there is no separation or gap between Bamidbar and Devarim, because everything within Sefer Devarim stems from the previous four books of Torah.
Our Role in Torah
This is our unique role in the world. When the light fades, when translucence becomes opaque, we must shine a light in the darkness, we must reveal the truth of Torah in a post-prophetic age. Only when the lights go out and darkness reigns can a candle serve as a source of illumination. When the world is incandescent with spiritual clarity, humanity serves as a loyal channel and receptor of truth. When that light fades, we can become part of the creative process itself, not just shining the light, but creating it as well. May we be inspired to strive for Torah truth, listen closely in a world of darkness, and gather the shards of multiplicity into a singular oneness of higher truth.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker and has spoken internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities. For all questions, thoughts, or bookings, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.