Nitzavim Vayelech: People of the Book

September 1, 2023

Who wrote the text of the Torah, and when was it dictated to millions of writers? The history of The Book

(משיחת י”ט כסלו ה’תשמ”ב)

A. When did they have time?

We read about a special commandment in this week’s Torah reading: every Jew should write “this song” (Source 1). This means they should write the entire Torah, where this song, the song of Haazinu, is written (Source 2).

Seemingly, the Rebbe asks, in the wake of this commandment, thousands of Jews would have been writing Torah scrolls, yet we find no allusion to such an occurrence taking place. Moreover, between the giving of this commandment and Moses’ passing on the seventh of Adar (Source 3) until the Jews entered Israel on the tenth of Nissan (Source 4) there was very little time. This wouldn’t have allowed for the writing of Torah scrolls, which is a huge undertaking.

B. A work in progress

In the days preceding the giving of the Torah at Sinai, Moses wrote the Torah from Genesis until that point in time (Source 5). Before Moses descended from Sinai, G-d instructed him to “Write these words for you” (Source 6), which the Talmud understands to mean that the written Torah may not be studied orally, and the Oral Torah may not be written down (Source 7). 

Based on this law, the Rebbe says that everything Moses taught the Jews in the desert must have been transcribed in real time, because it was  forbidden to study it orally. Indeed, Maimonides writes explicitly that after a class from Moses, the Jews would write scrolls (Source 9).

Effectively, when the Jews received the commandment to write their own Torah scrolls, most of it was already written, they only needed to complete the job.

C. Thirteen Torah scrolls

Moses wrote thirteen scrolls. He gave one to each of the twelve tribes, and the final one was kept in the Ark of the Covenant (Source 9).

How was Moses able to write thirteen scrolls in one day? Some say that Moses used supernatural powers to complete it. The Rebbe negates this explanation, reasoning that mitzvot needs to be accomplished within the laws of nature. This is illustrated by the story of the Alter Rebbe, who wouldn’t recite the blessing on the new moon while the boat had miraculously stopped; insisting that it stop naturally.

According to what we explained above, Moses wrote the scrolls during the forty years in the desert, and on this day, he completed them.

Tangentially, the Rebbe learns a powerful lesson from this: Moses, out of his love for the Jewish people, insisted on writing each scroll himself and did not have others assist him (Source 10).

D. Why don’t we write Torah scrolls?

Why don’t Jews write their own Torah scrolls? The Rebbe explains that the community writes one on behalf of everyone.

We find a similar example with the Lulav and Etrog. The Torah commands that it must be “yours.” In times when they were difficult to obtain, the community would source one set for communal use. How did it belong to everyone? During the performance of the mitzvah, the community would give ownership of the Lulav bundle to the person using it, and then it would be transferred to the next person in line.

In conclusion, the Rebbe encourages every Jew to purchase a letter in a collective Torah scroll, because when a person has one letter in the scroll, they have a connection to the entire scroll and it is considered as if they had written it all themselves.



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