By Rabbi Ian Shaffer

(Based on a shiur given by Rabbi Isaac Bernstein zal in London in 1993)

There is a general discussion amongst the mefarshim as to the nature and purpose of Sefer Devarim. Many commentators are of the opinion that this sefer represents a repetition of  the speeches given by Moshe throughout the 40 years to the Jews, in the weeks before his death (see Malbim at beginning of the sefer). This does not explain however the choice of laws which are contained in the sefer or why some laws are repeated from previous sefarim and some are set down here for the first time.

The Emet Leya’akov (R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, Lithuania-USA: d. 1986) puts forward a general approach to the sefer which is quite magnificent. He maintains that Sefer Devarim represents the ‘constitution’ of the Jewish people when entering Eretz Yisrael. It contains the laws which we will need to focus on, in order to achieve our autonomous existence in the land of Israel. Any laws which are repeated are also necessary to pay special attention to, such as the laws of Kashrut , which give us our unique sense of holiness in our everyday eating habits, as well as in the repetition of the  Jewish holidays, which give us the distinct and unique quality as a holy nation in terms of our calendar. Many laws of war are introduced for the first time, which will clearly be needed in Israel, as well as the laws of the King and his rights and duties which apply only in Eretz Yisrael. In fact R’ Yaakov points out that this is the sefer which the King had to pay special attention to, as seen in the first chapter of sefer Yehoshua (Joshua has the status of a King) where it says:

ח  לֹא-יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ, וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה, לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ:  כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל.

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Rashi comments that ‘This book of the law’ refers to the book of Devarim which went with the King wherever he would go, as well as being read to the nation by the King at the Hakhel ceremony, once every 7 years, in Jerusalem.

R’ Yaakov does raise an interesting question on some of the mitzvot mentioned in our parsha. The laws of marriage have already been set out in sefer Vayikra (we read this section of Torah on Yom Kippur) in terms of who can and cannot marry whom. In which case, why are the details of forbidden marriages (see: ch.23) left to the book of Devarim, which we have explained deals with more national matters , matters of state, and which seem out of place when referring to marriage which is seen generally as a very private affair.

R’ Yaakov answers with a fundamental observation. Every Jewish marriage must be seen as both a personal simcha and a national celebration. The union of chatan and kallah is something so special for us that the whole nation should be celebrating this continuation of the Jewish people, as represented by the marriage taking place. This is reflected in the halacha that if a chatan comes to shul during his ‘sheva brachot week’ (it has been known to happen), the whole community is exempted from saying Tachanun (the non recital of which always signifies a Yom Tov). However if an aveil (mourner) comes to shul during his week of mourning , the community still says Tachanun. The difference is because of R’ Yaakov’s observation. Marriage is a national event and the chatan in shul represents a celebration which we are all part of, which is signified by not saying Tachanun. The mourner is however within a very private and personal ritual and we sayTachanun and are not influenced in our tefilla by this private act of mourning.

Now we can understand why some laws of marriage are mentioned in sefer Devarim. Every wedding must be seen as an event of national celebration. This is a wonderful hashkafa for us to bear in mind when we attend weddings and also to understand how important such an event is for the future of Klal Yisrael. A beautiful thought from a very special Rabbi.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally appears on YUTorah.

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