Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
The Final Words
“And Moshe died …” (Devarim 34:5).
The Gemara (Bava Batra 15a) considers who wrote the final 8 verses of the Torah which describe events after Moshe’s death. Rabbi Yehudah’s view is that Moshe wrote, under God’s direction, the entire Torah except for the last 8 verses, which were written by Joshua. Rabbi Shimon responded that the Torah states (Devarim 31:24-26): “When Moshe had finished writing the words of this Torah on a scroll until the end, Moshe instructed the Levites …: Take this Torah scroll”! Is it conceivable that the verse terms it a Torah scroll and yet words are missing? Rather, until the last 8 verses, God spoke and Moshe wrote; thereafter, God spoke and Moshe wrote it in tears (bedema).
Rambam seems to rule in his famous introduction to the Mishnah (commentary to Sanhedrin, Perek Chelek) in support of Rabbi Shimon: “The 8th principle is that Torah is from Heaven, i.e. we should believe that THIS ENTIRE TORAH WHICH WE HAVE TODAY IS THE ONE GIVEN BY MOSHE OUR TEACHER, MAY HE REST IN PEACE, DICTATED ENTIRELY BY GOD. Moshe was like a scribe to whom one dictates and he writes.”
The Vilna Gaon teaches that, in fact, the statements of Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Shimon may be reconciled in an amazing manner!
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 1:1) states that the Torah was all written even before the world was created, so our inquiry should not be restricted to the final 8 verses but to the entire Torah! How could Moshe write “And Moshe died …” (Devarim 34:5), and how could the whole Torah have been written prior to the occurrence of the events described?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the text of the Torah is formulated by combinations of God’s Names. Before creation, the Torah existed in its hidden, primordial state. As world history unfolded, God revealed to Moshe how to write the words of our Torah.
Up to the final 8 verses, God revealed the exact wording of the Torah to Moshe. The remainder, He taught to Moshe in a concealed form. So Moshe indeed wrote the text of the last 8 verses, but without being made aware of the spaces between words so it all looked like one long string of letters! He wrote it in a mixed up fashion (bedema). Shortly afterwards, God disclosed to Joshua how to insert the spaces in order to make sense of these final words.