Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

They were “selecting’’ in Auschwitz again.

And once again, those sent to the left were to be gassed, while those were sent to the right would suffer – and, perhaps, live.

My father, who was among those being selected, was sent to the left.

He - and 800 other people who were selected to die – was locked in the “death barracks” to await his gassing on the next day.

That gassing, though, didn’t happen on that “next day” because that day January 1st 1944, a legal holiday. And Nazis didn't “work” by gassing people on legal holidays.

So the gassings were rescheduled for January 2nd.

That day of reprieve gave Auschwitz’s bureaucrats – who happened to need carpenters - time to check those eight hundred Jews’ records (all Auschwitz's inmates' personal data was recorded when they were tattooed and “registered”) to see if any were “registered” as carpenters.

Sixteen of the eight hundred were, indeed, carpenters.

Those sixteen were, therefore, taken from the “death barracks” to a “re-selection.”  Eight of the sixteen - my father among them - passed that re-selection and were returned to the “living” barracks.

No-one had ever returned from the “death barracks” before so my father’s return was dumbfounding. So much so, that a non-Jewish kapo proclaimed: “a miracle happened.”

My father was reabsorbed into the Nazi netherworld where he suffered – but survived – until liberation seventeen months later.

And I wonder. What helped him survive that sea of suffering? Divine providence? Of course. Reservoirs of faith and fortitude. I, as a son, know that he possessed those.

Perhaps, though, also those words: “a miracle happened to you?”

Hearing those words demonstrated that even kapos knew that: God watches over you. There is Divine providence. You will survive.

Those words so empowered my father. And that’s because those words - like all words - contained seeds of the divine.

It’s the following possuk: “Hashem breathed into man’s nostrils a living “soul.”[1] This soul is the power of speech - “the breath of words.”[2] And that’s because it’s the “breath” – the soul - that “Hashem breathed into”[3]us that we “breath out” when we speak.

Yes, our words are divine expressions of the soul. Which answers yet another question.

That’s the question about why Devarim – the fifth of our “Torah’s five books” – so differs from the Torah’s other four books.

Devarim, unlike the other four books, has a special name - “Mishneh Torah.”[4]

Devarim unlike the other four books – and we’ll explain this soon - doesn’t use third-person language. The other four books, on the other hand, are written in exclusively “third person” language. It always says “Hashem spoke to Moshe”[5] – never “I (Moshe) spoke to Hashem.”

And that’s because writing first person “Hashem spoke to me”[6] is saying that “I” am recording what happened to “me.” Such a personal imprimatur is inappropriate for these books.

Why? Because these books are word for word transcriptions of what Hashem told Moshe.

Devarim, on the other hand -  except for its bookending opening and closing chapters – is all first-person. There are so many examples: “Hashem spoke to me;[7] “I pleaded with Hashem;”[8] “Look, I give … you.”[9]

In Devarim, Moshe isn’t transcribing Hashem’s words. He’s, seemingly, “authoring” a book.

Which is why the Gemara says: “Moshe said Devarim from himself.”[10]

No, we aren’t suggesting that Moshe independently added his own words to Hashem’s Torah. Such a suggestion is heretical. We’re, rather, suggesting the following: “Moshe said … [Devarim] and explained these mitzvos …after Moshe finished saying these words to the Jews, Hashem wanted to include Moshe’s words in the Torah, as Moshe had said them. Perhaps Hashem added concepts and words at the time of writing.”[11]

Devarim, then, was Moshe’s parting speech to his beloved people. Hashem – who wanted that speech preserved for eternity – redacted that speech and added it to the Torah. Devarim’s core, though, is Moshe’s creation - which is why it’s written first-person.

Yes, Moshe’s human words became divine Torah. Which is really quite appropriate, given – as we just established – that all words are divine.

And its that divinity that gives words so much power.

Words that tell children that we believe in them will help them scale mountains.

Words of encouragement that are shared with those facing whatever challenge - marital disharmony, illness, psychiatric issues, addiction or whatever else – will save lives and build futures.

Words of appreciation, of love and of recognition will build people, relationship and eternities.

Words can do so much.

Shouldn’t we keep that in mind whenever, wherever, however we say something?

[1] Bereishis 2:7

[2] Targum Onkelos and Targum Yerushalmi ad loc.

[3] Bereishis 2:7

[4] Devarim 17:18, as per Ha’Emek Davar, Introduction to Devarim

[5] Devarim 2:17

[6] Devarim 2:17

[7] Devarim 2:17

[8] Devarim 3:23

[9] Devarim 11:26

[10] Megillah 31b as per the Abarbanel loc. cit.

[11] Abarbanel, Introduction to Devarim


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