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Who Wrote the Last Eight Psukim of the Torah?

Rabbi Shimshon Nadel

As Jews, we believe fundamentally in the divinity and immutable authority of our Holy Torah. According to the Rambam, another fundamental principle is that the entire Torah was written by Moshe Rabbeinu. How, then, are we to understand the last eight psukim of the Torah, which begin, “And Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there”? If he had already died, how could Moshe have written these words?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

 Chazal, too, were bothered by this question and discuss the authorship of this passage in two places in the Talmud Bavli.[i] There exists a machlokes Tanna’im as to who wrote the last eight psukim of the Torah: Rabi Yehudah (some say Rabi Nechemiah) states that while up until this point, the Torah was written by Moshe, the last eight psukim were written by Yehoshua. Rabi Shimon contends that the last eight psukim were dictated by Hashem, and Moshe wrote them b’dimah with tears. Both opinions suggest that these last eight psukim are unique.

The Vilna Gaon explains that Rabi Yehudah and Rabi Shimon are actually in agreement with one another[ii] The Torah, before its revelation at Sinai, existed in the form of combinations and permutations of letters and words, resulting in the formation of many different Names of Hashem.[iii] This “proto-Torah,” in its pristine state, was given to Moshe, who then “revealed” the Torah that we have today and committed it to writing. The Gaon explains that the word “dimah” in this context means combined or mixed together. He suggests that Moshe brought down the last eight psukim, but left them in their mixed (or hidden) state because it would not have been truthful to write explicitly “And Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there” while Moshe was still alive. They were then revealed and committed to writing by Yehoshua, following Moshe’s death. According to this explanation, even Rabi Yehudah agrees that Moshe was involved in the transmission of the last eight psukim and thus is considered to have written the entire sefer Torah.

 



[i] Bava Basra 15a; Menachos 30a; Cf. Sifrei, V’zos HaBrachah, piska 357. See also Makkos 11a,Aruch LaNer, ad loc., and Ibn Ezra to Devarim 34:1, who writes that Yehoshua wrote the last twelve psukim of the Torah.

[ii] Kol Eliyahu, V’zos HaBrachah; Divrei Eliyahu, Bava Basra 15a. A similar approach is cited by Kli Chemdah to Devarim 34:5 in the name of the Rema Mi’Fano.

[iii] See Ramban’s introduction to his Commentary to the Torah; Cf. Zohar, Yisro 87a.

 

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