Last week we completed Moshe’s review of the מצוות:
But there are two exceptions; מצוות that are listed in this week’s parasha:
This is the only מצוה of actually reading the Torah, and the Abarbanel hypothesizes that it is the origin of our שמחת תורה:
The last מצוה is to write the Torah, which חז״ל understand is incumbent on all Jews:
Why are these two מצוות, to read and to write the Torah, after the point of השלים משה לבאר את התורה? I think it is because they have to be given after the Torah is complete. They are “meta-mitzvot” that emphasize the fact that there will be no more מצוות, as we see from earlier in the parasha:
As the Rambam summarizes in the introduction to the Mishna, the Torah is closed (in the mathematical sense):
There is a dialectic between מסורה and חידוש, but it always stays within the system of הלכה.
And these מצוות are not limited to the elite, to the prophets or priests; everyone has to read it (or listen to it being read), and everyone has to write it (or have it written). And we have to do both. It is possible to read the Torah without writing it, without contributing to its continuity in the next generation. And it is possible to write without reading, without understanding the letters we are putting down.
(I am reminded of the concept of “write-only” computer code. There are some computer languages that are so obscure that even if you know it, and can figure out how to accomplish something, you will never understand the code you wrote again. In APL, this is an algorithm for finding prime numbers:
The Torah should never get to this point.)
And both of these מצוות are connected to the transition from Moshe to Joshua:
This is also part of the idea of the closure of the Torah. Joshua is the new leader for a new generation. Things are going to be different now. Entering ארץ ישראל means being more on their own. But בני ישארל don’t like it:
This is a fascinating aggadah, but what does it mean? Joshua forgets some halachot, so the people want to kill him? And ה׳ tells him to distract them by going to war?
ספר יהושע starts with ה׳'s command to Joshua:
But after they cross the Jordan, as they have invested Jericho, Joshua has an unexpected visitation:
And he is given instructions for taking Jericho:
What does the שר צבא ה׳ mean by עתה באתי? The gemara says it’s that the Jews were neglecting their Torah study:
And the gemara in תמורה connects the lack of study with Joshua’s forgetting:
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky puts all this together and reaches a surprising conclusion:
So בני ישראל didn’t spend enough time learning the laws of settling and running a country as outlined in ספר דברים. Instead, when faced with uncertainty, they demanded from the נביא, ”שאל—you’re the prophet, go ask G-d!“ But it doesn’t work that way anymore. Their response was to threaten Joshua. So ה׳ says that while they are clearly not ready, they aren’t going to get any better. Go ahead and take the land—לומר לך אי אפשר לך וטורדן במלחמה. And this error would continue to haunt them throughout their time in ארץ ישראל.
This problem was especially acute in the delay in building the בית המקדש.
So the Ramban says that the Jews' trouble in the time of the שופטים was because they didn’t seek to build the בית המקדש. Rabbi Kaminetsky says it was because of their lack of learning Torah. I think they are saying the same thing: they were waiting for the נביא to tell them what to do, not trying to figure it out for themselves. Torah belongs to all Jews, הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף…למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו. We don’t have the option of waiting for ה׳ to tell us what to do.
ר׳ צדוק הכהן says that this attitude toward learning lasted throughout the period of the first Temple and it was not until נבואה ended that we came back to the idea of learning תורה שבעל פה:
The transition from Moshe to Joshua started out on the wrong foot, and we paid the price for many centuries to come.