Eight-year-old Josh sat in his living room excitedly opening his birthday presents. He had already received some new toys from his grandparents, but his parents told him that their present was extra special. He’d be able to use it to light up whatever he wanted, to make unique shapes on the walls, and to play games in the backyard. As he took his brand-new flashlight out of the box, he excitedly flicked the switch to turn it on. Nothing happened. He flicked the switch off and back on, and again nothing happened. He pointed it around the room, then ran outside to the backyard and pointed it around out there, as well. It must be broken, he thought sadly, as he trudged back into the house and dejectedly ate his birthday cake.
That night, he went to sleep with all his toys in his room, even his broken flashlight. As he was falling asleep, his mom knocked loudly on the door. He opened it, and quickly noticed that all the lights in the house were off. His mom asked if she could use his flashlight, as there had been a power outage. He took his flashlight and started explaining to her that it didn’t actually work. As he flicked it on, though, the hallway was suddenly bathed in light! As he moved around the house, the flashlight filled the dark house with a warm glow of illumination. His parents, noticing his confused expression, explained to him: “Your light is powerful beyond measure, but in the presence of sunlight, your flame is subsumed. Only in the dark, when the light has faded, can your small flame shine bright and be seen for what it truly is.”
Twelve Lines of Separation
The Jewish divorce document, called a get, is written according to a very specific format. One requirement is that it must be written across 12 lines. Tosafos (Gittin 2a) asks why this is so, first suggesting that perhaps it is because the word “get” has the g’matria (numerical value) of 12. Tosafos then gives another, much more enigmatic, explanation: In total, there are 12 lines separating the five books of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, as there are four lines of separation between each sefer (book) in the five books of the Torah. Since a get is a document of separation, it therefore adopts this feature of separation from the sefer Torah, requiring 12 lines, as well. This is a compelling answer, because the Torah is the original “document” of the world, so it therefore seems reasonable to model the get, a halachic document, off of the foundational document of the Torah. The document of separation (get) therefore contains 12 lines, corresponding to the 12 lines of separation in the Torah.
However, there is a major problem with this answer. Between each sefer in the Torah, there are four blank lines, but there are five books in the Torah, for a total of 16 lines! Why, then, are there only 12 lines in a get?
Tosafos explains that the lines between BaMidbar and D’varim are not regarded as lines of separation, because D’varim is not considered a separate sefer; it is purely a repeat of everything that came before it. To a large degree, Sefer D’varim repeats many of the episodes found throughout the rest of the Torah. This idea is reflected in the various names that are used to refer to Sefer D’varim:
Chazal refer to Sefer D’varim as “Mishneh Torah,” which means a repeat or second Torah.
The Latin name for D’varim, “Deuteronomy,” means Second Law, and originates from the Greek words deuteros nomos (second law).
However, we are still left with a question: Why does D’varim’s status as a repeat sefer preclude its four lines of separation from being included in the lines of a get? There are still four lines separating BaMidbar and D’varim! In order to answer these questions and understand the deep nature of Sefer D’varim, we must develop an essential principle.
The Transition to Torah SheB’al Peh
The initial stage of Torah was that of Torah SheBichsav (Written Torah). Torah was transmitted through n’vuah, reflecting the open revelation of Hashem and truth in the world. There was little to no machlokes (dispute) and virtually no human creativity, opinion, or input. If you had a question, you went to a Navi (prophet). The Navi made himself a receptacle to receive and transmit Hashem’s message. Once n’vuah ended, however, the canon of Tanach was closed, and a new age began: the age of Torah SheB’al Peh (the Oral Torah).
The light faded, the darkness thickened, but something wondrous happened: The makom (place) of Torah transitioned from Shamayim (the Heavens) to the hearts and minds of klal Yisrael. “Lo baShamayim hi” – the clarity and authority of Torah’s revelation is no longer in the Heavens, given clearly and freely from Hashem (D’varim 30:12, Bava M’tzia 59a). It rests in the hearts and minds of the Jewish Sages, who become the walking, living embodiments of Torah, radiating light in a darkened world. The gift of Torah clarity was lost; we now have to rebuild it ourselves, poring over the pages of the Gemara and exerting every ounce of our strength to absorb its meaning.
However, once we accept this unique role and ability of the Chachamim, we still must ask: How are they entrusted with this unique power? How can humans create Torah? Where do we find such a precedent?
The answer lies in the sefer of D’varim, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sefer. As the Maharal and the Vilna Gaon explain, Sefer D’varim is an expression of the first four s’farim of the Torah. The first four s’farim were written by Hashem, the Giver, while Moshe served purely as a channel of transmission. As Chazal put it, “Sh’chinah m’daberes mi’toch g’rono shel Moshe,” Hashem spoke through the throat of Moshe, placing the words in his mouth (Ramban, D’varim 5:12). Moshe became a pure vessel for Torah, a perfect receptacle. D’varim, however, was Moshe’s creation. He took everything that came before and expressed it through his unique lens. The Maharal and the Ohr HaChaim describe this process as Moshe’s transformation into a normal Navi, one who expresses Hashem’s n’vuah through his own unique, personal lens. Instead of Hashem speaking through Moshe’s throat, Hashem spoke to Moshe and then, at a later point, Moshe expressed this to klal Yisrael in his own words. As a result, Sefer D’varim possesses the “style” of Moshe. The Malbim elaborates on this point, explaining that once Moshe uttered his own words, Hashem then ratified them as part of Torah. In other words, Hashem commanded Moshe to write Sefer D’varim as a documentation of what Moshe himself had already said of his own accord.
This is the root of our ability to engage in Torah SheB’al Peh, to become part of the creative process of Torah. At root, Torah SheB’al Peh is the process of taking the seed of Torah SheBichsav and fully expressing it, developing it, without losing or betraying any of its inner meaning. It’s a beautiful and elegant balance of being completely loyal to the written text of the Torah itself, while still finding room for personal creativity and innovation. Of course, there are rules and limitations and very clear guidelines to this process. Only Jews who are an aron (ark) or mishkan (tabernacle) for Torah, who have first connected themselves completely to the vast m’sorah of Torah, can contain the “sh’chinah” of Torah SheB’al Peh. Only those who completely give themselves over to Torah, like the g’dolim in every generation, can become the true pillars of Torah SheB’al Peh and halachic reality. However, in a deep way, each and every one of us can tap into that m’sorah and become a part of this magical process, as well.
The root of our ability to become partners in the creative process of Torah comes from Sefer D’varim, from Moshe Rabbeinu’s unique input. Moshe connected himself to the first four s’farim of the Torah, embraced and embodied it, and then expressed something unique from within himself. This was the first example of Torah SheB’al Peh in Jewish history.
Sefer D’varim As a Unique Sefer
We can now explain Tosafos’ description of Sefer D’varim in regard to the 12 lines of a get. In a way, Sefer D’varim is unique and distinct from the other four s’farim of Chumash. It is the only one written by Moshe himself, and in a sense, is a completely separate sefer. Viewed from this angle, it is possible to suggest that the four lines between Sefer BaMidbar and Sefer D’varim do not count as a form of separation, because Sefer D’varim holds its own status as a completely separate sefer. Therefore, only the lines that separate between the first four books of the Torah are counted when determining the format of a get.
However, there is an even deeper explanation: Sefer D’varim is not counted as a separate volume of the Chamishah Chumshei Torah, not because it is a completely separate sefer, but for the exact opposite reason: It is subsumed within the first four books. This mirrors the deep relationship between Torah SheB’al Peh and Torah SheBichsav. Torah SheB’al Peh is not a distinct entity from Torah SheBichsav; it is a genuine expression of it. All the details and elements of Torah SheB’al Peh are revealed aspects of truth that are buried within Torah SheBichsav. Therefore, Torah SheB’al Peh is one with Torah SheBichsav. D’varim is not a new sefer, it is an actualization and expression of everything that is in seed, root form within the first four books of the Torah. Therefore, there is no separation or gap between BaMidbar and D’varim because everything within Sefer D’varim stems from the previous four books of the Torah.
Our Role in Torah
This is our unique role in the world. When the light fades, when translucence becomes opaque, we must shine a light in the darkness, we must reveal the truth of Torah in a post-prophetic age. As Chazal explain, only when the light goes out and darkness reigns can a candle serve as a source of illumination. When the world is incandescent with spiritual clarity, humanity serves as a loyal channel and receptor of truth. When that light fades, we can become part of the creative process itself, not just shining the light, but creating it as well. May we be inspired to strive for Torah truth, listen closely in a world of darkness, and gather the shards of multiplicity into a singular oneness of higher truth.
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is an author, educator, speaker, and coach who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah, psychology, and leadership. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course. Rabbi Reichman received Semikha from RIETS, a master’s degree in Jewish Education from Azrieli, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Revel. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago and has also spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Exchange Scholar. To find more inspirational content from Rabbi Reichman, to contact him, or to learn more about Self-Mastery Academy, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.