If you can read this, your browser needs to be upgraded.
Sefer Devarim - Questions for Self Study
Part I - What is (or isn't) Sefer Devarim?
Even though it is commonly understood that Sefer Devarim is a
review or repeat of Chumash, the following set of questions will
help you determine if this assumption is indeed correct.
If indeed Sefer Devarim is a review of Chumash, then we would
certainly expect that it would review both the main stories as well
as the primary mitzvot that are found in the books of Breishit,
Shmot, Vayikra, and Bamidbar.
Based on your previous knowledge, attempt to name either the
stories or mitzvot of any of these four books that are 'repeated'
in Sefer Devarim.
The following questions will help your review and analysis.
In Sefer Breishit, we find the story of Creation, the Flood and
the story of the Avot. Are any of these stories repeated in Sefer
Devarim? If so, which story and where it is repeated?
Which stories are 'missing'?
In Sefer Shmot we find the stories of Moshe's birth, the Ten
Plagues, the Exodus, Matan Torah, Chet ha'egel, and building the
Mishkan. Can you find any of these stories in Sefer Devarim? If so,
in what Parsha?
Which stories are missing?
In Sefer Devarim, we DO find the story of Matan Torah and chet
ha'egel. WHERE in Sefer Devarim are they found and in what context?
Are they presented as part of an ongoing review of Bnei
Recall how the second half of Sefer Shmot discusses the Mishkan
in great detail (Parshiot Terumah, Tezaveh, first half of Ki-tisa,
Vayakhel & Pekudei. Is any of this detail repeated or summarized in
Sefer Devarim? If so, where?
Is the Mishkan itself ever mentioned in Sefer Devarim? Is the
Mikdash and/or korbanot ever referred to all? If so, where?
Recall from Sefer Vayikra that it contain numerous mitzvot, most
of which deal with the Mishkan and korbanot. Are any of these
mitzvot repeated in Sefer Devarim? If so, which mitzvot, in what
context (and where)?
Is there any category of mitzvot in Sefer Vayikra that is not
mentioned at all in Sefer Devarim? If so, can you explain why?
Recall from our study of Sefer Bamidbar how it contains both
'narrative' and 'mitzvot'. While the narrative focussed on the
story of Bnei Yisrael's journey from Har Sinai towards Eretz Canaan
[including the preparation for that journey], most of its mitzvot
seemed to have 'belonged' in Sefer Vayikra.
To the best of your recollection, which stories that took
place during that journey are repeated in Sefer Devarim? Are these
stories presented in an orderly fashion? If so, where in Sefer
Devarim and in what context?
Can you identify which stories are missing (and why)? For
example, do we find a review of the stories of Korach, Bilam, and
the Mei Meriva incident ? If so, are they presented as part of a
complete review, or are they mentioned just in passing?
The story of the meraglim is indeed 'repeated' in chapter one of
Sefer Devarim. Can you explain why specifically that story receives
so much detail and is first story of Chumash to be repeated in
Sefer Devarim (even though it didn't take place until the second
year in the desert)?
The story of the conquest of Sichon & Og is also quite
detailed in Sefer Devarim (chapters 2->3). Can you explain why?
Relate to the final psukim of Parshat Devarim (i.e. 3:20-22)!
Are any of the mitzvot found is Sefer Bamidbar repeated in Sefer
Devarim (e.g. nazir, sotah, tzizit, chalah, nsachim, para aduma,
tmidim u'musafim, etc.). If not, can you explain why?
Do we find any mitzvot in Sefer Devarim that were never
mentioned earlier in Chumash? If so, name a few examples.
If Sefer Devarim is indeed a review of Chumash, would it make
sense that it would contain mitzvot that were never mentioned
Based on your answers to all the above questions, would you
still say that Sefer Devarim is a review or repeat of Chumash?
If not, then what is it?
[In case you can't answer that question, it is recommended
that you continue with Part II.]
Part II - A Book of Speeches
Scan through the Sefer, noting how most of the Sefer Devarim is
written in the first person (i.e. as though Moshe himself is
talking). Can you explain the reason for this style?
Do we find this style in any other sefer of Chumash?
Now, read the first seven psukim carefully. Note that even
though the Sefer begins in third person, a switch to the 'first
person' takes place that continues for several chapters.
In what pasuk does the Sefer switch to first person. Can you
Until where does this 'first person' style continue?
[If you give up, scan until [towards the] end of chapter 4.]
In case you didn't notice, you just identified a speech, the
first of many speeches found in Sefer Devarim. Quickly scan these
four chapters (i.e. 1:5->4:40) and see if you can identify the main
topic (or topics) of this first speech?
Can you explain the flow from one topic to the next?
Can you explain the short narrative (in third person) in that
is recorded in 4:41-49? [See Ramban on Devarim 1:1 (towards
Next, examine chapter 5 and note where the next speech begins.
[This speech should be a bit easier to identify.]
Once again, scan this speech that begins in chapter five
(noting that is written in first person) and try to find where it
[You should give up after a while, since this speech
continues until the end of chapter 26, but if you have time,
try to verify this by yourself. If you have even more time,
see if you can identify the next set of speeches in Sefer
Devarim (after chapter 26) and their purpose.]
Can you explain why this 'main speech' of Sefer Devarim is
commonly referred to as "ne'um ha'mitzvot"?
Return now to chapter five (i.e. the opening chapter of this
'main speech') and read it very carefully. Attempt to follow the
logic of the opening lines of this speech (i.e. 5:1-5), noting
especially how they relate to 5:20 to 6:4.
How does this chapter explain the purpose of the main speech?
Review 5:28, noting how it relates directly to 6:1, and
explain why these psukim are key towards understanding what the
main speech is about.
When were these mitzvot described in 5:28 first given to Bnei
Yisrael? [Relate to Shmot 34:29-32 and their context.]
Which mitzvot does the word "aylu" in 6:1 refer to? How does
your answer relate to the main speech.
In your opinion, how does this main speech (chapters 5->26)
relate to Moshe Rabeinu's first speech in Sefer Devarim (i.e.
[Hint: When would have the main speech of Sefer Devarim been
given had Bnei Yisrael not been punished to remain in the
desert for forty years?]
Carefully read Shmot 34:27-33! According to this parsha, when
Moshe came down from Har Sinai, he taught Bnei Yisrael all of the
laws that God had instructed him on Har Sinai. What specific
mitzvot is that parsha referring to?
Are those laws recorded in Sefer Shmot. If so, where?
If not, why not. [Relate to Shmot 35:1-5.]
If these mitzvot are not recorded in Sefer Shmot, the where
are they recorded?
How does your answer relate to your answer to question #4?
Based on all of the above, what would you say is the main theme,
or main topic of Sefer Devarim?
Why do you think that Chazal refer to this sefer as Mishneh Torah
TORAH? [Relate to the use of this phrase in Devarim 17:17-19!]
From what "shoresh" does the word "mishneh" stem from?
[Relate this to the meaning of mishneh as in "mishnayot".]
Relate in your answer to Devarim 6:7 - "v'shinantam..."
Relate this to "ha'devarim ha'eyleh" in 6:6?
Are these the same "devarim" as in Devarim 1:1? Shmot 34:27?
Relate also to Devarim 17:18 - "...mishneh ha'torah ha'zot..."
How does your answer to these questions help you understand the
first several psukim in Sefer Devarim?
[See Ibn Ezra and Ramban on 1:1-4.]
Part III - Parshat Devarim - The First Speech
As you read the beginning of Moshe Rabeinu's first speech (i.e.
from 1:6-18), note how some of these psukim seem to 'ring a bell'
from Parshat Yitro (Shmot chapter 18).
If so, be specific regarding which psukim relate to Yitro.
Is Yitro himself mentioned here in Sefer Devarim? If not, can you
explain why not?
Are there any other psukim here that remind you of earlier
passages in Chumash?
[If/when you give up - read Bamidbar 11:1-20 (especially 10-15)!]
Does this help you re-answer any of the above questions?
In your opinion, how do these psukim fit into the theme of Moshe
Rabeinu's opening speech?
Explain why Moshe dedicates so much detail to why Bnei Yisrael
did not fight Edom, Amon & Moav and how they did fight Sichon & Og.
How does this fit into the purpose of this speech?
Why does chapter 3 conclude with a mention of Yehoshua?
Once again, relate to the theme of this speech.
Part IV - Parshanut
See Ramban and Ibn Ezra on Devarim 1:1.
Are these two pirushim the same or different.
If they are different, in what manner are they similar?
If they are similar, in what manner are they different?
See Emek Davar on Devarim 1:1.
How does his pirush relate to the above questions.
In what manner is his pirush different than Ramban & Ibn Ezra.
The first three psukim of Sefer Devarim are very difficult to
understand. Read them carefully and try to explain them according
to pshat. What are the obvious problems?
Rashi, Ramban, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Sforno, and Chizkuni all
present different approaches to explain their difficulty. If you
can, try to figure out each shita on your own, then continue below
[or if you give up, you can use the following questions to help you
understand each shita].
To explain these psukim, we find two basic approaches in the
Rishonim. The first approach, advanced by Rashi & Seforno [also
Chazal's in Sifri], understands these "ayleh ha'devarim" as rebuke
["tochacha"] of Am Yisrael for their behavior in the desert. The
fact that we have never heard of many of these places is simply
because their names reflect what happened at each site.
The beauty and simplicity of Rashi's shita is that he explains
not only the meaning of each name, but he also explains why the
psukim are so ambiguous:
"l'fichach sa'tam et ha'dvarim, v'hizkiram b'remez m'pnei
kvodam shel yisrael..."
According to Rashi, the Torah intentionally made this pasuk
difficult to understand! Even though this pasuk rebukes Am Yisrael,
it does it in sort of a hidden way, so that only one who knows how
to 'read between the lines' understands the rebuke. However, in a
simple reading of the text, it would go unnoticed, and this is in
order not to publicly embarrass Am Yisrael.
See also Sforno, Tirgum Unkelos, the first few lines of the
Chizkuni, and the very end of the Ramban on 1:1-3.
The second approach, advanced by Ramban, Ibn Ezra, & Rashbam,
understands that "ayleh ha'devarim" refers to the mitzvot which are
recorded later in the Sefer, and has nothing to do with rebuke.
Then, the obvious question is: what are all these places?
Rashbam understands that all of these places simply describe
one place, i.e. the place where these mitzvot are now being said by
Moshe to Bnei Yisrael in the 40th year. The use of so many names is
simply to pinpoint the exact location. He brings other examples in
Chumash where a location is described in such a manner. [Thus
according to Rashbam, Yam Suf must mean the Dead Sea which is near
Arvot Moav and not the Red Sea!]
In contrast to Rashbam, Ibn Ezra & Chizkuni explain that each
place describes a different site during Bnei Yisrael's journey
through the desert, and at each of these various sites Moshe had
already taught them these mitzvot. Now in the 40th year on the
first day of the eleventh month, he is going to teach these mitzvot
one last time at a national gathering at Arvot Moav.
Ramban agrees that "ayleh ha'dvarim" refers to the mitzvot,
but he doesn't explain why all of the different places are listed
and what happened at each. At the end of his pirush, he brings down
the Sifri's shita (see Rashi above) which Tirgum Unkelos follows,
which explains these places as tochachot. It seems that Ramban may
be trying to combine both of these shitot together. Surely,
"ha'dvarim" refers to the mitzvot which follow, but the places
which are mentioned may be a subtle manner of "tochacha". Note also
how Ramban explain "11 days from Chorev.." as a type of tochacha.
[See also opening line in the Ibn Ezra where it appears
that he disagrees with Ramban's explanation of "11 days
from chorev..." as a type of rebuke.]