Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Words Are The Things

In Hebrew, the Book of Deuteronomy is known as Sefer D’varim. Its name is derived from the fact that the Hebrew word d’varim is the first noun that appears in the book, which begins with the words: “Eleh ha’d’varim...” These are the words...

The word d’varim, however, is an interesting word. Derived from the Hebrew word l’dabair, to speak, it is usually translated as “words.” However, d’varim may also be translated as “things.” This makes perfect sense when one recalls that the Al-mighty created the world through speech (“And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” Genesis 1:3).

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” goes the old childhood song. According to Jewish thought, however, words are as powerful and substantive as physical things. Given that words in Judaism are considered to be actual things, one can see why our faith puts so strong an emphasis on guarding one’s tongue, reciting one’s blessings aloud and staying faithful to one’s vows.

Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, contains the transmission of Moses’ final teachings to the Israelites. The sages refer to D'varim as the Mishneh Torah, the Repetition of the Torah, because it appears to relay, in Moses' own words, much of what has already been recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: “These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel” (Deuteronomy 1:1).

The Book of D’varim is about the things that occurred to the Children of Israel, about their good times and bad, their battles and triumphs, and the way the words that God related through Moses, helped form the Israelites into the great nation that was on the cusp of entering the Promised Land.

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