Expounding the Torah

Did Moses speak in tongues? Tradition says that Moses spoke the words of the book of Deuteronomy in the seventy languages of humanity.

The presentation of the Torah in every language alludes to the universal quality of the revelation of God through the Torah of Moses. (Image © Bigstock/First Fruits of Zion)

Devarim

Special Shabbat Reading

Special readings are applicable this Shabbat.

  • Shabbat Chazon (שבת חזון | Vision)
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27

Shabbat Chazon ("Sabbath [of] vision" שבת חזון) takes its name from the Haftarah that is read on the Shabbat immediately prior to the mournful fast of Tisha B'Av, from the words of rebuke and doom coming from Isaiah in the Book of Isaiah 1:1-27. It is also referred to as the Black Sabbath due to its status as the saddest Shabbat of the year (as opposed to the White Sabbath, Shabbat Shuvah, immediately precededing Yom Kippur).

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Devarim (דברים | Words)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27
  • Gospel: Matthew 24:1-22

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 1:1 | Events at Horeb Recalled
    • Deuteronomy 1:9 | Appointment of Tribal Leaders
    • Deuteronomy 1:19 | Israel's Refusal to Enter the Land
    • Deuteronomy 1:34 | The Penalty for Israel's Rebellion
    • Deuteronomy 1:46 | The Desert Years
    • Deuteronomy 2:26 | Defeat of King Sihon
    • Deuteronomy 3:1 | Defeat of King Og
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 1:1 | Introduction
    • Isaiah 1:2 | The Wickedness of Judah
    • Isaiah 1:21 | The Degenerate City

Portion Summary

Devarim (דברים) is both the title for the last book from the scroll of the Torah and the title of the first Torah portion therein. Devarim means "words." The English-speaking world calls this book Deuteronomy. The Hebrew title for the book comes from the opening phrase of the book: "These are the words (devarim) which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness" (Deuteronomy 1:1).

One ancient name for the book of Deuteronomy is Mishnah HaTorah (משנה תורה), which means "repetition of the Torah." This is similar to the Greek Septuagint name Deuteronomos, which means "second law." The English name Deuteronomy is derived from Deuteronomos.

The book of Deuteronomy is dominated by Moses' farewell address to the children of Israel as he urges them to remain faithful to the covenant and prepares them for entering Canaan. During the course of the book, Moses reviews the story of the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the trip to the Promised Land, reiterates several laws of Torah and introduces new laws. The book seems to follow the general pattern of an ancient Near Eastern covenant treaty document.

As we study the first week's reading from the book of Exodus, the children of Israel are assembled on the plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho.


The book of Deuteronomy opens, “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah” (Deuteronomy 1:1). Those words preface more than thirty chapters of Moses continuously talking. The sages puzzled over this. How did the man who was slow of speech become so eloquent? Just a few verses later, it says, “Moses undertook to expound this Torah.” According to Jewish tradition, Moses expounded the Torah in the seventy languages. The Midrash Tanchuma takes up the discussion.

Come and see! When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, “Go and I will send you to Pharaoh,” Moses said, “Woe! You are giving over the mission to me? I am not a man of words.” He said, “There are seventy languages known in Pharaoh’s court, so that if anyone comes from a foreign country, they can speak to him in his language. I am going as your apostle, and they will question me, and I will tell them that I am an apostle of the Almighty, and it will be obvious to them that I do not know how to converse with them. Will they not mock me and say, ‘Look, the apostle of the Creator of the universe who created all the tongues! He is unable to comprehend or answer.’” This is what Moses meant when he said, “Woe, I am not a man of words.” … forty years after the exodus from Egypt, however, he expounded the Torah in seventy languages, as it says, “He explained this Torah.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Devarim 2)

According to this story, Moses felt unqualified to serve as an apostle of Hashem because he could not speak in all seventy languages. After the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (i.e., Shavuot) Moses no longer suffered with that impediment. He demonstrated to the people of Israel that he could now teach Torah in all seventy languages.

We should be able to see the connection to our apostles who spoke the good news in all languages on the day of Shavuot. On that day that they became apostles of the Almighty and His risen Son, they received the gift of languages.

The seventy tongues represent the seventy mother-languages spoken by all humanity. The presentation of the Torah in every language alludes to the universal quality of the revelation of God through the Torah of Moses. Just as Moses is said to have expounded the Torah to Israel in every language, likewise, the disciples proclaimed the good news of Yeshua on Shavuot in every language.

Expounding the Torah is a job for every disciple. In the same way that it is incumbent upon us to spread the gospel in every place and at every time, it is also incumbent upon us to teach the Torah. After all the Torah is very much a part of the gospel, and the message of the gospel is quite meaningless without the Torah. Therefore, we are all called to emulate Yeshua, our teacher, who dedicated His life to proclaiming the gospel and teaching the ways of Torah.

When properly presented, the Torah should be an avenue to Messiah. It should be a central part of the good news of the kingdom and the call for repentance in the name of our Master. One who undertakes to teach the Torah to others is like one imbued with the Holy Spirit on the day of Shavuot.

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Depths of the Torah. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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