The Last Eight Pesukim in the Torah

The Last Eight Pesukim
in the Torah
Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman
Rosh Yeshiva, RIETS • Rabbi, Ohr Saadya, Teaneck NJ
It would be quite an unusual autobiography that is so comprehensive that it describes the
author’s own death and burial; by the time the author has been buried, he has probably stopped
writing. The Chumash, however, defies this premise: while not an autobiography, it was
transcribed by one of its major protagonists, Moshe Rabbenu, who was nonetheless apparently
able to record his own passing 1 and then continue writing for seven more pesukim (verses).
The Talmud 2 addresses this anomaly and records two approaches in response: According to R.
Yehudah (or R. Nechemia), these pesukim were actually not written by Moshe, but by Yehoshua.
However, R. Shimon objects, noting that Moshe is instructed to “take the sefer haTorah,” 3 and
that description would not be used if even one letter were missing. Rather, he asserts, until this
point, G-d spoke, and Moshe repeated and wrote; from here until the end, G-d spoke and
Moshe wrote the words “bi-dema.”
The common translation of bi-dema in this usage is that it means “with a tear,” indicating that
Moshe was crying, understandably, while receiving and transcribing the prophecy of his
impending death. Some rishonim 4 indicate that the tear was actually the writing material, rather
than ink; the Maharsha suggests Moshe did not want to use formal ink to write something that
had not yet taken place and which could have the appearance of falsehood (mechzi ki-shikra). 5
Devarim 34:5.
Bava Batra 15a, Menachot 30a.
Devarim 31:26.
See, for example, Ritva and Rama to Bava Batra, and Rashi to Bava Batra, .s.v. ho’il.
Chiddushei Aggadot LaMaharsha, Bava Batra 15. The Maharsha also understands Moshe’s lack of verbal repetition
as a function of this issue. This comment has led some to suggest that dishonesty is less of an issue in writing than in
speech; however, the Maharsha’s intent was presumably to note that while there was never a concern for actual
dishonesty, since the words would come true, but since they had not yet come true, they appeared false when
spoken out loud, a concern that would not apply to written,en words meant to be read later. See the citation of the
Maharsha in R. Shalom Mordechai HaKohen’s Da’at Torah, Orach Chaim 156; see also Sefer HaMidot of R.
Nachman of Breslov, Emet 5 (compare, however, Ha’arot of R. Natan of Breslov). For an innovative interpretation
of the Maharsha’s comments, see R. Yitzchak Sternhill, Kokhvei Yitzchak 3:2:8 and 9. See also R. Meir Dan Plotzki,
Kli Chemdah, Parshat VeZot HaB’rakhah; R. Chizkiyahu Fish, Titten Emet L’Yaakov 8; R. Eliezer Yehudah
Waldenberg, Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 15:12; R. Shimon Gabel, Kli Golah and Sofrei Shimon to Berakhot 43b; and see
also R. Yehudah Assad, Responsa Yehudah Ya’aleh, Yoreh Deah 316. See as well R. David Avraham Mandelbaum,
Pardes Yosef HaChadash al HaTorah, Devarim, II, pp. 1381-1382. For an extensive analysis of the Maharsha’s
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774Others, 6 however, understood the term dema differently, as indicating dimua, or intermixture. In
this view, Moshe wrote the words, which had not yet been actualized, in a jumbled form that
would not be intelligible to the reader. Commenting along similar lines, the Gaon of Vilna 7
maintained that the two views in the Talmud were compatible, in that Moshe did write the
words in their initial form, while Yehoshua rearranged the letters into a legible form and thus
“wrote” them as well. 8
The Talmud continues by asserting a halakhic implication of the fact that, whichever opinion is
accepted, there is something unique about these eight pesukim. As such, they are granted a
unique halakhic treatment: “yachid korei otam.” The first of many mysteries contained in this
brief phrase is a very basic one: what does it mean?
This simple question is not so simply answered. In fact, there are no fewer than six
interpretations among the rishonim, some of which are reflected in halakhic practice to some
degree, some of which have no such practical expression, some of which contradict each other,
and all of which must be studied and explicated in order to arrive at a perspective on how Chazal
and the rishonim related to this mysterious last passage of the Torah.
1. According to the RiMigash, cited in the Shittah Mekubetzet to Bava Batra, the intent is that
these verses must be read together with earlier verses, without breaking before them (ein
mafsikin bahem). 9 In this reading, the word “yachid” would mean “together” (yachad) [with
other verses]. The reason for this, says the Ri Migash, is so as not to call attention to Yehoshua’s
authorship. While he does not expand on this, presumably the intent is that since the status of
these pesukim is essential, for practical purposes, the same as the rest of the Torah, it is
unhelpful to confuse the populace by highlighting the irrelevant difference in their transcriptive
2. The Shittah Mekubetzet, before citing that view of the Ri Migash, also records in his name a
completely opposite opinion, with an equally contrary rationale: The verses must be read
separately so that it would be highlighted that Yehoshua wrote them. In this reading, yachid
means “alone.” 10
comments in this context, see R. Dov Gedaliah Drexler in the journal Beit Aharon Ve-Yisrael XVIII:2 (104) pp. 26-
35. [Some suggest that the dema was used instead of ink to address issues of Shabbat; see R. Avraham Yitzchak
Glick, Resp. Yad Yitzchak, I, 136.]
See Rama MiFanu, Asarah Ma’amarot, Ma’amar Chikur Ha-Din, ch. 13, as cited by M’lo HaRoim to Bava Batra;
note, however, Pardes Yosef HaChadash, p. 1383-4.
Cited in Aderet Eliyahu.
See R. Mordechai Gifter, Pirkei Torah, II, pp. 334-340, who expands on this approach and explains how it can be
harmonized with the text of the Talmud, which clearly implies the two views are in conflict with each other. See also
R. Yitzchak Sorotzkin, Gevurot Yitzchak al HaTorah, II, 318.
This could have been read to be the view of Rashi as well, who uses the same Hebrew phrasing in Bava Batra.
However, the phrase is somewhat ambiguous and could also sustain other readings; note, for example, that
Rabbenu Tam cited below, uses similar phrasing to indicate a different view, which he understands to be in
agreement with Rashi; indeed, Rashi to Menachot, s.v. yachid, takes this position explicitly. The Ra’avad cited below,
prefers an interpretation that uses this phrase as well.
See also Sefat Emet to Menachot.
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 57743. Tosafot 11 quotes the view of R. Meshulam that to read these pesukim “yachid” means that only
the one receiving the aliyah should read from the Torah, without the accompaniment of an
appointed ba’al keriyah, in contrast to contemporary practice, in which both men read together.
Rabbenu Tam, however, objects to this understanding, as it was not the practice in Talmudic
times to have the simultaneous reading by two people; the contemporary usage of this method is
only to prevent embarrassment on the part of an oleh who may not be capable of reading from
the Torah, and is not a fundamental aspect of the reading itself. As such, it is unlikely that this is
the intent of the Talmud’s statement. 12
4. Rabbenu Tam himself advocates another view, that “yachid” would mean the section should
be read as one unified whole, without breaking it up into, for example, two sections of four
pesukim. This is also the position expressed by Rashi in his commentary to Menachot and is
recorded in Shulchan Arukh. 13
5. The view of the Rambam 14 has received the most halakhic and analytic attention of all the
opinions on the matter. In his understanding, “yachid” is used to mean the individual, as opposed
to the community, i.e. a minyan. 15 Thus, as opposed to the rest of the Torah, these verses can be
read without the presence of a minyan. This view is also cited by the Shittah Mekubetzet to
Menachot. 16
The Ra’avad objected to this opinion (preferring instead the interpretation “shelo lihafskik
bahem” 17 and mentioning also a practice to follow the view associated with R. Meshulam). He
considered the Rambam’s opinion to be “very strange” (inyan zarut hu m’od”) and asks a terse
question: ve-ha-tzibur heikhan halkhu?—where did the minyan go?
However, as the Kessef Mishneh notes, the Ra’avad’s position invites its own questions. Why is it
so inconceivable that the minyan has “gone”—could individuals not have simply walked out (a
possibility even more feasible when considering that it is Simchat Torah!)? Further, it is also
possible that the Rambam is addressing a scenario in which there never was a minyan to begin
with, and the question is whether at least these pesukim may be read from the Torah.
A number of acharonim 18 explain the Ra’avad’s objection by noting some relevant halakhic
background. There is a prohibition to leave a synagogue in the middle of the service when doing
so will render the minyan deficient. However, if this were to happen, the remaining members of
Menachot 30a, s.v shmonah pesukim; Megillah 23b, s.v. tana.
See Toldot Yitzchak al HaTorah to Devarim, where it is recorded that in Provence the custom was in accordance
with R. Meshulam.
O.C. 428:7; see Mishnah Berurah #21.
Hilkhot Tefillah 13:6.
See also Torat Chaim to Bava Batra. See also Yechezkel From, in Beit Yitzchak 5741/5742, pp. 175-178.
30a, #22.
See above, footnote 9.
See, for example, R. Shlomo Wahrman, Orot Chag HaSukkot # 59 (and She’erit Yosef, IV, 32); R. Ya’akov Betzalel
Zolty, Mishnat Ya’avetz, O.C. 72; R. Ya’akov David Ilan, Masa Yad al HaTorah, v. I, Parashat VeZot HaBerakhah;
Gevurot Yitzchak al HaTorah, II, 317.
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774the erstwhile minyan would be permitted to continue the service. 19 Thus, the Ra’avad’s question
may be, since even other sections of the Torah may continue even after the quorum is lost,
apparently maintaining a “din tzibbur” (the halakhic status of a minyan) even without the
actuality of a minyan, “where did the [status of the] minyan go? This point is actually explicit in
the Sefer HaManhig, 20 which notes that continuing to read from the Torah at that point would
not constitute any kind of a deviation, as this is the rule with all sections of the Torah. 21
As such, the acharonim who discuss this position offer suggestions as to what indeed
distinguishes this section in the view of the Rambam. One possibility is that the general rule is
that the service may only continue without a quorum if there is at least a majority of a minyan
remaining, which is the position of the Ran 22 and recorded in Shulchan Arukh. 23 Accordingly, it is
possible that while the rest of the Torah requires a majority to remain, this section may be read
with even a smaller group remaining, or perhaps even one man, a literal “yachid.” 24
Another possible distinction revolves around the question, raised by the Kessef Mishneh, 25 as to
whether, if part of the minyan leaves, the license to continue extends to all of the keriyat haTorah
that day, or only to an aliyah that has already been started. Perhaps the permissibility to continue
only applied in the time when the entire keriyat haTorah was bracketed by one set of berakhot.
When each aliyah is given its own set of berkahot, it may not be permissible to start a new aliyah
without a full minyan. If so, the license to read the last eight pesukim as a separate aliyah without
a minyan would be unique. The Magen Avraham 26 maintained that only the basic seven aliyot can
be completed if the original minyan is no longer there; thus, a scenario can easily be envisioned
where it would not be permitted to read this section, if not for its unique status, without a
Aside from the halakhic implications, it is necessary to understand the conceptual basis for the
Rambam’s view. Rav Soloveitchik 27 noted that the Rambam when recording the unique status of
these pesukim, focuses on a different explanation for that status than does the Talmud. The
Talmud states that the pesukim are treated differently “hoeil v’ishtani,” “since they were
See Megillah 23b and Tosafot, s.v. ein, citing the Yerushalmi; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tefilah 8:6.
Hilkhot HaChag, 62.
See also Pri Chadash, OC 428.
Megillah 14b in pages of the Rif, s.v. Yerushalmi.
Orach Chaim 55:2. It is possible, as noted in some of the above-cited works, that this question is premised on a
conceptual question: is the ability to continue without a full quorum reflective of the fact that a Davar she-b’kedushah
need only start with a minyan, but not necessarily maintain one for the derivation of the service (which would allow
continuing even with a minority of the quorum remaining), or, rather, that a tzibur maintains its status as long as it
retains a majority of its initial members. (See Responsa Teshuvah MeiAhavah, I, 31). R. Akiva Eiger (O.C. 55),
assuming that a majority of a minyan is necessary, queried whether it must be six out of the original 10, or is it also
viable to have five remaining, and then add a new man to the group to make six; this question is presumably
intertwined with the previous one (see Masa Yad, ibid).
See also Keren Orah to Menachot.
Hilkhot Tefillah 8:6.
Quoted by R. Mordechai Willig, “B’Inyan Keriyat HaTorah,” in Beit Yosef Shaul, Vol IV (5754), pp. 163-164 and
R. Herschel Schachter, Nefesh HaRav, pp. 321-322.
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774differentiated [presumably in their transcription]. The Rambam instead attributes the
distinction to the fact that the meaning of the pesukim is relevant only after the death of Moshe.
R. Soloveitchik also noted the fact that for the rest of the Torah “G-d spoke, and Moshe repeated
and wrote,” while for these pesukim, “G-d spoke and Moshe wrote.” He explained that in general,
Moshe could only write that which he had relayed to the people as a commandment; only thusly
did the content achieve the status of “Torah.” Subsequently, it was written down, and became
“Torah SheB’Khtav.” The last eight pesukim, however, could not undergo such a process, as they
were not yet factually realized.
Accordingly, these pesukim did not attain the sanctity of “Torah SheB’Khtav,” essentially for the
reason highlighted by the Rambam. 28 This, in turn, impacts the requirement for a minyan. The
need for a minyan in order to read from the Torah (distinct from the general need to have a
minyan for a “davar she-bi-kedushah 29 ) is to evoke a representation of the entire population of
Israel, which was present when the Torah was originally given. 30 However, as these eight pesukim
were excluded from that process, they are similarly exempted from the requirement of minyan. 31
Following this approach, R. Mordechai Willig 32 suggested that this can also explain the view of R.
Meshulam cited above. He suggests that even in Talmudic times, there was a practice to have
two men read the Torah simultaneously, to evoke the original roles of G-d and Moshe.
However, since these pesukim did not involve Moshe speaking, this passage should be exempted
from that practice. 33
6. While the Rambam’s position may be the view that is most discussed, there is still one as yet
unmentioned view that may have the most expression (at least, in a visible manner) in
contemporary halakhic practice. 34 The Mordekhai 35 understood “yachid” in the sense of
“meyuchad,” i.e. “distinguished” or “singular” and thus ruled that “yachid korei otam” means that
Rav Soloveitchik also suggested that this is the real reason Moshe cried: not for his impending death, which is the
way of all flesh, but because of the realization that not all of the Torah would attain full sanctity at his hands.
Compare also Chiddushei HaGriz, Menachot 30a, and Gevurot Yitzchak al HaTorah, II, 319. See also R. Avraham
Yitzchak Baruch Gerlitzky, in the journal Kovetz He’arot U’Biurim, (Ohalei Torah) Vol XX, pp. 9-13.
See R. Baruch Shimon Deutsch, Birkhat Kohen, 120. However, note Mishneh Torah, Hil. Tefillah 8:4, and Kessef
Mishneh 8:5.
See Yerushalmi Megillah 4:1 and Rosh, Megillah 4:1, regarding the obligation to read from the Torah in an
atmosphere of eimah.
See Pirkei Torah, ibid, for a similar approach, drawing on the position of the Rama MiFanu cited above. Note also
that R. Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim UZemanim, VI, 79, and Responsa Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot IV, 73) asserts that the
Rambam’s intent was not that one can fulfill the obligation of the reading of the Torah without a minyan, but that it
is permissible to read this section of the Torah without a minyan, and without fulfilling any obligation. For an
alternative explanation of the Rambam’s opinion, see R. Yekutiel Yehudah Halberstam, Responsa Divrei Yatziv,
likkutim ve-hashmatot, #22.
Beit Yosef Shaul, ibid, pp. 164-168.
A similar approach is considered by R. Yechezkel Lichtman in the Journal Ohel Moshe, 5753, pp. 38-39. For a
different approach, see R. Ya’akov Ariel, Responsa B’Ohalah Shel Torah, II, 9:3.
See R. Yom Tov Zanger, Ma’adanei Yom Tov, III, 41, who considers an actual case that was brought to him for a
ruling, and is unwilling to rely on the Rambam for practical purposes.
Halakhot Ketanot 955.
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774this aliyah should be given to a talmid chakham. 36 This does correlate with contemporary
practice, which includes these pesukim in the honor known as “chatan Torah.” 37
Despite the correlation with practice, the Chakham Tzvi 38 found the Mordekhai’s position to be
baffling. Whichever Talmudic approach is accepted regarding the history of these pesukim, it
seems clear that any differential status vis-a-vis the rest of the Torah would render these pesukim
inferior, not superior. Why, then, should this aliyah be considered a distinguished one? It would
seem, in relative terms, to have the lowest status of any aliyah in the Torah. 39
R. Meir Dan Plotzki, in his Kli Chemdah, 40 endeavors to explain the view of the Mordekhai. He
asserts that at this point, with the passing of Moshe Rabbenu, it is conceivable that despair may
fall upon the Jewish people. Moshe has died, and his leadership and prophecy were unique in
Jewish history. It is possible to come to the conclusion that his influence has died as well and the
Jews will never again benefit from G-d’s providence as they did when Moshe was physically alive.
The truth, however, is that Moshe’s uniqueness notwithstanding, his torch has been passed to
those who uphold his teachings, first to Yehoshua and then to all of those who have followed in
that path until this very day. Thus, it is appropriate that the aliyah containing these words be
given to a contemporary personification of these ideals, a teacher and student of Torah who can
display the fact that the ideals and messages of Moshe live on. 41
This perspective lends additional significance to the reading of this section on Simchat Torah.
As the cycle of the Torah is completed, it is possible to get the impression that the Jews of our
time are so far removed from the time of the giving of the Torah, and from Moshe’s leadership,
that we cannot attain the level of that generation. It is also noteworthy that there appears to be a
debate among the rishonim as to why exactly Ve-Zot Ha-Berakhah is read on Simchat Torah.
See Ta’anit 10a.
The Rama (O.C. 669) quotes the notion of granting this aliyah to a Torah scholar as a “yesh omrim,” but the later
literature emphasizes the idea more strongly (see Sha’ar Ephraim, Dinei Keriyat Simchat Torah, and Avnei Shoham
[Shlomowitz], Chelek Chag HaSukkot, #113). Responsa K’naf Renanah, 76, suggests that the practice is less
important in the contemporary era when the oleh does not actually read aloud from the Torah, but certain
distinctions should still be granted to this aliyah, such as not having more than one oleh share the aliyah (as is
commonly done on Simchat Torah with the earlier aliyot).
Responsa #13.
See R. Yonatan Eibshutz, Ya’arot Dvash, I, p. 34, who understands this in the context of the earlier practice of only
reciting berakhot at the beginning and at the end of the kri’at haTorah. Due to the unique character of the last eight
pesukim, they required their own bracketing berakhot, and therefore should have a distinguished individual at the
beginning, to parallel the kohen’s aliyah at the beginning of a standard keriat haTorah.
Parashat VeZot HaBerakhah.
A parallel approach can be found in Resp. Yad Yitzchak, I, 136, who writes that in truth, these pesukim were worthy
of being sanctified fully by Moshe, but could not be for technical reasons. To make this point, the verses should be
read by a Torah scholar.
It is interesting also that the Kli Chemdah also endeavors to explain the Rambam’s view, that no minyan is necessary,
in a way that does not render these verses inferior. He suggests that while a minyan is normally necessary during
keriyat haTorah in order to evoke the Shekhinah, this is not needed for these pesukim, because, since Moshe did not
repeat them, there was no interference between G-d’s original expression of these words and their bestowal upon
the Jews, and thus the Shekhinah is present on its own as a result. (Compare the extensive comments in Netivot
HaChaim, netiv 12.)
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774While it seems self-evident that the last parshah of the Torah should be read at the end of the
cycle of the reading of the Chumash ̧ and this is indeed expressed by rishonim and poskim, 42
there is another perspective also found in rishonim, that this section is read at the end of Sukkot
to fulfill the requirement of reading from the Torah something that is relevant to the Yom Tov
(mei-inyano shel yom). 43 In this understanding, the yearly cycle of the festivals should end with
the public berakhah of Moshe to the people. For this reason, too, it seems important to
emphasize that Moshe’s influence survives his physical passing. It is an appropriate time to be
reminded that Moshe’s legacy continues to reverberate in the souls of the Jewish people, and for
that inspiration to guide us as we usher in a new year.
See Chiddushei HaRan, Megillah 31b, s.v. le-machar, and Birkei Yosef, O.C. 668.
See Ran to the Rif, Megillah 11a s.v. le-machar. The Meshekh Chakhmah (Hadran at the end of Chumash) notes
that this would be read even when a triennial cycle of Torah reading was used and the Chumash was not being
completed that day; see his explanation there. See also R. Ephraim Greenblatt in the journal Noam, pp. 208-211
(and see also his comments, pp. 212-217, concerning the eight pesukim).
Yeshiva University • The Benjamin and Rose Berger Torah To-Go Series• Tishrei 5774