A striking feature of the book of Deuteronomy is its literary form. Unlike the preceding four books, in Deuteronomy (with the exception of just a few passages at the beginning and end) Moses speaks in the first person. The phrase we have heard continuously in the preceding books: “And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying...” is almost entirely absent from Deuteronomy.

...Deuteronomy is G‑d’s words transmitted through Moses...

This naturally raises the question of the theological stature of this book. The Sages tell us that although Moses transmitted the first four books from G‑d verbatim, while by contrast he said Deuteronomy “in his own name,” in doing so, “the divine presence spoke from his mouth.” In other words, the book of Deuteronomy is no less divine than the first four books of the Torah, but whereas the first four books are G‑d’s words transmitted directly by Moses, Deuteronomy is G‑d’s words transmitted through Moses. But if this is the case, why the sudden change in literary genre between the first four books and the final one?

The answer to both these questions hinges on the fact that this book is addressed to the generation that will enter the Land of Israel. The abrupt change in lifestyle, from a nation of nomads sustained by G‑d’s supernatural protection to a nation of farmers who must work the land, called for a practical restatement of G‑d’s hitherto abstract teachings.

…This is why it was necessary for the book of Deuteronomy to be transmitted in the first person. By communicating the message of Deuteronomy through the voice of Moses, G‑d was telling us that even while remaining faithful to the Torah’s objective truth, we must see its subjective relevance to each individual and each generation.

Moses was the archetypal intermediary between G‑d and man. His direct communication with G‑d had made him quite at home in the spiritual dimension, but even on Mt. Sinai he had been able to appreciate physicality enough to refute the angels who sought to keep the Torah in heaven. An intermediary, however, can transmit the message he is given in either of two ways: he can convey it verbatim, serving as a transparent channel or funnel; or he can absorb it and thus be able to “translate” it into terms more readily understood by the recipients.

Moses had...to attain a greater selflessness than was necessary when he was transmitting the first four books...

For the first four books of the Torah, it was enough for Moses to act as the first type of intermediary; the exalted level of the generation of the desert allowed this. For the book of Deuteronomy, however, the audience had changed. Moses now had to become the second type of intermediary in order to ensure that G‑d’s message was fully communicated.

In order to do this Moses had, in a certain sense, to attain a greater selflessness than was necessary when he was transmitting the first four books. In order that mediating G‑d’s words through his voice not involve interposing his ego, it was crucial that his sense of self be absolutely dissolved in his awareness of G‑d. Only by “existing,” so to speak, within G‑d’s essence, could Moses paradoxically be both there enough to serve as an intermediary yet not there enough to be the transparent conduit for G‑d’s words.

In this sense, the first-person narrative of Deuteronomy indicates not a lesser divinity than the other four books but a greater, for the “I” of Deuteronomy is no less G‑d’s than Moses’! The same applies to all of us when we set about uncovering the Torah’s relevance: our success is predicated on our eliminating our egotistic motives from the process.

The book of Deuteronomy is thus a lesson in keeping the Torah alive and relevant, the means by which we can recommence the study of the Torah on a new level of understanding. By ensuring that the Torah remains eternally relevant, we can read it from an always deeper, fresher, newer perspective, and thereby continually deepen, freshen and renew our relationship with G‑d.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 4, pp. 1087–1090, and vol. 19, pp. 9–14; © 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org