The book of Deuteronomy is divided into essentially three main parts. The first, which we read in last week’s Torah portion and which concludes this week, is Moses’s opening speech, which mostly serves to remind the Israelites of their history–their journey through the desert, their lack of faith that resulted in that journey, and Moses’s own personal desire to enter the land of Israel which was unfulfilled by God. The second, and longest, portion of Deuteronomy begins in chapter 5 and lasts until chapter 26 (or 28, depending on how you group things), and mostly consists of the laws that Moses ‘reviews’ (though many of them have never been delivered before).

Logically, the law-giving section begins with a recapitulation of the Ten Commandments, the moment when God spoke “face to face” to the Israelites. The force of the law, its commanding power, emanates from the moment of Revelation, and therefore it makes perfect sense that Moses would begin his long legal discourse with an appeal to the touchstone from which all the rest of the laws flow.

What is fascinating, however, is what commandment comes first after the Ten Commandments. After all, these are to be the laws that people are to go over again and again “Mishneh Torah,” which Deuteronomy refers to itself as, can be translated as “second Torah” or “review of the Torah,” but if in fact most of these laws have not been stated in the Torah itself before, then perhaps the meaning of “Mishneh” is not from “Shnaim” — second– or “l’Shanot”–to review–but instead “l’Shanen,” to constantly repeat. (This point is well-made by Menachem Liebtag.) Thus the laws given here are ones the Israelites are to regularly review, the ones perhaps most essential to maintaining their character.

And which one is first? It may sound familiar: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your means. Adn these words that I commande you today shall be on your heart.” (Deut. 6:4-6) That is, the first commandment after the necessary repetition of the Sinaitic code is none other than the Shema, the passage we recite twice daily in order to relive the moment of Sinai and renew our acceptance of the commandments and our relationship with God.

One can infer that the rest of the commandments are to be done in light of, or in fulfillment, of this one. And indeed, this is the understanding offered by Abaye in the Talmud (which I quoted recently in another post): “Abaye explained: As it was taught: ‘And you shall love the Lord your God’ (Deut. 6:5) i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you.” (Yoma 86a)

Moses’s reminder to us, which we repeat twice every day, is that living a life of Torah is meant to be a kiddush Hashem, to sanctify God’s name. As Abaye elaborates, to be Jewish means to live one’s life in such a way that people will look on you and say, “What a marvelous thing is Torah!” Or as Moses himself says in the parsha this week: “You must observe them diligently, for htis will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people.'” (Deut. 4:5)

Shabbat shalom.

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