Moses Our Pedagogue – Devarim 5778

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

We refer to Moses as “Moshe Rabbenu” – Moses Our Teacher – for good reason. Moses was a supreme pedagogue. Consider the pedagogical strategy of the Book of Deuteronomy. The name Deuteronomy derives from the Greek meaning, “second law.” Scholars considered Deuteronomy to be a rehearsal of laws that appeared in earlier books. While it is true that there are original features in the book (such as the centralization of the cult, the laws of the king, the laws of the captive woman, the laws of the disobedient son, the laws of primogeniture, etc.) it is also true that a considerable number of laws given previously are reiterated by Moses before he dies (such as the Decalogue, the annual festival cycle, the dietary laws, etc.) to warrant the rabbinic name “Mishneh Torah” – repetition of the Torah.


The repetitive nature of the Book of Deuteronomy is manifested in the division of the book and the introductory words for each division. According to the Vilna Gaon (d. 1797), the book is divided into three: the introductory part, chapters 1- 4, consisting of a kind of moral framework, the practical part, chapters 5 – 27:8, consisting of a body of laws, and the blessings and curses that complete the book. Interestingly each of these three sections begins with the very Hebrew word that begins the books of Exodus (“eleh,” Deut. 1:1), Leviticus (‘Vayikra,” Deut. 5:1), and Numbers (“VaY’daber,” Deut. 27:9) respectively. It is as if Moses reminds his listeners of the original sources.


That is precisely what a master pedagogue would do. The technique is called “spiraling.”

Rather than simple repetition which is often dismissed as circular and boring, Moses weaves within the repetition new concepts that build on the previous ones yet inject a new focus that is sure to capture the attention of his listeners. So while reviewing what was already learned Moses adds new features spiraling the content.


Moses, it seems, anticipated modern educational theory and exemplifies the art of sophisticated teaching. Perhaps Moses ought to be elevated to a higher status than Moses, our teacher. He can rightfully be acknowledged as Moses, our master pedagogue.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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