After almost a month, Moshe finally concludes his farewell speech to Bnei Yisrael on the banks of the Yarden. With the poem of Haazinu finished, Moshe delivers his final charge:
דברים לב מו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ שִׂ֣ימוּ לְבַבְכֶ֔ם לְכׇ֨ל־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מֵעִ֥יד בָּכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר תְּצַוֻּם֙ אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֔ם לִשְׁמֹ֣ר לַעֲשׂ֔וֹת אֶת־כׇּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת׃
מז כִּ֠י לֹֽא־דָבָ֨ר רֵ֥ק הוּא֙ מִכֶּ֔ם כִּי־ה֖וּא חַיֵּיכֶ֑ם וּבַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה תַּאֲרִ֤יכוּ יָמִים֙ עַל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתֶּ֜ם עֹבְרִ֧ים אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֛ן שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ׃
“Pay close attention to all of these words that I have testified before you today; so that you will command your children to preserve and perform all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life; and with this Word you will lengthen your years upon the land that you are crossing the Yarden to inherit” (Devarim 32:46-47).
It’s fairly strategic of a leader having just told his people that they have to heed an entire list of mitzvot, along with charging them with commanding their children to eternally observe and perform all of this Torah, to then ‘make it worth it’ to them: ‘trust me on this one, this might sound overwhelming and you’re finding motivation difficult, but this Torah isn’t an empty thing for you – i.e. a responsibility you can or should easily ignore – because it’s your life, and it will ensure your continued existence in Eretz Yisrael’.
The difficulty with this approach is the inexact translation it is founded upon. The phrase Moshe uses is actually “לא דבר רק הוא מכם” – ‘it is not an empty thing from you’, not ‘for you’ (“לכם”) – the translation in our original understanding above. So how do we understand Moshe’s declaration that the Torah isn’t an empty thing from Bnei Yisrael, and how does it fit into the greater message he’s trying to convey? This ‘strange’ prefix inspires Rav Hirsch to translate it not as ‘from you’ but more meaningfully as “empty of you” (which he learns from a cross-reference in Yirmiyahu). And he reads the entire phrase as saying, “for it is not a Word that would not have you as its content”. He then expounds: “your whole existence and all of your values and aspirations are contained within the Torah…every word of the Torah contains truths vital to your whole existence”; it is not a Word that is not “included in us”. Rav Hirsch’s definition of this unique ‘person-inclusive’ character of the Torah would therefore fit nicely into Moshe’s entire message – heed the entire Torah, preserve and observe it in its entirety, for it is the very handbook of your success; devoting yourselves to it and upholding its every command, eternally, is an essential component to your present and future lives – “כי הוא חייכם”.
Rav Hirsch’s approach seems to read the pasuk as establishing the person as the subject/focus, and the Torah (merely) as the person’s modifier; people are being told about themselves, through the window of the Torah. In other words, according to this read, Moshe’s חידוש is that the person and his successful life’s plan – the focused subject – can truly be fully found in the Torah (and therefore a worthwhile book to follow).
The words of the pasuk, however, don’t seem to reflect this read. The words “for the Torah is not empty of you” – are in actuality making the Torah the subject of the chidush, proclaiming a novel characteristic of the Torah as modified by us: ‘the Torah is not devoid of us’! In other words, Moshe is declaring not that we and our lives are found in the Torah but rather that the Torah’s ‘life’ is found in us; the Torah is reflected in our lives, not the other way around – “the Torah is not empty of you”!
For truly, the responsibility Moshe is talking about in the parsha isn’t about merely observing and performing the commands of the Torah, but rather the command to find the Torah within us, to make the Torah ours. To understand that our greatest responsibility is to ensure that we discover the personal inspiration in the Torah that God gave us; to understand God’s words uniquely and individually to us – the way we most deeply appreciate them. Eternally relevant truths have never been understood through only one perspective. We must heed and observe all that God demands, eternally; but how those actions distinctly affect us is not only an opportunity but an obligation.