Nitzavim VaYelech: Writing Your Own Song

ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת ולמדה את בני ישראל שימה בפיהם למען תהיה לי השירה הזאת לעד בבני ישראל

Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.

Deuteronomy 31: 19

The last commandment of the Torah is to write “this song” for you and teach it to the children of Israel. In context, “this song” refers to the upcoming Parshas Ha’azinu which is written in song form (see Rashi), our Rabbis OB”M however, interpret this verse to mean the entire Chumash (Pentateuch, Five Books of Moses). Maimonides explains in Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah, Chapter 7:

מצות עשה על כל איש ואיש מישראל לכתוב ספר תורה לעצמו שנאמר ועתה כתבו לכם את השירה. כלומר כתבו לכם תורה שיש בה שירה זו לפי שאין כותבין את התורה פרשיות פרשיות. ואע”פ שהניחו לו אבותיו ספר תורה מצוה לכתוב משלו. ואם כתבו בידו הרי הוא כאילו קבלה מהר סיני. ואם אינו יודע לכתוב אחרים כותבין לו. וכל המגיה ספר תורה ואפילו אות אחת הרי הוא כאילו כתבו כולו:

There is a positive commandment incumbent on every Israelite man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it says, “Now therefore write ye this song for you”- meaning: write the Torah which contains this song, because the Torah may not be written in different chapters. Even if his forefathers left for him a Torah scroll, he is still obligated to write his own. If he writes it with his own hand, it is as if he received it from Mount Sinai. If he doesn’t know how to write, others write for him. Anyone who corrects a Torah scroll, even one letter, it is as if he wrote it in its entirety.

The way this Rambam (Maimonides) reads, it would be reasonable for you to surmise that the actual commandment is to write the song in Parshas Ha’azinu, but due to a technicality, in order to do this without violating the “rule” of not writing individual parts of the Torah, you must write the whole thing. Technically however, what Maimonides says, is that due to this prohibition, it is clear that the commandment is to “write a Torah that contains this song”. In other words, this prohibition is proof of the intent of the commandment.

Indeed… Where should I start?

The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer 1762–1839), in his Responsa Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 254, asks a very simple question. Do we not a have commandment to write a Mezuzah on our door? Why don’t we conclude that we must write the entire Torah scroll on our door? We write chapters for Tefillin and when the Temple was still here, we wrote the chapter to give to a Sotah (alleged adulteress) so why suddenly, when we get to writing Ha’azinu, must we conclude that the commandment is to write the whole Torah?

The Chasam Sofer explains it differently:

It would seem to me settle this dilemma, with some difficulty, that if we were to interpret the verse to mean that the Torah is commanding us to write this song (Ha’azinu) to warn us to keep the Torah, it would obviously go without saying that we would have to also write those chapters where the main parts of the Torah are derived from, like, for example, that which the king reads during the gathering. For how could it be that the Torah commands us to write the testimony for something, and not the thing itself for which it testifies!? Thus we are to interpret the verse as coming to include (that which we might have left out), in others words, not only must you write the main parts of the Torah, but you must write it in its entirety, even the song at the end which is just a testimony and warning, you must write that too…

The translation is my own, see the above link for original

This however, as the Chasam Sofer acknowledges, is not a simple reading of Miamonides.

Then there is the problem of origin. Where does Miamonides know of the prohibition to write Parshios separately? True, there is a mention of this prohibition in Gittin 60a regarding whether one could write a “megilla” (in this context, an incomplete version of a Torah scroll) for a child to study from, but it is taken for granted with no source cited. Moreover, many have noted (perhaps most notable of them the Shaagas Aryeh in Siman 34) that Maimonides sides with the opinion over there that one may write a megillah for a child to learn from…

Perhaps I will write more on this topic later. But for now let’s take a moment to reflect on the notion that the last commandment in the Torah is to “write for you this song”.

The second to last mitzva is the mitzva of “HaKahel”, to gather all the Jews – men, women and children after the Sabbatical year to hear the king read from a part of the Torah in public. This is a mitzva which reflects on the Torah being the unifying element amongst us. Then there is the mitzva of writing “for you this song”.

A song refers not only to the content of the lyrics, but to the way it is sung. This song ultimately refers to the entire Torah. Writing this song is something you must do yourself, even if your father left one for you. This song is the personal Torah.

A vocal teacher can teach us how to sing properly, how to read sheet music, even how to hit the high notes – but we will still need to sing in our own voices. There is one Torah, but it is different for everyone, and there is more than one way to serve Hashem. The Torah is particular that each person’s “song” must be written in his own handwriting. As my rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Schechter once told me, “G-d doesn’t need more copycats”.

Of course, it is not enough to be connected to the general Torah that unifies us and to “write for you” your own personal Torah, you must then go and teach it to the Children of Israel!

Thus we say everyday: May the Beis Hamikdash be built speedily in our day, and give us our portion in your Torah! Amen!

Gut Shabbes!

Dew of your Youth


Rabbi, web developer, banjo enthusiast and dad blogging about whatever interests me at the moment.

One thought on “Nitzavim VaYelech: Writing Your Own Song

  • September 17, 2017 at 3:40 am

    What a beautiful article it was very inspiring.


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