And Moses, the servant of God, died there, in the land of Moav… Deuteronomy 34:5
Rashi asks, “Is it possible that Moses died, and then wrote, ‘Moses died there’?” He quotes Rabbi Meir, who asked in the gemara, “Is it possible that the Torah scroll [which Moses gave to the Levites in Deut. 31:26] was lacking something? Rather, God spoke this section and Moses wrote it bedim’a, in tears” (1). These holy teachings don’t seem to make sense… There is indeed a difficulty in the idea of Moses writing about his own death, and how does the fact that he wrote it in tears solve the problem?
Indeed, did not the Torah precede the creation of the world by two-thousand years? (2) And if so, there is a question of how any of it could have been written: the creation account, the stories of Noah and the patriarchs…and the most problematic is that death had not yet come into the world, for Adam had not committed the first sin, yet the Torah speaks of death. How could this be, when it is known that man has freewill, and death might not have come into the world at all?
Now the truth is this: when the Torah was created, all the letters from “In the beginning” to “in the eyes of all Israel” (ie, the entire Torah) existed, but jumbled up and without order, for they had not yet been combined into words as they are today. So there was no such thing as “In the beginning” or “Go forth from your land.” But truly, whenever something came to pass in the world, the letters joined together to become words and so the story came into being, and if something else had occurred then the letters would have formed different words, for the Torah is the wisdom of God, which is limitless. Understand this.
So it was that when the time arrived for Moses to die, all the Torah up to that point had already been formed, and only the last part remained unformed. But it must be that Moses wrote the rest as well, for it is written that he gave the Torah to the Levites, and the prophet Malachi said “Remember the Torah of My servant Moses” (3). So what did the Holy One of Blessing do? He told Moses the letters that remained, and Moses wrote them down, though they had not yet formed into words, and as the events told of in the Torah happened, the letters formed the words. So the Torah was indeed all written by Moses.
This is what Rashi meant when he said that Moshe wrote from “And Moses died” to the end be’dima–not “in tears,” but “in a jumble,” for the Holy One of Blessing told him the Torah letter by letter (4)… Understand this.
1) Bava Batra 15a 2) Bereishit Rabbah 8:2 3) Malachi 3 4) Indeed, dima also means “jumbled, mixed”
We read this parshah every year near Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, when we’re told that our fates for the year are “written and sealed,” yet the sages insist that we can still alter our fate, that we are free in every moment to choose and act as we will. This teaching by the Baal Shem Tov, which really tackles a much bigger issue, can also help us understand this paradox.