They loved the Torah and argued for it.
“Today,” said Moshe, “you have become a people.” (Devarim 27; 10). Why only today?
Moshe spoke these words to the Jewish people after forty years of remarkable Jewish history that took place in the desert. “HaYom! Today, for the first time, I call you a people!”
* In Egypt we were persecuted for over two centuries only because we were a people.
* Forty years before the passing of Moshe we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai because we were a people.
* Amalek attacked us from behind in the desert because we were a people.
* We built a Mishkan in the desert, walked through the sea and ate Manna – only because we were a people.
So what happened today? Why at the end of Moshe’s life did he finally tell us, “Today, you have become a people”?
Today, Moshe introduced a new artifact to the Jewish people: a Sefer Torah. Finally, a holy scroll that would embody and represent Hashem’s word to the people. When the Torah would come into a room everyone would stand up. They would follow it and kiss it. They would build a beautiful ark for it. On that day Moshe presented a Torah to the Jewish people. He handed it to the heads of the tribe of Levi.
Eventually there would be thirteen Sifrei Torah and Moshe would give a Sefer Torah to the leader of every tribe in Israel. But so far, on this day, there was only one Torah, and Moshe presented this first Sefer Torah to the people of Levi.
Alarms went off throughout the Jewish camp. Hundreds of thousands of Jews began a whispering rebellion. Why did he give the Torah to Levi? Why does Moshe favor his own tribe over the others? Why aren’t we getting one? We were all present at Mt. Sinai; the Torah belongs to all of us!
I close my eyes and I imagine the scene.
The tribe of Yissachar stood up and said we should hold that Torah; we are the scholars that study it all day!
Zevulun argued – Why you? If we wouldn’t support you, you wouldn’t be able to study at all!
Dan says what good is studying if you don’t know the Din?! We are the judges of Israel we get the Torah!
Binyamin said “but the Beis HaMikdosh is in our land” we need the Torah!
As the argument continued Moshe smiled. “Today”, he said, “I see you really are a people!” (Rashi and Mosif Rashi)
Why did Moshe smile? Because today they owned the Torah they felt it was theirs. Each group felt that they deserved the Torah and couldn’t live without it. They loved the Torah and argued for it.
Rav Moshe Feinstien ZT’l once commented that early on we used to see fierce arguments in Shul over who should get an Aliya and who shouldn’t. He observed that as the years went on things seemed to have become much more civilized and gentlemanly. “Please, you take the Aliya, I’m fine.” Said Rav Moshe, “I’m really not sure which is worse!”
“Today,” said Moshe, “You have finally become a real people!”