Parshat Va´etchanan

Parshat Va´etchanan

By Rav Reuven Tradburks

1st aliya (3:23-4:4) I beseeched G-d to allow me to enter the land. He refused: ascend the mountain, gaze at the land that you will not enter. Charge Yehoshua, for he will lead the people. Now, Yisrael Shema, listen to the commandments so you will remain in the land. You saw what occurred with Baal Peor: those who followed Baal Peor were punished while those who did not, survived.

In this aliya, Moshe’s speech pivots. In Parshat Devarim he spoke of the march to the land: the hiccup of 40 years because of the spies, the resumed march and its victories over Sichon and Og. The march to the land was the topic. This first part of this aliya should really be in last week’s parsha. I too want to enter the land, but G-d refused, allowing me only a glimpse. Then the next theme in Moshe’s speech begins: life in the land. Perhaps G-d’s refusal to allow Moshe into the land is the perfect preamble to the discussion of life in the land. Know this: living in the land is a gift, a Divine gift. He gives. And He takes. You have no claim on this gift. I know from experience. Live so that you deserve it.

2nd aliya (4:5-40) Keep the mitzvoth, for they are wise. The nations will look at the mitzvoth and say: what a wise people. And who has a G-d as close as ours is to us? Or who has noble laws as our Torah? Remember the day at Sinai, the mountain on fire and the darkness of the cloud. The Voice emanated but there was no form. Make no images. I taught you the mitzvoth; keep them, for they are the covenant G-d commanded from you. Your children will make images and be exiled, flung to the ends of the earth, serving idols there. They will return to G-d, seeking Him with all their heart. He will not forget His covenant. Is there another people who has heard G-d’s voice amidst fire? Or another one Who took His people with wonders from amidst another? Know and take to heart that there is none other than G-d.

Moshe emphasizes 2 unique things we enjoy: our G-d and our Torah. Other nations recognize this. The implied message here is: why go running to other gods and other religions when yours is so profound that the other nations recognize it. If they see our religion as profound, we too ought to.

3rd aliya (4:41-49) Moshe separated 3 cities of refuge for those who kill accidentally on the east side of the Jordan. Moshe taught these laws on the east side of the Jordan in the lands already conquered. These conquered lands extend from the Dead Sea all the way to Mt. Hermon.

Moshe’s choosing 3 cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan, is his confirmation of the right of Bnei Gad, Bnei Reuven and half of Menashe to dwell there. Rav Yoel Bin Nun contends that this vast area over the Jordan becomes part of the promised land. Moshe was told in the 1st aliya to ascend the mountain and look west, north, south and east. Well, looking east would be away from the land of Israel. Why look there? Hence, he maintains that the defeat of Sichon and Og was the beginning of the conquering of the land and that those lands became part of Eretz Yisrael. Moshe looks east because that land is also part of Eretz Yisrael. Moshe himself does participate in at least the beginning of the conquest of the land of Israel.

4th aliya (5:1-18) Mt. Sinai. Moshe called the people: Shema Yisrael to the commandments for our G-d made a covenant at Sinai. He made it with you, face to face amidst fire. I communicated it because you were afraid. And He said: I am G-d who took you out of Egypt. Do not make images. Or take My name in vain. Guard Shabbat as a day of rest to remember that you were slaves in Egypt. Honor your father and mother. Do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet.

Moshe describes the giving of the Torah at Sinai. In doing so, he emphasizes the brit, the covenant. It is this covenant that animates the entire rest of the book. There are 2 covenants: the brit made with Avraham to give his children the land. And the brit made at Sinai, which is mitzvoth that we are to keep. The first brit, to give us the land, came with no particular expectations. Not so the second brit. And that is what Moshe is now emphasizing. Don’t stop at brit 1: it is bound to brit 2. The giving of the land is bound up with the mitzvoth. Not that it is contingent on it. It sounds from Breishit that the promise of the land is without expectations. But the success in the land is bound up with brit 2, the mitzvoth. The promise of the land never wanes; success in the land can. Moshe introduces this theme here, at the outset of his long speech to the people; and it is this theme that will resonate through the entire rest of his speech.

5th aliya (5:19-6:3) When you heard these words amidst the fire and the cloud you were afraid. You approached and said: now we know man can hear G-d’s voice but we are afraid we will die. Moshe, you hear from Him, not us. G-d agreed and said to me: you stand with Me and I will tell you all the commandments to keep in the land.

The word Shema appears 8 times in the first 7 verses of this aliya. The people heard the Voice at Sinai but were afraid. So Moshe, you hear it for us. And G-d heard their suggestion and said it was good. Fine, Moshe will hear G-d’s voice. But, who hears is not the issue. The issue is who hears. I mean, who hears the voice with his ear; that can be Moshe. That’s fine. But who hears, I mean, hears, gets it, understands it, accepts it; that is you. Hence the last verse in the aliya, 8 verses later comes back to Shema: Shemata Yisrael, you heard Israel and hence, keep the mitzvoth. There is hearing and there is hearing. Moshe is your hearing aid to hear; but you are the ones who need to hear.

6th aliya (6:4–25) The Shema. Shema Yisrael, G-d is one. You shall love G-d, and have that on your heart constantly; teaching of it to your children, speaking of it, at all times and in all places. Be bound with love of G-d; let it guide you and your home. When you come into the land, you will find things that you did not build: large and good cities, homes full of wonderful things, cisterns, vineyards, olive groves. But be careful to not forget G-d. Fear Him, serve Him. Do what is moral and good in His eyes and He will do good for you. When your children ask you about all these commandments, tell them: we were slaves in Egypt, G-d took us out to give us this land. These commandments are to cultivate awe of Him and bring us merit, to preserve us in this land.

While we love the first line of the Shema, it is the second that is the emphasis of the paragraph. Love of G-d. All your heart, all your soul, all your might. We are used to saying this line so we become numb to its power. Moshe is speaking to the people: pour yourself into this. Let it go. Put all you’ve got in this. No inhibitions. Love of G-d is to animate all of your life: bubbling over to your children, percolating in you in your travels, your actions, your thoughts, your home. Wow. Little wonder

that this paragraph is the heart of our daily tefila. We need to be G-d obsessed. Moshe is plain as day here: love G-d with all your heart, soul and might. All in.

7th aliya (7:1-11) When you come into the land, conquer the seven nations. Do not make any covenant with them. Do not marry them, for that will lead to idol worship. You are G-d’s holy people. Not because you are numerous but because He loved you and made a covenant with you. Know: He keeps His covenant. You too keep the mitzvoth.

Alex Israel makes a trenchant comment (in a shiur on the Virtual Beit Midrash). There are 2 distinct types of idol worship. In the 10 Commandments we are told not to make images. In other words, even if you believe in G-d, but you want an image, don’t do it. Right G-d, but no representation. Here we are told to be wary of serving other gods. Wrong gods. This is the allure of a group belonging. Marry a woman, join her faith group, enjoy the fellowship, camaraderie, belonging that a faith community brings. There are a lot of wonderful and satisfying elements to any faith community. But. That is a complete violation of your unique relationship with G-d (in addition to the folly of these gods). It is not the mind that attracts you; it is the community that comes with the wife. Marrying the non-Jew begins the process of idol worship. Hence, avoid intermarriage.