We need to recognize Hashem’s goodness and role (albeit hidden) in our worldly success; Land of Israel filled with natural goodness, beauty, plentitude and minerals; commandment to bless Hashem after eating a meal(Birchat Hamazon); incidents in desert wanderings that angered Hashem, including Golden calf; Moshe prayed for Israelites; being constantly on guard not to be lured by surrounding idolatrous behavior; “Man does not live by bread alone”; what Hashem wants from us; second paragraph of Shema
From Nechama Leibowitz’s Studies in Deuteronomy
Manna: kindness or test?
Receiving daily food (bread) and a double portion on Shabbos appears to be a wonderful, miraculous gift from Hashem. Yet here and in Exodus the Torah describes Manna as a test or trial!
According to Rashi (1040-1105) the test aspect relates to the instructions accompanying the food, not in the Manna itself.
Ramban (1194-1270) maintains that the unusual, “heavenly daily delivery” of Manna, meant that the Israelites were totally dependent on Hashem. The test consisted of the daily apprehension that the hungry Israelites experienced, not knowing whether or not the Manna would fall from Heaven. Thus, elaborates Jacob Zvi Mecklenberg (1785-1865) in Ha-ketav V’hakabala, every day the Israelites had to confront the extent of their faith and trust in Hashem.
The Biur (Moses Mendelssohn, 1729-1786) sees this dependence as a positive in that the people became habituated to trust in Hashem until this faith became part of them.
What does Hashem demand of us?
Chapter 10, verse 12 presents the essence of the Torah: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord thy G-D require of you only to walk in His ways and to love Him and to serve the Lord your G-D with all your heart and soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord and his statutes that I command you this day, for your own good?”
“What does the Lord thy G-D require of you” sounds like we’re being asked to do a minimum. But the answer to this rhetorical question is a laundry list of many difficult things to do and to feel! How is this to be understood?
Rashi focuses on the need to fear Hashem as the prime message.
The Talmud’s answer is that from his lofty level of closeness to Hashem (and his unawareness of his spiritual superiority) Moshe the Anav M’od” (unassuming) considered this a small matter.
Ramban explains that Hashem only requires us to do the things that are for your own good (L’tov Lach). We are not being asked to sacrifice or give up anything, only to do what is in our best interest.
Joseph Albo (14-15th century author of Sefer H’ikrim) opines that because it is extraordinarily difficult for one to attain a heightened state of fear, love and service of Hashem He asks us to merely keep his commandments and statutes. Observing the mundane daily laws of Hashem will gradually lead us to the ultimate goal of an elevated level of relationship with Him. Deeds will lead us higher.
Furthermore, he notes that the word Raishes in“Raishes Chachma yearas Hashem” is usually translated as beginning so the phrase means “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But citing Biblical examples, he thinks the word is better translated as essence and the meaning of the phrase is “the fear of the Lord is the essence of wisdom”.
The Talmud deduces that “All is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven.” Each of us is given the freedom to develop fear of Heaven, if we so choose, and the freedom to choose good or evil.
Second Paragraph of Shema
The first paragraph of Shema (V’ahavt…) described as the “acceptance of the yolk of heaven” is in the singular; stresses Love for achieving the goal; and makes no mention of punishment.
The second paragraph described as “acceptance of the yolk of Mitzvos” is in the plural; stresses our need for obedience to Hashem; and the punishment that will result from our failure to obey Him.
The first paragraph talks to each of us individually; the second, with its emphasis on fulfilling of Mitzvos, talks to the entire nation and can only be fully experienced in a Societal setting (since not every person is able or qualified to do every single Mitzvah).
Rabbi H. L. Berenholz
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