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file Musings on Parshat Va’eschanan

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4 months 2 weeks ago #671 by Heshy Berenholz
Musings on Parshat Va’eschanan was created by Heshy Berenholz
Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations may derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.

Overview

 Eight positive mitzvahs and four prohibitions
 Moshe’s plea to enter the Promised Land is rejected by God
 Moshe reiterates the foundations of the Faith
 Failure to maintain Allegiance to God will result in the nation’s being scattered…
 But because of His love for Israel, He will not abandon us
 “Ataw horaysa lawdaas key Hashem who H’alokim…” [“You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that God is Supreme Being, and there is none besides Him” ]
 Three Cities of Refuge are designated in the land east of the Jordan River
 “V’zos Hatorah asher som Moshe lefnay bnai yisrael” [“And this is the Torah that Moshe set before the children of Israel”]
 Moshe explains that the special Covenant with God made at Mt. Sinai applies to all generations of Israel
 Repeat of Decalogue (Ten Words /Commandments) with some variation
 “Shema Yisrael…” and the first paragraph of Shema :
o Defines the Oneness of God
o Demands we love Him
o Urges us to constantly teach our children and our students
o Requires us to repeat Shema twice a daily
o Mandates wearing of Tefillin on arm and head and affixing a Mezuzah on the doorpost of a home
 Warning not to forget God, especially during times of prosperity
 Keeping the Commandments
 Remembering the Exodus
 Warnings against assimilation
 Urgency of eliminating all vestiges of idolatry in the Promised Land

On Torah

It is my conviction that the Torah is meant to transform us for the better. We need to feel the living truths in the Torah to counter whatever negativity exists within us. To be successful, Torah must become a living, breathing document whose ethics are integrated into our persona.

Explains Rabbi D. Nathan Lopes Cardozo…

“The Torah is not a record of what once happened at Sinai; it is an experience that takes place now while we study it…
Learning Torah is neither the study of what happened a long time ago nor a record of what God once commanded humans to do.
Rather, it is an encounter with the divine word at this present moment.”

The Torah was given once, at Mt. Sinai, but receiving the Torah takes place in every generation:

Learning Torah is a religious act that includes trying to listen for and to “hear” its profound revelations
Reading and learning are not enough; we need to “hear” the inner voice.
“This divine voice is captured and becomes tangible in the fulfillment of the mitzvot” (Cardozo)
The Biblical philosopher Franz Rosenzweig insightfully perceived that “one hears differently when one hears in the doing”.

Contemporary Israeli author and commentator David Hazony explores the issue of how this most ancient moral text (Ten Commandments/Statements/Words) can renew modern life. Following are some of his ideas:

 The Mt. Sinai experience was designed to create an unswerving loyalty to God. This experiential initiation ceremony involved a text, a document of allegiance to Him. Because we owe our existence to Him we must submit to His yoke. Ultimately, each of these Ten Statements is related to the service of God—even though the last five appear to be on the surface only between Man and Man. Obedience to Him means not only how He should be treated but also how we are to treat His children (Mankind).

 The central message seems to be that ordinary people can follow God’s word, if we only put our mind to it

 “The power of the Ten Commandments …is insistence that real human beings, with all their faults and failures, can improve themselves and the world around them”

 …Revelation of God in the First Commandment is, above all, a revelation about ourselves … and applied to every significant area of our lives”

“Va’eschanan el Hashem Ba’ays Hahee”


The parsha opens with this statement by Moshe: “I pleaded with God at that time”. Because the Hebrew verb to plead is in the reflexive, the meaning of Moshe’s statement really is “I got myself to plead”. This is a reminder to us that interaction with God requires preparation. Indeed, the Rabbi of Tsans is quoted as saying “Before I begin to pray, I pray that I may be able to pray.”

Moshe’s Repetition of Aseret Ha-devarim (Ten Words or Ten Commandments or Ten Statements)

1. I am the Lord your God…
2. You shall have no other gods beside me
3. You shall not swear falsely…
4. Guard the Sabbath day…
5. Honor your father and mother…
6. Do not murder
7. Do not commit adultery
8. Do not steal/kidnap
9. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor
10. You shall not covet…

In the first two commandments God speaks in the first person. The rest are expressed in the third person. The Israelites, frightened by the sound of the Divine voice and His overwhelming presence, demanded that the last eight be said by Moshe in God’s name.

The commandments are presented on two tablets, each listing five. The first five, consisting of matters between Man and God, mention His name and include punishment for violation and reward for observance. The fifth, to honor one’s parents, (included on this tablet because God is a partner with parents in creation and education of children) is the bridge to the left tablet, which consists of five staccato, short statements demanding ethical behavior during our lives. These commandments have no associated reward or punishment. They represent fundamental, universal ethical behavior one needs to embrace to be included in the Community of God.

Ibn Ezra notes how on the tablet on the right the progression…
• Begins with beliefs
• Continues with the verbal
• Advances to behavior one day a week (Sabbath)
• Concludes with full-time behavior (Honoring parents)

In Divine matters, faith lays the groundwork for observance.

The commandments on the left tablet deal with behavior between Man and Man. They are harsh, demanding, concise commands without explanation. Here rules of conduct come first; thoughts, plans and cravings come later:
• The first commandment prohibits the most reprehensible behavior (murder) and is…
• Followed by less-severe immoralities (adultery, stealing) then…
• Advances to deceitful speech and…
• Concludes with sinful thoughts and desires

When it comes to interpersonal relationships we are a religion of deed before creed! We are commanded to avoid the worst type of behavior first and then deal with our speech and then work on controlling our impulses.

Rabbi David Fohrman discerns a correspondence of ideas between the commandments on the left and on the right. The Decalogue is encapsulated in five core principles that encompass and summarize the essence of the Torah. The structure is a kind a table of contents for the entire Torah, elegantly summarized in few words:

 Commandment number one (I am the Lord your God) corresponds to commandment number six on the left (not to commit murder). Both communicate the idea that one is not to act on the belief that one’s life would be better off without either God (by not believing in Him) or without a particular person (by killing him/her).

 The second commandment on each tablet deals with the sanctity of relationships and the requisite exclusivity entailed. As relates to God, “You shall have no other gods beside me”. As relates to humans, adultery is prohibited because it is a betrayal of a sacred, exclusive relationship.

 To not swear falsely (third commandment on the on the right tablet) and its corresponding prohibition of stealing (on the left) share the same idea of miscarriages of justice committed by fraudulently removing a person’s rightful possessions.

 Guarding the Sabbath, the fourth commandment, corresponds to the commandment not to bear false witness (fourth on the left tablet). The Sabbath bears witness to God’s universal Goodness in His creation and to His cessation of creation. One who violates the Sabbath may be comparable to the witness who perjures himself in court, denying the truth and contradicting the Divine equilibrium of universal integrity, honesty and justice.

 Honoring one’s parents, the last commandment on the right, corresponds to the tenth commandment, of not coveting, by the commonality of the powerful, aggressive emotional forces (both conscious and unconscious) we experience. Both commandments impress upon us the need to take control and make sure that our behavior is appropriate, these powerful internal forces notwithstanding.


I. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of Bondage”

Is this a statement or commandment that refers to Israel collectively and at the same time to each Israelite individually?

 Abravanel and others maintain that there is no commandment to believe in God because Torah cannot dictate belief. It is a statement that records what God did for the Israelites, which is the basis for His subsequent commandments. The introductory phrase resembles preambles that appear in ancient documents.

 Rambam asserts that there is a commandment to believe in God. One is obligated to realize that there is cause and motive in the world ; that God intervenes in human affairs (like freeing the Israelites from Egypt); and that one needs to observe, investigate and then realize the Awesome-ness of God and all He has created.

 Rabbi Joseph Telushkin summarizes that ethical monotheism—the idea that One Universal God rules and demands ethical conduct from human beings—“comprises Judaism’s major intellectual and spiritual contribution to the world.”

 Rabbi Benno Jacob (cited by Nechama Leibowitz) sees the importance of the “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of Bondage” as establishing the Divine rejection of lands of culture [like Egypt] that have no room for freedom. God removed us from this liberty-less environment of enslavement.


 Rav S.R. Hirsch explains that this is not just about the existence of God, but “that this One unique, true God is to be my God, that he created and formed me, placed me where I am, and goes on creating and forming me, keeps me, watches over me, leads and guides me”.


II. “You shall have no other God beside me…”

We are to recognize God’s singularity and are forbidden to present Him in any form of sculptured image.

Idolatry is the idealization and worship of anything believed to be greater than God. We are prohibited from “worshiping”, for example, money or technology in its many forms (bio, medical, computer software and Artificial Intelligence)) as the ultimate power in the universe.

Nechama Leibowitz surveys possible meaning of the expression “beside me” …

 Or Ha-chayyim thinks it means God’s demand of exclusive worship because once a person starts worshiping one deity he will end up worshiping many.

 Chizkuni: If you accept another master, know it will be in defiance of me (i.e., in my face)

 Onkeles: besides Me, or in addition to Me

 Rashi/Midrash: in my presence. Just like God’s existence is eternal so is the prohibition of idolatry

 Ramban: God is present everywhere so knows whether one is idolatrous publicly or in private

 Avraham, son of the Rambam: Because of God’s Omnipresence, we are prohibited from accepting the services of any mediator between Him and Man

Impassioned God promises “visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the children” if the children remain wicked like the father.

The prohibition against idolatry includes the making idols out of the mitzvahs, says the Rebbe of Kotsk. “We should never imagine that the chief purpose of a mitzva is its outer form, rather it is the inward meaning, the devotion with which it is done”.


III. “Lo Seesaw (You should not take) the name of the Lord your God in vain…”

We are commanded to not use the Divine name for false (swearing a tree is a rock) or even useless oaths (swearing a tree is a tree). We are to safeguard His name from obliteration. We are not to trivialize His name.

The word “seesaw” can also mean carry. As such, Rabbi Telushkin understands this commandment to mean that one is prohibited from citing (i.e., “carrying”) God’s name and authority for promoting an evil cause (like Crusaders murdering innocents in the name of God or racist organizations like Ku Klux Klan and ISIS that claim that they are doing God’s will).


IV. “Guard the Sabbath day and make it holy…”

The Sabbath, already practiced by the Israelites since the appearance of the manna, was a revolutionary innovation for its time in its demand that not only humans but also servants and animals cease from working on that day. The ancients mocked the idea. Workaholics take note: We all are entitled to have at least one seventh of their lives for ourselves—to rest, to think, to rejoice, to contemplate, to study and to rejuvenate both our spiritual and physical lives.

The original Ten Commandments states “Remember the Sabbath day”. This refers to the sanctification of the day by positive precepts including wine, prayer and joy. Guard, used here, means to prohibit any melacha that is creative and productive, as defined by the thirty-nine categories of creative activity that were employed in the building of the Tabernacle. “Melacha” (work) means changing and transforming materials for a permanent state or condition for a human purpose. Both words Guard and Remember are thought to have been spoken by God simultaneously. something no human can do. So, reasons Howie Lindenauer, the Torah first states one “version” in the original Ten Commandments, then in this Parsha states the other version.

In the original Decalogue, we are told that the Sabbath was instituted to remind us of God and His Creation: “For in six days God made the heavens, the earth and the sea—and all that was in them—and He ‘rested’ on the seventh day.” Sabbath is about testifying that God created the universe. Sabbath is about the renewal of spiritual life. Sabbath is about imitating God, who on the seventh day ceased creating, having concluded that all that He had made in the first six days of Creation was very good.

Some have argued that Sabbath is Israel’s most original contribution to world law with its unvarying, religiously-demanded intervals whose observance is both an unchanging weekly obligation and an inalienable privilege. The Hebrew essayist and Zionist thinker Achad Ha-Am (“one of the people”, pen name of Asher Ginsberg,1856-1927) captured its importance for the nation throughout history in the pithy observation that “More than Israel has guarded the Shabbat, the Shabbat has guarded Israel”.

Moshe links the Sabbath to our remembering that we were servants in the land of Egypt and that God brought us out “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”. The Israelites in Egypt were enslaved day-in and day-out without respite. In their new life in the Promised Land, we are warned to not treat others in the way that the earlier generation was mistreated in Egypt.

V. “Honor (cabayd) thy father and mother as the Lord your God has commanded you in order that thy days may be long and that it may go well with you on the land that the Lord thy God gives you.”

The phrase “and that it may go well with you” does not appear in the original Ten Commandments given on Mt. Sinai.

Treatment of parents left much to be desired, it appears, in ancient times.
The conflict between child and parent seems inherent in the human condition to the point where God promises family harmony (in Malachi 3:24) by interceding and sending the prophet Elijah to “reconcile the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children in their relationship with their fathers”.

The Torah does not command us to love our parents because one cannot dictate emotions. We are commanded to behave in a way that honors our parents. Cabayd—the Hebrew word for honor—is related to the root word for heavy, suggesting that this commandment is among, if not the, “heaviest”, most important and most difficult one for humans to observe.

The root word cabayd also means liver, that body organ that the ancients believed was the source of heaviness, anger, and melancholy (and perhaps, in modern day parlance, conflict and depression). In modern psychological terms these may refer to the Oedipus complex and the Electra complex. Yocheved Ausubel notes that the blood-filled liver is a vital organ that is critical for survival. It is part of the digestive system as well as being responsible for many things including cholesterol production, detoxification and protein synthesis. Perhaps without cabayd to our parents our physical well-being is impaired.

Cabayd also means to treat with dignity, specifically as it relates to this new generation that is burying the older generation and is reminded to do this task in a respectful, dignified manner.

Jonathan Elkoubi speculates that the Decalogue needed repeating because during the 40-year desert trek every commandment had been broken, one way or another, by the parents of the Israelites now awaiting entry into the Promised Land. These children of Israel to whom Moshe is speaking spent their youth in the desert wandering and wondering about the poor choices their parents made after their awesome Mt. Sinai experience. They (and we) now are being reminded that even if we are puzzled by our parents’ actions, we are obligated to act in a respectful way simply because they are our parents.

The added phrase “as the Lord your God has commanded you” …

 May mean that in the past God emphasized this commandment or…
 Perhaps “has commanded you” is a poetic way of saying that the need for parental respect is intuitive and built into our DNA or…
 Perhaps this phrasing is meant to reinforce our need to work through our conflicts with our parents, be they unconscious or conscious.

Including the fifth commandment with those that have to do with Man’s relationship with God, makes the point that God is a partner with our parents in our creation. Respecting and honoring parents is one facet of respecting and honoring God. This commandment is the bridge to the last five between Man and Man. Perhaps the anti-social behavior listed and prohibited on the left-hand side of the Decalogue (murder, theft, adultery) may be rooted in one’s failure to observe the fifth commandment. One’s life may become heavy/difficult (cabayd) if one does not cabayd one’s parents.

Rav Yissocher Frand deals with the question of how far one must go to respect parents by citing the story of a non-Jew from Ashkelon named Dama bar Nesinah (Kiddushin 31a):
The Sages once needed a stone for the Urim v'Tumim, and they heard that Dama had exactly the stone they needed. They offered to pay him a huge sum for the stone. The stone was in a strongbox, with the key under his father's pillow.

When he told the Sages “I cannot help you; my father is sleeping, and I wouldn't disturb his sleep” they left.

A year later, a perfect red heifer, suitable for a parah adumah, was born in Dama's herd. The Sages came to purchase it. When asked how much he wanted for it, Dama replied "I know that you would give me any price I ask, but I only want the amount of money I lost by not waking my father last year."
As parents get older, they can become more demanding and test the patience of their children. Is there a limit to such patience? How much patience can be expected of a person? Is there a point where a person can run out of patience and be exempt from this mitzvah? Rav Frand concludes that Dama’s experience shows us the extent to which we are capable of honoring parents even under such tempting circumstances.

Dr. David Schnall, then-Dean of Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work offered the 2002 graduates the following advice from the Parsha…

• Call your mother (“cabeyd es avecha v’es eymecha…”)

• Spend more time with your children than you think necessary (“v’shenantem l’vanecha”)

• Because our behavior defines our lives, observe and follow Torah values and ethics (“u’shmartem v’aseesem…”)

The respect for our parents extends beyond their lives and is manifest in the twelve-month mourning period required for their death, compared to only thirty days mourning for other relatives. Rabbi Hillel Davis shared with me a discussion on this topic between the great Torah scholars Rav Teitz, Rav Hutner and Rav Soloveitchik. The first two Gedolim explained that the reasons for this longer mourning period are…
• Since one can only have one set of parents (while one can have multiple siblings or spouses or children) the loss of a parent is so much more severe and…
• Because the loss of a parent severs the connection to Sinai.

The Rav opines that there may be a tendency to feel that the death of a parent is normal and expected, since parents generally die before their children. The Halacha forces us not to underestimate the profundity and intensity of the loss and its effect on us by mandating that we experience the longer (and longest) mourning period.

These insights by our Gedolim resonate with psychological truths about the weighty effect that death of a parent can have on a person’s mental health and behavior. Sigmund Freud called the death of his father "the [or a] most poignant loss" of his life, an event that prompted him to start self-analysis. Furthermore, he theorized that the illness or the death of one's parents can trigger a response “of punishing oneself in a hysterical fashion...with the same states [of illness] that they have had”. [Note: the word “hysterical” in Freud’s terminology refers to the complex process through which emotions translate into behavior. In current psychological terms it is labeled “conversion disorder”.] The profound, unconscious love-hate that can exist in a child-parent relationship is the heaviest burden one has to cope with in life (and, therefore, the use of the word cabayd).

There is intense, unimaginable pain in the loss of a child, but there is not the potentially life-long ongoing conflict described by Freud in the parent-child relationship. It is this depressive struggle and conflict (and possible associated guilt) in the parent-child relationship that prompts the need for twelve times more time to work through the emotions associated with the loss. The Halacha demands the extended period be observed by all, even by those who may not feel the need for it (lo pluug).

Loss of our parents, our creators, is akin to loss of the connection with God the Parent/Creator of both us and the universe.

For honoring parents, we are assured “that you may long endure on the land which the Lord your God is giving you”. Failing to honor parents precludes the development of a wholesome, harmonious life and will result in the Holy Land’s rejecting us.

The long life may mean the promise of being remembered by one’s children or that by having children one’s life is extended. Or perhaps it means an improved quality of life. In Rav Sadya Gaon’s view this commandment is greater than the other nine. “If you honor your parents, your children will honor you”, following your example.

The phrase “and that it may go well with you” may mean that the quality of our personal life improves with the resolution of the parent-child conflict. With the imminent entry of the Israelites to their homeland to build a nation the message is that Society cannot exist and thrive without inter-generational reconciliation.


VI. “You shall not Tirtzach” (murder; commit unauthorized homicide)

What is prohibited is killing someone not deserving of death. Hebrew word for killing is harog. Many incorrectly translate this prohibition to mean not “to kill” when in fact killing is permitted in certain circumstances including self-defense; a house intruder believed to be a mortal threat; terrorists; and evil demagogues like Hitler.

VII. “You shall not commit adultery”

Adultery--when a married woman who has sexual relations with anyone other than her husband--is considered a sin against God and therefore cannot be absolved by a forgiving spouse.

VIII. “You shall not steal”

It is prohibited to kidnap… to take something belonging to someone else without permission…to deal deceitfully or falsely…to defraud.

IX. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”

A corrupt judiciary will pervert society. Justices are prohibited from favoring or even giving the appearance of favoring either party, rich or poor. Perjury is taboo as are deviations from the truth in and out of the courtroom. The punishment for lying witnesses is imposition of a fine equal to the dollar amount they intended to extract from the party they were testifying against.

X. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey or whatever belongs to your neighbor.”

To covet is to want or yearn to have someone else’s possession at his/her expense. Reasoning that one cannot be punished for one’s uncontrollable desires and thoughts, some maintain that the sin occurs only after there is a physically taking of the coveted item.

In his Mishneh Torah codification of laws, Rambam distinguishes between coveting and craving:

“Anyone who covets a servant, a maidservant, a house or utensils that belong to a colleague, or any other article that he can purchase from him and pressures him with friends and requests until he acquires it from him, violates a negative commandment, even though he pays much money for it, the Torah states, “Do not covet” (Exod. 20:14…. Anyone craving a home, a wife, utensils, or anything belonging to another that he can acquire from him–-from the time he thinks in his heart, “How is it possible to acquire this from him?” and his heart is aroused by this matter—he has violated a prohibition, as the Torah states “Do not crave” (Deut 5:18) – “craving” is only within the human heart.”

The Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo (25 B.C.E. – 50 C.E.) places this sin squarely in the realm of thought, though at the same time noting that craving what others have can lead to dangerous actions such as plotting and strife. He argues that whereas most passions are involuntary, covetousness is under human control since it is based on an idea, namely, that something that is not yours should be yours. Philo suggests that although desire for other people’s possessions does not always lead to wrong action, it is always destructive, either to the self or to others. If people do not take what they desire, they are forever tortured, and if they do, they violate a core social prohibition and risk throwing society into chaos and violence.

It is an anti-entitlement concept. Ibn Ezra argues that coveting is avoidable and can be suppressed through religious training that accustoms each of us to be content with what we have. We need to train ourselves to consider others’ possessions as things so far removed from the possibility of our ownership:

“… every intelligent person knows that a beautiful woman or money is not something an individual can obtain through wisdom or personality, it is all up to the portion doled out [to an individual] by God… For this reason, a wise person will not be jealous and will not covet. Since he knows that God has forbidden his neighbor’s wife to him, thus she is more elevated in his eyes than the princess in the eyes of the peasant. And so he is satisfied with his portion and does not allow his heart to crave and desire something that is not his. For he knows that that which God does not wish to give to him, he cannot take by force or by his thoughts or schemes. He has faith in his Creator, that He will provide for him and do what is good in His eyes.”
*****

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ intriguing analysis views the Commandments as three groups of three:

 The first three are about God, the Author and Authority…
• One God
• No other God
• Not taking God’s name in vain

 The second set is about “createdness” …
• Shabbat is about the creation of the universe
• Honoring parents who created us and brought us into the world
• Murder is prohibited because we all are created equally by God

 The third set is about the basic institutions of Society…
• Not to commit adultery is about the sanctity of marriage
• Not to steal is about sanctity of private property
• Not to bear false witness is about the administration of justice

The final Commandment is devoted to the emotion of envy and its devastating effects. Cognitive behavior theory has concluded that beliefs can mold feelings, a core idea also found in Tanya. A false belief about reality can trigger rage (in a situation, for example, where a person’s [baseless] belief that others are talking about him can trigger anger and resentment).

Envy is one of the prime drivers of violence, as is clear from the Torah (Kayin and Hevel; Yosef and his brothers) and from world history. This burning desire to have what belongs to someone else or to be someone else can move people to commit adultery, to steal, to give false testimony and even to murder! Envy is singled out for attention because it is the force that undermines the social harmony and order that are the aim of the Ten Commandments.

Belief in God; being reminded of God’s presence in history and in our lives; and thinking about the concept of “createdness” can help us thwart envy. We exist because God created us and we have what He wanted us to have. Defining ourselves in relationship to other people (rather than in relation to God) triggers strife and envy and brings on unhappiness.

The antidote for envy is gratitude. It is the “modeh ani” we say when we awake –expressing thanks before we think or say anything else. It is the idea embodied in Ben Zoma’s statement that the only person who can be considered rich is the one who is satisfied with and rejoices in what he has.

Rabbi Sacks concludes that once we are freed of our letting others’ happiness determine ours, “we release a wave of positive energy allowing us to celebrate what we have instead of thinking about what other people have, and to be what we are instead of wanting to be what we are not.”

Shema

The Shema starts with “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our G-D, the Lord is one”. In Judaism, we experience God through sound, not though sight.

The final word ECHAD (“is one”) may be understand as…

 Unique (in His extraordinariness) or
 Alone (expressing opposition to polytheism) or
 Indivisible or
 One with us-inextricably tied up with us in our lives

This uniqueness of God is an article of faith. To the nation of Israel, He is…
 Superior to all other deities
 Unique
 Our guardian
 In a special relationship with us

The concept of one God underscores the opposition to polytheism and pagan ethics so widely prevalent at that time. It also implies the oneness of humanity and demands the brotherhood of all: God is the source of Nature and of morality.

The last Hebrew letters of the words “Shema” (Ayin) and “Echad” (dalid) are written large in the Torah scroll. Following are some suggested reasons:

 A reminder to concentrate on the ideas between the two letters
 The large ayin prevents pronouncing the Hebrew word to mean “maybe”
 The large dalid prevents confusing the letter for a “raysh” and pronouncing the final word to mean “other” (achayr)
 Together, the ayin and the dalid form the word ayd (witness) emphasizing that the reciter of Shema is a witness to God

The first paragraph begins with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”.

What does it mean to love God? How can we experience this emotion toward an unseen and unrecognized entity? And how can we be commanded to feel something, when we have no control over our emotions?

 Shadal defines love as a longing for/yearning after. One should feel bliss and delight in the mention of His name and the study of His Torah. It is the emotion that a father feels toward his only son and the lover feels toward the wife of his youth. Shadal views this statement as an underlying principle for all commandments. Most commentaries disagree and consider loving God to be an independent mitzvah.

 Some maintain that love of God incorporates reverence and fear and expresses itself in a single-minded loyalty and obedience. The Midrash states that loving God means doing his commandments out of love.

 Rambam thinks that this love arises from intellectual exercise. Through contemplation of the awesomeness of the universe one comes closer to an understanding of--and a longing and passion to know-- its Creator. (The Song of Songs’ description of the love sick, obsessed lover is the allegorical expression of the Love between Man and God.) Furthermore, engaging other people in the discussion and praise of God in an attempt to attract them to His worship is part of the mitzvah. Indeed, a Midrash indicates that Abraham’s love of God manifest itself in converting the locals and bringing them under the wings of the Divine Presence.

 Rabbi Günter Plaut stresses that “a mitzvah done in the right spirit is an act of loving God”. By performing Godly deeds, we create/capture this emotion.

 Malbim thinks that the juxtaposition of God’s unity with the love of God suggests that once we recognize His Oneness, we are challenged to love Him as the source of all that happens in our life—both good and bad

 The Sefat Emes believes that we all have the potential to experience this love. He understands the commandment as a bolstering of courage designed to help us remove the emotional blockades that often-times prevent us from realizing the deeply-buried love of God from rising to the surface.

 Franz Rosensweig notes that in the human sphere the commandment to love can come only from the lover who says to his beloved “Love Me!” In the religious sphere, “God the Lover of the Universe announces His love (of us) and demands reciprocity” -- i.e., for us to love Him in return.

 A Chasidic interpretation points out that we are commanded twice in Leviticus to love human beings. Only after we have learned to love people can we come to love God. Jennifer Stein observes that the word used for relationship with fellow man is ahava (love) and not y’erah (being in awe of). Because we are all created equal, “being in awe of” is an emotion reserved for God (and parents).

Rabbi Sacks points out that the Hebrew root to love (a-h-v) occurs only 19 times in the first four books of the Torah, none about the relationship between God and a human being. But in Sefer Devarim it appears some 23 times in the context of the Israelite nation and God’s love for one another. Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, this book filled with love is also filled with legal and halachic concepts.

Rabbi Sacks, building on the ideas of author and commentator David Brooks, connects law and love. Love is an intense emotion, but one that cannot be guaranteed forever. Humans need to build a structure of behavior with rituals including even small acts of kindness and gestures of self-sacrifice for the beloved. Similarly, sustaining the emotion of love for, and love by, God over time necessitates a construct of conduct. And it is the law, the mitzvahs, the halacha and the rituals that form this agenda to keep love alive.

“V’aseesaw Hayshar V’hatov Be'aynai Hashem” (“You Should Do What is Right and Good in the Sight of God”)

This positive commandment seems unnecessary, because it is already exists in the immediately-preceding verse “You shall diligently keep the commandments of God your Lord and His Testimonies and His Statutes that He has commanded you”.

Nechama Leibowitz cites Rashi and Ramban, each of whom thinks that this is a new mitzvah of p’shara, to go above and beyond the letter of the law. The root word p’shara means to melt, dissolve; to cool, temper; to disengage, suggesting a calming down of emotions in order to arrive at a settlement. So important is this command that the Talmud Yerushalmi states that Jerusalem was destroyed because the inhabitants failed to go above and beyond the letter of the law.

Ramban further explains that the Torah includes this general commandment because it would be impossible to record every situation of human behavior. Furthermore, it is possible for a person to be a fool within the realm of observing the Torah or even be a repulsive human being when he acts only within the letter of the law but not with its spirit.

Rabbi Sacks expands on this idea of the distinct aspects of moral life. Law is about universal principles that apply at all times and in all places. But morality is about our response to specific situations; not only what we do but in the way in which we do it, whether with humility or gentleness or tact. Morality is about how we react to people as individuals. The Torah’s demand that we do “what is right” is about responding appropriately to any one person at any one time in any one given situation.

The Torah is a book of both law and morality. The Netziv [Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1816-1893, head of the Volozhin Yeshiva for almost forty years] points out that Sefer Berashis is called “the Book of the Upright” because it records how the Patriarchs acted in an upright manner in their dealings with all people including idolaters and strangers. Rabbi Sacks further cites the story of Rabbi Israel Friedman of Rizhn [a respected Chassidic Rebbe, 1796-1850] who asked a student how many sections there are in the Shulchan Aruch. The student replied “four” to which the Rabbi responded that there is also a fifth… to “always treat a person like a mensch”.

The prefix “B” in the phrase “B’eynai Hashem” generally is translated to mean “in” or “within”. An additional definition is “using” or “utilizing”. Translated this way, the commandment is for us to behave using “eynai Hashem”, the eyes of God, a term that means insight and deeper understanding of behavior to which God alone is privy. When we are dealing with our fellow Man, we are urged to try to use or utilize the same understanding and forgiveness that we would like God to use in judging us.



Rabbi H. L. Berenholz
Moderators: Heshy Berenholz
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