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.
Moshe’s request to go to the Promised Land is rejected … Moshe appeals to the Israelites not to forget what they learned at Mt. Sinai… Moshe establishes 3 Cities of Refuge East of Jordan River… ”And this is the Torah that Moshe set before the children of Israel”…Moshe urges the Israelites to recognize the special Covenant with God made at Mt. Sinai… Decalogue (Ten Words /Commandments) repeated with variations…First paragraph of Shema: Oneness of God; need to love Him; need to repeatedly teach the children; need to repeat Shema twice a daily; Tefillin and Mezuzah as signs... Consequences of forgetting God… Explaining the importance of the Exodus to our children…Urgency of utterly destroying idolatry and of avoiding intermarriage with residents of Canaan
On honoring one’s father and mother
“Honor thy father and mother as the Lord your G-d has commanded you that thy days may be long and that it may go well with you on the land that the Lord thy G-d gives you.” These underlined words do not appear in the original Ten Commandments as reported when given on Mt. Sinai.
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 from the root word for heavy, suggesting that this particular commandment is among, if not the, “heaviest”, most important and most difficult one for humans to observe. The conflict between child and parent seems inherent in the human condition to the point where God needs to restore family harmony 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” (in Malachi 3:24).
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, Oedipus complex and 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 treating parents with Cabayd also is critical for our physical well-being.
The added phrase “as the Lord your G-d has commanded you” suggests 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.
The additional 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.
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. That this commandment is the bridge to the last five between Man and Man may suggest that 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 of reconciling with one’s parents.
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 wandering in the desert and wondering about the (poor) choices their parents made after having had the 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.
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 morning 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 1) since one can only have one set of parents (while one can have multiple siblings or spouses or children) the loss for a parent is so much more severe and 2) because the loss of a parent is much more intense in that it also severs the connection to Sinai, a longer mourning period is necessary. 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 (as opposed to one who is devastated by the death of a child). 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 profound effect that death of a parent can have on a person’s mental health and behavior. Freud called the death of his father "the 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’. 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 Halacha demands the extended period be available for those needing 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 world.
How does one love God?
The Shema starts with “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our G-D, the Lord is one”. The final word ECHAD may also be translated as unique (in His extraordinariness) or alone (expressing opposition to polytheism).
The next verse reads ”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. He 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 opines 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.
The Sefat Emes understands the commandment as a bolstering of courage designed to help us remove the emotional blockades that 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 desires reciprocation i.e., for us to love Him in return.
A Chasidic interpretation notes 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.
“V’aseesa hayshar v’hatov Beynai Hashem (You should do what is right and good in the sight of God)”
This positive commandment seems unnecessary, because it is already hinted at in the immediately-preceding verse “Shamor tishmaroon es Mitzvos Hashem Elokechem v’aydosov vichukav asher ztevach.” (“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 Pshara, to go above and beyond the letter of the law. The root word Pshara means to melt, dissolve; to cool, temper; to disengage, suggesting a calming down of emotions in order to arrive at a settlement.
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 when he acts only within the letter of the law but not with its spirit.
The prefix B” in the phrase “Beynai 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 “ayne hashem”, the eyes of God. “Ayne hashem” means the insight and deeper understanding of one’s 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.