Va’ethanan 5769

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Alex Krule

August 1, 2009/11 Menahem Av 5769

This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Va’etchanan! Va’etchanan is a very interesting portion, beginning with God instructing Moshe to climb Mt. Nivo. God tells Moshe that he can look at Cana’an, but he can never enter it because he disobeyed God’s instructions. Moshe then begins to address the nation for one last time, his last chance to inspire the nation to do only good, and avoid evil. Moshe tells the Israelites repeatedly to follow God’s commandments. He also says that if they do not follow God’s commandments, he would pray for their destruction. Also, in Moshe’s last speech to Israel, a couple interesting texts come up: the second recitation of the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma.

In Parashat Yitro, God delivers the Ten Commandments for the first time, however, in Parashat Va’etchanan, Moshe delivers them slightly differently. First of all, one of the most notable differences between Yitro (Shemot 20:2-14) and Va’etchanan (D’varim 4:6-19) is the first word of the commandment about Shabbat (the fourth one). In D’varim, it says Shamor, or observe, and in Shmot, it says Zachor, or remember. If you are familiar with Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy, then you might be familiar with a line in L’cha Dodi that says, “Shamor v’Zachor b’dibur echad,” or “’Observe’ and ‘protect’ uttered at once.” This comes from the tradition that when God delivered the Ten Commandments at Sinai, he said Shamor and Zachor at the same time. Because this divine language is incomprehensible to humans, it is written Shamor in Va’etchanan, and Zachor in Yitro to articulate just what God meant. In addition, in Va’etchanan, there is a word added to the tenth commandment (“do not covet”) that does not exist in the version in Yitro. In D’varim, it adds the word “fields” to the list of things that you are forbidden to covet, whereas in Shmot, it does not appear. This is probably because in Shmot, the Israelites had no land, whereas in D’varim, the Israelites are about to conquer their land and need to know not to covet their neighbor’s fields. There are plenty of other differences, and I hope that you look for them while following along!

Later in the portion, we find a passage that we recite every day: the Sh’ma. Beginning at Chapter 5, Verse 4 is the most widely known prayer in Judaism. Within this passage, we find our basic responsibilities as Jews: there is only one omnipotent God, we must love God, and we must teach these values to our children (of which there should be plenty). Other than Hillel’s concept of treating each other as we want to be treated, this paragraph is probably the most important passage within the entire book of D’varim, if not the entire Tanach, that continues to impact us to this very day.

Did you know …
… about the often forgotten holiday of Av, Tu B’Av (15th of Av)? It is the holiday of love – learn more here.