For the week ending 5 August 2006 / 11 Av 5766

Parshat Va'etchanan

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Although Moshe is content that Yehoshua will lead the nation, Moshe nevertheless prays to enter the Land of Israel in order to fulfill its special mitzvot. Hashem refuses. Moshe reminds Bnei Yisrael of the gathering at Sinai when they received the Torah that they saw no visual representation of the Divine, but only the sound of words. Moshe impresses on Bnei Yisrael that the Sinai revelation took place before an entire nation, not to a select elite, and that only the Jews will ever claim that Hashem spoke to their entire nation. Moshe specifically enjoins Bnei Yisrael to "pass over" the Sinai event to their children throughout all generations.

Moshe predicts, accurately, that when Bnei Yisrael dwell in Eretz Yisrael they will sin and be scattered among all the peoples. They will stay few in number but will eventually return to Hashem.

Moshe designates three "refuge cities" to which an inadvertent killer may flee. Moshe repeats the 10 Commandments and then teaches the Shema, the central credo of Judaism, that there is only One G-d. Moshe warns the people not to succumb to materialism and thus forget their purpose as a spiritual nation. The parsha ends with Moshe exhorting Bnei Yisrael not to intermarry when they enter Eretz Yisrael, as they cannot be a treasured and holy nation if they intermarry, and they will become indistinguishable from the other nations.


When I Paint My Masterpiece

“I am Hashem, your G-d…” (5:6)

A man rushes into The Louvre in Paris and shouts out, “Where is it? Where is it?” “Where’s what?” asks the attendant. “Where’s the Mona Lisa? Quickly, I’m double-parked!”

By the 1780’s, Reform Judaism in Hungary had grown extremely powerful and widespread. The Jewish community was a state-recognized legal entity, and the majority became the official representatives of the Jews. Thus the government had designated Reform as the official representative of Hungarian Jewry. The Orthodox community could not tolerate Reform control over such crucial matters as divorce and marriage. Therefore, Rabbi Menachem Katz was sent to request independent Orthodox recognition from Emperor Franz Josef.

Katz’s brilliant mind and dynamic personality made a deep impression on the Emperor, and amongst other favors Franz Yosef treated him to a private guided tour of the Imperial Art Collection. The gallery contained many priceless masterpieces, and after they had finished the tour, Franz Yosef turned to Katz and said, “What do you think? Magnificent eh? “Your majesty will forgive me,” said Katz, “but there is a painter in our little town, who, to my eye, paints just as well.” “You think so?” replied the Emperor, “Let’s see what his paintings look like in a couple of hundred years.” “Your majesty, I can not help but wonder what reform Judaism will look like in a couple of hundred years.”

Looking at how far non-halachic Judaism has diverged from the original Masterpiece, one cannot fail to be amazed by Rabbi Menachem Katz’s prescience.

Professor Steven Katz noted that Reform is the first heterodox Jewish movement not only to reject the Oral Torah but the Written Torah as well.

Shortly before his death, Jacob Petuchowski, longtime professor of theology at Hebrew Union College, wrote: “Because American Reform Judaism no longer finds it necessary to justify itself before God and Jewish religious tradition, its abject submissions to any and all modern fads are boringly predictable.”

Sounds like a gallery review of the latest grunge/attitude art-fad.

In fact, the Ten Statements which are the centerpiece of this week’s Parsha would be better called by reform, “The Ten Suggestions – but please – feel free to sketch your own!”

After two hundred years, Reform Judaism looks far from the masterpiece it was painted to be.

  • Sources: Based on a story heard from Y. E. and Jewish Media Resources

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