For the week ending 1 August 2009 / 10 Av 5769

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.


Having Your Head in the Right Place

“…Hashem is ONE.” (6:4)

One of the charms of living in the Holy City of Yerushalayim is the unique sense of humor of its residents.

I have the merit to daven in the morning alongside one such Yerushalmi. He is of slight build and unknowable age but I doubt he is much short of seventy-five and could be much more. The other day I noticed the tefillin on his head was slightly to one side and I said to him,

“Reb Aharon, your tefillin is not in the right place.”

To which he replied, “There’s nothing wrong with the tefillin — it’s the head that’s in the wrong place.”

The most important part of being a Jew is having your head in the right place.

Twice a day, we declare our faith in the Shema Yisrael prayer, “Hear O Yisrael, Hashem, our G-d, Hashem is One.” When we say the word “One” we are supposed to think for a brief moment that G-d’s Oneness precludes the existence of anything else whatsoever. Ain od milvado. On the ultimate level, nothing, NOTHING, exists except Hashem. In which case, who and where am I?

Everything we know, all knowledge, can be discussed, examined, argued about, refuted, proved, dissected, and shared. With one exception. There is one piece of knowledge that is beyond all refutation or controversy, beyond doubt and beyond proof.

And that is the certainty of my own existence.

No one can tell me that I am not here and I need no proof that I exist. The truth of my own existence is irrefutable and intuitive, beyond all logic or discussion. It is the deepest form of knowledge, and deeper than knowledge itself.

Which means that really the only thing I can really be sure of is me. Maybe the rest of the world, everything outside that intuitive knowledge of my own existence is no more that a giant super-duper I-MAX experience. Maybe the world is no more than a vastly sophisticated Disneyworld.

The tool that G-d has given us to turn "Nothing exists except me," into "Nothing exists except Him," is the Shema.

In the Shema, we are moser nefesh, literally we “give over our souls”. This doesn’t just mean that we are prepared to give up our lives rather than betray our faith. It means that in the Shema we give over the irrefutable certainty of own own existence and declare that that we are no more than just one expression of what G-d wishes to reveal in His world. The Shema makes our belief in G-d's existence as deep-rooted and unshakeable as the knowledge of our own existence.

Throughout the ages the Shema has given Jews the power to make the ultimate sacrifice; simple Jews who were not great philosophers, ordinary people who said Shema as they took leave of this world, understanding that their own lives were none other than G-d’s expression of Himself in this world, and they were now returning that to Him.

It all depends on having your head in the right place.

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