For the week ending 12 September 2009 / 22 Elul 5769

Parshat Netzavim - Vayelech

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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On the last day of his life, Moshe gathers together all the people, both young and old, lowly and exalted, men and women in a final initiation. The covenant includes not only those who are present, but even those generations yet unborn. Moshe admonishes the people again to be extremely vigilant against idol worship, because in spite of having witnessed the abominations of Egypt, there will always be the temptation to experiment with foreign philosophies as a pretext for immorality. Moshe describes the desolation of the Land of Israel which will be a result of the failure to heed G-d's mitzvos. Both their descendants and foreigners alike will remark on the singular desolation of the Land and its apparent inability to be sown or to produce crops. The conclusion will be apparent to all - the Jewish People have forsaken the One who protects them, in favor of idols which can do nothing. Moshe promises, however, that the people will eventually repent after both the blessings and the curses have been fulfilled. However assimilated they will have become among the nations, eventually G-d will bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. Moshe tells the people to remember that the Torah is not a remote impossibility; rather its fulfillment is within the grasp of every Jew. The Parsha concludes with a dramatic choice between life and death. Moshe exhorts the people to choose life.


On this, the last day of his life, Moshe goes from tent to tent throughout the camp, bidding farewell to his beloved people, encouraging them to keep the faith. Moshe tells them that whether he is among them or not, G-d is with them, and will vanquish their enemies. Then he summons Yehoshua, and in front of all the people, exhorts him to be strong and courageous as the leader of the Jewish People. In this manner, he strengthens Yehoshua's status as the new leader. Moshe teaches them the mitzvah of Hakhel: That every seven years on the first day of the intermediate days of Succos, the entire nation, including small children, is to gather together at the Temple to hear the King read from the Book of Devarim. The sections that he reads deal with faithfulness to G-d, the covenant, and reward and punishment. G-d tells Moshe that his end is near, and he should therefore summon Yehoshua to stand with him in the Mishkan, where G-d will teach Yehoshua. G-d then tells Moshe and Yehoshua that after entering the Land, the people will be unfaithful to Him, and begin to worship other gods. G-d will then completely hide his face, so that it will seem that the Jewish People are at the mercy of fate, and that they will be hunted by all. G-d instructs Moshe and Yehoshua to write down a song -Ha'azinu - which will serve as a witness against the Jewish People when they sin. Moshe records the song in writing and teaches it to Bnei Yisrael. Moshe completes his transcription of the Torah, and instructs theLevi'im to place it to the side of the Aron (Holy Ark), so that no one will ever write a new Torah scroll that is different from the original - for there will always be a reference copy.


Not Another Love Story

“...for He is your life and the length of your days…” (30:20)

I'll never forget the first time I fell in love.

I gazed across the kindergarten tables (all of 14 inches high) as my beloved entered the room. The world stopped. Everything seemed to go into slow motion as she floated through the classroom to her seat. And later that day, life seemed to have come to an end when her mother called up to say that she couldn't come over for tea.

When you're really in love, it's as though all you are living for is that person. Nothing else exists. Everything else in the world – eating, drinking, breathing — are no more that boring distractions. If one's love was not in the world nothing would matter one bit.

It's interesting, but that's just how the Rambam describes the way we should feel about G-d. (Laws of Kriat Shema 1:1)

The Rambam says we should be lovesick for G-d, and that all of Shir Hashirim (The Song of Songs) is a metaphor for that love.

The Rambam explains that we say the first paragraph of the Shema before the other two paragraphs because it contains the yichud of G-d — His Unity — our love of G-d and His Torah. This, says the Rambam, is the fundamental principle on which everything else stands. What's interesting is that the Mishna on which the Rambam presumably based this Halacha just says that we say the first paragraph of the Shema before the others because it contains the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. That's all.

In other words, the Rambam is teaching us that the yichud of G-d, and our love of Him and our acceptance of His Torah are more than just mitzvot. They are the acceptance of an inescapable reality, outside of which there is nothing.

If we live just to fulfill mitzvot, that's not being in love. Real love is the feeling that our entire existence depends on G-d, and that without Him there is no existence. Nothing.

There is no other love story in the world.

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