For the week ending 13 August 2011 / 12 Av 5771

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.


Too Jewish?

“Surely a wise and discerning people are this great nation!” (4:6)

A true story.

A well-known Orthodox Rabbi was invited to a dinner at Buckingham Palace. The Rabbi replied that he would be honored to accept the invitation but he feared that his kosher dietary requirements would make it impossible for him to attend. The palace replied that far from being too much trouble, they would be happy to supply whatever food he needed and together with appropriate supervision.

The Rabbi happily accepted the invitation and a mashgiach (kosher food supervisor) was appointed to take care of his needs. In order to be unobtrusive, food was selected that appeared to be the same as the other guests’.

Before the other guests arrived, the mashgiach showed the Rabbi where he would sit. The mashgiach lifted a plate. Superficially it seemed identical to the other hundreds of plates in the dining hall. However on its underside was affixed a discrete sticker. The mashgiach had bought an entire new set of plates and cutlery. Everything had been toveled (immersed in a mikveh) and labeled.

The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and others of the royal family entered the room. Everyone rose. The meal began in an atmosphere of stately grandeur. The Rabbi was not the only Jew at this dinner but he was certainly the most conspicuous in his large black kippa.

Immersed in conversation as the first course came to its end, the Rabbi suddenly noticed the lights dimming. “What’s happening?” he asked the famous pop-star sitting to his right. “Oh, I can see you haven’t been to one of these before. What happens now is that everyone changes table. That way everyone gets a chance to meet everyone.” The pop-star may have noticed the cloud that momentarily passed across the Rabbi’s sunny countenance, but certainly he had no idea of its cause.

The Rabbi was now faced with a problem. He realized that he would have to carry his entire place setting to his next location. However, there was nothing for it, and to the bemused smiles of his fellow guests, he proceeded to gather up his plates, knives, forks and spoon and carried them ceremoniously to their next location.

Palace dinners are not short affairs. While carrying his decreasing number of plates between the fifth and sixth courses, one of the other Jewish guests hissed at him under his breath. “Will you please stop that! I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” “I’m sorry” said the Rabbi, “but I keep kosher.” “Well, make an exception!” said the other.

The Rabbi stuck to his guns. For all twelve courses.

At the end of the meal, the guests all lined up to take leave of their royal hosts. As the Rabbi was shaking Prince Charles’ hand, the prince said “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing that you were carrying your dishes around the room.” “Yes,” said the Rabbi “I did it because of the Jewish dietary laws.” “Yes,” said the Prince “I know about kosher food, but I didn’t know it extended to the plates as well. How interesting! Please tell me more.”

By this point, the master of ceremonies had come over to see what was holding up the line. In order to continue their discussion, the Prince beckoned the Rabbi to step out of the line and join him.

So there they were. The Rabbi and the Prince. Shaking the hands of the guests and discussing the laws of kashrut. Finally it came the turn of the Jewish guest who had objected to the Rabbi’s behavior to shake the hand of the Prince. As he was doing this, he mentioned confidentially to the Prince “I’m Jewish too.”

“Really?” said the Prince, “I didn’t notice you carrying your dishes!”

When we keep the Torah properly with all its details, non-Jews know instinctively we’re doing what we’re supposed to, and they respect us for it. When we try and water down our Judaism to conform to our own preconceived secular standards, there will always be a voice asking us where our dishes are.

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