For the week ending 9 August 2014 / 13 Av 5774

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.


Letter to the Future

“…And with all your soul…” (6-5) — Rashi: “Even if He takes away your soul.”

I am writing this on Rosh Chodesh Av 5774.

They say that a week is a long time in politics and no one can predict what will have transpired by the time you read this a few weeks hence. In a way, writing a weekly column is like writing a letter to the future.

And the future always has the wisdom of hindsight – which I lack.

As I write this, the IDF is shelling and fighting in Gaza. There is no end in sight to the Operation Protective Edge. Daily casualties rise. And the righteous hypocrisy of the world’s press and its leaders, almost without exception, reaches new heights.

It was Connor Cruise O’Brien who remarked, “Anti-Semitism is a light sleeper.” It’s certainly scratching its sleepy head and waking up all over Europe. I’m not sure who is more vulnerable: the citizens of the south of Israel who have 15 seconds to run to their shelters, or the Jews of Paris and London, May G-d protect us all!

Suddenly the world seems a much more dangerous place than it did a few weeks ago. And yet, should we be surprised?

The default position of Jewish history has always been discrimination, dislike, exile and sometimes holocaust. If there have been periods of relative calm and peace, these are the exceptions and not the rule.

The “Halacha” says that Esav hates Yaakov. Why should we expect any better from him and his media circus?

We all want to sit under our fig tree and bring up our families in peace. We all want to have nachat from our children and the ripe old age to enjoy it, but twice a day we remind ourselves that it may not be that way:

“…And with all your soul…” (6-5) — Rashi: “Even if He takes away your soul.”

And in this lies our strength.

As Shakespeare put it, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 32 of "Julius Caesar")”.

And death for a Jew is but a portal to a great palace of light.

A Jew lives in this world, but not for this world.

We sold our part in this world to Esav. It belongs to him. All we have of this world is the permission to create our portion in the next.

We are not a nation that glorifies death. We don’t strap a make-believe explosive belt onto our toddlers and send them off to kindergarten with their sandwiches in the morning. Our definition of martyrdom is when a Jew has no choice but to give his life for kiddush Hashem. That word — martyrdom — had been pirated and distorted by the Islamists to mean the desire to commit suicide while taking as many innocent people as you can along with. That’s not martyrdom, that’s murder.

Being a Jew is about keeping Shabbat; being a Jew is about learning Torah; being a Jew is about being kind and unselfish.

But being a Jew is also about being prepared to give one’s life if necessary, to make the ultimate sacrifice if that is the will of G-d.

“Even if He takes away your soul.”

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