For the week ending 5 August 2017 / 13 Av 5777

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 Ten 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.


A Little Shabbat Song

“Guard the Shabbat to sanctify it…” (5:12)

Everything we do in Judaism has deeper levels of meaning — even a little Shabbat song.

Imagine the Shabbat table of the holy Chafetz Chaim — as close an approximation to the next world as this world gets! Rabbi Elya Lopian writes of such an experience:

The Chafetz Chaim started to sing the well-known zemer (Shabbat song) Kol Mekadesh (The English translation, unfortunately, is as pedestrian as a bobby on the beat):

Whoever sanctifies the seventh day as befits it, whoever safeguards the Shabbat properly from desecrating it — his reward is exceedingly great in accordance with his deed.”

The Chafetz Chaim stopped singing and said: There are two kinds of Shomrei Shabbat (people who keep Shabbat). There’s the person who “sanctifies Shabbat as befits it”, meaning someone who sanctifies his Shabbat with purity and holiness, with a higher, more sanctified level of prayer, with Torah learning of greater insight and depth, a person who sets aside more time for introspection and self-examination. On the other hand, there’s the kind of person who “safeguards the Shabbat properly from desecrating it.” He makes sure not to profane Shabbat by breaking its laws, but does no more than that. His Shabbat is still lacking something. It lacks the experience of the holiness of Shabbat, and the delight of Torah and serving the Almighty. Rather, he sleeps his Shabbat away, resting from his weekday toil. However, when the song says that “…his reward is exceedingly great in accordance with his deed” — it is referring to both types of people. For even the person who merely “keeps” Shabbat will receive a huge reward for not profaning it. The song continues, however, “Every man in his own camp, every man under his own banner…” In the world of truth these two will dwell in very different “camps.” They will sit under very different banners. And certainly the “shomer Shabbat” will not be able to enter the portal of the one who is “mekadesh Shabbat”, one who makes the Shabbat holy.

Shabbat is a most precious gift from G-d. A day when we can be close to Him. That’s what holiness means. A day that is a precise reflection of the “world that is entirely Shabbat”. To the extent that we make our Shabbat a reflection of that world, so too will our eventual experience of that world mirror that reflection.

And all that in a little Shabbat song.

  • Source: based on Lev Eliahu

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