For the week ending 1 August 2020 / 11 Av 5780

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 mitzvahs. Hashem refuses. Moshe reminds the Jewish Peopleof 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 the Jewish People that the Sinai revelation took place before an entire nation, not to a select elite, and that only the Jewish People will ever claim that Hashem spoke to their entire nation. Moshe specifically enjoins the Bnei Yisrael to "pass over" the Sinai event to their children throughout all generations.

Moshe predicts, accurately, that when the Jewish People dwell inEretz Yisrael they will sin and be scattered among all the nations. 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, forgetting 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 would become indistinguishable from the other nations.


Why Was I Created?

“Now, O Yisrael, listen to the decrees and to the ordinances that I teach you to perform…” (4:1)

One of the privileges of having been associated with Ohr Somayach for the last thirty is that I’ve met, and in some cases been close to, several human beings who were clearly living on a different level than the rest of mankind. One of them (who will, of course, remain nameless) is a genius in the art of human relationships. He once distilled the essence of one’s relationship with one’s fellow into three principles. I’ll try to present the first of these principles this week, and, G-d willing, the other two in the weeks to come.

His first principle is, “I was created to serve others, and no one was created to serve me.” This may sound a little extreme. What, my entire existence is for other people? Ostensibly, this sounds to be beyond the “letter of the law.”

But Hashem wants us to go beyond the letter of the law. When we keep to the letter of the law, we treat the mitzvahs like a business transaction — you do this for me and I’ll to that for you. Unlike a business transaction, Hashem doesn’t want or need our mitzvahs. What use does He have for them? If we are very righteous, what does that give Him? What Hashem wants is our heart. When you get a present from someone you love, you’re getting the person you love wrapped up inside the present. When you get a present from someone you don’t care about, you’re getting something you like — delivered by a delivery boy.

So, really, to go beyond the letter or the law is the essence of our relationship with Hashem. However, upon deeper examination it could be that, “I was created to serve others and no one was created to serve me” is indeed the letter of the law, and not an exceptional level of righteousness.

The Talmud in Shabbat (31a) says, “Rava said: After departing from this world, when a person is brought to judgment for the life he lived in this world, they say to him … Did you conduct business faithfully? Did you designate times for Torah study? Did you engage in procreation? Did you await salvation? Did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom and understand one matter from another?

The Reishit Chochma, quoting from Mesechet Chibut Hakever, says that in addition to these questions, a person is asked, “Did you crown Hashem as King over you, morning and evening?” Meaning, did you say the Shema morning and evening. And, “Did you crown your fellow over you by giving him/her pleasure (nachat ruach)?

“Now, O Yisrael, listen to the decrees and to the ordinances that I teach you to perform…”

And so is it when the Torah speaks of decrees and ordinances. Just as the questions in masechet Shabbat are of the essence, so too, “I was created to serve others and no one was created to serve me” is an essential duty — and not a level of saintliness.

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