For the week ending 24 July 2021 / 15 Av 5781

Parashat 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 People of the gathering at Mount 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 Mount 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 Mount Sinai event to their children throughout all generations.

Moshe predicts, accurately, that when the Jewish People dwell in Eretz 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 Torah portion concludes 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 that in doing so they would become indistinguishable from the other nations.


Richard Branson and the Ultimate Joy-Ride

“Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it…” (5:12)

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson has successfully reached the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane. The UK entrepreneur flew high above New Mexico in the US in the vehicle that his company has been developing for 17 years. The trip was, he said, the "experience of a lifetime." He returned safely to Earth just over an hour after leaving the ground. "I have dreamed of this moment since I was a kid, but, honestly, nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space," he said in a press conference following the flight. "The whole thing was just magical."

I think Branson's expensive joy-ride has a deeper motivation though.

Judaism understands that all the pleasures, all the experiences of this world, are given to us for one reason only: that we might feel, that we might sense to the smallest degree… the taste of life itself.

But what is this "taste of life"? And what is "life itself" if not those experiences that it contains?

Imagine that you are standing in front of a firing squad, staring down the long black tunnel of the barrel of a rifle. "Squad! Take aim! And..." Just at that second, a messenger comes running into the square. "Stop the execution! The prisoner is free to go!"

Imagine how you would feel at that moment!

When our life hangs in the balance, when we are saved from a life-threatening experience, that euphoria is the perception of life itself, of existing. That moment of being rescued from death brings us face to face with our own existence. It is the sense of life itself.

There is, however, another less drastic and infinitely more spiritually uplifting way to experience the taste of life.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 31a, Avodah Zarah 9a) teaches us that the world as we know it will last for six thousand years. In the seventh millennium, about 220 years from now, the world will undergo a fundamental change. At that time, all activity will cease. That world is known as Olam Haba, literally, “the World to Come.” If we were to try to imagine that future world, it would be like one continuous Shabbat. Shabbat is really a hint of the future world, the faintest whisper of that reality. On Shabbat we are bidden to refrain from very specifically defined "creative" work, and, by doing this, we are able to make contact with something that is beyond this world.

The essence of the future world is that it is an existence devoid of activity. When all activity ceases, we will be able to perceive “being” itself. In the world in which we live now, we cannot distinguish between life experiences and life itself. We understand reality as being identical with our experiences. This is not true. The activity of the world in which we live now masks the perception of life itself, but when all activity ceases — then we will experience the taste of life itself. And when we experience that, it will be the sweetest thing that can be. That is what is known as the World to Come — existence without activity.

Some 600 individuals have already paid deposits for tickets that will cost them up to $250,000. These are all people who want to reach a height where they can see the sky turn black and marvel at the Earth's horizon as it curves away into the distance. Such a flight should also afford them about five minutes of weightlessness, during which they will be allowed to float around inside Unity's cabin.

Shabbat gives you 24 hours of “weightlessness” and can cost considerably less than a quarter of a million dollars.

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