Parshat Hashavua Vaetchanen
Contributed by: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Parshat Hashavua Vaetchanen in a nutshell: Moses tells the Jewish people about what happened during the years of his leadership and how he asked G‑d to let him go into the Land of Israel but G‑d refused. He then reminds the people of two major events in our history: the Exodus from Egypt and the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Moses also talks about the future; idolatry worship and exile.
The Ten Commandments are repeated and Parshat Vaetchanen also mentions the mitzvah of putting on tefillin and of putting a mezuzah on the doorposts of our homes.
“Lo sosifo al hadavar asher anochi metzaveh eschem, ve’lo sigr’eu memenu” Deuteronomy 4:2 “You shall not add to that which I have given to you, nor shall you subtract from it.”
The word “mimenu” (from it) in the verse appears superfluous, certainly, this verse refers to the taryag (613) commandments. This verse teaches us that the word taryag itself alludes to the notion that Hashem’s commandments should neither be added to or subtracted from.
If one adds a commandment to 613, we get 614 or “tarid” commandments. “Tarid” is a language meaning descent as in “yeridah.” This teaches us that if one comes up with his own innovation and adds a commandment to our perfect Torah even if he means to praise or glorify the Torah with this addition, he instead sullies the Torah because it shows that the Torah is based on man’s intellect and is thus not divine. An addition puts into question the divine authenticity of the entire Torah which may likewise be construed as man-made and not the work of the King of kings.
Similarly, if one subtracts a commandment from the Torah, we would have “tariv” (612) commandments instead of 613. “Tariv” indicates fighting. Fighting and quarreling would ensue between Jews because certain groups would endeveor to eliminate specific commandments and other groups different commandments. Some are strong in particular commandments but weak in others and would therefore wish to eliminate those commandments that spotlight their weaknesses. And what is a weakness to one in Israel may be a strength to another. No consensus could be gotten to decide which commandment would be eliminated and fighting would be inevitable. Therefore taking one commandment away from “taryag” would lead to “tariv.”
The prohibition of the addition or subtraction of commandments is learned “memenu” or from the fact that we have exactly “taryag” commandments in the first place. Even if one’s motivations are proper, adding extra commandments leads to a downfall and subtracting commandments lead to fighting
Two of the most profound pronouncements in the Torah can be found in our Parsha this week. They are: the declaration of our faith – The Shema (6:4-10); and the Ten Utterances or also known as the Ten Commandments (5:6-19). These two declarations have held the Children of Israel together for more than three millennia.
The Shema in its simplicity teaches us of the love relationship between Hashem and His people Israel. The Ten Utterances, categorize all of the Torah’s 613 Mitzvot (commandments) into ten principles of our faith.
“Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad. Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only.”
The first time that the Shema was uttered was recorded in the Midrash on Parshat Vayichi. In the “Vortify” of that week (Dec. 28, 1997) this Midrash was rephrased:
“…Prior to Ya’acov’s death, he wished to inform his sons of the time of the final redemption. He gathered his children around his bed and suddenly his memory failed and Ya’acov was despondent. He thought that it was his sons’ unworthiness that caused Hashem to take away the memory of the redemption. The 12 sons of Ya’acov knew what their father was thinking and tried to reassure him that they fully believed in Hashem.
They said in unison;
全hema Yisrael – Hear us our father Israel,
Hashem Elokaynu – Hashem is our G-d,
Hashem Echad – and Hashem is One.’
When Ya’acov heard his sons’ response to his doubts, he knew that his lapse of memory had nothing to do with their worthiness, but, rather, it was Hashem who did not want this information to be revealed. With this realization
Baruch Shaym K’vod Malchuto L’olam Va’ed –
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom, forever and ever.’
These well known phrases became the mainstay of Jewish prayer for ever and ever.”
Moshe Rabbaynu (Moses our teacher) incorporated their first declaration of faith into the declaration made twice daily by the Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel).
By the way, when the Torah records the words of the Shema, the last letter of the first word, the letter “Ayin” in ShemA, is enlarged. Also, the last letter of the last word, the letter “Daled” in EchaD, is also enlarged. Bring these two letters (Ayin and Daled) together and they form the word “Ayd” (witness).
This declaration, as well as the Ten Utterances that precede it, are a testimony to the Torah by the Nation of Israel. We do not accept the document only because Moshe was a trustworthy leader of Israel. We accept the Torah because we, a small nation of slaves, witnessed and testify daily, that Hashem is the One and only G-d.
Our role in the world as a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) is dependant upon a high level of spiritual, social and ethical behavior that will act as a beacon of enlightenment to all nations. That level of behavior can only come about as a result of an eyewitness account of the interaction between the Nation of Israel and Hashem. No other nation or religion can make this claim, no other nation or religion has experienced the events or the encounter that Israel has. This is the uniqueness of the Shema and the Ten Utterances. They represent Eydut (witnessing) of the personal encounter with Hashem.
But there is another very important element to this encounter, the element of forgiveness. After the first 2 tablets with the Ten Utterances were given, Moshe dropped and shattered the tablets when he observed that the Israelites were worshiping the Golden Calf. On the first day of the sixth month (Elul), Moshe again ascended Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights and engraved the second tablets (mentioned on this week’s Parsha) returning them to the Nation of Israel on the tenth of the seventh month (Tishre), or Yom Kippur.
During the time that Moshe spent on Mt. Sinai, Hashem revealed to him His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Shemot [Exodus] 34:5-6). These Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are recalled as a formula to be used whenever a time of crises arises and Hashem’s Mercy is required. Truthfully, the Sin of the Golden Calf was so deplorable that we should not have survived as Hashem’s Treasured Nation (Shemot 19:5) but His mercy is abundant and He is slow to anger.
During the post Tisha B’Av period, from now until the High Holidays we look at our spiritual side and begin a process of self-examination. This self-analysis goes through a number of stages. The second stage is during the month of Elul, refining our selves as individuals and as a nation. The third state is during the Aseret Yimay Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance) between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we attempt to offer our changed personalities as a personal testimony to Hashem’s forgiveness. And finally, the Joy that we experience having received forgiveness from Hashem manifests itself in the festival of Sukkot (tabernacles), referred to as Z’man Simchataynu (the time of our rejoicing).
Today only Am Yisrael can say, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokaynu, Hashem Echad (Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only).” But we all pray for the day when as the prophet Zachariah foretold (Zach. 14:9):
“Hashem will be King over the entire world – on that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.”
Let us live up to our destiny and rectify the world with our personal deeds of righteousness. Let these deeds testify to the uniqueness of Hashem’s desire for mankind to live in peace and harmony with all nations and all peoples. And let us show by example that this is all possible the same way that we were shown the kindness of the One and living G-d.
The Pearls of life teach us that a person should not make himself afraid! A person should as well be happy with their troubles. With Emuna (faith) one should accept their suffering with Simcha (happiness) NO matter what it is. Painful experiences, virtually neutralizes any of those harsh or severe judgments. This is because there is no bad in the world because Hashem is only good and merciful. Hashem responds in kind and treats that person with no severe judgments. Such a person is capable of invoking miraculous salvations. Hashem guides a person in accordance with his Emuna.
Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim
As heard from my Torah Masters