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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Deuteronomy/Dvarim - V'etchanan 101
Posted August, 2000
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Parashat Va'etchanan is one of the longest in the Torah beginning at Perek Gimel, pasuk chav-gimel (Chapter 3, verse 23) and extending through Perek Zayin, pasuk yud-aleph (Chapter 7, verse 11).  Where Devarim presented a chronology of the wanderings of the Israelites through the desert, Va'etchanan offers a chronology of the time before the exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt) and, even more important, a chronology of future events extending into today.  This Parashah goes on to cover vital commandments and a number of issues that are questioned in terms of their validity today

Needless to say, of course, there are certain commandments associated with the prophecies.  So it seems important to outline those first.  They begin at Daled:tet-zayin (4:16): 

16. lest you act corruptly and make yourselves a carved image, a likeness of any shape; a form of a male or a female:

Obviously, this particular verse corresponds to a number of other religions.

17. a form of any animal on the earth; a form of any winged bird that flies in the heaven:

This directly concerns the religions formed around animals similar to those in the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman cultures.

18. a form of anything that creeps on the ground, a form of any fish that is in the water under the earth:

This particular verse reminds me of certain emblems that are seen on cars here in the U.S. these days.

19. and lest you raise your eyes to the heaven and you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars -- the entire legion of heaven -- and you be drawn astray and bow to them and worship them, which Hashem, your God, has apportioned to all the peoples under the entire heaven:

Astrology or those who held that the sun was a god?

20. But Hashem has taken you and withdrawn you from the iron crucible, from Egypt, to be a nation of heritage for Him, as this very day:

This forms the reasoning behind all of this.  God brought Klal Yisrael out of Mitzrayim to be His people and, as is pointed in many other places, this is a sacred relationship that is, in itself, kodesh/holy.

Moshe Rabbeinu (our Rabbi Moses) follows this with discussion about his particular situation in that he is not permitted to enter the Land and then warns the people with the following:

23. Beware for yourselves lest you forget the covenant of Hashem, your God, that He has sealed with you, and you make yourselves a carved image, a likeness of anything, as Hashem, your God, has commanded you:

Interestingly enough, the prophecies now follow directly and we will look at each verse individually.

25. When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt and make a carved image of anything, and you will do evil in the eyes of Hashem, your God, to anger Him:

This has certainly happened.  I remember a number of years ago, upon starting the return to religious Judaism, that we were discussing this Parashah and Rabbi Yehoshuah Harlig from Las Vegas mentioned two things.  First, he said that the Jewish people have a terrible weakness when it comes to idolatry.  Indeed there is a Midrash that says that Klal Yisrael went to Hashem and asked Him to remove to temptation of idolatry and He refused, stating that this was one of the tests that had to be overcome.  Second, and just as important, idolatry is not always found in religions.  Rather, money can, and all too often does, become an idol for many.

26. I appoint heaven and earth this day to bear witness against you that you will surely perish quickly from the Land to which you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not have lengthy days upon it, for you will be destroyed:

The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash followed two periods of both idolatry and a lack of Ahavat Yisrael with all the behaviors that attend that.

27. Hashem will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you:

Obviously, this follows the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash.  For those who are not students of history, most of the population that survived was taken into captivity and dispersed throughout the regions of the Roman Empire.  And, of course, the Jewish people have never been anything but a minority in all the countries in which they lived.

28. There you will serve gods, the handiwork of man, of wood and stone, which do not see, and do not hear, and do not eat, and do not smell:

In many ways, the Jewish people did serve these other gods.  They certainly served the believers in those gods.  As well, history records numerous episodes of forced conversions.

29. From there you will seek Hashem, your God, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul:

This is the most difficult of the verses for me because there is no clear indication of what this service to Hashem entails.  Of course, the Torah will provide the insights shortly.

30. When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem, your God, and hearken to His voice:

There are five key words in this pasuk.  They are "at the end of days" meaning just prior to the messianic era.  In other words, messianic era prophecies are not merely contained in the Prophets and Writings of the Tanakh.  They can be found in the Torah as well.

31. For Hashem, your God, is a merciful God, He will not abandon you nor destroy you, and He will not forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore to them:

There have been those who have suggested that Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, are no longer the chosen of Hashem.  The Torah not only disagrees but clearly states that such an occurrence is not going to happen.

Now to the comments of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch concerning pasuk chav-tet (verse 29).  His comments begin with at chav-chet (28) with:

The blind lack of freedom of his idol becomes his ideal, and you, subjected to the heathen world, will learn to feel the whole weight of this demoralizing idolatry.

Rav Hirsch continues for pasuk chet-tet with

From this contrast, the elevating, free-making nearness of the One Unique truly living God Who had becomes Israel's portion in the world will then flash up all the more in your hearts, "ye will seek Him and ye will find Him."  Even as helots of a heathen world you will be aware of His illuminating, elevating, free making Nearness which ennobles you and brings happiness, if you will ask only Him for what is right and good, and go to Him only, for help.  The whole history of Israel is exile with its victorious endurance and continuous existence externally, and its happiness-bringing efforts towards inspiration, understanding, and ennoblement internally is a continuous revelation of the living God in contrast to the dead and deadening heathenism.

Having had an opportunity to speak with Rav Tuvia Singer of Outreach Judaism and Mark Powers of Jews for Judaism, I would guess that they would see the promise in this commentary and would appreciate it, as it says, " Even as helots of a heathen world you will be aware of His illuminating, elevating, free making Nearness which ennobles you and brings happiness, if you will ask only Him for what is right and good, and go to Him only, for help."

It seems appropriate to also add a few words from Rav Hirsch's commentary on pasuk lamed-aleph (31):

For God will not forsake you because He has already done so much for you, because you are the product of His special caring rule.  For rachamim (from rechem, the womb) is the love of a creator for his creation because it is his creation.

As an aside, one of my toughest challenges when I followed another religion was understanding the concept of "hell" and considering it valid.  It was just as Rav Hirsch said.  How is it possible for a loving God to condemn any of his creations to eternal torment?  Of course, this was resolved for me from learning Tanakh wherein it states that a person who is lacking in any righteousness earns Sheol - death and death of the neshamah as well.  It would seem that a loving and merciful God, Who loves what He has created, would find the most merciful solution.

Previously, I asked the question of "What did God mean" in perek chav-tet (29).  The answer can be found beginning in Perek Hay (Chapter 5); wherein the 10 commandments heard by klal Yisrael at Har Sinai are repeated.

________

Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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