Weekly Reading Insights:Va'etchanan

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Va'etchanan - 16 Menachem Av 5779 /August 17

Shabbat Nachamu*

Torah: Deut. 3:23-7:11
Haftorah: Isaiah 40:1-26 (1st of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation)
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 3

Va'etchanan is the 2nd Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and it contains 7343 letters, in 1878 words, in 122 verses

Va’etchanan opens with G-d’s refusal to allow Moshe to enter the Land. Next, Moshe reminds the Jews how they were taken out of Egypt, given the 10 Commandments, taught Torah, and should not stray from G-d and His laws. Moshe invokes heaven and earth as witnesses in warning the Jews of the consequences of erred ways. Then, Moshe designates 3 of the locations of the cities of refuge for the unintentional murderer. Following this is the review of the giving of the 10 Commandments and the famous verses of “Shma” and “Ve’ahavta”. The Jews are again reminded to keep G-d’s mitzvos and avoid the consequences of sin, particularly idolatry and assimilation.

*So called because this haftorah begins with the word "Nachamu" (Be comforted) and is the first of seven Haftarot of Consolation.
The prophet comforts the people with the description of the era of Mashiach and the revalation of G-d's glory.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The first Shabbos after the fast day of the Ninth of Av (which was last Sunday) is called Shabbos Nachamu. Nachamu means 'we will be consoled'. The name comes from the first words of the Haftorah (an additional reading from the Prophets that is read each Shabbos after the reading of the Torah portion), "Nachamu, Nachamu." Ostensibly, the rabbis' intention was to console us after the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple and the more than 2000 year exile that followed it. But there is also a special power in these days to bring out the positive in even the most negative situations.

We can understand how to tap into this transforming energy by examining why the Prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) doubled the word Nachamu Nachamu - "Consolation Consolation" -- to begin his prophesy.

In the Talmud are found two different quotes focusing on how everything G-d does in the world is for the good. The first is from Rabbi Akiva (buried in Tiberias), the first century scholar and leader who said (Brochos 60/b), "Everything that the Merciful One does is for the good." And the second is from Rabbi Nachum Ish Gam Zu (buried in Safed), Rabbi Akiva's first teacher, who said (Taanis 21/a), "This is also for good."

While at first glance these expressions seem very similar, there is a difference that can be seen when reading the different stories about them in the Talmud. About Rabbi Akiva, the scene begins with him carrying a cinder box to start a fire, a rooster to wake him up in the morning and a donkey for transportation. He enters a town asking for lodging but no one accepts him. With no choice, he sleeps in the nearby forest. But a wind comes and puts out the fire, a fox comes and eats the chicken and a wolf comes and kills the donkey. In the morning he discovered all the town's people killed by bandits. Because of the wind putting out the fire so he would not be seen and the fox and the wolf killing the chicken and the donkey who would have made noise, Rabbi Akiva was saved. The discomfort he experienced from being cold, not being woken up early and losing his transportation came out well in the end, even if the initial experience was unpleasant. This unpleasantness 'was for the good' - that is, it enabled a good benefit.

The story with Rabbi Nachum Ish Gam Zu is a bit more complicated. The Roman Governor of Jerusalem needed money and so he put an exorbitant tax on the Jews. The Jews sent Rabbi Nachum, their holiest scholar, to Rome with a treasure chest of precious stones and metals as a gift. During his journey to Rome, the not Jewish innkeeper replaced the treasures with earth. Arriving in Rome, the first thing the Caesar wanted was his gift. Finding a trunk of earth, he immediately threw Rabbi Nachum into the dungeon. Rabbi Nachum had so much faith in G-d, he just kept saying, "this also is for good, this also is for good" (Gam Zu in English is 'this also'). His positivity was so powerful that G-d sent Elijah the Prophet in the guise of one of the Caesar's ministers, who convinced the Caesar that the Jews are not stupid; this must be the same miraculous earth that G-d turned into arrows for their forefather Avraham to rout the 5 kings. The Caesar agreed to try it. The Romans won the battle, Rabbi Nachum was freed, the tax removed and an even bigger trunk of precious jewels was sent back to the Jews as a reward. It wasn't just that through the treasure being stolen that the mission was saved. It was the earth itself that caused the greatest good to happen. If it was not for the switch, who knows if Caesar would have ever agreed to remove the tax. But since the earth helped him win his war, it comes out that the negative thing itself was also good!

This is also the inner meaning of the word Nachamu doubled, Nachamu Nachamu. The Prophet is telling us we do not have to be satisfied with consolation alone, we can have double consolation. Not just in quantity but also in quality. Not only that the suffering disappears (the theft of the original gift) but also the unpleasantness is transformed into something positive and pleasurable.

Of course, we can have a situation where the consolation comes when a person sees with his physical eyes that the suffering he experienced has a good reason behind it (R. Akiva: "Everything G-d does is for the good"). But you cannot call that double consolation. That is simply consolation. Double consolation is when we see that the suffering wasn't really suffering, rather that the suffering was really a hidden good (R. Nachum: "This too is for good").

This is the deeper sense of G-d consoling the Jewish people on the exile and all of the difficulties on our lives; in the end it will be revealed that it was not just a punishment, i.e. that we will see a reason for the suffering. What we really want is to see that the destruction of the Temple and this ensuing exile and all of our problems were also good in and of themselves.

Source: The Rebbe's Letters, Vol. 4, page 413

Shabbat Shalom. Shaul Leiter

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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one sample:

Mystical Classics
Moses and the Leap Year

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Moses had not consulted G-d regarding the acceptance of the Mixed Multitude. Alas, not only did Moses fail to truly convert them but they also infected the Israelites proper with their lack of faith during the episode of the Golden Calf.

Moses was forced to insert an extra year (the Jubilee year) after every 49 years to serve as a warning that Israel must not again err by accepting converts wholesale and being misled by them.

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