Weekly Reading Insights:

Va'etchanan 5782




Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Va'etchanan - 16 Menachem Av 5782 /August 13

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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This week's Torah portion is called V'etchanan. Rashi, the main commentator, brings two ideas about the word v'etchanan since it is not a common word. The first explanation is related to the concept of a "free gift", in Hebrew, matnat chinam. The roots of the words chinam (free) and v'etchanan are related. This is a reference to Moshe's request of G d to allow him to enter Israel - even if he didn't deserve it. Obviously, Moshe had many merits with which he could negotiate with G-d. Nevertheless, since Moshe understood that G-d knows all, he did not wish to negotiate. He only asked for a free gift or nothing. The second explanation that Rashi suggests is that the word v'etchanan is one of the ten words used in the Torah to connote prayer. This would make the translation simply, "And I [Moshe] prayed...." (Devarim/Deuteronomy 3:23). So, according to Rashi, v'etchanan either refers to G-d giving Moshe a free gift or to Moshe praying.

We, the Jewish people have one G d and one Torah. From this, we understand that even if there seem to be differences, even contradictions, between two authoritative Torah commentaries, nevertheless, all 70 "faces" of Torah ultimately are connected. What is the connection here?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe connects the two commentaries in a very interesting way. Each Jew is given certain abilities and characteristics in order to reach his or her true potential. It is impossible for the individual to break out of these boundaries on his or her own without outside assistance. Sometimes one is chosen by G d to receive a ray of infinite light, incomparably more powerful than his or her own strengths. This infinite light helps a person move out of their limitations and attain a much higher spiritual level. The masters refer to it as a "free gift" because there is no quantifiable relationship between it and our observance of the commandments. Even though we must earn this gift by acting in an exemplary way, it is considered free because the value and power of this ray of light transcends all aspects of our reality and can be given to anyone, not only tzaddikim or extraordinary souls. It is available to every Jew.

What is the most effective method for tapping into this infinite strength? The masters of Chassidut explain that the idea of a "free gift" in this world is connected to studying Torah. Torah existed before the world's creation, so it is not limited to the natural order. G-d looked into the Torah to create the world. It is His will and wisdom. Since it transcends this physical world, Torah learning can tap into strengths beyond and help a person break through his or her limitations and boundaries. It releases the infinite Divine light above.
In the word va'etchanan, Moshe was hinting to us a tried and true method for reaching beyond our limitations, something that would be needed when we entered the Holy Land. He wanted the Jewish people to merit reaching spiritually lofty levels when they entered Israel through the deep study of Torah.

The inherent problem is that though Torah learning taps into spiritual levels much higher than this world and even our observance of mitzvot, this learning, specifically because of how much "out of the world" it is, sometimes remains "suspended". The infinite Divine light that it releases does not always descend into this physical world because we do not make it a reality in our lives in this plane of existence. So it is powerless to help us transcend. What can we do?

Thankfully, there is another parallel system. Prayer. The entire purpose of prayer is to effect positive change here in this world. The power drawn down by prayer does not remain above (as is the case with Torah study), for we see in actuality that the sick are healed and the rain falls! Prayer is such an effective method to draw Divine light into the world specifically because it deals with this material world. "Please G-d, help!"

On one hand, for many people, Torah's high level cannot always descend to our earthly plane, and on the other hand, prayer often does not go high enough. Neither alone can bring the desired effect. The secret of the word v'etchanan reveals Moshe's true goal. To combine the unique benefits of Torah and the unique power of prayer in his effort to help the Jewish people. We learn this through the dual meanings of the word va'etchanan. As mentioned before, "va'etchanan" can refer to both the "free gift" that Torah brings in reaching above-worldly heights and to prayer.

What about Moshe? Why wasn't he allowed to enter Israel? Moshe knew about the power of Torah and the prayer. With all the good intentions that Moshe had, nevertheless, G-d still did not heed his request. Why? If Moshe would have come into the Holy Land, he would have done it all for us! G d wanted, and wants, us to do the work by ourselves, to strive in both Torah and prayer and not to rely on Moshe.

While the total power of this lofty spiritual combination will only ultimately be revealed with the revelation of Mashiach, each of us can still use the system in the here and now to transform ourselves and the world. Do not disappoint Moshe. Do not disappoint G-d. Remember! The next time you want to move out of your limits, to change the world, what is the secret? Your Torah study will release Divine light from above and your prayer will draw that light down.

Rabbi Yaakov David of Amshinov [1] was known for spending many hours in fervent prayer.
Once he was asked, "In previous generations, people would pray with intense concentration and at length. Today, people are so preoccupied and concerned by the worldly matters that affect them, they pray quickly and without proper intentions. What is the value of such prayer?"
The Rebbe answered, "Moshe told the Jews, [in this week's Torah portion], I prayed to G-d at that time, saying…' (Devarim 3:23). 'At that time' can be understood in two ways, and the word 'saying' seems redundant. 'At that time' can refer to the past, when Moshe spoke to G-d, and also at that (particular) time in the future - referring to the era of 'the heels' of Mashiach, the time we are in now! Because there is not a day when the curses of today are less severe than those of yesterday no one can pray with the right concentration. The word 'saying' refers to the words of prayer - that G-d should accept our less than perfect prayers, even as they are being said today."
(Sichat HaShavua)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

[This Shabbat is the 15th of the Jewish month of Menachem Av, known as Tu B'Av. A special date in our calendar with romantic connotations! Find out more here

[1] Rabbi Yaakov David Kalish. ?-1878.

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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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