You can find the rest of the parsha text on at Va’etchanan.

39 thoughts on “Va’etchanan

  1. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson

    Energy of the Week: Parshas Va’eschanan


    This weeks portion opens with Moses imploring, entreating and praying to be allowed into the promised land.

    The Verse says of Moses “Va’eschanan/ I entreated Hashem at that time, saying, O Hashem, God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand… Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan. (Chap.3: 23-25)

    Our sages say that Moses implored the Creator with Five Hundred and Fifteen prayers, as is hinted by the word Va’eschanan, of which the numeric value is 515, and equal to the numeric value of the classic word for prayer, Tefilah.

    Yet, his prayers, so deeply felt and expressed, are only partially answered. Moses is told, “Go up to the top of the hill and lift up your eyes…and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan.” (3:27)

    He is permitted to see the land, but not to enter it.

    This seems like more of a punishment than a response to his prayers, as the viewing of the land creates an even greater longing to enter, and a stronger sense of lack, and thus propelling an even more intense desire to enter the land.

    Most years, we read the portion of Va’eschanan in the week of Tisha B’av/the Ninth of Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, and our ensuing exile from the land.

    To be in collective and individual exile is to experience disconnection and displacement. Exile is separation. The separation creates the longing. The greater the separation, the greater the longing.

    The longing itself creates the unity. The connection between what you have or who you are with what you want and who you desire to become, is forged by longing.

    Moses’ seeing the land created a greater longing for the land and in this way, an even deeper connection.

    This is the value of longing.

    Energy of the Week:Overall, this week is a difficult week. It is a week of separation. This is a good week to stay close to home, and stick to the familiar. This is not a good time to seek out the new, to start new projects, a new business, move into a new house, or make any large purchases. It is a time to be cautious, and stay safe.

    This week, allow yourself to feel the losses in your lives and be in the sadness.

    This sadness is the sadness of separation, and separation creates longing. Therefore, in the course of the week, through mourning and feeling our losses, we receive the energy of longing – longing for world redemption and for personal redemption. Through feeling the pain of collective and personal exile and we thus awaken a stronger desire for collective and personal redemption.

  2. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Va’etchanan: Cleaving to God

    “You, who remained attached to the Lord your God, are all alive today.” (Deut. 4:4)

    What does it mean ‘to be attached to God’? As the Talmud (Sotah 14a) asks, is it possible to cleave to the Shechinah, God’s Divine Presence, which the Torah (Deut. 4:24) describes as a “consuming fire”?

    The Sages answered:

    “Rather, this means you should cleave to God’s attributes. Just as God clothed the naked [Adam and Eve], so too you should cloth the naked. Just as God visited the sick [Abraham after his circumcision], so too you should visit the sick. Just as God consoled the mourners [Isaac after Abraham’s death], so too you should console the mourners. Just as God buried the dead [Moses], so too you should bury the dead.”

    This explanation on how one may cleave to God is the very essence of the Kabbalistic study of the sephirot. What is the point in studying the intricacies of God’s Names and His manifestations in holy sephirot? We learn about God’s divine attributes so that we may aspire to imitate them. These studies enable us to follow in God’s ways and in this way cleave to Him.

    This idea – that we can only attach ourselves to God by imitating His attributes – is a fundamental concept in Judaism. Any other understanding of cleaving to God implies some degree of anthropomorphism or idolatry.

    The very existence of ideals, holy aspirations, and ethics in the world and in the human soul mandates the existence of a Divine Source. From where else could they come? Our awareness of the Source of these ideals elevates them, revealing new wellsprings of light and pure life.

    (Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 297-298. Adapted from Musar Avicha, pp. 118-119)

    Wendy’s comment: I encourage you to go to the website and read some of the other
    commentaries for this parsha. Hard to choose this week.

  3. Wendy

    From Reb Miles Krassen/Moshe Aharon

    Ve-Etchanan BS”D

    “And at that time, when the desire to realize the dream of the Land of Israel was most present in my mind, I prayed 515 times to the Lord of Being: please, please let me express the true prayer that would enable me to realize my dream.” (Devarim 3:23) In this verse, which begins parashat Ve-etchanan, if we read the Torah of our Hearts, we can each feel the depth of the great yearning of Moshe to bring about the ultimate Redemption in his lifetime. “But, since the time was not yet ripe, for your sakes, the Source of Being, became pregnant with my Dream. And the Lord of Life assured me, ‘you have already done enough, you really don’t need to speak to me about this again. Just go up to the highest level (beyond time and space) and there you will see it All for yourself…'” (Devarim 3:26, 27).

    This parashah, which we read after the 9th of Av, points to one of the deepest and challenging moments in life, when we realize that despite our best efforts, we simply are not going to get the job done in one lifetime. This is not to say that we have not accomplished and experienced great miracles. But, we ultimately come to the sobering realization that the true purpose for our being here in this world, which is envisioned by the Moshe in us, is not going to be completed by us. That is the great, shocking, reality-check of the 9th of Av. And yet, in this parashah, which is read on Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, we already begin to discover a new energy. We can already anticipate the 15th of Av, linked in Tractate Ta’anit with Yom Kippur, as one of the two most joyous and auspicious Holy Days of the year.

    What is the secret of this amazing energy shift? The Zohar gives us a hint in a fantastic myth. Ya’akov and Esav were bargaining over the months of the year. Every month that Ya’akov gained would be a month of Compassion, but all of Esav’s months would be difficult months of Judgment. Esav took Tammuz and Av, while Ya’akov was able to claim the months of Elul and Tishri. However, always seeking ways to sweeten jusgment with lovingkindness, Ya’akov managed to liberate the second portion of Av from Esav. The result is that now the second half of Av is joined with the entire month of Elul, the month of Teshuvah, the best time for getting back into alignment with the Divine will. Indeed, the Holy Qedushat Levi, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, noted that Av is an acronym for Arur (cursed) and Barukh (blessed). The blessing part of Av begins with this parashah and reaches its height on the 15th of Av.

    So what is its secret? When Moshe accepts his mortality, his thoughts turn immediately to how to insure that his dream will continue to unfold after him. He immediately receives divine guidance concerning the need for a successor and he makes sure to include in this parashah, the most essential keys to consolation and continuing the path to Redemption. Here are several of the most important.

    “Just be as careful as possible to stay awake so that you never forget what you yourself experienced.” (Devarim 4:9). Especially, at this time, we need to remember and recount those amazing and undeniable moments when we experienced directly in our own lives, the Divine Presence.

    “I AM the Source of Being, your Divine Empowerer, who enables you to break free from identifying with the apparent limitations (of the egoic personality) that periodically enslave you.” (Devarim 5:6). “Hear (and meditate) on this for yourself (in the way your mind can understand it)…the Source of Being, your Divine Empowerer is (the only) One.” (Devarim 6:4). “Right now, shift into the parasympathetic mode of feeling consciousness in which your Heart does know that…there is nothing anywhere other than (the One).” (Devarim 4:39). “And then you yourself will have direct knowledge that there really is nothing other than that One.” (Devarim 4:35).

    “And, even if that (ego death) seems scary to you, (don’t worry), the Moshe in you can mediate between you and the Truth” (Devarim 5:5) “so that you can cleave to the Source of Being, your Empowerer, and remain alive” (Devarim 4:4), “even though the Source of Being, your Empowerer, is truly a consuming fire… ” (Devarim 4:24).

    And when you really do see this in your own way, “you will love the Source of Being, your Empowerer…” (Devarim 6:5) “and you will be sure to mindfully do everything that you need to do and that it is right to do, which I AM commands you to do.” (Devarim 7:11).

    May we all have the merit to really take the message of this parashah to heart and recognize for ourselves, the ultimate consolation of knowing “eyn od milvado,” there truly is nothing but the One. May we slough off the old persona that dies on the 9th of Av and be reborn and renewed together in the re-aligning energy of the 15th Av, that greatest of all Holy Days, because it draws energy from the future, in which the Holy One is already dancing with us in a circle in which all are equal.

    Rabbi Moshe Aharon Ladizhyner
    (“Reb Miles”)

  4. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~


    (And I implored)

    DEUTERONOMY 3:23 – 7:11

    V’Etchanan tells the story of Moses’ plea to enter the Promised Land. It goes on to recount the Ten Commandments, and also gives us the Sh’ma, our central prayer that affirms the Unity of God.


    THE DRAMA OF V’ETCHANAN recounts Moses’ plea for grace. As our story unfolds, Moses implores God to allow him to enter the Promised Land. God’s response is interpreted by Moses as an angry and terrible “NO!”… as a withholding of grace.
    God says, “Rav lakh!” You have so much! Stop fixating on your idea of what you want! And then God instructs Moses to climb to the top of the mountain and get a clear view in all directions so that he might see and know that he has already arrived. The promise has already been fulfilled.
    As we search for Grace in our own lives, we often come to that search with a preconceived notion of what our success must look like. We look towards the Promised Land – the right partner, perfect health, enough money, the right places to live and work. Our time and culture condition our goals; they drive us onward in our journeys, blinding us to the destination beneath our feet. As Grace pours into our lives from within or without, we will not recognize or receive its flow if we are fixated on a certain picture, on a particular outcome, a specific idea of success. Our expectations will blind us to the Promised Land that is before us and within us.

    THE BLESSING of V’Etchanan is the opportunity to hear God’s words again, “Rav lakh,” You have so much! I am answering your request in this very moment, but you must open your eyes to receive it. You must lift your eyes beyond your own limited expectations. You must climb the mountain to take in the wide expanse. You don’t need to cross the Jordan. You are already Home.
    We take this journey in order to be strengthened, purified, transformed, refined. We journey so that our eyes may be opened.
    V’Etchanan blesses us with a map for that path of awakening in the form of the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma.

    THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, written on the tablets, represent the Covenant. This covenant is the Truth of our connection to the ultimate reality hidden beneath the apparent surface of things. V’Etchanan blesses us with a path of attunement to the essential truth of our existence. Ignoring or contradicting the guidelines carved on the tablets of covenant, will serve to keep us from knowing and experiencing that connection to God and to the whole of Life. If the line of connection to our Source is broken, then awakening becomes impossible and our relationship to Reality becomes distorted.
    But what kind of blessing is this? Haven’t we already received the blessing of this gift earlier in our journey in the Book of Exodus? How can it be given again? Here is the secret of Deuteronomy; its earliest title being Mishneh Torah, the “repetition of the Torah.”
    What looks like repetition is actually the journey spiraling to a deeper level. When the Ten Commandments are given a second time, they are not accompanied by fire and thunder as they were at first. Instead they are given in the quiet of our practice, and they open us to an even deeper mystery, which is the Sh’ma. “Listen God-wrestler, YHVH is your God, YHVH is One.” The words of the Sh’ma pierce through the veils of illusion. These words have the power to awaken us from our trance of separation that obscures the truth that there is Only God.

    I FIRST EXPERIENCED the power of the Sh’ma in a Native American Sweat Lodge. This happened one moonlit night more than twenty years ago in a lush New York forest. The ceremony was being led by a very learned and devout man, Jewish by birth, who had been adopted into the Lakota tribe. He chanted in their holy language and followed their rules and traditions with respect and reverence.
    Sweat Lodges are designed to facilitate our deepest prayer. Volcanic rocks are heated all day in a fire and then ceremoniously placed in to a hole at the center of the lodge. The door is closed and the circle sits in complete darkness except for the glow of the red-hot rocks. As sacred herbs touch the rocks, the lodge fills with smoke. As water is poured onto the rocks, the lodge fills with fragrant steam. As our artifice is burned away, the lodge fills up with prayer.
    This particular lodge was hotter than any I had ever experienced before. The heat, smoke, and chanting seemed to strip away everything – ideas, memories, hopes, will, my very identity felt as if it was burning away. I felt like I was going to die. Suddenly we all cried out the Sh’ma. (In truth, I didn’t even know these people were Jewish.) As the sound of this ancient prayer poured through us, ten spiritual seekers – all born Jewish – none of us connected to a Jewish path, were all startled awake. Completely cleansed of fear, we were all suddenly open to a Love that was at once given and received.
    I still call on the memory of that Sh’ma in the Sweat Lodge to inspire me in my prayers. It inspired in us the power to transcend our fear of Death – a fear that is rooted in our identification with Duality – the mistaken conception that anything is separate from God.

    WHEN GOD TELLS MOSES to climb the mountain and lift his eyes, we are being invited to receive a glimpse of Unity. From the summit of this mountain, everything that we thought separate, all of the opposites that have warred within us, are suddenly united. It is all Echad – “One.” Then the fullness of Love can flow. Then, “You shall love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.” When we experience the knowledge of the Unity beyond Duality, it takes root inside us, and we become lovers of the highest order.


    V’ETCHANAN OFFERS US the challenge of transforming the power of Desire from a potential prison into a vehicle for Enlightenment. Each of us must climb the mountain of our own desires and lift our eyes to see beyond what we have come to expect or imagine.
    Sometimes our spiritual challenge comes to us in the form of a koan. In the tradition of Zen Buddhism, a koan is a question that can’t be answered by linear thinking. Instead we must embrace the question itself, by taking it into our meditation and into our lives. The apparent contradictions that emerge on the path of our Torah Journey require that we open ourselves to living with and being with the Mystery until the answer breaks forth from a place beyond rational thought, a place of knowing and experience.
    V’Etchanan teaches us that our very lives depend upon developing the practice of D’vekut, cleaving to God through the fullness of loving desire.1 Twenty verses later, God defines Herself as “a consuming fire.” 2

    The Talmud asks: “How do we cleave to a God who is
    a consuming fire?” 3

    This koan leads us to the edge of a great abyss. Every step of our journey has been fueled by a profound longing for D’vekut, the experience of Oneness. Yet the self who desires must be annihilated in the process. “How do we cleave to a God who is a consuming fire?”

    1 Deuteronomy 4:4

    2 Deuteronomy 4:24

    3 Talmud Bavli, Ketubot 111b

    For Guidelines for Practice please click on link to website.

  5. Wendy


    From there you will seek G-d your G-d, and you will find Him (4:29)

    The Torah stresses that when you seek G-d from there, from your place of exile “among the nations,” you will find Him. For G-d is to be found everywhere, and every corner of His creation can serve as the vehicle to reach Him. If divine providence has dispatched you to a certain place and life, your surest path to Him is from there.

    (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)

    You shall love the L-rd your G-d… (6:5)

    The Maggid of Mezeritch expounded on this verse, and asked: how can there be a commandment to love? Love is a feeling of the heart; one who has the feeling, loves. What can a person do if, G-d forbid, love is not embedded in his heart? How can the Torah instruct “you shall love” as if it were a matter of choice?

    But the commandment actually lies in the previous verse, “Hear O Israel…” The Hebrew word shema (“hear”) also means “comprehend.” The Torah is commanding a person to study, comprehend, and reflect upon the oneness of G-d. Because it is the nature of the mind to rule the heart, such contemplation will inevitably lead to a love of G-d. If one contemplates deeply and yet is still not excited with a love of G-d, this is only because he has not sufficiently refined and purified himself of the things which stifle his capacity to sense and relate to the Divine. Aside from this, such contemplation by the mind will always result in a feeling of love.

    (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)


    You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes (6:8)

    While putting on the tefillin, one should have in mind that G-d commanded us to inscribe [within the tefillin] the four passages [Exodus 13:1-10 and 13:11-16, and Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21] which speak of His unity and the Exodus from Egypt… and that He commanded us to place them on the arm opposite the heart, and on the head opposite the brain, so that we should submit the soul which is in the brain, as well as the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to his service…

    (Siddur HaRav)

    When one puts on the tefillin, one should first put them on the arm and then on the head. And when one removes them, one should first remove them from the head and then remove them from the arm.

    Why is this so? I understand that one should first put on the hand-tefillin, since the verse states, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes”; but from where do we derive that the head-tefillin are to be removed first?

    Said Rabbah: Rav Huna explained it to me. The verse states “and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes” — they, in the plural — to imply that at any time that there is tefillin between your eyes, there shall be both (i.e. both the head and the hand-tefillin).

    (Talmud, Menachot 36a)

    The deeper significance of this law:

    The head-tefillin represents the mind; the hand-tefillin represents action. Both mind and deed are to be enlisted in man’s service of his Creator. Doing, however, must come first, as the people of Israel proclaimed at Sinai, “We will do and we will hear (comprehend).” Hence the law that the hand-tefillin is to be bound first.

    Furthermore, while it is possible to conceive of a temporary state in which doing exists without understanding, understanding that is divorced from deed is utterly worthless. Hence the law that “at any time that there is tefillin between your eyes, there shall be both.” In the words of our sages (Talmud, Yevamot 109b), “Whoever says, ‘I have only Torah,’ does not have Torah, either.”

    (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


    You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes (6:8)

    What is inscribed in G-d’s tefillin? The verse (II Samuel 7:23), “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation on the earth.”

    (Talmud, Brachot 6a)

    Torah law prescribes that we first tie the hand-tefillin on our arms and then set the head-tefillin upon our heads (see above).

    G-d’s tefillin, the people of Israel, also consist of a hand-tefillin and head-tefillin. There are the head-Jews, the scholars and thinkers, and the hand-Jews, the doers. Both are precious to our Father in Heaven, both are integral to the role of G-d’s “one nation in the earth.” But when G-d ties His tefillin to reaffirm His bond with His people, He gives precedence to the “simple” deed, cherishing it above all else.

    (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)

  6. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    Finite language, infinite truth
    Here’s the d’var Torah I wrote in 2006 for this week’s Torah portion, originally published at the now-defunct Radical Torah.

    And now, O Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that Adonai, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of Adonai your God that I enjoin upon you.

    Setting aside for the moment whatever mixed feelings some of us may have about entering and occupying the land — maybe especially this week, as we endure the emotional rollercoaster of Tisha b’Av and we remember the destruction of the temple and the spiritual growing pains that the diaspora brought upon us — this is a fascinating snippet of parashat Va-etchanan. What are we to make of this injunction neither to add to, nor to subtract from, the Torah of God’s commandments…especially given that in its retellings, the book of D’varim is already doing just that?

    Traditional Jewish legal exegesis reads that verse in a very specific way. What it really means to say, later scholars hastened to explain, is that no prophet may add laws claiming that they are in the Torah, nor may individuals add or subtract details in any of the commandments. (My thanks to the JPS Commentary series for outlining this perspective so clearly.) In other words, we need to know our sacred text well enough to know when it’s being adapted inappropriately.

    Another interpretation hangs on the fact that this instruction concerning addition and subtraction of Torah teachings appears in the middle of a passage about the worship of other gods. This can be read to show that it is primarily an injunction to eschew idolatry. If the primary statement which underlies Torah is “I Adonai am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides Me,” then it is of utmost importance that we not fall into the trap of equivocating about (or adding to) those particular words.

    In the essay Paradoxes of Canon and Authorship in Ancient Israel, Bernard Levinson offers some context. He points out that “You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, but keep the commandments of Adonai your God that I enjoin upon you” is a recognizable legal form used throughout the ancient Near East. Text like this was once used to prevent royal inscriptions, sets of laws, and treaties from being altered. Our challenge, of course, is reconciling this “fixity and textual sufficiency” with our need for our religious canon to address the needs of our day:

    [L]ater generations face the conflicting imperatives of subsuming their lives to the authority of the canon while adapting that unchangeable canon to realities of social, economic, political, and intellectual life never contemplated at the time of its composition…By means of exegesis, the textually finite canon becomes infinite in its application. One of the chief means, therefore, by which a religious tradition demonstrates its creativity is the variety of ways it finds to accommodate itself to and overcome an authoritative yet textually-delimited canon.

    Maybe the injunction against modifying God’s commandments is a kind of koan. The text tells us not to augment or modify the word of God — and yet it’s arguable that in trying to concretize God’s speech, we can’t help changing the nature of that speech, if only into something we can fully express and understand.

    God’s words are infinite; ours are necessarily finite, as our minds and consciousnesses are finite. When we connect with God, however briefly, we touch a kind of transformation that ordinary language and interpretation can only approximate. “I am Adonai your God…” is our attempt to encapsulate the Sinai experience in words, to express the inexpressible reality of what it feels like to be permeated with the deep awareness of God’s presence and uniqueness. Maybe that reality is the real “commandment” we are forbidden to modify…and we do the best we can to comply, though the fact of putting that reality into words means we’re always already modifying it somehow.

    As Ben Ben Bag says (in Pirke Avot 5:25), “Turn it and turn it over again, for everything is in it.” Sure enough, the deeper we look the more we can find here. One way of turning (and re/turning to) the text is looking at it through a new metaphorical lens, and in this day of computers and internet, there’s a whole crop of new metaphors for our interactions with holiness.

    Today we can understand Torah as a document which contains within itself the seeds of its own transformation. When I download new software onto my computer, often as not that software comes packaged with the software necessary to “unpack” or “unStuff” or “unzip” itself. Just so, new Torah insights often hide within other interpretations, condensed and waiting to unfold. And that multiplicity of interpretations — how a text which appears to be simple and singular can actually prove multilayered and ever-changing — is a fundamental part of how we as Jews interact with Torah, even with those parts of Torah which at first glance appear to contradict the notion of multiple layers of meaning. As Levinson writes,

    Properly understood, the canon is radically open. It invites innovation, it demands interpretation, it challenges piety, it questions priority, it sanctifies subversion, it warrants difference, and it embeds critique.

    Or, as Rabbi Ismar Schorsch wrote in his commentary on parashat Beshalach a few years ago:

    We tend to think of revelation as a highly restrictive term. The fate of a revealed text is to be immutable. We humans have no right to alter what God has given. But in Judaism precisely because the Torah is revered as divine, it becomes susceptible to unending interpretation. It would be a denigration of God’s word to saddle it with just a single meaning. In contrast to human speech, which carries a finite range of meanings, the language of God was deemed to be endowed with an infinity of meanings. This theology freed the Rabbis to do midrash, creating the anomaly of a canon without closure. The vessels kept changing their contents. New challenges elicited new insights into a text inviolable only on the surface.

    Amen v’amen.

    A mother poem for Shabbat Nachamu: Comforter

    Posted: 23 Jul 2010 04:28 AM PDT


    you wake in your crib’s embrace
    from the dream of a distant heartbeat

    a voice says cry out!
    and you cry out

    bewailing the tragedy of separation
    until I gather you to my breast

    glowing numbers shift silently
    and your desperation eases

    someday you’ll learn to fumble soft stars
    into their places

    to nuzzle your giraffe
    and count adinkra like talismans

    but for now I am consolation
    I make the rough places plain

  7. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt


    In our parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu says to each person of Israel: “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”. “Hear Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.”

    The Baal Shem Tov teaches:
    The ‘kavanah’ intention thought of the word “echad”, [one] of the unification that we do in the reading of the Shma Yisrael is to focus our thoughts to be aware that there is no one in the entire universe but Hashem, the Holy One Blessed Be He, whose glory fills all the earth.
    The main aspect of the ‘kavanah’ [the way to attain this unification with Hashem] is that the person should consider him/herself as dust and ashes, and that his/her essential being is the ‘neshamah’ soul which he/she possesses. This ‘neshamah’ is a part of G-d from above.
    Thus [when we accomplish this nullification of the separate self] there is only the Holy One ‘baruch Hu’ who Is One.

    And the main ‘kavanah’ [when saying] of “echad” is that all the world is filled with His Glory, and there is nothing [no place, being or thing] that is void of Him blessed be His Name.

    Covering The Eyes

    During daavening when we say this verse, we close and cover our eyes so that we can concentrate on the Oneness of Hashem. When we elongate the word “echad” and we meditate on its letters… ‘aleph’=1 – Hashem is One …’chet’=8 – Hashem is One in this world and its seven skies… ”daled’=4 – and in all four directions.

    Uncovering The Eyes
    When our eyes are open we see division. So we close our eyes to better focus on the Oneness of Hashem. The ‘avodah’- the ‘work’, the service is that when we open them again we should continue to see only One… we should always have a vision of a united world in front of our eyes.

    Loving Hashem

    “V’ahavtah es Hashem Elokecha, b’chol l’vavcha ub’chol nafshecha uv’chol m’odech”; and you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your wealth.”

    I heard from our Rebbe Reb Shlomo zt”l who told us in the name of the holy [Belzer ?] Rebbe, that b’chol m’odecha can also be translated as “with all your very much”. I.e. Love Hashem with all your ‘very much’ … with all your special gifts and talents.

    Loving Hashem And Loving Your Friends

    We have two mitzvot that begin with the word “v’ahavtah” and you shall love. “V’ahavtah l’reyacha kamocha…” and “V’ahavtah es Hashem Elokecha. “You shall love your friend as you love yourself …” and “You shall love Hashem your G-d”.

    The Baal Shem Tov taught that if you want to check out how much do you actually believe in Hashem and how much you love Him, check out how much “ahavat Yisrael” love of your fellow Jews you possess.

    If one wants to strengthen their love of Hashem, they can do so by doing acts of loving-kindness. When you are doing someone a favor, Hashem is giving you an opportunity to put on His face. You can even do favors and acts of kindness, even when you are not sure about your faith in Hashem. When someone asks you for help, help them yourself first, as much as you can, before sending them to G-d.

    The test of one’s belief in Hashem is expressed through not coveting and by loving your neighbor as you love yourself. For, “Lo tachmod … you shall not covet,” is the inverse of “V’ahavtah l’reya-cha kamocha- love your neighbour as yourself…Ani Hashem – I Am Hashem.”

    We also find expression of this relationship between believing in Hashem and being a ‘mentsh’ in the following ‘Gimattria’ {the study of the numerical values of letters and words of the Torah … actually quite a sophisticated study that requires very careful study.}. One concept in ‘gimmatria’ is that there are links between words of the same numerical value.

    The word “Echad” which means ‘one’ ; has the “gimmatria” {numerical value} of 13. [‘aleph’=1, ‘chet’=8, ‘daled’=4] = 13. The word “Ahavah”, which means ‘love’, also has the “gimmatria”, {numerical value} of 13. [‘aleph’=1, ‘hei’=5, ‘bet’=2, ‘hei’=5] =13.

    Now, Hashem is One, “Hashem echad” and in a similar but different way, each individual is one, “echad”. How can ‘one’ individual {whose numerical value equals 13} enter and be in the Oneness of Hashem {gimmatria=26}? The ’13’ needs another ’13’! Two individuals united bring down the presence of Hashem.

    “Beyn adam la’Makom,” between the individual person and Hashem, the individual ‘echad’ [13], joins into the Oneness of Hashem, with “ahavah” [13] love for Hashem. To really be connected we must be in love. So too, to truly ‘be with Hashem’ we need to love G-d.

    “Beyn adam l’chaveyro,” between the individual and his/her friend, the two can enter into the Oneness of Hashem, only by being one with each other. When two individuals… ‘echad’ and ‘echad’, love and unite with each other, you have “echad” [13]+ “echad” [13], {or “ahavah” [13] + “ahavah” [13] }; then they enter into the Oneness of Hashem, … 13+13=26, which is the ‘gimmatria’ of Hashem’s name. [Y=10, H=5, W=6, H=5].

    Reb Shlomo zt”l used to say, “What is the difference between the arithmetic of the weekdays and the arithmetic of Shabbos? During the week 1+1=2, but on Shabbos 1+1=1, but not 2!” For the number two represents division. To ‘be in Shabbos’ we need to ‘be’ in the Unity of The One.

  8. james stone goodman

    O holy

    Listen up Israel

    God is one
    God alone
    God the one and only
    God integrated and unified
    the seamless embrace of Existence
    O holy God remind me –

    So I’ll know it.
    Eid – be a witness
    let me climb up that large ayin
    slide down the big dalet
    let me know it, let me be a witness to the seamlessness –
    or let me turn it around in dyslexia
    plow the language like a palindrome
    Da’ – know!

    I climb up the Hebrew running right to left
    jump it back left to right
    let all directions fold into the ascent of the letters
    into knowing
    Da’ – let me know
    God is one
    God alone
    only God
    lonely God.

    O lonely God
    I am recovering from the sadness too
    three weeks I sat in sadness
    seven weeks I am taking to recover.

    God recovering too –
    listen O Israel
    everything is going to be better now.
    Slowly slowly
    we are into the ascent.

    I ask God in my prayers to lose that loneliness
    we are witnessing
    at least along for the ride
    trying to know something
    when knowing is not

    O holy God –
    we are trying to do something
    after all.

    jsg, usa

    Maqam Hoseini
    D E-flat F G
    Maqam is a musical figure, cognate to Hebrew Maqom signifying Place. Each Shabbat is associated with a maqam.

  9. Aryae Post author

    Reb Avraham Greenbaum

    Readings from Rabbi Nachman
    on Faith and Knowledge of God

    Know it in your heart

    “Know this day and consider it in your heart that HaShem is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39).

    The only way to know God is through complete faith. Only faith can bring you to true knowledge and perception of God’s greatness: “And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know God ! ” (Hosea 2:22)…

    Sichot Haran #217

    Knowing God
    It is impossible to explain to someone else how you personally perceive God’s greatness. You can’t even explain it to yourself from one day to the next. Tomorrow you will not be able to recapture completely the understanding you had today.

    It is impossible to describe one’s perceptions of God. They are so lofty – higher than high! They cannot be put into words.

    Sichot Haran #1

    The goal of knowledge:
    to know that we know nothing

    The ultimate goal of all knowledge of God is to realize that one knows nothing. Yet even this is unattainable. A person may come to realize his own ignorance, but only in a certain area on a particular level. There is still the next level, which he has not even touched. He does not know enough about the next level to begin to realize his ignorance. No matter how high he climbs, there is always the next step. A person therefore knows nothing: he cannot even understand his own ignorance. For there will always be a level of ignorance beyond his present level of perception.

    Sichot Haran #3

    Hints, messages and guidance
    You should reflect on the different situations and occurrences that God sends your way day by day. Each day has its own thoughts, words and deeds. They are all completely unique to that day. God “contracts” His infinite, endless Godliness in such a way that Godliness is present even in the innermost point of the finite material world in which man finds himself. Thus God sends to each individual the thoughts, words and deeds appropriate for the day, the person and the place. Within them are hints intended to draw the person closer to God’s service.

    This is why you should pay attention to what happens to you and consider what it may signify. Think about the thoughts, words and deeds that God sends you each day in order to understand His hints to you to draw closer to Him at every moment. This applies to everyone, no matter who and in what circumstances.

    But be cautious when thinking about these things: you must stay within certain limits and not delve to excess, because otherwise it is possible to stray beyond the bounds of holiness. Flying off into speculation can be dangerous. Stay within the limits of human understanding and steadily expand your horizons without trying to step beyond your level, because “you may not investigate that which is too wondrous for you” ( Chagigah 13a).

    Likutey Moharan I, 54

    God is in everything
    The whole earth is full of God’s glory. No place is devoid of God, Who fills all the worlds and transcends all the worlds.

    Therefore even one whose occupation involves contact with non-believers cannot excuse himself from serving God on account of being constantly surrounded by gross materialism. Godliness can be found everywhere, in all material things and even in the languages of the nations. Without Godliness they could not exist or endure at all. It is just that as the levels descend, Godliness becomes increasingly “contracted” and veiled in many garments.

    Accordingly, even if you are sunk in the very lair of evil on the lowest of all levels, even if you believe you are so far from God that it is impossible for you to draw closer, you can still find Godliness in the very place to which you have sunk. There too you can attach yourself to Him and repent with all your heart. Even there, God is not far away. It is just that the veils are thicker.

    Likutey Moharan I, 33

    Wisdom for life
    This world exists only to bring about God’s eternal purpose.

    There is no need to be upset about whether or not you have money. Even with money, you could waste away your days. The world deceives us completely. It makes us think we are constantly gaining but we end up with nothing. People spend years working to make money, but in the end, when they come to the final reckoning, they are left with nothing in their hands. Even when someone becomes rich, in the end he is taken from his money.

    Man and wealth cannot remain together. Either the money is taken from the man or the man from his money. No- one has ever stayed with his money. Where is all the money people have been making since the beginning of time? People have always been busy making money – so where is all the money? It has all become absolutely nothing!

    Who can say that he serves God according to God’s true greatness? Someone who has even the faintest conception of God’s greatness cannot understand how anyone could claim to serve Him. Even the highest angel cannot boast that he is able to serve God.

    The main thing is desire. Always long and yearn to come closer to God.

    Sichot Haran #51

  10. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
    Shabbat Parashat Va’et’hanan / Shabbat Nahamu
    August 13, 2011 – 13 Av 5771
    By: Rabbi Aryeh Cohen Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature
    Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Painful Comfort

    Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11
    Haftarah Reading: Isaiah 40:1-26
    This week is Shabbat Nachamu the Shabbat of “comfort.” It is named that because of the first verse of the haftarah that is read this week: “Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) Shabbat Nachamu is always the first Shabbat after the fast of Tisha b’Av when we mourn, amongst other things, the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The continuation of the haftarah speaks directly to this mourning: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; For she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” This is the first of the seven Sabbaths following Tisha b’Av and leading up to Rosh Hashanah, New Years day, called the seven Sabbaths of comfort-shiv’ah de-nechemta. Each Shabbat we read a comforting prophecy until we are once again ready to face God in judgment on Rosh Hashanah. This cycle plays out annually. First the three weeks prior to Tisha b’Av in which we sink to the depths of sadness, and then seven weeks in which we make our way out of the tragedy and into the joy of the High Holy Days and the Festival of Sukkot which is completed with the wild celebration of Torah. (In the Temple times the wild celebration would be in honor of the annual rededication of the altar on Sukkot.)

    It seems strange then that the Torah portion on Shabbat Nachamu, this Shabbat of comforting, is Va-etchanan. The portion starts with Moshe relating to Israel how he pleaded with God to be allowed into the Holy Land to be able to finish the mission for which he had been commissioned by God at that lonely encounter in the desert. “Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.” This plea is all the more poignant in that Moshe already knows that the die is cast, that the sentence has been decreed, that he will not cross over into Canaan. The midrash even points to this experience to teach that a person should never despair of praying “even if the sword is on his throat.”

    When God answers Moshe, it is not in a pastoral mode. It is not the comforting God of Isaiah whose voice and words Moshe faithfully reproduces for Israel. God speaks in anger. “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again.” This “enough,” the Hebrew rav lecha, points to a complex set issues. The talmud and the midrash note that this is the same phrase that Moshe used in condemning Korach and his community: “You have gone too far (rav lachem), sons of Levi.”

    The Holy One of Blessing said to him: “Moshe, I am One who repays payments. What you did is being done to you. You said: ‘You have gone too far (rav lachem).’ (Numbers 16:7) I, too, say: ‘Enough (rav lecha).’ You said: ‘Pay no regard to their offering.’ (ibid. 15) I also said: ‘Never speak to Me of this matter again.'” Moshe said to Him: “What did I do? Because I said to them ‘Listen you rebels’ (Numbers 20:10)?! For the sins of others you are going to kill me?” (Devarim Rabba, Va-Etchanan)

    How painful this must have been for Moshe. He thought that he was defending the Divine order in telling Korach and his community that they had overstepped their bounds. Moshe also alludes to the incident of the “Waters of Meribah” in which the Israelites had once again risen against Moshe and Aharon. In their demands, the Israelites had brought into question, again, the whole project of the Exodus. “Why did you make us leave Egypt…?” (Numbers 20:5) Moshe was calling the Israelites rebels because they were. He was reasserting God’s authority. Yet, he was punished. So Moshe plaintively asks “For the sins of others you are going to kill me?”

    The first rebuke to Moshe is that he is overstepping his authority just as Korach did. This must have stung even more since this is exactly what Korach himself said to Moshe. “You have gone too far (rav lachem)! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.” (Numbers 16: 3) It is as if in these last moments God is taking Korach’s side. How different this is than God’s declaration after the incident of the Golden Calf when He was through with Israel and he angrily told Moshe: “Now, let me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.” (Exodus 32:10) God was about to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and make a great nation of Moshe’s seed alone. God both granted Moshe the power to stay God’s hand (“Now, let me…”) and also made it obvious that Moshe alone was worth as much to God as all of Israel. There again Moshe defended Israel’s life and future. And yet, here, in this week’s portion, Moshe stands alone with God and there is no one to defend him. God is the accuser, using language coined by Korach.

    This “Enough!” resonates in another way, too. Another midrashic comment reads rav lecha to mean you have (yesh lecha) a rav, a master-and who is this? Joshua. (Sotah 13b) That is, your reign is over and it is time for Joshua to reign. There cannot be two rulers at once. God is firmly telling Moshe that his leadership of Israel was not unconditional but was confined in time and place and that time was up and he was not to go to the next place, to the Holy Land. Just as Jethro had taught Moshe that he should not think that he could carry the whole burden and responsibility of the judicial system on his own shoulders, Moshe was now being confronted with the fact that the leadership of Israel had only been his for a designated period of time. The leadership was God’s and it was granted to Moshe. This is articulated in another interpretation of rav lecha-you have a rav, a master. God was saying to Moshe: “The difference between Me and you, is that you have a master, Me, whilst I have no master. Your authority is only as My messenger, not as Me.”

    This exchange with God was elaborated upon by the Sages too. Moshe, according to one midrash, begged to be allowed to enter Israel even as a lay person, not a leader. When God refused this, Moshe asked for his body to be taken in and buried. God refused this too. In his desperation, Moshe did not grasp that the line that God was drawing was not serendipitous. The leadership that was needed in the desert was radically different than the leadership that would be needed in the Land of Israel. The generation of the desert was a transitional generation who were totally dependent on God (and therefore on Moshe) for their very sustenance. Once the Jordan was crossed there would be a need for political institutions, military structures, agricultural infrastructure and so forth. Moshe was a leader who was almost God. (“And as Moshe came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Covenant, Moshe was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with God.” (Exodus 34:20), “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moshe… for all the great might and awesome power that Moshe displayed before all Israel.” (Deuteronomy 34:10-12)) Once the Jordan was crossed, Israel would need Joshua.

    This world of discourse and pain in a two word phrase returns us to the question I posed at the beginning of this dvar Torah: Why, on the Shabbat of Comfort when we are recovering from the trauma of Tisha b’Av, do we read of Moshe’s distress?

    The high point of this week’s portion is, of course, the retelling of the story of receiving the decalogue, the ten sayings (asseret hadevarim) at Horev. In this moment of revelation Moshe was at his peak. God would speak and Moshe would relay the word of God to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 5:5). Israel was fearful of being exposed to the full power of God’s revealed glory and was happy for the mediation of Moshe. This arrangement also found favor in God’s eyes who saw in it righteousness and humility. (Deuteronomy 5: 19-26)

    Why did the revelation take the form of an introduction (“I am the Lord your God…”) and then commandments and prohibitions? Why was it not enough to merely bask in the revealed glory of God? For someone like Moshe, who was at a spiritual level which was unattainable by any other mortal, this might have been enough. Moshe’s face resembled God’s face. Moshe was imbued with the Divine spirit. However, once the people of Israel crossed the Jordan they would be spending most of their time in a struggle (at times epic and at times mundane) for survival. Most people would not walk in “radical amazement,” to borrow Abraham Joshua Heschel’s apt phrase. The eighteenth century Hassidic master Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev taught that the commandments were the ways to enact revelation in our lives. They are the concrete containers of the ephemeral experience of God’s glory.

    This too is what Moshe could not accomplish. When he was alive and leading Israel, the people knew that God was in the Tent of Meeting and that his reflected glory was in Moshe’s face. There was not much that they had to, or could personally do to bring God down to earth more than this. Moshe’s tenure as leadership was the time in which Israel was fed Divinity literally with every mouthful. It was, however, Israel’s task to live a God infused life on their own, in the mundane and quotidian details of existence. This could not be done for them. This was not Moshe’s expertise.

    And so, in the wake of the destruction of the Temple, we are comforted in the knowledge that now we have to create communities and gatherings which are a mikdash me’at, a miniature Temple-not by building replicas of the Temple but by doing deeds which create concrete containers for the ephemeral experience of God’s glory. Every time we keep the Shabbat or we treat workers fairly we reaffirm the Exodus from Egypt and create a lasting monument to God’s revelation. We read of Moshe’s moment of painful realization that his chapter in history was drawing to a close in order to realize that now we, all of us, hold the responsibility for enacting the revelation of God in the world. That we can do that is our comfort. That we must do that is our challenge.

  11. Wendy

    From Rabbi Arthur Waskow

    In the Dangerous Doorways

    By Arthur Waskow

    Twice in the Torah, we are taught to place upon our doorways (for which the Hebrew is “mezuzot”) some words that “I [God] command you this day.” These words are also to appear between our eyes, upon our hands, and upon our gates.

    What are the words? After centuries of experiment and difference, we have settled on the two passages that are themselves the sources of the commandment: Deuteronomy 6: 4-9 and 11: 13-21, itself.

    These passages begin with the Sh’ma. At first hearing, the Sh’ma itself, the six bare words, may seem to be simply an assertion of the unity of YHWH. But the Word “sh’ma” itself is an imperative, a command, to listen, to hearken.

    Then come a command to love God; a command to write out these very words in the everyday places of our doors, our eyes, our hands, our gates; and a warning to act in accord with God’s Teachings so that the earth’s fertility is assured. For, we are told, if we prostitute ourselves to “other gods,” the heavens will close and the rain will halt and the earth will not feed us.

    To these two paragraphs, rabbinic tradition has added a third — about wearing bud-like fringes, tzitziot, upon the corners of our clothing — for us to read three times a day as part of the recitation of the Sh’ma. If the 19 blessings of the standing prayer, the Amidah, are the vertebrae of the service, the Sh’ma and its three paragraphs are perhaps the head, resting on the spine.

    In the nineteenth century, many rationalist Jews cited ancient texts, including the Talmud, to show that mezuzot were merely magical amulets to lessen the magical danger that the superstitious may feel hovering at doorways, and so were inconsistent with the nobility and spirituality of monotheism, the very Unity that the Shema proclaims. So these “amulets” were abandoned by many of the people, only to return to the doorways of almost all Jews — even the marginally connected — by the end of the twentieth century.

    But the questions of meaning remain: Is there any way to reunite these “magical amulets” with the sense of Unity and the hope of earth’s fertility? Why were these words to be placed where the Torah commands?

    The doorway, the gate, the eyes and hands, the corners of our clothing — all are marginal. Spaces in between. So are the special times the Torah also mentions when these words are to be spoken — between sleep and wakefulness, between the generations (“Teach them to your children …”). These are times and places when and where we might easily feel ourselves falling from one world into an utterly different one.

    Inside my house — family, familiar; outside, scary. Or inside, boring; outside, adventurous. Beyond the gates of my city, a strange barbarian people: Those folks don’t speak my language. Dreams or reality: two utterly different worlds. Those beings beyond all human settlements– rivers, clouds, the ozone layer — that do not even speak at all: utterly different from humanity.
    The danger of these thresholds is not magical. What is dangerous is the temptation not only to distinguish but to separate, to denigrate — as if these others, the Outsiders, were not also part of the One.

    And so precisely at these boundaries we remember to remind ourselves: Ehad. The Unity.

    What if we carried this sense of the meaning of these texts back into the liturgical chanting of the Sh’ma? Is there a way to get “Israel” — the Jewish people — actually to hear, to hearken, to listen to this assertion of the Unity?

    Imagine pausing after reciting the Sh’ma to ask a congregation: See yourselves caught in the doorway between home and unfamiliar turf — and then softly chant the Sh’ma again; between our own culture and a foreign one — pause; and then softly chant the Sh’ma again.

    See yourself —
    between the horrified eye that sees the broken bodies of the terror victims, and the doer’s hand that aims the bomb to blast an enemy neighborhood, and pause;

    between the sleeper’s hopeful dream, and the wakeful sense of constricted possibility, and pause;

    between the wordless global-scorching hurricane and the wordy politician tuned to the purr of Big Oil’s automobile commercials, and pause;

    — and at each perilous threshold, pause to softly chant the Sh’ma again.

    For the Sh’ma is saying — :

    “Listen!” Listen, you Israelites, “our” God is not a tribal figure; “our” God is the very Breath of Life, the One who brings being into being, the One who transcends past and future, the One Who breathes into tree and ozone layer the breath that we breathe out, and breathes the wisdom of the other cultures into us; “our” God is not our property, “our” God is One!

    Can we dare to hear the Sh’ma as somewhere between a rebuke and a reminder?

  12. Tamar Pelleg

    I am so impressed from the holy work you are doing! I wish I lived closer.
    Deb Kolodny is our connector and I happen to “bump” into your website because you”like” my comment to Deb on Fabebook.
    I invite you to visit my website. I am a Torah Lover and “journey” the Torah from a very contemporary point of view. After I do that I love to read other commentators. Keep up the good job! יישר כוח! Blessings, Tamar

  13. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Va’etchanan: In Mind and Heart
    The Aleinu prayer, recited at the conclusion of every prayer service, contains the following verse:

    “Know it today and ponder it in your heart: God is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth below — there is no other.” (Deut. 4:39)
    What is the difference between ‘knowing it’ and ‘pondering it in our heart’?

    Two Stages of Acceptance

    Sometimes, people admit that there is a gap between what they know intellectually and what they are ready for emotionally. They will say, ‘Yes, this makes sense. This is a better way, a healthier way, a truer way. Still, it’s not for me. It’s too hard; I cannot do it.’

    Therefore, the Torah emphasizes the importance of two steps. First, we need to recognize the truth. This is the intellectual stage of “know it today.” This stage is critical, but it is still only on a theoretical level. It must be followed by the second step: to internalize that which the mind comprehends. We need to accept emotionally the ramifications of this understanding, and be willing to act upon it. This is the second stage, to “ponder it in your heart.”

    The second stage of practical acceptance should nevertheless be rooted in the initial step of intellectual comprehension. As the Sages taught (Berachot 13a), ‘First accept the kingdom of Heaven, and then the yoke of [practical] mitzvot.’

    Above and Below

    The verse continues by stating that God is supreme in both “the heaven above and on the earth below.” What does this mean?

    This does not refer to God’s unity in the universe, but to our own inner unity when we accept His reign. ‘Heaven’ and ‘earth’ are metaphors for our two major faculties, the mind and the heart. We need to be consistent so that how we act is not detached from what we believe.

    In summary, we should accept God’s kingship on both levels:

    To understand intellectually — in the “heaven above” — using our minds, in cognitive thought and belief.
    And to act upon that wisdom on a practical level — “on the earth below” — with our hearts and will, by implementing our understanding in the realm of deed and action.
    (Gold from the Land of Israel. pp. 299-300. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 324-325)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan

  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    A Prayer for All Stages (5767/2007)

    Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad – Listen Israel! The Ineffable is our God, the Ineffable is One. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:4)

    James Fowler speaks of six possible stages in the development of a person’s religious faith. In stage one, a child encounters religion as magical and larger than life. In stage two, one learns the literal stories and teachings of a religious tradition. In stage three, one enjoys religious community. In stage four, one begins to question. In stage five, a person answers their own questions through symbolic reinterpretation of traditional stories. In stage six, a person understands religious ethics and core teachings universally.

    The Shema prayer offers teaching to seekers at almost every stage. Those who are learning stories in stage two will recognize the Shemaas a core teaching from our prophet Moshe. For those enjoying community in stage three, the Shema calls together the community of Yisrael– Israelites – in the name of the Divine. For the questioners in stage four, it calls to Yisrael– translated literally as “God-wrestlers” – to ponder religious teachings. For the symbolic interpreters in stage five, it invites multiple interpretations of “God” and “One.” To the universalists in stage six, it teaches that all human representations of God ultimately refer to the Holy One.

    No wonder the Shema is the most famous mantra in Jewish prayer! It’s a gift of words that keeps on giving.


    ONE (5766/2006)

    Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad – Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:4)

    What does the Torah mean when it says that God is “One”? Does it mean that God is like the number one: the first Being to exist in our multifaceted universe? Or does it mean that there is only one God, singular and unique, different from any other being in our experience? Or that there is only one real Being in the universe, whose energy manifests in all creation, and that Being is the One we call God?

    Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch (writing in 1869) argued that, according to Torah, there is only one real Being. To prove this, he used gematriya, the numerical value assigned to each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew word echad, one,is composed of three letters: aleph, chet,and dalet.Dalet has a gematriyaof 4, symbolizing the four corners of the earth. Chet has a gematriya of 8, symbolizing the seven heavens plus the one earth. Aleph has a gematriya of 1, symbolizing the One God who is in the heavens and on the earth. When the Torah says that God is echad, One, it teaches that the earth is part of the larger universe, and the universe is part of God.

    Thus, there is only one real Being, whose energy manifests in matter and spirit, in physical and intellectual encounters, in the heavens and on the earth.


    How to be Godly – A Teaching from the Ba’al Shem Tov (5765/2005)

    You, O God, have begun to show Your servant Your greatness (Devarim/Deuteronomy 3:24). Moshe was God’s faithful servant, the greatest of the prophets, the recipient of the Torah from God. Yet after 120 years of the most Godly life ever lived, Moshe sees himself as only having begun in his relationship with God!

    And from there you will seek God your God, and you will find Him (Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:29). The Torah stresses that when you seek God from there, from your place of exile “among the nations,” you will find God. For God is to be found everywhere, and every corner of creation can serve as the vehicle to reach God. If divine providence has dispatched you to a certain place and life, your surest path to God is from there.

    And you shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes (Devarim/Deuteronomy 6:8). God’s tefillin, the people of Israel, also consist of a hand-tefillin and head-tefillin. There are the head-Jews, the scholars and thinkers, and the hand-Jews, the doers. Both are precious to our Parent in Heaven, both are integral to the role of God’s “one nation in the earth.” But when God ties the divine tefillin to reaffirm God’s bond with God’s people, God gives precedence to the “simple” deed, cherishing it above all else.

    Adapted from

  15. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

    Shabbat Parashat Va’et’hanan / Shabbat Nahamu
    July 20, 2013 / 13 Av 5773

    By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,
    Mashpiah Ruchanit
    Seeking a Comforter in the Heat of the Summer

    Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 -7:11
    Maftir Reading: Isaiah 40:1-26
    I usually wait till the second paragraph for my public confession, but this time I already alluded to it in the title – yes, I use a comforter when going to sleep even in the summer! I use it all year round! I like the feeling of being embraced and held, I like the sensation of being contained.

    My mind here is playing the bilingual game that I often play with myself. This Shabbat is not only Shabbat ‘Va’etchanan’ – a Shabbat of ‘Beseeching’ but it also one of the four Shabbatot that are named for their haftorah (the reading of the prophets after the Torah portion) – last week – Shabbat Chazon; the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – Shabbat Shuva; the Shabbat before Pessach – Shabbat Hagadol; and our Shabbat – Shabbat Nachamu – as the prophet Y’sha’ayahu (Isaiah 40:1) calls upon us: “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami / Be comforted / consoled, be comforted / consoled, my people.” If you search for the function of ‘con’ in the English language, one of the definitions your search engine will offer you is: “Used in compounds to indicate the completeness, perfecting of any act, and thus gives intensity to the signification of the simple word” it is for this reason that I ask you to read Y’sha’ayahu’s offering as ‘be con-souled, be con-souled my people”. The prophet is asking of us to find a way to reconnect to our soul and make it whole again. To be con-souled and comforted, but what does this mean, and how can we achieve this state of being?

    I want to return to the opening verse of our Torah portion and bring it into our learning: “And I besought God (va’etchanan) at that time saying (lay’more).” Two well known and loved Chassidic masters, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (1740-1809) and Reb Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) read this verse in a similar way, creating a distinction between beseeching and saying. They don’t read the verse as a precursor to what is going to come in the next verse but as a directive in itself. There is a request, a beseeching of God, that one can actually speak to God, to be able to say something in the presence of God. There is a va’etchanan moment that begs the possibility of lay’more.

    I find myself asking what would this look like and how does one create this possibility of being able to share their heart with God, and to feel heard by God. I ask, what is the nature of this speech? My memory draws me back to a paper I wrote on the therapeutic relationship for a diagnostic course I took in my undergrad years (special education and history – at the time this was everything a person needed to go out in the world with). I remember discussing at length the need for a common language for the therapeutic discourse to be effective, and that the therapist needed to be attentive to the sensory mode their client was using and respond with it. Each one of us is aligned with a different one of our senses. Some of us “hear what is being said,” some can “see the point being made,” some can “feel where you are coming from,” or even “touch upon an issue” or “smell that something is just not right.” When we respond to someone using the sense in which they have expressed themselves, they feel heard / seen/ felt / touched in a qualitatively greater manner.

    It is in this manner that I believe that Y’sha’ayahu is revealing to us what is the mode of communication that God needs to hear from us, how we can help each other as well and even if the Torah that is being presented to us is what we need for our growth and spiritual wellbeing. The repetition of the word ‘nachamu’ – be con-souled / comforted – is God’s way of telling us what it is that God offers and needs in the process of rebuilding a relationship that only a few days earlier, on the ninth of Av, has experienced devastation and destruction.

    Reb Shlomo Carlebach (1925 – 1994), my Teacher of many lifetimes, taught us many years ago, that the repetition comes because we are being asked to comfort with words of comfort. “How many times,” he would ask, “do you find yourself saying to someone that has just shared a heart breaking story, or a painful experience, ‘you think that’s bad, let me tell you a really horrible story…’ or ‘I heard so-and-so went through something equally bad…’? We don’t need to bring more heartbreak into the world; we don’t need to compare hardships! What we are challenged by our prophet to do is, to find words of comfort to comfort with!”

    I believe that ‘nachamu’ / ‘comfort’ and ‘con-souling’ is God’s sixth-sense! It is with words of comfort, and words that help us put our soul back together again, after we have unraveled, that we can stand in the presence of God and feel heard. It is words of comfort and con-souling that God offers us to mend our brokenness. Not rebuke nor judgment, but rather comfort.

    May we be such comforters and con-soulers for each other in the heat of the summer, and God willing, in the chill of the winter as well!

    Shabbat Shalom.

  16. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Three weeks in the center of sadness
    Seven weeks of consolation

    Depth of descent
    Gentle ascent

    There is nothing other than Center-Mourning
    In sadness all in

    Sit with me

    We are reminders to each other
    Beggars for our lives

    jsg, usa
    Maqam hoseini

  17. Wendy

    From Reb Zalman

    Moshe’s Lesson for Us

    Vaetchanan / I entreated YHVH at that time, saying… (Deut 3:23).

    The word אתחנן / etchanan / I entreated,

    [Moshe is praying that he not die in the land of Moab, but that he be allowed to enter the Land of Israel with the rest of the Israelites]

    is written in the reflexive case which means that the object of the verb is also the subject. So in the case of prayer, it means that Moshe prayed himself. A reflexive in this instance functions as an intensifier with respect to the impact of the action, to the experience Moshe has.

    We may think of prayer as consisting of the one who prays and a God to whom one prays. But by putting the verb in the reflexive, it creates a feedback loop; the praying has more intensity.

    Moshe says, in effect, “It davvened itself out from me. Even before I knew what I was about to do, the prayer burst out of me.” It’s on the level of (Psalms 69:14), ואני תפלתי / va-ani t’filiti, usually translated as “I am my prayer” but it really means and I pray myself; it sort of imbued his being and he was his prayer which basically flowed from his mouth involuntarily.

    And this happened, despite the fact that he wasn’t feeling confident that the result for which he was praying would come to pass. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was not going to enter the Land and it must have felt unlikely to him that God would change his edict in that regard. So from his perspective at this time, he was approaching God humbly and lowly-kneeling. Nonetheless, “I didn’t avoid praying”.

    This teaches us that that even if our judgment says something is impossible, as long as we feel the desire for it in our hearts, we should still pray for it. The reason is, as it says, (Eccl 3:1) “Everything has an appointed season and there is a time for every matter“, which is interpreted in this context as, “if you feel a desire in your heart, then at some time that desire will have its appointed season; and who knows, maybe now is the time.” Or, don’t shut down your desire because you are expecting to be disappointed and hope to avoid for yourself the associated pain. Give your desire room to grow and to breathe and take it to YHVH. It was appropriate for Moshe to pray to bring about that which was a desire in his heart.

    There’s a time to speak and a time to refrain from speaking, as it is written, (Exodus 14:14), “but you shall remain silent“, however, as it was previously said by david hamelech a’h, even for the time to refrain from speaking, (Psalms 34:2), as it is written, “I should bless Hashem at all times, His praise is always in my mouth“. Refraining from speaking doesn’t apply to prayer; since the Good One and the Source of Goodness and the True Judge are blessed, His praise is always in my mouth. Even at that time when our judgment tells us it’s not propitious, that God’s not going to answer our prayers, nonetheless, it changes the way we feel when we pray about things that we long for and it raises us up. Just being a supplicant raises us up in our feelings, in our relationship to the result for which we’re praying. Therefore it is said that one shouldn’t only say one’s prayers in a whisper; rather one should vocalize, should sound it so that it becomes as a dialogue between the person and between the One who established that person, created that person, i.e., the Source. (cf Sefer mei hashiloach in the first section of vaetchanan.)

    Here’s a paraphrase of what the Izhbitzer is saying in the referenced section: Moshe is letting the Israelites know that he prayed about this and on the surface of it, it seems like the prayer did not have any benefit. But that’s only if you’re looking on the level of his nefesh and whether the nefesh went into the Land with the rest of them. Despite the fact that his nefesh didn’t come into the land, nonetheless he wanted them to understand that they shouldn’t consider that his prayer was just for the preservation of his nefesh because, in truth, when they actually did enter the land, he was in fact still with them because he was their Rebbe. The same holds as well for every generation; he was their Rebbe too. Therefore, the prayer was not in vain. And he was teaching them at this moment, his prayer was a lesson for us. So the lesson is that prayer is not in vain.

    Also we learn something from the way that the text is written because it’s in the reflexive which means that he became filled with supplication, it sort of imbued his being and he was his prayer which basically flowed from his mouth. Here’s the proof that it wasn’t in vain because if it filled him in such a way then clearly it was coming from God who had sent it to him and who had stirred his prayer in him. And certainly, if God is moving us to do something then it’s not going to be in vain if it seems to come about by itself from another place like that, overcome with the feeling.

    And the text also has the words “at that time” which means that even when you get a clear message that the thing which you desire, which you have in your heart, is not going to happen, that it’s impossible to happen — because in this particular case, at that time, the Holy One blessed be He had promised definitively that he was not going to enter the Land — nonetheless he did not hold back praying.

    No matter what our judgments tell us, nothing stands in the way of mercy. When you’re faced with a wall, with something that seems impenetrable, that you shouldn’t get discouraged to the extent that you won’t pray. You should pray your discouragement. And the word in Hebrew for wall, קיר meaning that it’s impenetrable is from the same root as the word for the source of life מקור. So therefore you should never cut yourself off from God’s rachamim, from God’s mercy no matter how dark and thick it seems and impossible it seems that you’re going to get that which you really desire; nonetheless you should pray.

    So in sum, Moshe’s prayers were answered, just not on the level of his nefesh. It wasn’t in vain. No matter how dark and bleak the picture, if we can access our feelings and our desires we should put them into our prayers because the level of God’s mercy is a deeper level than the level of our judgment regarding whether a thing can or cannot happen. Moshe our Rebbe taught us all of this through his prayer at this time.

  18. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Va’etchanan: Prolonging Echad
    Judaism’s ultimate prayer is the Shema, our declaration of God’s unity. And the ultimate word in the Shema is its concluding word – Echad (‘God is one’). The Sages provided detailed instructions how to carefully pronounce this critical word:

    “All who prolong the word echad will have their days and years prolonged. Rabbi Acha bar Ya’akov taught: one should prolong [the last letter in the word,] the Dalet. Rabbi Assi added: provided that he does not slur over [the middle letter,] the Chet.” (Berachot 13b)
    Why should the word echad be stretched out? And what is the significance of the letters Dalet and Chet?

    God’s Reign Over All Events

    The Talmud explains that one should pronounce the word echad long enough to envision God’s reign over all that is above, all that is below, and the ‘four sides of the heavens’ (“arba ruchot ha-shamayim”).

    When we proclaim God’s unity in the Shema, we acknowledge God’s unique control of the universe. While His absolute reign may be expressed in spatial terms (in all six directions), a deeper insight is aware of God’s providence in all events that occur in the world. We may divide up the universe into three functional categories:

    The initial causes that place into motion all of the myriad actions and events in the world.
    The final effects and goals that are the fulfillment of the original causes.
    The various intermediate means that lead from the initial causes to the ultimate effects.
    God’s reign incorporates all three categories. He rules over the heavens – i.e., the initial causes. His control extends to the earth – the completion and fulfillment of each goal. And Divine rule even includes the diverse intermediate means and events. These means are referred to as the “four sides of the heavens,” since they form an intermediate stage connecting the heavens (the initial causes) with the earth (the ultimate goals).
    Why is God’s oneness so significant? What is the principle message to be derived from the Shema?

    By recognizing this underlying unity, we acknowledge that all of the various events in the world – even though they appear to be dispersed and disconnected, like the four sides of the heavens – are in fact directed towards one unified purpose, towards the goal of that which is good and elevated.

    Emphasize the Dalet – But Remember the Chet

    Why prolong the letter Dalet when saying the Shema? Dalet has the numerical value (gematria) of four. It represents the four diverse directions, the myriad intermediate means in the universe. By emphasizing the Dalet, we affirm the connection of these means to the unified goal of creation.

    Still, the ‘heavens’ and the ‘earth’ should not be ignored. In order that we will be able to properly value the intermediate means, we must contemplate the lofty counsel which directs all events towards their purpose. And we should consider the value of the sublime goal, as it is attained and revealed in all its splendor.

    Thus, the letter Chet needs to be articulated clearly. Chet has the numerical value of eight; it represents the seven levels of heaven (shiv’ah reki’im) together with the earth. These eight levels indicate the various stages, from the initial cause to its final, practical fulfillment. In addition, the number eight signifies the realm of time: the seven days of the week, and the eighth dimension, unlimited by the confines of time.

    To ’swallow up’ the Chet would show an insensitivity to the value of the initial cause and the final goal. Then the intermediary events would certainly lose their true significance.

    (Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I p. 71; Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 245)

  19. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Va’Etchanan: Introducing Prayer with Praise

    Moses’ Prayer

    The Torah records Moses’ pleas to be allowed to enter into the Land of Israel:

    “O God, Eternal! You have begun to show me Your greatness and power. What force is there in heaven or earth that can perform deeds and mighty acts as You can? Please, let me cross [the Jordan River] and see the good land….” (Deut. 3:24-25)
    Rabbi Simlai analyzed Moses’ prayer, breaking it up into two components:

    Praise — “You have begun to show me Your greatness….”
    The actual request — “Please let me cross….”
    This, Rabbi Simlai explained, is a model for all prayers. One should begin by praising God, and only afterwards present one’s requests. We need to understand this model. Is it simply a matter of flattering God, just as one might ‘butter up’ a mortal king before making a request? Or is there a deeper significance to this protocol for prayer?

    How does Prayer Work?

    Rav Kook explained that the requirement to precede prayer with God’s praise relates to the very foundations of prayer and its efficacy. Following this format prevents us from grossly misinterpreting the mechanics of prayer. One might think that prayer is some sort of magic loophole built into the framework of Divine providence, and that by pleading our case it is possible to cause God to change His mind. The notion that we have the power to influence God’s will, however, is untenable.

    Rather, we should view prayer as a wonderful gift which enables us to refine ourselves. Prayer does not effect a change in God; prayer effects a change in us. It is only by virtue of the soul’s moral and spiritual elevation that prayer has the power to annul harsh decrees. We cannot change the basic universal order manifested in a particular decree. But we can change ourselves. Then, as a result of our transformation, the decree is no longer relevant.

    Thus it is advisable to introduce every prayer with praise of God. Such praise affirms God’s eternal nature and ensures a correct understanding of the efficacy of prayer.

    Even Moses

    It is noteworthy that Rabbi Simlai’s insight was gleaned from examining a prayer of Moses. One might consider himself above making such a mistake regarding the nature of prayer. Yet we find that even Moses, despite his unparalleled knowledge of spiritual matters, took care to introduce his request with praise of God. Certainly we should follow Moses’ lead, thereby ensuring that we correctly grasp the true nature of prayer.

    (Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 147)

  20. Wendy

    From the Hebrew College

    Seventy Faces of Torah
    By Rabbi Elisha Herb
    Wisdom for Crossing Over

    From the top of Mount Pisgah, Moshe surveys “the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:25) The land on which he would never set foot; the land that had been the collective Israelite destination for forty years; the land of their ancestors.

    Now 120 years old, Moshe entreats God to allow him to cross over.

    Surely, this cannot be all that Moshe seeks. For from the plains of Moab, all of Israel can see the “goodly hill-country” of which he speaks. But Moshe also asks to see “the Lebanon.” And, concealed in Moshe’s petition, is the wish to see fulfillment of the blessings of peace in the land after all the seven nations have been vanquished, and Israel, living in harmony with each other and God, live in peace and security on the land (Lev. 26: 3-13). “You have begun to show your servant our greatness and your strong hand …” As if to say, “You have only begun to show me. But I want to see the full fruition of the promises; I want to guide Israel in the observance of the ‘statutes and the ordinances’ (Deut. 4:1) so that it may be well with them. Moshe asks to live beyond his 120 years and beyond the sharp physical boundary God has laid for him. But on the surface, he asks only to see the land.

    Moshe’s question angers God. “Rav lakh! Let it suffice for you!” God answers in wrath. “Do not speak to me of this again!”

    Rashi, our beloved teacher and study partner, who lived in France in the 11th century, writes of this phrase, rav lakh: “Much more than [the Holy Land] is kept for you; vastly abundant is your treasure.” Rashi’s comment is most likely a reference to the world to come, to life after death. But it may simultaneously be read, “The abundance which you have already experienced, which you already have, is more than sufficient for you.”

    Rabbi Shefa Gold writes in Torah Journeys that God says, “Rav Lakh! You have so much! Stop fixating on what you want!”

    Her careful reading of this phrase, rav lakh, echoes it’s use in Parashat Korach when Korach, leading a rebellion against Moshe, says, “You have (too) much!” – implying an excess of power and status. Moshe, responding to Korach and his rebels, says “You have so much.” (Num. 16:3, 7) Korach was, after all, one of the Levites, the tribe chosen by God for a particularly high status among the tribes of Israel. Moshe thus responds, “Why do you want more power than you already have?!”

    One of my teachers in my shul in Oregon, similarly heard resonances in Esau’s words to Jacob. “I have an abundance, my brother. Let what you have be yours; [I do not need your gifts].”

    Like Korach, Moshe wants something more and is dissatisfied with having to let go, with having to die on the other side of the Jordan. But, as my teacher at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, Rabbi Ebn Leader, says, “Moshe’s Torah does not end in the promised land.” Moshe’s Torah ends on the other side of the Jordan, with his death. And then it is rolled all the way back to “… at the beginning ….” (Gen. 1:1) where we begin again. This is a bitter pill for Moshe. And indeed, letting go of your aspirations, your children, and your very life is often a distressing for all of us.

    “You have so much! Do not speak to me of this again,” God responds to Moshe’s plea. And yet God, in his love for Moshe, relents a bit. Moshe ascends the peak of Pisgah from which he miraculously beholds the Land “… westward and northward, and southward and eastward” (Deut. 3:27). Rashi cites a tradition that from this vantage point, Moshe saw the whole of the land, not only in space but throughout time. Rabbi Shefa Gold writes of this perspective that Moshe “…gets a clear view in all directions so that he might see and know that he has already arrived. The promise has already been fulfilled.”

    The art of letting go of our expectations is most dramatically seen in “crossing over” into death. Rabbis Joel Baron (also a graduate of Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School) and Sara Paasche-Orlow delve into this subject in Deathbed Wisdom of the Hasidic Masters. One of the key lessons they learned in writing this book is the lesson of gratitude, in seeing the abundance of one’s life, when passing on into death. Dying gracefully requires recognizing the Grace that exists in one’s life: “I have so much.”

    The stories of the deaths of some of the Hasidic masters recorded in Deathbed Wisdom relate that “R. Zusha of Plotsk, just before he dies … quotes, ‘I will arise at midnight to thank you’ (Ps. 119:62) … R. DovBaer of Mezritch expresses his gratitude with a joy-filled heart that affirms his trust in God. R. Aaron of Staroselye dances and celebrates life up until his final moments. R. Shmuelke of Sasov sings out his praise of God.” (Deathbed Wisdom, 196)

    Legend has it that King Solomon had a golden ring on which was inscribed, “This, too, shall pass;” This, too, shall cross over. This discipline of remembering the ephemerality of our lives, and each moment, is a practice that allows us to see that the promise is already fulfilled. The world to come is flowing into the world even now, at this moment.

  21. Wendy

    From JTS

    Holding Fast


    This week we emerge from the destitution of Tisha Be’av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temples, and receive the gift of Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of our being comforted. נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, “Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). What is comfort? One way of understanding the essence of comfort is by engaging with Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher, Moses) in this week’s parashah.

    All of Torah is shaped by the knowledge of where the story ends—not with the people of Israel entering the Land, but with them situated on the other side of the Jordan. They will enter the Land in the book of Joshua, but that is not part of the Torah. The Torah ends with the not yet, with the longing, with an experience of incompletion. There are profound theological implications to this ending. We don’t focus on triumph, on everything being right. We make space for brokenness. And perhaps the story of yetziat Mitzrayim, being redeemed from Egypt, is told in this way to keep us connected to the personal story of Moshe Rabbenu. It is Moshe Rabbenu who is most acutely affected by not being able to enter the Land. In this week’s parashah we encounter Moshe’s anguish in a powerful way. The parashah begins with his plea:

    וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל־יְהוָה בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר׃

    I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, “O Lord GOD, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness and Your mighty hand, You whose powerful deeds no god in heaven or on earth can equal! Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan, that good hill country, and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:23–25)
    Moses pleaded with God. Va’et-hannan. What’s the meaning of Va’et-hannan? Midrash Tanhuma (Va’et-hannan 3:1) acknowledges that prayer is called by many names and asks why Moshe prayed in the language of “tahanunim”—consolation/comfort. This is because God doesn’t owe God’s creatures anything, “rather I give it to them as a free gift.” We learn this from Exodus 33, when Moses pleads to see God’s presence, God responds by saying: “I will offer grace when I offer grace (hanoti) and have compassion when I have compassion.” The word for pleading—et-hannan—and the word for consolation—tahanunim—and the word for grace—hen—share root letters, helping us to understand that the choice of verb conveys that Moshe is hoping his pleading will evoke God’s grace, and that will be the source of Moshe’s comfort. Moshe uses the word va’et-hannan to say: ten li hinam, please give me a free gift.

    Moshe has a strong idea about what that gift needs to be: being allowed to go into the Land. But God tells Moshe not to speak of this again. “But the LORD was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me. The LORD said to me, ‘Rav lakh, Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!’” (Deut. 3:26).

    The Bekhor Shor, the French Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac, understands God’s admonition as follows: “I’ve done enough miracles for you. Leave space for others to feel that they have been distinguished by me. Because there won’t be an end to what you want me to do for you. After you enter the Land, you will then ask to see the Temple.” This is a reverse Dayyenu, the song that proclaims, “it would have been enough” that we sing at the Passover seder. Here, God warns, there will never be enough. The only way for there to be enough is if you see that this, even in it not being enough, is enough.

    God is instructing Moshe to see the abundance. God is helping Moshe to cultivate a sense of gratitude in the face of brokenness. The comfort comes in seeing the gifts that exist even in the brokenness. The hen, the grace, the free gift, does not depend on reaching the Land. It is already possessed by you. When God tells Moshe that he can see the Land from where he is, God teaches him that the gift, the abundance, doesn’t need to look like what he thought—and hoped—it would look like. If we can find a way to cultivate gratitude, to find ways to affirm rav lakh, enough, then we can experience the hen/grace in our lives. And this is where we can find comfort.

    In this week’s haftarah, the prophetic reading, we find another layer of teaching about comfort, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice rings out: ‘Proclaim!’ Another asks, ‘What shall I proclaim?’ ‘All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field: grass withers, flowers fade when the breath of the LORD blows on them. Indeed, man is but grass: grass withers, flowers fade—but the word of our God is always fulfilled!’” (Isaiah 40:6–8). These words are offered as comfort, so the question is, what is comforting about them? For me, it’s the honest acknowledgement of the fragility of life, along with the faith that God’s word—and God’s self—is eternal. There’s an invitation to depend on the largeness and permanence of the divine to help us experience the abundance. Each individual life withers and fades, but we are all held in the divine abundance which endures forever.

    A verse in our parshah captures this beautifully: וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם, “while you, who held fast to the LORD your God, are all alive today” (Deut. 4:4). I love the image of holding fast to God. There’s an urgency here. And the promise that life—abundant life—is tied not to achievement, to reaching the Land, but to being in relationship with that which is eternal. We say this verse each time we are about to read from the sefer Torah, the Torah scroll, in community. As a community we can help one another to hold fast. Coming together as a community, for the sake of holding fast, fosters deep possibilities for comfort.


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