The importance of Love & 248 words of Shma Israel

I wanted to share this e-mail as it talks about the essence of Spiritual work that Baal HaSulam stresses so much in his articles.

Understanding the significance of the 248 words

As we mentioned, we are very particular that the Shema’ must contain 248 (Ramah – in Hebrew) words when we read it. (See http://www.atorahminute.com/2010-10-26 ). They represent the 248 positive commandments (Miswoth ‘Aseh) that we are all obligated to do.

It is not possible, however, for every individual to perform each and every one of the 248 positive commandments since they do not all apply to everybody. Some are specifically for Kohanim, others are for those whose first born is a male, and so on. Through the love that exists amongst the Jewish people, however, everyone can complete the 248 (Ramah) by combining his actions with those of his fellow Jew.

If we take the Hebrew letters of Ramah (Rosh Meem Heth) and change the order, they read “Raham” which is an expression of love. From this we can understand that the Ramah (248) commandments can be completed by Raham (loving one another).

When we have perfected this Middah (trait) of love for one another, the final Geullah (redemption) will take place. May it come speedily in our days, Amen.

(See Ben Ish Hai, 1st year, Parashath Waera, introduction)
by Rabbi Ya’aqob Menashe

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7 Responses to The importance of Love & 248 words of Shma Israel

  1. the question, that is always asked, is what kind of love is it that all the creation,and jews, noless that others, are suffering? Who can tell that he is absolutly happy? and even if he is ,what about others?

    On the other hand Kabbalists tell us that when the person ,that makes the progress in spiritual worlds, begins to see that the Creator is pure love, and the moment, he begins to understand that, he sees that, but for this “suffering, he will remain without any spiritual growth,and he is thankful for the Creator to put him through this “suffering” ,because he feels the meaning of being connected with the spiritual. Then he sees that Creator loves him endlessly and does everything for his spiritual growth, and finnaly, he sees that the Creator loves everybody without any exception, and that each person is very important to him, because when the Creator created us He meant to besyow us with the best He has.

    If all above is true, and we do believe our Sages, what we have to understand, what is the real meaning of the love, and what we have to do to feel it the way the Sages do, and to stop to complain about our fate, and to begin to enjoy our life, and this is the only thing, that Creator wants from us.

    First what we have to understand, that though we can’t say anything about Creator Himself, we should believe that kabbalists perceaved Him as Good and Bestowing.And we should remember, that when we say Good about the Creator we mean the form He shows Himself to the creation, and we also know that the form is what puts together, or separate in spiritual.so if He were different, in different form, as we very often think ,”more”undestanding, “more “pityful, it wouldn’t be real love, and IT WOULD be the bad form of HIM for US.

    So the first conclusion that I have to make is, that I have to believe the Sages, not because there is only belief, and
    no knowledge, but because I don’t have the neccesary form to get know the Creator by myself.and the meaning of Good in Kabbalah is bestowing, and I am the wish to get to myself, so we are two different enteties,and if I want to get to know the Creator, I have to be accepted to the “club” which sees the Creator as Good, and accepts according to your personal qualities and not any other vertures.

    So the second conclusion that we may do is, that the Creator gives us equal possibilities to be accepted to the “club” and there are realized on the basis of our inner work on our qualities.This club is called Atzillut, and the nearer we are to it, the better inner connection we have with the Owner of it -the Creator.

    The third conclusion we may make that the Creator wants me to ascend to Him, instead of coming down to me, for my and only my interests,because He wants me to feel good with myself, because if I don’t love myself, and don’t respect myself, and not proud of myself, I will be depressed,and it will be mirrowed to the others. When I feel good with myself, I am good to others, when I am good to others they feel good with it, and they turn to me with their godd=corrected side, they want to feel equal to me and to speak and behaive the same noble way I do, if they don’t it is only because I try to fill my ego through them.

    So next our conclusion is that it is in my own interests to get Hishtavut haTzurra, because only when I correspond to the Atzilut Club and accepted there I will feel GOOD with myself, and no matter, how many material pleasures I have, I’ll never feel satisfied, if I don’t respect and love myself.

    So we see that we have to understand then, what it means Ahavva Atzmit, and if they say Love thy neihgbour like thyself, so there must be two kinds of LOVE, one of them is called Ahavva Atzmit,which we know is no good for us, and there is Love to myself which is good and desired to be reached.

    it is rather easy to understand, if we believe that there are two”I” in me. the one is “i” that is known to me, and I don’t like this “i”, and I very often ashamed of this “i”, and I always want to be different than I am, so we can understand, that there must be another “I”, which makes me feel that I can be different, and it must be inside me, becuase ,the feeling of dissatisfastion is inside me even if nobody outside says it to me. I don’t like that I spoke to somebody in the tone I did. I don’t like ,that instead of doing what I think is right to do, I do what comes with nearly and no effort.

    So we see that there is a “program” in us which is called “GOOD” and there is a “program” in as which makes me feel bad about myself. the first program is called ‘Dmut( for TzimtzumB) and Tzellem( for Tzimtzum A) Ellokim, and the second “program is called Ahava Azmmit. if my present state is nearer to the first program i feel good about myself, and thing run good and i feel good, and verything is good around me, but if I am closer to the second program everything begins to look depressing and things turn against me ,and i feel bad about myself.

    the question is why this second program called Ahava? and why would I be in the pogram which makes me feel bad about myself.So we can understand that the problem should be looked for not in the word Love, but in the word “Atzvit”, and if we will be true with ourselves we will remember that our Atzmut is Ratzon Lekkabel, and if I like to get, it means that I want to be happy, but I want SOMEBODY! to make me happy, and if there is nobody to do it? I feel unhappy,so we see that we make ourselves dependent on somebody , instead of depending on ourselves, and the world is full of unhappy poeple looking for somebody to make them happy.

    And we project our unhappiness on the Creator and think that he created us, because He Himself needed us for something, becuase we never felt what it is to be absolutly happy, and to want to make happy somebody else.

    So we see that there is the level which is called Atzilut club and we want to be Its members, what we don’t want to do is to make ourselves be correspondent to the rules of being the members of this club.So as we see “SHMA ISRAEl…” is the proclamation of these two programs and it gives us the choice.

    We may cry, we may shout, we may complain, we may look for somebody to introduce us to that club, but it doesn’t work, because there is “FACE CONTROL” and nothing except Hishtavut Hatzurra may let me in.

    This Atzilut program works on personal level, family level, group of people level, and all the humanity level. We have to understand that the Temple wasn’t distroied by Nevukhadeneyzar, or by Titus, neither our relationship with the loved ones they were distroyed by our getting away from the right program development, which protects us, unite us, make us feel happy, make us feel belonging to something real and eternal, this program is always available for us and the Creator Himself holds it for us., but we must want to correspond it. we must want to be happy, to be healthy and wise, nobody needs it more than ourselves.

    The moment we let this program go from us we descend into the lower levels and our inner “I” feels bad, because those levels doesn’t corresponed it. Remember, that Creator made Adam HaRishot with a big part of him in Atzilut, and left him some work to do ,and got him Alli’yot (ascendings) for Shabbath, and those Programs are inside us! and these programs will demand realisation, whether we want it or not, and they’ll always make us unhappy, till they are realized. And NOBODY can do it for us except ourselves, and this is THE LOVE- THE REAL LOVE of the Creator, becuase he doesn’t pay any attention on our cryes and shouts, and so on, but keep providing us the situations for us to grow up, and to get to His Club. So if we start learning these programms and fulfil them, we will see that all that the Creator did was to make me go in the direction of right choice, and He does it for me and for all the others , the question is when each of us are going to understand it.
    Take of all the prejudices, and false belifes, don’t let anybody to stand in your way of selfrealization, and push through all your fears, that you may loose your “i”, if you go Emmuna Mi’al HaDaat, and take Torah and Mitzvot! Be true to yourself, you have nothing to loose, you are not happy, you are not proud of your life, you don’t like what you do, and you don’t love your”i”. Overcome your fear, and fight for your real “I” and remember that the pass word to the club of really happy people is “Shma Isarel…” and the order codex is called “SIDDUR” and the whole program is called Torah( in its most broad meaning) and the way to get there is through Hishtavut HaTzurra, which is aquiered through physical performance of Mitzvot with Kavvana to get this HIshtavut Hatzurra. So wherther we like it or not we will never love ourseleves till we get that membership in Atzilut Club and it is a pity to loose time. The help from the Creator is available and the way is open to anybody who want to get to his real”I”.Shma, Tsrael, HaShem Alokeinu, HaShem Ekhad” means that there is only one true “I” and one True wat to get to it.And this is the only real way to love ITs Creation by the CREATOR!

  2. The Shema, Our Emotions, and Our Commandments
    by rav Boruch Leff based on teachings of Rav Yaakov Weinberg

    Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, of blessed memory, was once walking in the corridor toward the Main Study Hall (Beit Midrash) of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College, when he suddenly approached one of his students. “Shimon, how many times have you said Kriat Shema (Recitation of the Shema) today?”

    Not knowing what Rav Yaakov was getting at, Shimon meekly responded, “Twice. Once last night and once this morning.” (This is the fulfillment of the obligation mentioned in Chapter one of Talmud Brachot.)

    “Only twice?” asked Rav Yaakov, “I have said it many more times than that! You are satisfied with accepting the Yoke of Heaven only twice a day?”

    The Recitation of the Shema certainly does solidify one’s acceptance of God as King. It discusses loving God, sacrificing for God, Torah study, God’s Oneness, tefillin, mezuzah, and many more facets to serving Him. This is unmistakably a major reason why we feel a close connection to the Shema prayer more than other commandments and rituals. But there must be an underlying spiritual reason for the Jew’s emotional connection to the Shema. Even the most secular Jew is usually familiar with the first verse of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord, Our God, the Lord is One.” In fact, as necessity warrants, especially during these terror-prone times in Israel, if someone wants to know if a stranger is an Arab or a Jew, people will generally ask him/her to recite the opening verse of the Shema.

    We begin life with the Shema. From our earliest days, our parents said it with us as they put us to sleep in our cribs. We were trained to say the Shema as soon as we were able to speak (as per the law in Rambam, Talmud Torah 1:6). We say it (at least) twice daily in our prayers. And in the end, we die with the Shema on our lips.

    We recite every day, “Fortunate are we, how great is our portion, how precious our heritage. Fortunate are we that we rise early and stay up at night, morning and evening, proclaiming the Shema!”(Morning prayers, Siddur). What is the root of our basic love and enthusiasm for the Shema? An insight into Parshat Devarim and really the entire Book of Devarim, will help us understand this phenomenon.

    “THESE are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel.”(Devarim 1:1). We know that the entirety of Torah was said by Moshe to all Jews. It wasn’t that Moshe taught parts of the Torah to a select few students and they taught it to the Jewish people. Rather, Moshe taught the entire Torah to all (see Talmud Eruvin 54b). Yet, this verse implies that it was only the Book of Devarim that was spoken by Moshe to the entire nation. What does the verse mean?

    The following approach will explain the verse and also offer the method with which we must study the whole Book of Devarim. The previous four books of the Torah are God’s direct words. God told Moshe exactly what to write in the Torah, to the letter. Even when we encounter a conversation between two people, such as Abraham and Pharaoh, the words of their conversation are a part of Torah. They weren’t Torah when Pharaoh or even Abraham actually spoke them, but later on, when God chose to quote or summarize their conversation, their words became Torah. God told Moshe, word for word, what to write in the Torah concerning Abraham and Pharaoh, and their conversation, as God dictated it, became part of the Torah.

    The Book of Devarim works this way as well. Whereas the words of the previous four Books of Torah were determined by God without any of Moshe’s involvement,(he was merely God’s recording secretary) Devarim is not like this. Moshe had deep, profound, instructive thoughts that he wished to share with the Jewish people, just before he would pass on to the next world. After Moshe shared these thoughts with the nation, God decided to use Moshe’s speeches as part of the Torah. He then instructed Moshe to write down and make his speeches Torah.

    This is what the verse means, “THESE are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel”(Devarim 1:1). Moshe spoke these words first and then God told him to make them a part of the Torah. This is unlike the previous four Books where Moshe simply taught what God told him to say.

    So when we study the Book of Devarim, we must learn it on two levels:

    1. What was Moshe, the greatest of all prophets thinking when he said the words that he did? What exactly did he mean?

    2. What are the eternal, absolute values and lessons that we derive from Moshe’s words, now that God has decided to transform his words from a regular, human statement into a section of God’s Torah?

    In this fashion, it would appear that Devarim requires more effort and understanding in study than the other four Books of the Torah. In every verse, we must analyze based on these two levels which does not exist with the other Books.

    This insight applies to the various commandments discussed throughout the Book of Devarim. There are some commandments that are repeated in Devarim, yet others are mentioned for the very first time. Many commentaries are bothered with what the common thread is tying together these commandments that are only mentioned in Devarim. Surely, God had already taught these commandments to the Jewish people before Moshe described them, so why did God write them in His Torah as if Moshe was discussing them for the first time?

    The answer is that all of the commandments mentioned in the Book of Devarim have more of a connection to a human element. Yes, God had already commanded them but He wanted Jews studying His Torah to encounter them as if Moshe were stating them. The effect is that these directives are not only ‘God decreed’ but were brought into existence, in terms of being made into a part of Torah, by a human being, in Moshe. They only became included in the Written Torah when God told Moshe to record his own speeches as part of Torah.

    So what is the root of our basic love and enthusiasm for the Shema? All of Devarim’s commandments have more of a natural, innate, emotional connection with us than other commandments from the previous four Books of the Torah. This, of course, includes the Shema, and our special connection to the Shema, as a nation, would not have existed without the human element present in the way in which it was given to the Jewish people.

    The next time we say the Shema, and we feel those special warm feelings toward it, we’ll know why.

    And when we study Devarim, let’s try to uncover the human element and emotional connection that is present for many more lessons and commandments. Bearing in mind the approach to Devarim discussed here, we can become emotionally attached to them just like we are to the Shema.

  3. yehudith says:

    The Essential Command
    By Rav Aba Wagensberg

    One of the highlights of Parshat Va’etchanan is the repetition of the Ten Commandments. In vivid detail, Moses recalls the scene as the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Moses also describes this monumental event later in the Torah, saying, “God came from Sinai, having shone on them from Seir, having appeared from Mount Paran…” (Deut. 33:2). According to Rashi (Avodah Zara 2b), Seir is a location associated with Esav, whereas Mount Paran is associated with Yishmael.

    We know that God first offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people. Each nation wanted to know the contents of the Torah before accepting it. When the nation of Esav discovered that the Torah contained the commandment “You shall not murder,” they refused to accept it. Similarly, the nation of Yishmael did not want to accept the Torah once they heard the commandment, “You shall not steal.”

    It seems odd that the nations refused to accept the Torah based on these basic restrictions. The seven Noachide laws – that every nation must uphold as universal law – include the prohibitions against murder and theft. What made the acceptance of Torah any different? Why would the nations refuse to do something so easy – that in fact they were already doing?

    The commentator Ohr Gedaliyahu suggests an explanation based on the purpose of mitzvot. According to his view, the Ten Commandments are intended to sanctify us to such a degree that the mitzvot become part of our basic nature. In other words, through performing the mitzvot, we become so attached to God, and so aware of Him in our thought, speech, and action, that our very essence changes.

    We see a support to this in the Mechilta (Parshat Yitro, citing Rebbe Akiva), which states that the Jewish people answered “hein” (yes) when they were informed of the prohibitions in the Ten Commandments. Instead of responding, “No, we won’t murder,” they replied, “YES, we won’t murder.” What is the significance of a positive response to a “thou shalt not” command?

    According to the Ohr Gedaliyahu, this positive response hints to a transformation that the Jewish people underwent when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai. When they heard the command, “You shall not murder,” they became filled with such love for each other that it was impossible for them to even entertain the idea of harming another person. In other words, this “thou shall not” command brought them to a level of connection with God that their very essence changed.

    Based on this idea, we can understand why the nations of the world refused to accept the Torah. Previously, the nations with a proclivity toward murder had refrained because it was against the Noachide Laws. The Torah was altogether different. It was not a reiteration of universal law, but rather an expectation of positive change. The nations refused to accept this offer. Sometimes it is easier to hold on to our pockets of darkness and negative baggage than to attempt to make positive changes in our lives. The Jewish people were the only ones who were willing to transform themselves in order to fulfill the Torah.

    CLOSE CONNECTION

    This idea will help us gain an insight into another highlight of the parsha: the Shema. Our intention when reciting “Shema Yisrael” should be that we are willing to give up our life for God if the situation requires (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 417). Where do we find a hint to this idea in the words of the Shema?

    According to the Slonimer Rebbe, the word “echad” (one) carries the same implication as the verse “Ein od mil’vado” – There is nothing besides Him (Deut. 4:35). Nothing exists outside of God. Therefore, by working on ourselves to grow ever closer to Him, it is as though we have already given up our life. Our whole life is totally given over to God.

    This also helps us understand why, in Parshat Shoftim, the officers of the Jewish army begin their pre-battle talk to the soldiers by telling them, “Shema Yisrael! You are going out to war against your enemies” (Deut 20:3). According to the Talmud (Sotah 42a), the officers’ phrasing implies that, even if the soldiers have only the merit of saying the Shema, that is reason enough for God to protect them. This makes sense according to the reasoning of the Slonimer Rebbe. If a soldier says Shema properly, and connects to God with his whole life, of course he will be victorious, because he will have aligned himself as much as possible with the unlimited power of God: the only force that exists.

    We therefore learn from both the Shema and the Ten Commandments the importance of having a close connection to God. But how do we achieve this attachment? Connection to God grows out of loving Him. We see this on a practical level – since, when we love someone, we want to be with that person every possible minute. The Torah even commands us to love God (Deut. 6:5). Yet how can we be commanded to feel an emotion?

    The Slonimer Rebbe suggests that, rather than being commanded to love God, we are commanded to do things that bring us to love God. One of these is to study Torah (Deut. 6:6). Once we start studying Torah and doing mitzvot, it is much more natural for us to begin feeling love for God.

    May we soon see the day when, in the merit of this connection to the Divine, our true enemies will disappear, and we will enjoy an era of everlasting peace.

  4. V’etchanan(Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)
    Working for a Living
    by Rav Nosson Weisz

    “And I implored God at that time, saying: My Lord, God, You have begun to show Your servant your greatness and Your strong hand, for what power is there in the heavens or on the earth that can perform according to Your deeds and according to Your mighty acts? Let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 2:23-25)

    Rashi tells us that the Hebrew word v’etchanan, “and I implored,” taken from the root techina, is one of the ten terms meaning “prayer” in the Hebrew language. This particular word is employed to describe prayers that are offered to solicit undeserved favors. According to Rashi, Moses deliberately selected this mode of prayer as a matter of principle. ‘Even though the righteous are in a position to ask God to grant their requests in return for their good deeds, that is not their way; thus Moses deliberately beseeched God to allow him into Israel as an undeserved favor instead of asking for it as a reward for his good deeds’.

    As Rashi stresses that he refrained from demanding entry as a deserved reward only on principle, it would appear that Moses was in a position to couch his request in terms of a demand had he so desired. Apparently, the combined weight of his good deeds was more than sufficient to have his request honored as a matter of right. And yet, even after God turned down his prayer Moses still refrained from insisting on his rights. Why?

    Isn’t the whole point of living in this world to earn spiritual rewards through our Divine service? After all, as the Talmud says, why did Moses wish to enter Israel in the first place? Was it to eat from its fruit or to have his fill of its bounty? [Of course not!] This is what Moses said, “Israel was commanded to do many Mitzvot that can only be fulfilled on the soil of the land of Israel. Let me enter the land so that I have the chance to fulfill them all personally.” (Talmud, Sotah 14a)

    What is the point of all our efforts if in the end we do not obtain the spiritual rewards that we have earned by the sweat of our brow? Why didn’t Moses cash in a part of his earnings in this world, as he was surely willing to do? Does it have something to do with the essential nature of prayer?

    In fact, let us broaden the question a bit to embrace all prayer. Why do we pray to God at all?

    WHY DO WE PRAY

    If we believe as we do, that all people get what they deserve through a process of Divine Providence, which also places everyone in precisely the correct life-situation to be able to accomplish the tasks he or she was sent to this world to accomplish, what is the need for prayer? Moreover, how can prayer accomplish anything? If we deserve to have what we pray for, or if we need it to carry out our life-task, then presumably we will receive it without having to pray for it, and if we do not deserve it, or if we do not need to have it, how can our prayers possibly get it for us?

    Let us begin at the beginning. One of the best-known Torah commandments originates in this week’s Torah portion. Every one of us has a Mitzvah to accept the ‘yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’ upon ourselves daily. We fulfill this mitzvah by reciting the Shema twice a day; the essence of the fulfillment is in the recital of the passage that begins with” “Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is the One and Only” (Deut. 6:4), and this very first verse is the essence of the essence. Jewish tradition teaches that the six words of this single verse encapsulate the concept of the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” perfectly. In fact it is the second sentence that a father is told to teach his child as soon as he learns to speak. (Talmud, Succah 42a)

    This verse is clearly a declaration of the acceptance of God’s essential unity. How/where is the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven encapsulated within a statement concerning God’s essential unity?

    It seems that Rashi was troubled by this question, and he seems to be focused on answering it in his translation of the verse: “The Lord who is our God [Israel] only at this era in history, and not the God of the nations, is destined to be the only God, accepted by all of humanity at the end of days.” In other words, according to Rashi, when we state that God is One, we mean to say that despite the multiplicity of divinities in the world at the present time, there is only one God rather than two or three gods, and this truth will eventually be accepted by all. But even according to this interpretation the conceptual link between the two ideas, the idea of God’s essential unity, and the exclusivity of His monarchy is far from clear.

    Let us begin by analyzing the deeper implications of the concept that God is One.

    GOD IS ONE

    The commentators explain (see Nefesh Hachaim, Gate 3) that the statement amounts to a declaration that there is no other existence besides God. To us it appears that we ourselves, and the universe we occupy, also exist side by side with God. God may have created us and our universe, but after the initial act of creation the things and creatures that God created also exist as part of reality. If we unravel the implications of this observation we will see that there is actually a duality of Divinity following creation. There is God, and there is the universe and everything in it, especially ourselves, and these are also God in a way.

    This implication arises from the fact that everything God created was formed out of Divine energy. The created universe is actually nothing more than packaged Divine Energy. God is therefore no longer One, but has become two. There is still God Himself, and there is also His Divine energy in the universe and this is no longer God, for it has separated from His essence through His will and formed a separate reality, the universe and ourselves. [There are obviously some very deep philosophical issues behind the information in this short paragraph; this is not the forum to explore them.]

    Moreover, this apparent duality has even deeper implications. Not only does it appear that post-creation God is two, but adding insult to injury, it even seems as though God has lost control of the Divine energy that He invested in creation. This creative energy He invested in the universe has slipped away from God by His own consent. According to His own Torah, He gave human beings free will and thus placed the created universe under our control; in effect, he invested us with the power to control the world as we see fit up to and including its destruction.

    No doubt God has the power to reclaim the reins if He should so desire, but the way things are at present He does not control the Universe; we human beings do. God’s Dominion is presently limited to Himself. His control over the created universe is dependent on our voluntary acceptance of His will.

    When we recite the Shema we reject this point of view. We state our conviction that even following creation things have not altered. There is no duality. There is only God and nothing else besides. But how can such a statement be true? Aren’t we here as well?

    THE WAY IT LOOKS FROM GOD’S CHAIR

    The answer is relativity. The apparent duality is a result of the point of view of the observer, in this case ourselves. If we were able to look at the universe through God’s glasses, as it were, we would find that the view was totally unchanged by creation. Just as there was nothing out there before creation other than God, there is nothing there now. This may be incomprehensible to us, but that is the declaration we make when we state that God is One.

    We learned: “Hear O Israel the Lord is our God, the Lord is the One and Only.” A person reciting the Shema must clearly know what he is saying and focus his mind on the idea behind the words until he finishes this verse (i.e. if he fails to do so, he must repeat the whole Shema once again; without proper focus on the meaning of the first verse, he has not fulfilled his obligation of recital)….

    Rabbi Yirmiyah was sitting before Rabbi Chiya bar Abba; he observed that he took a really long time over the reciting of the word echad, meaning the One and Only. He told him, “As long as you had in mind to establish God as the King over the four corners of the universe as well as up above and down below, that is sufficient.”

    Explains Rashi: as long as you focus long enough to hold the thought in your heart that God is One in the Heavens and on the earth and in any of the four directions. (Talmud, Brachot 13b)

    It is quite true that we are real and we are here, but we are looking at reality from our end. If we look from the opposite end and see it the way God sees it, we are not real and not here. He needs to bring us into being constantly without cease. It is little wonder that it turns out that physical reality is governed by the principle of Relativity. What we have described may seem bizarre at first glance but it differs very little in essence from Einstein’s theory of Relativity, which is universally accepted as the bedrock of all physical science.

    THE CONNECTION TO PRAYER

    At this point we are ready to refocus on understanding prayer. Our prayer book was arranged so that we recite the Shema as a prelude to the Amidah, which is our main prayer. As long as we perceive ourselves as living in a dual universe, in which God and we co-exist, the rationale of prayer is cloudy at best. God created the universe and us human beings in it according to certain rules and regulations, and it is not easy for anyone including God to alter these rules. From our side at least, the laws of nature appear to be fixed; they cannot be tinkered with or the entire structure of reality as we understand it would crumble.

    Yet, when we pray that is exactly what we are requesting of God; ‘please God, tinker with the laws of the universe for our benefit’. Before we submit any requests to God, we first recite the Shema and accept upon ourselves the yoke of the Kingdom of heaven, the essential unity of God. We remind ourselves that God is One and not two, because from His standpoint, which is the standpoint from which He responds to our prayers, only He exists, and we and the universe do not. In fact, the universe and we along with it are constantly in the process of becoming, and the manner in which we become is very much influenced by our prayers. The true power of prayer is contained in the following thought. God takes our prayers and employs them to shape the universe.

    From the standpoint of prayer nothing in the world is fixed. The unity of God implies that He constantly recreates existence and that He can therefore do so in the way He sees fit. In a universe that is only now taking shape, all things are possible. It can be brought into existence in a way that it will now contain exactly what we pray for. Moreover, this will not interfere with the chain of continuity between what was and what is, because the connection between the past and the present is only a matter of human perception and is relative to the way that we comprehend reality on our end.

    WHEN REALITY BECOMES INFLEXIBLE

    That is why it is wonderful to be alive. This flexibility of reality is there only as long as we are alive. When we pass out of this phase of our existence things do become fixed. At this point, the process of becoming ends, and the process of being begins.

    All spiritual being is fundamentally based on some form of attachment to God’s own being. In the post-death phase of our lives our continued existence no longer presents any apparent contradiction to God’s unity. We are no longer separate bits of Divine energy wandering around loose, having slipped free of God’s control. We have returned to the Source and finally become a portion of His own unity.

    We have arrived at the correlation between Unity and Monarchy. The belief that God can do whatever He wants within His creation and therefore prayer can change the world and affect reality requires the prior acceptance of the idea of God’s unity. Through the acceptance of the concept of unity, creation becomes a cooperative enterprise between ourselves and God, an enterprise in which our input is appreciated and desired.

    THE ADDITION

    A fascinating illustration of this concept is provided by the addition to the Shema that we recite in an undertone; “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.” It is quite unusual to insert an extraneous sentence into a passage of the written Torah quoted verbatim; it is also quite striking that we recite this insert in an undertone except on Yom Kippur when we shout it at the top of our lungs.

    Why do we say it? As Reish Lakish explained: It is written, Jacob called his sons and told them, “Gather together and I shall reveal to you…” (Genesis 49:1). Jacob wanted to reveal the End of Days to his children, but the Divine Presence left him before he could do so. He said, “Perhaps, God forbid, there is a rotten apple in my bed as was the case with my grandfather Abraham who had Ishmael, and my father Isaac who bore Esau!” His children reassured him. They said, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord the One and Only! Just as there is only One in your heart, there is only One in our hearts!” On the spot, Jacob started to say, “Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity!”

    The rabbis deliberated, “What should we do? Shall we say it? Moses our teacher did not say it. Shall we not say it? Jacob did say it.” They decided that it should be said, but quietly…

    A metaphor that encapsulates the reasoning: Imagine a princess who grew fond of eating the residue at the bottom of the pot. If you say [bring it to her] she will be embarrassed. If you say [don’t bring it to her], she will suffer. Her closest attendants started sneaking it to her quietly. (Talmud, Pesachim, 56a)

    Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin unravels the concept for us in the Nefesh Hachaim (Gate 3, Ch.6z] God’s Kingdom can only be appreciated in a created universe that exists in actuality. As long as He is One, and there is no other existence besides, he cannot be described as having a kingdom. But on the other hand, the existence of the universe as a separate reality, although it allows Him to have a kingdom, implies a duality that detracts from His absolute unity.

    Our recognition that this duality is only there for the purpose of allowing the expression of His monarchy restores the integrity of the absoluteness of His unity. Our declaration amounts to a statement of our belief that the universe can never slip out of God’s control. Its entire raison d’etre is to serve as an expression of God’s monarchy. If it ever wandered away from doing His will as though it existed independently for its own sake, it would instantly cease to be altogether. That is the meaning of the inserted phrase “Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.”

    The reason for the metaphor of the dregs of the pot becomes obvious. The existence of God’s Monarchy turns out to depend on lowly creatures such as ourselves who often do not even invest a great deal of their attention in its recognition. How embarrassing, but how necessary!

    THE REST OF THE SHEMA

    Now that we have begun explaining the Shema, it would be a pity to leave the topic before completing the thought. The remainder of the first paragraph is a set of instructions concerning how to demonstrate the principle of God’s unity in our everyday lives.

    “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.”

    “With all your heart”: Every inclination you have, whether good or bad, has to be dedicated to God’s service.

    “With all your soul”: In certain situations you have to sacrifice your life itself to sanctify God’s Name.

    “With all your resources”: You have to surrender all your earthly goods rather than transgress against a negative Torah commandment.

    “And these matters that I command you today shall be upon your heart” : You should always be thinking about what God expects of you in any situation you find yourself in by consulting His Torah.

    “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” : Your conversation is always centered on the words of the Torah, and these are the words that are the basis of the communication between you and your children. Whoever spends time with you should be able to appreciate that God’s commandments are the very focus of your existence.

    “Bind them as a sign on your arm and let them be ornaments between your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” : Whoever looks at a Jew on the street or whoever passes his house should be able to conclude instantly: here walks a servant of God, this is the home of a servant of God.

    SERVANT OF GOD

    In all his interactions with the world, the Jew lives by the Shema; his very existence proudly proclaims that he is God’s servant and God is his true monarch. Everything that he possesses, everything that he is, proclaims God’s kingdom. He is a living testament of God’s unity. Indeed the last letter of the first word of the Shema is written extra-large – Ayin – and the last letter of the last word is written extra-large as well – Daled. These two letters spell the Hebrew word ed, meaning “witness.” A Jew’s very being is a living testament to God’s unity.

    Moses was on such a high level of spirituality that there was no clear break between his soul and God’s Presence. About Moses it is written, “the Shechina [Divine presence] spoke from his throat” (see Rashi, Numbers 12:2). He literally experienced God’s unity through connecting the core of his being to God. To him there was no other existence that had to be nullified. He did not need to comment on God’s kingdom. He lived within God’s unity.

    Jacob was not on such a lofty level. He lived in the world. But he dedicated his entire existence and that of his family to the mission of teaching the world about God’s unity by establishing his exclusive monarchy over all existence. It is he who first to declared “Blessed be the glory of the Name of His kingdom forever.”

    Moses did not request entry into Israel as a reward for his good deeds. If such entry would serve the advancement of the cause of establishing God’s unity, God Himself would have suggested it. If God refused him entry, he understood that the world as it was presently shaped could not accommodate his presence in Israel in a positive way. Moses beseeched God to reshape the world, to bring it into being in a fashion that could promote God’s purpose even if he fulfilled the Mitzvot that could only be preformed in the Holy Land. He had no wish to serve God unless his service advanced the cause of the spread of the kingdom of heaven.

    The Jewish people read Ve’etchanan on the Sabbath following the 9th of Av. The Haftorah, from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 40, begins:

    “Be comforted, be comforted my people,” says your God.”

    For this reason it is called the “Comfort Sabbath.”

    We can find comfort in the destruction of our Temple in the Mitzvah of reciting the Shema that was given to us in Parshat Ve’etchanan. The establishment of the kingdom of heaven is our task as a people. The lack of a Temple renders this job that much more difficult. We no longer have physical proof of our ‘chosen-ness, and we have lost the embodiment of God’s unity and the chief symbol of His Monarchy.

    But we have not lost the Shema. We have not lost our ability to beseech God to reshape the world. We can still pray and our prayers are that much more necessary and meaningful. If we live the Shema we can accomplish all we need to accomplish without a Temple through the living testimony of our lives.

    “Get yourself upon a high mountain, O herald unto Zion. Raise your voice in power, O herald unto Jerusalem. Raise it, fear not, say to the cities of Judah: Behold your God! Behold! My Lord God shall come with strength, and His arm will rule for Him. Behold, His recompense is with Him, and His wage is before Him.” (Isaiah, 40:9-10)

  5. by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom

    V’ZOT HATORAH, THIS IS THE TORAH

    BACK TO SINAI

    As we discussed in last week’s shiur, the first third of Sefer D’varim (Chapters 1-11) is essentially a historic retelling of some of the major events which happened to the previous generation – the generation of the Exodus (Dor Yotz’ei Mitzrayim). In the first three chapters (Parashat D’varim), Mosheh Rabbenu recounts some of the military and conquest data, including those which this new generation -the generation of Conquest (Dor Ba’ei ha’Aretz) – had experienced.

    Over the course of the next 8 chapters (4-11), Mosheh intersperses a long speech relating to the Stand at Sinai with exhortative and inspirational instruction, commonly called Mussar. Although we would certainly expect the Revelation to play a central role in his retelling, the style and method of that recitation raises several questions.

    [The reader is strongly encouraged to have a Tanakh open for the rest of the shiur].

    Note that there is not one seamless account here; rather, we have several descriptions of the Stand at Sinai, as follows:

    1) 4:9-15

    1′) 4:32-36

    2) 5:2-29

    3) 9:7-10:11

    This division is accurate if we look at the specific verses which are direct explications of the Sinai experience. If, however, we look at each description through a wider lens, we can divide them into larger speeches. In order to do so, we need to note that each description is prefaced with necessary introductions (as will be clarified below) as well as the implications of the Stand at Sinai, which reverberate through many more verses than those outlined. I would like to suggest that there are three description-sets here, as follows:

    1) 4:1-40

    2) 5:1-6:3

    3) 9:7-10:11

    [Again, I suggest that the reader follow each section with a Tanakh in hand; these divisions will become apparent at first inspection. Not only are the Parashiot broken up this way in the text, but the speeches flow rather seamlessly within these divisions. There is yet another “text-clue” which points to this division – but more on that later.]

    II

    ‘AREI MIKLAT

    (CITIES OF REFUGE)

    For purposes of our shiur, we will direct our analysis to the two speeches in Parashat Va’Et’hanan – 4:1-40 and 5:1-6:3. Note that these two descriptions are interrupted with a brief narrative about Mosheh’s activities – he assigns the three ‘Arei Miklat (cities of refuge) on the East Bank of the Jordan. Why are Mosheh’s speeches interrupted with this narrative?

    In addition, there is a peculiarly significant verse placed in the middle of the ‘Arei Miklat narrative. Significant because it is a broad statement about Torah and Mosheh’s rule in teaching Torah to the Jewish people. Peculiar because of its location:

    Then Mosheh set apart on the east side of the Jordan three cities to which a homicide could flee, someone who unintentionally kills another person, the two not having been at enmity before; the homicide could flee to one of these cities and live: Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland belonging to the B’nei Re’uven, Ramoth in Gilead belonging to the B’nei Gad, and Golan in Bashan belonging to the B’nei Menasheh.

    V’Zot haTorah Asher Sam Mosheh liPh’nei V’nei Yisra’el

    (And this is the Torah that Mosheh placed before the B’nei Yisra’el)

    These are the decrees and the statutes and ordinances that Mosheh spoke to the Israelites when they had come out of Egypt, beyond the Jordan in the valley opposite Beth-P’or, in the land of King Sihon of the Amorites, who reigned at Heshbon, whom Mosheh and the Israelites defeated when they came out of Egypt. They occupied his land and the land of King Og of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites on the eastern side of the Jordan: from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, as far as Mount Sirion (that is, Hermon), together with all the Arabah on the east side of the Jordan as far as the Sea of the Arabah, under the slopes of Pisgah. (D’varim 4:41-49)

    Why is this central verse (which we declare every time the Sefer Torah is raised for us to see) placed in the middle of a Parashah about ‘Arei Miklat?

    III

    SH’MA YISR’AEL

    Before responding to our questions – two more are in order. We are all familiar with what is perhaps the most famous and central verse in the Torah – Sh’ma Yisra’el, Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem Echad (6:4) Note that this verse comes immediately after the second “Sinai speech”. What is the significance of its placement here? Moreover, what is the meaning of the two introductory words – Sh’ma Yisra’el?

    …and one final question. Note that the beginning of each of the “Sinai-speeches” begins with a curiously similar phrase (one which shows up a number of times in D’varim – and only in D’varim):

    4:1 – So now, Yisra’el, give heed (Yisra’el Sh’ma) to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that Hashem, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.

    5:1 – Mosheh convened all Yisra’el, and said to them: Hear, O Yisra’el (Sh’ma Yisra’el), the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently.

    Why does each speech begin with the familiar Sh’ma Yisra’el (albeit in inverted fashion in the first instance)?

    SUMMARY

    In all, we have asked seven questions regarding Mosheh’s speeches and the one narrative in our Parashah:

    * Why are the two major speeches both about the Stand at Sinai?

    * Why is that speech divided into two via the ‘Arei-Miklat interruption?

    * What is the import of the ‘Arei Miklat narrative here?

    * Why is the “banner-verse” v’Zot haTorah… placed in the middle of the ‘Arei Miklat narrative?

    * What is the rationale behind the placement of the “famous” Sh’ma Yisra’el… section?

    * What does Sh’ma Yisra’el mean?

    * Why does each of the first two Sinai-speeches begin with Sh’ma Yisra’el?

    IV

    MOSHEH “RABBENU” IN ACTION

    In last week’s shiur, we discussed the job of a Rebbi and how Mosheh earned his reputation as “Mosheh Rabbenu” (Moses our Teacher), his eternal title, when he brought the past into the present for the second generation. This was, as we described, the first task of a Rebbi – to bridge generational gaps and to bring the students back to Sinai. Mosheh began this mission in Parashat D’varim with his educationally sophisticated history lesson.

    The second job of a Rebbi – is to be the “Shadchan” between his students and haKadosh Barukh Hu. He must inspire his charges to seek out their own relationship with God and he must continue to guide them in the development of that relationship.

    After Mosheh established the bridge between the Dor Yotz’ei Mitzrayim (generation of the Exodus) and Dor Ba’ei ha’Aretz (generation of the Conquest), he began to instruct the people about their personal (and individual) relationships with God.

    This process, however, can never be accomplished in one single lesson. There are various sophisticated steps which must be taken to guide others to the Ribbono shel Olam (Master of the Universe) – and each of them is a lesson in and of itself. This is as true about Mosheh and his students as it is today.

    Just like any relationship, the person endeavoring to enter into an interaction with God must learn about two things – the nature of the “Other” (in this case, God) and the medium of that relationship (in this case, Mitzvot).

    With one introductory hypothesis, we will see how these lessons are presented by Mosheh in an educationally sequential format.

    V

    SH’MA YISRA’EL: INTRODUCTION OF A LESSON

    The hypothesis is as follows: The phrase Sh’ma Yisra’el which introduces each of the three major speeches in our Parashah, is indeed an introduction – of a new lesson. This explains the unique relationship between this phrase and Sefer D’varim, which is (as we explained in last week’s shiur), a session in Mosheh Rabbenu’s Beit Midrash. This also explains the division of the various lessons in our Parashah, as follows:

    THE FIRST LESSON: Hashem IS THE ONE TRUE GOD

    The first Sinai-speech (4:1-40) is about the Revelation – as an explanation of the Nature of God (as much as can be understood). True to the “negative theology” popularized by Rambam (in which all that we can know about God is what we can negate about Him – e.g. He is not weak etc.), most of this Parashah is a warning that we should not confuse any of the manifestations we experienced at Sinai with God Himself:

    Since you saw no form when Hashem spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure – the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that Hashem your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven. (D’varim 4:15-19)

    Indeed, the end of this speech is a reminder of God’s singular and unique existence and that He alone is the one God:

    To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that Hashem is God; there is no other besides him…So acknowledge today and take to heart that Hashem is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (4:35,39)

    The focus of this speech is about who God is, as it were, and who He is not. [Note how Rambam, in the beginning of Hilkhot Avodah Zarah (Laws of Idolatry), outlines the “history” of idolatry.]

    THE SECOND LESSON: THE VALIDITY OF MOSHEH’S PROPHECY

    Reading through the second Sinai-speech (5:1-6:3), we see that the implications of the Revelation are not about the essence of God and the dangers of idolatry attendant upon confusion arising from that Revelation; rather, it is a retelling of the people’s reaction in response to that great moment:

    [Immediately after the “review” of the Decalogue…] These words Hashem spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and He added no more (or He never ceased – see Rashi). He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, Hashem our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Hashem our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that Hashem our God will say. Then tell us everything that Hashem our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.” Hashem heard your words when you spoke to me, and Hashem said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as Hashem your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that Hashem your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess. Now this is the co mmandment… (D’varim 5:22-6:1)

    As is readily seen, the focus of this speech is the people’s reaction to the Revelation (fear) and their appointment of Mosheh as their “go-between” to receive the rest of God’s commandments.

    This established Mosheh as the “Lawgiver” (Mehokek – see D’varim 33:21) – and enabled him to then instruct the B’nei Yisra’el regarding all of the other Mitzvot (besides the Decalogue) which they had not directly heard from God.

    In summary, we have two lessons in our Parashah, each based on the experience at Sinai – and each introduced with the Sh’ma Yisra’el formula.

    The first lesson is about God – and the second is about Torah. In other words, the first introduces the B’nei Yisra’el to the object of their relationship, while the second describes the vehicle for that relationship.

    Why then is the narrative regarding ‘Arei Miklat placed between these two speeches?

  6. by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom

    Parshas Vaeschanan

    VI

    THE “HIDDUSH” (NOVELTY) OF ‘AREI MIKLAT

    We take it for granted that intention (Kavvanah) plays a central role in religious behavior – that our attitude and focus while performing Mitzvot affects the spiritual impact (and, in some cases, the Halakhic consequences) of those actions. There is, however, very little indication of this central religious component in the first four books of the Torah. The one exception is in relation to the Mishkan – specifically in the world of Korbanot (offerings). Outside of this, we only find out about prohibited actions (e.g. stealing, eating Hametz on Pesach) and obligations (returning a theft, eating Matzah on Pesach) – but we do not hear very much about the role of intent in Halakhah.

    The one powerful exception to this is the rule of manslaughter, as outlined in Bamidbar 35 (although it is alluded to in Sh’mot 21:13 – see Rashi ad loc.). In case someone intentionally murders a fellow, he is liable for death. On the other hand, if it is an unintentional act (“manslaughter”), the killer has the benefit of the protection of the city of refuge – and the blood relative may not go there and exact vengeance for his dead relative.

    The laws of murder/manslaughter are complex and demand a serious investigation, to understand the various shades of intent and how they apply to the case before the Beit Din.

    The reason that, with this exception, the first four books of the Torah do not address the issue of intent is that they are the “instructions” about our relationships with each other and with God. Sefer D’varim, on the other hand, is Mosheh’s instruction on HOW to relate to God – not just which actions to take, but which attitudes should accompany them.

    Mosheh, therefore, interrupts his lessons about that relationship and does what every great teacher does – he demonstrates (instead of just preaching) how to put this lesson into action.

    This is a critical piece of Torah – Mosheh has just taught a philosophical piece about the nature of God. Yet Judaism is not just philosophic speculation and meditation – it demands action. Therefore, Mosheh acts to demonstrate this component. Yet – the Mitzvah he chooses to demonstrate shows us the integration of intent/attitude and action.

    And…Zot haTorah – “This is the Torah”. In the middle of his lesson, Mosheh stops to perform a Mitzvah which demonstrates, better than any other, the complementary nature of action and attitude – and this is, indeed, the Torah. To borrow from Hillel – all the rest is commentary. In other words, the lesson of ‘Arei Miklat is a lesson about the entire Torah.

    After teaching this valuable lesson (by example), Mosheh goes on to teach that Torah (the Decalogue) and now, instead of introducing God, he introduces the Mehokek – himself!

    Mosheh is now “set up” to teach them how to fully develop their relationship with God.

    VII

    SH’MA YISRA’EL: THE TELOS OF TORAH

    Now we come to the third lesson – the “famous” Sh’ma Yisra’el. What is the essence of this lesson?

    Sh’ma Yisra’el: Hashem is our God, Hashem is One. You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

    We are commanded to do more than follow a series of actions – and obey restrictions – ordained by God. We are called to be in a relationship with God, a relationship of love, commitment, constancy and much more. The next 6 chapters are replete with Mosheh’s reminders to love God, to fear Him, to cleave to Him, to swear by His Name etc. None of this was mentioned anywhere earlier in the Torah – again, Mosheh is acting as the consummate Rebbi, bringing his students into the full sense of the relationship with God.

    This is the third lesson – once we have been “introduced” to God and to his lawgiver (who can accurately convey His commands), we are taught about the ultimate goal of these commands – to love God, to fear Him, to walk in His ways etc.

    We can now go back to our original questions and answer:

    * Why are the two major speeches both about the Stand at Sinai?

    – each teaches us about a different implication of that experience; the first teaches us about WHO God is, the second about the vehicle for entering into a relationship with Him (Torah) and the “Shadchan” (Mosheh Rabbenu).

    * Why is that speech divided into two via the ‘Arei-Miklat interruption?

    – as above, each teaches a distinct lesson.

    * What is the import of the ‘Arei Miklat narrative here?

    – Mosheh Rabbenu is teaching, by example, the importance of integrating intent/attitude with action in fulfilling Mitzvot.

    * Why is the “banner-verse” v’Zot haTorah… placed in the middle of the ‘Arei Miklat narrative?

    – this is a central lesson of Torah – that action alone is not enough and that the consequences of a person’s actions depend on the approach with which he acts.

    * What is the rationale behind the placement of the “famous” Sh’ma Yisra’el… section?

    – after teaching us about God and about the vehicle for entering into a relationship with Him, Mosheh teaches us about the ultimate goal of those Mitzvot.

    * What does Sh’ma Yisra’el mean?

    – it is the introduction of a new “lesson”

    * Why does each of the first two Sinai-speeches begin with Sh’ma Yisra’el?

    – as above, each is a lesson in and of itself.

    VIII

    POSTSCRIPT

    One question which remains is about the order of these lessons – wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to teach about the “love” for God before our commitment via Mitzvot? Aren’t we motivated to action because of our feelings for the one (or One) on whose behalf we are acting?

    I once heard a beautiful explanation of this – albeit in a slightly different context – from Mori haRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l. The Rov compared the two statements of Hazal regarding “Imitatio Dei”:

    A) “Just as He is gracious, you should be gracious; just as He is compassionate, so should you be compassionate etc.” (BT Shabbat 133b)

    B) “Just like He comforted the bereaved, so you comfort the bereaved; just as He visited the sick, so you visit the sick etc.” (BT Sotah 14a)

    He noted that in the first statement we are called to imitate Divine characteristics, as it were. The second statement, on the other hand, challenges us to imitate Divine actions, so to speak.

    Instead of seeing these as either contradictory or parallel (but unrelated) statements, the Rov explained that the two of them are linked in series.

    Unlike the way that the “world” thinks, that we act on behalf of someone because we care about them, the Torah is teaching us how to develop that compassion – by acting on their behalf. We do not develop good character by being born with it or waiting for it to come to us – we become compassionate by behaving compassionately. The second statement, imitating Divine actions (which the Torah mandates – see MT Evel 14:1), comes first, as it were. The second mandate, imitating Divine character, is the result of fulfilling the first.

    In the same way, we understand why the Torah prefaced the “emotional” connection with God with the “mechanical” one. We come to love and fear God (and desire to cleave to Him) not as a motivation for fulfilling Mitzvot – rather as the result of that fulfillment.

    We can also see this in the Parashah of K’riat Sh’ma:

    Sh’ma Yisra’el: Hashem is our God, Hashem is One. You shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

    (and how do we come to this intense level of commitment and love?)

    Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

  7. yehudith says:

    (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
    Reward and Punishment
    by Rav Ari Kahn

    In this week’s Torah portion, one of the most seminal ideas of Judaism is articulated — the concept of reward and punishment, though the term punishment may be a misnomer, and the word “consequence” may be a more apt description of this spiritual dynamic.

    This is not the first, nor the only time that this idea is mentioned, but the idea is dealt with more thoroughly here than in anywhere else in the Torah.

    In this week’s Torah portion particular attention is paid to the long anticipated entrance to the Promised Land, where the people must follow the Divine word with even more vigilance, or run the risk of exile.

    The context of the instructions is clarified in the following verse:

    “Hear Israel, you are crossing the Jordan today, in order to come and inherit…” (Deut. 9:1)

    It sounds as if “today” is the day when entrance to the land will finally take place, and one of the great dreams and aspirations of the Children of Israel will come to fruition. Some sources indicate that the verse does not intend to convey that literally “today” the conquest will take place, rather that the term is being used in a metaphoric manner.

    As the Jews stand on the eastern bank of the Jordan, this message is more poignant than ever.Be that as it may, the conquest is soon, and the final preparations must take place. Therefore, Mosesf warns of the dangers of lack of adherence to God. Now, at the border, as they stand on the eastern bank of the Jordan, this message is more poignant than ever.

    In this context, the brink of the entrance to Israel will give us insight to other specific issues in Parshat Ekev. We saw last week, the first section of the Sh’ma, “Hear O Israel,” was taught. This week, the second section is taught. A comparison and contrast of these two sections is certainly called for. An in-depth analysis would cover a book, but a number of specific points must be noted.

    Superficially, the two sections are quite similar, many themes introduced in the first are repeated in the second: love of God and diligent care to keep the commandments are two of the basic teachings which are repeated.

    But, in the words of the Mishna, there is a fundamental difference between the two, and awareness and cognition of this is part and parcel of the fulfillment of the commandments. The Mishna teaches that the primary purpose of the first section of the Sh’ma focuses on the relationship with God (referred to as the acceptance of the “yoke of heaven”), while the focus of the second is the acceptance of the commandments, though these distinction may not appear clear at first glance.

    THE CONSEQUENCES

    The second section of the Sh’ma covers in detail the consequences of adherence to the commandments, and alternatively, the results of rebellion.

    And it will come to pass, if you continually follow my commandments which I command you today to love God your Lord, and serve Him, with all your hearts, and with all your souls. I will provide rain for your land in its proper time … you will eat and be satiated. But take heed, lest your hearts become seduced and you deviate, and serve other gods and prostrate to them. Then God will be exceedingly angry with you, and He will restrain the heavens that there will be no rain, and the ground will not yield its produce, you will be quickly exiled from the good land which God has given you. (Deut. 11:13-17)

    Here the Torah describes a direct cause and reaction for people’s actions. This description is quite instructive. Often people question the relation between man’s actions and God’s knowledge on the one hand, and man’s freedom of choice on the other. If God indeed knows all that was, is, and will be, then apparently man does not possess freedom of choice. However, life without freedom of choice is a theological nightmare. What is the purpose of existence if God sits in the heavens pulling strings while we dance below like marionettes?

    God’s knowledge is something which is beyond human understanding, but if we were to posit that God exists outside of time, then the problem would be solved. Indeed Judaism has insisted for millennium that God transcends time. For God the following sentence would be both theologically and grammatically correct; “God knows yesterday what you did tomorrow.” God’s knowledge simply transcends time.

    God knows yesterday what you did tomorrow — God’s knowledge simply transcends time.While this is true, we understand God to be both transcendent (beyond time and space) and immanent (within our reality). Can we make the same argument about the immanent aspect of God as about the transcendent aspect of God?

    This brings us back to the question of predeterminism — God pulling all the strings. The idea of monotheism — that there exists a one all-powerful God — suggests that God has control over all. Therefore, the description of puppets on strings would be appropriate.

    Maimonides, with his passion and logic, cut down the strings and insisted on man’s freedom of choice. No strings pull man, man has choice, and therefore life has meaning. Man controls his own destiny.

    But the Kabbalists insisted that, in truth, there are strings between man and God, and from afar it seems as if God is pulling the strings. But the reality is quite different, it is not God pulling the strings, rather it is man.

    In a sense, existence is a cosmic puppet theater. Surely it was God who built the stage, and connected the strings, and has the ability to pull them at will. But in our lives it is our actions that cause the reaction from God.

    This idea should not sound that radical, it is the major message of the second section of Sh’ma. As we saw above if man performs Gods commandments, then a relationship is forged, and God for His part will provide man with all his needs. On the other hand, when man rebels, God responds with withholding the Divine blessings.

    This argument requires more explanation, after all, why do we not witness this meted out daily and individually?

    To clarify, let us return to the comparison between the first two sections of the Sh’ma. There is a fundamental, but subtle distinction between the sections as noted above.

    COMMUNAL STANDARD

    The first section is written in the singular while the second is written in the plural. (This distinction is not always felt in English translations, where the distinction between singular and plural is often blurred.)

    This analysis helps us resolve a number of difficulties posed in Jewish law. For example we know that there is a Jewish ethic that “He who saves a life is as if he has saved an entire world” — why then is there a limit on the amount of charity to be spent by a community? Or in other words, how can a value be put on something of limitless value?

    Rav Haim of Volozhin (1:7) explained this idea with following insight. The first section of the Sh’ma calls upon man to love God with all his heart all his soul and all his possessions, while the second section teaches us to love God “with all your hearts, and with all your souls.”

    The community as community possesses different responsibilities than the individual.The second section, which speaks to the community, never mentions “all the community’s possessions.” Apparently the community as community possesses different responsibilities than the individual.

    The second section, which speaks to the community, speaks of the Divine cause and effect. It is here that we are told that our rebellious behavior will result in lack of rain, and eventually exile. One cannot imagine a situation where it rains for one man but not for his neighbor.

    Certain punishments are communal — exile is one such type of punishment. Especially when we realize that exile in its traditional understanding is not a description of a geographical change, rather it refers to the exile of the Shechina, God’s presence. This is obviously a response to communal behavior — either God’s presence is among us, as best manifested by the Temple, or we suffer as a community the pain of alienation from God.

    Now we can better understand verse which precedes the second section of the Sh’ma:

    The eyes of God your Lord are there [on the land of Israel] from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deut. 11:12)

    This description seems obscure, what does it mean that God looks at this land all year round?

    The previous verses contrast Israel with the land of Egypt. The specialness of Israel is manifested, in the eyes of God watching over the land. It is a land that needs rain, it is a land in a dry climate. It is a land where, if the rain is not forthcoming, man will have to turn to God and pray for the rain. It is land which brings man in touch with the idea of the Shechina. It is a land which demands man to have a relationship with the Almighty. It is not a place where water can be carried from the Nile. It is a land where the symbiotic relationship between man and God is felt.

    THE LAND MAKES DEMANDS

    Now we understand why this is the introduction to the second section of the Sh’ma. If man behaves, the Shechina will be felt amongst us. If man ignores God, then exile will follow.

    The land is a land where the very air makes us wise, because it is a land which demands of us a relationship with the Divine. Surely God rewards and punishes all men in accordance with their actions, and the purity of their deeds and minds.

    This land, which has so much more than milk and honey, has a spiritual capacity to bring us close to God.But the ultimate issues of reward and punishment are on a communal level. All members of the nation of Israel are responsible for one another — this principle was taught as the Jews crossed the Jordan. Here as the Jews stood on the other side of the Jordan, issues of communal responsibility needed to be examined and understood. This land, which has so much more than milk and honey has a spiritual capacity to bring us close to God. To make us wise. When the land is ignored spiritual havoc results.

    As the people stood on the banks of the river, poised to meet their destiny, they received a lesson in metaphysics. It was the type of lesson that, if learned, understood, and internalized, would make our stay in Israel an eternal glorious stay. It is a lesson which we still need to review today.

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