This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Vaetchanan which means “and I pleaded”. It is a continuation of the speech given by Moshe Rabbeinu to the Israelites summarizing their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Vaetchanan has the gematria (numerical value) of 515. From this, Jewish tradition brings down that Moshe “pleaded” with HaShem in 515 different ways to exempt him from the punishment for his sin, but HaShem refused each plea. Moshe continues to strongly admonish the people regarding the importance of serving HaShem and expounds upon the punishments they will recieve if they fail to do so. Moshe recalls the story of Matan Torah (the giving of Torah) at Mt. Sinai and brings down very important mitzvot such as Shema, Tefillin, and Mezuzot. He also designates the three arei miklat (cities of refuge) East of the Jordan.
Moshe Enters the Promised Land
In the first aliyah Moshe continues his plea with HaShem and is forbidden to cross the Jordan but HaShem does instruct him to climb mount Nebo and from there He shows him the promised land. Moshe instructs the people to always remain obedient to HaShem and explains that they are never to add or subtract from the Torah. He reminds them of the incident at Baal Peor and uses it as an example to demonstrate that those who remain faithful to HaShem will always be blessed.
Although Moshe was not allowed to enter the promise land during his lifetime we see HaShem’s continued faithfulness to Moshe in the following passage from Mark 9:2-8 in the Brit HaChadashah;
Six days later, Yeshua took Kefa, Ya‘akov and Yochanan and led them up a high mountain privately. As they watched, he began to change form, and his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone in the world could possibly bleach them. Then they saw Eliyahu and Moshe speaking with Yeshua.
Kefa said to Yeshua, “It’s good that we’re here, Rabbi! Let’s put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moshe and one for Eliyahu.” (He didn’t know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud enveloped them; and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Yeshua.
Here we see the faithfulness of HaShem to Moshe as he stands within the borders of eretz Yisrael with Eliyahu haNavi and the promised Mashiach.
Take to Heart
In the second aliyah Moshe speaks praises of the Torah, its wisdom, and explains that it is fundamental in obtaining closeness to HaShem. He says to the Israelites; “take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, lest you forget the things you have seen…” We are never to forget the awesome event of Matan Torah. Chazal teach that each one of us in every generation must regard ourselves as personally participating in the Exodus and also in the giving of the Torah. Moshe Rabeinu teaches us that we must vividly recount this day to our children and grandchildren. Moshe continues by reminding them that HaShem revealed Himself “panim al panim” or “face to face” but that He did not appear in any image or form. He cannot be represented by graven images or artwork of any sort because He is not to be identified with anything in the physical world. This is why Mashiach said that HaShem is a Spirit and that those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. He is above the creation as the Creator and Master of all. Moshe warns that if the Israelites transgress in this point forgetting HaShem and commit avodah zarah by serving idols they will be given over to harsh Exile and extreme punishment. But even if that happens HaShem will never forsake His chosen nation, they will eventually make Teshuvah, returning to HaShem and He will forgive them, restoring them fully. Moshe continues by reminding the nation that they are very special and unique as we are the only nation that HaShem has personally rescued from bondage and taken unto Himself. And then he closes out this aliyah with Devarim 4:39-40.
“Know this day, and take to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else. And thou shalt keep His statutes, and His commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.”
There is an interesting commentary in the Artscroll Chumash for the words “and take to your heart.”
I.e. meditate intensly upon it (R. Bachya). The teachers of mussar dwell on the human reality that there are many things that people know intelectually, but do not “take to heart”, in the sense that this knowledge controls their behavior. This is perhaps most pronounced in health habits, where people persist in doing things that they enjoy even though they know them to be harmful. The same holds true for many people of faith who are remiss in their performance of some commandments, because they lack sufficient emotional control.”
In v.39 Moshe instructs us first to “take to your heart” or as R. Bachya says “meditate intensely on it,” that HaShem is G-d….and there is no other…then in v.40 he instructs is to “keep his decrees And commandments because it is only through this type of deep thinking that one will come to a complete service of HaShem.
In the third aliyah Moshe designates the three arei miklat (cities of refuge) that are located East of the Jordan.
In the fourth aliyah Moshe repeats aseret hadivrot or the ten commandments. And explains that the Sinai covenant was not exclusive to those physically present at Mt. Sinai.
In the fifth aliyah Moshe reminds the nation of how powerful the revelation at Sinai was and how the leaders of each tribe begged him to be their intermediary rather than them continue hearing the voice of HaShem.
In contrast to this Shaul writes in the book of Hebrews very profound statements. While this letter should be read entirely for context I would like to share the relevant verses from chapter 12:18-29.
“For you have not come to a tangible mountain, to an ignited fire, to darkness, to murk, to a whirlwind, to the sound of a shofar, and to a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further message be given to them — for they couldn’t bear what was being commanded them, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it is to be stoned to death”; and so terrifying was the sight that Moshe said, “I am quaking with dread.” On the contrary, you have come to Mount Tziyon, that is, the city of the living God, heavenly Yerushalayim; to myriads of angels in festive assembly; to a community of the firstborn whose names have been recorded in heaven; to a Judge who is God of everyone; to spirits of righteous people who have been brought to the goal; to the mediator of a new covenant, Yeshua; and to the sprinkled blood that speaks better things than that of Hevel. See that you don’t reject the One speaking! For if those did not escape who rejected him when he gave divine warning on earth, think how much less we will escape if we turn away from him when he warns from heaven. Even then, his voice shook the earth; but now, he has made this promise: “One more time I will shake not only the earth, but heaven too!” And this phrase, “one more time,” makes clear that the things shaken are removed, since they are created things, so that the things not shaken may remain. Therefore, since we have received an unshakable Kingdom, let us have grace, through which we may offer service that will please God, with reverence and fear. For indeed, “Our God is a consuming fire!”
In the sixth aliyah we recieve the Shema, and the mitzvot of Tefillin and Mezuzah. The Artscroll Chumash has the following commentary on the Shema:
“The Shema”. The role of this passage in Judaism is perhaps best exemplified by where Rambam places it In Sefer HaMitzvos, where he lists the commandments In logical order, beginning with those That are most central to Jewish belief and observance. Primary on his list is the commandment to believe In God, which is embodied in the first of the ten commandments. I am HaShem, your God (5:6), because without a God who commands, there are no commandments. The second and third of Rambam’s commandments are contained in the first two verses of the Shema, namely to acknowledge the Oneness of God and to love Him…It is indicative of the importance of the Shema that it must be recited everyday, morning and night. (v. 7). Indeed, it is at the very essence of Judaism.”
In fact when Mashiach was ask what was most important He responded like the Rambam, or I should say the Rambam responded like R’ Yeshua. In Mark 12:28-34, One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.
Noticing that Yeshua had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Yeshua, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Yeshua saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
We are then given the mitzvah of tefillin. Tefillin are a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. They are worn by male observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. Much can and should be said concerning the depth and beauty of this mitzvah. Bezrat HaShem we will do an article on tefillin very soon. Of course R. Yeshua also wore tefillin like every other good Jew and only had a problem with them being used out of context. I.e a person trying to show off their religous piety. This can be deduced from a passage in Matthew 23. Where He criticizes those who “enlarge them to be seen by men.”
And then we are given the mitzvah of mezuzah. A mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה “doorpost”; plural: מְזוּזוֹת mezuzot) comprises a piece of parchment called a klaf contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21). These verses consist of the Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael”, beginning with the phrase: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD (is) our God, the LORD is One”. In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a mezuzah is affixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9)
As seen above the words of Torah are to be written upon “the gates and doorposts of your house.” This explains why it is written of wisdom in the book of Mishlei / Proverbs, chapter 8, verse 3 says; “Beside the gates, at the entrance of the roof, at the entrance of the doors she (wisdom) cries,” and in v. 34 and 35, “Fortunate is the man who listens to me to watch by my doors day by day, to watch the doorposts of my entrances. For he who has found me has found life, and he has obtained favor from the Lord.”
It is wisdom who cries out from the gates and the doors, exactly where we were commanded to write the words of Torah. That is because the Torah is wisdom and as it says above; fortunate are those who listen to her and are found by her doors to watch the doorposts (mezuzot) of her entrances.
Being Separate – Being in the World, not of the World
In the seventh aliyah the children of Israel were instructed to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, along with their idols. Moshe says in verses Devarim 7:2-6,
And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them; neither shalt thou make marriages with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For he will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and He will destroy thee quickly. But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be His own treasure, out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.
The Artscroll Chumash says the following:
“You shall not seal a covenant with them.
Israel was forbidden to make a covenant that would permit the Canaanites to remain in the land and continue to worship idols (Rambam, Hil. Avodah Zarah 10:1) If, however, the Canaanites agree to stop their idolatry and accept the seven Noahide laws, Israel was permitted to make peace treaties with them (see Hil. Melachim 6:4).
“Nor shall you show them favor…”
According to Rambam, this, too, does not apply to a gentile who accepts the noahide laws.
“Their altars shall you break apart…”
Instead of pursuing friendship with those who will compromise the Jewishness of your progeny by leading them into idolatry, you should destroy all vestiges of idol worship (Ralbag).
The Torah continues by saying that the reason for this…
6 For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be His own treasure, out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.
It is because we are chosen by HaShem as His set apart people and His “special treasure” that we must keep a strong seperation from idolatry and idolators. We must fight against anything that would cause our assimilation with the gentile world. Shaul brings this very concept down beautifully in his second letter to the Kehillah in Corinth in chapter 6:14-18.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Mashiach and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”