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Va-etchanan – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week, the Shabbat of consolation, Shabbat Nachamu; we start the countdown to Rosh Hashanah in 7 weeks’ time. We will soon be facing a challenge to reassess our lives and repair our transgressions.


Moses gets no consolation when he asks to be allowed to enter the land.


I entreated the Lord at that time
וָֽאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יְהֹוָ֑ה בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא

And the response is

It is enough for you; speak to Me no more regarding this matter
אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה:

It is a measure of the stature of Moses that here, at the end of his days, he understands that his future would be the future of the people, not his personal desires. What he is about to declare would shine a light on our past, our future and our unique relationship to God. Our past included the departure from Egypt and the encounter at Sinai. Our future would include turning away from commandments, exile and being scattered amongst the nations.  We would need to turn back

בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:
with all your heart and with all your soul

At the core of the Sedra Moses introduces the Shema and reiterates the Ten Commandments.  (The Nash Papyrus dated about 100 BCE, found in Egypt, which may be the earliest prayer book we know, excludes the reference to Egypt in the commandments; possibly as a political gesture by Jews living in Egypt at that time, avoiding controversy). We read:

 Diligently keep the commandments of the Lord, your God, and His testimonies. and His statutes, which He has commanded you
ישָׁמ֣וֹר תִּשְׁמְר֔וּן אֶת־מִצְוֹ֖ת יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֑ם וְעֵֽדֹתָ֥יו וְחֻקָּ֖יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּֽךְ:
And you shall do what is proper and good in the eyes of the Lord
וְעָשִׂ֛יתָ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר וְהַטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה

Rashi commented that this means that we should not be restricted to the letter of the law but go further when dealing with our fellows.

כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכָּל־הָֽעַמִּֽים:
for you are the least of all the peoples

What we inherited was not just for ourselves but for humanity at large.

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