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Va'etchanan (ואתחנן — Hebrew for “and I pleaded,” the first word in the parshah) is the 45th weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the second in the book of Deuteronomy. It constitutes Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11. Jews in the Diaspora generally read it in late July or August. It is always read on the special Sabbath Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath immediately after Tisha B'Av.

Moses Pleading with Israel (crop)

Moses Pleading with Israel (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

Summary

Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 064

Moses Views the Land of Israel (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

Moses asked to see the land

Moses pleaded with God to let him cross over and see the land on the other side of the Jordan River. (Deuteronomy 3:23–25.) But God was wrathful with Moses on account of the Israelites and would not listen, telling Moses never to speak of the matter again. (Deuteronomy 3:26.) God directed Moses to climb the summit of Pisgah and gaze about to look at the land. (Deuteronomy 3:27.) And God told Moses to give Joshua his instructions and imbue him with strength and courage, for Joshua was to lead the people and allot to them the land. (Deuteronomy 3:28.)

Arguments to obey the law

João Zeferino da Costa - Moisés recebendo as tábuas da lei - 1868

Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law (painting by João Zeferino da Costa)

Moses exhorted the Israelites to heed God’s laws, not to add anything to them, and not to take anything away from them, so that they might live to enter and occupy the land that God was giving them. (Deuteronomy 4:1–2.) Moses noted that in the sin of Baal-peor, God wiped out every person who followed Baal-peor, while preserving alive those who held fast to God. (Deuteronomy 4:3–4.) Moses argued that observing the laws faithfully would prove to other peoples the Israelites’ wisdom and discernment, for no other great nation had a god so close at hand as God, and no other great nation had laws and rules as perfect as God’s. (Deuteronomy 4:6–8.)

Moses urged the Israelites to take utmost care not to forget the things that they saw, and to make them known to their children and children’s children: How they stood before God at Horeb, the mountain was ablaze with flames, God spoke to them out of the fire, and God declared to them the Ten Commandments. (Deuteronomy 4:9–13.) At the same time, God commanded Moses to impart to the Israelites laws for them to observe in the land that they were about to occupy. (Deuteronomy 4:14.)

Figures Moses Promulgates the Law

Moses Promulgates the Law (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Because the Israelites saw no shape when God spoke to them out of the fire at Horeb, Moses warned them not to make for themselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatever — the form of a man, woman, beast, bird, creeping thing, or fish. (Deuteronomy 4:15–18.) And when they looked up and saw the sun, moon, stars, and heaven, they were not to be lured into bowing down to them or serving them, for God allotted those things to other peoples, but God took the Israelites and brought them out of Egypt to be God’s very own people. (Deuteronomy 4:19–20.)

Moses said that God was angry with him on account of the Israelites, and God swore that Moses would not enter the land but would die in the land east of the Jordan. (Deuteronomy 4:21–22.) Moses cautioned the Israelites not to forget the covenant that God concluded with them, and not to make a sculptured image, for God is a consuming fire, an impassioned God. (Deuteronomy 4:23–24.)

Moses called heaven and earth to witness against the Israelites that should they make for themselves a sculptured image when they were in the land, then God would scatter them among the peoples, leaving only a scant few alive. (Deuteronomy 4:25–27.) There in exile they would serve man-made gods of wood and stone, that would not be able to see, hear, eat, or smell. (Deuteronomy 4:28.) But when they were in distress and they searched for God with all their heart and soul, returned to God, and obeyed God, then they would find God, even there. (Deuteronomy 4:29–30.) For God is a compassionate God, Who would not fail them, let them perish, or forget the covenant that God made with their fathers. (Deuteronomy 4:31.)

Moses invited the Israelites to consider whether in any time or space any people had ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire and survived, or any god had taken one nation from the midst of another by prodigious acts and awesome power as their God had done for them in Egypt before their very eyes. (Deuteronomy 4:32–34.) Moses said that it had been clearly demonstrated to them that the Lord alone is God and there is none beside God. (Deuteronomy 4:35.) Moses thus admonished them to observe God’s laws and commandments, which Moses enjoined upon them that day, that it might go well with them and their children, and that they might long remain in the land that God was assigning to them for all time. (Deuteronomy 4:40.)

Cities of refuge

Then Moses set aside three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan to which a manslayer who unwittingly slew a person without having been hostile to him in the past could escape and live: Bezer among the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead among the Gadites, and Golan in Bashan among the Manassites. (Deuteronomy 4:41–43.)

Decalogue parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer 1768

1768 Decalogue parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer

The Ten Commandments

Moses summoned the Israelites and called on them to hear the laws and rules that he proclaimed that day, to study them and observe them faithfully. (Deuteronomy 5:1.) At Horeb, God made a covenant with them — not with their fathers, but with them, the living, every one of them. (Deuteronomy 5:2–3.) God spoke to them face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (Deuteronomy 5:4.) Moses stood between God and them to convey God’s words to them, for they were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. (Deuteronomy 5:5.) God said the Ten Commandments:

  • “I the Lord am your God.” (Deuteronomy 5:6.)
  • “You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Deuteronomy 5:6–8; 5:7–9 in NJPS.)
  • “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 5:10; 5:11 in NJPS.)
  • “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” (Deuteronomy 5:11; 5:12 in NJPS.)
  • “Honor your father and your mother.” (Deuteronomy 5:15; 5:16 in NJPS.)
  • “You shall not murder.”
  • “You shall not commit adultery.”
  • “You shall not steal.”
  • “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 5:16; 5:17 in NJPS.)
  • “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not crave your neighbor’s house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Deuteronomy 5:17; 5:18 in NJPS)

God spoke these words to the whole congregation at the mountain, with a mighty voice out of the fire and the dense clouds, and God inscribed them on two tablets of stone, which God gave to Moses. (Deuteronomy 5:18, 5:19 in NJPS.) When the Israelites heard the voice out of the darkness and saw the mountain ablaze with fire, the tribal heads and elders asked Moses to hear all that God had to say and then tell the people, and they would willingly obey. (Deuteronomy 5:19–24; 5:20–24 in NJPS.)

(A note on verse numbering: The Mechon Mamre Hebrew-English Bible to which articles in this series link numbers its verses according to the Lower Trope Marks system, in which the verses are numbered naturally in their form for study. Many Jewish Bibles in both Hebrew and English (including the 1917 Jewish Publication Society Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, the New Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, and the ArtScroll Chumash) use the numbering of the Upper Trope Marks system as used for public readings. Parallel verse numbering thus appears for the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and here in Deuteronomy 5.)

Vahavta 2

the V'ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:5–9.) in Hebrew

Tie them as symbols on your hands

“Bind them for a sign upon your hand” (illustration from a Bible card published 1913 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

The Shema

And Moses imparted God’s instruction, the Shema and V'ahavta, saying: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when thou rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9.)

Further exhortation to obey God

Moses exhorted the Israelites, when God brought them into the land and they ate their fill, not to forget the God who freed them from bondage in Egypt, to revere and worship only God, and to swear only by God’s name. (Deuteronomy 6:10–13.) Moses warned the Israelites not to follow other gods, any gods of the people about them, lest the anger of God blaze forth against them and wipe them off the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 6:14–15.) Moses warned the Israelites not to try God, as they did at Massah, but to keep God’s commandments and do what is right in God’s sight, that it might go well with them, that they might be able to possess the land, and that all their enemies might be driven out before you them. (Deuteronomy 6:16–19.) And when their children would ask the meaning of the commandments, they were to answer that they were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God wrought before them marvelous and destructive signs and portents, freed them with a mighty hand to give them the land, and then commanded them to observe all these laws for their lasting good and survival. (Deuteronomy 6:20–24.)

Instructions for conquest

Moses told the Israelites that when God brought them to the land and dislodged seven nations before them — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites — the Israelites were to doom them to destruction, grant them no terms, and give them no quarter. (Deuteronomy 7:1–2.) The Israelites were not to intermarry with them, for they would turn the Israelites’ children away from God to worship other gods, and God’s anger would blaze forth against the Israelites and wipe them out. (Deuteronomy 7:3–4.) The Israelites were to tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred posts, and consign their images to the fire. (Deuteronomy 7:5.)

The Israelites were a people consecrated to God, and God chose them from all the peoples on earth to be God’s treasured people. (Deuteronomy 7:6.) God chose them not because they were the most numerous of peoples, but because God favored them and kept the oath God made with their fathers. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8.) Moses told them to note that only God is God, the steadfast God who keeps God’s covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep God’s commandments, but who instantly requites with destruction those who reject God. (Deuteronomy 7:9–10.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Deuteronomy chapter 3

The Gemara deduced from Moses’s example in Deuteronomy 3:23 that one should seek a suppliant frame of mind before praying. Rav Huna and Rav Hisda were discussing how long to wait between recitations of the Amidah if one erred in the first reciting and needed to repeat the prayer. One said: long enough for the person praying to fall into a suppliant frame of mind, citing the words “And I supplicated the Lord” in Deuteronomy 3:23. The other said: long enough to fall into an interceding frame of mind, citing the words “And Moses interceded” in Exodus 32:11. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 30b.)

Rabbi Simlai deduced from Deuteronomy 3:23–25 that one should always first praise God at the beginning of prayer, for Moses praised God in Deuteronomy 3:24 before he asked God in Deuteronomy 3:25 to let him see the good land. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 32a, Avodah Zarah 7b8a.) Rabbi Eleazar deduced from Deuteronomy 3:26–27 that God let Moses see the Promised Land only because Moses prayed, and thus Rabbi Eleazar concluded that prayer is more effective than good deeds, for no one was greater in good deeds than Moses, and yet God let Moses see the land only after Moses prayed. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 32b.)

Храм I

The Temple in Jerusalem, with the altar at right

Rabban Johanan ben Zakai interpreted the word “Lebanon” in Deuteronomy 3:25 to refer to the Temple in Jerusalem and “that goodly mountain” to refer to the Temple Mount. Thus one can interpret Deuteronomy 3:25 to say that Moses asked to see God’s House. (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 56b.) Similarly, a midrash interpreted the word “Lebanon” in Deuteronomy 3:25 to refer to the altar. Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai explained that the altar was called “Lebanon” because it made white (malbin) the sins of Israel, as indicated by the words of Isaiah 1:18: “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white (yalbinu) as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Rabbi Tabyomi said that the altar was called “Lebanon” because all hearts (lebabot) rejoice there, as indicated by the words of Psalm 48:3: “Fair in situation, the joy of the whole earth, even Mount Zion.” And the Rabbis said that the altar was called “Lebanon” because of the words of 1 Kings 9:3, which says of God and the Temple: “My eyes and My heart (libbi) shall be there perpetually. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:2.)

Another midrash employed the understanding of “Lebanon” as the Temple to explain the role of gold in the world. Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish taught that the world did not deserve to have the use of gold. But God created gold for the sake of the Temple. The midrash deduced this from the use of the word “good” in both Genesis 2:12, where it says, “the gold of that land is good,” and Deuteronomy 3:25, where it says, “that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.” (Genesis Rabbah 16:2.)

Holman Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram

Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Rabbi Levi taught that God told Moses “enough!” in Deuteronomy 3:26 to repay Moses measure for measure for when Moses told Korah “enough!” in Numbers 16:3. The Gemara provided another explanation of the word “enough! (rab)” in Deuteronomy 3:26: God was telling Moses that Moses had a master (rab), namely Joshua, waiting to assume authority to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, and thus Moses should not delay another master’s reign by prolonging his own. The Gemara provided a third explanation of the word “enough!”: God was telling Moses not to petition him anymore, so that people should not say: “How severe is the Master, and how persistent is the student.” The Gemara explained why God was so hard on Moses with a Baraita taught in the School of Rabbi Ishmael: according to the camel is the burden; that is, a stronger, more righteous one must bear a greater burden. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 13b.)

The School of Rabbi Ishmael taught that whenever Scripture uses the word “command (tzav)” (as Deuteronomy 3:28 does), it denotes exhortation to obedience immediately and for all time. A Baraita deduced exhortation to immediate obedience from the use of the word “command” in Deuteronomy 3:28, which says, “charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him.” And the Baraita deduced exhortation to obedience for all time from the use of the word “command” in Numbers 15:23, which says, “even all that the Lord has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the Lord gave the commandment, and onward throughout your generations.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 29a.)

Deuteronomy chapter 4

In Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses calls on Israel to heed the “statutes” (hukim) and “ordinances” (mishpatim). The Rabbis in a Baraita taught that the “ordinances” (mishpatim) were commandments that logic would have dictated that we follow even had Scripture not commanded them, like the laws concerning idolatry, adultery, bloodshed, robbery, and blasphemy. And “statutes” (hukim) were commandments that the Adversary challenges us to violate as beyond reason, like those relating to shaatnez (in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11), halizah (in Deuteronomy 25:5–10), purification of the person with tzaraat (in Leviticus 14), and the scapegoat (in Leviticus 16). So that people do not think these “ordinances” (mishpatim) to be empty acts, Leviticus 18:4, which speaks of the “statutes” (hukim) and “ordinances” (mishpatim), says “I am the Lord,” indicating that the Lord made these statutes, and we have no right to question them. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 67b.)

Universum

Rabbi Jonah taught not to investigate what was before (illustration from Camille Flammarion's 1888 L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire, colored by Hugo Heikenwaelder)

Hebrew letter bet

the Hebrew letter bet

Rabbi Jonah taught in the name of Rabbi Levi that the world was created with a letter bet (the first letter in Genesis 1:1, which begins, Bereishit bara Elohim, “In the beginning God created”) because just as the letter bet is closed at the sides but open in front, so one is not permitted to investigate what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind. Similarly, Bar Kappara reinterpreted the words of Deuteronomy 4:32 to say, “ask not of the days past, which were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth,” teaching that one may speculate from the day that days were created, but one should not speculate on what was before that. And one may investigate from one end of heaven to the other, but one should not investigate what was before this world. (Genesis Rabbah 1:10.) Simialrly, the Rabbis in a Baraita interpreted Deuteronomy 4:32 to forbid inquiry into the work of creation in the presence of two people, reading the words “for ask now of the days past” to indicate that one may inquire, but not two. The Rabbis reasoned that the words “since the day that God created man upon the earth” in Deuteronomy 4:32 taught that one must not inquire concerning the time before creation. The Rabbis reasoned that the words “the days past that were before you” in Deuteronomy 4:32 taught that one may inquire about the six days of creation. The Rabbis further reasoned that the words “from the one end of heaven to the other” in Deuteronomy 4:32 taught that one must not inquire about what is beyond the universe, what is above and what is below, what is before and what is after. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 11b.)

Chapter 2 of tractate Makkot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12–14, Numbers 35:1–34, Deuteronomy 4:41–43, and 19:1–13. (Mishnah Makkot 2:1–8; Tosefta Makkot 2:1–3:10; Jerusalem Talmud Makkot; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 7a–13a.)

Cities of refuge

Cities of Refuge (illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

The Mishnah taught that those who killed in error went into banishment. One would go into banishment if, for example, while one was pushing a roller on a roof, the roller slipped over, fell, and killed someone. One would go into banishment if while one was lowering a cask, it fell down and killed someone. One would go into banishment if while coming down a ladder, one fell and killed someone. But one would not go into banishment if while pulling up the roller it fell back and killed someone, or while raising a bucket the rope snapped and the falling bucket killed someone, or while going up a ladder one fell down and killed someone. The Mishnah’s general principle was that whenever the death occurred in the course of a downward movement, the culpable person went into banishment, but if the death did not occur in the course of a downward movement, the person did not go into banishment. If while chopping wood, the iron slipped from the ax handle and killed someone, Rabbi taught that the person did not go into banishment, but the sages said that the person did go into banishment. If from the split log rebounding killed someone, Rabbi said that the person went into banishment, but the sages said that the person did not go into banishment. (Mishnah Makkot 2:1; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 7a–b.)

Aleppo Deut 1910 Photo

Deuteronomy 4:38–6:3 in the Aleppo Codex

Rabbi Jose bar Judah taught that to begin with, they sent a slayer to a city of refuge, whether the slayer killed intentionally or not. Then the court sent and brought the slayer back from the city of refuge. The Court executed whomever the court found guilty of a capital crime, and the court acquitted whomever the court found not guilty of a capital crime. The court restored to the city of refuge whomever the court found liable to banishment, as Numbers 35:25 ordained, “And the congregation shall restore him to the city of refuge from where he had fled.” (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 9b.) Numbers 35:25 also says, “The manslayer . . . shall dwell therein until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil,” but the Mishnah taught that the death of a high priest who had been anointed with the holy anointing oil, the death of a high priest who had been consecrated by the many vestments, or the death of a high priest who had retired from his office each equally made possible the return of the slayer. Rabbi Judah said that the death of a priest who had been anointed for war also permitted the return of the slayer. Because of these laws, mothers of high priests would provide food and clothing for the slayers in cities of refuge so that the slayers might not pray for the high priest’s death. (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 11a.) If the high priest died at the conclusion of the slayer’s trial, the slayer did not go into banishment. If, however, the high priests died before the trial was concluded and another high priest was appointed in his stead and then the trial concluded, the slayer returned home after the new high priest’s death. (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 11b.)

Deuteronomy chapter 5

Rabbi Levi said that the section beginning at Leviticus 19:1 was spoken in the presence of the whole Israelite people, because it includes each of the Ten Commandments, noting that: (1) Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the Lord your God,” and Leviticus 19:3 says, “I am the Lord your God”; (2) Exodus 20:2–3 says, “You shall have no other gods,” and Leviticus 19:4 says, “Nor make to yourselves molten gods”; (3) Exodus 20:6 (20:7 in NJPS) says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” and Leviticus 19:12 says, “And you shall not swear by My name falsely”; (4) Exodus 20:7 (20:8 in NJPS) says, “Remember the Sabbath day,” and Leviticus 19:3 says, “And you shall keep My Sabbaths”; (5) Exodus 20:11 (20:12 in NJPS) says, “Honor your father and your mother,” and Leviticus 19:3 says, “You shall fear every man his mother, and his father”; (6) Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in NJPS) says, “You shall not murder,” and Leviticus 19:16 says, “Neither shall you stand idly by the blood of your neighbor”; (7) Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in NJPS) says, “You shall not commit adultery,” and Leviticus 20:10 says, “Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death; (8) Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in NJPS) says, “You shall not steal,” and Leviticus 19:11 says, “You shall not steal”; (9) Exodus 20:12 (20:13 in NJPS) says, “You shall not bear false witness,” and Leviticus 19:16 says, “You shall not go up and down as a talebearer”; and (10) Exodus 20:13 (20:14 in NJPS) says, “You shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor's,” and Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus Rabbah 24:5.)

A midrash noted that almost everywhere, Scripture mentions a father's honor before the mother's honor. (E.g., Exodus 20:11 (20:12 in NJSP), Deuteronomy 5:15 (5:16 in NJPS), 27:16.) But Leviticus 19:3 mentions the mother first to teach that one should honor both parents equally. (Genesis Rabbah 1:15.)

Rabbi Tanchum ben Chanilai found in God's calling to Moses alone in Levitcus 1:1 proof that a burden that is too heavy for 600,000 — hearing the voice of God (see Deuteronomy 5:22) — can be light for one. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1.)

Deuteronomy chapter 6

The Gemara reported a number of Rabbis’ reports of how the Land of Israel did indeed flow with “milk and honey,” as described in Exodus 3:8 and 17, 13:5, and 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27 and 14:8, and Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9, 26:9 and 15, 27:3, and 31:20. Once when Rami bar Ezekiel visited Bnei Brak, he saw goats grazing under fig trees while honey was flowing from the figs, and milk dripped from the goats mingling with the fig honey, causing him to remark that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai said that it is about three miles from Lod to Ono, and once he rose up early in the morning and waded all that way up to his ankles in fig honey. Resh Lakish said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey of Sepphoris extend over an area of sixteen miles by sixteen miles. Rabbah bar Bar Hana said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey in all the Land of Israel and the total area was equal to an area of twenty-two parasangs by six parasangs. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 111b12a.)

Tefillin

tefillin

Discussions of the laws of tefillin appear at Mishnah Menachot 3:7 and Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 37b, Sanhedrin 4b, and Menachot 34b–37b.

V08p531001 Mezuzah

mezuzah text

Discussions of the laws of the mezuzah appear at Babylonian Talmud Menachot 31b–34b.

The first three chapters of tractate Berakhot in the Mishnah, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud and the first two chapters of tractate Berakhot in the Tosefta interpreted the laws of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21. (Mishnah Berakhot 1:1–3:6; Tosefta Berakhot 1:1–2:21; Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 1a–42b; Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 2a–26a.)

The Gemara explained that when Jews recite the Shema, they recite the words, “blessed be the name of God’s glorious Kingdom for ever and ever,” quietly between the words, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one,” from Deuteronomy 6:4, and the words, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” from Deuteronomy 6:5, for the reason that Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish expounded when he explained what happened in Genesis 49:1. That verse reports, “And Jacob called to his sons, and said: ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what will befall you in the end of days.’” According to Rabbi Simeon, Jacob wished to reveal to his sons what would happen in the end of the days, but just then, the Shechinah departed from him. So Jacob said that perhaps, Heaven forfend, he had fathered a son who was unworthy to hear the prophecy, just as Abraham had fathered Ishmael or Isaac had fathered Esau. But his sons answered him (in the words of Deuteronomy 6:4), “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” explaining that just as there was only One in Jacob’s heart, so there was only One in their hearts. And Jacob replied, “Blessed be the name of God’s glorious Kingdom for ever and ever.” The Rabbis considered that Jews might recite “Blessed be the name of God’s glorious Kingdom for ever and ever” aloud, but rejected that option, as Moses did not say those words in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The Rabbis considered that Jews might not recite those words at all, but rejected that option, as Jacob did say the words. So the Rabbis ruled that Jews should recite the words quietly. Rabbi Isaac taught that the School of Rabbi Ammi said that one can compare this practice to that of a princess who smelled a spicy pudding. If she revealed her desire for the pudding, she would suffer disgrace; but if she concealed her desire, she would suffer deprivation. So her servants brought her pudding secretly. Rabbi Abbahu taught that the Sages ruled that Jews should recite the words aloud, so as not to allow heretics to claim that Jews were adding improper words to the Shema. But in Nehardea, where there were no heretics so far, they recited the words quietly. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 56a.)

Abaye interpreted the words “and you shall love the Lord your God” in Deuteronomy 6:5 to teach that one should strive through one’s actions to cause others to love the Name of Heaven. So that if people see that those who study Torah and Mishnah are honest in business and speak pleasantly, then they will accord honor to the Name of God. But if people see that those who study Torah and Mishnah are dishonest in business and discourteous, then they will associate their shortcomings with their being Torah scholars. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 86a.)

Deuteronomy chapter 7

A midrash expounded on why Israel was, in the words of Jeremiah 11:16, like “a leafy olive tree.” In one explanation, the midrash taught that just as all liquids commingle one with the other, but oil refuses to do so, so Israel keeps itself distinct, as it is commanded in Deuteronomy 7:3. (Exodus Rabbah 36:1.)

Commandments

File:Rambam.jpg

According to Maimonides

Maimonides cited verses in the parshah for 11 positive and 15 negative commandments:

Shelyad1

tefillin for the arm

Mezzuzah1

a mezuzah

(Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Positive Commandments 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, and 210; Negative Commandments 1, 2, 5, 6, 48, 50, 52, 58, 62, 64, 243, 265, 266, 289, and 320. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:1–7, 10–11, 15–23, 226–27; 2:1–2, 4–8, 47–51, 55–56, 60–61, 63–64, 232, 250–52, 269, 295. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4.)

According to Sefer ha-Chinuch

According to Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are 8 positive and 4 negative commandments in the parshah.

Jesaja (Michelangelo)

Isaiah (fresco by Michelangelo)

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 4:245–305. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1988. ISBN 0-87306-457-7.)

Haftarah

The parshah is always read on the special Sabbath Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath immediately after Tisha B'Av. Shabbat Nachamu (“Sabbath of comfort”) takes its name from the first word of the haftarah for the parshah, Isaiah 40:1–26, which speaks of "comforting" the Jewish people for their suffering. The haftarah is the first in the cycle of seven haftarot of consolation after Tisha B'Av, leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

Chrysochraon dispar Richard Bartz

“God sits above the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”

Summary

God told the prophet to comfort God’s people and bid Jerusalem to take heart, as the city’s guilt had been paid off. (Isaiah 40:1–2.) A voice in the wilderness called to clear the way and make a highway for God, for every valley will be lifted up, every mountain will be made low, and God’s glory will be revealed to all. (Isaiah 40:3–5.) A voice proclaimed that all flesh is grass, its goodness like a flower of the field, which withers and fades; but God’s word will stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:6–8.) The herald of good tidings should go to the mountain and announce to the cities of Judah that God will come as a Mighty One to rule, as a shepherd that feeds the flock, gathers the lambs, carries them, and gently leads them. (Isaiah 40:9–11.)

N1977s

“Lift up your eyes on high, and see: Who has created these?”

Who has held the waters in hand, measured the heavens, comprehended the earth, and weighed mountains in the balance? (Isaiah 40:12.) Who has counseled or instructed God? (Isaiah 40:13–14.) Nations are like a drop in a bucket, like dust in the balance, as nothing before God. (Isaiah 40:15–17.) Can one compare God to anything, to an idol that a woodworker carved? (Isaiah 40:18–20.) God sits above the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. (Isaiah 40:22.) God brings princes to nothing, makes the judges of the earth like nothing; scarcely are they planted, but God blows upon them, and they wither and blow away. (Isaiah 40:23–24.)

To whom then to liken God? Lift up your eyes and see: The One who created the stars, called them by name, by the greatness of God’s might and strong power each one appears. (Isaiah 40:25–26.)

Connection to the Special Sabbath

The haftarah answers laments read on Tisha B'Av from the book of Lamentations. Lamentations 1:2 and 9 complain that Jerusalem “has none to comfort her,” “she has no comforter.” In Isaiah 40:1, the haftarah answers, “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.” Lamentations 1:4 complains that “the ways of Zion mourn.” In Isaiah 40:3, the haftarah answers, “Clear in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make plain in the desert a highway for our God.” Lamentations 1:6 complains that Zion’s princes “are gone without strength before the pursuer.” In Isaiah 40:9 and 26, the haftarah answers, “lift up your voice with strength,” God “is strong in power.” Lamentations 4:22 hoped for Jerusalem that “the punishment of your iniquity is accomplished” and God “will no more carry you away into captivity.” In Isaiah 40:2, the haftarah affirms, “Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim to her, that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off.”

As well, the haftarah echoes the parshah. In the parshah in Deuteronomy 3:25, Moses pleads, “Let me go over, I pray, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.” As if in answer, the haftarah rejoins in Isaiah 40:15–16, “the nations are as a drop of a bucket, . . . and Lebanon is not sufficient fuel, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for burnt-offerings.”

Haggadah 14th cent

A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

In the liturgy

The Torah reader and the congregation recite Deuteronomy 4:4 immediately before the Torah reading, signifying how learning the Torah embodies remaining steadfast to God. (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 141. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0-916219-20-8.)

The Passover Haggadah, in the magid section of the Seder, quotes Deuteronomy 4:34 to elucidate the term “great terribleness” in Deuteronomy 26:8, interpreting the “great terribleness” to mean the revelation of the Shekhinah or Divine Presence. (Menachem Davis. The Interlinear Haggadah: The Passover Haggadah, with an Interlinear Translation, Instructions and Comments, 49–50. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-57819-064-9Joseph Tabory. JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, 94. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8276-0858-0.)

The Lekhah Dodi liturgical poem of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service quotes both the commandment of Exodus 20:7 (Exodus 20:8 in the NJPS) to “remember” the Sabbath and the commandment of Deuteronomy 5:11 (Deuteronomy 5:12 in NJPS) to “keep” or “observe” the Sabbath, saying that they “were uttered as one by our Creator.” (Hammer, at 21.)

The Prayer- Shema Yisroel from the Siddur

the beginning of the Shema prayer in the Siddur

The verses of the Shema and V'ahavta in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 constitute a central prayer in Jewish prayer services. Jews combine Deuteronomy 6:4–9 along with Deuteronomy 11:13–21, and Numbers 15:37–41 to form the core of K’riat Shema, recited in the evening (Ma’ariv) and morning (Shacharit) prayer services. (Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 30–31, 112–13, 282–83. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2007. ISBN 0-916219-13-5.) A shorter version of the Shema, composed of simply Deuteronomy 6:4, appears in the Torah service (Seder K’riat HaTorah) and the Kedushah of the Musaf service for Shabbat. (Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, at 141, 157.) And the Shema and for some the V'ahavta, Deuteronomy 6:4–9, are among the first prayers said upon arising and form the central prayer of the bedtime Shema, said just before retiring for sleep. (Hammer, at 66. Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for Weekdays with an Interlinear Translation, 35–36, 416–17. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-686-8.)

The commandment to love God in Deuteronomy 6:5 is reflected in Psalm 97:10, which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Hammer, at 18.)

The “love” of God that Deuteronomy 6:5 urges finds reflection in the characterization of God as the “Beloved” in the Lekhah Dodi liturgical poem of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Hammer, at 21.)

And the leshem yihud prayer before putting on tefillin quotes the commandment of Deuteronomy 6:8. (Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for Weekdays with an Interlinear Translation, 6. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-686-8.)

In the magid section, the Haggadah combines Deuteronomy 6:21 and 5:14 in the first answer to the Four Questions (Ma Nishtana) in the magid section of the Seder. (Tabory, at 84.) And shortly thereafter, the Haggadah quotes Deuteronomy 6:20 to provide the question of the wise son, also in the magid section. (Tabory, at 86; Davis, at 29.)

Also in the magid section, the Haggadah quotes Deuteronomy 6:23 — emphasizing the word “us” (otanu) — for the proposition that God did not redeem the ancestral Israelites alone, but also the current generation of Jews with them. (Davis, at 60; Tabory, at 100.)

The Weekly Maqam

In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parshah. For parshah Va'etchanan, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Hoseni, the maqam that expresses beauty. This is especially appropriate in this parshah because it is the parshah where Moses repeats to the Israelites their history of receiving the Ten Commandments.

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Milkau Oberer Teil der Stele mit dem Text von Hammurapis Gesetzescode 369-2

Hammurabi

Ancient

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

Josephus

Josephus

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Berakhot 1:1–3:6; 9:5; Orlah 1:7; Sotah 7:1, 8; Bava Kamma 5:7; Sanhedrin 2:4; Makkot 2:1–8; Avot 3:8; Zevachim 8:10; Menachot 3:7; Tamid 5:1. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 3–7, 14, 160, 457, 459, 515, 586, 612–16, 679, 717, 739, 869. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Berakhot 1:1–3:1, 6:1; Maaser Sheni 5:28; Shekalim 2:2; Rosh Hashanah 2:13; Chagigah 2:7; Sotah 7:7, 17, 8:10; Bava Kamma 6:18, 7:9; Sanhedrin 4:7; Makkot 2:1–3:10; Avodah Zarah 1:16, 3:15; Zevachim 8:23. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifre to Deuteronomy 26:1–36:4. Reprinted in, e.g., Jacob Neusner. Sifre to Deuteronomy, 69–104. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. Land of Israel, circa 250–350 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifre to Deuteronomy: An Analytical Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:67–104. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. ISBN 1-55540-145-7.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 1a–42b, 53a, 54a, 72b, 86b–88a, 92b, 93b; Peah 6b–7a; Sheviit 46b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 1–3, 6b. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006–2008.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)

Talmud

Rashi woodcut

Rashi

Medieval

Moses Mendelson P7160073

Mendelssohn

  • Numbers Rabbah 23:13. 12th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Numbers. Translated by Judah J. Slotki. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Zohar 3:260a–270a. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.

Modern

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Hirsch

EmilyDickinson

Dickinson

External links

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