Weekly Reading Insights

VaEtchanan 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: VaEtchanan, Shabbat Nachamu
To be read on 11 Av 5763 (Aug.9)

Torah: Deut. 2:23-7:11; Haftorah: Isaiah 40:1-26 (first of the seven "Haftorahs of Consolation")

Pirkei Avot - Chapter Four

Stats: VaEthchanan , 2nd Reading out of 11 in Deuteronomy and 45th overall, contains 8 positive mitzvot and 4 prohibitive mitzvot. It is written on 249.5 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 7th out of 54 in overall length.

Overview: Va'etchanan opens with G-d's refusal to allow Moshe to enter the Land. Next, Moshe reminds the Jews how they were taken out of Egypt, given the 10 Commandments, taught Torah, and should not stray from G-d and His laws. Moshe invokes heaven and earth as witnesses in warning the Jews of the consequences of erred ways. Then, Moshe designates 3 of the locations of the cities of refuge for the unintentional murderer. Following this is the review of the giving of the 10 Commandments and the famous verses of "Shma" and "Ve'ahavta". The Jews are again reminded to keep G-d's mitzvahs and avoid the consequences of sin, particularly idolatry and assimilation.


"From there you will seek the L-rd your G-d and will find Him." (4:29)

It is precisely when you seek the L-rd your G-d "from there" -- from the depths of your heart and with a sense of complete nullification before the Creator, that "you shall find" -- the sudden revelation of the greatest G-dly light.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

"You have been shown to know that the L-rd is G-d." (4:35)

When G-d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai to the soul of every Jew of every generation, He thereby made it possible for any Jew who sincerely desires to serve Him to perceive the true essence of the world, despite the darkness and concealment of what presents itself as reality.

(Sefat Emet)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

I have found the following comment among the writings of a great Kabbalistic scholar, Rabbi Chaim Vital, the leading disciple of the Arizal. [The comment has been paraphrased by the translator:]

As a consequence of Moses' accepting the mixed multitudes as converts, he became involved in the "Sod Ha'Ibur," the calculations pertaining to leap months, leap years, etc. One of these calculations involves determining when a Jubilee year occurs (the fiftieth year after the conclusion of seven cycles of seven years).

G-d had not wanted to accept this mixed multitude as converts. Had they not been accepted, Israel would have experienced neither death nor exile, since acceptance of the Tablets would have signified everlasting life, as our sages said: "Do not read charut - 'engraved,' but cheyrut - 'free' (from death)."

Moses had not consulted G-d regarding the acceptance of the mixed multitudes, which had been Abraham's lifework. In addition he had developed a personal interest in the conduct of these people as he had hinted when he referred to them (Num. 11:21) as "the people amongst whom I find myself." He had also foretold that these people would convert when he told Pharaoh (in Ex. 11:8) that "all these people who sit at our feet will bow down to me." This meant that Moses was anxious to convert these people.


Alas, not only did Moses fail to truly convert them but they also infected the Israelites proper with their lack of faith during the episode of the golden calf, so that G-d told Moses: "Go and descend, for your people have become corrupt" (Ex. 32:7).
These people and their offspring by now made up the majority of the Jews in the desert. This is why Moses was forced to insert an extra year (the jubilee year) after every 49 years. This extra year serves as a warning that Israel must not again err by accepting converts wholesale and being misled by them.

(adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Zefat on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsburgh shared the following insight. This mourning period of the first nine days of Av that ends on this Thursday with the fast day of the 9th of Av is related to the exile that we are now in, that will be completed with the final redemption.
The comparison is made between exile and pregnancy. Just as during pregnancy the discomfort grows, so too the pain of the exile grows from minute to minute.
Just as the birth of a child is anticipated, so too we look forward to the end of the exile which will herald a millennium of revelation.
There is a Talmudic statement that Mashiach is born on the 9th of Av corresponding to the 9th month of pregnancy. To prevent the ayin hara- the "evil eye," there is a tradition not to speak about a pregnancy until the 5th month, when by most women the pregnancy is apparent to all. So also the 5th day of the 9 days is the hillulah/yahrzeit of the holy Ari of Safed, whose teachings of the inner dimensions of Torah opened the eyes of the Jewish world to the imminent arrival of Mashiach and the coming redemption.

This duality of exile and redemption is also brought out in this week's Torah portion of Vaetchanan, which is usually read in the week of the 9th of Av. The Torah is not just stories but eternal lessons for all generations.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, what do we learn from Moshe's persistent prayers to G-d to rescind the decree forbidding him to enter the land? First of all, even if his prayers were not accepted then, we must say that the prayers of Moshe are always in force and will be fulfilled. This is as the Torah teaches (Tanchuma Vayera 19) that 'when a Tzadik wills, G-d fulfills!' Furthermore, since it will be the soul of Moshe, reincarnated as Mashiach, who will ultimately lead all of the Jewish people back to Israel in the final redemption (Shmos Rabbah 82, Zohar 1/256), we know that his prayers will be fulfilled. We also know from the commentaries (Yalkut Reuvaini, Alshiech, Ohr HaTorah), that had Moshe in fact brought the people into the land, we would have been brought the final redemption then, with no subsequent exiles.
Even though Moshe knew he was forbidden to enter the land, he prayed anyway, and not just once, but 515 times (the numerical value of the Hebrew word vetchanan). Moshe knew that since the entire redemption was at stake, he had to push all the limits, even praying when G-d had already said 'Ask no more'. Since we know there is a Mashiach that exists in every generation (Zohar 3/273), ready to redeem us and more so, there is a small portion of the soul of Moshe found in every Jew (Tanya Ch. 42), the teaching from the above is as follows: Just as Moshe, we must not look at the prayers that were already prayed, or at the apparent difficult situations, we must each continue to call out and pray against all odds, "G-d Almighty, how long can we wait in this miserable exile!"

On the other hand, further in V'etchanan, we find the perspective of after the 9th of Av, when we are past the days of mourning, almost - a mini state of redemption. In connection with this, the portion describes the giving of the Torah, an eternal event which was higher than any exile. It then moves on to the Shmah, which contains our allegiance to G-d, our responsibility to G-d and also the foundation verses for all of the positive and negative commandments. The portion ends with the words, 'to do today!' (all the commandments) which refers to all of our efforts which will *ultimately bring us to the reward of the 'world to come' and the seventh and final millennium of the days of Mashiach!

This teaches us that as long as a Jew is doing the commandments with all of his or her strength, he is already in a state of redemption. He is being guided by the Almighty and all of the negatives will fall away. May the days of Menachem-Av be transformed to days of joy and happiness forever.


Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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