This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Va’etchannan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

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This week we study Parashat Va’etchannan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11).

* Deut. 3:26. Moshe gets mad at the Jews and says because of “you”, I’m not getting into the Promised Land.

* This parasha does not give spiritual welfare. There’s no free lunch in return for assenting to certain theological dogmas. In the Jewish view, you earn your way. Little children are given things. Adults earn their way. Judaism is an adult religion. Jesus’s message was perfect for children. “Let the little children come unto me.” In the Christian view, it is good to come to God as a little child. There’s nothing in 4,000 years of Judaism that says one should come to God as a child. You come as an adult. You study. You learn. You practice. No welfare. Salvation doesn’t swoop down from above. You don’t join with God by eating His son’s flesh and drinking his blood. There are no invitations to spiritual cannibalism in the Torah. That’s pagan. That’s Christian.

* I’m cool with welfare, when it is voluntary (not when it is done by coercive government). As the rabbis of the Talmud said: “The prisoner himself cannot free himself, by himself, from his own confinement.”

* Moshe doesn’t waste words on pretty ideas about the next life. He doesn’t repeatedly enjoin the Israelites, “Now go forth and love one another.” There’s no theology in here to match the preoccupations of the New Testament. This is not romantic religion. This is nuts and bolts because that’s how life works. That’s how you make good people. You drill them. You drill them in piano or tennis or ethics.

* Moshe is not like Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights. He doesn’t tell them, “Clear eyes, full hearts” for Judaism trusts neither the eye nor the heart.

* Deut. 4:4. It is not possible to literally cling to God but you can get close to Torah scholars and to support them and to listen to them.

* This week’s Torah portion forbids marrying non-Jews (Deut. 7:3). Shiksas are not for practice. Such bestial behavior just leaves you feeling empty inside.

* Deut. 4:6 Observing the Torah is supposed to make you look smart to the goyim “for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples.”

* Deut. 4:8. I dig how Moshe boasts about how close God is to the Jews. Seems tribal. Doesn’t seem sophisticated. Isn’t God close to everyone who calls upon him?

* Deut. 6:7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” Your students are considered your children.

* Deut. 6:18 “You shall do what is fair and good in the eyes of God.” It’s hard to legislate ethics. (Artscroll)

* Moshe accepts that his prayers will go unanswered. We all have prayers that will go unanswered. For instance, I’ll never get to date Heidi Klum or Halle Berry.

* After Tisha B’Av, we enter seven weeks of consolation leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Judaism has this profound rhythm of affliction and consolation.

* Nobody is indispensable. Not even Moshe.

* This week’s Torah portion repeats the Ten Commandments. Does this new version allow for driving on Shabbat?

Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Over the long run of Jewish history many individuals and groups have attempted to retain the beauty of the zachor of Shabat while disregarding the seeming stringencies imposed by shamor. All such efforts and formulae have proven to be worthless and disastrous. In our time, the Shabat of Conservative Jews was not enhanced when they were allowed to drive their automobiles on Shabat, ostensibly only to synagogue services. The laity did not understand the difference between driving to the synagogue and driving to the golf course. And thus the long descent of Conservative synagogues into the pool of non-observance of Torah, intermarriage and loss of Jewish values proved itself to be inexorable.”

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: Justice Louis Brandies of the US Supreme Court had an uncle, Louis Dembitz, who was an observant Jew. Louis Brandies was an occasional guest at the Sabbath table of Louis Dembitz. Brandies wrote lovingly and longingly of the serenity and spirit that pervaded his uncle’s home and table on the Sabbath. He wished for himself “such a day as well, but without the restrictions.” Alas, without the restrictions – without “shamor” – there is no possibility to achieve the serenity he and all of us so craved and crave. “Shamor” is the key to unlock the door of peace, which is represented by “Zachor.”

In parshat Yitro, the Sabbath is used as a tool to remember creation and the Creator. It thus has a seemingly universal character not restricted to Israel alone. However, in parshat Vaetchanan, it represents the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, an historical event unique to the Jewish people alone. Based on this latter interpretation of the Sabbath, the Talmud effectively excludes the non-Jewish world from observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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