Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 August 2005 / 15 Av 5765

Parshat Va'etchanan

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

Although Moshe is content that Yehoshua will lead the nation, Moshe nevertheless prays to enter the Land of Israel in order to fulfill its special mitzvot. Hashem refuses. Moshe reminds Bnei Yisrael of the gathering at Sinai when they received the Torah that they saw no visual representation of the Divine, but only the sound of words. Moshe impresses on Bnei Yisrael that the Sinai revelation took place before an entire nation, not to a select elite, and that only the Jews will ever claim that Hashem spoke to their entire nation. Moshe specifically enjoins Bnei Yisrael to "pass over" the Sinai event to their children throughout all generations.

Moshe predicts, accurately, that when Bnei Yisrael dwell in Eretz Yisrael they will sin and be scattered among all the peoples. They will stay few in number but will eventually return to Hashem.

Moshe designates three "refuge cities" to which an inadvertent killer may flee. Moshe repeats the 10 Commandments and then teaches the Shema, the central credo of Judaism, that there is only One G-d. Moshe warns the people not to succumb to materialism and thus forget their purpose as a spiritual nation. The parsha ends with Moshe exhorting Bnei Yisrael not to intermarry when they enter Eretz Yisrael, as they cannot be a treasured and holy nation if they intermarry, and they will become indistinguishable from the other nations.

Insights

PrayerLine 2

"And I beseeched G-d at that time, saying" (3:23)

One of the most difficult things to do is to pray.

Nobody has trouble praying when someone is going into the operating theater for a life or death operation, G-d forbid. No one has a problem praying when they walk into the exam hall for an exam that they have only half reviewed. No one has a problem praying when his wife is in the delivery room. The difficult thing is praying on a day-to-day basis. Day in, day out. Thats difficult. How many times do we catch ourselves drifting off in the middle of praying, thinking about business, or someone we saw the other day, or the new toy we want to buy/have bought/shouldnt have bought? Its not by coincidence that Hebrew word for prayer is avoda which literally means "work." Prayer is work. Theres no way around that. But prayer can also be one of the most uplifting human activities. Anyone who ever prayed well, even once, knows that the world is a completely different place after such an experience.

Apart from our own in-built problems with prayer, theres something else that stops us from being able to pray properly. We are literally bombarded from cradle to grave, morning till night with thousands and thousands of images. Images on billboards, in newspapers, books, billboards, buses. Everywhere you look. Everywhere you look an image is trying to invade your head and take up vast amounts of valuable real estate in your consciousness.

It is said of Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz, one of the great pre-war Torah luminaries, that when he went to the store to buy something, he would pull out some loose change from his pocket and motion the storekeeper to take the necessary amount from his cupped hand. The reason was that Rabbi Baruch Ber had never learned the difference between a five kopek piece and a ten. Why would someone of Reb Baruch Bers stature have omitted learning the currency system of the country in which he lived? The answer is that everything takes up space in ones head, and he was not prepared to give up even the smallest piece of mental real estate that might interfere with his Torah learning or his prayer.

Part of the curse of living in exile is that we have so much "stuff" floating around in our heads that it makes it very difficult to focus on our spirituality.

"And I beseeched G-d at that time, saying"

In the above sentence, the phrase "At that time" hints to a prayer for generations unborn. Whenever the Jewish People will find themselves in times of anguish, unable to pray properly because of the mental subjugation of exile, Moshes prayer will arise for us.

And even in the most mind-numbing apathy, when the cord of prayer to the lips has been disconnected from our hearts and all we can do is merely utter the words, Moshe's prayer will arise for us. "At that time", when all we will be able to do is "saying" and there will be no feeling in our words, Moshes prayer will arise in front of G-d to breathe life into our empty words.

  • Based on the Amshenover Rebbe

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