Torah Weekly - Parshat Vaetchanan
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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.
"These words Hashem spoke to your entire congregation on the mountain, from the midst of the fire, the cloud and the thick cloud — a great voice, never to be repeated." (5:19)
Nothing is as empty as the air. Or is it? If you had eyes to see and ears to hear you would see a myriad messages traversing the sky. The air would be full of pictures, of sounds. Some of the sounds you would understand: "In a surprise move today the President announced...." Some would sound just like noise: White noise; pink noise; noise from the sun; noise from the galaxy. And noise from the creation itself....
In 1960, Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, as part of a very early satellite transmission system called Echo.
However, two employees of Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, had their eye on the Holmdel antenna for quite a different purpose. They realized that it would make a superb radio telescope.
At first, they were disappointed. When they started their research, they couldn't get rid of a background "noise." It was like trying to tune in to your favorite radio program and it being obscured with static. This annoyance was a uniform signal in the microwave range which seemed to come from all directions. Everyone assumed it came from the telescope itself.
They checked out everything, trying to find the source of this excess radiation. They even pointed the antenna right at New York City — there's hardly a bigger urban radio "noise" than the Big Apple. It wasn't urban interference. It wasn't radiation from our galaxy or extraterrestrial radio sources. It wasn't even the pigeons. Penzias and Wilson kicked them out of the big horn-shaped antenna and swept out all their droppings.
The source remained constant throughout the four seasons, so it couldn't have come from the solar system. Nor could it be the product of a 1962 above-ground nuclear test, because within a year that fallout would have shown a decrease. They had to conclude it was not the machine and it was not random noise causing the radiation.
What was it then that they were hearing?
Eventually they came to the staggering conclusion that what they were hearing was the very first moments of the creation of the universe.
The discovery in 1963 of the cosmic microwave background of the Big Bang was proof that the universe was born at a definite moment.
In the 1950s, there were two theories about the origin of the universe. The first was called the Steady State Theory. It had been put forward by Hermann Bondi, Thomas Gold and Fred Hoyle, and held that the universe was homogeneous in space and time and had remained like that forever — in "a steady state." This was essentially what Greek culture had posited — that the universe was kadmon; it had always existed.
The rival, and at the time more controversial, theory sought to incorporate into its framework the expansion of the universe. Edwin Hubble had shown in 1929 that galaxies are moving away from one another at remarkable speeds. A few physicists led by George Gamow had taken this notion and argued that the separation between galaxies must have been smaller in the past.
If one extrapolated this idea to its logical conclusion, it meant that, at one point in time, the universe had been infinitely dense. Using the laws of physics, Gamow and his colleagues were able to show that the point — which was also infinitely hot — corresponded to the moment of creation. Everything in the universe had emerged from this incredibly dense and hot state in a cataclysmic event astronomers call "the Big Bang."
The conflict between the theories was resolved by Penzias and Wilson in 1965 when they discovered that the mysterious radio signal was cosmic radiation that had survived from the first moments of the universe. It was proof of the "Big Bang."
William Shakespeare once said that "All the world's a stage." He was right, but in a way that I doubt he understood. When does a play begin? From the moment the actors walk on the stage? Or does it start with the construction of the set?
The world has two beginnings — a "Big Bang" — a physical beginning where the stage is set, where all the props and the scenery are set in place. And a beginning where the play itself starts, where the purpose of the Author is revealed. The first beginning is when G-d created the world ex nihilo. The second is when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai.
With the giving of the Torah, the true nature of the world, its purpose and end was revealed.
It stands to reason, then, that just as that physical Big Bang is still with us, that spiritual "Big Bang" at Sinai is still with us.
"These words Hashem spoke to your entire congregation on the mountain, from the midst of the fire, the cloud and the thick cloud — a great voice, never to be repeated."
Onkelos, the Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates the phrase "never to be repeated" as "that never stopped."
That ultimate "outside broadcast" at Sinai never stopped. It's still being broadcast as you read these words.
We live in a world where there are many broadcasts vying for our ears. In order to hear the messages of their sponsors, you'll need a television. But in order to hear the broadcast of Our "Sponsor," you have to plug into His non-stop, twenty-four-hour-a-day broadcast. How do you do that? Pick up a volume with words of Torah, be they Chumash, halacha, gemara, mishna, or Psalms. Start to read the words and make them part of you and you're now receiving that same outside broadcast that started over 3,000 years ago.
The Shabbat immediately following Tisha B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu — The Shabbat of Consolation. It takes its name from the first word of this week's haftara: "Comfort, comfort my people," says your G-d. The Prophet reminds the people that the time of Jerusalem's exile has come to an end. The Midrash tells us that Hashem asks Avraham to comfort Jerusalem, but he does not succeed. He is followed by Yitzchak and Yaakov and Moshe who are also unsuccessful. Finally Hashem Himself comes to comfort the Holy City.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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