Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vaeschanan: 2 parts to a mitzva

Parshat Va'eschanan

In 7:1-3 the Torah commands us to wipe out the nations already residing in the Land of Israel. It then commands us to not allow them to continue living there, and to not intermarry with them....

If we already have to wipe them out, then why is it necessary to have secondary commandments of not letting them buy property and not intermarrying?

It is true that if we would fulfill our obligation of wiping out these nations, then the secondary commandments will have become moot and pointless. The problem is if we do not fulfill our obligations and we do not wipe them out completely. The Torah seems to be predicting that we will not fulfill ourobligations so it is letting us know what the natural results of such inaction will be.

If we let them stay, they will end up demanding rights. They will buy property, they will integrate. They will become a part of society. If we allow them to remain, natural relationships will develop.

Therefore the Torah has to command us to not allow those relationships.

By not fulfilling the first part of the mitzva, the second part becomes necessary.

Vaeschanan: being proactive

Parshat Va'eschanan

In 5:12, as Moshe is transmitting the second set of the 10 Commandments, he says, "שמור את יום השבת" - Guard the day of Shabbos to keep it holy.

Rashi brings the famous question that in the first set of Commandments the word used for keeping Shabbos is 'Zachor' - 'remember', while here in the second set it uses the term 'Shamor' - 'Guard'. Why the change? and Rashi explains that both words were said at the exact same moment, and they were divided up between the two sets of commandments for us.

Yet the question still remains why 'Zachor' was chosen to be immortalized in the first set of commandments and 'Shamor' in the second set? Why not write both both times, or write the opposite order? Why write first 'zachor' and then 'shamor'? If both were said, then both should be written in the surviving luchos!

I do not have an answer to explain why it chose to write 'zachor' and one and 'shamor' in the other. But perhaps we can understand that once it did shoose to break it up and seperate the two words into the two tablets, why it chose to write 'zachor' first and 'shamor' second.

I would suggest that this order points us to an understanding of our history and of our approach to Judaism and mitzvos.

'Zachor' - remembering, is a passive approach to Judaism and mitzvos.
'Shamor' - guarding, is a more active, and proactive approach to Judaism and mitzvos.

Being passive has a danger to it; the danger that you will miss something, you will not perceive a threat to your lifestyle, you will not react to a threat, etc.You might not recognize the time has come to act.

At first, the passive approach was dominant. The Jews were mostly living a life, in the early desert years, of everything being done for them. Moshe broke the luchos because he saw where their passivity had brought them.

The second luchos say 'shamor' becausenow God demands a much more proactive approach to Judaism and to mitzvos. Don't just remember shabbos, but guard it.

'Shamor' is written in the surviving set of luchos, because in order to survive, as a people, as a nation, as Jews, we have to be proactive in our service of God.

Va'Eschanan: entering Eretz Yisrael

Parshat Va'eschanan

Moshe reviews the experience of the giving of the Torah, and how it happened. It raises the question - why did Hashem give the Torah in Chutz La'aretz? Why not take the Jews right into Eretz Yisrael and give the Torah there?

There can be a number of answers to this question, but I would like to suggest one. In 4:14 Moshe gives us an indication of why this was done ni chutz la'aretz. He tells the nation "וְאֹתִי צִוָּה יְהוָה, בָּעֵת הַהִוא, לְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם, חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים: לַעֲשֹׂתְכֶם אֹתָם--בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ" - "And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, that you might do them in the land where you go over to possess it. "

The Torah had to be given over in chutz la'aretz, because you cannot just go into Eretz Yisrael. You have to prepare yourself, you have to educate yourself, before you can go into Eretz Yisrael. The Jews, in order to be able to successfully acclimate to Eretz Yisrael, had to be taught the Torah prior to their having entered the land.

Only with proper learning, only with proper preparation, could they go into Eretz Yisrael. Only with proper knowledge of the mitzvos, only with a solid relationship with Hashem, only with that could their entry into Eretz Yisrael possibly be successful.

So had they entered Eretz Yisrael and then been given the Torah, perhaps it would have been a failure. They would have looked at the holiness of the land differently, and they would have perhaps looked at the goals of the Torah differently, and that would have led to their abandoning the Torah and the Land.

The parsha starts out with Moshe davening to Hashem to be allowed in to Eretz Yisrael, after he had been punished and banned from the land. He even davens just to be allowed to pass through quickly to see it. yet his pleas are rejected by Hashem.

Chazal ask why Moshe wanted so badly to go into Eretz Yisrael. What is the big deal? Hashem said no, so no. Was it so important that he needed to see the sights?
Chazal say that Moshe's strong desire to go in was because he wanted the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvos ha'tluyos ba'aretz. Again, it was for the relationshiup with Hashem that had been developed in Chutz La'aretz. It could be brought to new heights, but only in Eretz Yisrael could it reach the pinnacle.

It is a tremendous zchus to be able to go into Eretz Yisrael, and even more so to be able to live there. Even the great Moshe, our greatest Navi ever, could not get in, and could not get Hashem to change His mind on this one topic. Yet we can go there with ease. We have a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous zchus that Eretz Yisrael is so accessible to us. But we have to go in with the proper education and preparation.

Dvarim: the most important lessons

Parshat D'Varim

Moshe reviews the events and lessons that they encountered and experienced in the desert.

Why does he go into great detail when discussing the more recent events, such as the battles they had just fought, which are probably still fresh in their minds, while the more distant events, such as events that they experienced 30 or 40 years ago, events whose details might no longer be so fresh in their minds, those he just mentions briefly. Why? Perhaps more time should be spent reviewing the older, more forgotten events?

Moshe's goal here was not just to review what they had experienced in the desert. Rather it was to teach them the lessons they would be required to glean as they are about to embark on a new life in a new country. The greatest of those lessons was the lesson mentioned in the last few psukim of Parshas D'varim - that they should know when they enter the Land of Israel that Hashem will always be there fighting their battles and protecting them.

That lesson is mostly derived from the more recent events, and therefore those are the ones Moshe dwelled on, for the most part.