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Parashat Va’et-hannan

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Yitzchak Yaakov Ben Meir and Chana Mindel Bat Alazar Halevy A'h by their Son Benjy

Parashat Va’et-hannan

Va’et-hannan is a continuation of Moshe’s speech to B’nei Yisrael that began in parashat Devarim. Moshe began this speech by giving rebuke, though the Ramban explains that the intention was not to put the people down, but rather to show them that even though they deserved the rebuke, Hashem had still blessed them throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert. They were provided with maan, with water, with a guiding pillar of cloud and fire, and with constant Divine protection. In this way Hashem showed His love for the people.

Hashem’s Love

Rabbi Yoel Gold told an amazing story illustrating Hashem’s love for us. Rabbi Mordechai Sultan was experiencing chest pains one night at 3:30 AM. He wasn’t sure if it was indigestion or something more serious. He woke his wife, and they decided to call Hatzalah to be on the safe side. Within 30 seconds of being called, Hatzalah pulled up to the house. They saw he was uncomfortable, so they brought a special Life Pack cardiac monitor and hooked the Rabbi up to it to test him, just in case. As soon as they put the leads on him, right away, his eyes rolled back, and he had a seizure. He was in cardiac arrest. The paramedics began to shock his lifeless body to try and restart his heart. Immediately after the shocks, Rabbi Sultan was awake and lucid.

It was an incredible, miraculous event. Even more so, because Hatzalah normally does not carry the Life Pack on the ambulance. So why did they have it? And why were they so close to Rabbi Sultan’s house at 3:30 in the morning?

The day before, one of the paramedics had gotten a call from his relative, explaining that his child was sick with an advanced heart condition, and he was to be transported to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Hatzalah put together a crew to transport the child, and they prepared the ambulance with advanced life support equipment, like the Life Pack. They dropped him to CHOP successfully, and on their way back in the middle of the night, they missed their exit for Lakewood and wound up in Freehold. It took them 15 extra minutes to get back to Lakewood. They received the call from Rabbi Sultan’s wife at exactly the right moment, when they were two blocks away from his house. They were equipped with the lifesaving Life Pack, and with Hashem’s help, they were able to restart Rabbi Sultan’s heart.

So this is the reason that Moshe had to rebuke B’nei Yisrael. He wanted them to know that no matter what happens in life, through all the trials and tribulations that we go through, we must maintain our emunah that Hashem is always with us, loves us, and only does good for us no matter what we may think.

Honoring Parents

Now in this week’s parasha, Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments, with a few minor changes. In parashat Yitro it says: “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will be lengthened upon the land that Hashem your G-d gave you (20:12).”

In this week’s parasha Moshe said, “Honor your father and your mother, as Hashem, your G-d commanded you, so that your days will be lengthened and so it will be good for you, upon the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.”

Rabbi Frand comments on the added words “as Hashem commanded you.” When B’nei Yisrael first got the Ten Commandments at Har Sinai, they understood that they were obligated to honor their parents because they had just gotten out of Mitzrayim,and had been taken care of by their parents.

But now Moshe was saying the Ten Commandments again forty years later. He was talking to the next generation, that had grown up in the desert. They had been taken care of by Hashem and by Moshe, so they didn’t have to depend as much on their parents. So Moshe added the extra words are a reminder that even if we don’t get anything from our parents, we must always honor them, since they were partners with Hashem to bring us into this world.

The Shema

Towards the end of this week’s parasha, in perek 6 passuk 4, the Torah brings us the familiar words, “Shema Yisrael Amonai Elokenu Amonai Ehad!” which we recite three times a day. “Hear, O Israel: Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only!”

Rambam comments that the importance of reciting the Shema every morning and every night is indicated by the fact that the Torah places it immediately after the Ten Commandments. According to Rav Chasman, as cited in Rabbi Twersky’s book, the Shema is more than just a statement of our personal faith. It is our acceptance of the responsibility to live our lives in a manner that will convince others that Hashem is the One and only G-d. We must be a living example by emulating His middot of hesed. We must sanctify Hashem’s name to the nations and make a kiddush Hashem.

Pirke Avot writes about each Rabbi “hu haya omer… — he used to say…,” and then writes a quote which is the essence of his teachings. The literal translation of “hu haya omer” is “he was said.” In other words, the Rabbi was what he said, he personified his teachings, and he taught by who he was.

Our obligation is not just limited to saying the words of “Shema Yisrael” for ourselves. Rather, we must spread them to our Jewish brethren be a light among the nations. We must continue doing this — as we have throughout history — until we eventually see the coming of the Mashiah, when the world will recognize Hashem as the One and only G-d!

Another question that’s asked is, why do we cover our eyes when we say “Shema Yisrael?” The answer is that we want to show that we have emuna in Hashem. We can’t see when we cover our eyes. This is a sign that even though we can’t see or understand Hashem’s ways, nevertheless we still believe that everything that He does is only good.

With All Your Possessions

The Shema goes on to say: “veahavta et Hashem elokecha be’chol levavcha u’bechol nafshecha u’bechol me’odecha — You shall love Hashem with all your heart, with all your soul, and withme’odecha.”

What does me’odecha mean? The word is hard to translate. The closest root is me’od, or “very;” hence, “with all your might” is a common translation. But the word can also refer to possessions. This means that we must acknowledge that everything we possess comes from Hashem.

We have to thank Hashem for everything He has done for us throughout our lives! Just look back at your life and see the parents and family that Hashem gave you, the opportunities, the house and the business that He gave you, and the community He put you into. Your health, your appearance — all that you possess is from Hashem. And this includes the adversities and the tests that He sent your way to challenge you and to help you grow. Also, look at the rabbis who helped guide you, and the mentors who inspired you throughout your life up until this very day!

In the Torah, the ayin of the word Shema and the daled of the word Ehad are written large. These two letters spell ed, “witness.” By reciting the Shema, the Jew is a witness to Hashem’s Oneness and to His creation of the world!

Lo Tachmod – Don’t Covet

Rabbi Frand reflects on jealousy and its antidote in his book, Rabbi Frand on the Parasha 3.

“And you shall not covet your fellow’s wife, you shall not desire your fellow’s house, his field, his slave, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your fellow (5:18).” Perhaps one of the hardest commandments to understand — let alone fulfill — is Lo Tachmod, not to be jealous. As Ibn Ezra asks (Shemot 20:14), how can the Torah command us not to feel an emotion that comes naturally when someone has something that we would like to have? When the neighbor redoes his house and builds a pool, how can a person be expected not to want to have a pool as well?

Ibn Ezra answers this question through a parable. Imagine a commoner who visits the royal palace. As he is viewing the beautiful grounds, he sees the princess step outside in her royal garments. Though struck by her beauty, does he think for a moment, I want to marry her? Most people wouldn’t entertain that thought for a second. They realize that the king’s daughter is out of their league. People desire something that they can conceivably have, not something that is totally out of reach.

The same should hold true for someone else’s possessions. We should train ourselves to realize that since Hashem gave the pool to the neighbor, it is something that He wants the neighbor to have, not us. As such, it should not be within the realm of our desires. The Ibn Ezra’s approach has become the classical answer to this question, but Rav Simchah Zissel Brodie derives another explanation from a Ramban.

The Ramban cites the following midrash: The Ten Commandments are all repeated in Parashat Kedoshim in some form or another. For instance, the verse, “Ani Hashem Elokechem (Vayikra19:3),” corresponds to the first commandment, and “Velokei maasechah lo ta’asu lachem — and molten gods shall you not make for yourself” corresponds to the second commandment. The parallel to Lo Tachmod, says Ramban cryptically, is “Ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha — Love your fellow as yourself.”

Rav Simchah Zissel explains the correlation between the two. Did you ever hear a father or mother wish that their children would have less material possessions just because they had less when they were at the same stage in life? No. Parents are thrilled when their children have more than they did. Why? Because they love their children as much as they love themselves — if not more — so they are happy when their children can afford anything they want. If we would truly fulfill ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha and love every Jew as we love ourselves, says Rav Simchah Zissel, we wouldn’t feel jealous of them for owning possessions that we cannot afford. We would be happy for them, just as we are happy when our own children have more than we do.

How to Get the Nations’ Respect

Earlier in the parasha, Moshe said, “See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances…. You shall safeguard and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these decrees and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation (4:5–6)!’”

Rashi comments on this, “Only if you remember the laws and perform them perfectly will you be respected by the nations, but if you permit forgetfulness to pervert your proper performance of the commandments, you will be regarded as fools.”

The Torah is not a grab bag from which one may pick and choose. It’s like a blueprint of a complex edifice. Unless every part is constructed according to instructions, the building will collapse. Rabbi Diamond says something similar, that the Torah laws are like a spider web, and you can’t move it even one millimeter because if you try, it will all fall apart!

Rabbi Diamond taught us a Meshesh Hochma from parashat Behukotai that says that Hashem made a decree from the time of Yaakov Avinu, when B’nei Yisrael were sent down to Egypt and we were taught how to survive amongst the gentile nations. From Yaakov we learned to dress differently and have different names. This to protects our identity so that we don’t intermarry and lose our identity as a Jewish nation, as we learn in this week’s parasha in perek 7 passuk 3: “You shall not intermarry with them, for they will cause your child to turn away from Me to worship other Gods.”

In other countries we are bound to feel that we are guests or foreigners, because it’s not our home. As an example, in Germany before the war, many Jews would be Jewish in their homes, but not in public, while the Nazis were proper in public but were monsters on the inside.

When we are more spiritual, Hashem’s Shechina is closer. But when we are not as spiritual, then Hashem’s Shechina — and His protection of B’nei Yisrael — are diminished.

May we accept upon ourselves to use the Shema Yisrael as a reminder of our responsibility to always look to make a kiddush Hashem. May we always remember that everything that Hashem does for us is good, even though we may not understand it at the time. Also, may we realize who we are as a Jewish nation. Our responsibility is to be a light unto the other nations and bringkedusha to the world by following the ways of our holy Torah so that we may sanctify Hashem’s great name forever until the coming of the Mashiah! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

  • Do we make sure to see Hashem’s helping hand when we are going through challenges?

  • Are we aware of our actions in public as to take that opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem?

  • Do we make a conscious effort not to be jealous of our neighbor, since all of our possessions are from Hashem?

Le'Ilui Nishmat....

Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

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