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Parashat Va’et-hannan

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Aunt Amy Yakoel A’h by Freddie Moyal

Parashat Va’et-hannan

The following is from Rabbi Biderman’s Nachamu

נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלקיכם,

"Console, console, My nation, says your G-d."

This Shabbat is one of the most special Shabbat of the year. On this Shabbat, Hashem consoles us and gives us hope for the future.

There's an ancient Sefer called Minhag Tov, which writes, "It is a custom not to take a haircut before Erev Shabbat Nachamu, but on this Friday, one must take a haircut. One should be joyous and greet the Shabbat in good spirits."

The Maharil teaches, "The Shabbat after Tisha b'Av is Shabbat Nachamu. The entire nation should rejoice and trust in the coming of the redemption."

This Shabbat heralds a new era. The sorrows of the past are over, and now we believe that better times are coming is written in יאמר אלקיכם the future tense. This implies that in each generation, Hashem consoles for the issues and hardships that people deal with. It’s not about the past. Every year, no matter what we are going through, Hashem tells us to be heartened and be consoled, for better days are coming.

The Gemara (end of Taanit) tells us that the happiest days of the year are Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av. The Gemara gives several explanations why this day is joyous – but who celebrates it? Why was the joy of this holiday almost forgotten? It seems that the answer to this question is found in the Ritvah (end of Taanit). The Ritvah writes, "There weren't Yomim Tovim for Yisrael like Yom Kippur and the fifteenth of Av... and therefore they have the custom to make a meal on Shabbat after Tisha b'Av." So, Shabbat Nachamu is when we celebrate the fifteenth of Av.

The month of Av is called Menachem Av. The Chatam Sofer (Parshat Masay) explains that the month of Av has two names. Up until Tisha b'Av, it’s called Av; after Tisha b'Av, it’s called Menachem. When the Chatam Sofer wrote a letter after Tisha b'Av, he would date it "The month of Menachem." The month acquires a new name after Tisha b'Av because we are no longer in mourning. In a certain sense, the High Holy Days begin now. Some tzaddikim would start wishing their כתיבה וחתימה טובה from this day on.

Parashat Va’et-Hannan - Honoring Parents…

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.

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 with me’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 (Vayikra 19:3),” 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.

Klausenberger Rebbe Story

Taken from the book “The Klausenberger Rebbe: The War Years”

In 1983, while speaking to this student of Bet Chana in Williamsburg, the Rebbe told, in details, the following personal experience:

“In the camps, we were forced to sleep on the floor. Forty-two people were stuffed into a small room, and within two weeks only I and one other person were left alive. The other forty had died from starvation and disease. This other man, who came from Budapest, and I slept on the ground, enveloped in darkness and surrounded by insects and rodents.

“ ‘Are you Jewish?’ I asked my companion.

“ ‘Of course! Why else would I be here?’ he answered.

“ ‘Who are you?’ I probed.

“ ‘I am the president of the National Bank of Hungary.’ This was the most important finance position in Hungary; it meant that this man’s picture appeared on all Hungarian currency.

“ ‘I asked again, ‘Are you Jewish?’

“This time he answered, ‘No.’

“ ‘Didn’t you just say that you were?’ I queried in surprise.

“ The man quickly explained himself: ‘I converted to Christianity!’ Clearly he had abandoned the faith of his ancestors in order to move up society’s ladder.

“It was impossible to fall asleep, so I continued the conversation, gazing pityingly at him. ‘Are you married?’

“ ‘Yes, but my wife is a Christian,’ he answered.

“ ‘And she did not join you here?’ I asked with mild astonishment.

“Angrily, the man responded, ‘How could you even think of such a thing? Why should she have come here? To suffer as much as I am?’

“Innocently, I responded, ‘I do not understand. Doesn’t a good devoted wife follow her husband wherever he goes, even to Gehinnom if necessary? Would a good wife leave her husband alone in this state?’ Without pausing for breath, I continued, ‘Tell me, did you live well?’

“ ‘What kind of a question is that? In the thirty years we lived together, I bought her the best of everything. I gave her all the good in the world!’

“ ‘If so, I am really shocked,’ I said. ‘How is it possible that you treated your wife so well for thirty years, and she is only willing to share the good times with you? In hard times like this, she leaves you to deal with it alone?’

“We stopped talking then. The night passed and in the morning we were called to work again. The next night, I struck up a conversation again. ‘Tell me, did you accomplish important things for the Hungarian government?’

“ ‘Certainly,’ the former banker responded. ‘When I was hired to manage the National Bank, the economy was very depressed. The forint’s value had gone way down. With one thousand forints you could hardly buy anything. I made it into a real currency, a strong currency. Hungary became prosperous, thanks to my hard work, and it began to trade with the whole world. I accomplished great things in the fields of finance and business. You never heard of me?’

“I shrugged my shoulders apologetically. ‘I am not involved in such matters. I am not a businessman or a banker.’

“The banker asked in surprise, ‘You really mean you don’t know who I am and what I was? To this very day you won’t find a single gentile in Hungary who doesn’t recognize my name.’

“Then how is it that you were sent here, and the Hungarian nation did not protest? After all you did so much for them. How could a person as important and as accomplished as you be run out of the country and into a concentration camp without any legitimate reason?’

“ ‘Why are you provoking me so much?’ the banker exploded. ‘Perhaps you can tell me why you are imprisoned here?’

“ ‘I am just a poor rabbi,’ I answered. ‘I never did anything for a gentile. I never even gave one of them a glass of water. They hate me. But you did so many good things for them. How can they hate you? I would expect them to carry you on their shoulders, not send you to a concentration camp.’

“ ‘Well, as you can see they did not carry me on their shoulders.’

“ ‘I simply cannot understand it. After all, you converted to Catholicism and became a complete non-Jew in order to be like them and to be accepted by them – and they ignored it all.’ As aside, I asked, ‘What about your children? What do they do?’

“ ‘My children? One is a doctor, the other a lawyer, and the third a successful businessman.’

“ ‘Did you also provide for them?’

“ ‘Of course!’ the banker answered. ‘I sent them to the best schools so that they would be well educated.’

“ ‘And why did your children not come after you?’ I pressed. Even when a person dies his children follow the casket to the cemetery. Your children have left you to be exiled in shame…. They didn’t follow you to the border. Not a single one has come here to see where their father is and what is happening to him.’

“ ‘You are hurting me very much with your worlds. You want to annoy me.’

“ ‘I don’t want to annoy you, God forbid I just want to understand how bitter your situation is.’

“We continued talking until late at night. My words began to penetrate the assimilated banker, for on the third night, he initiated the conversation. ‘You know, Rabbi, I’ve been thinking about your words all day… I have come to the conclusion that you are right!’ He expressed genuine regret for having converted, for having married a non-Jewish woman, even for spoiling his children so much. The banker saw clearly that absolutely nothing from his pathetic life remained with him. ‘I made a mistake,’ he cried in a choked voice. ‘I made a terrible mistake with my life.’

‘On the fourth night, the banker was no longer among the living. I was grateful for the opportunity that had been sent my way. He had at least done teshuvah and regretted his deeds a day before his death.”

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 bring kedusha 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?

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