Parashat Va'etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Yitzchak ben Frieda, Irving Gindi A’H.
Parashat Va'etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu
The Maharal teaches, “The Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is Shabbat Nachamu—Shabbat of Solace/Comfort. The entire nation should rejoice and trust in the coming of the redemption.” Rabbi Biderman once said, Shabbat Nachamu is one of the most special Shabbats of the year. On this Shabbat Hashem consoles us and gives us hope for the future.
This Shabbat heralds a new era. The sorrows of the past are over, and now we believe that better times are coming. 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 month of Av is sometimes referred to as Menachem Av—Av of Comfort. The Chatam Sofer explains that the month of Av has two names. Up until Tisha B’Av, it’s called Av, and after Tisha b'Av, it’s called Menachem Av. 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 chatimah tovah—inscribing in the Book of Life from this day on.
Va’etchanan 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 love for His people.
In this week’s parasha, Moshe repeated the Ten Commandments, with a few minor changes. In Parashat Yitro it said, “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 (5:16).”
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. 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 Torah brings us the familiar words, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad—Hear, O Israel, Hashem is Our G-d, Hashem is the One and Only (6:4)!” which we recite three times a day.
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 Twerski’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 chesed. 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 Mashiach, when the world will recognize Hashem as the One and only G-d!
Why do we cover our eyes when we say “Shema Yisrael?” We want to show that we have emunah 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 all 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 in the word Shema and the daled in the word Echad 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—Don’t Covet. As Ibn Ezra asks, 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 renovates 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.
Rav Simchah Zissel explains another antidote to jealousy. 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 more than themselves, 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, 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.
Fear can also drive someone to be jealous of their friend. But when one fears Hashem and has the emunah that everything is given to him by Hashem, he will never ever want what his friend has.
Light Unto the Nations
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.” It’s our responsibility, as Am Yisrael, to follow the mitzvot and to be a source of light for the world to follow, even as it’s shrouded in darkness and immorality.
Rabbi Yoel Gold told a few stories in his video presentation, Illumination, that remind and inspire us to follow in Hashem’s ways and be a light unto the nations. The first story in the video was about the Mensch of Malden Mills.
In December 1995, a boiler exploded in the largest textile factory in the country, the Malden Mills. The entire factory was burned to the ground in a fire so large, that it took an entire week to put out. At the most festive time of the year for thousands of Mr. Feuerstein’s largely Christian workforce, they faced the stress of unemployment, the anxiety over providing for their families, and the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
Mr. Aaron Feuerstein ZT’L, the CEO of the company, a third-generation owner, was about to collect half a billion dollars in insurance for the overnight destruction of his factory. He was faced with a decision: either pocket the money and retire or rebuild the company overseas, saving money on labor, and then pocketing most of the insurance money. Both were great and reasonable options. At 70 years old, it was commonly assumed he would retire.
The next day, Mr. Feuerstein called a press conference to publicly declare his plans. It was televised and many important political figures attended along with the factory employees. Mr. Feuerstein stood up and announced that he would rebuild the factory where it originally stood. Everyone waited in shock, and he continued with an even more stunning proclamation. “All our employees will be paid their full salaries while the factory is rebuilt.” The entire place erupted in applause filled with intense emotion.
Mr. Feuerstein paid tens of millions of dollars in employees’ salaries during this uncertain time. It was covered on the national news. When he was interviewed and asked why he did such an inspiring act of kindness, he quoted Pirke Avot in Hebrew, “Bimkom she’en anashim, hishtadel lehiyot ish—In a place where there’s no humanity, strive to be a human being.”
Mr. Feuerstein was a man of Torah who treated his workers as human beings, not a pair of hands. He did plenty for his employees, as well as the orthodox community in Boston. Sadly, he passed away after Rabbi Yoel Gold’s interview, but he will be remembered for many years as an anav and a man of integrity and chessed.
May we celebrate the joyous and hopeful day of Shabbat Nachamu. May we always always honor our parents. 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 continue to be a light unto the other nations and bring kedushah 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 Mashiach! Amen!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
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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