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Parsha Va'eschanan

08/15/2019 08:40:45 PM

Aug15

Parshas Va’eschanan continues with Moshe’s last lecture, with Moshe reviewing key concepts of Jewish faith and also sprinkling in new laws and insights.  Being the first core mitzvos, the Ten Commandments are revisited in exact detail, and Moshe seems to perfectly replicate what was said at Har Siani.  There are a few variances in Moshe’s review of the Ten Commandments from the way they first appear in Parshas Yisro, each of which warrants explanation.  The Meshech Chochma notes that Moshe adds a few words to both the fourth and fifth commandments, as he says: “Guard the Shabbos, as God commanded you,” and “Honor your parents, as God commanded you.”  Being that God is the obvious source of Moshe’s words, these words seem to be superfluous, and the fact that Moshe only chooses these two commandments to attach God’s command as an imperative only furthers confuses us of the significance of these words. 

 Both Shabbos and Kibud Av have a certain intuitive understanding that is associated with their fulfillment- Shabbos is meant to be a day of rest after a week of work, and Kibud Av is the recognition of what one’s parents did for them and therefore reciprocation in small forms of reimbursement.  While these notions are somewhat universal for our generations, the Dor Hamidbar, who were raised in the paranormal and unearthly desert setting, were perhaps the lone exceptional generation in how they related to the themes of Shabbos and Kibbud Av.  After all, there was no regular work week in the desert to “deserve” a day of rest, and parents weren’t really providing for their children in the classical sense.  The nation as a whole was enveloped in the amazing miracles of God that provided for all their needs, with parents and children equally taking directly from God.  Even the crucial role of transmitting Mesorah, of teaching the precepts of Jewish belief to one’s children, was downplayed for the Dor Hamidbar because they were all equally experiencing the phenomenal miracles together.  For the Dor Hamibar, explains the Mesehch Chochama, it was important that they learn the mitzvos of Shabbos and Kibbud Av with the caveat of “as God commanded you,” because they specifically would have to accept these mitzvos as being somewhat inexplicable to them and yet what God commanded them to do.  Sometimes it is harder to accept that we don’t understand what we think we understand than to accept what we know we cannot understand, and Kibbud Av and Shabbos were therefore specifically testing for the Dor Hamidbar. 

In the beginning of the Parsha, Moshe introduces the inseparable pair of mitzvos of not adding or subtracting to the way mitzvos are meant to be performed.  Addition and subtraction are both representative of Man’s subjective input to the word of God, and the Torah’s disallowance of tampering with mitzvos is a rudimentary credence in Judaism that given that there is so much we cannot understand, one should never think they really grasp what they think they understand.  Every mitzvah has intellectual reasoning and does include room for personal creativity, but each one, despite how intuitive they may seem, also has a “chok” aspect to remain incomprehensible.  The Chazon Ish was known for emphasizing this paradoxical irony within the very study of Torah itself- we are desperately seeking clarity and understanding in the word of God while we also must accept Torah as something beyond our reach with a "chok's" elusive nature.  Almost like trying to solve a mystery that one knows is unsolvable, learning is a process of deciphering the indecipherable and celebrating that process itself.  Interestingly, these themes are only introduced to us in Sefer Devarim through Moshe, because Sefer Devarim is ultimately the “human elements” that we experience in Judaism.  Only a human can teach another human what it means to struggle with performing mitzvos that are inexplicable, and as we inevitably struggle with the way our reasoning tries to dictate our mitzvos, we hear our human teacher Moshe add in our ears, “As God commanded you.”

Tue, November 19 2019 21 Cheshvan 5780