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Torah Sparks

VAETCHANAN - SHABBAT NACHAMU
August 4, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 3:23-7:11; Hertz Chumash, p. 755
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 5:1-7:11; Hertz Chumash, p. 765
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26; Hertz Chumash, p. 776

(3:23-29) Moses pleads with God to enter the Promised Land.

(4:1-40) An admonition to follow God's laws to preserve the covenant. If Israel breaks God's law and worships idols, they will be scattered among the nations. However, God will not absolutely abandon them; when they repent, they will return.

(4:41-49) Moses designates three cities of refuge east of the Jordan.

(5:1-30) Historical review of the revelation at Sinai and restatement of the Ten Commandments.

(6:1-3) A warning regarding the observance of the mitzvot.

(6:4-9) The Shema.

(6:10-25) An exhortation to keep the words of the Torah coupled with a reminder of all the good things God has done for his people.

(7:1-11) On the role of Israel and dealing with the idolatry of the surrounding nations.

Theme 1: Ego - Me, Myself and I

I stood between the Lord and you at that time to convey the Lord's words to you, for you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain... (Deut. 5:5)

  1. Rabbi Michael of Zlotzov expounded the verse: "I stand between G-d and you." He said, What stands between you and G-d like a wall is your Ego. This "I", this consciousness of a separate existence, is a wall between you and the Divinity. For the Majesty of G-d rests only upon him who conceives of himself as a speck in the universe. "I" is a word that has proper meaning only in the mouth of G-d. (Chaim Bloch, Priester der Liebe, p. 84, trans. in L. Newman, The Hasidic Anthology; p. 427 #11)
  2. Anavah (humility) is not a value or an attitude to be practiced only on special occasions or for public display. On the contrary, it is a quality of the heart. Its practice flows naturally from a constant awareness that we are "too small for all the kindness and truth" (Gen. 32:11) that are given us every day. We are unworthy of the constantly renewed gift of life, not because we are particularly bad or sinful, but simply because the gift is so overwhelmingly great. Our response to this unearned gift and the many that accompany it should be to live simply and without pretense. We should not use wealth, titles, or lists of accomplishments to hide our essential vulnerability. Living the simple life keeps us close to appreciating the basics: life, health, love, friendship, and the beauty of G-d's Creation. Contact with those less fortunate, especially to those facing death, helps to increase our appreciation of life. "Any good that you do," says one mussar author, "attribute to G-d, Who is working with you. The bad that you do you may claim for yourself." (Arthur Green, "These are the Words"; p. 117)

Discussion Sparks:

We all have an ego and often that ego creates a wall between ourselves and G-d? Why is it important to see ourselves as "merely dust and ashes" rather than being "just a little lower than the angels"? Are we only successful with G-d's help? When we fail, is it because we block out G-d from our life? If we didn't have an ego how do you think our spiritual life would be different?

Theme 2: Free Will

May they always be of such mind, to revere Me and follow all my commandments, that it may go well with them and with their children forever. (Deut. 5:26)

  1. Before a thought is framed in a man's heart, it is known already to G-d. Even before a man is fully formed, his thought is made manifest to G-d. (Genesis Rabbah, Beresheet, 9:3)
  2. Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given; and the world is judged by grace, yet all is according to the amount of the work. (Pirke Avot 3:19)
  3. The chapter contains a verse (5:26) which in time became the proof text for the doctrine of human free will. Moses reports G-d as hoping that Israel would always revere Him and follow His commandments. This obviously implies that G-d does not Know whether or not Israel will do His will, for Israel, like all humanity, is free to obey or not to obey It is the theme first touched upon in the story of The Garden of Eden and of Cain and Abel, and then drawn into question in the Exodus story of Pharaoh whose heart was "hardened" by G-d. But here, in Deuteronomy, the biblical text is unequivocal, for all that G-d can do is hope. He can guide, urge, and even threaten Israel, but He cannot force it to walk the right path. In the realm of nature rigid laws exist that determine the relationship between cause and effect, but no such laws prevail in the ethical realm. (W.G. Plaut Ed.; The Torah A Modern Commentary; p. 1361)

Discussion Sparks:

One of the greatest issues that religion faces is the dilemma between the omniscience of G-d and human free will. Why doesn't "cause and effect" work in the ethical world? How do the Rabbis limit G-d? How do you understand human free will. Are we really free to choose our path? Why would G-d give us this choice? What is wrong with "destiny"?

One of the greatest issues that religion faces is the "tension" between the omniscience of G-d and human free will. Why does this "opposition" create theological problems? How does this play out in the ethical world? How do the Rabbis "limit" G-d?


 
 
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