Va’Etchanan part 1

(As previously noted, all my parshot are done with the Etz Hayim used in my original Conservative denomination.)

Most of us are probably at least peripherally aware of this parsha, due to the presence of the Sh’ma and its centrality in the Jewish faith. It also seems central to this parsha as well, according to the URJ, since this week’s portion is entirely an exhortation to Israel to listen to Moses.

We start with Moses telling Israel about being denied entry into the Land of Israel by God – Abraham ibn Ezra says that Moses did it to emphasize the privilege embodied in living there, as it was the one thing God denied him which he truly wanted, while the Midrash tells us that Moses said it to impress upon the Israelites that they ought not to assume God owes anyone an affirmation of their desire through prayer or flattery. Personally, I think this is later emphasized in the attribution that “God does not accept bribes” (Deut. 10:17).

Now, Deuteronomy 4 starts with another command, a command not to add or to take away from what God has commanded (Deut. 4:2). Of course, if some things had not been added or taken away, we would not have modern Judaism as we know it – quite possibly, there may not have even been Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple. The Sages, according to Etz Hayim, opined that this was limited to “quantitative” changes in the law, while extension and clarification did not qualify as “adding” – to me this actually seems like the only way we could survive all this time within the framework of The Law.

Deuteronomy 4:5 gives us an interesting contrast to most of the nations of the world – Samson Raphael Hirsch noted for this passage that the Jews are unique among the nations for having the Law first, and then the land. Indeed, for thousands of years after the end of the Second Temple and expulsion from Jerusalem, we have had Torah and later Talmud to sustain us, so I suppose the question is: what’s the priority?

There are a lot of things to unpack in this parshah, so I will have to continue this later.

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