The Importance of National Revelation and the Shema
V'etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11 )
They had worked on it for over a year, putting all of their fictional writing talents into this masterpiece. How many screenplays and television scripts would be based on the rich imagination of these authors known as X and Y?
Yes, they had created the story of the Bible. Now they had to market it.
X and Y approached the natives with their epic book. "Welcome! Welcome!" They were greeted by hosts dressed in loincloths and beads. The visitors said, "We have wonderful news for you. You no longer have to be afraid of the spirits of your ancestors or appease your vicious gods with human sacrifice anymore. This is your Bible. All of these events happened to your ancestors 1,000 years ago. You are the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You are the people of Moses! Read all about it in the book. You will be proud of the wonderful deeds your ancestors accomplished, and awed by the many miracles the Almighty performed for them."
The authors continued: "But there is only one catch. There are 613 Mitzvot to perform. Alright, many do not apply today, but you will surely see how keeping Kosher, Shabbat, and Yom Kippur will enrich your spiritual lives and family structures, when you get used to them! And by the way, just in case the next tribe down the block doesn't like your new religion, you are obligated to give your lives for it! But isn't that a lot better then being cannibals and head hunters?!"
The natives were a bit bewildered by the proposition. "Do you mind if we read the book first?" they inquired.
"Of course not" replied X and Y. "But don't forget that 1,000 years is a long time."
After reading the stories of the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Sea, and the revelation at Sinai, the natives actually became very excited about being the "Jewish people."
"Just a minute, do you mind if we ask our elders a few questions first?" This was the test of truth! Obviously, the elders had no clue of what they were talking about, and needless to say, the tribe did not reject all their previous traditions and were not about to adopt a new, very difficult lifestyle just because someone presented them with a book, which they had no traditions to verify!
The point is that the only way any nation could ever accept such a book and such obligations is if they had their own oral traditions that verified the claims of the book.
At no point could any "authors" fool an entire people into believing in a Bible that was invented by man.
Parshat V'Etchanan is a continuation of the history lesson Moses began last week. He challenges the people to study history, anthropology, comparative religion, etc. and find another faith that claims anything remotely comparable to the claims of the Jews. The Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Sea, and the revelation at Sinai where an entire nation (numbering in the millions) became prophets and "heard the Almighty speak and they lived" (Deut. 4:33). (As opposed to the tradition of the Sykes that a large number of people received a revelation - but they all unfortunately died!) Plus a 40-year trek in the desolate wilderness with unbelievable miracles occurring constantly for the entire Jewish nation.
To oversimplify for a moment, the alternative to believing in a consistent tradition handed down from generation to generation, is the absurd suggestion that at some specific time in history the Jewish people all got together and unanimously conspired to have a Passover Seder to commemorate an event that never occurred! Imagine:
"Children, come sit around the table and have some Matzah."
"But Daddy, why is this night different than all other nights?"
"Because God took us out of Egypt."
"Then how come we didn't eat Matzah last year? How come grandfather never ate Matzah?"
The absurdity of this scenario is proof of the historical verification of the Torah.
Moses describes his anguish as he continuously beseeches God to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The Talmud asks why Moses wanted to enter the land so much? Was it the fruits (Jaffa oranges!) that he desired?
No. Moses longed to fulfill the Mitzvot that can only be performed in the Land of Israel.
ONLY THE BEGINNING
"You have begun to show me Your greatness," said Moses to God. The greatest prophet who ever lived, and who was taught the entire Torah by the Almighty Himself, at the age of 120 said to God, "You have only begun the teaching process."
This applies to all wisdom. With each new discovery, scientists see how little they know. One great sage compared his lifetime accomplishment of mastering the entire Torah, to a little dog running up to the beach and sipping a gulp of sea water. That is the proportion this sage took from the Torah! However, we should never be discouraged. The Sages teach us, "You are not required to finish it all, but neither are you free to neglect your Torah study." (Talmud - Avot)
SEEKING CLOSENESS TO GOD
Philosophers throughout the ages have debated the idea of "Deveikut," the ability to bond to the Almighty. One school claimed it was impossible to cling to God in this physical existence, and only after death is it possible to do so. Another opinion was that even in this world, certain, very spiritual individuals have the potential of clinging to the Infinite. The third school went even further, claiming that it is possible for everyone to cling to God, but that it takes many years of intense meditation and effort.
The Torah surprises us by disagreeing with all three opinions. It says, "And you who cling to the Lord God are alive" (not only after death) ... "all of you" (not only certain individuals) ... "today" (not only after years of effort)! (Deut. 4:4)
MITZVOT IN THE LAND
Moses repeatedly stresses a very important theme: the purpose of the Land of Israel. In the 1950's, the Yemenite Jews who arrived in Israel via operation "Magic Carpet" were almost all religious. The secularists saw this as a social and political threat, and made an effort to secularize them, as is well documented. Their position was that although Jewish symbols were needed to maintain a Jewish identity in Yemen, in the Israeli homeland they are unnecessary.
Contrast this with Moses who stressed how the purpose of the land is to provide the ideal place to fulfill Mitzvot.
It has been said that someone who lives a Torah life in the Diaspora is like an egg without its shell. He still has the yolk and the white, but it is not complete without the shell. A Torah life in Israel is completion, the egg with the shell.
Israel without Torah, however, is like a shell without the egg!
THIS IS YOUR WISDOM
Moses proclaims (Deut. 4:6) that the nations of the world will appreciate the wisdom of the Jewish people and recognize its Divine source. This is the greatness of our nation. When Jews deny their Jewishness, it brings on the disdain of non-Jews. Germany, which had widespread assimilation, saw the greatest outburst of anti-Semitism in history.
When a Jewish boy goes to public school on Yom Kippur, his non-Jewish friends do not respect him for it. When Sandy Koufax refused to play in the World Series on Yom Kippur, he was admired for his principles.
THE IRON FURNACE
The Torah compares the Jews' slavery in Egypt to an "iron furnace" used for refining gold. The tremendous heat of the furnace purifies the metal from imperfections and we are left with pure gold. So did the Egyptian bondage make the Jew, in his deepest subconscious, sensitive to the suffering of all mankind. When the boat people of Cambodia had nowhere to go, former Prime Minister Menachem Begin said, "Let them come to Israel. We understand the feeling when no one wants you!"
Moses predicts that as time passes, the people will deteriorate and start worshiping idols. This will cause them to be exiled, and they will always be the minority in the lands in which they find themselves. They will worship wood and stone (possibly a reference to the wooden cross and the Mecca stone, symbols of religions that forcibly converted Jews). However, eventually the Jews will repent and return to God. This reads like a contemporary history of the Jews before the events happened.
THE CLAIM IS THE PROOF
The Torah challenges us to find another faith that even makes the claim of a "National Divine Revelation." Considering that many main concepts of Christianity and Islam were borrowed from Judaism (including "love your neighbor"), it seems strange that the most fundamental concept - national revelation - was not adopted. Why don't other religions even claim that the Divine addressed their great prophets in the presence of the masses?
The answer is that no one can base a religion on an obviously false claim. Only the Jews claim revelation to the masses, because only they have the historical tradition to back it up!
Moses reviewed the events leading up to the Revelation on Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments (see Parshat Yitro), stressing the fact that he is addressing those who are about to enter the land. The Ten Commandments can be seen as general principles which encompasses the rest of the 603 commandments. (Rav Saadya Gaon)
"Honor your parents as I have commanded you" - but not if they contradict the Torah. In Exodus it does not say this, because the Jews had not yet received the Torah.
"Do not covet your friend's field." This was not mentioned in Exodus, because the Jewish people had no fields yet.
Moses proclaims the six words that have remained on the lips of the Jewish people for all generations.
Twice a day, Jews recite the Shema, and at bedtime every Jewish mother puts her child's little hand on his eyes and recites with him the Shema. Jews live with the Shema and die with the Shema! Jews gassed in Auschwitz screamed the Shema before dying, according to the testimony of a member of the Sondercommand who removed gold teeth from the corpses and who witnessed hundreds of gassings.
Here is a simplified explanation of the Shema:
"Hear O Israel" - I hereby unite with the Jewish people in spirit.
"God is our Lord" - the Master of the entire world, He is the Lord of the Jewish people, and the Master of all power.
"God is One" - the Master of all is unique in heaven above, on the earth below, and in all four corners of the earth. In the future, all will recognize His Oneness.
I accept upon myself the kingdom of God, and accept upon myself His yoke (even if I don't feel like keeping it today), ready even to give my life for the Oneness of God!
Question: We are commanded to "Love God your Lord"? How can one be commanded to have an emotion?
Answer: Focus on the things that bring you to the emotion. By meditating on the positive things we have received from God, this brings us to love.
"With all your heart" - all your desires should be directed to God.
"With all your soul" - be ready to sacrifice your life for God, if necessary.
"With all your might" - all of your money and resources are from God, and dedicated to Him.
For most people, money is not worth risking their life for. Others will risk their life to make a buck or receive fame. ("Your money or your life?" "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!)
How does one go about loving God? "May these words of Torah be on your heart." By focusing on the Torah, we recognize the greatness of God and come to love Him.
"Teach them to your children" - this tells us to teach what is really important in life: closeness to the Almighty!
"Speak in them constantly" - constant Torah study brings a Jew to an intimate relation with God.
"Put on Tefillin and have a Mezuzah on your doorpost" - keeping these Mitzvot connects us to the Almighty forever.
A discussion of the Shema is continued in next week's Parsha...