Hebraic Studies - Parashat Va’etchanan

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Although some minor alterations have been made relating to names and attributes having been corrected.

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Parashat Va’eschanan

Devarim - Deuteronomy Chapter 3 verse 23 to Chapter 7 verse 11.


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

In the “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear, O Israel”) passage that appears in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is recited twice daily in our prayers, very precise instructions are given as to how the text is to be treated.


“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our Elohim, the LORD is ONE.

And thou shalt love the LORD thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”

Devarim 6:4-5

The words in the Torah that is, “these words” must be placed “upon thy heart” (Devarim 6:6), and must be recited and constantly taught:

“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” Devarim - Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version of the Torah).

Compliance with these instructions will guarantee that the text will be preserved, internalized and absorbed into one’s body until it becomes one of its organs. The danger that will befall a person who fails to follow the instructions is described thus:

“Then beware lest thou forget , who brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear  thy Elohim; and him shalt thou serve, and by his name shalt thou swear. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you; for a jealous Elohim, even  thy Elohim, is in the midst of thee; lest the anger of  thy Elohim be kindled against thee, and he destroy thee from off the face of the earth” Devarim 6:12-15 (JPS).

The sages said that, “When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the very impulse to worship false gods vanished from the earth”. I am sorry, but who is kidding who? Paganism has never stopped on the earth, for people around the globe in general would not have heard of our Temple!

But praise Elohim, our blessed Torah and the above verses have been beautifully preserved, and “yetzer hara” - - the evil impulse has sadly not disappeared from humanity; it has simply assumed countless new forms. To keep alive the dialogue conducted with Elohim by means of the Torah’s verses, we must ensure that no man changes anything, for Elohim is extremely strict about us human being tampering with His word, and sadly already far too much tampering has already been done by rabbis of old.

What does Elohim, blessed be He say?

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of  your Elohim which I command you” Devarim - Deuteronomy 4:2 (JPS).

“Ye shall observe to do therefore as  your Elohim hath commanded you; ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the way which  your Elohim hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you,” Devarim - Deuteronomy 5:28-29 (JPS).

“ … thou shalt hearken unto the Commandments of  thy Elohim, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them; and shalt not turn aside from any of the Words which I Command you this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them” Davarim - Deuteronomy 28: 14b-15 (JPS).

The rabbis in the 2nd-5th century had never ending rabbinic debates, and when we check they did not always agreed with each other, and were at times most fiercely opposed with one another, when it came to interpretation. To be honest, nothing has changed, for even today at the Yeshiva it still goes wild, and it often goes out of hand. Not very, godly to say the least! But what the rabbis of old have done is turned Elohim’s blessed 613 Mitzvot into countless thousands of man-made laws, which they have enforced on us as from Elohim, claiming that their 2nd to 5th century rubbish was given as oral law.

The Talmud is a record of the rabbinic debates in the 2nd-5th century on the teachings of the Torah.

Returning to the Shema:

If we focus on the words “and (thou) shalt talk of them,” which, according to the literal reading, refers back to “And these words” and “It is written”, “and (thou) shalt talk of them”; you must make them the principal matter. Your lifestyle, work or business must not be mixed in your thoughts at this time, as you must be wholly engrossed in Elohim, blessed be He!

In Leviticus, Elohim commands Moshe:

“Mine ordinances shall ye do, and My statutes shall ye keep, to walk therein: I am  your Elohim” Vayikra - Leviticus 18:4 (JPS).

The straightforward interpretation of the verse “to walk therein” is: or one must walk in His path and one must obey His commandments. However, when the verse is read in the present context, the word “therein” (literally, “inside them”) becomes more like a geographical description: The reader must “walk” inside the Torah and must avoid walking inside other texts. Readers of the Torah are told to walk, that is of course, to read within their own territory and they are forbidden to forsake it, to depart from the Torah’s words or to set out on a quest for anything outside the Torah’s Law’s and the knowledge it has given us, no matter if a rabbi is trying to tell you something different, for he is not your creator! The Torah must be our absolute textual homeland; for there are no alternatives.

For this reason, the sages add the verse from Proverbs that depicts the Torah, using an image of water: “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy springs be dispersed abroad, and courses of water in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers with thee” (Proverbs 5:15-17). Readers are cautioned to “drink” only from their own well, whose water is intended only for them. In the present context, the term “strangers” refers to alien texts that cannot be attached as secondary items to the Torah or be interpreted by means of it. The rabbinical exegetist walks inside the Torah, finds various connections between distant verses, and creates new knowledge without venturing forth into forbidden external textual territory.

In the sages’ view, the “other” is not the idols that the Torah forbids one to worship, but rather “other knowledge” that cannot be appended to the biblical text, even though it may have a less important status. From a polytheistic world in which a person must choose one god from among a plethora of gods, the sages move to the beit midrash, the hall of religious study, where they must choose one text – the Torah – from among all other “alien” texts.

This process also entails a change in the concepts of reward and punishment. Obviously, Elohim cannot openly punish people who draw a connection to other texts as secondary items to the Torah. After divine revelation disappeared from human reality, the sages came up with an innovation that is related to reward and punishment: the next world. Indeed, the verse from Proverbs cited in the above midrash refers to what will happen to those who observe the Torah’s commandments:

“… keep the commandment of thy father, and forsake not the teaching of thy mother; Bind them continually upon thy heart, tie them about thy neck. When thou walkest, it shall lead thee, when thou liest down, it shall watch over thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” Mishle Shlomo - Proverbs of Solomon 6:20-23 (JPS).

I pray that this study has been a light for you and that the Shema Yisrael will be even more exciting combined with your prayers upon waking, and you’re Morning Prayer, and for men laying Tefillin, etc, will be a blessing and a joy! And of course the day has something for everyone, For most of my days, I have been encouraging for families to light the Shabbat Candles, and Mum’s have your children and the mishpachah take part and see how you home will be so richly blessed!

Be assured saying the Shema Yisrael twice a day, keeping Shabbat, and upholding the Torah will accompany its faithful ones not only today, but it will be with you tomorrow and forever! 

Wishing you a very blessed …

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for  Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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