I dedicate this parsha-post in the merit of Alte Shaina bas Chaya Mushka, Meira Chava bas Shoshana, Pesha Ruchl Leah bas Nechama, and Mordechai Yehoshua ben Menucha Rochel for a blessed and speedy refuah sheleima. Also, for all the singles of Klal Yisroel to find their soulmates, and build a Bayit Ne’eman b’Yisrael swiftly and soon!
This parsha-post is majorly inspired by R’ Jonathan Sacks on his Covenant & Conversation for this past week, “Making Love Last;” and Chassidus talks by R’ Manis Friedman and Mrs. Rivka Kotlarsky.
His passing drawing near and the Jews’ passage over the Jordan into Eretz Yisroel imminent, Moses continues to relay Mishneh Torah, the repetition of G-d’s entire teaching to His children since He saved them from Egypt.
Moses strives to imbue Bnei Yisroel with reinforced feelings of love and awe of G-d. He reminisces the spectacular marriage at Sinai, and exhorts them to cleave to the Torah’s instruction – G-d’s will and wisdom – wherever they go, beginning with their settlement of the rich Promised Land.
Almost forty years had transpired since this new generation’s ancestors received the Torah. These are new times, new opportunities! Moses was concerned that we’d perhaps think, ‘Let’s just toss the yoke of G-d’s kingship from our shoulders; His archaic and tedious mandates belong in a dusty back cranny of our attics! This is my mortal life, and this life is good; why does G-d care about it anyway?’
We’re a stiff-necked people; we’re characterized with distinct vitality and conviction, but are also given to stubbornly retaining our own opinions and plans. Let’s take a moment to shed our armor, lean in and listen closely to Moses’ call: The Torah of truth is eternally relevant for us as Jews, whoever we are, and wherever we may be.
The Jewish people are reminded how cherished they are by G-d: “For what great nation is there that has G-d so near to it, as the Lord our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him? And which great nation is it that has just statutes and ordinances, as this entire Torah, which I set before you this day?” (Devarim 4:7-8) What are the Chukim and Mishpotim, statutes and ordinances? Rashi explains this refers to Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Torah); which, Moses declared, “The Lord commanded me…to teach you…so that you should do them in the land to which you are crossing…”
רַ֡ק הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֩ וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֨ח אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וּפֶן־יָס֨וּרוּ֙ מִלְּבָ֣בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּ֑יךָ וְהֽוֹדַעְתָּ֥ם לְבָנֶ֖יךָ וְלִבְנֵ֥י בָנֶֽיךָ
“Rak hishamer l’cha ushmor nafsh’cha m’od pen-tishkach es-hadvarim asher-ra’u einecha ufen-yasuru milvavcha kol y’mei chayecha v’hodatam l’vanecha v’livnei vanecha.”
“But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children.”
What exactly does this mean, and how can we implement it practically?
I might humbly suggest the following:
In order to uphold Torah and perform Mitzvos properly, it is crucial that we learn their ins-and-outs, their intricacies and generalities – Torah Sheba’al Peh, Halacha (Jewish Law) – striving to become as familiar with them as the back of our hand. It requires meticulous effort in study to achieve such. We are cautioned, “watch yourself very well lest you forget…” The great sage Hillel states in Pirkei Avos: “He who does not increase his knowledge, decreases it;” meaning, if we don’t add in our study and review that which we know, we are at risk of forgetting what knowledge we’ve amassed. When we possess this determination to learn well and practice fittingly, we are regarded as wise and understanding; if we exhibit the opposite, the converse is true… and new doors to improvement are opened to us.
We must be meshamer – on-guard with ourselves, and conscious of G-d in all our ways. When we strive to live in accordance with Halacha’s directives, the numerous details the laws zone in on serve to create a framework of awareness of a Higher Authority throughout our earthly lives, thereby making them Heavenly. It is out of this structure of awe and G-d-consciousness laid down for us that true love is born and devotion can thrive. Keeping Halacha keeps our relationship with our Master flourishing.
In human allegory, picture a spouse who leaves thoughtful notes for his mate around the house, performs little extra-acts of loving-kindness for her, or the like. It is similar in our relationship with G-d in Heaven; we show Him we’re thinking about Him throughout the day, and His desire means so much to us. Does it make sense to me always? Do I think it’s entirely necessary? Maybe not all the time; I have my own mind and opinions and mannerisms; nevertheless, I do it for You, my G-d, my Beloved. I do it for us, for our marriage. If it’s important to You, if it will please You, it’s important to me. Halacha is rooted in Ratzon Ha’Elyon, the Supernal Will of His essence; it comes from such a lofty, perfect place, that it often transcends our limited human comprehension. Still, we do it, with love and with awe. The glamor and dazzle of our wedding at Har Sinai was just the beginning… We reveal that our commitment stands the test of time when we preserve our passion and love through the little things – through our Halacha observance.
(Yet another fascinating teaching that will surely boost the spirit of your Halachic practice: There is a verse in Tehillim that reads, “Hori’u LaHashem Kol Ha’aretz – Sing to Hashem, all the earth! (Tehillim 98:4)” The roshei taivos (first letters of the Hebrew words) form the acronym HaLaCH”A. Quite similar to how a symphony can only function and produce melody with discipline and adherence to certain guidelines, when we interact with one another and our surroundings according to the formula of Jewish Law, it’s as if the entire world is singing praise to Hashem!)
And now, I’d like to discuss the theme of Reb Tevye’s famous song: “Tradition!” The verse of our focus, Devarim 4:9, instructs, “…you shall make them [the things you have seen upon receiving the Torah] known to your children and to your children’s children…” This parsha also includes the famous verse, “ki yisha’alcha bincha machar – if tomorrow your child asks you,” about why we do what we do, we need to have the answers ready and at hand. It is our precious responsibility to teach our children, to pass on the Mesorah (tradition), and continue the chain of the Torah of our people. We are exhorted to give it over with joy and wonder. Let us never allow the beauty of tradition to become cold and rote for those who follow us.
There is a stunning exposition on the verse in Az Yashir (the Song at the Sea), “Zeh Keili V’anveihu; Elokai Avi Va’aromemenhu – This is my G-d and I shall glorify Him; the G-d of my father and I shall exalt Him (Shemos 15:2),” which shows us two levels of how we connect to Hashem through our Yiddishkeit (Judaism): At the splitting of the sea and salvation of the Jewish People at last from Egypt, even the eyes of children were opened with wonder, and they could palpably sense G-d’s direct involvement. They literally pointed, and cried out, “”Zeh Keili – this is my G-d!” In this closeness, they were inspired to passionately glorify Him. The second clause of the verse, “Elokai Avi Va’aromemenhu,” was also joyously sung. However, it carried a different sentiment. When we look at Hashem as simply “Elokai Avi – the G-d of my father” – we are inspired to exalt Him, but we feel distance, for He transcends us totally. He isn’t “my G-d” especially, but the G-d of my father. It was a tradition passed down to me, but how do I feel an intimate connection? Tradition is vital; we would cease to exist as a unique nation without it, but we must strive to make the Torah and heritage our own, with our own feeling and flavor. Let every Mitzvah we perform, and each Halacha we observe be with a sense of Hashem’s presence and caring about what we are doing, until we can exclaim aloud, “Zeh Keili – this is my G-d!“
לֹ֣א אֶת־אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ כָּרַ֥ת יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֑את כִּ֣י אִתָּ֔נוּ אֲנַ֨חְנוּ אֵ֥לֶּה פֹ֛ה הַיּ֖וֹם כֻּלָּ֥נוּ חַיִּֽים
“Lo es-avoseinu karas Hashem es-habris hazos ki itanu anachnu eileh fo hayom kulanu chayim.”
“Not with our forefathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, we, all of whom are here alive today.”
—The Messenger Bird