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Parashat 07/23/10

Parashat VaEtchanan submitted by Robert Rabinoff

One of the major themes of Jewish thought that is explored in this week’s Parashah is the absolute Unity of Gd.  This is most obviously and explicitly found in the Sh’ma (6:4ff) but it is found elsewhere as well.  In 4:35-9 we read:

You have been shown [through the miracle of the Exodus and the theophany at Mt. Sinai] to know that H” is Gd, and there is nothing besides Him.  From the heaven He caused you to hear His Voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you his great fire, and you heard His words from within the fire.  And because He loved your forefathers, and He chose their descendents after them, and took you Himself [b’fanav] from Egypt by His great power, and drove out peoples greater and more powerful than you from before you, and brought you in to inherit their lands, as on this day.  And you will know today and consider in your heart, that H” is Gd in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is nothing else.

Moshe Rabbeinu brings a beautiful progression of ideas, cycling back to the idea that there is one ultimate Reality, and that is Gd.  From the perspective of human beings, we are on the earth and Gd is in the heavens and there is a separation between us.  But from Gd’s perspective, Gd is Gd on earth as well as in heaven, and in reality, the distinction between heaven and earth does not exist – all is one within Gd’s own essence.

What, after all, can truly demonstrate to us that Gd is One and that there is nothing outside Gd?  To a certain extent, Moshe tells us – we experienced the plagues in Egypt, the Exodus, the splitting of the Sea, and we heard Gd speaking to us from within the heavenly fire that appeared to consume Mt. Sinai.  On the basis of that Moshe asserts (in verse 35) that “H’ is Gd and there is nothing besides Him.”  But ultimately, all these experiences are just that – individual experiences that exist within the world of boundaries, our boundaries, a world of non-Unity that, from our perspective, is separate from Gd.

Only after these experiences have been internalized, pondered, ruminated upon and integrated into our minds and hearts, can we come back to “You will know and consider in your heart …”  In other words, ultimately we must strive for knowledge, an intimate level of internal cognition, that Gd is One, and that we, and all our experiences, are not separate from Gd.  In other words, our individual existence has to transcend its boundaries and unite with Gd’s Oneness to whatever extent is humanly possible, so that our minds and hearts experience Unity directly.  Then we can consider in [our] heart, formulate an intellectual understanding of this experience of Unity, so that it becomes more stabilized within our personality, and, incidentally, so that we can share that experience with others and bring them into that ever-expanding Unity as well.  This last point, as we have discussed in previous parshiyot, is Israel’s historical mission among all mankind.

Finally, established in unity we can proclaim “H’ our Gd, H’ is One [6:4], Blessed be the glorious Name of His Kingdom,” and segue into “You shall love the Lord your Gd.”  Love is the force that binds together the disparate, even the opposite, and what could be more opposite than infinite Creator and His finite creations?  Yet Gd in His infinite goodness gives small, imperfect human beings the opportunity to rise above our limitations and come into a relationship with our infinite Source, through the power of love.  And through our love for Gd, we rise still further to appreciate His Oneness, appreciating it intellectually on a deeper level, feeling it emotionally on a deeper level, experiencing it directly on a deeper level.

Moshe Rabbeinu is clearly speaking from his own deep and intimate relationship with Gd; he is laying out for the nation, for us, a vision of a perfected life, a life of infinity lived within boundaries, a life cradled in the arms of our infinitely powerful, infinitely loving Father/Mother in Heaven.  We have only truly to open ourselves up to it, and it will immediately be ours, as it is said H” is close to all who call to Him, to all who call to Him in Truth. (Ps 145:18).

Pirke Avot, Chapter 4

Mishnah 2

Ben Azzai says, Run to a ‘light’ mitzvah and flee from sin, for one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and one sin leads to another sin.  The recompense for one mitzvah is another mitzvah and the recompense for one sin is another sin.

Ramban tells us that the ultimate purpose of all the mitzvot is to refine and purify the individual, so that he or she can become closer to Gd.  The closer one is to Gd, the more difficult it becomes to do anything contrary to Gd’s Will – both out of “fear” (really awe) of Gd’s Majesty, and out of love of Gd Who has made us what we are and given us everything we need to exist and to serve Him.  Therefore the result of a mitzvah is that our future behaviors are more in line with Gd’s Will – i.e. we perform more mitzvot, we are more sensitive and alert to the manifold opportunities we have to serve Gd and to draw closer to Him.  The opposite of course is the case with sin.  At every moment it is as if we are at a moral crossroads.  One meaning of the word mitzvah is “signpost.”  We should be extremely grateful to Gd that He has put His signposts at each of these crossroads for us!