Skip to content

Parashat VaEtchanan 5780 — 08/01/2020

Parashat VaEtchanan 5780 — 08/01/2020

Shabbat Nachamu — The Sabbath of Consolation

Devarim 3:23 – 7:11

Those of you who cling to Hashem your Gd – alive are you all today (4:4)

The congregation recites this verse after the Cohen is called to the Torah, on Shabbat, Festivals, Rosh Chodesh, fast days and on the regular Monday and Thursday readings. Why is it so significant? Or haChaim has several things to say about it. First, the verse begins with “and,” which serves to connect it to the previous verse, which describes the destruction of those who became attached to the idol Ba’al Pe’or. Why does it say “and” and not “but”?!

Perhaps it can be explained along the lines of what [the Sages], of blessed memory, expounded (Sanhedrin 108a) on the verse (Bereishit 6:8): And Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem: “And Noach – even Noach, who survived from among them [everyone else who died in the Flood] had not been worthy, but he found favor.” Moshe had a similar intent in saying “And” you, too, were fit to be destroyed, but on account of your attachment to Hashem, that is, you drew yourselves close through t’shuvah and attached yourselves to Hashem, with this [merit] you are alive.

Now with regard to Noach, the verse says that he was a righteous man “in his generation.” There is a dispute whether this is positive – he maintained his righteousness in the midst of an all-pervasive depravity all around him, or negative – he was better than his generation, but in a greater generation he would have been nothing special. Or haChaim seems to take the latter view, arguing that had Noach not found favor in Gd’s eyes, presumably because of Gd’s grace rather than his own merits, he was saved. Maybe Gd figured he had to save someone to repopulate the earth, and Noach was the best of a bad lot. His actions after the Flood, becoming “a man of the earth” and getting drunk, would seem to bear out this view.

Noach, however, didn’t have to do anything to be saved. By contrast, Or haChaim emphasizes that it was only through t’shuvah that all the Jews were saved. Now the sin of idolatry is unique in that one is liable for harboring thoughts of idolatry, even if one does not actually worship an idol. (A fleeting thought is not the issue – those are hard or impossible to control. It is entertaining the thought that is the problem, because then it gets rooted in one’s consciousness.) The kind of t’shuvah that will save us from idolatry therefore must be very complete. As we have discussed, t’shuvah means “return,” on one level return to Gd and on another level return to our infinite, universal Self. Repeated t’shuvah of this sort purifies the mind, the heart and the nervous system and actually allows us to “cling” to Gd.

Our Sages discuss the requirement to “cling” to Gd, given that Gd is described as a “consuming fire.” They tell us to cling to the Sages, and through that, we will be clinging to Gd. The Sages, through their actualization of Torah into a way of life that focuses on Gd, rather than the world, lead us in the direction of the transcendent and provide us with the opportunity to return to what we are, without the impurities of creation getting in the way.

Or haChaim goes on to analyze the words “…to Hashem, your Gd.” “To Hashem” in Hebrew is Ba’Hashem, with a prefix “Ba.” “Your Gd” is Elokeichem with a suffix “chem” = “your” (plural). Or haChaim points out that according to Rambam’s codification of Jewish law, there are seven Names of Gd that may not be erased because of their intrinsic holiness. However, a prefix before any of these Names may be erased, as it does not share in the same level of holiness of the Name itself. A suffix, on the other hand, does become holy like the Name, and may not be erased. He continues:

This is something that Moshe intended to convey to [the people] with the statement who cling to Hashem, meaning: Since this Name that is unique to Hashem [the Tetragrammaton] has no letter than can be attached and joined to it as a suffix, but only as a prefix … and these letters have no sanctity and it is therefore permitted to erase them, it would follow that the attachment of the Jewish people to Hashem is in a manner which is not sanctified by the Name. Therefore he concluded his statement with the word Elokeichem (“your Gd”) meaning that this attachment with which you cling to Hashem is not like the attachment of the letters that precede [a Name], rather like the letters that follow, which are like the chem at the end of Elokeichem, that are sacred like the other letters of the Name.

I think Or haChaim is describing two different levels of “clinging” to Hashem, perhaps parallel to the two lower levels of the 3 levels of prophecy that he described in parashat BeHa’alot’cha. The lowest level was that of ordinary prophets, who got a vision of the Divine, the transcendent, but “through a glass darkly,” through the medium of their individual imaginative faculty. Perhaps this corresponds to the “prefix” level of attachment, where there is certainly attachment to Gd, but there is still some barrier as it were, to the full value of Gd’s light and sanctity to take over the individual.

The middle level of prophecy is Moshe’s level, where the experience and perception of the transcendent and its process of manifestation are crystal-clear. Maybe this is parallel to the closer “clinging” of Elokeichem, where the barriers are almost non-existent, and Gd’s light shines clearly into the individual. Interestingly, Moshe puts this in the plural – although no prophet can match Moshe’s level of prophecy on his own, perhaps there is some power in the group consciousness that can buoy the top people up closer to that level.

The highest level of prophecy is described as complete fusion with Gd, and no human being with a body and an individuality is capable of this. We don’t even have prophets any more, and haven’t for over 2000 years. But if we can harness the power of our individual and collective t’shuvah, we can surely cling close enough to Gd to sanctify the entire world we live in.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Va’Etchanan

“Play nice; don’t fight”. Momma may have said this to us and our playmates when we were children:

Moses reviews the events since leaving Egypt, including the Ten Commandments/Statements/Utterances, which tell us in detail that we should play nice with Gd, not fight Gd; we should not fight our parents; we should not fight truth; we should play nice with our spouses, with everyone. In many different ways Gd declares in the 10 Commandments that we should cherish Gd above all and we should cherish every aspect of life as an expression of Gd, respect all and live in honor and in peace. When we play nice in this way, we stay together, we live as members of a community, of a nation, moving together along a sacred path.

When we play nice, Gd appears to us and leads us so that trouble does not approach us but we are guided into the good land, the Good Land, the land of our soul in which we directly experience that Gd is Gd, there is no other and the physical land wherever we are is Holy, the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a holy people to the Lrd, your Gd; the Lrd, your Gd, has chosen you to be His treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the Earth”. (translation,

What qualities do we as the Jewish people have that make us holy that Gd loves us particularly and protects us?

The answer to this may lie with the qualities that Moses had, the qualities that enabled him to be in Gd’s presence and living though our ancestors were afraid they would die if they even heard one word more of Gd’s voice than they heard when He gave the 10 Statements/Utterances/Commandments at Mt Sinai.

What qualities were those? Do we as Jews have them specially? Are we Jewish if we don’t have them? Is anyone who has them holy and treasured by Gd whether they are Jewish or not? How can we get these qualities of holiness if we don’t have them? Increase them if we do?

Torah tells us that Moses was the humblest man there was: and humility means he was completely open to Gd; though Gd preserved Moses’ personality, Moses used it entirely to serve Gd, even though this sometimes meant challenging Gd. It also meant that he was aware that everything he did, every thought he had, was Gd acting through him, thinking within him.

This openness and awareness meant Moses could be in Gd’s Presence without fear.

This openness meant he was open to the Holiness that is Gd and therefore, he experienced himself as holy, treasured, special.

This quality our ancestors also had some of, enough to be special enough to deserve special attention.

Would we say today that the mere fact of being born Jewish, raised Jewish, converted to Judaism makes us holy, treasured, special? Some would, I don’t.

In our community of Fairfield we have people of many religions, and many who are not much observant of the details of their religion but we have a community that is extraordinarily friendly: “love thy neighbor as thyself, thy Self” is very much the reality of our community. Perhaps from Gd’s point of view, we Jews are a little more loving, a little more friendly, humble, open than others in our community but my perception is not fine enough to say this is so or not so.

I do feel that our religion is a good source of guidance to grow in holiness, friendliness, love of Gd above all, love of our neighbor as our Self.

These qualities we can continue to grow in by doing our best to follow the guidance of Torah, the Rabbis, and the Righteous, the Tzaddakim; our parents, our family, our elders, our teachers, our friends: as we grow in respect and humility, in love and in the desire to serve Gd and our neighbors, we lose any fear that might cause us to put obstacles between us and Gd’s Presence and we lose any fear that would cause us to put distance between ourselves and our neighbors we become open for Gd to reveal Gd’s Oneness within us, and we become “We” and we become One. We play nice: we don’t fight.

Lovely! Let us keep acting this way, growing this way, and experience Fulfillment, Holiness we can live and share with everyone.

Baruch HaShem