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Va'etchanan (and I pleaded)

Deuteronomy 3:23 to 7:11, Isaiah 40:1-26


The Haftorah for this Parasha includes Isaiah 52:7, which we often sing as "Ma Navu". This verse, as well as Isaiah 60:1, are two important instances of besorah (good news) in the Tenach.

Verse 4:34, oddly, contains every letter of the aleph-bet.

Verse 4:39 says God is unique: "there is no other" (Ein od). "Ein od" appears only six times in the Tenach. Where else is this phrase?

In the first telling of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), Shabbat is linked to creation and its separateness is emphasized. The verb zachar (remember) is used. In the second telling of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5), Shabbat is linked to the Exodus and resting from work is emphasized. The verb shamar (keep/obey/guard) is used.

Og's spirit is described as hardened in verse 2:30, the only such incident in scripture.

Considering how significant the Ten Commandments are, it is surprising how ambiguosly the phrase "Ten Commandments" (actually "Ten Words") is used. We know from Deuteronomy 4:12-13 and 5:19(22) that the usual interpretation of what constitutes the Ten Commandments is correct. Also, Deuteronomy 10:4 assures us that the second set of tablets had the same inscription as the first. But Exodus 34:27-28 makes it sound like the content of 34:10-26 is the "Ten Commandments".

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Tradition holds that God interrupted Moshe's prayer (3:23-4:26) because if Moshe had completed it, or even said na (please) a second time, God would have caved in and done what Moshe asked.

Rashi comments that Moshe, in this prayer, models how a tzaddik petitions by extolling God and asking for a free, undeserved gift instead of trying to use his own good deeds as bargaining leverage.

The G'ro relates a humorous story to connect "do not add to the things I tell you today" (4:2) and the event at Pe'or (4:3). Consider, he said, that the idol worship began with the intention to shame that idol; some Israelites decided to defecate upon it. However, that was the accepted way of worshipping that idol, and so by attempting to add to Torah (i.e. "mock idols" as well as "destroy them") they erred and became guilty of idolatry. Beware of adding to Torah, even with good intentions!

Rashi comments that "adding" or "subtracting" from the commandments cannot be about appending or removing entire commandments from Torah, for in thls case "subtracting" is simply violating a commandment which of course is forbidden. Rather, we are here told not to modify commandments: for example include extra or fewer plants in the lulav. In other words, fulfilling a commandment partially has no merit.

The sages that wrote the Oral Law saw their work not as "adding commandments" but as "expanding existing commandments". As Haviva Ner-David explains, "When we create Oral Law, we are not changing God's perfect, timeless Torah; we are delving deeper into the essence of the Torah, uncovering layers of meaning."

In verse 4:28 idols are called simply 'gods' instead of 'other gods' (elohim acheirim) as usual. The traditional interpretation is that the Jews in Babylonian exile were only pretending to serve idols, because the were forced to do so. In their hearts they had repented of idolatry and longed for God, as verse 4:29 explains.

In verse 4:29 the phrases "you (plural) shall seek Adonai and you (singular) shall find him" teach that each individval needs earnest seeking to find God; being in the company of earnest seekers is not enough.

The Torah says "And this is the Torah..." (4:44) immediately after discussing the cities of sanctuary to show that the Torah itself is a sanctuary that protect those who study her.

Verse 5:13 says that for six days of the week we labor (avoda) and do work (melacha). These are different concepts. On Shabbat we are prohibited to do work (melacha) but are still expected to treat our worship and spiritual time as labor—as having focused exertion.

According to the Tz'enah Ur'enah the first five of the Ten Commandments are about relating to God and the second five are about relating to people. To accomplish this categorization, the fifth commandment about honoring parents is described as predominantly concerning "let your parents teach you Torah" rather than "do everything your parents ever ask".

In the Torah, the Shema has two extra large letters: the ayin of Shema and the daled of echad. These form the word "witness", for when we say the Shema we are witnessing to God's nature.

The phrase "with all your heart" (6:5) is interpreted to refer to both the yetzer tov and the yetzer ra (good and evil inclinations). A tzaddik has put the latter in submission to the former, so fleshly pleasures such as eating and napping are done in ways that glorify God (i.e., for selfless reasons). A wicked person has allowed the former to be subjected by the latter, so even charity and prayer are only done for selfish reasons. We all begin on neutral ground but move towards one extreme.

In verse 6:11 the phrase "houses full of all sorts of good things" is traditionally interpreted to mean that the commands of kashrut had less priority than the command of conquering the land and enjoying its bounty. Chazal and Rambam discuss whether, during the conquest of the land, pork should be saved until there was nothing else to eat, to minimize the displayed desire to violate kashrut, or if it could be eaten promptly, to maximize the displayed desire to enjoy the land's bounty.

The G'ro compares 6:24 and 6:25 and concludes the latter better belongs with chapter 7. Verse 24 concludes what to tell a child: obedience brings divine rewards. Verse 25 speaks to adults: obedience has its own merit, as loving faithfulness in reply to God's undeserved loving faithfulness (7:8-9).

Jeffrey Feinberg notes the usages of d'varim and rav lachem/rav lach in this and the previous Parasha.