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Parashat Va-etchanan (Deut. 3:23-7:11)

“Be sure to keep the commandments, decrees, and laws that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you.”
(Deuteronomy 6:17)

Parashat Va-etchanan includes the Ten Commandments (with slight variations from the version in Exodus) and the Sh’ma as an extension of the first commandment to have only one God. The Sh’ma sentence, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, God is one.” (Deut. 6:4) is the essential Jewish declaration of faith. A few verses later, Va-etchanan mandates reciting the Sh’ma, “…when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deut. 6:7). Why is it necessary to recite the Sh’ma twice, daily? Why isn’t once enough?

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine) explains the day has two parts: the nighttime hours, during which we retreat to the privacy of our homes, and daytime hours, during which we engage with the world. By reciting Sh’ma night and day, we declare our faith and acknowledge the values of the Torah guide both our private and public behavior. A coherent life is a morally consistent life.

Kook extends this interpretation to the national level. The people of Israel are both a “…nation who dwells alone” (Num. 23:9) as well as a, “…light unto the nations.” (Is. 42:6). That is why the evening Sh’ma is followed by the blessing emet v’emunah, truth and faith, a reminder to the people to take some “alone time” to recharge its spiritual battery and to preserve its unique spiritual heritage. The morning Sh’ma is followed by the blessing emet v’yatziv, usually translated as true and certain. But yatziv is just the Aramaic word for emet, a reminder influencing the world for good requires translating the Torah’s messages into other languages so the world-at-large will understand.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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