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

“But charge Joshua, and encourage him, and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people,

and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see.”  (Deut. 3:28)

I once heard somebody say, “If you want to know the history of the Jewish people, read the Torah.  If you want to know the beliefs of the Jewish people, read the siddur (prayerbook),” and it stuck with me.  The rabbis often include verses from the Torah in the siddur, though, so the line between the two gets a little blurred.  One such verse in Parashat Va-etchanan is a good example.

 

Parashat Va-etchanan gets a lot of attention because it includes the Ten Commandments (with slight variations from the version in Exodus) and the Sh’ma (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, God is one) as an extension of the first commandment to have only one God.   Earlier in the parasha, though, it states, “Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.” (Deut. 4:39).  This is considered the most complete statement of monotheism in the Bible, because it highlights God’s sovereignty over all realms (Deut. Rabbah 2:28).

 

The rabbis incorporate this verse into the aleinu prayer, said three times daily at the conclusion of every Jewish prayer service.  Aleinu is both an expression of gratitude at being chosen by the one, true God, and a statement of hope that one day, all the world will recognize God’s authority.  By including this verse, the rabbis connect history to belief.  Once you know the source of the verse, reciting the aleinu now takes you from the synagogue to the desert and places you within the Israelite people, listening to Moses share God’s word.

 

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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