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

“Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan,
that good hill country, and the Lebanon.” (Deuteronomy 3:23)

Last week, Moses reminds the Israelites to follow God’s military orders to conquer the land. This week, in Parashat Va-etchanan, Moses reminds them to follow God’s laws to live in the land. Va-etchanan includes the Sh’ma (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, God is one) as well as the Ten Commandments (with slight variations from the version in Exodus), making it the summer’s blockbuster.

Moses tells the Israelites, “And this is the instruction—the laws and the rules—asher tziva adonai eloheichem etchem … , that the Lord your God has commanded you…” He continues in the next verse, “L’maa-an tira … , So that you, your children, and your children’s children may revere the Lord your God…” (Deut. 6:1-2) In the first verse, Moses uses etchem, the plural you. In the second verse, he uses tira, which is in the singular. This small grammatical shift signals a profound message.

The Israelites are a diverse multiplicity of people, yet observance of the Torah unifies them as a whole. The ability to be whole, though, relies upon the willingness of each individual to accept and enact the Torah’s laws. This is the essence of the principle kol yisrael areiveim zeh bazeh, all Israel is responsible for one another (Babylonian Talmud Shevuot 39a). So Moses speaks both to the entire people and to each individual person.

Va-etchanan addresses spiritual and moral truths, but the idea the wellbeing of the group is in the hands of the individual is an apt message for the present pandemic moment. If we all are in it together, each individual contribution affects the shared outcome.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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