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

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor shall you subtract from it,
to observe the commandments of Adonai, your God, that I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

In Parashat Va-etchanan, Moses prepares the Israelites to enter the land of Canaan by teaching the laws of the Torah. He begins by repeating the Ten Commandments (with slight variations from the version in Exodus) and presents the Sh’ma (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, God is one.”) as an extension of the first commandment. These are not the only verses in the parasha, or portion, to influence Jewish life.

Immediately after Moses commands the Israelites to follow the Torah exactly (Det. 4:2) he continues, “But, atem had’veikim, you who cling to Adonai your God—you are all alive today.” (Deut. 4:4) This verse is recited when calling up the first person to recite the blessings over the Torah whenever it is read publically. This testifies to its importance.

The verse is challenging: if God has no physical attributes, how do you cling? The Babylonian Talmud identifies Torah scholars as God’s agents in the world; supporting them is clinging to God (Ketubot 111b). Maimonides (1137-1204; the preeminent Spanish medieval Jewish philosopher) makes clinging an elite intellectual activity: the most righteous people constantly think only about God and therefore, come to no harm. Nachmanides (1194 – 1270; 13th century Spanish commentator) adds an egalitarian dimension: simply remembering God’s love all the time keeps you in God’s presence, regardless of what you are doing or who you are with. Chassidic thought reads the verse existentially: since God is the source of life, living is, by definition, clinging to God. Ultimately, Jewish thought settles on striving to emulate God as the most to cling to God. So…done anything Godly this week?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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