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

“Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead.” (Deuteronomy 6:8)

Were Pixar to make a movie of the Torah with all the parashot (weekly portions) as characters it would be easy to imagine a scene in which they wonder and complain why Parashat Va-etchanan contains both the Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma. Couldn’t God “spread the wealth” a little more equitably?

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 and is a central building block of Jewish prayer. Commentators through the ages understand the Sh’ma differently, though. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) says the Sh’ma looks to a messianic future. He expands its terse six-words (in Hebrew) to mean, “Here, O, Israel, Adonai [who is now] Eloheinu, our God [but not the God of the other, idol-worshipping nations, will be, in the future] Adonai echad, one [acknowledged as Adonai by all nations].

The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (1809–1879; Hebraist and Biblical commentator) focuses instead on the two names for God in his reading of the Sh’ma. He says Adonai refers to God’s attribute of mercy, which brings favor while Elohim (or Eloheinu as it appears in the Sh’ma) refers to God’s attribute of justice, which brings punishment. Because people love mercy and fear justice other nations imagine different Gods for each and fear one and love the other. The Sh’ma asserts mercy and justice both emerge out of God’s singular nature, are both good, and both represent God’s oneness. The Sh’ma may be one statement, but it contains multiple messages.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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