Parashat Vaetchanan: From the Most Spiritual to the Most Down-to-Earth

[Tal Chermon]

The central theme of this week's Parashah is the Torah. "For which is a great Nation that has a G-d so close to it" (Devarim 4:7). Mankind's greatness and uniqueness lies in being created in the image of G-d. A person’s goal in life is to become close to his Source. We, the Nation of Israel, are a "great Nation" because of our connection to the Master of the Universe.
There are two main channels through which Man establishes a connection with his G-d - Torah and prayer: "For what nation is there so great, that has such righteous statutes and laws as this Torah" (ibid. 4:8). "For which is a great Nation that has a G-d so close to it, as Hashem our G-d is to us whenever we call out to Him" (ibid. 4:7). Nevertheless, it is a mistake to think that we should "Hear G-d answer us" when we pray to him. We turn to G-d in prayer, but He speaks to us through the Torah. We heard G-d's voice on Mount Sinai, but were unable to sustain such a high spiritual level for long. Most of the Ten Commandments were transmitted to us through Moshe Rabbenu (Shemot 20:15-18). Since then, in every generation, there are Torah scholars who continue what Moshe Rabbenu began (see Chulin 93a and Shabbat 101b).
The Torah is the soul of the Nation of Israel. Through the Torah, all the Divine attributes embedded in the soul of the Jewish People find concrete expression in daily life. Its core is the Ten Commandments which are repeated in our Parashah (see Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 13:16 and others). This leads into the "heart" of Parashat Vaetchanan - the first paragraph of the Shema. It contains all the elements of Jewish life, step by step, in a most wonderful order.
- Faith: "Hear O Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One" (Devarim 6:4). Monotheism is the basis of our faith, and this means that the world is to G-d as a dream is to the dreamer. It has no independent existence whatsoever (see Rambam, beginning of Mishneh Torah, Tanya - Sha'ar Ha-Yichud, Nefesh Ha-Chaim 3:11, Orot Ha-Kodesh 391).
- Acceptance of G-d's Rule: It is G-d's will that we be His partners in this world by crowning Him as our King - Only on Yom Kippur, when we are like angels and fully accept the Yoke of Heaven, do we say aloud, "Blessed Be the Name of His Glorious Kingdom Forever and Ever" (from the siddur).
- Love: When there is faith, there is love. "And you shall love Hashem your G-d." (ibid. v. 5). True love of G-d, just as love between friends, is a deep feeling based on appreciation and understanding.
- Study: The way to achieve faith, knowledge, and love is through study: "And these words shall be in your heart" (ibid. v. 6). Faith and love motivate one to study, and through study, faith and love are perfected.
- Heartfelt study: "in your heart": Emotion and intellect must work together.
- "And you shall teach them to your children" (ibid. v. 7): Continuity of this faith, knowledge and love from one generation to the next. This is the foundation of the Jewish People and the focus of all parenting.
- Actualization: This faith, knowledge, love, and education must be implemented in all aspects of our life. Since it is the ‘arm’ which embodies physical action, "you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm" (ibid. v. 8).
- Attitude: Not only are our external actions guided by the Torah, but also ourattitudes and how we look at things: "And they shall be as frontlets between your eyes" (ibid.).
- Family: The Shema is one of the Parshiyot of the Mezuzah - "On the doorposts of your house" (ibid. v. 9), and guides our family life.
- Civic life: "And on your gates" (ibid.) - "including the gates of your courtyards, cities, and states" (Rashi, op. cit.). G-d's word is our guide in our civic and political life, no less than in our private lives. It must be inscribed upon the entrance to the state.
Thus the delineation of our life's goals begins with faith in G-d and ends with a sovereign state. The Shema proceeds from the most spiritual to the most down-to-earth. This is the same order followed by the Rambam. His Mishneh Torah begins with Sefer Ha-Mada - faith in and knowledge of G-d, and concludes with Sefer Melachim - guidelines for the Kingdom of Israel.