Vaetchanan: 3:23 - 7:11

Vaetchanan imparts two teachings central to Judaism. The first, which is repeated, numerous times is the commandment to not create and worship idols made by our hands. These include, but are not limited to, images carved from wood or stone; people or ideas. This also includes natural elements such as the moon, stars or trees. In other words, this Torah portion, more than any other, explicates the concept of radical monotheism. What is interesting and not unimportant is that Torah does not command us to believe in God, only to not worship "hand made images or nature.

The second central teaching of Judaism also repeated often in this Torah portion is the directive to "make them (the teachings of the Torah) known to your children and your children's children". In a word: education. Arguably one of the most important tasks of every generation is do all within our power to provide for the Jewish education -teaching Torah in its broadest sense -for our children and children's children.

Vaetchanan: 3:23 - 7:11

    “All who prolong the word echad will have their days and years prolonged. Rabbi Acha bar Ya’akov taught: one should prolong [the last letter in the word,] the Dalet. Rabbi Assi added: provided that he does not slur over [the middle letter,] the Chet.” (Berachot 13b)

Why should the word echad be stretched out?  And what is the significance of the letters Dalet and Chet?

Raabbinic/Talmudic explanation for stretching out the word echad is to envision God’s reign over all that is above, all that is below, and the ‘four sides of the heavens:  six dimensions/spatial terms.  In contemporary terms we describe this as emphasizing the interconnectedness of all in the universe.

Alternatively, we may divide up the universe into three functional categories:

 * The initial causes that place into motion all of the myriad actions and events in the world.
 * The final effects and goals that are the fulfillment of the original causes.
 * The various intermediate means that lead from the initial causes to the ultimate effects.

God’s “rule” over the heavens = the initial causes (primal cause):  Where from?
God’s “rule” over earth = the completion and fulfillment of each goal (teleology): Where to?

God’s “rule” over four sides of the heavens = the diverse intermediate means and events: How? (domain of connecting the heavens (where from) with the earth (where to) (deontology*).

God’s rule = universal binding/connecting force (rule can be read as providence or a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere

Why is oneness so significant? What is the principle message to be derived from the Shema?

Principle of unity means we affirm/draw meaning/to from everything that happens to us - even though they appear to be dispersed and disconnected, like the four sides of the heavens - are in fact directed towards one unified purpose, towards the goal of that which is good and elevated.

Dalet = four. It represents the four diverse directions; myriad intermediate means/possibilities in the universe.  Dalet = door, door ways/possibilities;  Lamed =  learning; Tav = judgement (letter is shaped from dalet and nun = din.

Chet = 8.  Chet, tet, aleph = sin.  Missing the mark understood in a positive sense means striving, seeking to improving and being alive.  Chet (9) + tet (8) + aleph (1) = 18 (life)

Eight signifies the realm beyond time: the seven days of the week (what is), eighth day represents beyond confines of time, (what may be).  Hence brit milah on 8th da

*an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions (Consequentialism) or to the character and habits of the actor (Virtue Ethics).

ד + נ

ד = four. It represents the four diverse directions; myriad intermediate means/possibilities in the universe.  Dalet = door, door ways/possibilities;  Lamed  ל=  learning; Tav ת = judgement (letter is shaped from dalet and nun = din.
Chet  ח= 8.  Chet, tet, aleph = sin.  Missing the mark understood in a positive sense means striving, seeking to improving and being alive.  Chet (9) + tet (8) + aleph (1) = 18 (life)

Eikev:  7:12 - 11:25

If you missed out on reading the events described in the book of Exodus this week's Torah portion is good one to read. We might even call it cliff notes for the first half of Exodus. Although there are numerous passages worthy of consideration in this portion one in particular stands out for me this year. Chapter 10 verse 12 begins "and now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in God's paths, to love God, and to serve the LORD with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD's commandments and laws..." A few verses on Moses continues by saying, "Cut away the thickness about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more".

Here is where it gets interesting. Moses goes on to talk about how awesome God is because God "upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him food and clothing -- You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt". Of all the commandments we're enjoined to observe and remember the Torah specifically mentions these most basic humanitarian ones. From this I suggest it is safe to infer that "to walk only in God's paths" does not mean be obsessive about keeping kosher or observing the minutiae of rabbinic law. Rather, to walk in God's path means to open your heart and reach out to those in need of comfort, solace, shelter, sustenance and security, especially the strangers in your midst.

Re'ah: 11:26 - 16:17

We are all aware of how some people cherry pick certain Torah verses and insist they be understood literally. Levititucus 18:22 is an example of this.

As a matter of principle I do not advocate reading the Torah literally. However, this week's Torah portion contains an exception to this rule, chapter 15:7-8: If, however, there is a needy person among you... do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs.

If only we could take this verse literally and use it to create a major political force for change in our society.

Ki Tavo: 26:1- 29:8

Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings.

Ki Tavo: 26:1- 29:8

Avot de-Rabbi Natan 30b: dots were written to call attention to words,

Ezra the Scribe is quoted as saying that if Eliyahu asks, “why have you written these words?”, indicating that they are incorrect, Ezra will reply, shrugging, “well, at least I've placed dots over them”, but if Eliyahu says, “you have written them correctly” then Ezra will remove the dots!

Midrash Numbers Rabbah 3, 13 states that these letters are dotted instead of the actual ones which should be dotted.  The letters that should be dotted are לַיהוָה, אֱלֹהֵינוּ. But  because the dots are meant to efface, cancel, or annul, you can not cross out the Name of G@D...

So ChaZaL teach this pasuk, verse, is telling us of our accepting responsibility for each others' public sins, and to agree to be punished for not preventing them or not supporting each other sufficiently to avoid committing those sins.

Rashi explains that the way these letters are dotted means this deal we made with The Holy One only came into effect after Am Yisra'el crossed over the nehar ha-yarden, the River Jordan, and made the vow at the mountains of Har Gerizim and Har Eival.

Two layers:  historical before entering land of Israel and after.  Before entering land words under dots not in affect.  After entering land then they are included.  Implied according to Rashi:

“The dots above the words ‘unto us and to our children’ are present to indicate that God did not punish the entire nation even for sins committed in public until the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan, and only after they took upon themselves the oath uttered on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and became responsible for one another’s actions.”

Alternatively:  Metaphorically the wandering in the desert might represent a stage of immaturity when we lack the wherewithal to truly care for one another except in self-serving way, i.e. I can’t survive out here alone.  Crossing into the Land represents civilization and a more mature stage of existing when our responsibilities are more expanded.

© Copyright Rabbi Howard A Cohen