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Parshat Vaetchanan

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Parshat Va’etchanan continues Moshe’s final speech, moving on from his emotional opening, to the what he expects from this next and future generations who have been chosen to take on the yoke of the Torah. He tells Bnei Yisrael to bide by the Torah which he has taught them, not to add or take out and through keeping the Torah they will be a great and wise nation. Moshe warns them in verse 9 – “only (in Hebrew – rak) be careful and diligent not to forget what you have seen and teach it to both your children and children’s children, especially the day you stood before Hashem at Horev.”

Rashi understands, that this warning is a continuation of the previous sentence. If we keep the Torah as it laid out then we will be a clever nation, but if we forget our legacy then we will be seen as fools. However, the Ramban disagrees and sees this as part of the sentence that follows and that those listening had a duty and responsibility, to remember what Bnei Yisrael saw and witnessed at Mount Sinai, and this must be passed on through the generations. The Ramban explains that the divine revelation at Sinai, is an essential part of our belief and as Moshe warns we must be aware that we are not to believe any new prophet who comes along and wants to change what Moshe has taught us.

Rabenu Behaye explains that the difference of opinion is over the understanding of the opening word of verse 9 “rak” translated as only. Rashi proposing it to refer to that only if we keep to the Torah will we be a clever people and Ramban more as a warning to remember that the Sinai revelation, was unique, and should be passed as a legacy and not believe any false prophet who comes with a new message. The Sforno, who was very much in contact with gentiles, adds that particularly as we are thought of as wise by other nations, we must careful of those who bring seemingly convincing arguments, disproving the existence of Hashem.

Rav S R Hirsch takes this further. Firstly, he notes the uniqueness of the revelation at Sinai, which was witnessed by the whole nation, as Moshe says, “which they saw with their own eyes.” This is unlike any of the claimed revelations of the gentile prophets. He then reviews the concept “of not to forget,” which is repeated by Moshe later on, who also stresses the concept of remembering. This should not be viewed as the natural process of forgetfulness or lapse of memory, but forgetfulness of the heart, that our thoughts and minds are distracted, as we move through life. We can note the change in the Ten Commandments repeated by Moshe in the next chapter, from “zachorremember” at Sinai to “shamorkeep.” We must be pro-active in remembering, by keeping the Torah, not forgetting the unique divine revelation at Sinai.

This week I had “yortzheit” for my mother who died 28 years ago and seeing an Israeli naval officer in the street reminded me of when we sat shiva, those many year ago. I, at the time was doing reserve duty (miluim) in the Navy, and of course, they gave me time off and we sat shiva here in Israel, as my mother is buried here. One day several officers form my unit came to pay their respects. My father who was still alive told me some time later, that was his favorite memory of the shiva, that he lived to an age, where officers of the Israeli military came to pay