Tidbits of Torah

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Shabbat Parashat VaEtchanan

Shabbat Nachamu

August 5, 2017- 13 Av 5777

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of VaEtchanan which includes both the Ten Commandments and the Torah phrase that has become the watchword of our people: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad [Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One] (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Traditionally, we recite the Shema in our prayers, twice a day – morning and evening. The Shema is often the first prayer that our children learn. It is the verse we chant when we take the Torah scroll out of the ark. And, it is often the last verse that Jews recite as we prepare to take leave of life on this earth. The Shema encompasses our lives and encapsulates our religion.

So, what does it mean? The Shema signifies that most basic truth of our faith. It points to the unity of God which, in turn, underpins our basic sense of the importance of equality, of justice and of respect for all people. Despite all of our disagreements and varied points of view, we agree that all human beings are created in the image of God.

An ancient midrash re-interprets the Shema as a response that Jacob’s sons gave their father Jacob on his deathbed. Sensing the approaching end of his life, Jacob was suddenly consumed with worry. He asked his sons a crucial question: Is your faith firm? Do you believe in the unity of God?

Jacob knew that his sons were strong individuals with strong points of view. He knew that they had often disagreed and been at odds with one another during their lives. At the end of his life, Jacob wanted to know whether his spiritual legacy – the legacy of the Shema, of the unity of God – had penetrated their souls.

At the end of his life, Jacob wanted to know if he had succeeded in passing on the tradition that he himself had received from his parents, Isaac and Rebeca, and from his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah.

According to the midrash, Jacob’s sons, diverse as they were, responded to him by saying: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad.

In the course of his life, Jacob’s name was changed to Yisrael. According to the midrash, when Jacob’s sons said: Shema Yisrael – they were speaking to their father, Jacob! They were reassuring their father, that despite their disagreements, they had all internalized the belief in the unity of God. Now, hearing that, Jacob could rest easy. His legacy would be passed on to the coming generations.

Today, the Shema reminds us not only of the unity of God. It reminds us also of the importance of communicating our most sacred values to our children. It reminds us of the importance of passing on our spiritual heritage from generation to generation so that we, too, may one day rest easy.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror