Parashat Va’et-hannan (Shabbat Nahamu)
August 19-20, 2016 – 16 Av 5776
Annual (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11): Etz Hayim p. 1005; Hertz p. 755
Triennial (Deuteronomy 5:1-7:11): Etz Hayim p. 1015; Hertz p. 746
Haftarah (Isaiah 40:1-26): Etz Hayim p. 1033; Hertz p. 776
It Takes More than Persistence
Rabbi Arnie Bender is the rabbi of Kehillat Yaar Ramot, the Masorti congregation in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem
Moses is not only the unequalled leader of the Jewish people; according to the Midrash (Devarim Rabbah), he is also persistent, very persistent. In the first month of the 40th year of Israel’s wandering through the desert, Moses is punished for not sanctifying God, when he hit the rock rather than speak to it (Numbers 20:11-12). God decrees that he will not enter Eretz Yisrael. Did Moses then plead his case? No! God is angry with him. “Maybe later,” he thinks.
Later comes when God tells him that he should “give” the daughters of Tzelophechad their rightful possession of the land (Numbers 27:7). Moses takes God’s words literally. If God wants him to “give” them their portion in Eretz Yisrael, he will surely have to enter it to do so.
But God thinks otherwise. He tells Moses that he can view the land of Israel from the mountaintop, but then he will be “gathered to his people like his brother Aaron” (Numbers 27:12-13). Moses thinks, “Aaron’s son followed him as High Priest. Perhaps my son will lead the people into the Promised Land.” No, God refuses. The new leader will be Joshua, not Moses’ son.
Eleven months later, Moses and the people are on the threshold of entering the Land of Israel. Moses opens our parasha with the words, “O my Lord, You have given Your servant insight into Your greatness. Is there any power in heaven or on earth like You?” Talk about flattery!!!
But it does not work for Moses. Can he convince God to let him into Eretz Yisrael or change His mind? Moses maintains “high hopes.” After all, Moses prayed and pleaded on behalf of the people when they made the golden calf; God changed His mind then. Why not now?
Moses counters God’s refusal by claiming that he only wants to enter the Land for the benefit of the people. But God doesn’t bite! Moses does teshuva. God remains unimpressed! The Torah was revealed to Moses; shouldn’t he have the privilege of teaching it in Eretz Yisrael? Still nothing doing! The Midrash tells us that Moses offered 515 different prayers to God (the gematria [numerical equivalent] of the word va’et-hannan), but God is not buying!
Finally, undaunted, Moses asks God for a consolation prize – to allow his bones to be buried in Eretz Yisrael, like the bones of Joseph. But once again, God refuses. Why?
The Midrash says that God told Moses that Joseph deserved to be buried in the Land because he had always acknowledged his origins. When carried away to Egypt, while imprisoned there and later when standing before Pharaoh, Joseph acknowledged that he was a “Hebrew.” Moses, however, apparently hid his identity when he met the daughters of Yitro after fleeing from Egypt. “An Egyptian man rescued us at the well,” the girls tell their father (Ex. 2:19). The Rabbis say that it was at this time, and not later when he hit the rock, that God decided not to let Moses into the Land of Israel.
Moses learned the hard way that leadership qualities and personality traits are not always enough. May we continue to identify with and stand up for our people and be privileged to enter and inherit our land.
A Vort for Parashat Va’et-hannan
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In the first paragraph of Kriat Shema (Deut 6) we are commanded “to love the Lord our God,” and from early on the question was raised – can feelings / emotions be commanded? The Sefat Emeth (R’ Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, late 19th C, Poland, the Gerer Rebbe) said the answer is in the question – the heart is capable of loving God if it can overcome the obstacles that we place in its way. The Ari z”l (Yitzhak Ben Sh’lomo Lurya Ashkenazi) noted that the Torah commands us to love three – your “fellow” (לְרֵעֲךָ, Lev. 19:18), the stranger (הַגֵּר, verse 34 there) and God, here, from which he said that one cannot reach love of God without fulfilling the command to love the other two.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
In this Parasha Moshe begins his epic speech about the Mitzvot, which we will follow for many Parashot to come. Moshe will deliver commandments; some new and some renewed, as well as speak about them in general. Let’s pay attention to his perspectives on Mitzvot here, and what might be the reason.
1) Moshe spoke about the conquest of trans-Jordan in the last Parasha, now he opens with a plea to enter the land of Israel on the western side of the Jordan (3:23-28). Why do you think that he reopened the issue with God at this point? According to Moshe’s words here, why will God not allow him to enter the land? Who will lead the people into the land?
2) What is the purpose of observing the Mitzvot (commandments) according to Moshe’s words to the people (4:1)? Why do you think that this reason was not given in the books of Torah that we have read until now?
3) Moshe reminds us of the covenant at Horeb (=Sinai) and the so-called 10 commandments which God spoke to the people on that occasion (5:1-18). Who was the human partner to that covenant (5:2-3) and why does Moshe need to explain that to the people listening to him now?
4) Look at Mitzva of Shabbat that is mentioned as part of the ’10 commandments’ (5:11-14). What is the reason given here for the Mitzvah of Shabbat? Compare it with the Mitzva of Shabbat as it appears in the ’10 commandments’ in the book of Shmot (Ex. 20:7-10). What reason is given there? Why was each reason given at the time that it was given to the people? Which reason for observing Shabbat do you feel most connected to? Why?
5) In 6:4-9 you will find the best know passage of Torah (among Jews). What does v. 4 mean? Why has it been taken to be the declaration of faith in Judaism? The passage commands us to teach and study the commandments – who should we teach and when is the appropriate time and place for teaching / learning (v.6-7)?