Commentary for Ve’etchanan

22 Jul

One of the most important principles of Judaism is the covenant between God and the Jewish People, established with Abraham in Genesis 15 and further expanded upon with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses emphasizes to us that this covenant is a two-way street. God will bless us with plenty and sustain us, both physically and spiritually, and give us the Land of Israel as our eternal homeland, but only if we fulfill our end of the bargain. We must observe God’s commandments, both the Thou Shalls” and the Thou Shall Nots,” and we must ensure the continuation of the covenant by teaching them to the next generation.
While the former of those is a major theme throughout the entire Torah, the latter shines through especially strongly in this week’s parshah. In the beginning of the parshah, as Moses completes his recitation of the history of the Israelites wanderings in the desert, he tells the people “but take the utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live; and make them known to your children and to your children’s children (Deut 4:9).” Later on in the parshah, during the Shema, we are instructed to “take to heart these instructions with which I charge you today. Impress them upon your children (Deut 6:6-7).” These things, both the spiritual practices and communal history of the Jewish People is what has kept us alive for thousands of years, despite the best efforts of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Inquisition, and the Nazis.
The “Wicked Son” in the Haggadah is criticized for excluding himself from the group when the group is retelling one of the most important stories in our culture. It is because of this desire to not be a part of our people that the Rabbis tell us that had the “Wicked Son” been in Egypt during the time of the exodus, he would not have been allowed to leave. He doesn’t have to be a part of the covenant if he doesn’t want to, but he will forfeit the special relationship with God that comes with being part of the covenant, not just for himself, but for his descendants, too, because he will not teach them of their heritage.
In Deut 5:3 Moses tells the people that “It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, the living, everyone one of us who is here today.” The continuation of the covenant is in our hands and it is our duty to observe the terms of the covenant and to teach our people’s history to the next generation so that one day it will be in their hands as well.

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