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Parshat Va'etchanan (5761)
In this week's section, Moshe Rabbeinu continues his talk to the Jewish Nation before their entrance into the Holy Land. But he seems to be repetitive.
In one sentence (4:35) he says: "You have been shown to know that Hashem is G-D THERE IS NOTHING BESIDE HIM".
Four sentences later (4:39) he says the SAME thing: "Know today and take it to heart that Hashem Is G-d in the Heavens above and the earth below THERE IS NOTHING BESIDE HIM."
Then, a paragraph or so later (6:4) he again repeats the SAME idea again: "Listen Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is ONE!"
I want to explain this with two stories:
About 300 years ago, the chief Rabbi of Prague was the great Rabbi Yehonaton Eibeshetz. The legend has it that when he was just three years old, he was so famous for his wisdom, that when the King of Poland, being a bit bored and even more inquisitive heard about him, decided he wanted to see for himself and put him to a Royal test.
The king sent a message to little Yehonaton's father saying that he'd heard about the lad, and was interested to see if he was smart enough to find his way, unassisted, from his home, several miles away, through the confusing streets of the city, to the Royal Palace.
Of course his father had little choice but to comply. The next day he dressed the boy in his best Shabbat clothes, blessed him, and sent him off, hoping for the best.
It was a unique sight to see such a small child dressed nobly, striding with certain steps through the city streets, as though he had done it a hundred times before. But what was even more unique was, that after several hours of walking he actually arrived at the palace!
The guards couldn't believe their eyes and ears when the tot presented himself proudly before them, and announced in a high-pitched voice that he had come to see the king.
Minutes later the entire king's court was marvelling at the precocious lad. The king called for silence, motioned the child to approach and asked, "Tell me lad, how did you find your way to the palace so quickly, didn't you ever have any doubts which way to walk?"
"Well, your majesty," he answered, "whenever I had a doubt I just asked anyone that happened to be nearby, and it seems that G-d helped."
Everyone chuckled. The King raised his hand very slightly for silence and continued, "But didn't it ever occur to you that two people might say opposite things; what would you have done if one said go to the right and the other to the left? What would you do then?"
The boy paused, thought for a moment and answered, "Your Majesty, if that ever happened, in the Torah it says to follow the majority, so I would just ask a third person and follow the majority opinion."
The King smiled and the room became filled with chattering laughter. Suddenly the King’s face became serious, the room fell silent, he moved forward in his throne, gazed piercingly at the boy and said, "Young man, you should listen to what you yourself just said! If in your Bible it says you must follow the majority, then certainly you should leave Judaism and believe as we do! You see that the Jews are vastly outnumbered!!"
The audience smiled, laughed, even clapped their hands, at the royal wisdom. But when the noise died down, little Yonaton waited for complete silence, cleared his throat and spoke.
"Pardon me, your Royal Highness, I request your Majesty's forgiveness for being so unclear. When I said that I would listen to the majority, I meant when I was far from the castle and uncertain of the location. But now that I'm IN the castle and I see the King seated before me, even if ALL the king's ministers tell me I'm wrong, I will certainly not listen to them.
Similarly Judaism. The G-D of Israel is everywhere, and no place is empty of Him. It is like being in the Palace with the King; why, even if the entire world disagrees with me I certainly have no obligation to listen to them!"
The second story is a bit different. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the founder of Chabad Chassidus) at the age of seventeen, although he was already renowned as a Torah genius, decided to seek a master to improve his service of G-D.
Little was known in those days about the new movement begun by the Baal Shem Tov called "Chassidus" . Although he heard many bad rumours, he decided to see for himself.
After being there several days, he realised that the reports were totally false, and after getting permission from his wife, he remained to learn by the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Besht, for a year.
When he returned home his father-in-law was furious.
"I agreed to support your Torah studies, but not for you to go waste your time with those Chassidim!!!
Tell me, what did you do there that took you a year?" He shouted angrily, "What did you learn there that you couldn't learn here?!"
He looked deeply at his father-in-law and calmly answered, "I learned that G-D creates the world."
"What!!" Shouted his father-in-law in disbelief. "That's what you learned?!! I don't believe it!! Why, you wasted a whole year?! ONE YEAR FOR NOTHING?!!"
He was beside himself with rage. "Here watch this!" He yelled as he called for the cleaning lady.
"Sarah!! Hello Sarah! Please come here." She entered the room and he turned to her, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "Sarah, please tell me...tell US - Who, who creates the world?"
"Why, Everyone knows that G-D creates the world, sir"
"You see! Yelled his father-in-law turning to him angrily, "Even the maid knows!
You've wasted one full year of your life, my son!"
"No, No." Rabbi Shneur Zalman said, "You don't understand, my dear Father-in-law.
She says it - But I know it!"
These two stories show two different ways of fulfilling the commandment of "Unifying G-D."
"Unifying G-d" is the cornerstone of Judaism. It means to feel that G-d creates all existence, and His Torah and His Commandments are the only way to bring Moshiach and reveal His (G-D's) true Oneness.
This is the true meaning of the word "monotheism." But it is certainly the most difficult and most all-encompassing of all the 613 commandments: It is obligatory at all times, every instant, to every Jew (and very soon, with the arrival of Moshiach, to all mankind) with every fibre of his or her being.
The "handbook" of Chabad Chassidut "The Tanya", devotes many chapters to explaining how to fulfil this commandment, and gives much advice in two general methods, called the "Short Way" and the "Long Way".
The "short way" stresses feeling the Oneness of G-D automatically, through the G-dly or Jewish soul. (Something like Rabbi Yehonaton in our story). This "soul" is a GIFT given by Hashem to the Jewish people. An inheritance from Avraham (The first Jew).
The "Long Way" however, stresses hard painstaking contemplation and WORK (Avoda), as in the story of Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
Now we can understand the necessity for all three sentences:
The First sentence: "You have been shown to know etc." is speaking of how the Jewish people were shown G-D's Oneness at Mt. Sinai as a GIFT; the short way.
The second sentence: "Know today and take it to heart etc." is explaining that the Jews must contemplate and WORK to internalise this Oneness in their personalities; the long way.
And the third sentence: "Shema Yisroel - "Listen Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is ONE" tells us that it is necessary (and a commandment) to do BOTH.
"Shema" – (Listen) means to contemplate; WORK to understand and feel,
"Yisroel" is referring to the G-dly soul that is a GIFT.
"Hashem" is a higher aspect of G-D that is a GIFT. "Our G-D" implies that
we internalise it, and make is "ours" through WORK and effort.
And finally "Hashem is ONE" unifies all the aspects.
Soon the entire world will know that Hashem is not just the G-D of Israel, but also the G-D of all humanity (see Rashi 6:4).
It all depends on us doing even one more good deed to bring....
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