Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Va'etchanan.

The Land We Can See

Art by Ahuva Klein
Art by Ahuva Klein

Our sages note that all of Moses’ achievements are eternal and everlasting. If Moses would have entered the Land of Israel, we could never have been exiled. If Moses would have crossed the Jordan, that would have been the end; the end of the struggle, the end of history.

G‑d wasn’t ready for the end yet. So He decreed that Moses remain in the desert. But He did allow him to see the Land. And because Moses saw it, and because the effect of everything Moses did is everlasting, we too can see it.

At all times, we have the power to ascend a summit within us and see the Promised Land. No matter how distant the end-goal of creation may seem, we have the power to see its reality, to know its truth with absolute clarity and absolute conviction.

We are still in the midst of the struggle. It is a difficult, oftentimes painful struggle; but it is not a blind struggle.
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A Single Unity

This week’s Torah reading contains the Shema, the fundamental prayer in Jewish liturgy.

When a person recites the Shema, he is not merely declaring that there is only one G‑d. The intent of the Shema is that all existence is one with Him.

Judaism does not believe that the spiritual and the physical can be separated from each other. We do not believe in a G‑d who sits in the heavens and allows the world to function however it desires. Instead, the spiritual and the physical are both manifestations of a single unity.

The Shema continues with the commandment to love G‑d. But how can the Torah command us to love? Surely you either feel love or you don’t.

That’s why the commandment to love G‑d follows after the declaration of G‑d’s oneness. When a person understands the oneness of G‑d and appreciates how He is manifest in every element of existence, he will be spurred to feelings of love. For intellect gives birth to emotion and our awareness of G‑d prompts us to love Him.
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Double Comfort

The 9th of Av is the date on which both Temples were destroyed. Each year, on the subsequent Shabbat, we read as our Haftorah the famous passage from Isaiah “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.” The question is, why this double expression of comfort?

During the period of the First Temple, the Jewish people were in general at the level of “righteousness,” living a life of obedience to G‑d’s commandments. The light it gave to the world was a reflection of the will of G‑d.

But the Second Temple belonged to a time of repentance and return. The world was being sanctified from within, through Israel’s own spiritual resources. Thus it is significant that its building was ordered by Cyrus, the king of Persia, a non-Jew.

This is why we needed two consolations, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.” For the two Temples each had its own distinctive virtue. The revelations of G‑d’s presence which belonged to the First were greater, but those of the Second were more inward. They issued from the very texture of the physical world. It drew its sanctity from man’s own efforts to purify his finite world.

The consolation will be the Third Temple, in which the light from above and the light from within will combine.
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The Power of the Collective

(Image: James Tissot )
(Image: James Tissot )

Va'etchanan means “And he prayed,” referring to Moses’ prayer to enter the land of Israel.

Moses was not merely concerned with his own spiritual fulfillment. Moses knew that if he were able to enter the land with the people, he would be able to bring about Mashiach’s coming. There would not have been any potential for exile. That’s what he was praying for.

Why didn’t G‑d grant his request? Because G‑d desires that the redemption not be the product of the Divine service of only one or even several righteous men, but of the people as a whole — that every man, woman, and child do his or her part in bringing about Mashiach’s coming.

Mashiach will introduce an age when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.” To anticipate and prepare for that age, the world at large must be filled with G‑dliness. Not only must several righteous men live in a G‑dly manner, but this must be the way of life of the people as a whole.
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Above the Exile

It is through teshuva, returning to G‑d, that we can fix the root-cause of exile, and bring it to an end: