The Parshah of Va’etchanan (“And I Beseeched”) continues Moses’ “Repetition of the Torah,” begun in last week’s reading.

In the closing weeks of his life, Moses speaks to the new generation of Jews who are about to enter the Promised Land and implement their mandate to serve as G‑d’s chosen “nation of priests” and “holy people,” a mandate which they received at Sinai forty years earlier (the generation which Moses took out of Egypt having died out in the desert). Moses recalls the great events that forged the people of Israel—the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Sinai—which this generation experienced as children and youths, or which they heard about from their parents. He repeats the laws and teachings which he taught them during the past 40 years, and reiterates the fundamental principles of the Torah. And he warns them against abandoning the Torah amidst the abundance and plenty they will enjoy in the Land.

Va’etchanan includes some of the basic texts of Judaism, including the Ten Commandments (as repeated by Moses), the Shema (which proclaims the oneness of G‑d; the duty to love G‑d, and to study His Torah and teach it to our children; and the mitzvot of tefillin and mezuzah), and Moses’ prediction of the exile and the eventual redemption.

Moses’ Prayer

In the opening verses of our Parshah, Moses describes his failed efforts to revoke the divine decree that he not enter the Land himself:

I beseeched G‑d at that time, saying: “You, O G‑d, have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand; for what G‑d is there in heaven or in earth that can do according to Your works, and according to Your might?

“I pray You, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly mountain and the Levanon.”

But G‑d was angry with me for your sakes, and would not hear me. G‑d said to me: “Enough! Speak no more to Me of this matter.

“Go up to the top of the summit, and lift up your eyes westward, northward, southward and eastward, and see with your eyes; for you shall not cross this Jordan.

“Instruct Joshua, encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you shall see.”

Life Defined

Moses now launches into the theme that pervades this Parshah: If the people are to survive in the Land, and survive as a people, the Torah they received at Sinai is the key:

Now therefore hearken, O Israel, to the statutes and to the laws which I teach you to do, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the L‑rd, the G‑d of your fathers gives you.

You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor shall you diminish it, that you may keep the commandments of the L‑rd your G‑d which I command you.

Indeed, the essence of life is attachment to G‑d through the fulfillment of His commandments:

Your eyes have seen what G‑d did because of Baal Pe’or: for every man that followed Baal Pe’or, the L‑rd your G‑d destroyed him from among you.

But you who cleave to the L‑rd your G‑d are alive, every one of you, this day.

The Specialty of Israel

The Torah, Moses continues, is not only the Jew’s lifeline of connection to G‑d—it is also our mission to humanity:

For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes, and say: Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

For what nation is there so great, that G‑d is so near to them, as the L‑rd our G‑d is in all things for which we call upon Him? And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and laws so righteous as all this Torah, which I set before you this day?

The revelation at Sinai must remain uppermost in the nation’s collective memory:

Only take heed to yourself, and guard your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; teach them to your children, and your children’s children:

The day that you stood before the L‑rd your G‑d at Horeb, when G‑d said to me: Gather Me the people together, and I will make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.

You came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, with darkness, clouds and thick darkness.

G‑d spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the voice of the words, but saw no form, only a voice.

He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Words; and He wrote them upon two tablets of stone.

G‑d commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and laws, that you might do them in the land into which you go over to possess it.

Sans Form

One of the most important lessons of Sinai is the negation of idolatry, for there it was revealed to man that G‑d transcends the physical, transcends form itself:

Take therefore good heed to yourselves, for you saw no manner of form on the day that G‑d spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire—

Lest you become corrupt, and make a carved idol, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of any thing that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth;

And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you should be misled to worship them and serve them—which the L‑rd your G‑d has allotted to all the nations under the whole heaven . . .

Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the L‑rd your G‑d, which he made with you . . . For the L‑rd your G‑d is a consuming fire, a jealous G‑d.

Moses Predicts the Exile

When you shall beget children, and children’s children, and you shall have remained long in the land, and shall deal corruptly and make a carved idol, the likeness of anything, and shall do evil in the sight of the L‑rd your G‑d, to provoke Him to anger:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land into which you go over the Jordan to possess it; you shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

G‑d will scatter you among the nations, and you shall be left few in number among the nations where G‑d shall lead you. There you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

From there you will seek the L‑rd your G‑d, and you will find Him, for you will seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.

When you are in distress, and all these things are come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the L‑rd your G‑d, and you will hearken to His voice.

For the L‑rd your G‑d is a merciful G‑d; He will not forsake you, nor will He destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.

The Revelation at Sinai: “There Is None Else”

The revelation at Sinai, says Moses, was an event unique in human history:

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that G‑d created man upon the earth, and from the one side of heaven to the other: has there been any such thing like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it?

Did ever a people hear the voice of G‑d speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live?

Or has G‑d ventured to go and take Him a nation from the womb of another nation—by trials, by signs, and by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and by great terrors—according to all that the L‑rd your G‑d did for you in Egypt before your eyes?

Moses proclaims what is perhaps the most radical statement of Judaism:

To you it was shown, that you might know, that the L‑rd, He is G‑d: there is none else beside Him.

This the people saw at Sinai; and this awareness they are to cultivate in their minds and hearts in the ordinary “today” as well:

Know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the L‑rd, He is G‑d in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is nothing else.

Moses Establishes Cities of Refuge

A short break in the narrative describes how Moses established three “cities of refuge” on the eastern side of the Jordan, “that the slayer might flee there, who should kill his neighbor unawares, and who hated him not in times past; he shall flee unto one of these cities, so that he shall live.”

(These are the lands which Moses conquered from the two Emorite kings, Sichon and Og, and upon which he settled two and one-half of the twelve tribes of Israel: the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh.)

Moses Repeats the Ten Commandments

Moses called all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and laws which I speak in your ears this day, that you may learn them, and keep and do them.

The L‑rd our G‑d made a covenant with us in Horeb. G‑d made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, indeed us, who are all of us here alive this day.

G‑d spoke with you face to face on the mountain, out of the midst of the fire (I stood between G‑d and you at that time, to show you the word of G‑d; for you were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up to the mountain), saying:

[1] I am the L‑rd your G‑d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

[2] You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not make for yourself any carved idol, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them, for I the L‑rd your G‑d am a jealous G‑d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, and showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

[3] You shall not take the name of the L‑rd your G‑d in vain: for G‑d will not hold guiltless he who takes His name in vain.

[4] Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the L‑rd your G‑d has commanded you. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the L‑rd your G‑d: on it you shall not do any work—you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates, so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the L‑rd your G‑d brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the L‑rd your G‑d commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

[5] Honor your father and your mother, as the L‑rd your G‑d has commanded you; so that your days may be lengthened, and that good befall you, in the land which the L‑rd your G‑d gives you.

[6] You shall not kill.

[7] You shall not commit adultery.

[8] You shall not steal.

[9] You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

[10] You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The People Ask Moses to Intervene

As Moses mentions above, he “stood between G‑d and you at that time” at the people’s request, because they feared direct contact with G‑d. Now he relates what happened in detail:

These words G‑d spoke to all your assembly on the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, the cloud and the thick darkness, with a great voice which was not again. He wrote them on two tablets of stone, and delivered them to me.

It came to pass, when you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, and the mountain burned with fire, that you approached me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders; and you said:

“Behold, the L‑rd our G‑d has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; we have seen this day that G‑d does talk with man, and he lives.

“Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the L‑rd our G‑d any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living G‑d speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?

“You go near, and hear all that the L‑rd our G‑d shall say, and speak to us all that the L‑rd our G‑d shall speak to you; and we will hear it, and do it.”

G‑d heard the voice of your words, when you spoke to me. G‑d said to me: “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they have well said all that they have spoken.

“Oh, if only that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

“Go say to them: Return again to your tents.

“But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, and the statutes, and the laws, which you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land which I gave them to possess it . . .”

The Shema

Hear O Israel: the L‑rd our G‑d; the L‑rd is one.

You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.

These words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.

You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes. You shall write them upon the doorposts of your house, and on your gates.


Our Parshah concludes with a series of warnings. You are entering a land of plenty, says Moses to the people, where you will receive

“great and goodly cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant.

“When you shall eat and be replete, beware lest you forget G‑d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

As for the idolatrous inhabitants of the land,

"You shall make no covenant with them . . . Neither shall you make marriages with them: your daughter you shall not give to his son, nor shall you take his daughter to your son. For they will turn away your son from following Me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of G‑d be inflamed against you, and He will destroy you speedily.”

Make sure to eradicate all vestiges of idolatry from the Land,

For you are a holy people to the L‑rd your G‑d: the L‑rd your G‑d has chosen you to be a special people to Himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.

G‑d did not set His love upon you, nor did He choose you, because you are more in number than any people; indeed, you are the fewest of all peoples. Rather, because G‑d loves you, and because of His keeping of the oath which He had sworn to your fathers, has G‑d brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Know therefore that the L‑rd your G‑d, He is G‑d, the faithful G‑d, who keeps the covenant and truth with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations; and repays them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack to him that hates Him; He will repay him to his face.

You shall keep the commandments, the statutes and the laws which I command you today to do them.