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    The words of the Ten Commandments – Ekev

    August 14th, 2022

    Moses broke the tablets of the Ten Commandments when he saw the people misbehaving (Deut. 9:17). The tablets shattered to pieces though there is a tradition that the broken fragments were collected and kept in the Ark with the new tablets.

    This applies to the stone pieces of the tablets, but what about the words themselves?

    There is a Midrash that the letters of the words all flew off the tablets; none of the writing survived, except for the command, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.

    It is for this reason, says the Sadigura Rebbe, that we say in Shacharit on Shabbat, “Two tablets of stone he (Moses) brought down in his hand, and written on them was the observance of Shabbat” – i.e. of the first set of tablets all that remained intact was the Fourth Commandment.

    What we learn from this Midrash is that whatever happens in Jewish life, nothing can destroy the principle of Shabbat. Or rather, no external act can uproot Shabbat, but the Jewish people by its neglect can. And without Shabbat we not only lose a day which takes us out of our “normal” routine. We also lose the opportunity of recreating ourselves and our civilisation.


    Unlike Egypt – Ekev

    August 14th, 2022

    The sidra says that Eretz Yisra’el is different from Egypt (Deut. 11:10).

    In Israel the crops were watered by rain but in Egypt by foot, which presumably means by channels that store up the water of the Nile.

    The Jewish commentators (Rashbam, Ramban, Sforno, etc.) say that the Egyptians get Nile water whether they are worthy of it or not, whereas in Eretz Yisra’el the rain comes if God decides that the land deserves it (Deut. 11:13-17).

    People have to obey the commandments to earn the blessing of rain. However, there is a theological problem. Jews should not serve God for the sake of a reward of rain or anything else. They shouldn’t say, “I will behave well so that Heaven will reward me”. They should serve God for His own sake and if they do, all will be well.


    Loving God – Ekev

    August 14th, 2022

    Some academic scholars of the Bible think that when the Shema tells Israel to love the Lord (Deut. 6:5, 11:13), it is using a technical term – the idiom common in the ancient world whereby the sovereign makes laws and his subjects must obey them; in this view, “love” means “obey”.

    Judaism certainly believes that God must be obeyed but it uses the word “love” in the normal sense as an emotion, not a legal concept. A person who loves God has a deep affection towards Him, feeling in love with God and God’s presence. Psalm 116 says, “I love the Lord who hears my voice”.


    The “K’ri’at Shema” secret – Va’et’channan

    August 7th, 2022

    The K’ri’at Shema, the twice-daily proclamation of the Shema, emanates from this week’s Torah portion. It is the basic statement of Jewish identity and belief. JH Hertz called it “the keynote of all Judaism”.

    The first line is often translated as “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One”. A better translation is “Listen, Israel: HaShem (the four-letter Divine Name) is our God, the One HaShem”.

    It is telling us three things –
    1. The existence of God is the chief fact of Jewish identity.
    2. The name of God is the four-letter Hebrew word symbolised by HaShem.
    3. HaShem is Unique (not just mathematically one as against any other number but totally distinct from anything or anyone else).

    Saying these things in one sentence answers the common questions,
    – Who made God?
    – What is God?
    – Are there any other gods?

    According to Israel Abrahams, the Shema is “the fundamental dogma (monotheism), the fundamental duty (love), the fundamental discipline (the study of Torah) and the fundamental method (the union of ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’) of the Jewish religion”. At least twice a day the believer says the Shema and thus daily proclaims: “I am a Jew!”

    Some Jews who only visit shule yearly, only say the Shema once a year at the end of Yom Kippur, implying, “Wherever I have been this year, today I am with my people!”

    Some only say the Shema once in their lives, just before they die: this proclaims, “Even if I have strayed, I die as a Jew!”


    Changing the Ten Commandments – Va’et’channan

    August 7th, 2022

    The sidra contains a second version of the Ten Commandments, but the wording does not entirely accord with the more common version found in Parashat Yitro in the 20th chapter of Sh’mot. Check one version against the other and you will see the differences as well as the commonalities.

    We wonder what gave Moses the right to alter the wording. The answer is that what he wrote in both versions is not on his own initiative but at the command of the Divine Lawgiver.

    The basic content of the Commandments is the same in both places, but here the emphasis is a little different because alternative interpretations – all emanating from God – needed to be brought to the people’s attention.