Commentary on Parashat Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Moses looks at the promised land by the banks of the river Jordan, and continues his final speech to the Israelites before he dies. Moses says, “I implored God to let me see this promised land, but God was angry with me because of you. God told me to appoint Joshua as your leader.
“And now, O Israel, hearken to the commandments that I am teaching you so that you may live and possess this promised land. Do not add or subtract anything to that which I am commanding. Your own eyes have sees that everyone that followed Baal Peor was destroyed. Those of you who remained with God are all alive today.
“God’s laws are your wisdom before the eyes of the nations. Nations will say, ‘Who is this great nation? One that has a Deity near and available for the people. One that has righteous decrees and ordinances like this entire Torah.’ Only take heed and guard your soul exceedingly so you do not forget… Make your experiences known to your children and your children’s children.
“Remember the day at Mount Sinai when God spoke to you out of the midst of fire. God commanded you to observe the Ten Commandments and God inscribed them upon two tablets of stone. Take heed that you do not become corrupt and make yourselves an image of God, not in any form, not the likeness of male or female, nor any living thing, not sun nor moon nor stars. Do not allow yourself to be lured into bowing down to idols or serving them. These God allotted to the other peoples.
“When you beget children and grandchildren and have long been in this promised land, you will grow corrupt and do evil in the eyes of God. You will anger God. You shall not long endure in the land but be utterly wiped out. God will scatter you among the nations and you will be left few in number among the nations to which God will lead you. There you will serve man-made gods.
“Then in the distress that will befall you, when all these decrees of fate will have come to you, in the end of days, you will return to God and listen to God’s voice. For God, your God, is a merciful God. God will not turn you adrift nor let you be destroyed. God will not forget the covenant made with your forefathers.
“So ask yourselves has any other god taken a nation from the midst of another nation with demonstrations of power, with signs and miracles, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terrors, comparable to all that God did for you in Egypt before your own eyes?
“Therefore know it today and take it to heart repeatedly that in heaven above and on earth below, God alone is God. Keep God’s commandments that I command you today–which will do good to you and your children after you–and so that you may long remain upon the soil that God is giving you for all time.
“This is not a covenant with our ancestors, but with us, each of us that God commands:
‘I am God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
‘You shall not recognize the gods of others in My Presence. Do not make yourself a representation in the form of an image, nor in the form of any other likeness that which is in heaven above or that which is in the water far below the earth. Do not bow down before these idols and do not serve them, for I, your God am a God Who demands exclusive right. I remember the sin of parents for their children and for the third and fourth generations for those who hate Me, and I practice loving-kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and those who keep My commandments.
‘Do not take upon yourself the Name, your God, in vain, for God will not hold guiltless one who takes God’s Name in vain.
‘Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as God has commanded you. Six days you shall serve and do all your creating work and the seventh day is a Sabbath to God. On it you shall not perform any kind of creating work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your handmaid, nor our ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates, so that your manservant and your handmaid may rest just like you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt when God, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, did God, your God, command you to observe the Sabbath in practice.
‘Honor your father and your mother, as God, your God, has commanded you, so that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you upon the soil that God, your God, is giving you.
‘You shall not murder.
‘You shall not commit adultery.
‘You shall not steal.
‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
‘You shall not covet the wife of your neighbor and you shall not desire our neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his handmaid, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.’
“Be careful to do just as God has commanded. Do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in the way that God, has commanded you, so that you may live, and it may go well with you, and you will long remain in the land which flows with milk and honey.
“Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love God, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your resources. These words which I command you today shall be upon your heart and teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk upon the way; when you lie down, and when you get up. And bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. And write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”
“Now,” Moses continues, “when you arrive in this land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, take heed that you do not forget God. Fear God. Do not go after other gods from among the gods of the peoples that surround you. For God, Your God, is a God Who demands Respect, lest the anger of God be stirred up against you and God will destroy you from the face of the earth.”
“When God gives this land to you,” Moses says, “God will deprive many nations of their land before you. God will strike down your enemies. Make no covenant with them, nor ally yourselves with them by marriage, for this will cause your children to deviate from following God. Then your children will serve alien gods kindling God’s anger. God will destroy you. Rather, tear down their altars and burn their images in fire for you are a holy people to God, your God.
“It is you whom God has chosen to be a people belonging exclusively to God, more than all the other peoples that are upon the earth. God did not take delight in you and choose you because you were the most numerous among the peoples, for you are the smallest. It is out of God’s love for you. It is because God kept the oath God swore to your forefathers and brought you out of slavery. God preserves the covenant for those who Love God and who keep God’s commandments. But for those who hate God, God avenges them instantly. Therefore keep the commandments I command you today.”
Parashat Vaetchanan Discussion Questions
1) This passage includes the Shema and V’ahavta prayers. Do you think that the phrase “these words which I command thee this day” refers to The Ten Commandments or the whole Torah? Why?
2) Why is it so important for the Israelites to follow the Ten Commandments in this promised land? Can the land fulfill its promise if the people do not follow the Ten Commandments?
3) In this passage, a covenant between the Israelites and God is described. What are the terms of this covenant? Does the covenant still apply today? Why or why not?
4) This section includes a prohibition against intermarriage. Do you think that it still applies today?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!
Pronounced: shuh-MAH or SHMAH, Alternate Spellings: Sh’ma, Shma, Origin: Hebrew, the central prayer of Judaism, proclaiming God is one.