Va-ethanan Laws and Beyond

Parashat Va-ethanan

August 12, 2022

We always read this parsha, Va-ethanan on the Shabbat following the 9th of Av.  After the sadness of the 9th of Av we have the 15th of Av, one of the happiest days in the year, according to the Talmud in Ta’anit 26b. 15th of Av is a day to celebrate potential love that is the finding of a shiduch. This week’s davar Torah is dedicated to all single people who are looking for their mate.  May you quickly find someone who you can love, honor, and become your better half. [1]


This week we read about some of the most basic ideals within Judaism – 1) The power and centrality of the law (ten commandments); 2) The singularity of God (the Shema); 3) The importance of national history (reminder that God took us out of Egypt); 4) Reminders of mitzvot (tefillin and mezuzah); 5) The concept that we are a holy nation; and 6) The importance of transmitting history and culture of the community to your children.  Each of these concepts deserves a shelf of books to explain them.

Devarim 6:17-18

שָׁמ֣וֹר תִּשְׁמְר֔וּן אֶת־מִצְוֺ֖ת י-ָ֣ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם וְעֵדֹתָ֥יו וְחֻקָּ֖יו אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּֽךְ׃

Be sure to keep the commandments, decrees, and laws that your God enjoined upon you.

וְעָשִׂ֛יתָ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר וְהַטּ֖וֹב בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה לְמַ֙עַן֙ יִ֣יטַב לָ֔ךְ וּבָ֗אתָ וְיָֽרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥ע יְהֹוָ֖ה לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃

Do what is right and good in the sight of God, that it may go well with you and that you may be able to possess the good land that your God promised with an oath to your fathers,

While the laws are at times very exacting and complicated, doing the right thing is a principle that is also important.  This is a complication.  How does one know the difference between being careful in our observance yet doing the right thing? Part of the answer is in Rashi’s commentary – “compromise.”  This is especially important in our relationships with people.  God may forgive us for not being exacting in observing a commandment but saying or doing something to another person that is hurtful even when it is within the law, may cause long-term damage. Keeping in mind we are a holy nation, and everyone has the holy spark within them means that sometimes goes beyond the letter of the law (lifnim mi-shurat ha-din). The law is a basis or principle that one needs to figure out how to apply to the situation.

The business lesson this week is lengthy.  Moshe has been on a mission to bring the nation to the Land of Israel.  He will not live to complete the mission.  He pleads with God to be able to enter the Land and is denied.  All he can do is to see the beauty of the land from a mountain and dream. He hopes that the lessons he taught the nation live on and the people continue to retell our history and of the miracles.

If a president of a company knows his tenure is almost over, he would do exactly what Moshe did – appoint a successor, appoint leaders, teach the organization about the history and mission of the company, and make sure the rules are understandable. Good leaders and employers know when to praise and when to challenge.  Morality and understanding the human situation involves knowing society and the organization cannot exist without rules and also, we cannot be reduced to just following the rules.

Discussion questions:

  1. What is the difference between the God as imagined by a scientist and the God of Israel?
  2. Love is particular. One loves another because they are special. How does the law interact with the emotions of love?
  3. How does one combine the universal aspects of the law with the moral aspects of creating a society?


[1] The power of a bracha can help.  We gave a similar bracha to someone at our sheva brahot last December and she is now married. The bracha only works when people are lucky enough to meet.  Please help people meet and become friends.

About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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