17 August 2016
This week’s parasha, Va-etchanan (I pleaded) begins with an honest and unflinching first-person account by Moses as he dares to once again bring up with God the subject of not being able to cross into the Promised Land: “I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God…Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan….’ But the Lord was wrathful with me on your account and would not listen to me. The Lord said to me, “Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!”
How many of us, after hearing such a rebuke, would respond in anger or retreat in silence? In an extraordinary display of humility and leadership, Moses uses the remainder of the parasha to remind the Children of Israel to obey the laws of God. He repeats the Ten Commandments and then offers us the most famous passage in Jewish liturgy, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might…”
Through Moses’ sealed fate, his experiences and words reflect the dual nature and names of God: compassion (Adonai) and judgment (Elohim). Each of us relates – or doesn’t – to these two attributes of God at different times and in our own ways. From the simple perspectives we have as children to our complex and often contradictory views as adults, the Shema serves as a compass for our faith and our responsibilities.