Va-etchanan: This "week" in Jewish history...

This week I made a list of potential themes for my D’varTorah:

  1. Jews as the “Chosen People”
  2. The “Ten Commandments”
  3. The Commandment to “Do the Right and the Good”
  4. Siyum Hashas (the completion of the 7.5 year Talmud study cycle)
  5. This Shabbat’s designation as Shabbat Nachamu
  6. The Aleinu prayer with which we end each service.   

Each of these, among others, appealed to me.  Perhaps because I have just returned to Jerusalem and have not yet caught up on sleep,  I found myself unable to decide which to write about.  So, I thought I’d try briefly weaving them all together!

G-d created humans with inclinations for good (yetzer ha’tov) and evil (yetzer ha’ra), the latter predominating.  G-d loved Abraham and (1) chose him and his people to receive and transmit to future generations an antidote for the yetzer ha’ra: the (2) Ten Commandments and the rest of Torah.   

Even the most specific commandment requires interpretation and guidance for application (e.g., What is the “work” that can’t be done on Shabbat?  What is “taking the Lord’s namein vain?)  Many commandments are highly conceptual.  For example, we are required to always (3) Do the Right and the Good.  (Deut. 6:18).   How do we know what this means – what G-d expects of us -- in the daily situations we may encounter at home, in business, while traveling, when ill, on joyous, unhappy, or dangerous situations, in dealing with neighbors and strangers, etc? 

Our sages analyzed and debated this question in innumerable contexts over many centuries.  They compiled a vast and diverse compendium of Jewish law, culture, and thought known as the Talmud or (4) Shas (Shisha Sedarim, the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Talmud).  This “appliedTorah” has been the basis of Judaism for the past 1,500 years.  Jews around the world study it daily in a 7.5 year cycle, which just ended (siyum) and began anew this week.   (There are several free email subscriptions available to study “a daily page of Talmud” in English.  For example,

Of course, although G-d gave us the antidote to our yetzer ha’ra, it continues to tempt us and often succeeds.  We have therefore done and continue to do bad things, both as individual Jews and as Am Yisrael.  So do all other people.  We have suffered and continue to suffer because of both our own and others’ actions. Yet, we can take (5) consolation Nachamu from G-d’s promise us that if we acknowledge (6) our obligation (Aleinu) to live according to G-d’s will and strive to do so, we will survive andprosper here in Eretz Yisrael.  

Now then, is this brief “story line” actually true, or is it just a religious “myth” perpetuated by self-justifying ritually-observant Jews?  After all, wasn’t the modern Stateof Israel established by secular Zionists rather than byTalmud Chachamim?  That’s a question I’ll explore when I’m more awake!    

Shabbat shalom!    

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb