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R' Feldman's Derasha - Parashat Vaetchanan (August 17, 2019)

08/20/2019 11:18:51 AM

Aug20

Sometimes, I concentrate on a single verse and it seems like I’m making a lot out of what seems kind of obscure.  This week, it might be one verse, but it’s pretty obvious how prominent it is. This is what we say every time the Torah is read.  When we pick it up, we recite, V’Zot HaTorah Asher Sam Moshe Liftei Bnei Yisrael -- this is the Torah Moshe placed before the Jewish people.  Some point their fingers and some don’t, but we all say it.  

We seem to be saying, “Voila -- this is the Torah,” and that seems appropriate as we show off the Sefer.  But what does the verse mean in context? That’s not so clear. The problem of understanding this verse in context is it does not seem to relate either to what came before or what comes after it.  First, it’s smack in the middle of a paragraph when it seems like it should be announcing something. Some say that this verse sounds like it could have been the first thing the Torah says: “This is the Torah”...and then say, “In the beginning....”  How can it be buried in the middle of a paragraph.

What comes before are verses describing the creation of sanctuary cities.  What comes afterward is an announcement about the laws and decrees to come.  Given the possibilities, it is understandable that Rashi takes the position that it comes on what was given after.  The 10 commandments are not far away, after all. That seems to be what we are trying to say when we say it in Shul.

But several commentators say differently.  They see it as a wrap-up sentence on what has come before.  Here’s a detail about those sanctuary cities: Though they were set aside now, they would not go “online” until the three on the other side of the Jordan River were designated.  It’s a package deal of six, and none of them work unless all of them work.  

So when Moshe Rabbenu deals with it now, he is telling us more than just an identification of the cities.  He’s teaching about the manner in which Mitzvot are supposed to be be regarded and how they are to be done.  One does them promptly, for one. As soon as one has the chance, one acts.

But he’s also teaching about the worth of the Mitzva.  He will not finish this Mitzva because he won’t have the chance to cross the Jordan.  But he does it as fully and as accurately as he can. A partial Mitzva is still valuable beyond comprehension -- a part of infinity is still infinity.  

Finally, he taught that finishing the job is irrelevant.  Not that one should learn from this to slough off instead of finishing.  Of course there is value in finishing. But not getting to the end does not take away from what one has indeed accomplished.  Again, a part of infinity is still infinity.  

We spent last Sunday marking loss after loss.  In the documentary we watched, we saw people whose resistance to the death and destruction around them was nothing more than sociological research and historical writing.  They looked at the despair in the Warsaw Ghetto and they resisted by writing. It does not matter if it was “effective.” It only mattered in that it affirmed their humanity in the midst of degradation from every side.  

The doing of a Mitzva in such a situation is more than resistance.  It is the extraction of a diamond of infinite colors from the dung piled up all around you.   This is indeed the Torah that Moshe placed before the Jewish people.

Wed, September 18 2019 18 Elul 5779