Make a Fixed Time for Study

עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Va-Etchanan – the brief mitzvah guide to building a society

Posted by rabbiart on July 23, 2010

Our parshah contains 14 commandments; eight positive and four negative. The first two, according to their order of appearance, are the command not to desire what belongs to our fellow-Jew, and the command to believe in the oneness of HaShem. In most conversations about the essence or the heart of being Jewish, we emphasize that our tradition is focused on how we act, not what we believe. Yet the first two mitzvot of this parshah are clearly about what happens in our heart/mind and not our behavior.

Why?

In this view, thought is father (parent if you prefer) to the deed. If we desire our neighbor’s house (Devarim 5:18), we will begin to scheme on how we might get hold of it. On further study, we find that we control our thoughts, and not the other way around. We can decide not to covet, or desire that which is not ours. This commandment it also counted among the seven Noahide commandments, so it appears (and is) fundamental to the construction of an orderly society.

The second mitzvah of our parshah is to believe in the one-ness of HaShem. It is followed by the third mitzvah of the parshah, which is to love HaShem. These are based on Devarim 6:4 and 6:5, which we recognize as the beginning of the Shema. Many authorities have delved into how we say, what we should think, and how we should hold ourselves physically when reciting the Shema. There are many ways to translate the Shema. I like to think of the first phrase not as “Hear O Israel” but (borrowing a bit from Quincy Jones) “Listen Up, Israel”. Hearing is passive, listening is active. Regarding the remaining four words of the opening declararation, often translated as “the lord is our god, the lord is one”, as HaShem is our God, HaShem is everyone’s God (whether their name is Moshe Rabbenu or Richard Dawkins, if you know what I mean).

Don’t let our minds desire and leave us astray, believe in HaShem, Love HaShem. Shorthand version no doubt, but a society based on these three principles, will be a good place to live.

Shabbat Shalom

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