Parshat Vaetchanan תשע”ט
ואתחנן is the second portion in the last book of the Torah, דברים – Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy is called משנה תורה, which means a review of the Torah. In this book, Moshe reviews many of the mitzvot, elaborating on some, and introducing a few that he had received already, that he waited until now to give.
As part of his review, Moshe recounted the seminal event of receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, as well as the Ten Commandments. Comprising ten categories under which the other 603 mitzvot fall, the Ten Commandments present the entire complement of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot in kernel form. Rav Saadia Gaon (882-932) in ספר המצות (Sefer Hamitzvot), his book that enumerates the mitzvot, grouped them into ten categories corresponding to the Ten Commandments. When the Jewish people received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, they also received the entire collection of mitzvot that Hashem prescribed.
The Ten Commandments were written on two tablets, five commandments on each. Why did God give them on two tablets? Why not one or three?
Looking at what is written each tablet, the answer becomes obvious. The Ten Commandments breakdown as follows:
- I am Hashem your G-d
- Do not have any other gods
- Do not swear falsely
- Keep the Shabbat
- Honor your father and mother
- Do not murder
- Do not commit adultery
- Do not steal
- Do not bear false testimony
- Do not covet
A careful review of the two tablets reveals that the first tablet lists the commandments that apply between man and Hashem, and the second tablet lists the commandments that pertain to man’s relationship with his fellow man. The problem appears to be with # 5, Honor your father and mother. Are they not human beings with whom we have a relationship? Why is that commandment on the tablet with the commandments between man and Hashem?
Our Sages teach us that the reason that Hashem created man is so that Hashem could bestow love and kindness upon him. What is the greatest good that Hashem could possibly bestow upon a person? Since Hashem is the quintessence of all goodness, the greatest possible good that Hashem could possibly grant a person is a connection to Hashem Himself, the ultimate goodness, which will happen in the world to come, when a person’s soul is in its spiritual state. There he will receive spiritual goodness from Hashem, commensurate to the amount of spirituality that he acquired during his lifetime.
Hashem wants to bestow His goodness upon as many people as possible, but, for that, He is dependent on us. Hashem has a repository of souls waiting to be doled out, but he must have a receptacle for it, a human body. This is where we come in. With Hashem’s help, we provide Hashem with a child into which He can place a soul.
This idea is expressed in the Talmud (Tractate Nidda 31a) where it says:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף לא/א
תנו רבנן: שלשה שותפין יש באדם הקדוש ברוך הוא ואביו ואמו. אביו מזריע הלובן שממנו עצמות וגידים וצפרנים ומוח שבראשו ולובן שבעין; אמו מזרעת אודם שממנו עור ובשר ושערות ושחור שבעין; והקדוש ברוך הוא נותן בו רוח ונשמה וקלסתר פנים וראיית העין ושמיעת האוזן ודבור פה והלוך רגלים ובינה והשכל. וכיון שהגיע זמנו להפטר מן העולם, הקדוש ברוך הוא נוטל חלקו וחלק אביו ואמו מניח לפניהם
The Sages taught: There are three partners in the creation of every person, Hashem, father, and mother. Father and mother provide the body’s physical components, and Hashem provides the spirit and soul, his facial features, his eyesight and the ability to hear speak and walk, his intelligence and understanding. When it comes time for the person to leave this world, Hashem takes back his part of the partnership, and the parts of the father and mother remain before them.
It sounds metaphoric, but it isn’t. Hashem has a multitude of souls in His storage house, so to speak, ready to begin life on this Earth. However, without a receptacle, a space suit, as it were, for that soul, it cannot begin its mission. A father and mother must create the receptacle for Hashem before He can send that soul to this world. Thus, father and mother are true partners with Hashem.
Therefore, commandment #5 – Honor your father and mother – is on the tablet with the commandments between man and Hashem. Parents partner with Hashem in the creation of a child. Hashem has endowed them with the power to create, just like He. They create the body for the soul. Why should parents have children? For the very same reason Hashem created us – to give someone else the opportunity to earn that most sublime and indescribable pleasure in the world to come. This is what Hashem wishes to give us, and what He created us to receive. Parents thus have the responsibility of educating their children in the ways of the Torah so that when they reach adulthood, 12 years old for a girl and 13 years old for a boy, they are primed and ready to start earning their eternal reward in the world to come.
Rashi’s commentary to Shir HaShirim (4:5) reveals to us the correlation between the commandments on the left and right tablets.
שני שדיך על שם הלוחות תאומי צביה שהם מכוונות במדה אחת וחמשה דברות על זו וחמשה על זו מכוונין דבור כנגד דבור…
The tablets of the Ten Commandments, were like twins. With five commandments on one tablet and five on the other, each commandment corresponded to the one opposite it.
In other words, the “Ten” Commandments actually comprise only five essential concepts; one tablet reveals how that concept applies to our relationship with Hashem, while the other reveals how that concept applies to our relationship with our fellow man. Rashi also provides us with the conceptual connection between them.
אנכי כנגד לא תרצח שהרוצח ממעט את הדמות של הקב”ה
I am the Lord your G-d corresponds to Do not murder, for one who murders diminishes the image of Hashem.
How is that? Hashem revealed to us in the Torah that He created man in His image (Genesis 1:27).
ספר בראשית פרק א
כז) וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ
27) Hashem created man in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him.
We know that Hashem has no physicality. Maimonides’s third principle of faith proclaims, “He is not corporeal and those who are corporeal cannot comprehend him and there is nothing that can compare to him in any way.” In what way, then, was man created in Hashem’s “image?”
The Sages explain that the image of G-d is manifest in our ability to make a moral choice between right and wrong. Only the human being understands the concept of good verses bad and is able to choose freely between them. No other creature makes a moral choice. They all just follow their instincts, the innate system that Hashem created in them so that they can live and survive.
The human being is the only creature on Earth that must make a moral choice every moment of his day and through every step of his life. From the first time our toddler took a toy from another child, we taught him, “Give that back! He had it first!” Or, “It’s not yours! When he is done with it, you may play with it.” We give our children a myriad of instructions from the time they are very young, attempting to properly educate them about what is right and wrong – good and bad.
When a boy reaches age 13 and a girl age 12, they become full- fledged adults and must take full responsibility for all of their choices.
This is how man was created in the image of Hashem. Just as Hashem has complete freedom to do as He chooses, so, too, man has complete freedom to choose as he pleases. He can select the right choice, or he can select the wrong choice. It is completely up to him; Hashem does not intervene. Therefore, when a person kills another human being, he is diminishing Hashem’s image, a) by acting like an animal instead of a human being, and b) by killing someone who is as well endowed with free will – a model of Hashem. Thus, when a person murders, he demonstrates that he has no respect for Hashem, and doesn’t believe in Hashem, violating the first commandment.
לא יהיה לך כנגד לא תנאף שהזונה אחר עבודה זרה דרך אשה המנאפת תחת אישה תקח את זרים,
Do not have any other gods corresponds to Do not commit adultery because one who follows a foreign god is like an adulterous woman who takes in a stranger instead of her husband.
By marrying, a couple makes a commitment to each other that they will be faithful to one another and not entertain any other suitors. When a woman breaks her commitment and accepts a foreigner, she has broken her commitment to her husband. The man she was with is also guilty of adultery and subject to the same penalty, since he was illegally with a married woman. The Jewish people have a covenant with Hashem created at Sinai that Hashem is our G-d and we are His people. Our commitment to Hashem is similar to the commitment of a husband and wife. We have an exclusive relationship with Hashem to the exclusion of all other gods. By following other gods, we are being unfaithful to Hashem and breaking our commitment to Him.
לא תשא כנגד לא תגנוב שהגונב סופו לישבע לשקר
Do not swear falsely corresponds to Do not steal, because anyone who steals will ultimately have to swear falsely to defend himself and take Hashem’s name in vain.
When one steals, he demonstrates that his needs are all that matter. If he wants something, he must have it even at the expense of breaking the law. A thief thinks, “Just because you bought that with your hard-earned money is no reason that I shouldn’t have it for myself if I want it.” His personal needs deprive him of respect for one’s ownership over his property. There are no boundaries or limitations that will deter him from acquiring something he wants.
The Hebrew word for an oath is שבועה – Shevuah, which is the same word for a week. What is the connection between a week and an oath?
We measure time in years, months, and weeks. Nature gives us the length of a year and a month. A year and a month are determined by the time that it takes for the Earth and the Moon to complete an orbit. But what is the source for a seven-day week? There is no source in nature. The reality is that the entire creation is testimony to a seven-day week, for Hashem created the world in seven days. Starting with day one, with each new day of the six days of creation, Hashem added new components to the world, culminating with man, the crown jewel and purpose for the entire creation. This is the source for the seven-day week observed the world over.
Hashem stands behind His world and guarantees its existence, and the existence of the world testifies to Hashem who keeps it extant. The connection between an oath and a week is that one who swears is saying, “I acknowledge that Hashem created the world in seven days, and I acknowledge His dominion over the entire world.” This is what makes an oath so powerful. By making an oath, he is tapping into the deepest sources of creation, saying, “What I am saying is as true and trustworthy as Hashem who created the world in seven days and who we trust implicitly to keep the world working and intact.”
A thief is a person who sees only his own needs, is prepared to transgress all boundaries to satisfy them, and will have no qualms about swearing falsely. Since he has no respect for boundaries and the property of others, he will also not respect the boundaries that an oath presents.
זכור כנגד לא תענה שהמחלל את השבת מעיד שקר בבוראו לומר שלא שבת בשבת בראשית,
Remember the Shabbat day corresponds to Do not bear false testimony because whoever desecrates the Shabbat is testifying falsely against Hashem saying that He did not rest from His creative work on the first Shabbat.
How is one who desecrates the Shabbat testifying falsely against Hashem and saying that Hashem didn’t create the world in six days and rest on the seventh?
Our Sages say desecrating the Shabbat publicly is like worshipping an idol.
כל המחלל שבת בפרהסיא כאלו עובד עבודה זרה.
How is that? Hashem created the world and therefore it is His to determine who can use it and when he may use it. He told us very clearly (Exodus 20:9,10):
ט) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ:
י) וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַידֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה
9) Six day you may work with My world, and you may do all your work, 10) But the seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem, you must desist from any forbidden activity.”
Hashem says to us, “During the six days that I created, you may also use my world in all the creative ways you wish. Just as I crowned the seventh day as a day of Shabbat and did not create anything more on that day, I request the same of you. In this way, you acknowledge Me as the Creator who has the right to ask this of you. When a person continues to use Hashem’s world on the Shabbat just as he uses it on a weekday, in a way he is saying to Hashem, “What gives you the right to restrict my usage of the world? Is it Yours? Did you create it?” Thus, he is testifying falsely against Hashem, the true Creator of the world.
כבד כנגד לא תחמוד שהחומד סופו להוליד בן שמקלה אותו ומכבד למי שאינו אביו
Honor your father and mother corresponds to Do not covet, because whoever covets will ultimately have a child who treats him irreverently and gives honor to someone who is not his father.
This correlation is the most difficult to understand. What does Do not covet have to do with honoring one’s parents? Why is do not covet one of the ten commandments anyway? Isn’t this just good advice? Don’t covet what the other person has since you can’t have it anyway; so, what’s the point?
The Ibn Ezra poses a different question asked by many people about this commandment. How does Hashem expect us to overcome the natural inclination to covet something nice that we see and desire? It’s human nature to want nice things, and the fact that it belongs to someone else doesn’t diminish that desire one bit. How is it reasonable or realistic to expect that from a normal person?
He explains how it indeed is possible. Imagine a royal parade making its way down the main street of the town. On the float, in the center of the procession, sits the king, the queen, and the royal children. The king has a beautiful 19 year- old daughter dressed in a most exquisite gown riding with him. Standing on a hilltop not far away, a handsome, strapping 25 year-old farm-boy dressed in his overalls and farm boots leaning on his pitchfork watches the parade. As he observes the beautiful princes pass by, does he have and designs of ever marrying her? Is he racking his brain trying to figure out a way to court her? These thoughts would be the farthest thing from his mind, for he knows that it’s impossible. There is just no way in the world the king or the princess would ever consider him a suitable candidate for marriage.
Ben Azai said:
(2) תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף לח/ב
אין אדם נוגע במוכן לחבירו אפילו כמלא נימא
A person cannot touch even a hairsbreadth of something that is earmarked for his friend.
Hashem gifts each person in this world exactly what he is supposed to have, not one iota more and not one iota less. What you legally own is your allocation, and Hashem has determined that, for your mission in life, that is exactly what you are supposed to have. Everyone else in the world similarly has just what he is supposed to have. There is no way for you to get what is his, even one hairsbreadth. What belongs to someone else is as far away from you as the princess is from the farm-boy. This is the secret to not coveting. We only covet something that we think we can have. Once we realize that it is impossible to have it, we no longer desire it.
A story is told of a young child sitting in a cart in the grocery check-out line. He is pestering his mother and reaching for a prominently displayed candy bar. When his mother bends over and tells him, “It’s not kosher,” he quickly withdraws his hand and starts looking for something else to do.
With this understanding, we see that “do not covet” is the “secret sauce” for keeping the four preceding commandments.
Rivalry often arises between people because one is jealous of the other for something that he has. An understanding that what a person has is what Hashem has given to him, and that what I have is what Hashem has given me and that I am not supposed to have what he has, would eliminate the desire to rob or kill the other person to get what he has.
Similarly, one would not commit adultery, steal, or swear falsely. He would be happy with what he has, and would have no desire for what belongs to someone else.
This understanding that everything comes from Hashem also applies to who we are and to the “tool-bag” of talents and character traits that we were given at birth. Each person is endowed with the perfect assortment of positive and negative qualities necessary for him to accomplish his mission in life. Every single element of one’s life is carefully chosen as a tool for him to use in his mission in life. No two people are the same.
We are who we are from our parents who conceived us and the home we grew up in, a combination of nature and nurture. Sometimes we wish that we were more like someone else, or that we had so and so’s good looks, or money, etc. “If only I had his … life would be so much easier.” If a person is unhappy with who he is because he covets the way someone else is, and blames it on his parents, he will treat them poorly, and emulate the parents of the person whose identity he would want.
This is completely wrong! I am who I am because this is the person Hashem wanted me to be, and I must become the best person that I can become with the tools given to me by Hashem. The talents and gifts that I have, both positive and negative, were carefully chosen for me by Hashem, and He expects me to use every single one of them in His service as His servant. There is no room for jealousy because I have the best combination possible.
Considering that our parents have given us the greatest gift possible- life– and the ability to earn a portion in the world to come by exercising our free will, we owe them everything and therefore must show them the utmost respect. They are Hashem’s partners, and they have given us the incredible gift of the possibility of living a meaningful and worthwhile life that will also pay off in the world to come when we reap the rewards of the good deeds that we have done in this world. Boy, do we owe them! And we should do our utmost to show them our appreciation for them and for what they have done for us.