Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Shabbat Nachamu

Last week, doom and destruction.  This week, comfort and love.  But first, the Torah reading.

Moses segues into a heavy-duty discourse on laws and obedience thereto (sorry, I’m regressing a bit) by packaging his remarks in his audience’s history.  He recalls yet again how he cannot enter the Promised Land because of them, though implored the Lord to be allowed to.  Then he instructs them to listen carefully to the laws and neither add to nor subtract from them.  Wait a minute, you’re saying, aren’t all those many volumes of Talmud and commentaries just that?  And we don’t a lot of that stuff anymore, like sacrifices.  Actually, all that commentary is intended not to change the law, but to explain it as issues arise in the real world.  You start with, say, “You shall obey the Sabbath.”  What does that mean?  When, specifically? How?  What restrictions are there?  We’re given why’s – you were slaves in Egypt, the Lord rested on the 7th day, you’re commanded to.  But we need the details.  As for the sacrifices, once the Temple was destroyed, we couldn’t do that anymore, but prayer is the substitute.

While we usually read this type of “obey or else” approach as carrot-and-stick, a lot of it is really more like, if you do (or don’t do) this, good (or bad) things will follow as a natural consequence.  (Exception: If you worship another god, all bets are off and you will be punished in no uncertain terms by a jealous God.) Let’s say your doctor tells you to keep your weight down, exercise, and stop smoking.  If you do, you get healthier.  If you don’t, you may die prematurely, not because your doctor is punishing you, but because the prescription is good and bad things happen when you don’t follow it.  Same here.  The Law is good.  Follow it. 

This acknowledgement that there is one God whom we worship coms up in the two most significant parts of the Torah reading: the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9) and the repetition of the Ten Commandments (5:6-18).  [There is a very interesting take on monotheism in a d’var Torah by Rabbi Reuven Firestone, “Monotheism and the Problem of Truth,” which pits the “broadmindedness” of polytheism’s truths against the “chauvinism” of monotheism’s truth of a single God.  (Thanks, Stanley)]  The Shema is an exhortation rather than a prayer, though it is prominent in our liturgy.  The Ten Commandments, now actually referred to as “ten” (unlike the Exodus 20 version), differ in small ways from Exodus 20:1-14.  The changes, according to the Maharal of Prague, are how Moses perceived them to present them in a manner that he thought the people would be most capable of absorbing.  Exodus 20:1-14 is what we refer to as THE Ten Commandments.

Moses reinforces his message by reminding the people how miraculous and unique their experiences have been and how important it is to teach their children about them, throughout the generations.  One memorable example is that passage in the Passover Haggadah that begins with Deut. 6:21, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…”

Now, comfort and love.

This Sabbath is Shabbat Nachamu because we read the first of the 7 Haftarot of Consolation after Tisha B’Av, Isaiah 40:1-26, which begins “Nachamu, Nachamu ami,” “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”  This is a command to the prophets.  And it’s not the only verse from this haftarah used in Handel’s Messiah.  There are 6 more (an exercise left to the reader).

And then there’s what you might call a Jewish Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av (15th of Av. Such unimaginative names – 15th of Shevat, 9th of Av, 4th of July, etc.  This year, it’s today, Friday, August 19.  From last year: Tu B’Av is “a holiday instituted during the Second Temple period, largely forgotten, and revived in recent years.  It marked the start of the grape harvest.  As described in the Mishnah (Taanit 4:8), ‘There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What they were saying: Young man, consider who you choose (to be your wife).’ (  It is also known as Chag HaAhava, festival of love ( ).  Sounds like fun.”

Shabbat shalom,



Looking good in White?

AUGUST 12, 2011

  1. White is definitely your color, now all we need is a chupah and a yichud (seclusion) room
    9.     TubaAv, Tubishvat – hey, either way let’s get fruitful!
    8.     If Tubav is a real Jewish holiday, nu, lets create some guilt
    7.     Congrats, you won me as your Shabbat Nachamu consolation prize
    6.     Wow, you are Two’Bav the rest! 
    5.     I don’t really believe in the concept of Bashert, but for you I’ll make an exception
    4.     You know, God picks your soul-mate for you when you are still in the womb!  My only question: how were you able to remember my name for so long?
    3.     Hello, My name is Harry,….Haray AtMikudeshsetLi
    2.     Is it just me, or are the girls wearing white and all the guys saying Masheev Ha Ruach**? 
    1.     Hi, I’m Mr. Right.    Someone in shul said you were praying for me?

*Start of a prayer for seasonal wind and rain (ahem, on the white dresses)
*Start of marriage vows



Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees! 

Today in the Word, July 30, 1993.


Doctor’s Orders

Doctor: “I see you’re over a month late for your appointment. Don’t you know that nervous disorders require prompt and regular attention? What’s your excuse?”

Patient: “I was just following your orders, Doc.”

Doctor: “Following my orders? What are you talking about? I gave you no such order.”

Patient: “You told me to avoid people who irritate me.”


tph the_ten_commandments lots of tablets


Thunderstorm Comfort

Submitted by: RockyB

One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small boy into bed.

She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”

The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. “I can’t, dear,” she said. “I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”

A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice: “The big sissy.”


tph monotheism pile of rocks


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s