Parshas Vaeschanan


August 3, 2012
8 Av, 5772


Candle-lighting Time: 7:53 PM

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What’s in a Nickname?
by Rabbi Raphael Leban

We’ve been called nicknames like hebe and kike, we’ve been caricatured, stereotyped and lambasted, we’ve been blamed for everything from 9-11 toHollywood. But the Jews have never been called stupid.

Perhaps this week’s parsha explains why.

In verse 4:6 of Devarim, it says, “And you shall guard [the mitzvos] and do them, for it is your intelligence and wisdom in the eyes of the nations…” Rashi explains that the Torah and its commandments, in all their infinite greatness, characterize us in the eyes of all those around us, as smart.

If we look back a few parshios, however, we find that one mitzvah, the para aduma or red heifer, inspires quite a different reaction. There at the beginning of Parshas Chukas, Rashi tells us that the nations of the world taunt us for such a seemingly inexplicable mitzvah. They don’t sound too impressed with us and our Torah in that case.

The Kli Yakar gives an insightful resolution for the contradictory reactions of the world at large. In Parshas Chukas, only one mitzvah is being discussed, the para aduma, a mitzvah which stands out as supra-rational, beyond our ability to fully grasp. When scrutinizing such a mitzvah, world reaction might well be unfavorable.

Examining the whole breadth of the Torah and its precepts, however, evinces quite the opposite reaction. There is so much wisdom, so much clarity into the human psyche, so much sophistication and purity of intent in Torah. An honest analysis of the entirety of Torah can’t inspire anything but awe.

And when you come in contact with one or two things that may not seem eminently clear, you put them in context. They must also make sense, and one day I’ll understand them. For now, I’ll treat them like all the other aspects of the Torah I treasure—I’ll be impressed.

Certainly if the nations of the world can see it that way, and see us that way, so can we. Let’s have the breadth of vision and ‘big-picture’ outlook to feel nothing but wonder and admiration for our Torah and our people.


The World Shuddered
by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

The Ten Commandments are the basic tenets of Judaism, providing a framework by which to live. Our Sages teach that the entire Torah is alluded to within them. In a very fundamental way, one could look at them as our charter and constitution.

The fourth statement of the ten is not to use Hashem’s Name needlessly. Of course one should be respectfully careful when using Hashem’s Name. However, the Talmud makes a startling comment about this prohibition. When Hashem uttered this prohibition, the entire world shuddered and trembled. Everything that Hashem said is earth-shattering. Why would this particular mitzvah have created such a reaction that did not occur with the statement of other mitzvos?

Before the Mishkan, the traveling Beis Hamikdash, was built, wherever and whenever we pronounced Hashem’s Name, we were showered with an outpouring of compassion and benevolence from Hashem. This was not only due to the fact that we recognized Hashem’s magnificence and thus He bestowed His good and kindness upon us. Rather, the actual Name of Hashem itself brings with it subsequent blessing and benefit. This power was not negated or diminished with the advent of the Mishkan, rather it was more focused and concentrated when the Mishkan was built.

Perhaps this is the meaning of the Talmudic statement that the world shuddered when Hashem stated the prohibition of using His Name in vain. His name gives the world ongoing sustenance and without it we cannot exist.

Another understanding of the Talmud relates to our relationships with other people. When a dispute erupts between people, often an oath is required to corroborate one of the claims. If that litigant swears falsely, then he exacerbates the dissention between the two individuals. In Pirkei Avos we are taught that the world stands upon peace and judgment. If one uses Hashem’s Name in the format of an oath to essentially destroy the foundations upon which the world stands, then he shakes the fundamental tenets of this world.

Conversely, we can utilize Hashem’s Name to bring blessing to the world and its inhabitants. Therefore, we should realize the double-edged sword that this opportunity presents to us. With a word we can destroy this wonderful creation and all its goodness, or we can enhance everything around us, developing and shaping it to its fullest potential.

At a more profound level of understanding Hashem’s Name conveys intransigence and perpetuity. It propels the ongoing functioning of this world and all that is contained within this sphere and the entire cosmos. Any interruption or disturbance of its potency or impact adversely affects the composition of the universe. Now we can really understand why the world was shivering and shaking when the prohibition of using Hashem’s Name inappropriately was stated.

Even if the Name is used needlessly it is a demonstration of a lack of reverence and respect for Hashem’s supremacy. May the next time we utter Hashem’s Name in a blessing be with caution and prudence.


Byte For Shabbos

Our Sages teach us that if one davens too loudly during the Shemoneh Esreh, he is considered amongst those who lack faith and trust in God. If someone truly believes that God listens to our prayers, he wouldn’t need to raise his voice in order to make them heard.



Joke of the Week

Disoriyenta (n.) When Aunt Linda gets lost in a department store and strikes up a conversation with everyone she passes.