Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Parshat Ekev

Shema 1 and Shema 2

In last week’s parsha, VaEtchanan, we read the first paragraph of the Shema. In this week’s parsha, we read the second paragraph.

If we were to compare both paragraphs, we would notice that they are essentially the same. Both speak of:

    • Loving God with all one’s hear and soul
    • Placing these words on our hearts
    • Teaching these words to our children
    • Discussing these words on our journeys or while sitting or lying in our homes
    • Tying these words as tefillin to our bodies
    • Inscribing these words on our door posts
Nevertheless, they do differ in three areas:

Reward and Punishment
The second paragraph promises abundant material wealth if we keep these precepts. God promises that He will: “will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. I will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat and be sated” (Devarim 11:14-15).

At the same time, He also threatens Israel with poverty and even exile, if they are disobedient: “He will close off the heavens, … and you will perish quickly from upon the good land” (ibid 17).

These promises of rewards and punishments do not appear in the first paragraph.

The second paragraph also promises longevity if these precepts are kept: “in order that your days may increase and the days of your children, on the land” (ibid 21).

This promise also does not appear in the first paragraph

The third difference between the paragraphs, which is not noticeable in an English translation, is that the first paragraph is in the singular, and the second paragraph is in the plural.

This change enables us to appreciate the other two differences. There is no guarantee to any individual as to their reward and punishment. A person could be righteous all his life, yet he will not necessarily be rewarded. So too, an evil person may not necessarily see his punishment. The reward and punishment exists only on the national sphere. If the people obey the Shema’s precepts, the nation will reap the rewards. If the people disobey the precepts, the nation will experience the consequences. There is no guarantee to the individual.

Indeed Avraham discovered this concept in Sedom, that the righteous would die with the wicked.

So too with the longevity issue. The Mosaic Law does not guarantee the righteous longevity. It only guarantees society its longevity if it upholds God’s law. But if the society is not just, it will collapse, along with its righteous..

Lord Jackobovitz, the late Chief Rabbi of the UK, used to say that these precepts, like all others in the Torah, still apply today. Israel’s only guarantee of survival is if it creates a just society. Without that, God forbid, it could fall.
In these days of war and terrible national suffering in Israel, we must remember the Shema so that: “your days may increase and the days of your children, on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to give them” (ibid).


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