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 14, 2008

Pashat Va'Etchanan

The View From On High

At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe describes how god denied him his request to cross over the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. However, god does grant Moshe one concession. He may see the land from the peek of Mount Nevo.

"Go up to the top of peek and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan" (Devarim 3:27).

The question we must ask is why Moshe would want to look towards the east. Canaan is ahead of towards the west and the north and south west. However east is away from Canaan. Moshe would be looking towards present day Iraq and Saudi Arabia – they my have a lot of oil, but they are not part of the holy land.

Rabbi Menachem Leibtag suggests that in order to answer this question we need to look at the two other occasions the Torah talks about these four directions.

The first time is with Avraham:

"The Lord said to Avram…., "Raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward" (Bereshit 13:14)

The place Avraham was standing was Bet El (see ibid 3).

The next occasion this expression appears is with Yaakov. It was also at Bet El:

"Your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall gain strength westward and eastward and northward and southward; and through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth and through your seed" (ibid 28:14).

The Rabbis understand Bet El to mean Jerusalem, literally, the House of God.

The purpose of the Jewish people conquering Canaan and establishing a unique relationship with God, is not because God has given up on the rest of humanity. On the contrary, it is because He wants Israel to be light unto the nations, to help spread the word of God to humanity (see my blog on Parshat Yitro,

The word of God therefore, is not meant to be tied down to Israel; it is to spread to all humanity, in all four corners of the earth. Therefore, God tells Moshe not just to look at Israel's home, but at the influence Israel will have over the whole world.

Perhaps this is why the opening pesukim appear in Parshat VaEtachanan, even though they are thematically linked to Pashat Devarim In VaEtchanan Moshe reminds Israel of the time they accepted the Torah, i.e. the time when Israel accepted its mission to be a treasured nation. Therefore, when the Rabbis divided the Torah into weekly portions, they understood that God telling Moshe to look eastward, away from the Holy land, as linked to Moshe's repetition of the Ten Commandmentswanted the giving of the Torah (Devarim Chapters 4 and 5).

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Va'etchanan entiled: "The Two Tablets" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Va'etchanan entiled: "Despair and Hope" appears at

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