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Parshat Va'etchanan - Shabbos Nachamu

Tisha b'Av is only good if you remember it a little bit longer. If the next day is just the same as it was before, what good is the whole thing?

▪ Remember Who You Are - Be Who You Are

▪ A Free Gift and Being with Hashem

▪ Praying to Pray

▪ Shabbos, The Shema & Tzedakah

▪ Shabbos Nachamu & a Song From Reb Shlomo

Remember Who You Are - Be Who You Are

Whatever one might say about this parsha would probably be an understatement. In it you will find not only the Ten Commandments and Shma Yisrael, and the mitzvah of Tshuvah and much more. You will find Moshe Rabbeinu speaking to us quite lovingly and even uncompromisingly, exhorting us to "hear", to "listen", to "remember", and "not to forget". He speaks to us of Hashem's love, anger and jealousy [as in caring about our relationship so much that He will always guard it ‘jealously’].

Throughout the parsha Moshe Rabbeinu earnestly advises us to remember who we are, to remember our relationships with Hashem, with our souls, with our people and with our holy land, Eretz Yisrael.

Throughout our history and today as well, we have struggled with the urge to be like "all the nations"- to assimilate. In general people don’t really like to be different. However, no matter how much we try to camouflage ourselves in the various societies we live in, the world knows that we are Jewish. Why do we keep on repeating the same mistake of trying to be like everyone else? Is it fear of anti-Semitism? Is it simply our reluctance to take on our role responsibly? Is it because we think that it would be 'more fun' not to be Jewish? Why don't other ethnic groups mind being different?

There are no short answers to these questions; but I would like to present two points. While internal division is our biggest problem, we Jewish people are in fact very concerned about unity. It can even be said that it is because we care so much for unity that we can very easily become intolerant of one another when see things differently. We want unity so much that we think it is okay to dislike [putting it mildly] an ‘other’ who thinks and acts differently.

People like people who are like themselves. There is a well known aphorism, ‘birds of a feather flock together’. But this is actually a natural animalistic character trait; it may be good for animals but it is not the level that we humans need to attain. When you like someone who thinks like you and acts like you, it is really yourself that you are in love with. You [the insecure you] like them because they make you feel good; you feel vindicated when you are with others who agree with you.

“Keshem sh’ain partzufaihem shavin zeh la’zeh, kach ain da’atan shavin.” This teaching is found in a number of places in the Talmudic literature. Loosely translated it means ‘that just like their faces are not exactly alike [each person has his/her unique face] so too their thoughts and opinions are not equal’. There are over seven billion people in the world, bli ayin hara. Each person has two eyes, a nose, a mouth and two ears, etc. nevertheless each person has a unique face. And each person has their own way of thinking, tasting and relating. And that is exactly as it should be, because real unity is much deeper than unity based on superficial similarities.

A great rabbi commented, just like you appreciate the fact that you have a unique face, that everyone else does not look exactly like you, so too, appreciate that everyone has their own mind and opinion.

And the big question is "How can I help unity if I am different?" Should I give up my uniqueness for the sake of unity? Is it our concern for unity that is somehow partly responsible for our wanting to be "like all the nations."

Not knowing who we really are as individuals and as a people, not understanding the meaning of our Covenant with Hashem, is a far greater factor in our readiness and desire to assimilate.

If we were to learn and understand the special role that Hashem gave us both as a people and as individuals, in making this world a dwelling place for the Shechinah, if we would understand what it means to be a real Jew, what it means to be your real self, then we would also know that it is by being real Jews and real individuals that we can best contribute to the unity of the world.

"You have been shown to know that Hashem, He is the G-d; there is nothing other than He." (4:35)

As the Jewish people, our task is to be "a light unto the nations”. Don’t kid yourself, the world knows this. We cannot and we never will be able to run away from this responsibility. Hashem will not allow this nor will the other nations allow it. We need to know who we are; we need to be who we are and we need to do all this b'simcha!

A Free Gift and Being with Hashem

Rashi teaches us that Moshe was asking for a free gift: Rashi 3:23 I entreated: Heb. וָאֶתְחַנַּן [The word] חִנּוּן [and its derivatives] in all cases is an expression signifying [requesting] a free gift. Even though the righteous may base a request on the merit of their good deeds, they request only a free gift of the Omnipresent.

The Alter Rebbe emphasized to his chassidim the tremendous importance of being consciously grateful for all the kindnesses that Hashem is always doing for us. True gratitude brings humility. Realizing that Hashem does for us so much more than we ever imagined ourselves deserving, makes us aware that Hashem is far greater than we had imagined Him to be, and that we are so very far from Hashem. Thus we are aroused to yearn ever more intensely to be closer with Hashem, and then, we come close again; as Jeremiah said, " 'From afar the LORD appeared unto me.' (31:2)

Moshe Rabbeinu asks for a 'free gift' because he knows that the very opportunities to do good deeds are Divine gifts of kindness; he wants to come into Eretz Yisrael with the single awareness that Eretz Yisrael is purely a gift from Hashem to the Children of Yisrael; he doesn't want to even think that he 'deserves' it for what ever many good deeds that he did. He wants it only because Hashem wants to give it to him freely.

Daavening is about being close to Hashem; coming closer and closer; finding and revealing your love for Hashem, within. Daavening begins with subjugating ourselves and expressing gratitude to Hashem. May we all be blessed to practice sincere gratitude, that will lead to honest humility, that will lead to heartfelt yearning to be ever closer with Hashem, with one another, with the Torah and with Eretz Yisrael.

Being with Hashem

At the opening of the parsha Moshe Rabbeinu tells us how he prayed so much that Hashem should allow him to enter into Eretz Yisrael. However these prayers were not answered. Hashem in fact told him to stop his prayers and instead go up to the top of the mountain "and see [the land] with your eyes." It is explained that Moshe Rabbeinu is like the shepherd who enters only after every one of his flock has entered. Moshe Rabbeinu and Rachel Immeinu will enter Eretz Yisrael only after every Jewish child will be back home. may it be soon.

Further Moshe Rabbeinu exhorts us to listen to and obey the laws for our lives and our inheriting Eretz Yisrael are dependent upon our obeisance to the laws of the Torah, which we may not add to or diminish any of it.

Adding to or subtracting from the mitzvoth of the Torah leads to idolatry and destruction. In giving us His Torah, the Talmud explains, Hashem gave His essence Self to us. Through the study of Torah and the performance of its mitzvoth we bond with Hashem's essence. If I were to make any changes to it, by addition or subtraction, 'chas v'shalom', even if for seemingly good reasons, I would at best end up worshiping "my" finite concept of Hashem.

"4:4 But you who cleave to the Lord your God are alive, all of you, this day." We live by cleaving to Hashem and by holding on to the Torah, our "tree of life".

Soon after in the parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu brings us back to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah. Let's go there.

Visualize yourself standing at mt. Sinai ready and waiting to receive the Torah. And this is what we were shown:

לה אַתָּה הָרְאֵתָ לָדַעַת, כִּי ה הוּא הָאֱלֹ-הִים: אֵין עוֹד, מִלְּבַדּוֹ.

4:35 You have been shown, in order to know that the Lord He is God; there is none else besides Him.

Rashi: You have been shown: Heb. הָרְאֵתָ As the Targum [Onkelos] renders it: אִתְחִזֵיתָא, you have been shown.

When the Holy One, blessed is He, gave the Torah, He opened for Israel the seven heavens, and just as He tore open the upper regions, so did He tear open the lower regions, and they saw that He is One.

Accordingly, it is stated, “You have been shown, in order to know

[that the Lord He is God-there is none else besides Him].”

Thus, when Hashem said "I Am Hashem, your G-d," these were not just words that we simply heard. Rather this was a most intense of experience of the highest revelation of the Oneness of Hashem. It was absolutely clear to all that there is none else. That being so, one may ask, why then was it necessary to be told "You shall have no other gods before Me"- was it not obvious that there are no other gods or powers?

Idolatry can be coarse and vulgar and it can also be very subtle. In this world that we live in is known as "alma d'prudah" and "alma d'shikra" - the world of division, the world of lies, there is a very subtle idol- the idolatry of "otherness", the idol of separateness. Thinking that you are "other" is idolatrous. In this world of differentiation and division, we are naturally drawn to this idol of 'otherness'. We might even think of ourselves as 'other gods'.

Before coming down to this world our souls were in a state of blissful union with Hashem. We come into this world because it is Hashem's Will to have a dwelling place here in the lowest of all worlds and it is our role to manifest His Oneness in this world and dispel its lies and division. The very commandment, and being commanded, "You shall have no other gods before Me" is what gives us the the strength to overcome the attraction of "other" gods, the attraction of otherness.

At Simchat Shlomo we seek to find and emphasize that which unites us rather than that which divides us. All who are interested in studying integrated Torah and integrating Torah in a respectful and warm and loving atmosphere are welcome. Students from all backgrounds are welcome, regardless of levels of observance. On any given day you are likely find among us people with very divergent opinions, yet all are respectful of one another.

Torah is that which unites us. We may not be practicing all alike, but we surely can learn together! The most important thing is that we learn together with love and respect and that we be united as one people. Amen.

We look forward to the Ultimate Redemption – may it be very very soon. Amen.

Praying to Pray

tefillah hisbodedus shevach

Chassidut teaches us that when we say "Baruch Attah Hashem ... blessed are You Hashem", Hashem makes Himself present to us. At that moment we can experience Hashem's love and closeness. The gates of prayer are never closed, regardless of whether or not Hashem is granting our requests. The closeness to Hashem that we can truly feel when praying sincerely, is the greatest thing in itself; greater than immediately receiving what you wanted. When we pray with all our hearts something happens inside, there is a stirring of life that is experienced in the soul. Deep inside something is telling us to never leave from this holy place and moment.

The Sfas Emes, similar to the Bertichiver Rebbe’s teaching, explains Va’etchanan, as preparing oneself to pray with all one’s heart and soul. When you achieve praying in this way, you actually forget to ask for those things that wanted to request of Hashem, because when you are so close to Him, you don’t feel the need or desire for anything else. That is why we need a siddur- a prayer book to remind us what to pray for, since Hashem does want us to pray for health and livelihood etc..

Imagine an old peasant and his wife living in an old farmhouse. They have one little field where they grow cabbage and potatoes. They have been there ever since they were born and have never left. They have one old horse to plough their field with and one cow that provides them with milk. One day the old man comes into the house and bitterly complains to his wife that the horse has no more strength to plough the field. He is at a loss, “What will we do now?” And the old woman says to her husband, “Boris, we have a king, why don’t you go to the king and ask him for a new horse. He has so many, maybe he’ll give you one and we’ll be able to continue farming and we’ll survive.”

Boris agreed to go to the king. He had never been away from his farm. All he knew was his little farm, his small barn, his small house, his horse, his cow and a couple of hens. So he set out toward the royal city. As he was getting closer he started to see buildings the likes of which he had never seen. They were big and beautiful. The closer he got to the royal city the more magnificent they were. Finally he arrives at the gates of the royal city and they ask him why he came. “I would like to see the King, because I need a new horse.

The guards allow him to enter and he approaches the palace, it is so utterly splendid that he is overcome with awe. He could barely tell the palace guards why he came. Finally he is inside the glorious royal chamber standing before the king. Boris bows to the king and the king asks him “Why did you come today? What would you like?” And Boris says, “My dear King, I came to ask you for a horse.”