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Parshat Vaetchanan

Moshe Rabbenu reaches the border of Eretz Yisrael and yearns with all his heart to enter "the good land that is beyond the Yarden" (Devarim iii, 25). There are those who think that Moshe's entire desire to enter Eretz Yisrael is because the land is good from a material aspect, as the spies said, "and they brought us back word, and said, 'Good is the land that Hashem our G-d is giving to us'" (i, 25). However, the continuation of Moshe's words proves otherwise, for Moshe proceeds to say, "the good land…this good mountain and Lebanon." The mountain refers to the mount of the house of Hashem, which is the place where the Shechina is revealed to the world, and it is called Lebanon, as it whitens (malbin) Israel's sins and atones for them. We learn from this that Moshe's definition of a "good land" is a spiritual one. Eretz Yisrael is unlike other lands, for it is the land of Hashem and is therefore holier than other lands. The pinnacle of its sanctity is the Bet Mikdash from which all Eretz Yisrael draws its value. The atonement of the Bet Mikdash results from its separation from the usual materialism and its connection to the loftier roots of life. Therefore a person who makes a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary has the ability to overcome his material chains and return to his Divine roots, which constitutes true teshuva. This is Moshe's important teaching concerning the value of Eretz Yisrael.
 
When a person values something he does not possess, he pleads from the depth of his heart before the one who can fulfill his request, hence "And I pleaded with Hashem." This teaching is a very important one on the eve of entering the land, in order that we should merit remembering always that there should be an essential, internal relationship with Eretz Yisrael. However Moshe himself knows that this important teaching which he is instructing them is hard to establish during routine life in Eretz Yisrael, which is why he continues to say, "When you beget children, and children's children, and you become old in the land, and deal corruptly, and make a graven image, the form of any thing, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Hashem your G-d, to provoke Him" (iv, 25). Yehoshua spent seven years conquering Eretz Yisrael, followed by an additional seven years dividing the land. These years of division were designed to create an inner connection between each tribe and its unique inheritance in Eretz Yisrael, for it does not merely refer to a physical parceling out of real estate, but rather a connection with the internal "good land." The consequence of three or four generations of grinding routine is the feeling that the land is "old" – there is no more revitalization or freshness, and this results in life becoming technical and worldly until the stage of "and deal corruptly, and make a graven image, the form of any thing" is reached. In order to try and prevent us from deteriorating to this state Moshe demonstrates for us the pleading for Eretz Yisrael, which emanates from a living, effervescent connection that will not be damaged by routine life over the generations.

Chazal teach us that Israel sinned in a double-measure, were punished with a double-measure and are comforted by a double-measure, as we read in the Haftara, "Take comfort, take comfort My people, says your G-d" (Yishayahu xl, 1). Moshe Rabbenu, when speaking to the people, informs them that they will sin in a double-measure, "and make a graven image, the form of any thing, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Hashem your G-d, to provoke Him." Likewise regarding the punishment Moshe says, "you shall utterly perish," and afterwards, "you shall be utterly destroyed" (iv, 26).
 
It is possible that the double aspect of the sin is that it has a practical side, the doing of evil in the sight of Hashem, yet this is not the main shortcoming, but rather the first and central problem lies in the inner relationship, as the routine that dries out the marrow of life is the basis of the revealed aspect of sin. The repair will also come in a double measure, first of all the inner repair of our essential foundation, out of which the practical repair will blossom and give flower by itself. Then the comfort will be double and perfect forever.

Moshe Rabbenu says to Israel, "But Hashem was wroth with me on your account [also: for your sake], and did not listen to me; and Hashem said to me: 'Let it suffice you; speak no more to Me of this matter'" (iii, 26).

(Moshe provides them with a similar statement in Parshat Devarim, "Hashem was also angry with me because of you" (i, 37), and likewise later on - "and Hashem was angry with me for your words" (iv, 21).)

In our case, it can be explained that Hashem was angry with Moshe and did not listen to his pleas for our sake, meaning we must learn an important lesson from this situation for all times. Throughout our history we will be disconnected from Eretz Yisrael on the practical level and we will have to preserve an inner and spiritual connection with the land, so that we will be worthy when the time comes to return there, build it, and reach our lives' perfection in the building of the Bet Mikdash. Yet because of the lengthy time period, despair from redemption is always round the corner, for we pray and pray generation after generation and yet still remain in the same state of exile without obvious change. Therefore Moshe teaches us that he also prayed, and while he did not merit entering the land his deeds and spiritual actions were beneficial, as his student Yehoshua merited entering Israel into the land. And thus Hashem says to him "But charge Yehoshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall pass before this people, and he shall cause them to inherit the land which you will see: (3, 28).
 
We thus learn that if there is deep faith and we do not lose our patience we will indeed enter Eretz Yisrael.

Today, when we have already merited returning to the land, there are those who are impatient, for whom the redemption processes are too slow for their tastes, and at times it also seems that there are retreats. They despair to the extent that they wonder whether this is indeed the beginning of the flourishing of our redemption (reishit tzemichat geulateinu). However we are commanded to learn from Moshe Rabbenu and remain faithful to our inner vision of faith, and we and our children will merit, G-d willing, the arrival of the redeemer.
 
This dual approach to mitzvot, their performance and our inner connection to them, finds expression in the continuation of Moshe's words. "And now, Israel, listen to the statutes and to the laws which I teach you, to do them; that you may live and go in and possess the land which Hashem, the G-d of your fathers, is giving you" (iv, 1).
 
Moshe emphasizes that in order for us to merit being in the land we must listen to statutes and laws. The following pasuk, "You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of Hashem your God which I command you" (iv, 2) teaches us the duty to fulfill the mitzvot in their entirety and believe in their absolute Divine nature, which is why we may not change a single thing based on subjective reactions and thoughts, or based on "modern" and "progressive" opinions, but rather attach ourselves to the mitzvot with their absolute Divine nature, as the Creator of the world knows the proper path for us.
 
Moshe proceeds to teach us our inner connection to Hashem's service, "But you that are attached to Hashem your God are alive each one of you this day" (iv, 4). The definition of true life is the attachment and connection to Hashem from the depths of the heart. The parsha of Shema, which appears in our parsha, also teaches us this duality. We are commanded by the Torah to say the parsha of Shema morning and evening, which is a technical act. Yet this mitzvah is unique in that it requires intention (kavanah), for although all Torah mitzvot require intention, this refers to one's thoughts before the action, to intend to fulfill a positive mitzvah from the Torah. Concerning the reading of the Shema, however, we are also commanded to have intention at the reading of the first verse at least. We are commanded not only to perform a technical act, but also to make an inner, reflective connection.

"And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength" (vi, 5). Love is an inner emotion. We are commanded to raise up this wonderful force, love, to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. But emotions alone are insufficient and must be expressed through actions: "with all your heart" = with both of your inclinations; "with all your soul" = even if He takes your soul; "and with all your strength" = with all your money.

G-d willing, when we merit living a complete and comprehensive life we will also merit "Take comfort, take comfort My people."

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