This week’s portion, Va’etchanayn, takes its place as one of our more famous. We read again the Ten Commandments (5) the Sh’ma and V’ahavta (6:4ff), and continue as Moses recounts the challenge of following God’s law and the consequences of not adhering to it. The portion coincides also with the tradition of beginning a countdown, in a spiritual sense, to Rosh Hoshonnah. The Haftorah, from Isaiah 40, opens the pathway Shabbat Nachamu, Shabbat of comfort. Slowly our calendar reminds us what is on the horizon. Elul, a month of spiritual reflection that prepares us for the Holidays rests just ahead.
Indeed this portion calls us to renew our own spiritual life. The opening word of the portion, as commentaries remind us, speaks to this. “The opening word of the weekly portion (3:23) is a form which suggests a reflexive sense, such as ‘I got myself to plead” (Plaut. 1336). In that opening verse, one of pathos and sensitivity, Moses again “pleads” to cross over. He knows he is dying, he knows that power had been transferred , and, we think, he also knows the answer to his plea. But, still he pleads. Is it a plea? Is it a prayer? As his time to die approaches, what is he really pleading for? In moments of self doubt, of challenge, of facing reality; what do we plead for? What do we pray for?
This portion speaks to so many of us. All of us are in a time of significant transition. As one student in a recent Torah study asked: “at this stage of my, I am conflicted by what to forget and what to hold on to”. We pray for peace! We pray that we are not alone and that we can bring or allow our own souls and self to be “comforted”. While the portion speaks in the communal sense, the God and Israel sense, what I suggest is that we also see this portion as a symbol of our own lives. Moses pleads for one more chance to “see”. How often do we as well? In this moment of transition, Moses pleads for a sense of forgiveness. Do we as well? The portion asks how we can bring comfort to our own self and soul. Another year is ending soon and we face the task of taking stock, that cheshbon ha’nefesh, the accounting of our soul. To whom do we submit that report? Perhaps that reflexive form of the opening word of the portion can remind us that in this season of reflection, it is to our own soul that we must render account. Sh’ma says the text this week. Listen! Have we even begun to understand what that means?
Rabbi Richard F Address