Va'etchanan 5761 – Gilayon #198

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat

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Parshat Vaetchanan


“And you
shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your might.”

One must bless (the Lord) for
the bad just as he blesses Him for the good, as is written: ““And you shall
love the Lord our God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all
your might.”

“With all
your heart
: — with both your inclinations, the
good inclination and the evil inclination.

all your soul” –
even when he takes away your soul.

all your might” –
with all your wealth.

Berachot 9:5)





You shall love the Lord your God
– Act out of love. Scripture differentiated between observance out of love and
observance out of fear.  Observance
out of love is doubly rewarded, as is written: “The Lord your God you are to
hold in awe, Him you are to serve, to Him you are to cling”
There are those who, fearful of
one who troubles them, leave him and depart. But you act out of love, for love
and fear can co-exist only as an attribute of God.

An alternate explanation: “You shall
love the Lord your God
” –His love for all His creatures is like that of
your father Avraham, as is written “And the persons whom they had made their
own in Harran”
(Bereishit 12:5). Were all inhabitants of the world to gather to create a single mosquito
and give it a soul, they could not do so; how then are we to understand “And
the persons whom they had made their own in Harran
”?! But this comes to
teach us that our father Avraham converted them and gathered them beneath the
wings of the Shekhina.   (
Vaetchanan, 32).


(The mitzva) to love the stranger who
comes to dwell beneath the wings of the Shekhina is composed of two active
mitzvot. First of all, the stranger is included in ‘fellows’, and the
second, because he is a stranger, and the Torah said: “You shall love the stranger.”
He commanded us to love the stranger just as He commanded us to love Him
as is written “You shall love the Lord your God”.  God Himself loves strangers, as is
written “And loves the stranger”

                                                          (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 6:4)





  Avodah and Melakhah  (Service and


 By Asher Eder
Marx' famous observation "All history is the history of the revolt of the
oppressed against the oppressor" has quite a big deal of truth on its
side. The Tanakh provides the story of Israel's answer to Pharaoh's oppression,
but slavery continued to plague  mankind in nationwide scales till the
collapse of the Roman Empire, and in more limited scales till our days. The
rebellions of farmers and weavers in the Middle Ages are part of that picture,
and so are the struggles of the different socialist movements. Religions
originated in support of Divine justice but more often than not corrupted and
became self-centered; or sided with the rulers; or accentuated
other-worldliness.  One of the outcomes thereof is the ongoing separation
between religion and science with the latter claiming to provide the means in
modern times for man's enlightenment on his way back to the lost paradise.
   In our search for that way, the Torah provides us with a solution
to the problem.
We read in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:9,10; Deut. 5:13,14):
מלאכתך ששת ימים
תעבוד ועשית כל

ויום השביעי שבת … לא תעשה כל מלאכה
"Six days shalt thou work(
and do all thy handicraft (
thy business, labor); but the seventh day,  Shabbath …., thou shalt do
no handicraft (
מלאכה , business,
  The first part of this passage contains the positive commandment to do
work (
תעבוד, service; avodah)  a
n d  handicraft (labor), with the latter being seen as a part of the
former. The second part, the commandment "not to do", mentions only
מלאכה, melakhah, handicraft, labor, business), thus distinguishing it
from work (avodah).
  Avodah means work, or service (cultus, cult, in the original meaning of
that word), in the broadest sense. On Shabbath, the day of rest, our avodah
("service") may focus on worship, reflection, praise and prayer in
order to sanctify the day. However, during the six days of the week, our
melakhah (labor, business, handicraft) should also be part of our avodah. That
means we should do our weekly business (melakhah) for the honor of the Name of
the Lord no less than we do our service (avodah) on Shabbath. For that matter,
of course, no business or labor could be done which would not honor His Name;
nor should men enslave men. To make His honor our honor should be the axiom for
our daily work, too.
 Rebuilding the country by the people of the Covenant is actually part of
honoring His Name.  It is indeed a sign of the Messiah that he rides upon
a donkey, and not vice versa. This means to say, as true Adam we should neither
reject matter as base, nor be enslaved by it, but use it guided by Divine
  Accepting this exhortation of the Decalogue, to see melakhah as an integral
part of avodah, Divine service, would enhance the right attitude in all our
business relationships: those of employer to employee, and vice versa; of
businessmen among one another and towards their customers; of government
officials to the public and vice versa; of farmers and craftsmen; of scientists
and doctors; etc.
    Of course, there are rules and commandments which deal with
specific aspects of the subject, as seeing in the other not an object to be
exploited but a person of equal value; paying the proper wage or salary at the
proper time; employing proper measurements. 
   This whole concept can be seen as an integral part of the basic
commandment to love one's neighbor.
   The avodah (work, service) of the Cohanim (priests) and of the
Levites is meant to give men guidance in the above lines (as said in Mal. 2:7
"… the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they [=men] should seek
the Torah at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts");
and should assist men in their seeking expiation for trespasses.
The work (avodah) of the Cohanim and of the Levites was never meant to be
something on its own, detached from the ordained cultivation of the soil. On
the contrary. While they did not inherit a land for their tribe, they were yet
"given cities to dwell in, and plots (migrashim, kind of small holdings)
for their cattle and their goods and all their beasts" (Numb. 35:2-4; also
3:41,45). They were meant to serve in the Sanctuary during their respective
turns, and to tend their plots and cattle during the rest of the year.
We may see in these arrangements also some of the reasons why Israel as
"Kingdom of Priests" can function fully in this capacity only in the
physical Land of the Covenant and its requirements.
The Divine ordinance given in Exod. 35:2 and Levt. 23:3
ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה
six days
work shall be done
relates to all Israel, and finally to all men.
  This may explain why socialist movements of different blends were
initially blessed with successes. At least, they tried to solve the labor
problem. In the long run, however,  they failed because they concentrated
on melakhah (physical labor and related philosophies), leaving avodah (the
spiritual or inner work of man-making in compliance with the Torah) outside
their scope, or even rejected it altogether.
   All this is suggested by the etymology of the word melakhah. Its
root being malakh (messenger, angel), it could be literally translated
angel-wards. That means to say, we should do all our business as messengers
acting on behalf of the Divine, that is, in the image of our maker, the
Creator. While this holds true for all men, here in Israel, after the return
from the long exile, we should conceive and perform melakhah even as a
commandment headed by an appropriate blessing.
  On the other hand, melakhah which is not part of the Divine service
entails all kinds of enslavement and leads inevitably to confusion and to
עבודה זרה,
avodah zarah (literally service to strange entities).
  The Biblical concept of melakhah does not, of course, reduce men to
puppets. The Decalogue says explicitly that for six days we shall do all our
business.6a We are free to do the business we choose: handicraft, trade,
research, governmental and other office work, study, sports, arts, etc. We can
do it for the sake of earning our living; for the sake of physical or
intellectual training; or for pleasure; as long as it remains part of our
avodah, our service on behalf of the Divine.
   Already our sages said:
   "Just as we have been commanded concerning resting on
Shabbat, so have we been commanded concerning laboring the other six days. For
it is written: "Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the
seventh day is God's Shabbat"… And God did not cause His Shechinah to
dwell among us until we had labored, as written: "Let them make Me a
sanctuary. and I will dwell among them" (Avot d'Rabbi Natan, A:11 &
   It is important to note here that the word melakhah describes
originally (in Gen. 2:2) God's creation of the physical world as recorded in
Gen. chapt. 1. (God is nowhere recorded as being engaged in avodah, service,
  We may say that, in our case, melakhah has to do with the outgoing
faculties of man, the aspect of quantity; while avodah concerns the inner man,
the aspect of quality. Imbalance or separation of these two aspects leads to
tension, disease, and collapse on both the individual and national level. The
outer work, including the "marriage" to our land,8 complements the
inner service, and is a means of building up the integral man, or "true
  Thus avodah and melakhah, Shabbath and week, holy and profane, are
different not in essence but in form. In fact, in Hebrew language even the
7-days week is called Shabbat: the six working days culminate in the seventh
day of rest and sanctification, the Shabbat day. This is hinted at by the Torah
itself which relates both these aspects to our doing (making):
ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את שבת
"and the children of Israel shall
keep the Shabbat to do (make) the Shabbat",
ששת ימים תעבוד ועשית כל מלאכתך
"six days thou shalt work and do
(make) all thy work", (Exod. 20:9;  Deut.5:13);
and Moses our lawgiver says in his prayer, Psalm (90:17):
ויהי נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו
ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננהו
this verse is rendered
"…may the bliss of my Lord, our God, be upon us and establish upon us
the work of our hands, and the work of our hands establish Thou  it",
yet in Hebrew, the last part of that verse rather reads:
"…and the doing of our hands (will) establish it".
It is important to note that this passage (of Ps. 90:17) is recited towards the
end of the 'aravit (evening service) on Mozaei Shabbat, that is, at the
beginning of the working days of the week: it guides us into the latter.
The term "establish it" enjoins what we are meant to do as beings
created in the image of the Divine, namely to do our part in preparing the
whole earth with Man(kind) as its Divine steward, or messenger, for that
sanctuary of His dwelling which He has already prepared (cf. Exod. 15:17,
25:8). Psalms 8 and 104 bring beautiful descriptions of that purpose of Man's
creation which was laid down, constitutionally so to speak, in Gen. 1:26-298a),
and 3:23. Only in "his bliss upon us" will we be guided toward this
  In this Divine attitude, even such "profane" activities as
study of sciences and manual work, as well as eating and sex, are elevated into
the holy plane. The more they are elevated, the less "evil" or
destructive they become, and the more they become beneficial, uplifting,
unifying, and meaningful in the ultimate sense. Doing all our melakhah as part
of the Divine service (avodah) would transmute our desire for peace into the
works of peace which in turn would bring about peace. Likewise, it would
contribute decisively to reduce our ecological problems.
   Summing up, we may say that Man(kind) is destined to work
(avodah). We may do it as Divine servants (
עבדי ה', eved haShem); or else as עבדים, slaves of Pharaoh
  The link, or even oneness of avodah and melakhah, Divine service and
daily labor, becomes transparent also in other passages of the Tanakh. Let us
consider some of them.
  Each of the three Feasts commanded in the Torah – Pessah, Shavuoth, and
Succoth – has spiritual and agricultural aspects. On Pessah, we celebrate the
liberation from Egypt, but we celebrate this feast also as the spring festival
with the first cut in the green. Shavuoth (Pentecost, 50 days after Pessah, is
the Feast of Mathan Torah, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, as well as
the feast of the wheat harvest. Both aspects are combined in the Book of Ruth
(she serves as a model for all those who would embrace Judaism). Ruth receives
the Torah through her famous answer to Naomi:"…your people shall be my
people, and your God my God… may the Lord do so to me…"; and on Boaz'
field she helps bring in the wheat harvest. Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles,
reminds us that during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, the people of
Israel did not live in solid houses, but also celebrate the gathering of the
last harvest. (In Western countries, Thanksgiving Day relates to that aspect).
    Moreover, the Hebrew calendar guarantees that all its feasts
coincide with the agricultural seasons. Pessah occurs when the green is ready
for the first cut; Shavuoth, at the ripening and harvest of wheat and of the
early fruit varieties of the trees; Succoth, at the last ingathering; at the
middle of Hannukah begins the winter cold; tu b'shvat, the "New Year of
the Trees", marks the best season for planting trees; the New Moon prayers
(between the third and the tenth day of each new moon month) mark the best sowing
and planting seasons. Indeed, there could be no better proof of the bond
between religion and agriculture (as a section of melakhah) than the Hebrew
  Even the Levites while not on duty in the Sanctuary could and should
tend their small holdings (as mentioned above, cf. fig. 60). It would provide
them with a basic income so that they would not depend on the tithes (which the
people would give to those whom they deemed worthy); and they would not teach
abstract theologies but speak from both their learning and their experiences.
Besides, in times of need they could "flee to their fields" for
making a basic income (cf. Nehem. 13:10).
  The Hebrew confession : "..The Lord is One", is all-embracing.
It includes the spiritual as well as the physical aspects of existence, avodah
as well as melakhah  (fig. 84); and we are commanded to unify His Name.
    Let us take notice of what two of the most distinguished
Jewish scholars had to say on our subject:
   The Rambam, in the Introduction to the Guide for the Perplexed,
"We must form a conception of the Creator according to our capacities;
that is, we must have a knowledge of metaphysics (the science of God), which
can only be acquired after the study of physics; for the science of physics is
closely connected with metaphysics and must even precede it in the course of
studies. Therefore, the Almighty commenced the Tanakh with the description of
he creation, that is, with physical science".
  Some 250 years ago, the Gaon of Vilna taught:
"When the light of the Torah came into the world, it split into two parts.
Only one part was revealed directly, the prophetic experience. The other part
was hidden in the wisdom of nature and the time will come when those hidden
wisdoms will be discovered, revealing aspects of the Torah never before
  Both these sages stressed the concurrence of metaphysics and physics,
that is, in the above terminology, of avodah and melakhah.



Dr. Asher Eder is a lawyer
who studies religions and their place in history. This article is an excerpt
from his book Magen David —  An
Ancient Symbol of Integration
. Since 1996 he is co-chairman, along with
Professor Sheik Abdul Hadi Paltzi, of the Islamic-Jewish Association in Israel.

This original  version, written by the author in
English, sent to you and posted on our website, is more elaborated than the
Hebrew translation distributed in the Synagogues.





“You are to do what is right and
what is good in the eyes of God” –
is good
” – in the eyes of Heaven; “What is right” – in the eyes of
man. This is the view of Rabbi Akiva.    Rabbi Yishmael says: Even that which is right in
the  eyes of Heaven.

 (Tosefta, Shekalim 2:3)


What is right and what is good” –This
refers to compromise lifnim meshurat hadin — beyond the strict
requirements of the law. 
Devarim 6:18)

Rabbi Yochanan said: “Yerushalayim was destroyed
only because judgement was rendered strictly according to the Torah.”  [Questions the Talmud] Were they then
to have judged in accordance with the laws of swindlers?! But say thus: Because
they based their judgments [strictly] upon Biblical law, and did not rule lifnim
meshurat hadin 
beyond the
requirements of the law.                         
(Bavli, Bava Metsia 30b)


“Peace in His Celestial Heights” Depends Upon “Peace
On Us”

And thus we are to understand “For who else is
such a great nation that has gods so near to it . . . And who else is such a
great nation that has laws and regulations so equitable . . .”  
I had intended to explain, in
Parashat Shekalim, the passage “Now these are the regulations that you are
to set before them”. 
The  purpose of regulations is to prevent
people from swallowing each other alive; if there will be peace between man and
his fellow, aside from the hidden import of the subject which is beyond human
comprehension, when there will be peace below  between man and his fellow – then will
there be peace above.   
                    (Yetiv Panim II, P. 219b)


Comfort Ye, Comfort Ye, My People

Zealousness is mighty as Sheol” – Elijah’s
zealousness against Israel was severe. As is written “I am moved by zeal for
the Lord, the God of Hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant . .
Elijah should have gone to
the place where his fathers stood and pleaded for mercy upon Israel, but he did
not do so. Said The Holy One, Blessed Be He,  to him: “You pleaded for your own needs, go and return to
Damesek”.  And so is written with
regards to Hezkiyah: “For there will be peace and truth in my days”
(Isaiah 39:8). Said The Holy One, Blessed Be He, to him: “You have
pleaded for your own needs.”  Comfort,
oh comfort My  people, says your
(Ibid 40:1), and
you have no need for Elijah’s prayer.”
           (Midrash Zuta, Shir Hashirim, Parasha 8)


oh comfort My  people” –
the tribulations and the suffering and the exile  are proportionate to the lack of  daat [knowledge, understanding]. When daat
will be complete, then will all deficiencies be filled, in the sense of
“If you have acquired deah,
then what do you lack?” and as is written: ”Assuredly, My people will suffer
exile for not giving heed”,
 and the essential element of eternal life — to be in the
world to come  — will be a result
of daat. For daat  will spread, and all will know God, and through daat
all will be part of His unity, and then all will live eternal life as does He,
for through daat all are part of Him, as was said by the Sage, “If I
knew Him, I would be Him.”  The
principle part of daat will be in the future, as is written, “For the
earth will be filled with deah”,
 and because of daat, nothing good will be lacking –
all will be good.                  
       (Likutey Moharan, Parasha 21)



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