Wow, this Torah Portion has everything: The Shema (the central affirmation of faith), the Ten Commandments Version 2.0 (which, BTW, I’m leyning at shul this week), the basis for Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals), Major portions of the Torah Service for Ashkenazic (V’atem Hadbikim LaShem…) and Sephardic (Ata Hareita LaDaat) and the Aleynu (the prayer that ends every service and performs a central role during the High Holidays). But there’s one thing it doesn’t have: SNAKES ON A PLANE!
Sorry I couldn’t resist the SoaP ad, and have honestly had (does this count as an alliteration? the second ‘h’ is silent…) this introduction for this week’s dvar torah in my mind for a couple of weeks, thinking it perfect for the torah portion which has everything… you know, except for snakes on a plane. Well, the haftarah for Tisha B’Av morning yesterday in Jeremiah 8:17 (JPS 1917 translation) “For, behold, I will send serpents, basilisks, among you, which will not be charmed; yet shalt cometh from the heavens nestled on the wings of great iron eagles and they shalt bite and smite you, at the arrival of the man of Cush, saith the LORD.*”
*Okay, most of the verse is real, but I kind of completely made up the second half. You might want to look it up for real...
What to talk about… There is so much in here. TOO much. The shema? Nah. The slight and not-so-slight differences in the two versions of the Ten Commandments? Boring. The fact that trying to pass off fragments as questions? Don’t press your luck. Hmm. I think I’ll go with Birkat HaMazon** (and perhaps prayer in general). Just note that this Torah portion is a treasure trove from which millions of Divrei Torah can be extracted and I may milk this one for years. Some other parshiot might be a one time deal, seeing as I’ve blabbed on about them ad nauseam (but also ad maiorem Dei gloriam and ad vitam aeternam (ooklay emthay upay… but that’s a different latin)).
**actually, my mistake, Birkat HaMazon is NOT in this week’s Torah portion, and I actually already wrote it as a considerably-lengthed D’var Torah, which will appear, God-willing, next week. I’m not going to delete the above
Alright so actually, I guess I have to go with something else, because it has become painfully obvious, as made clear in my doubly-asterisked comment, that everything is NOT in Vaetchanen, particularly Birkat HaMazon. Fine. The Shema it is.
Whereas the Amidah is officially the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema is by far the most famous, why even Tao Tan knows it! (Tao is an honorary Jew, and apparently was converted by a beit din of three Orthodox Jews when they were all drunk. I don’t think it was official because it would have been painfully-obvious (emphasis on painful) because Conversion of males to Judaism requires a bris. Also, beit din’s can’t convene at night, nor can they be drunk. And I don’t know if an EC (East Campus) shower stall counts for a mikvah (now I’m just assuming…))
The Shema in its short form is likely the first Jewish thing that Jewish children are taught. By the time I learned to talk somewhat coherently, my parents had me say it nightly before bed. It is the affirmation of God’s oneness, and even its translation, punctuation, pronounciation, and interpretation is disputed.
I consider it my favorite Haiku (though one of my Rabbis disputes its status as a haiku)
5-7-5! why doesn’t he think it’s a haiku?
The most common translation is Hear O Israel, the Lord [is] our God, the Lord is One. Catholics apparently place commas elsewhere after each reference to a name of God. take the three references to a name of God (Adonai, Eloheinu, Adonai: Echad). Apparently they think it is kind of counting. Three is One: the Trinity. Once again***, my Christian friend will have to confirm this for me
***once again? Actually the first example of my call to my Christian friends is in the Dvar Torah I’m actually postponing until next week
The greater Shema is composed of three paragraphs. The first paragraph is found here, known as Shema and V’ahavta. Next week we have V’haya im Shemoa, and a couple of weeks ago we read the final paragraph, “Vayomer” (which I wrote a d’var torah about back then)
In the ten commandments which we read a version of this week, we are not commanded to love our parents. We are commanded to honor them, yes, but not necessarily to love them. (If my parents are reading, I don’t mean it, I’m just stating a fact of Jewish law). The Shema states that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. This is something very powerful that involves emotions.
The source of what to do with the Shema is within the Shema itself. Say it when you wake up, say it when you lie down. It is one of the first things we say in morning services, immediately after the Birkot HaShachar, and is the last thing we say at night, while lying in bed . Just in case it doesn’t mean it literally, we also say it in its full version (all three paragraphs) during the Shacharit (Morning) and Maariv (Evening) services, but not during the Mincha (Afternoon) service. It contains the instruction to put up a mezuzah on our doorposts and on our gates, and we do so, putting inside it a parchment of these paragraphs. In fact, a house is not supposed to be officially inhabited by Jews until the mezuzah is put up on, at the very least, the front door, and is usually the main event at a Jew’s house-warming party. It is the number one sign that the person living in the house is Jewish (lack of Christmas Lights is only seasonal). To put up a mezuzah not only comes from this and the Vehaya Im Shemoa sources, but there is also an example of Jews putting something on their doorposts to identify them as Jews: The blood of the pascal lamb on the eve of Passover in Egypt identified the Jews houses for the Angel of Death (or God) to pass-over their houses (hence the name) and only smite the firstborn of the houses without blood, the Egyptians. The mezuzah invokes God’s protection on a house. We are to instruct our children. This is emblematic for the responsibility to teach your children the Torah. However, that usually gets taken care of by Hebrew school or Day School. The Shema itself, is usually taught, for conscious or subconscious reasons, by the parents, thus fulfilling this mitzvah. We are to wear it as a sign upon our hand and as a diadem upon our heads, the source for Phylacteries, which contain the first two paragraphs of the Shema and two other paragraphs containing similar instructions for frontlets and the like. Tfillin is apparently a manifestation of glory and is as a king’s crown. The Jewish King used to wear tfillin all the time, according to the Talmud. God too wears Tfillin. It obviously does not say “Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is One”, but rather another verse. “Who is like Your nation Israel, a unique people in the world?”. Actually now that I think about it, there is an instance that these two verses are sort of combined. It says in the Shabbat Afternoon Amidah: "אתה אחד ושמך אחד ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ"
You are One and Your Name is One, and who is like Your nation Israel, a unique people in the world?” Whoa!
I spoke in my Tisha B’Av D’var Torah about three cases of martyrdom in order to Sanctify God’s Name. In Judaism we have a tradition that there were 10 great sages who were martyred at the hands of the Romans in public executions, each with different forms of brutality (there were obviously more, but these ten crept their way into the Yom Kippur liturgy (Eleh Ezkerah). One of the greatest rabbis of all time, Rabbi Akiba, who was raked with iron combs to death, was killed at the time. The same Rabbi, along with a couple of others, is famous for having a Passover Seder in B’nei Brak that went so long that his students had to come in and notify the Rabbis that it was time to say the Morning Shema. The Shema is also the very first thing discussed in both the Mishnah and both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, "מאמתי קורין את שמע בערבית?" “Until when can we say the evening Shema?”. We have died for the Oneness of God. We have never been a missionizing people, and I think the proof can be seen here. We try to convince the oneness of God to the People of Israel. Here O Israel! Not the world! And in regards to things that relate to the holiday we observed/celebrated (depending on the arrival of the messiah) yesterday, it was necessary for Moses and later the other prophets to convince Israel before anyone else of the oneness of God. And as we see from other famous examples I discussed at the beginning of the Dvar Torah. The beginning of the Sephardic Torah Service and the one used by Ashkenazic Jews on Simchat Torah (Ata Hareita LaDaat): “Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightiest know that the LORD, He is God; there is none else beside Him.”. The Ten Commandments: duh. Wow, I need to wrap this up... And as we read in the Aleynu, “He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else”. The end of the second part, which is not in this week’s Torah portion, but Zechariah 14:9: “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His Name One”. The end of days is a striving for the unity of God. This gets into Kabbalah. And I’m going to stay out of Kabballah, ‘cause the new age version weirds me out. That’s it. Shabbat Shalom. Oh. It’s also Shabbat Nachamu. Well, sing the Safam song, I’m not writing anything else. I'm outie.
This is my 120th email. 120 is a number of what we strive for in Judaism, as it is the age that Moses died. Check out the wikipedia article on the number 120.