Va’Ethanan – Perasha Synopsis

Perashat Va’Ethanan begins by Moshe recounting how he pleaded with G‑d to permit him cross over and enter to see the Land of Israel. Hashem refused his request, telling Moshe never to speak of the matter again, and Moshe blamed the refusal on the Israelites. Instead, G-d directed Moshe to climb a mountain from where he would see the Promised Land, and to give Yehoshua his instructions and instill him with strength and courage to lead the people and allocate to them the land.

Moshe exhorts the people to follow G‑d’s law, to treasure the Torah and its precepts, praising its wisdom and never to add to or detract from it; so that they might live to enter, conquer and prosper forever in the land that G-d was giving them. He argues that observing the laws faithfully would demonstrate to other nations the Torah’s wisdom and discernment, for no other nation has a G-d so close and no other great nation had laws as perfect as our G-d’s laws. He reminds them of the Baal Peor incident to demonstrate that those who remained faithful to G‑d survived and thrived.

Moshe reminds them to never forget the day when G‑d gave them the Torah, and vividly describes that awesome event, commanding them to teach their children and their children’s children to recount that day’s events.

Moshe reminds them that G‑d did not appear as any image, form or shape, therefore, he warns them not to make a sculptured image in any likeness whatever or worship idols of any form or shape under Heaven. If they will act wickedly and worship graven images, they will not live there long, and it will result in national exile and decimation. But even when in exile, when in distress and they search for G-d with all their heart and soul, G‑d will not forsake them. Moshe concludes this part by praising the Israelites’ uniqueness: the only nation directly delivered by G‑d from servitude, and the only nation to whom G‑d revealed Himself.

Then Moshe designates the three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan river for people who unintentionally kill others, where they could find shelter and live. The city of Bezer in the Jordanian desert, in the land of Reuben, Ramot, in the norther Jordanian hills, in the land of Gad, and the Golan Heights in the land of Menashe.

Moshe reminds the Israelites of the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments, telling them that the Sinai covenant was not limited to their fathers who were physically present there, but also with them; every one of them.

The Ten Commandments:

  1. “I am the Lord am your G-d.
  1. “You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
  2. “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the G-d.”
  3. “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.
  4. “Honor your father and your mother”
  5.  “You shall not kill”
  6. “You shall not commit adultery”
  7. “You shall not steal”
  8. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  9.  “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Then Moshe imparts G-d’s instructions. the first section of the famous Shema prayer is recited. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might… And you shall bind these words for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes [on your foreheads]. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your houses, and upon your gates.”

[This paragraph contains the fundamental missvot of belief in G‑d’s oneness and unity, love of G‑d, tefillin, mezuzah and Torah study]

Moshe warned the Israelites not to test G-d, but to keep G-d’s commandments and do what is right in G-d’s sight. For each person to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt when their children would ask the meaning of the commandments, when G-d created wonders and destructive plagues and freed them from bondage.

The Perasha concludes with Moshe telling the Israelites that they will conquers defeat and dislodge the 7 nations inhabiting the land of Canaan along with their idols, and not to intermarry with them; for they would turn the Israelites’ children away from G-d to worship other gods and idols. And the Israelites are G-d’s treasured people, a consecrated people, a chosen people, not because they were the most numerous of nations, but because G-d favored them and kept the oath He made with their forefathers. Therefore, they are commanded to follow G-d’s laws and commandments.


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