Parshat Va'Etchanan - 5760
"This is My G-d," Herman Wouk, in a personal anecdote, recalls
that he used to wonder whether a man, facing the prospect of imminent death,
could really call to mind and recite the "Shema."
He recounts being convinced when "once during a typhoon in the
Pacific, I was almost blown off the deck of a ship, and I remember quite
clearly thinking, as I went sliding toward my fate, 'If I drown, let me say
the 'Shema' as I go." Luckily,
he concludes, the lifeline he grabbed "happened to hold" and so he
postponed the final utterance.
week's Parshah, we find the first paragraph of the "Shema" (Devarim
6: 4-9), which begins "Hear, O
Israel, HaShem is our G-d; HaShem is One!"
That verse and the few verses following contain the fundamental
ideas: Unity of G-d and Love of
G-d to the point of self-sacrifice, as we see from Rabbi Akiva's explanation
of his apparent joy while being subjected to the torture of having his skin
stripped by iron combs by the Romans. He
told his students that he rejoiced because he'd never before had the
opportunity to fulfill the Command to love G-d "bechol nafshecha,"
"with your entire life."
The way the
first verse in the "Shema" is written in the Sefer Torah is unique
in that the letter "Ayin"
at the end of the first word, "Shema," "Hear," is
elongated as well as the letter "Dalet" at the end of the last
word, "Echad," "One."
Interestingly, I heard from someone who would most likely know that
the prolonged pronunciation of the elongated "Dalet," to emphasize
"One," is only possible according to the Taimani pronunciation,
which pronounces "Dalet"
as the "th" sound in "these."
According to the Ashkenazi or modern Sefardi pronunciation, which is
"explosive," the sound cannot
HaTurim explains the significance of the elongated "Ayin" and
"Dalet" is that those letters spell out the word "Ed,"
meaning "Witness," as in "You are my witnesses."
The Jewish People are witnesses to G-d's Existence and Greatness over
all the so-called gods. And the relationship is mutual, for in HaShem's Tefilin is
inscribed "Who is like Your People, Israel, One Nation in the World."
another way that the "Ayin" and the "Dalet" can make a
word, and that is by reversing them, to spell the word, "Da," to
"Know;" that is, to Know
that HaShem is One. And the
Parshah repeats again and again what it is that we are required to know.
In Devarim (4:35), we are told, "You were shown, so that you know, that G-d is the only G-d; there is
none beside Him." And the point is reinforced in Devarim (7:9)
where the verse reads, "And you should
know that HaShem your G-d is the only G-d."
witnesses, we are required to be witnesses to G-d's absolute unity from visual
knowledge, not only from the reliable testimony of our ancestors from
generation to generation, and not only by our collective national
memory of the experience of the
Revelation of HaShem at Sinai, but because that event was of
such transcendent magnitude that our
souls were there as "eye-witnesses" as well.
If we are
good and faithful witnesses, the whole world may finally share our
knowledge, and we will reach the time about which it is written, "And
the Earth will be full of the Knowledge of HaShem as water fills the
sea." (Yeshayahu 11:9)
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel