By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
July 27, 2002
Moshe, the great teacher of Israel, guides his people both in
the service of Hashem and in compassion towards one another:
Behold, to Hashem, your G-d, belong the heavens and the
heavens of the heavens, the earth and all that is in it. It was your
forefathers alone that Hashem desired to love them, and He chose their
descendants after them you out of all the nations, as this very day. And you
shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and your neck shall you stiffen
no longer. For Hashem, your G-d, is G-d over all natural forces, and Lord of
lords, the Great, Mighty and Awesome G-d, Who does not favor persons and Who
does not take a bribe. He exacts the justice of the orphan and widow, and
loves the stranger to give him food and clothing. And you shall love the
stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Devarim 10:14-19).
Taken separately, each of the lofty ideals expressed here is comprehensible.
However, how do these principles flow from one to the other ? And, what is the
combined effect of this passage from start to finish? Let us examine the
explanations of some of our commentaries.
Behold, to Hashem, your G-d, belong the heavens and the heavens of the
heavens, the earth and all that is in it. It was your forefathers alone that
Hashem desired (vs.14-15):
understands that “the heavens and the heavens of the heavens” refers to the
vast extent of the created universe. He states simply that, despite the fact
that Hashem is Lord over the entire universe, nonetheless He chose your
forefathers to cherish more than everything else.
Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) understands that “the
heavens and the heavens of the heavens” refers to the forces of nature and
elaborates on the chosenness of the Patriarchs. Although Hashem could have
occupied Himself exclusively with the sublime, immutable powers of the
universe that He created, He specifically selected Avraham, Yitzchak and
Yaakov, and even altered the powers of the universe for their sake. This was
in order to achieve a goal even more exalted than these powers namely the
production of the ideal human being who exercises his free will to emulate his
Haamek Davar (R.
Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) understands “the heavens and the
heavens of the heavens” as referring to the angels. He argues that, in this
passage, Moshe addresses his admonitions to each group of people according to
their degree of connection to Hashem.
Accordingly, Hashem preferred the Patriarchs over the pure
angels who inhabit the heavens, since the Patriarchs were able to perfect
their service to Hashem through action, which angels are not able to do.
…and He chose their descendants after them you out of all the nations, as this
very day (v.15):
Rashi: This preference for the Patriarchs is continued in you,
as you yourselves have seen in the past.
Sforno: Moshe urges us to emulate the Patriarchs in the future: And you shall
circumcise the foreskin of your heart remove misleading ideas from your mind
and, as a result, your neck shall you stiffen no longer because you will
be willing to know your Creator (v.16).
…the Great, Mighty and Awesome G-d, Who does not favor persons and Who does
not take a bribe (v.17):
Sforno: You will also realize Hashem’s love for justice, that
He will not “look the other way” if even a good person [or, we might add, the
descendant of saintly forefathers] does wrong.
Haamek Davar: Hashem values righteous deeds. Therefore, spiritual people must
not delude themselves that their general saintliness absolves them of the duty
to follow Hashem’s commands down to the smallest detail, or that they can
worship Hashem however they see fit. Rather, they must follow Hashem’s
commands as He dictated them. Hashem is One “Who does not favor persons and
Who does not take a bribe”, so one who may be active in one area of good
deeds, such as giving charity, is still obliged to obey Hashem in all other
areas. The service of every Jew, great and small, is thus precious to Hashem.
He exacts the justice of the orphan and widow, and loves the stranger to give
him food and clothing. And you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers
in the land of Egypt (vs. 18-19).
Haamek Davar: Hashem’s care extends to all, even to the
stranger who is alone in the world, just as Hashem cared for you when you had
no one else to protect you. Hashem’s solicitude allowed you to rise to your
spiritual potential; similarly, the stranger in your midst may contain great
spiritual potential, but you must enable him to have the same opportunities
for religious growth that Hashem afforded you.
The sweep of this passage is breathtaking, beginning with the farthest regions
of the universe and concluding with the least member of society.
And this is the point: Hashem is greater than all that exists, yet He allows
His Providence to extend to each and every element of creation. The greatness
of Hashem is seen in His concern for even the most marginal person. Insofar as
we are enjoined to emulate Hashem, we must take responsibility both for the
grand issues as well as the particulars of the Torah.
From greatest to smallest, all of creation falls within Hashem’s care. We must
strive for the same scope of concern as well.