Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch
Kohen – First Aliya – 11 p’sukim – 3:23-4:4
Moshe Rabeinu continues his farewell words to the People. He tells them that he had asked G-d to rescind His decree banning Moshe from entry into the Land of Israel.
[SDT] The proper method of Jewish prayer is to first say words of praise about G-d, then make requests of Him. This is the structure of the Amida. We learn this from Moshe Rabeinu who first says that G-d has begun to reveal His greatness to Moshe… and then Moshe asked to be allowed to enter the Land.
[SDT] The Baal Shem Tov commented that Moshe, who had learned the entire Torah, Written Word and Oral Law, from G-d Himself, used the term “You have begun to show me Your greatness…” The more one learns Torah, the more one learns about G-d, the more one will realize that he has just begun to understand Who G-d is.
G-d refused this request and forbade Moshe to ask again. Moshe ascended a mountain from where he saw the Land. G-d then told him to transfer the authority of leadership to Yehoshua.
According to the Vilna Gaon’s analysis of D’varim, this ends the first section of Moshe’s message to the People.
He next proceeds to review the laws and statutes (Torah and mitzvot) by which the people are now to live… in Eretz Yisrael.
Neither should the Torah be added to nor detracted from [these are counted elsewhere as mitzvot].
Another warning against idolatry follows. Then, “And you who cling to G-d are all alive today”. (The Gemara teaches that this is one of the many references to T’CHIYAT HAMEITIM in the Torah.)
The twin prohibitions of neither adding nor subtracting from the Torah, are mentioned in VaEtchanan and again in Re’ei (where they are counted among the 613). The Vilna Gaon points out that the plural form is used one time and the singular form is used in the other case. This, he says, alludes to two different aspects of these prohibitions. It is forbidden to add to or subtract from a particular mitzva – for example, one may not take 5 species or 3 species on Sukkot for the fulfillment of the mitzva of “Lulav & Etrog”. Nor may one add or subtract to the total of the mitzvot. To treat a Rabbinic mitzva as a Torah law, or vice versa, would be an example of the other aspect of these prohibitions. The spirit of these prohibitions (if not the actual definitions) would include treating (and/or teaching) a CHUMRA as if it were required, or vice versa (claiming that something that is prohibited is “only” a chumra).
Levi – Second Aliya – 36 p’sukim – 4:5-40
Once again, Moshe emphasizes that the mitzvot are meant to be kept in Eretz Yisrael. (This not only apply to Land-related mitzvot, but to the entire range of mitzvot.)
There is repeated reference in the book of D’varim, and especially in Parshat VaEtchanan, to Eretz Yisrael being THE reason for our having been taken out of Egypt, formed into a Nation, and given the Torah and mitzvot.
Prolonged exile has taught us that the Torah can be kept, must be kept, no matter where a Jew finds himself. This was one of the reasons that the Torah was given at Sinai, prior to entry into the Land. On the other hand, one should not lose sight of the fact, repeated often by Moshe Rabeinu in D’varim, that G-d has alwaysintended us to observe His mitzvot IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL. Are there more mitzvot to keep in Israel than outside? YES. But maybe more significantly, every mitzva – even those that are performed all over the world, can reach their full potential ONLY in Israel.
This is a message that each of us has to realize, understand, and internalize. Then we must spread this message to family and friends abroad who feel that they “have everything we need to be fully Jewish” in their respective religious communities around the world. AND the vital significance of Torah AND Israel to our lives as Jews must be taught to those less committed Jews herein Israel and abroad.
On the other hand, we must not forget that Israel today is not the realization of the Dream, but rather a step on the road to the Complete Redemption, the restoration of Zion and Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, and the coming of Mashiach. This idea helps us refocus after the mourning period that ended withthe 10th of Av, and is an appropriate theme to usher in the period of consolation and repentance.
We must be careful to preserve and perform the mitzvot because (among other reasons) it is the mitzvot that project Judaism as an intelligent religion to the nations of the world. This in turn, sanctifies G-d’s Name. We must be infinitely careful to remember and transmit to our children, the “Sinai Experience”.
Moshe describes for the new generation the details of Matan Torah. He includes a specific warning against the potentially idolatrous thoughts caused by the combination of the magnificent, tangible universe in which we live and the Invisible G-d.
G-d had taken us out of Egypt in order to make us His Nation. He got angry at me, says Moshe, and forbade me to enter the Land. Again, Moshe warns the People against abandoning the covenant with G-d after his (Moshe’s) passing.
The next portion is read on Tish’a b’Av morning… In spite of the many warnings against idolatry, Moshe prophesies (predicts) that there will come a time when the People will turn from G-d and be exiled from their Land. It will then come to pass that the People will seek out G-d and return to Him. Moshe emphasizes the uniqueness of the People of Israel and their special relationship with G-d and beseeches the People to remain faithful to Torah and mitzvot. One can hear a pleading in his voice, as if he is begging the people not to go in the direction of his prophecy.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 9 p’sukim – 4:41-49
Although the cities of refuge will not function as such until conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael, Moshe (with enthusiasm to do G-d’s bidding) designates the 3 cities on the East Bank – Betzer in the Mishor Wilderness, area for Reuven, Ramot in the Gil’ad area for Gad, and Golan in the Bashan area for Menashe.
These (the mitzvot about to be presented) were taught by Moshe to the People following the Exodus in the lands on the East Bank of the Jordan.
(Note the detail in the description of the location of the people, the repetition of their successes in conquering the “east bank” lands. Perhaps it is meant to be encouraging to the people.)
V’zot HaTorah… said when the Torah is lifted, comes from D’varim 4:44. In the Siddur, the words AL PI HASHEM B’YAD MOSHE are added. That phrase appears 4 times in Bamidbar, but 9:23 seems the one it’s taken from.
R’VI’I – Fourth Aliya – 18 p’sukim – 5:1-18
Moshe begins the review of mitzvot with a restatement of the Aseret HaDibrot. He emphasizes that the Covenant at Sinai was not just between G-d and the previous generation, but between G-d and all generations of Jews to come.
[SDT] There are interesting differences between this version of the Decalogue and the one in Yitro – the most notable being the famous “Shamor v’Zachor” of Shabbat. Generally, “Zachor” is interpreted as referring to the positive mitzvot and aspects of Shabbat, whereas “Shamor” is taken as warning against violation of prohibitions. The traditional minimum of two Shabbat candles (although one candle would satisfy the halacha), are said to represent these two dimensions of Shabbat.
It is the intertwined nature of the positive aspects of Shabbat and its prohibitions that is “responsible” for Kiddush on Friday night being obligatory upon women. Rather than treat Kiddush as a pure “time-related positive mitzva” which would (probably) mean that women would be exempt, we view Kiddush as part of the wholeof Shabbat, which of course, means full and equal obligation for men and women. The two sides of Shabbat were commanded B’DIBUR ECHAD and are inseparable.
Following the same idea through to Havdala, we have a dispute among authorities as to whether women are obligated. Majority opinion views Havdala as the Shabbat-ending counterpart of Kiddush, and claims that women are obligated on Havdala. A minority opinion sees Havdala as detached from Shabbat, which gives it more ofa time-related positive nature, and claims that women are exempt. The conclusion in halacha is that women must treat Havdala as an obligation, but should hear it being said by a man, if possible. If not, a woman must “do” Havdala on her own. (Additional questions exist concerning both b’samim and the candle vis-a-vis women, which provide additional reasons to prefer hearing Havdala from a man.)
Kiddush is by no means the only ramification of B’DIBUR ECHAD. On a hashkafa level, we need to see the prohibitions of Shabbat as more than a restricting list of DON’Ts. Abstention from Melacha can be seen as Dayan Grunfeld puts it in The Sabbath — as laying the gifts of creative activity that G-d gave to human beings, at His feet (so to speak) in homage to the Creator and Master of All. This, on a weekly basis, so that we will noit take these gifts for granted nor assume that our abilities and talents are self-produced. There is a subtle difference between not doing Melacha and abstaining from Melacha. If we grow to understand and appreciate the distinction, our Shabbat observance and enjoyment can be greatly enhanced.
The Aseret HaDibrot in Yitro contains 14 of the 613 mitzvot. (The 2nd commandment has 4 prohibitions related to idolatry, the 4th has two mitzvot related to Shabbat, and one each from the other 8.) The first 9 “commandments” in Va’etchanan contain the same 13 mitzvot as their counterparts in Yitro. Those mitzvot are counted from Yitro. The 10th is worded differently here and is counted separately (in addition to “Thou shalt not covet”) against “lust and unhealthy desire” . The mitzva here deals exclusively with thoughts and feelings; its counter- part in Yitro involves acting on those feelings. V’LO TIT’AVEH in a way, completes a setof prohibitions, that starts with obviously sinful acts – murder, stealing, etc. to a feeling in the heart (LO TACHMOD) which can, and often does, lead to acts which are “milder”, but nonetheless “problematic”. For example, if a person is jealous of a friend’s sweater, and comments about it often enough, the friend might just feel uncomfortable enough to give it to the jealous friend. Nothing wrong, per se, in complimenting someone’s sweater, but in this case it is part of the prohibition of LO TACHMOD. And V’LO TIT’AVEH is the feelings even without anything else.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 15 p’sukim – 5:19-6:3
Moshe next reminds the People that those who were present at Matan Torah were afraid to continue hearing G-d’s Voice and agreed to listen to the words of a prophet speaking in G-d’s Name in lieu of direct communication.
This is a very crucial episode in understanding our Chain of Tradition and the method of transmission of the Oral Law. It made not only Moshe Rabeinu vital to our understanding G-d’s Word, but so too the Moshe Rabeinus of every generation. This is so for prophets, during the period in Jewish History when we had prophecy,but it also extends to this day in the way Tradition is passed from one generation to the next. We can say that we have a serious obligation to accept Torah from our parents and teachers, precisely because those that stood at Sinai did not want to hear G-d’s voice directly beyond the first two commandments.
Moshe emphasizes that G-d agreed to the People’s request.
And yet again, Moshe links observance of mitzvot with the only proper environment for Jewish life – Eretz Yisrael. (This idea is actually expressed in THREE different ways in the final p’sukim of this Aliya.)
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 22 p’sukim – 6:4-25
The first portion of this Aliya is the first passage of the Shma. “…HaShem is One.” This statement of Jewish faith is also considered the mitzva to believe in the unity and uniqueness of G-d . (Note that G-d’s unity is also part of the mitzva to believe in Him, but warrants its own mitzva to emphasize this essential element of belief, in contrast with most religions of the world).
“Love” G-d with your entire being . (Many mitzvot and Jewish practices and attitudes are considered manifes- tations of Love of G-d.) We must study and teach Torah  (for practical purposes AND purely for the sake of learning). We are to recite the Shma twice daily , wear T’filin on the arm  and abovethe center of the forehead , and put a mezuza on our doorposts .
[SDT] The mitzva of Learning and Teaching Torah can be fulfilled with one’s head, one’s intellect. Tell someone a Dvar Torah and you both have fulfilled V’SHINANTAM L’VANECHA. But, tell that same Dvar Torah in an animated way that shows love of G-d and that ignites the emotion of the listener, so that he not only adds to his knowledge of Torah, but his excitement and enthusiasm for Torah and Mitzvot has increased, then you have fulfilled an additional mitzva, V’AHAVTA ET HASHEM ELOKECHA, to love G-d with all your heart (Sefer HaChareidim). We can generalize this aspect of AHAVAT HASHEM to include all mitzvot. Shabbat, for example.
Someonecan go through all the motions and not violate the Shabbat; do it with love and that fulfills V’AHAVTA.
Rambam and the Chinuch both count T’filin as two mitzvot; not everyone else agrees. It can be argued either way. Even though we buy them as a pair, and wear them as a pair, each T’fila has its own command and is technically independent of the other. A person whose head is completely swathed in a bandage does not wear theShel Rosh, only the Shel Yad. Ashkenazim (most) say two brachot on T’filin, one on each. S’faradim usually do not. But do these practices indicate whether T’filin is (are) counted among the TARYAG as a mitzva (two mitzvot)? Not necessarily. Meat-in-Milk has three prohibitions: cooking, eating, deriving benefit. How many mitzvot of Taryag are BASAR B’CHALAV? One? Three? Rambam says two.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 11 p’sukim – 7:1-11
Finally, Moshe tells the People that the nations in Eretz Yisrael whom we will encounter are mightier than Israel. But G-d will give them over into Israel’s hands. We are required to destroy the “Seven Nations” , not to show mercy to idolaters in the Land , and certainly not to intermarry with them  or any other non-Jews.
Regardless of how secure one is in one’s belief, intermarriage and other close contact with alien cultures will have an adverse effect upon the individual Jew and on the Jewish People. In addition to the Torah-prohibition against intermarriage, there are many Rabbinic prohibitions geared to restrict social contact.
We must destroy the idolatry in the Land. We must always keep in mind the basis upon which G-d has built His relationship with us.
It is because of G-d’s love for us and His promises to our ancestors that He has taken us out of Egypt.
Know that G-d is trustworthy to keep His promises and reward those who properly follow His ways, as well as punish those who do not.
The final 3 p’sukim of the sedra are reread for the Maftir. The honor of Maftir for Shabbat Nachamu is usually accorded the rabbi or a prominent member of the shul.
Haftara – 26 p’sukim – Yeshayahu 40:1-26
All seven Haftaras of Consolation – which will be read from after Tish’a b’Av until right before Rosh HaShana – come from the book of Yeshayahu, and the first word of the first of the seven, gives us the name of this Shabbat, Nachamu. Yeshayahu as a prophet of destruction and Divine punishment for faithlessness, can be seen in chapter 1 which was the haftara last Shabbat and in subsequent chapters through #39. With our haftara this week, ch. 40, we see another side of the prophet. G-d commands the prophets (thru Yeshayahu) to bring the message of comfort and the end of Babylonian captivity. How appropriate a choice as the haftara for the Shabbat following Tish’a b’Av.
Moshe Rabeinu warned us in the sedra against looking heavenward and finding in the Sun, Moon, or stars something to worship. One might think that the “safest” course of conduct would be to NOT look in the sky at the heavenly bodies. Comes Yeshayahu and in the final pasuk of the Haftara tells us to “Lift your eyes heavenward and see who created these [the stars and planets]”. One can – and should – study nature. But not as something to worship nor as something apart from G-d. Sun-worship (and the like) is folly (and forbidden for all people of the world) because we must not be blinded by its brilliance from seeing it as one of G-d’s creations. And that it is only G-d Whom we may worship.
And it is a folly of another sort to dissociate nature from G-d. This was not Moshe’s expressed fear, but it is the other side of the coin and equally un- faithful to G-d. Yeshayahu had the “solution” to both sides of the problem:
S’U MAROM EINEICHEM UR’U MI VARA EILEH