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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Listening while Seeking Face to Face

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our parasha, Moshe returns the second generation since the Exodus to the account of the greatest event in the history of mankind – the revelation and giving of the Torah on Sinai. This was the foundation of the status of Am Yisrael as Hashem’s nation, the only nation to whom Hashem revealed Himself. For that reason, Chazal saw the 600,000 plus who stood at the bottom of the mountain as the representatives of all future generations of Bnei Yisrael, as even those who were present only spiritually were included in the covenant. The closeness that was forged at Sinai turned all members into a nation of “prophets and sons of prophets.”

We will look at an interesting phenomenon that emerges from this Torah section. “Hear, O Israel (Shema Yisrael), the statutes and laws that I am saying in your ears today …” (Devarim 5:1). The Torah then (ibid. 4) describes the people’s level: “Face to face Hashem spoke with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire.” This was literally awe-inspiring, as the pasuk says: “For you were afraid due to the fire” (ibid. 5).

In the section that follows the repetition of the Ten Commandments, the Torah describes the discussion surrounding Bnei Yisrael’s concern about continuing to hear “Hashem’s voice” (ibid. 20-25). The section ends off: “You, Israel, shall hear and guard to fulfill so that it be good for you …” (ibid. 6:3). Directly following this are the beloved words that every Jew says twice a day from the time of his youth: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad” (ibid. 4).

The level of encountering Hashem “face to face” (Shemot 33:11) is the greatest level of closeness to the divine imaginable. Every individual Jew should strive for such closeness even though he will not succeed in reaching it. Even Moshe – who “spoke to Hashem face to face” (Shemot 33:11) on an ongoing basis – when he asked, “Show me Your glory” (ibid. 18), he was turned down, as it says: “You will not be able to see My face, for man is unable to see Me and live” (ibid. 20). Despite this fact, David did “seek Hashem’s face” (Tehillim 27:8).

If this is a goal that cannot be realized, what is the practical solution? “Hear, O Israel (Shema Yisrael), the statutes and laws.” If we rise to the challenge, then we can take the power of the experience of Sinai and successfully convert it into a serious ongoing relationship of “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad.”

We have merited completing the three weeks of mourning for the Temple to arrive at the seven weeks of consolation, during which we read haftarot about the great liberation. The Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred, which is often caused by a failure to listen seriously to the words of another Jew. If we will be more attentive to our brothers’ voices, even if we do not always agree with them, we will merit the shining countenance of Hashem, and maybe we will approach the level of “face to face” with Him.

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