This Shabbat after Tisha b’Av, the day we commemorate the destruction of the people of Israel along generations, is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of consolation and comfort for the hope and faith we have for our future, even after a massive destruction.
Parashat Va’etchanan transmits the essence of the entire Torah. We start with Moshe Rabenu’s frustration because God denies him entry into the land of Israel, we continue with repetition of the Ten Commandments, followed by the iconic “Shema Israel” – the eternal slogan of the people of Israel for generations.
The next verse right after Shema is “Ve’ahavta et Adonay”- “and you shall love God…” In this verse we learn that nothing external has power on its own, and therefore, there is nothing that should or could control our lives but “The divine particle” – as the scientists called it at the particle accelerator, in CERN near Geneva.
The divine spark “Hanitzotz Ha’eloki” IS the source of all the powers of all life and existence and this understanding changes everything.
Let’s look back in history…
Abraham Avinu – Avraham Ha’ivri “crossed” the river from one side to the other. From the bank of the idolatry lifestyle – the mental enslavement and belief that external powers have control over our life, to the other bank, the side of absolute freedom, and the promise to get to the land of milk and honey. Abraham enlightened the world with the understanding of God’s existence in everything and everywhere.
But unfortunately, Abraham’s descendants lost that great enlightenment that their great grandfather promoted. The physical hunger brought them back to Egypt, and instead of returning to Israel as soon as the hunger passed, they sank in the fertility of the Nile River, the land of substance and abundance, the land of the great belief in the eternity of materialism, and idolatrous other powers.
We are not against materialism! Unlike classical Christianity, which sanctified poverty and asceticism, Judaism praises abundance and wealth. “If there is no flour, there is no Torah.”
Material abundance is a great blessing. The confusion is, that almost all of us – deep inside, under the beautiful words of spirituality, we strongly believe in the power of money and the material in general. The danger is only in the mistaken understanding that abundance is expressed in money and material things only. Because material things are just the outer sweet shell and never the essence. And that’s what we see in our Parasha.
Moshe is begging to God: “Let me cross over the Jordan River to see the good land.” God denies his request and answers him, in other words, “the good of the land is not beyond the river Jordan. It is in your mind. It resides within yourself!”
This sublime lesson that summarizes the history and the essence of the Jewish people was taught by Moshe to the new generation of Am Israel, the descendants of the freed slaves. Freedom isn’t concealed in anything material, such as a mere piece of land, etc. It is found only in the deep understanding of what is the divine purpose and what is our divine mission to get from the material itself. Any other understanding is leading to a kind of idolatrous worship.
“I’m God who took you out from Egypt, the house of slaves, and you are not allowed to have other Gods but me”, says the first and the second commandments. Not the God of money, not the God of public opinion, nor the God of fitness or careers.
So, what about the God of love? As we mentioned above, the verse after the Shema, is Ve’ahavta! You shall love! “You shall love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your money.”
Is it possible to order one to love someone? And even more, to love an abstract concept such as God?
This is the great lesson of Moshe Rabenu. When you love the divinity, you are connecting to the eternity. You learn to connect with him regardless of your material situation. Regardless of if you have or don’t have money, lands, buildings, shares of certain companies or the family you had dreamed to have. The promised land of milk and honey is within yourself and your enjoyment from it depends on how deep your connection with the divine is.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says the prophet Isaiah in this Shabbat Haftarah after the destruction of Tisha b’Av. Sometimes it takes a terrible destruction of the sweet shell, to discover the divine spark that was hidden inside, and from the destruction, the tragedy, and the apparent frustration of not fulfilling our desires, we learn a new way to connect better with God, to connect to the source of abundance and blessings, in a new perspective that serves in this world and for the world to come.
Rabbi Refael Cohen