Parashas Vaeschanan

This week’s parashah includes, among other topics, a review of the events surrounding the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. At that time, the Jewish People heard Hashem’s voice, and they were overwhelmed. Moshe relates (Devarim 5:21-26):
They [the Jewish tribal leaders and elders] said: “… You approach and listen to all that Hashem, our God, shall say, and you tell us all that Hashem, our God, shall speak to you, and we shall listen and we shall do.” And Hashem heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and Hashem said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they spoke to you – they did well in all that they spoke. Would that they have this heart to fear Me and to observe all My commandments all the days, so that it will be well with them and their children, forever.”
The Maggid analyzes this passage. He begins by noting two questions. First, what did Hashem mean when He said that the Jewish People “did well in all that they spoke,” and, in particular, what is the import of the word “all” here? Second, why did Hashem, in expressing His “hope” that the Jewish People would always fear Him, use the phrasing “this heart to fear Me” rather than saying simply “the heart to fear Me”? The Maggid then explains the passage in a way that answers these questions.
There are two prerequisites, the Maggid says, for a person to get on the right path. First, he has to have a teacher to tell him what the right path is. Second, he has to have the desire to heed the teacher’s instructions. A teacher who merely conveys information to his student without instilling within him a desire to listen will not get him on the right path. Thus, a teacher must have two qualities in order to succeed. First, he must be wise and knowledgeble. Second, he must have a captivating personality, radiating holiness and God-fearingness, so that his students will eagerly accept his words and live by them unswervingly forever.
A teacher can convey information about how to act through an intermediary or a written message. But he can instill a desire to listen only by speaking to the student directly. It is therefore essential that the teacher meet with the student face-to-face at least at the start. A single face-to-face meeting may make a strong enough impression on the student to instill within him a permanent desire to follow his teacher’s instructions. In such a case, further communication between the teacher and the student can be conducted via messages conveyed either though an intermediary or written notes. After an initial meeting, a student may promise his teacher to heed all messages he receives from him from then on. Such a promise will obviously please the teacher. On the other hand, the teacher cannot be certain that the student will keep his promise.
With this background, the Maggid turns to the passage from the parashah. The Jewish People had had a “face-to-face” encounter with Hashem and were overwhelmed by it. They asked Moshe, from that point on, to act as intermediary between Hashem and them, conveying Hashem’s instructions to them. And they promised to heed these instructions, saying: “We shall listen and we shall do.” Hashem reacted to their statement to Moshe by saying: “They did well in all that they spoke.” In using the word “all,” Hashem was referring to the Jewish People’s having spoken both about obtaining Hashem’s instructions and about their desire to obey them. Hashem then continued, saying: “Would that they have this heart to fear Me and to observe all My commandments all the days, so that it will be well with them and their children, forever.” Here, Hashem is expressing His “hope” that the Jewish People will keep their promise: that they will maintain the resolve they just expressed – “this heart” – to observe His commandments even when conveyed through an intermediary.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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