The Commandments We Need

The Commandments We Need

Jul 23, 2021 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The act of retelling is, by virtue of necessity, an act of interpretation. Certain details sharpen and others fade as we place a past experience in the context of our needs and thoughts in the present moment. As Yosef Chayim Yerushalmi famously argued in his seminal book Zachor, there’s a difference between history and memory—both are deeply important, but they play different roles in our lives.

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The Wholeness of a Broken Tablet

The Wholeness of a Broken Tablet

Jul 31, 2020 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Va'et-hannan | Tishah Be'av

Parashat Va’et-hannan (Deut. 3–7) is always read on Shabbat Nahamu—the “Shabbat of Comfort”—which falls immediately after Tishah Be’av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It receives its name from the opening line of the Haftarah: “Comfort, comfort, my people” (Isaiah 40:1).

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A Leader’s Limits

A Leader’s Limits

Aug 16, 2019 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The very title of this week’s parashah, Va’et-hannan (“and I pleaded”), presents the larger-than-life figure of Moses in a humbling place. Before sharing with the people fundamental elements of the faith that they have taken on and the civilization that they aspire to become, Moses confessed to them that his exclusion from the destined land of promise was against his will, and in spite of emotional pleas to God (Deut. 3:23–26). The man who chose to forgo the trappings of a life among the royal Egyptian elite to lead an at-times ungrateful band of liberated slaves through the desert would ultimately be barred from tasting the final fruit of his sacrifice.

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Second haftarah of consolation

Second haftarah of consolation

Aug 3, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

Underlying this second haftarah of comfort is a sense of near-despair: the people lament having been abandoned by God, and God responds to their unspoken fear that God is powerless to save them. As the honest grief of the heart and soul that knows what it has lost, such despair is necessary; without it, comfort and hope are false. But despair is dangerous too; it can lead to helplessness, disengagement, and resignation to injustice. It can also create an inability to embrace a redemptive message: while the people lament being abandoned by God, God is calling to them and being ignored.

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First haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nahamu)

First haftarah of consolation (Shabbat Nahamu)

Jul 27, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

This special haftarah, which begins nahamu nahamu ami—“comfort, oh comfort, My people,” is the first of seven special haftarot of comfort (drawn from Isaiah 40–63). During these seven weeks, the relationship between the people and God—strained almost to breaking on Tishah Be’av—is slowly rebuilt, allowing us to stand before God once again on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

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Holding Fast

Holding Fast

Jul 27, 2018 By Mychal Springer | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

This week we emerge from the destitution of Tisha Be’av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temples, and receive the gift of Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of our being comforted. נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, “Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). What is comfort? One way of understanding the essence of comfort is by engaging with Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher, Moses) in this week’s parashah.

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“Like Tefillin Straps, Roads”

“Like Tefillin Straps, Roads”

Aug 4, 2017 By Yitzhak Lewis | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

Dress me, kosher mother [. . .]
And with Shaharit, lead me to labor.

My land is wrapped in light as a tallit
Houses stand like phylacteries And like tefillin straps, roads ride on that hands have paved. [. . .]

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Ve’ahavta: A Pedagogy for Thriving

Ve’ahavta: A Pedagogy for Thriving

Aug 4, 2017 By Bill Robinson | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

What teachings of Judaism are helping you thrive in today’s world? How can you better keep these teachings in front of you at all times? And how can we help our children find in Judaism that which helps them thrive?

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The Smell of Canaan

The Smell of Canaan

Aug 19, 2016 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

The smell of Canaan he has had for all his life; that he should see the land only before his death is hard to believe. . . . Not because his life was too short does Moses not reach Canaan, but because it was a human life.

—Franz Kafka, in a diary entry from 1921

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Experiencing the Light of Torah

Experiencing the Light of Torah

Aug 19, 2016 By Nicole Wilson-Spiro | Commentary | Va'et-hannan

This summer I returned to Jewish overnight camp after a 15-year hiatus. After all this time, s’mores, a love of cheering in unison (has the cheering gotten louder or am I older?), and earnest, hard-working counselors (I was one, once) are still to be found at camp. I am happy to report that the food is now much, much better than I remembered, and the supervision and attention to camper care have improved vastly, as well.

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