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Torah Commentary Blog

Parashat Va-et'chanan (August 9, 2014)
by Dr. Frederick S. Roden

IT’S HARD TO FORGET VA-ET’CHANAN, considering that here we find not only the Sh’ma and V’ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) but also a recitation of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-18). Va-et’chanan concerns the dangers of forgetting. We see the fullest realization of the sacred calling of the person of Moses: as teacher. This portion is preoccupied with futurity, the reality that the community will outlive Moses’ spiritual leadership. Moses, who wrestled with his vocation from the beginning (who was he to play an exalted role?), finally has become it so entirely that he must release it. In Va-et’chanan Moses names what must be remembered when he is no more. This is the secret to every great teacher: avoiding the idolatry that we are so necessary that our students cannot survive our departure. It is an affirmation of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, the confirmation of continuity in the face of our own mortality and the awareness that change can result in growth. The “mission of Israel” is bigger than Moses’ personality; he must step back, be prepared to let another lead. If he were to cling to the idolatry of self, Moses would devolve into a guru. Even so, in letting go, Moses must crystallize the essence of the message he’s been called to witness: the Oneness of a God of love.

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