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Torah Commentary
Va-et'chanan (August 20, 2016)

By Wendy Glick, Assistant Director of Development

Don’t steal. Don’t cross the street on a red light.
Don’t drive without wearing a seat belt. Don’t play ball in the house. How often are we instructed what to do and not do? Ever stop yourself from doing what you want because in your heart you know it is wrong, illegal, hurtful or just downright stupid?

Although we live in a democracy, life is filled with rules, guidelines and regulations that we follow on a daily basis. In fact, the need for protocol, order and laws dates back to the ancient days of Moses.

In this week’s parashah, Va-et’chanan, as in the rest of the book of D’varim, we find the Israelites standing at the precipice of the Land of Israel. It has been a grueling 40-year long journey. But before they can step into the Promised Land, Moses makes a heartfelt plea to the people to follow G-d’s words.

Moses stresses the importance of adhering to G-d’s laws. Although written as directives or laws, G-d’s commandments are more than laws: They are the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith, the Ten Commandments. Moses repeats G-d’s commandments to the Israelites in order to emphasize their meaning and paramount importance. The Ten Commandments — just a few phrases that form the bedrock of our belief system as Jewish people.

This parashah got me thinking about the necessity of governing laws and legislation. I do not believe they are meant as an inconvenience. Rather, whether defined in modern times or those dating back to the Torah, laws and statutes serve as guideposts to help us understand our history, stay true to our heritage, and keep us on a righteous path. They exist to help implement our principles and morals, bind the community, protect people, enforce and ensure rights, and hopefully, solve conflicts and regulate society.

The Ten Commandments, much like the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the guideposts for the founding principles of our country, are more than just laws and regulations. They also serve as the framework for our aspirations. Or at least they should. Honesty, respect, equality and justice are the pillars of a society that functions at its best.

The path for the future is not always visible, as evidenced by worldwide current events. However, when society goes back to the fundamentals of relationships with each other, and with G-d, the path becomes clearer. That is why Moses needed to repeat the Ten Commandments and why those commandments should be repeated as often as possible. To emphasize and remind everyone again and again of what we as Jews stand for and what we aspire to: living by the founding principles of Jewish faith. And similarly, we should do nothing less in aspiring to live by the founding principles of the country we call home.

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