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Torah Attitude: Parashas Re'eh: Strict Judge, Merciful Father but only One G'd
Where do we find comfort? The meaning of "Shema" is not just to listen but to accept that G'd is one. When we say the verse "Shema Israel", we accept and acknowledge that G'd is the King of the Universe Who is in control of any power in the world. The Four letter name of G'd is so holy that we may not pronounce it the way it is written. The name "Elokeinu" refers to G'd as the Almighty Who causes everything to happen, and is in control of any power in the world. Our sages explain that G'd's different names represent different ways that G'd conducts the world. G'd says, "I am the One Who took you out of Egypt and split the sea. And it is I Who is here at Mount Sinai." When we say Shema, we also acknowledge that the strict Judge and merciful Father is One. G'd has kept His promise that even in exile He will not forsake us and will constantly keep a watchful eye over us. When Moshiach comes all the nations of the world will accept upon themselves the Kingdom of G'd. Just like all of our difficulties were foretold in the Torah and by the prophets, the same Torah and the same prophets have promised us, in the name of G'd, that the time will come when all nations will live together in peace and harmony.
Last two weeks
In the last two Torah Attitudes we discussed how our sages instituted seven weeks of comfort after the three weeks of mourning, to ensure that we do not fall into despair and depression. We further spoke about how King David taught us to take comfort with the knowledge that G'd is guiding our affairs, whether He directs us with a rod or with a cane.
Where find comfort?
But where do we find comfort? In the last hundred years we have suffered from the communists and the Nazis. And now, both in Israel and in the Diaspora we are under a constant threat from various Muslim terrorist organizations, and there seems to be no end to this situation. We already mentioned that our comfort lies in our knowledge that we are not dealing with communists, Nazis and militant Muslims. They are but rods in the hand of our loving Father in Heaven Who is chastising us to bring us back to Him. He is sending us one message after another: "Come back my dear children to the Torah, and all the blessings of the Torah will be bestowed upon you." As it says in the beginning of this week's parasha (Devarim 11:26-27): "See I present before you today blessing and curse. The blessing: when you accept the mitzvot (commandments) of HASHEM your G'd..."
Commandment to accept
Let us try to understand this concept a little better. In the Book of Mitzvot, the Rambam goes through each of the 613 mitzvot. In the second mitzvah, the Rambam states that we are obligated to believe that G'd, Who created everything and is the ultimate cause of whatever happens, is One. This is what we read in Shema, as it says in Parashas Va'Eschanan (Devarim 6:4): "Hear Israel, HASHEM Elokeinu [our G'd], HASHEM is one." The Chinuch (paragraph 417) explains that the meaning of "Shema" is not just to listen but to accept that G'd is one.
Accept Heavenly Kingdom
The Rambam explains that this is referred to by our sages as accepting the Heavenly Kingdom. When we say the verse "Shema Israel", we accept and acknowledge that G'd is the King of the Universe, Who is in control of any power in the world. No individual, no nation and no natural force has any power unless G'd allows it (see Duties of the Heart, Gate of Trust, chapter 3).
Four letter name
The Four letter name of G'd is used twice in the first verse of Shema. This name we refer to as HASHEM, for it is so holy that we may not pronounce it the way it is written. The way we pronounce it refers to G'd as being the Master of Everything.
The other name of G'd that appears in the verse of Shema is "Elokeinu". This name refers to G'd as the Almighty Who causes everything to happen, and is in control of any power in the world.
However, it seems strange that we refer to G'd with different names? As we define G'd as being the Ultimate One, would it not be more understandable if G'd had just one name?
Mercy and judgment
Our sages explain that G'd's different names represent the different ways that G'd conducts the world. HASHEM refers to when G'd deals with the world with mercy, whereas "Elokim" refers to when G'd sits in judgment.
HASHEM and Elokim
We already mentioned that in the beginning of this week's Parasha, it says (Devarim 11:26-28): "See, I present before you today blessing and curse. The blessing: when you listen to the commandments of HASHEM Elokeichem [Your G'd] … And the curse: when you do not listen to the commandments of HASHEM Elokeichem." This seems strange. If the name "HASHEM" refers to G'd's conduct of mercy, and the name "Elokim" refers to G'd's conduct of judgment, we would expect that the Torah would use "HASHEM" alone when talking about blessings and "Elokim" by itself when dealing with curses.
Mighty warrior and old sage
In order to answer this, we shall analyze what we read two weeks ago in the Ten Commandments. There G'd, so to say, introduced Himself in the first commandment and said: "I am HASHEM Elokecha [your G'd] who has taken you out of the land of Egypt" (Devarim 5:6; Shemos 20:2). Rashi quotes from our sages that at the splitting of the sea, when G'd concluded the exodus from Egypt, He appeared as a mighty warrior, dispensing justice. However, at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, He appeared as an old sage, full of mercy like a father. That could, G'd forbid, lead us to think that there are two powers: One that punishes like a warrior, and another one that is merciful like a father. Therefore, G'd says, "I am the One Who took you out of Egypt and split the sea. And it is I Who is here at Mount Sinai."
We now have a better understanding of what we accept upon ourselves when we say the Shema. First of all, we accept that G'd always existed and will continue to exist forever. We further accept that G'd is the Almighty Who controls everything in the world and that nothing can happen unless G'd causes it. Sometimes, G'd conducts Himself with strictness as a mighty warrior; and sometimes with mercy as an elderly father. When we say Shema, we acknowledge that the strict Judge and merciful Father is One. We cannot understand G'd's ways, especially when he conducts himself as a strict judge. Only with a strong belief that G'd is our merciful Father, are we able to accept that G'd's master plan is both just and merciful at the same time.
The One and only real power
With this we also understand what it says at the beginning of this week's Parasha. Sometimes we deserve G'd's blessings and G'd supports us with a cane. However, when we bring upon us G'd's curses, G'd forbid, we get treated with a rod. In both cases it comes from the same source, HASHEM Elokim, Who is the One and Only real power in the world.
A few weeks ago we concluded the period of three weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish nation throughout our long and bitter exile. However, we already mentioned that we can only marvel at the fact how the Jewish people continue to survive despite our enemies' constant efforts to wipe us out. G'd has kept His promise that even in exile He will not forsake us, and will constantly keep a watchful eye over us. As it says in Parashas Va'Eschanan (Devarim 4:31) "For HASHEM Elokecha is a merciful G'd. He will not abandon you nor destroy you. And He will not forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore to them." Here again, we see the combination of HASHEM referring to G'd's conduct of mercy and Elokecha referring to G'd's strict judgment.
At the end of the Yom Kippur Neilah prayer we pronounce "HASHEM is the Elokim" seven times. Here again we use both names as an expression of the oneness of our merciful Father and strict Judge. But in Shema we say "HASHEM Elokeinu, He is our G'd". Rashi (Devarim 6:4) explains that this expresses that the Jewish people has a special connection to G'd that entitles us to refer to G'd as our G'd. For only we accepted G'd and His commandments at Mount Sinai. Most people in the world do not even live by the seven Noachide commandments, and are thus lacking in their acceptance of G'd. But when Moshiach comes, then G'd will be accepted by all nations, as we say in Aleinu at the end of every prayer: "And G'd will be accepted as King in the whole world. On that day, G'd will be One and His name will be One." Rashi explains that this is what we refer to when we say in Shema that "G'd is One." For then all the nations of the world will accept upon themselves the Kingdom of G'd.
This is our comfort during these seven weeks. It is true that we live in a dangerous time, and that our enemies will take any opportunity to attack us wherever they can. But on the other hand, we must remember and appreciate the fact that we still exist as a nation. In addition to this we must keep in mind that just like all of our difficulties were foretold in the Torah and by the prophets, the same Torah and the same prophets have promised us, in the name of G'd, that the time will come when all nations will live together in peace and harmony. And on that day everyone will accept that the One and only true power in the world is G'd.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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