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   by Jacob Solomon

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Last week's Parasha includes the first paragraph of the Shema, opening with:

Hear O Israel! (in the singular) G-d is our G-d. G-d is one (6:4)

This week's Parasha includes the second paragraph of the Shema, beginning with:

If you (in the plural) obey my commandments… to love the Lord your G-d… I will provide rain for your land at the proper time… you shall eat and you will be satisfied (11: 13-14)

The first paragraph of the Shema is in the singular. It does not say benei yisrael - 'Israelites' but yisrael - 'Israel' By contrast the second part of the Shema is in the plural.

In addition, the first section orders observance without elaboration. Love G-d, keep His commandments uppermost in mind, teach them to your children, and observe the mitzvot of tefillen and mezuza. There is no promise of reward, or threat of punishment. Just do it.

But the contribution from this week's Parasha qualifies itself. Keep the Torah and it will go well. Jettison the Torah and things will go from bad to worse until 'you shall quickly perish from the good Land that G-d gives to you' (11:17). It could be that the two paragraphs are carrying essentially the same message, but are addressed to two very different sets of people, each with different personal experiences.

Some people are fortunate to experience G-d on a personal, strictly individual level. As the following young lady writes of her own individual experience:

'I was sitting in the college cafeteria at the Childbirth Association in a dimly lit, open-plan foyer, munching on a chocolate snack, when I looked up and saw fairly lights on the ceiling… The glowing specs looked like a child's puzzle of join-the-dots, forming all kinds of different shapes. They were so beautiful, so bright… All the lights came from a single central source above, a blazing nucleus. At first I was frightened… But this was no drug-induced vision. I knew I was not delirious… It was obvious to me that G-d was speaking only and directly to me. He was showing me a diagram of how everything in creation emanates from Him… When I realized the enormity of this phenomenon I felt giddy, like the children of Israel did at Sinai when… they 'saw' the voice of G-d… It wasn't as spectacular as the Red Sea parting and manna falling from heaven… but it was a genuine experience of the transcendental presence of G-d that I believe was a direct result of performing the mitzvot of lighting Shabbes candles and reciting the blessings before eating.

(Later on) Rabbi Rabinowitz listened to my incoherent babble. His voice stayed calm as he explained: 'You had a moment of clarity. You're very lucky… You can… really devote yourself to your new path. But if you don't, the vision you have seen will wane and pale and will soon get covered up with doubt and fog.' (Mann R. The Rabbi's Daughter pp.36-37 2007). This story may be multiplied as numerous people claim similar things shooting forth a personal, strictly individual moment of truth. Such people need no qualification for the observance of the mitzvot. That each one (hence the first paragraph being written in the singular) personally perceived G-d is enough. But, as Rabbi Rabinowitz put it, if someone so favored does not capitalize on that opportunity though daily mitzva observance, the impact of this personal revelation fades…

Other individuals have a different route to G-d, which is the study of His Word. This applies to everyone - and for that reason it is presented in the plural. The emphasis of that paragraph is to love G-d by getting to know Him though studying Torah daily (13:18-19). It takes effort to fix daily periods to studying Torah - it does not descend suddenly 'on a plate'. Therefore, Moses bolstered it up with G-d's promise of good for those who get to 'love G-d' and observe His Commandments, and G-d's promise of bad for those who 'hearts are persuaded to stray'.

According to this explanation, the first paragraph addresses those to whom G-d came. And the second paragraph is for those who have not been given a 'short cut', but have to make their own efforts to come to G-d.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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