Va’etchanan | פרשת ואתחנן

Devarim 3:23-7:11 [Hebcal] [על-התורה] דברים ג כג-ז יא

Haftarah: Yeshayahu 40:1-26 (Sefardi and Ashkenazi) | Yeshayahu 40:1-27, 41:17 (Teimani) | Shabbat Nachamu – First of the “Seven of Consolation”

הפטרה: ישעיהו מ א-כו (ספרדים ואשכנזים) | ישעיהו מ א-כז, ישעיהו מא יז (תימנים) | שבת נחמו – שבע דנחמתא 1 [על-התורה]

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Moshe Requests to Cross into Eretz Yisrael

[Devarim 3:23-4:9]

The parsha opens with Moshe’s request to enter Eretz Yisrael. G-d denies the request and tells Moshe to ascend a mountain overlooking the Land and look upon it in all directions. He is to transfer authority to Yehoshua, who will lead the people into the Land. At this time the people were encamped in the valley near Beit Peor.

Moshe then tells the people that they must not add to or subtract from any of the laws he is giving them (לֹא תֹסִפוּ עַל הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ מִמֶּנּוּ). He reminds them of what happened with Baal Peor, back in Parashat Balak.

Recalling the Events at Chorev/Sinai

[Devarim 4:10-43]

In entreating the people to keep the laws, Moshe recalls the events that occurred at Chorev (also known as Sinai), when the people gathered at the foot of Har Sinai. They all saw the dark clouds and flames and heard the voice of G-d speaking to them. They heard the Aseret ha-Devarim (Ten Utterings, better known in Hebrew as Aseret ha-Dibrot and in English as the Ten Commandments), which G-d inscribed on the two stone tablets. Moshe emphasizes that the people saw no form of Gd, but only heard His voice.

Moshe reminds Bnei Yisrael of the Ten Commandments, explaining at length the prohibition against making figurations, or worshipping celestial bodies. He recalls Hashem bringing Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, and says that it was on account of the people that he (Moshe) was barred from entering Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe then calls heaven and earth to witness the curses that will befall the Jews if they do not follow the commandments, as will occur repeatedly throughout Sefer Devarim, famously in the Parashat Ki Tavo. The people will be scattered in exile; they will serve empty gods. However, powerfully, “if you seek Hashem your G-d from there, you will find him, because you seek Him with all your heart and soul” (וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ וּמָצָאתָ כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ). G-d is compassionate (כִּי קל רַחוּם ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ). The testimony of having heard Hashem’s voice is emphasized again.

Moshe then sets aside three cities of refuge east of the Yarden River, where those accused of manslaughter can seek safety until tried: Betzer (בֶּצֶר ) in the new territory of Reuven, Ramot (רָאמֹת) in the territory of Gad, and Golan (גּוֹלָן) in the territory of Menashe.

Reminder of the Ten Commandments

[Devarim 4:44-6:3]

Moshe gathers the people in the territory they have conquered on the way to Eretz Yisrael, and reviews the covenant made at Chorev. Moshe emphasizes that it is not with their forefathers that Hashem made this covenant, “but with all of us, the living, who are present here today” (לֹא אֶת אֲבֹתֵינוּ כָּרַת ה’ אֶת הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת כִּי אִתָּנוּ אֲנַחְנוּ אֵלֶּה פֹה הַיּוֹם כֻּלָּנוּ חַיִּים). The people heard G-d speaking, with Moshe helping to convey His words:

  • You shall have no other gods besides G-d;
  • You shall not make profane images, or serve them;
  • You shall not swear falsely;
  • You shall keep (shamor) Shabbat, doing no work (melacha) on that day, remembering that you were slaves in Egypt;
  • Honor your mother and father;
  • You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness;
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or house or anything else of his;

The people’s request to have an intermediary and Moshe’s taking on of the role is reviewed.


[Devarim 6:4-25]

The first passage of the Shema prayer occurs in Moshe’s entreaty to the people to keep the commandments:

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ ה’ אֶחָד: וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ: וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ: וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ: וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ: וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ׃

Hear, Israel, Hashem is your G-d, Hashem is One. You shall love your G-d with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength. These words that I command you today shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them to your children and speak about them when you are sitting in your homes and when you go about the roads, when you lie down and when you arise. You should bind them as a sign upon your hands and let them be a symbol (totafot, a difficult word) between your eyes, and write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Devarim 6:4-9

Moshe adds that people must behave rightfully, teach their children the laws and explain the circumstances of the exodus from Egypt.

Looking Forward to the Conquest of the Land

[Devarim 7:1-11]

When Bnei Yisrael enter the Land, they will encounter דקהקמ nations: the Chiti (Hittites), Girgashi, Emori (Amorites), Knaani (Canaanite), Perizi, Chivi, and Yevusi (Jebusites), who they will defeat. They are not be settled with, or intermarried with. This is not because the Jews are a numerous, great nation; in fact, they are the smallest among nations (כִּי אַתֶּם הַמְעַט מִכָּל הָעַמִּים). Rather, it is because of the oath (shevuah) that Hashem made with the forefathers and because He brought Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt.

Haftarah Summary: Nachamu, Nachamu Ami

[Yeshayahu 40:1-26]

The haftarah is keyed to the calendar rather than the parsha, as it’s read on the Shabbat following Tisha be-Av, called Shabbat Nachamu after the opening words of this haftarah. One of Yeshayahu’s comforting prophecies, it is intended to offer consolation after the mourning of Tisha be-Av. It speaks of Yerushalayim’s rebirth and of renewal and restoration of the nation. It closes with a vision of Gd’s singularity and power as Creator.

Image: Scott Gunn, The Promised Land from Mt. Nebo – Looking toward Israel (and the Dead See) from Mt. Nebo in Jordan.

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