Vaetchanan

“Parsha and Purpose” – Va’etchanan 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Becoming the People We Want to Be”

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“Becoming the People We Want to Be”

We all want to be more consistent, and to live the values that we espouse. But sadly, we occasionally fall short.

What can we do to erase the gap between the person we want to be and the person we often are?

An answer can be found in this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, where we read about the revelation at Sinai, one of the seminal events in world history. 

At the conclusion of that critical moment, God tells Moshe, “Lech, Emor Lahem“, go and tell the Jewish people, “Shuvu Lachem L’ohaleichem,” go back to your tents.

What does this mean?

Where else would they have possibly gone?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z’t”l, extrapolated from this verse that our challenge as members of the Jewish people is to take the values of Sinai –  not stealing, not cheating, not coveting, concern for the vulnerable in our society – and to incorporate them into our “tents”: our homes, schools, communities and society. 

This sounds simple enough, yet often any of us, even great people, even rabbis and leaders, can find it difficult.

And this difficulty is alluded to in the Torah itself, where we find a prohibition on the Jewish people ascending Mount Sinai at the time of the revelation.

Why would this be?

What better opportunity to bask in holiness than at the moment and place in which Torah was revealed?

But embedded in the question is the answer.

Finding holiness in the ethereal on God’s mountain is easy. There were no distractions from connecting with God.

Instead, God challenges us: “Shuvu Lachem L’ohaleichem”, “Go back to your tents”, which the Emek Davar, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, explains to mean:

לחיי בשרים ותענוגות בני האדם כטבע האנושי

To a life of temporal human pleasures, as is the nature of humanity.

That is to say, take the holiness and the values from your experience at Sinai and incorporate it into your day-to-day physical lives.

We are not to bifurcate between the holy and the mundane. Rather, our complicated challenge is to elevate the mundane and infuse the holy with real purpose.

We recite Kiddush when Shabbat begins, to sanctify the day.

But we also recite Kiddush, in the form of Havdalah, at Shabbat’s conclusion – to sanctify the days ahead – reminding us to take the spiritual refreshment of Shabbat to infuse our actions during the entirety of the coming week.

May we successfully meet God’s challenge, elevating our everyday lives and become the people we want to be.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Riskin

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Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum

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