Parashat Vaetchanan contains two of the most important texts of Judaism, the 10 commandments and the Shema.
This Week’s Parsha In A Nutshell
- Moshe prays to enter the land
- Exile and return
- The 10 commandments
- The Shema
- Teaching our children about our history and traditions
Constant Reminding Why?
Every day, 3 times a day, a Jew will declare that there is only one God. Not only in prayer but every time a Jew enters a building, he is once again confronted by the prayer of Shema; on the doorposts and gates of his abode. Why is it so important that we need a constant reminder of the Unity of Hashem?
The topic of God is one that is not addressed very often. It is a topic that we mention as an assumed statement. Do you believe in God? Yes of course I do. But what does that mean? As a parent how do you respond to your child who declares that they do not believe in God? Do you shut her down? Do you respond with shock and indignation? “How can you say that?”
God is one?
However, the question certainly is a legitimate one. It is one that I hear so often. Most of us have either a superficial view of God or do not even contemplate the question.
When I ask students what does God look like? They immediately conjure up the image of God in the Simpsons, a large old man with flowing robes and a deep voice. That of course is not what God looks like, as God has no form! When students say they do not believe in God, I always ask what they mean by that statement. Most often they will refer to the God of Homer Simpson, to which I reply, “The God that you don’t believe in is the same God I do not believe in. So what then is the God that we are expected to believe in? What does it mean Hashem Echad- that God is one?
Parashat Vaetchanan – Only One God
The ancient world believed that there were multiple gods since the world is so complex and it is only through the battles between the gods that concepts such as good and evil make sense. The revolution that Judaism introduced to the world is that there is only One God. If there is only one God, how does one account for evil in the world? How can it be that bad things happen to good people? Judaism’s answer is that everything is in the hands of Heaven. There is no devil or other deity only God. This is the concept of One God that we profess on a daily basis.
The first Jew, Abraham introduced to the world the revolutionary belief of Ethical Monotheism. God is a just God and His teachings are true and present us with a system of absolute morality. Murder is always evil, no matter what society may say. Abraham himself challenged God at Sodom when he argued on behalf of the People of Sodom, “Would the God of righteousness not act justly?” he asked.
Va’etchanan – The Jewish Challange
But who is this God? How am I to know Him? The Shema states ואהבת and you shall love the Lord your God. How am I supposed to love God?
These are difficult questions. What do we do with these questions? For most of us, we place in that special place that we reserve for the things we should do but know that we will never do them. But feel bad to just throw away. And then we move on with our lives.
That is not the Jewish way. Judaism challenges us every single day and every single moment. It is the inner voice that cannot be stilled. Answer the question! But where to start?
In my dealings with high school students and their questions about God, my reaction to them is to ask them what does it mean that you do not believe in God? Their answer about God is met with, “The God you do not believe in I do not believe in either!“
The Faith Journey- Are You Up For The Challenge?
Dismissing what we have been brought up to believe is but the first step in the faith journey. The faith journey begins by questioning what we have received from our parents. Of course, there is much that they have given us that is worthwhile. But as we all know, there are times when we need to work this out for ourselves. It is this journey of discovery that makes life so rich. So well done you have worked out what God is not. Now you need to work out what God is. That is a lot more challenging. Are you up for the challenge?
Earth To Sun – What Is The Connection?
I look at the world and the complexity of everything in it and I have to ask that there must be a Designer. The world is miraculously placed in the Goldilocks zone. Not too far from the sun but not too close. The earth is placed perfectly for life to thrive. I study Jewish History and I cannot but know that there is a Hand that is guiding the story. I study the Torah and reflect on the Biblical text as a chance to connect with the Divine author.
On my faith journey, my challenge I found these books really helpful and insightful. I’d like to suggest them to you too.
If you were God? by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. This was the first book I read about God and it framed my understanding of God and how He runs the world.
The secret life of God by Rabbi David Aaron. I studied with Rabbi Aaron in Jerusalem he is a fantastic teacher and writes in an easy-to-understand style.
Genesis and the Big Bang by Professor Gerald Schroeder uses science to prove the Genesis narrative.
Many years ago, I attended a conference with Rabbi Aaron and he commented that the biggest challenge to Judaism is God. If we can’t understand God, why should we keep His commandments, go to shul or remain Jewish?
Reciting the Shema, and kissing the mezuzah, helps me to reflect on the question of God. How I can connect to Him and how to be a better servant to Hashem.