Parashat VaEthanan

In Parashat VaEthanan Moses stands on the heights of the mountain and speaks to the Israelites, “At that time I pleaded with ADONAI, ‘ADONAI, O God, You have begun to show to Your servant your greatness and Your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works You do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.’ But because of you ADONAI was angry with me and would not listen to me.  ‘That is enough,’ said ADONAI to me. ‘Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan. But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see’” (Deut. 3:23-28).

Below his eyes stretched out the land, and Moses knew that he would never be able to enter it with the Israelites.  Despite this he said to them, “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that ADONAI, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of ADONAI your God that I give you” (Deut. 4:1-2).  And more, “ADONAI was angry with me because of you, and He solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land ADONAI your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. Be careful not to forget the covenant of ADONAI your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything ADONAI your God has forbidden” (Deut. 4:21-23).

Then Moses warns the people, “ADONAI will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which ADONAI will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28).  And he continues, “But if from there you seek ADONAI your God, you will find Him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to ADONAI your God and obey Him. For ADONAI your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath” (Deut. 4:29-31).

At the end of his life – from the heights of Pisgah – Moses understood that he would not achieve all that he sought in life, all the goals that he set for himself when he began his journey with the Israelites so long ago.  But, without despair and without rancor, he accepted his fate with faith and, in Deuteronomy 6, for the first and only time in the Torah, he utters the most important words in Judaism – the Shema.

  1. What lessons to we learn about the measure of success and failure in life rom the story of Moses and from Parashat VaEthanan?
  2. The heights of Pisgah serve as a metaphor for perspective.  There are different times for perspective in a person’s life.  Recall a “Pisgah” event in your life.
  3. How do you understand the meaning of the Shema in light of its context in our parasha?
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