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Aspaqlaria: Parshas VaEschanan

Grandfather Yaakov, the midrash tells us, was on his deathbed. He gathered his sons, and was prepared to tell them what will happen at the end of time. Suddenly, the gift of prophecy left him. Suddenly in the dark, Yaakov Avinu was frightened. Could it be that one of his sons wasn't pure, and that was why they did not merit to be told about the Messianic age?

How could the fathers of the tribes reassure him? How could they succinctly tell their father that they were committed to carry on his work? In this moment was born the first line of the Shema: Shema Yisrael, Hear, our father Israel, the one named by an angel for his ability to interact with G-d and the angels, to be active in the spiritual realm. We too accept Hashem as our ultimate authority. We too believe that He is unique and indivisible.

294 years later, it is time for Moshe Rabbeinu's final lesson. He too wonders about the future of the Jewish people, and provides for us an explanation of Yaacov's sons' words. This week's parashah (6:4-9) contains the first verse of Kri'as Shema, where Moshe expands the idea of the first pasuk.

"Ve'ahavta es Hashem Elokechah -- and you shall love Hashem your G-d". How can you be commanded to love something? Can we be expected to have control over our emotions?

In Michtav Mei'Eliyahu I, R. Dessler writes "Giving may bring about love for the same reason that a person loves what he himself has created or nurtured: he recognizes it as part of himself.... Love flows in the direction of giving."

In a similar sense, Rabbiner Hirsch comments on our pasuk, "In ahav, both meanings are contained, hav, to give and to bring; iheiv, to give oneself and bring of oneself."

We are not so much being commanded to love our Creator, but to give of ourselves and our possessions. From fulfilling this obligation, we will by the nature of being human, bring ourselves to love Him.

Moshe Rabbeinu categorizes exactly what we shall commit to G-d: bechol livavcha, ubichol nafshecha, ubichol me'odecha -- all of your heart, all of your nefesh, and all of your fortune.

There are two ways to say "your heart" in biblical Hebrew: levavecha, as in this pasuk, with two beis's; and libechah, with one beis. Livavechah well describes the turmoil that is as the core of human identity. Two beis's illustrate the two warring forces. This is why the Gemara writes, "with all your heart - with both of your inclinations, with the good inclination, and with the evil inclination." (Berachos 57a) Levavecha describes that part of the man we've been calling in this series the intellect, living in constant tension between the spiritual and the animal.

The first step to loving Hashem is to connect that intellect to the spiritual. To follow in the footsteps of Yaakov, and strive to become a Yisrael.

Bechol nafshechah. Nefesh, the Zohar tells us, refers to that part of the soul that is the life-force. As we'll see in next week's parashah, animals have a nefesh. Once the intellect is committed to service of G-d, then we are able to take our animalistic urges, our needs for food and sex, for "basar viyayin - meat and wine" to make us happy, and put them in service of G-d.

Bechol me'odecha. With all your fortune. The person is now fully committed to serve his spiritual self: intellect in service of spirit, and animal in service of intellect. This fully connected person can now impact the world around him. Bechol me'odechah, with all of the world that is at your control.

The following pesukim elaborate the same idea. The first step, the commitment of the intellect, is "vehayu hadevarim ha'eileh... al livavecha. Vishinantum livanechah, vidibarta bam, ..." "And these things shall be on your heart", again, the two beis heart. Study them, teach them to your children. Engage your mind.

To remind ourselves that the body must then follow the mind, the next pasuk obligates us to place signs upon of our body. Tie them for a sign on your hand, by which you change the world, and between your eyes, by which you take in the world. Don't let your connection to the world control you, you must be in charge.

One step further removed is mezuzah. We can't fall into the trap of believing "kochi vi'otzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh - my strength, and the force of my arm, won for me this war". We do not protect ourselves. The house we build does not protect us.

When we shape the world, G-d imprint must be on every doorway. G-d commanded Adam to "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the world, and master it." Mastering the world is a worthy endeavor, but we must remember that it is only a tool toward our ultimate goal.

The journey started with one man, Yaakov. Through his efforts he became Yisrael, the image of man on the Divine Throne: animal serving mind serving spirit. May we live for the day when the journey ends, when the words of Aleinu are fulfilled: "Lisaken olam bemalchus Sha-dai -- and we remake the world into the kingdom of G-d."

© 1995 The AishDas Society