Dvar Torah for Parashat Va'Etchanen

by Hadas Zeilberger

Delivered at the Jewish Center of Princeton, NJ, on Aug. 1, 2009

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn Hebrew. Being miles away from the only country where this language is spoken, I realized early on that the only way I would be able to gain even a moderate fluency in this language would be to pick a few tools and stick with them. One of the resources I decided on is one of the leading national Israeli Newspapers; Yedioth Acharanot which is sold at the kiosk every Friday. Every Friday, starting from the day I decided to learn Hebrew, my father would stop at the kiosk, pick up a copy of Yedioth Acharanot, read it himself, and bring it home to me where I would take it and study it intently, looking up every word I did not know, which in the beginning was most of them.

But there was one drawback to this plan; the content. As most people know, newspapers are depressing. For some reason, maybe because I have always idealized Israel, I found this to be particularly depressing. First there were the articles which disturbed me because they informed me of events both domestic and foreign happening in and around Israel. But the worst were the columnists. The columnists would complain relentlessly about everything including but not limited to the education, the economy, and the government.

One day I was sitting at the table, reading Yedioth Acharonot as usual, when I saw something I could not believe. It was a happy, upbeat, optimistic, article in Yedioth Acharonot. I literally did not believe my eyes. I thought that I must be reading the Hebrew incorrectly. I checked with my dictionary, but it told me my Hebrew was correct. Then I checked again with my Hebrew speaking father, but he also told me I was correct. Then my eyes happened to travel to the top of the page and I saw that the date was Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and finally everything made sense.

The parasha of this week, parashat va'etchanen is a continuation of the speech Moses gives to the Israelites before they enter the land of Israel. In this part of the speech, Moses emphasizes how important it is to wholeheartedly, unfalteringly, believe in God. be also tells the Israelites never to test God, which Nechama Leibowitz says is his way of saying that they must believe in God unconditionally, that they cannot believe in him for profit, that they must believe and love for the sake of their love for Him. What is implied in the stipulations of the relationship between the Israelites and God is that although God can wipe the israelites out for even the smallest lapse of belief, no matter what befalls the Israelites, either by the hand of God, or under the watch of God, they must never stop revering and believing in Him. Moses himself exemplifies this because he lead a pack of complaining Israelites around the desert for forty years and seemingly unjustly is denied access to the promised land, yet he never, even for a second, stops believing in God, and even gives a heartfelt speech to the Israelites about how they have to rever and believe in God. At first this seems unfair, but when one remembers that God created everything, the Israelites, the land of Israel , and absolutely everything else, Moses's message to the Israelites, and to us, starts to make a lot of sense. What Moses is telling the Israelites is that no matter what hardship befalls them in life, they must never stop revering their creator, their creation, the fact that they were created.

What Moses is telling us is that no matter how mundane or even bad everyday life gets, we must never stop appreciating the fact that we exist, and the fact that every beneficial in our life exists. Now, not everything deserves celebration for its creation, but if one feels the need to celebrate on the day of the anniversary of the creation of something, then they should remember every day how amazing it was that that thing was created. If a cynical Israeli columnist feels the urge to write an optimistic article for Yom Ha'atzmaut, then every day, in the midst of their complaining, they should remember how much a miracle it is that Israel was created. And while we should always look upon the problems in Israel, and try to correct them, we should never ignore the progress it has made in the past 61 years and never stop believing in it. As for me, I have picked a new and improved tool for learning Hebrew. Israeli Cartoons.