Weekly Cycle

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Desert in Words: "Giving it All You've Got" and the Parashah of Va'etchanan

This week's Torah portion speaks of how Hashem pleaded with G-d to let him into the Land of Israel, so much so that Hashem had to tell him to stop asking. It also describes the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, and concludes with the first paragraph of the Shemah:

4. Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.
5. And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.
6. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.
7. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.
8. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.

9. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
(Deuteronomy, Chapter 6)

Rashi's comments on these verses are quite incisive. However, there is one in particular comment that stands out: "and with all your means: with all your possessions. There are people whose possessions are more precious to them than their own bodies. Therefore, it says, 'and with all your means.'" 

Rashi's comments are almost always a response to an inherent simple question that would bother a sharp five-year-old. The question here seems to be, "Why mention 'with all your means' at all? Wouldn't  'with all your heart and with all your soul' also imply with 'all your means' as well?" Especially since Rashi had just stated regardgin "with all your soul," that it means, "Even if He takes your soul." Rashi therefore answers that this is not necessarily the case because there are people whose possessions are more precious to them than their own bodies.

Interestingly, Rashi does not say that there are people whose possessions are more precious to them than their souls. That would appear to have been a more direct correlation with the previous verse. Why then does Rashi particularly state, "their bodies?"

Perhaps the answer is that what was bothering Rashi was a different question altogether. The verses of the Shemah appear related to three different dimensions of a person: intellectual/spiritual ("soul," which rests is in the mind"), emotional (heart) and physical ("means," action).

Rashi's inherent question then would have been: "Regarding the physical realm/dimension, why does the Torah state "your means," instead of "your body." Rashi than answers that a person can (and should) reach a level of involvement in the world in which their possessions are literally their  "means" in which to affect the world, and become more precious to them than their own body. 

This second way of understanding Rashi's inherent question would be a more positive way of interpreting Rashi's comment, and would appear to be in line with the Talmud's own statement in Chullin 91a regarding our forefather Jacob's going back across the river Jabok to pick up some small vessels he left behind. The Talmud states there that, "From here [we may infer] that the money of righteous people (Tzadikim) is more precious to them than their bodies." Jacob had crossed the river alone at night, when he encountered Esau's angel, who attacked him.

Encountering Esau's angel appears to have been a good thing to have happened to Jacob, because his victory over him is ultimately what gave him the confidence to face down Esau himself the following day. The Kli Yakar, however, disagrees, and sees Jacob's behavior as overly materialistic and Esau's angel attack as a punishment. The statement of the Talmud would then need to be interpreted as "even the money of Tzadikim can become more precious than their bodies." (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/salt-bereishit/08-15vayishlach.htm)

Regarding Rashi, the question remains. Is his statement regarding certain people viewing money being more precious than their bodies ultimately positive or negative? Is it talking about somebody who is overly materialistic or of someone who is so righteous that they see a higher purpose in their money? The fact that Rashi slightly changed the words of the Talmud and does not use the term "righteous" (Tzadik) but simply "Adam," man/person, suggests that he is in fact referring to both scenarios. This is also hinted at by the second part of this explanation to this verse:

Another explanation of וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ [and with all your means"] is: You shall love God with whatever measure (מִדָּה) He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of retribution. Thus also did David say: “I will lift up the cup of salvations [and I will call upon the name of the Lord]” (Ps. 116:12-13); “I found trouble and grief [and I called out in the name of the Lord]” (Ps. 116:3-4).

In both cases, whether you are a righteous individual and you "lift up the cup"  (elevating your posessions to holiness and bringing the world closer to G-d), or if instead you are still over materialistic and that causes you to be encountered by "trouble and grief"), either way you must love G-d. Love him with everything you've got.

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