Parshah Summary – P’shat
This second parshah of Sefer Devarim continues with Moses’ monologue to the Children of Israel on the banks of the Jordan. He opens with how he prayed to enter the Promised Land along with them, but instead he was told he must climb a mountain and view the Land from afar before he dies. He then continues telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt and their receiving of the Torah at Sinai, followed by the prophesy that future generations will abandon the Path for “false gods,” leading to the exile and their being scattered among the nations. But, from their exile they will once again seek the Divine and return...
Torah of Awakening
וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יי בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר׃
אֲדֹנָ֣י יי אַתָּ֤ה הַֽחִלּ֙וֹתָ֙ לְהַרְא֣וֹת אֶֽת־עַבְדְּךָ֔ אֶ֨ת־גׇּדְלְךָ֔
“I pleaded with Hashem at that time, saying,
‘My Lord, Hashem, You have begun to show Your servant Your Greatness…’”
- Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3:23, 24 Parshat Va’Etkhanan
Among the disciples of Rabbi Mendel of Kosov was a kindhearted and generous hasid by the name of Rabbi Moshe. Moshe had been successful in business and was rather wealthy, until one day when his fortune turned. Through a series of unsuccessful business endeavors, he lost all his money and fell into debt. He went to his master, Rabbi Mendel, and told him about his predicament. “Go to my brother-in-law, the Seraph of Strelisk, and pour out your heart to him.” He did so, and when Rabbi Uri of Strelisk heard the story, he replied, “I will take a mikveh, and I will dedicate the merit of the bath to your benefit.” The man returned to his master and told him what had happened. “Go back to my brother-in-law,” said the rabbi of Kosov, “and tell him that the mikveh will not serve to pay your creditors.”
The man rode back to Strelisk again and said what he had been told to say. “Very well my son,” said the Seraph, “in that case, I will also dedicate the merit of my tefillin to your welfare.” When the man returned to Kosov and told his master what had happened, Rabbi Mendel said, “Give my brother-in-law this message from me: the tefillin can’t help either.” The man did as he was bidden. The Seraph reflected, and then replied, “Well, if that is the case, then I shall do even better for you. Today I will dedicate the merit of all my prayers to you, and the three merits will unite into one and come to your aid.” Rabbi Moshe returned to Kosov and gave his report.
“Go,” said the tzadik, and he spoke more softly, yet the softness had the effect of making his words more intense, “Go to my brother-in-law and say to him in my name that all of this will not settle a single debt.” When the Seraph received this message, he immediately put on his fur coat and set out for Kosov. The moment he arrived and greeted his brother-in-law, he asked him: “What do you want from me?”
“What I want,” said Rabbi Mendel, “is for both of us to travel around for a few weeks and collect the money he needs from our people. For it is written: וְהֶֽחֱזַ֣קְתָּ בּ֔וֹ V’hekhezakta bo – You shall support them… (Lev. 25:35). And that is what they did.
וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יי – I implored the Divine… The word for “I implored” is וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן va’etkhanan – from the word חֵן hein, which means “grace.” To “implore” is to beg for grace. What “grace” is being prayed for? In the plain sense, Moses is asking to be able to enter the Promised Land. But on a deeper level, the “Promised Land” is a metaphor for that inner sense of completeness or wholeness, hinted by the mention of God’s “Greatness” – גׇּדְלְךָ֔ Your Greatness, and represented by the letter ג gimel, which begins the word גָדוֹל gadol. But this Gadol, this Divine “Greatness,” is not something separate from us; it is the revelation of our own innermost being. It is “great” in the sense that it is infinitely more spacious than any particular thing within our experience; it is the vast space within which all experience arises – the space of awareness itself. חָבִיב אָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם Beloved are human beings, for they are created in the Divine Image…” (Pirkei Avot 3:18, Rabbi Akiva).
The Divine, or Reality, expresses Its Greatness as our own awareness – that’s the tzelem, the Divine “image.” Rabbi Akiva calls us “beloved” because of this gift – the gift of our Divine Greatness. Then he says:
חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם It is indicative of an even greater love that our Divine Image is made known to us… In other words, though our Divine Greatness is a wonderful gift, it doesn’t do us much good unless it is made known to us, unless we experience the Infinite directly. To experience our Gedulah, our Divine Greatness, is the greatest gift – the Supreme Grace, because it is the revelation of our own being, something that can never be taken away. But, our Divine Greatness is not really hidden; it is only that our awareness tends to look at everything except Itself, so it can be difficult to notice. But if we ask for grace, if we implore God to reveal our Divine Greatness to us and then wait with silent and present alertness for the answer, the prayer itself can help us open to this Truth of who we are. This is the kind of prayer that is answered instantaneously. And from that inner “greatness,” that sense of abundance and completeness, rather than lack and scarcity, generosity on the outer level naturally arises as well, just like Rabbi Mendel in the story. Let’s try it:
“Oh Hashem, please reveal to us our own Divine Greatness, that Place within that is free and spacious, that embraces this moment as it is and overflows with love and generosity into the world...” Then, notice – this moment is complete – sensation, feeling, thought – all arising in the space of this moment, which is awareness itself, free and open, complete and miraculous…
Read past teachings on VaEtkhanan HERE.
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