31 Jul 2015

Va’ethanan 5775: Weights and Measures

Va’ethanan 5775: Weights and Measures

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

 — Albert Einstein

At the entrance to the promised land Moshe shares fundamental ideas and values that he hopes will frame Israel’s hearts and minds for the future.  Among the points he presents is that although they are the smallest nation among the nations of the earth, G-d chose to enter into a covenant with them.

Not because of your multitudes among all the nations did G-d desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest among all the nations. (7:7)

It was important for the people to know that G-d was not measuring value based on the typical measures that we usually take into account. We are naturally inclined to ascertain value by elements that are measurable by physical means. We tend to consider ‘more’ as ‘better’. We look at numbers and we measure size, and when we are dealing with issues that are purely physical and of basic human importance, those measurements do matter. However, there are other elements in life that cannot be valued using the usual means.

The most meaningful and valuable aspects of our lives are not measurable in quantitative terms. We cannot assign a number or size to evaluate love, honour, faithfulness, or integrity. We would not judge love based on a number of hugs or gifts that we receive but by the sincerity behind them. We would not measure honour by the count of actions but by their virtue. They are not values measured with counters, rulers, or weights but by our hearts and experiences.

Moshe assures the people that their relationship with G-d is not based on their size, and that it is of a higher order. The relationship is not based on the nation’s count but on its calibre. We therefore, incorrectly, consider greatness based on how many mitsvot one might have done, or how many pages one might have studied. We are told instead by the Hakhamim: “Whether one does much or one does little, what is of importance is that the heart is aimed towards Heaven”[1]. We learn that mitsvot are measured by the sincerity with which they are performed, and study is measured by the commitment of the learner and the quality of the information that is studied.

In Va’ethanan Moshe teaches the Children of Israel that G-d did not choose them because of howmany they were but because of who they were. It was not only a point upon which they were expected to reflect in that instance, but a principle upon which they were meant to live their lives. The highest and most meaningful aspects of our lives are not measured by quantity, but by quality. Approaching life from this perspective allows us to rise above the mundane confines with which we are often concerned and to maintain a clear perspective on the aspects of life that matter most.

We lose entire worlds of meaning when the only measurement of value is the one that is restricted to the world of physical phenomena. True love, together with its thoughts, words or actions are not to be measured by size, but by the experience of the heart.

Not because of your multitudes among all the nations did G-d desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest among all the nations. It is from His love for you (7:8)


Law and Lore

About the Prayers

Ahabat Olam – The Blessing of Love

The opening words of the second blessing before Shema Yisrael begins with the words Ahabat Olam – “A love for all time”. This refers to G-d’s love for us indicating that it will never expire.

There is another opinion brought in the Talmud[2] as to the appropriate wording for these opening words. Instead of Ahabat Olam, others hold that it should read Ahaba Rabba – A great love”. The opinion of Ahabat Olam is based on a verse that uses the term in the book of Jeremiah[3].

The halakhic authorities differ regarding usage in the liturgy. There are those who hold Ahabat Olamshould be said in every instance and variation of the prayer[4]. There are others who hold that Ahabat Olam should be said during the evening prayers, and Ahaba Rabba should be said during the morning prayers[5].

The custom of the Sepharadim, both Eastern and Western, is to say Ahabat Olam in every instance.

The Ashkenazim follow the alternate opinion.

[1] Menahot, 110a

[2] Berakhot, 11b

[3] 31:2

[4] R. Yitshak Alphasi (RIF), Berakhot, ibid.; Rambam, Order of the Prayers; R. Yoseph Karo, Shulhan Arukh, 60:1; R. Isaac Luria (Ari), Shaar haKavanot.

[5] Rabenu Asher (ROSH), Berakhot, ibid.; Tosafot, ibid.; R. Moshe Iserles, Glosses to Shulhan Arukh, ibid.

Parasha Perspectives

II  Vaethanan

1f         Moshe is denied  (3:23-29)

2          Revelation and other gods  (4:1-24)

3          Uniqueness of revelation and Exodus  (4:25-40)

4          The 3 Cities of Refuge, eastside of Jordan  (4:41-49)

5a        Covenant. Intro. to Ten Commandments  (5:1-5)

5b        1st Com. – God;  2nd Com. – Other gods  (5:6-10)

5c        3rd Com. – Blasphemy  (5:11)

5d        4th Com. – Shabbat  (5:12-15)

5e        5th Com.  – Parents  (5:16)

5f         6th Com. – Murder  (5:17)

5g        7th Com. – Adultery  (5:17)

5h        8th Com. – Stealing  (5:17)

5i         9th Com. – Perjury  (5:18)

5j         10th Com. – Coveting (another’s wife)  (5:18)

5k        10th Com. (ctd) Coveting (property)  (5:18)

5l         Indirect Revelation  (5:19-6:3)

6a        First paragraph of the Shema  (6:4-9)

6b        Don’t forget God on arrival  (6:10-15)

6c        Don’t test God  (6:16-19)

6d        Retelling history  (6:20-25)

6e        Destroy the seven local  nations.

God’s love for you  (7:1-11)