Parshat Vaetchannan

In this cycle, through the Torah, we will be taking a mystical journey. Our guide will be Rabbi Larry Tabick’s book, The Aura of Torah, published in 2014 by the Jewish Publication Society and the University of Nebraska. Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted. Translations of the Talmud are the Steinsaltz, William Davidson Talmud, on Sefaria.


Moses, reflecting on his and Israelites experiences describes his theology. The parshah includes the Ten Utterances and the Shema.


Devarim 4:39

וְיָדַעְתָּ֣ הַיּ֗וֹם וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ֮ אֶל־לְבָבֶ֒ךָ֒ כִּ֤י יְהֹוָה֙ ה֣וּא הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם מִמַּ֔עַל וְעַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ מִתָּ֑חַת אֵ֖ין עֽוֹד׃


(Robert Alter)

And you shall know today and take to your heart that the LORD, He is God in heavens above and on the earth below, there is none else.



Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the LORD alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.


(R. Larry Tabick)

You should know this day, and take it to heart, that the Eternal is God in the heavens above and on the earth below; there is nothing else.


Note the difference between “there is none else,” “there is no other,” and “there is nothing else.” What meanings do the different translations guide us to?


For Thursday


The Tractate Gitlin includes this verse in a description of the martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons during the Maccabean war. Gitlin is a tractate concerning laws involving women and divorce.

The earliest version of this story is in 2 Maccabees. In that text the boys are asked eat pork rather than pray to an idol.


Why is this verse being linked to martyrdom?


Gittlin 57b

Concerning them and others like them the verse states: “As For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are reckoned as sheep for the slaughter” (Psalms 44:23).

And Rav Yehuda said: This verse applies to the woman and her seven sons who died as martyrs for the sake of the sanctification of God’s name. The incident occurred as follows: They brought in the first of the woman’s sons before the emperor and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2). They immediately took him out and killed him.

And they then brought in another son before the emperor, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “You shall have no other gods beside Me” (Exodus 20:3). And so they took him out and killed him. They then brought in yet another son before the emperor, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “He that sacrifices to any god, save to the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exodus 22:19). And so they took him out and killed him.

They then brought in another son, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “You shall not bow down to any other god” (Exodus 34:14). And so they took him out and killed him. They then brought in yet another son, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). And so they took him out and killed him.

They then brought in another son, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “Know therefore this today, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). And so they took him out and killed him.

They then brought in yet another son, and said to him: Worship the idol. He said to them: I cannot do so, as it is written in the Torah: “You have avouched the Lord this day to be your God…and the Lord has avouched you this day to be a people for His own possession” (Deuteronomy 26:17–18). We already took an oath to the Holy One, Blessed be He, that we will not exchange Him for a different god, and He too has taken an oath to us that He will not exchange us for another nation.

It was the youngest brother who had said this, and the emperor pitied him. Seeking a way to spare the boy’s life, the emperor said to him: I will throw down my seal before you; bend over and pick it up, so that people will say that he has accepted the king’s authority [harmana]. The boy said to him: Woe [ḥaval] to you, Caesar, woe to you, Caesar. If you think that for the sake of your honor I should fulfill your command and do this, then for the sake of the honor of the Holy One, Blessed be He, all the more so should I fulfill His command.

As they were taking him out to be killed, his mother said to them: Give him to me so that I may give him a small kiss. She said to him: My son, go and say to your father Abraham, You bound one son to the altar, but I bound seven altars. She too in the end went up to the roof, fell, and died. A Divine Voice emerged and said: “A joyful mother of children” (Psalms 113:9), as she raised her children to be devoted in their service of God.



For Saturday


Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, 16th century, Eretz Israel

The meaning [of this verse] is not that there is no other God, for that is obvious, and God has already revealed this in the verse “Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One” [Deuteronomy 6:4]. Rather, the intention is to say that there is no other existence in the world apart from God’s and that if God were to be [completely] concealed everything would be destroyed.


Devarim 5:4-5

Face to face the LORD spoke to you on the mountain out of the fire — I stood between the LORD and you at that time to convey the LORD’s words to you, for you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain …”


For Thursday


There is no section from the Babylonian Talmud for this verse.


For Saturday


Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part 2 33:1, 12th century, Egypt

It is clear to me that what Moses experienced at the revelation on Mount Sinai was different from that which was experienced by all the other Israelites, for Moses alone was addressed by God …

Moses then went down to the foot of the mountain and told his people what he heard. … In the Mechilta our Sages say distinctly that he brought to them every word as he had heard it. … It was only Moses that heard the words, and he reported them to the people.

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, 16th century, Eretz Israel

This is the secret dimension of Deut. 5:5: It is well known to students of the Kabbalah that the root of anochi stems from the emanation binah. … When Moses … had attained the 50th level of binah, he had a “clear vision.” … How do we explain that Moses is supposed to have provided a barrier between them, i.e. “I was standing between God and you?” We must conclude that there was indeed no barrier, that once Moses utilized the original light this removed his presence as a barrier.

For the Sages, Maimonides and Rabbi Horowitz, Moses, because of his elevated level, was able to provide a direct restatement of God’s message. (Although perhaps there is some nuance when Maimonides says, “he brought them every word as he had heard it.”)


But what if we are not at the 50th level, what happens?


Kalonymus Epstein, 18th century, Ukraine

I heard in the name of our rabbi and teacher Yechiel Michal of Zlotchov [an interpretation] of the verse …: When Jewish people claim that they are elevated to a [particular] level of Torah or the service of God, they are making a barrier between themselves and the Creator, and this is “I.” For those who claim that they are [really] something and think that they are on the level of [actual] existence stand between themselves [and God]. Meaning that those who speak in this way are making a partition and barrier between themselves and God.


Our sense of honor becomes a barrier between us and God.


Devarim 6:4

(Robert Alter)

Hear, Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.


(Sefaria / JPS)

Hear , O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.

(Rabbi Larry Tabick)

Hear O Israel, the Eternal [is] our God, the Eternal [is] one.


For Thursday


Berakhot 13a:27

The Sages taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and the Rabbis disagreed with regard to the language in which Shema must be recited. This dispute serves as an introduction to a broader analysis of the question of intent: Shema must be recited as it is written, in Hebrew, this is the statement of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.

And the Rabbis say: Shema may be recited in any language.

The Gemara seeks to clarify: What is the reason for Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s opinion? The Gemara answers: The source for his halakha lies in the emphasis on the word: “And these words, which I command you this day, will be upon your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). “Will be” means as they are, so shall they be; they should remain unchanged, in their original language.

The Gemara seeks to clarify further: And what is the reason for the Rabbis’ opinion? The Gemara answers: The source upon which the Rabbis base their opinion is, as it is stated: “Hear, Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4), which they understand to mean that Shema must be understood. Therefore, one may recite Shema in any language that you can hear and understand.


Megillah 17b:1

The verse states: “Hear, O Israel” (Deuteronomy 6:4), which could also be translated, “Understand, O Israel,” indicating that you may recite these words in any language that you hear, i.e., understand.


What part of the Shema is an obligation? What is obligated — the pronunciation, how you stand, or something else?


Berakhot 13b:13

The Sages taught in another baraita with regard to one who recites Shema and utters the verse, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Intent of the heart is only required to this point. This is the statement of Rabbi Meir. Rava said: In this matter, the halakha is in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Meir.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Yirmeya was seated before Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba. He saw that he was greatly extending his pronunciation of eḥadHe said to him: Once you have crowned Him in your thoughts over everything above, in Heaven, below, on earth, and in the four corners of the heavens, you need not extend any further.


For Saturday

Moshe Alshich, 16th century, Eretz Israel

It would have been fitting had [the text said] “the Eternal our God is one.” But it says “Hear O Israel” [meaning] all of you, [even though] the expression is singular, referring to the unity of hearts as one. This is obligatory for us since the Eternal is our God. For even within the Eternal there exists the aspect of judgment, and “our God” that is mentioned here is the Eternal, for within the divine there exists the aspect of mercy. So, these two [divine] names are [in fact] entirely one. And we are obliged to emulate our Creator; hence God is called “our God” [here] rather than “God of the nations,” on account of the unity of the Root of our souls, for God is the One who formed everything. And therefore we are obligated to emulate God.

Alternatively, one might say that Shema [in the singular implies] “with one heart,” that Israel should accept [whatever God sends u,] whether God deals with us through the name “the Eternal” that signifies mercy, or through the name “our God” that signifies judgment, [which] is included in “the Eternal,” for are not both aspects [actually indicative of ] mercy? Hence [it says]: “the Eternal our God the Eternal.” For the sufferings [we experience] are for good and not for punishment. Do not be surprised [at this] for are not these two aspects [really] one name in fact? Hence, it says “one.”