Va’etchanan

August 7, 2014


This week’s parsha has the Ten Commandments repeated as well as having the first paragraph of the Shema.

In Chapter 4 verse 5, we read:
Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord, my God, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you are coming to possess.
ה. רְאֵה לִמַּדְתִּי אֶתְכֶם חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוַּנִי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָי לַעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם בָּאִים שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ:

6. And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, “Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. ”
ו. וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם וַעֲשִׂיתֶם כִּי הִוא חָכְמַתְכֶם וּבִינַתְכֶם לְעֵינֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁמְעוּן אֵת כָּל הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה וְאָמְרוּ רַק עַם חָכָם וְנָבוֹן הַגּוֹי הַגָּדוֹל הַזֶּה:

RASHI: And you shall keep [them]: This refers to study.
ושמרתם: זו משנה:
and do [them]: [To be interpreted] according to its apparent meaning.
ועשיתם: כמשמעו:
for that is your wisdom and your understanding [in the eyes of the peoples]: Through this you will be considered wise and understanding in the eyes of the peoples.
כי הוא חכמתכם ובינתכם וגו’: בזאת תחשבו חכמים ונבונים לעיני העמים:

Let us examine Rashi’s comment.
What has Rashi added to what the verse says? He seems to say exactly the same thing as the verse itself.

We have leant that there are two types of comments in Rashi. One explains a difficulty in the verse and the other makes the reader avoid an incorrect reading of the verse. This is another example of the second type of comment by Rashi.

If we look at the words “in the eyes of the nations” in Rashi’s comment. They are a quote from the Torah’s words. Rashi has inserted his own words between the Torah’s words. So the question is what possible misunderstanding is Rashi helping us avoid?

What does the word “it” refer to in the phrase “For it is your wisdom etc.”?

An superficial reading of our verse would lead us to think that “it” refers to the Torah. The Torah is our wisdom and our understanding in the eyes of the nations.
Rashi is telling us that this is an incorrect interpretation. He wants us to avoid this reading and gives us the correct one.

Rashi says “it” refers to the words in the first half of the verse, “And you shall guard and do them.” The wisdom, Rashi tells us, is doing the mitzvot, not just knowing or learning them. We will be considered wise by the nations when we do the mitzvot not just by the fact that we have the Torah. Having the Torah only means we possess it, but we are not yet wise until it is part of us, until we fulfill its words. That is the wisdom – doing, not knowing!

Rashi’s subtle comment teaches an important, perhaps the most important, message of the Torah. Knowing God’s will is knowledge – Doing God’s will is wisdom. And in this He delights.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise
Ramat Beit Shemesh

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