How Should We Live?
Posted on August 10, 2017
As a people, we Jews are good at many things: at kvetching, of course; at lashon hara, gossip, telling people things we shouldn’t; at eating. Perhaps most importantly, we Jews are good at asking questions.
In fact, the greatest of all Jewish questions was asked in this week’s Torah portion of Ekev, the third sedrah in the Book of Deuteronomy. It reads:
V’atah, Yisrael, mah Adonai sho’eil mei’imach?, “And now, Israel, what does God ask of you?”
The passage in Ekev then answers this great question, “That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God’s ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God will all your heart and all your soul.”
This big question—what does God ask of you?—and Ekev’s answer begin a series of statements in Jewish tradition, attempts to distill from our large moral storehouse just what the essence, the ikar of Jewish ethics really is. What is it that God wants? What is the true standard we need to uphold to be considered morally good?
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Ekev 5777
Listen = Love
Posted on August 3, 2017
You are all familiar with the most important text in this week’s Torah portion of Va’etchanan. It might be the very first Hebrew words you ever learned: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad – Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Most commentary on the Shema focuses on the word Echad, One, the core idea of our belief in one God, monotheism itself. But for me the most interesting word in the Shema is not the word Echad, “one”; no, the most interesting word in that seminal sentence is the very first word, Shema.
What does Shema mean? Essentially, it means “listen” – or, since it is in the Tzivui, the command form of Hebrew, it means “Listen up! Pay attention! Hear what is about to be said.” So why was it necessary to order the Israelite people to listen?
Well, of course, if everyone was always listening we would never have to command that. No one insists that people pay attention when they already are doing so.
This is a verbal effort to grab the wandering focus of the Israelites and get them to hear what is about to be said. Listen! Pay attention! This is important! And with the Jewish people that is never an unnecessary summons.
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Va'etchanan 5777