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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Va’et’chanan/Shabbat Nachamu

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The Torah portion of Va’etchanan describes how the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah exhorts us never to forget that day, as the verse says, “But beware and watch yourself very well lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life… the day you stood before the L-rd, your G-d, at Chorev… And you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire up to the midst of the heavens, with darkness, a cloud, and a thick darkness… And He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments.”[1]
The Ibn Ezra says that even if one forgets everything he knows, he should not forget the Sinai revelation.

The commentaries explain many positive benefits that come from remembering the Sinai revelation:

·        Ensures Proper Observance
Rashi explains that when the Jewish people don’t forget this event, they will observe the mitzvot in the proper manner and will then be considered a wise nation.
·        Brings Awareness of the Authenticity of the Torah
The Ramban explains that by remembering this day and imparting that memory to one’s children and grandchildren, “They [the children] will learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth and they will in turn, teach their own children.”[2] In addition, the fact that we received the Torah at Sinai is how we know that the Torah is absolutely true and that no prophet can ever contradict it.
·        For Hashem’s Sake
The Abarbanel explains that although there are many benefits to observing the mitzvot, these benefits should not be the reason that we observe the mitzvot. Rather we should observe them for the simple reason that G-d instructed us to do so. This is why the Torah says that we should not forget the Mount Sinai revelation—so that the Divine instruction be the main impetus for our Mitzvah observance.
·        The Key to Life
The Kli Yakar explains that when we remember the Torah of the Almighty, G-d “remembers” us and grants us life. If, on the other hand, we forget the Torah, G-d forbid, then G-d may “forget us,” i.e., not bless us with continued life, as our sages said (Avot 3:10), “Whoever forgets one word of his study, Scripture considers it as if he deserved to die.”
·        Accepting the Divine Yoke
Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin explains (Pri Tzadik, Mishpatim, ot 3) that the daily remembering of the momentous occasion of Mount Sinai should also be a reacceptance to observe the Torah unquestioningly just as we did at Mount Sinai. This is similar to the kabalat ol malchut shamayim (accepting the Divine yoke) which we do during the daily recital of the Shema.
·        The Ultimate Soul Experience
The Sefat Emet (Parshat Yitro תרמ”ה  D.H. VeDarshu Razal) explains that the souls of all of the Jewish people expired at Mount Sinai and they were able to comprehend the Divine on the same level as the angels. This is why the verse says that “we stood” at Mount Sinai. The expression of “standing” (omdim) is used to describe angels and souls in the Garden of Eden in contrast to souls that are clothed in bodies which are usually described as “moving” (mehal’chim) (See Zechariah 3:7). Remembering the pure level of G-dly comprehension we had at that time —on the level of angels—reminds us of our soul’s true potential and encourages us to maximize that potential.
·        Keeping the Inspiration
The Chida points out[3] that when we received the Torah, we experienced a tremendous yearning to cleave to G-d without any distractions. By remembering that experience we try to reawaken that same feeling and infuse it into the Torah learning and Mitzvah performance that we do throughout our day.

Is it a Commandment?

The Ramban[4] and the Ba’al Halachot Gedolot[5] count remembering the revelation at Mount Sinai as one of the 613 commandments. (They consider it a negative commandment – that one not forget this occasion—and a positive mitzvah – that one pass this on to his children.[6])
Many of those who counted the mitzvot did not include remembering the Sinai revelation as one of the 613 Mitzvot.[7] Several reasons have been offered for this:
·        A General Mitzvah
Some say[8] that this mitzvah is not counted as an individual mitzvah since it is all-encompassing. The meaning of not forgetting the Sinai revelation is that we should remember the entire Torah (which we received at Mount Sinai), go in its ways, and fulfill its mitzvot. As such, it is too general to be counted as an individual mitzvah.
·        In the Heart
Others say[9] that the language of the Torah indicates that it isn’t necessary to remember the Sinai revelation verbally but it is sufficient to bear it in one’s mind and heart. (The word zachor indicates a verbal declaration (see Megillah 18a) while al tishkach means not to forget.) Since it doesn’t involve a speech or an action, it is not counted as a mitzvah. (Certainly, there are several mitzvot that involve only thought, but in this case it is not a specific thought that one must have, but rather simply not to forget.)

When to Remember?

·        Ahavat Olam/Ahava Rabba
The Arizal wrote[10] that one should remember the Sinai revelation every morning when reciting the blessing before the Shema (Ahavat Olam or Ahavah Rabbah). This should be done when saying the words “vekeiravtanu malkeinu leshimcha… uvanu bacharta/and You, our King, brought us close to Your name… and You chose us.” The Arizal recommended that during this brachaone also remember what Miriam did in the desert and how Amalek attacked us.
·        Shesh Zechirot
When the Alter Rebbe compiled his Siddur,[11] he included the verses about what we are supposed to remember every day at the end of the Shacharit services. These are called the Sheish Zechirot (Six Remembrances). The reason he did this was in case one does not bear these things in mind when saying the blessing before the Shema.[12] (In the words of one of the commentaries,[13] “Halevai [if only] people would concentrate on the simple meaning of the words [so how can we expect people to have extra things to remember while reciting that blessing.]”) The Kaf HaChaim (60:4) recommends that even one who is planning to recite the sheish zechirot after davening should keep these things in mind when reciting the blessing before Shema. Since this concept comes from the Arizal, there are mystical reasons that these mitzvot are associated with this particular blessing. (See above that the Pri Tzadik says that remembering Mount Sinai is a method of accepting the Divine yoke. This is accomplished just after the blessing of Ahavat Olam [or Ahavah Rabbah] by saying the Shema.)

These sheish zechirot should be recited on weekdays, Shabbat, holidays, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.[14]

·        Every Time One Studies Torah or Does a Mitzvah
Some say[15] that one fulfills this mitzvah every time one studies Torah while having in mind that it was given at Mount Sinai, or every time one fulfills a mitzvah knowing it too was given at Sinai.

By Torah Law

By Torah law it would be sufficient to remember the Sinai revelation once a year by reading about it in the Torah portion of Va’et’chanan (and Parshat Yitro). The same is true of the remembrance of what Amalek did to us. The reason the sages instituted a special reading regarding remembering Amalek (Parshat Zachor) and not regarding Mount Sinai is that we have Yom Tov (Shavuot) for recalling this event.[16]

What to Think About?

The Shela writes[17] that when remembering the Sinai revelation, one should think about the fact that “we were all there and we received the Torah. Blessed be G-d for separating us from those who err and for giving us the true Torah and implanted everlasting life in us. One should think about the vow we made then to observe the entire Torah. One should be filled with trembling and make a pure heart for himself. One should make a firm commitment to observe the Torah as if one accepted it today. One’s heart should be ignited with love for G-d to serve Him with joy and with a glad heart.
May We Be Inspired by the Sinai Revelation – Every Single Day!
[1] Deut. 4:9-13
[2] Verse 10
[3] Kise David, Derush 8 for Shabbat Kallah, page 131
[4] Hashmatot Lo Ta’aseh on the Ramabam’s Sefer HaMitzvot
[5] Minyan HaMitzvot, Lavin 170
[6] On Deut. 4:9
[7] Rambam in his Sefer HaMitzvot, Sefer Mitzvot Gadol and Sefer HaChinuch
[8] Megillat Esther in response to the Ramban in the Hashmatot
[9] Keren Orah, Brachot chapter One, page 28 in the Bnei Brak edition of 2003 and Aruch HaShulchan 60:5
[10] Sha’ar HaKavanot, Kavanat Yotzer and Pri Etz Chayim, Sha’ar Kria’t Shema, Chapter 3 quoted in Magen Avraham 60:2
[11] Dayan Raskin of London writes (Siddur Rabeinu HaZakein im Tziyunim Mekorot VeHa’arot) that the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur is the first one (that he found) which contains the Shesh Zechirot. As such, he posits, the Alter Rebbe was the first to compile them.
[12] Badei HaShulchan 19:28
[13] Noheg Katzon Yosef, page 35, Hilchot Kri’at Shema, ot 4
[14] HaYom Yom, 8th of Menachem Av
[15] Aruch HaShulchan 60:5
[16] Magen Avraham, ibid as explained by the Machatzit HaShekel
[17] Peninei HaShela, Entry Matan Torah, Mitzvat Zechirat Maamad Har Sinai quoting Shela, Shavu’ot 259

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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