Vaetchanan: A New Day

What does God want from us?

In Torah portion “Va’etchanan” (“I entreated”), Moses continues his “recap” of the Torah, describing in his own words the Exodus and the revelation at Mount Sinai. He implores the Israelites to follow God’s laws and treasure the Torah, and “you shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it….” (Deut. 4:2) Va’etchanan contains a repetition of the Ten Commandments and the Shema, the essential statement of Jewish monotheism: “Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” The Shema commands us to love God with all our heart, our soul, and our might, and continues, “And these words I command you today shall be upon your heart.” (Deut. 6:6)

The Torah is famously terse, with not a single extraneous word (or letter.) Why is it necessary to say “today” I command you? Wouldn’t the verse’s meaning be the same if it simply said “And these words I command you shall be…”? According to medieval commentator Rashi (1040-1105), “today” means that we should not see the commandments as antiquated royal edicts that nobody pays attention to anymore. Rather we should consider God’s laws to be newly-given and exciting, the kind of words that a person would run to hear.

Rav Chaim of Brisk (1853-1918) explains that a person’s situation and responsibilities vary from day to day. Our mission today is not the same as yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. We must begin each day anew, reflecting on our current position and and asking God, “What do You want from me today?” 

May we serve the Holy One with renewed enthusiasm each and every day!

Image: Shema inscription on the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem

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