Parshas Va'eschanan - Taking Responsibility

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Aug 8, 2022
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Parshas Va'eschanan is comprised principally of the basics of our emunah, our faith. It features the Aseres Ha-Dibros (Ten Commandments), Keri'as Sh'ma, a tochachah (reproof) adjuring us to keep the mitzvos or be punished, as well as much basic exhortation and encouragement to adhere to the Torah and make Hashem's Will our main priority.


There are, however, a few parts of the parsha that seem to fail to fit into this presentation of the basic tenets of Yahadus (Judaism). Firstly, the parshah commences with Moshe Rabbeinu relating how he pled with Hashem to enter Eretz Yisroel but was denied entry, and Moshe notes that the episode which precipitated this punishment was brought about by B'nei Yisroel themselves (Devarim 3:26). Why is this section about Moshe Rabbeinu's plea being denied included in the parshah? It would instead seem to fit better into last week's parshah, where Moshe goes through some of the negative consequences of the national downfalls depicted in Sefer Bamidbar. Also, why does Moshe "rub it in" and lay blame on B'nei Yisroel for his inability to enter the Land? Even though the nation did indeed provoke Hashem at Mei Merivah, leading to Moshe's wrongdoing there (v. Rashi ibid.), why did Moshe feel the need to mention at this point B'nei Yisroel's culpability for the incident?  


We read in the middle of the parshah how Moshe Rabbeinu designates three Arei Miklat (Cities of Refuge). Again, this section seems totally unrelated to the balance of the parshah; why interrupt the thematic flow and suddenly address Arei Miklat? Moshe's designation of Arei Miklat at this juncture would appear to be very out of place.


One of the underlying motifs of Moshe's monologue in Parshas Va'eschanan is that of B'nei Yisroel taking responsibility for themselves. Moshe tried very hard to impress upon the nation that it was expected to adhere to Hashem's Torah and realize the consequences of failure to do so. Unlike in the Midbar (Desert), where Moshe unilaterally interceded on behalf of B'nei Yisroel upon every major sin, and, irrespective of short-term punishment, national goals were realized, Moshe now sought for the people to be aware that henceforth, national transgressions would have permanent consequences. The parshah therefore begins with an example of this axiom, demonstrating that a misdeed had an eternal effect on Moshe's and the nation's future, for he would not enter Eretz Yisroel nor be avaiable to guide the people and intercede on their behalf any longer, as a result of his action at Mei Merivah. Not only was Moshe's punishment irreversible, but it also meant that B'nei Yisroel would lose his presence as a loving advocate who would plead their case even when they did not ask for his intervention. This was a major lesson in teaching the virtue of taking full responsibility, and it explains why Moshe's rejected plea to enter Eretz Yisroel and his invoking B'nei Yisroel's role in this tragedy constitute the introduction to our parshah, as due to B'nei Yisroel having been a factor in the incident at Mei Merivah, that incident rose to the level of a national transgression, for which the people now had to bear a significant degree of responsibity and deal with the consequences.


The designation of Arei Miklat teaches the same concept, for one who kills inadvertently while thrusting downward is not excused; rather, he must be exiled to an Ir Miklat or risk his life. Such a person did not kill intentionally, but his carelessness cannot be overlooked, and the Torah requires that he be held responsible for what he did. This is why the message of Arei Miklat is central to the theme of Parshas Va'eschanan, for B'nei Yisroel were now being told that they were to bear the full consequences of their deeds on a permanent national level. No longer would the types of excuses proffered for many of the sins in the Midbar be accepted; the time had come for taking responsibility and being held fully accountable for abrogation of basic Torah values.


May we all take this lesson to heart and be ever careful in our commitment to Hashem and His mission for us.

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Barry and Marcia Levinson in honor of Rabbi Eliron & Devorah Levinson and their children, and Rabbi Aviyam & Rina Levinson and their children and by Sharon & Jeffrey Frieling in memory of Susan Ederson, Roiza bas Tzvi Hersh and by Tamar and Phil Gross for a refuah shleimah for Pinchas Eliyahu ben Rachel