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Vaetchanan SHEMA – GIVE WITNESS!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

There is a famous story of a traveller who visited one of the greatest rabbis of the last generation – the Chafetz Chaim.

The traveller entered the humble abode of the Chafetz Chaim and was astonished by the meagre accommodation.

He asked the Chafetz Chaim where all his furniture was?

The Chafetz Chaim answered him by asking him where all his furniture was.

The traveller responded, “I don’t have any. I’m just passing through this town. Any furniture would just get in my way.”

The Chafetz Chaim smiled and said, “Quite so. I too am a mere traveller in this world, expecting to be here only a short while. This world is just a passageway before the World to Come. For a passageway, this is quite adequately furnished.”

In this weeks Parasha we read the famous words of Shema Yisrael.

This is the quintessential prayer of our nation, the declaration and the testimony of our belief in Hashem. “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad (6:4).” Accept, Yisrael, Hashem who is Elokainu (our G-d), Hashem is One.

The testimony that all that occurs in this world emanates from Hashem. Our Sages state that when saying this, we must have in mind to accept the Yoke of Heaven.

What does that mean?

When looking at a Sefer Torah we note that the last letter of the first word of Shema –the ‘Ayin’, and the last letter of the last word (Echad)- ‘Daled’, are written larger than the other letters. They stand out – why?

These two letters together spell the word ‘Ed’ – witness.

The Kli Yakar grants an awesome insight and writes that this alludes to the concept that we (Am Yisrael) are the witnesses of Hashem in this world. As founders of monotheism, we, through our beliefs and the way that those beliefs act upon our lives, serve as witnesses to Hashem’s intimate involvement in this world.

There is a more profound lesson to learn from this Ayin and Daled:

Many Parshiot earlier (in Parshat Ki Tisa) we learnt how, Moshe asked Hashem to show him His presence (Shemot 33:18). The Midrash explains that Moshe wanted to see the reward of the righteous in this world and the next. Hashem answered that he could see Him from behind but not from the front.

The Gemara (Brachot 7b) explains that Hashem showed Moshe the knot of His Tefilin Shel Rosh (worn on the back of the head).

The Kli Yakar explains that the Tefilin contain a special Name of Hashem known as ‘shakai’, spelled ‘Shin’, ‘Daled’ and then ‘Yud’.

When a person wears Tefilin, the letters ‘Shin’ and ‘Yud’ are in front of him.

The ‘Shin’ is on the front of the Tefilin Shel Rosh and the ‘Yud’ is the knot of the Tefilin Shel Yad (worn on the hand).

Together the Yud and Shin spell ‘Yesh’ –  (meaning) something or a reality.

This refers to the reward of the next world which is a true being and existence – the epitome of ‘Yesh’. Such an existence could not be shown to Moshe. That no eye, even his, could see.

Instead Moshe was only able to see the back of Hashem, the knot of the Tefilin Shel Rosh. That is in the shape of the letter ‘Daled’. The letter Daled is of numerical value four and symbolises the four corners of his world; a world that is limited in space.

The Daled exemplifies the reward of this world.

Using this important insight we can now gain a deeper understanding in the Shema.

The Ayin and Daled are both placed as large letters in the Shema to teach that the eye (Ayin) in this world can only see and understand the Daled – the reward that is connected to this world.

However, the reward of the next world, the ‘Yesh’, the ‘Yud’ and the ‘Shin’, the first letters of the words ‘Shema Yisrael’, that is not available to the domain of the ‘Ayin’, the eye, rather, that is in the domain of hearing (Shema).

That existence, we can only hear about.

This world with all its pleasures is limited. The delicious food, the great clothes, the fantastic scenery are only considered of great benefit to us in this world because we possess a physical form; the soul desires these things only because the body needs them. In a place where there is no body, all these matters become nullified.

The Rambam, in the Mishna Torah, explains that there is no way we can fully anticipate the good in Olam Haba because it is so overwhelmingly great that it cannot be compared to any good in this world.

Spiritual pleasures are infinitely good, while physical pleasures are temporary.

David HaMelech, in Psalms (Tehillim), alludes to this concept when he writes, “How great is the good that You have hidden for those who fear You!”

Because the pleasure we will receive in the World to Come has no comparison here, even the prophets could not describe it over the course of Jewish history. Any description would have simply diminished it. Our Sages tell us, “All the prophets’ only prophesized about the times of the Messiah(Mashiach). However, regarding Olam Haba, no eye has ever seen, except for You, Hashem.”

Over the centuries countless members of our nation have been willing to die for the sake of ‘Hashem Elokainu Hashem echad’ and left this world with the words Shema Yisrael on their lips. Their immense faith in Hashem was honourable and they understood the physical limitations of this world.

May we internalise this and through our actions, our words and our thoughts carry the banner of Hashem’s existence and involvement in this world.

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