Parashat Va’Etchanan

by Joan Lenowitz

In this week’s parashah Moses continues to
relate the history of the peoples’ journey toward
the Promised Land. Whereas the first chapters of the
Book of Deuteronomy deal primarily with how the
nearby nations were to be approached in both war and
peace, Parashat Va’etchannan is more
concerned with elucidating the importance and
incentives for keeping God’s law once the people
arrive in the land, with a particular emphasis on
communicating the law to the next generations. It
includes the ‘Sh’ma.‘ and a reiteration of
the Ten Commandments.

But Moses begins by recounting his own fervent plea
to God (Va’etchannan) to allow him to
Cross and see the good land that is
on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain,
and the Lebanon.’ (Deuteronomy 3:25) These
three descriptive terms suggest a panoramic view of
what is beyond the Jordan River, the land, the
mountains directly on the other side, and the
Lebanon mountains of the northern part of Israel,
with their white appearance. The land is just out of
reach of Moses but not entirely out of sight. God
grants Moses a full view of the land. ‘Ascend to the
top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward,
northward, southward, and eastward, and see with
your eyes, for you shall not cross this Jordan.’
(Deuteronomy 3:27)

According to Rashi ‘this good mountain’ refers to
Jerusalem with its spiritual and physical elevation,
and the Lebanon (from lavan, meaning white)
refers to the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple
because it ‘whitens,’ that is, purifies, Israel’s
sins. As the culmination of all that God has
commanded and all that Moses has longed for over the
forty years, it turns out that this view of the land
will have to suffice for Moses. God informs Moses,
rav lach‘ which Rashi reads as, ‘There is
more for you.’ (Deuteronomy 3:26) suggesting
that God has a great goodness in store for Moses in
the World to Come.

Lebanon (from lavan) carries connotations of
whiteness, beauty, purity, and clarity, which are
clearly desirable characteristics, but the root can
also suggest something which is ‘white-hot,’ a more
compelling image of Lebanon as we enter the fourth
week of hostilities in Lebanon between Israel and

Being in Israel at the outset of fighting I was
struck by the high morale, clarity of purpose, and
the strong sense of resolve among the Israelis that
I spoke to in Jerusalem, virtually all of whom had
relatives in the northern vulnerable cities. To
their thinking unearthing Hezbollah was a feat that
must be accomplished regardless of the cost on both
sides, in order for there to be a future for Israel.
It would be firm and swift. No more and no less.
Their feelings resonated with words from our
parashah, ‘Your God will deliver them before
you, and you will smite them-you shall utterly
destroy them: you shall not seal a covenant with
them nor shall you show them favor.
(Deuteronomy 7:3) But war, like wandering in
the desert, takes a jagged course with many
surprises, and can hardly be predicted.

Military assessment of the strength, capability, and
positions of Hezbollah were revised, tactics had to
be changed and the time frame was extended.
Meanwhile the death count increased. Israel has to
stick it out for the long haul, and it is difficult
to maintain morale and unity of purpose over the
long haul. We cannot harden our hearts to all the
suffering. What creeps into our consciousness is
another verse in this week’s Parashah, ‘Take the
utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously.’
(Deuteronomy 4:9) As Jews we must
continuously examine our behavior and our hearts and
it is of some comfort to know that the Israeli army
takes very seriously its examination of ethical
dilemmas involved in war.

Moses was certainly the master of the long haul. Who
could ever have been more persistent than Moses,
continuing on with this rebellious people through
heat, thirst, hunger, exhaustion and insurrection,
followed day and night by a demanding and zealous

Throughout these chapters God prepares to send
Israel into the land to wage war, with battle
tactics, expectations of faithfulness to God, and
instructions for the next generation. Moses has come
this far, but no one can continue to wage war
indefinitely. God finally says, ‘rav lach.
‘It is too much for you!’ that is, ‘You have done
your part; you are entitled to have a vision of the
land, but as for dwelling there, it is time for you
to leave the job to a new leader.