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D’var Torah: Parashat Eikev

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Eikev, the Chief Rabbi explains why we read the paragraphs of the Shema in the order that we do.

The order is all wrong! In Parashat Va’etchanan we read the first paragraph of the Shema. Now one week later, in Parahat Eikev, we will be reading the second paragraph. And where is the third paragraph? We read that about six weeks ago in Parashat Shelach Lecha. So surely, in our davening, we should read the third paragraph as the first? Why is it in this particular order?

The Gemara in Masechet Brachot responds to this question. It tells us that, in the first instance, we should recite the first paragraph of the Shema, the major theme of which is ‘Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim – To accept the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven upon us’ to express our deep faith in Hashem.

Our recognition of the truth of the one living God brings us on to the theme of the second paragraph, ‘Kabbalat Ol Mitzvot – Acceptance of the yoke of all Mitzvot.’ A commitment to keep the Mitzvot. Because once we realise the truth of Hashem and the fact that He has given us the Torah, that means we must carry out His Mitzvot.

One might presume that is the whole story – that there is nothing more to it – belief in Hashem and practising Mitzvot. However, there is a danger. The danger is that one’s performance of the Mitzvot could become rusty, perhaps a bit mechanical and soulless. Without that passion, I’d be doing it all but in the course of time my enthusiasm might begin to wane. Certainly those who are observing me, the subsequent generations, won’t be keen or enthusiastic about embracing this way of life. Therefore it is necessary for us to go on to the third paragraph, the main theme of which is “Vihiyitem Kedoshim – We should lead holy and sacred lives.”

In this way, we take our belief in Hashem, together with our ‘Shemirat Mitzvot – The performance of the Mitzvot,’ and we guarantee that, at all times, whether behind closed doors or in the public sphere, we are absolutely committed towards leading upright, dignified, honest and spiritually motivated lives.

The Sages of the Talmud help us to appreciate the depth of the Torah so that we do not merely see it in its linear form. And the way in which we read the Shema, twice a day, illustrates the inspiration it provides.

Yes, the order might be somewhat jumbled up but here we have the key to a most fulfilling life.

Shabbat Shalom