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V'etchanan(Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

Double Sin, Double Comfort

They sinned doubly, as it says, "Jerusalem has sinned a sin." And they were stricken doubly, as it says, "She has received double for her sins." And she will be comforted doubly, as it says, "Be comforted, be comforted, my people." (Yalkut Eichah 1118)

This Midrash can be understood in light of the comments of Ibn Ezra and Sforno on the concluding verses of our parsha:

"When your son will ask you in the future - What are the testimonies and statues and judgments, which God our God has commanded you? - and you shall tell your son we were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us out of Egypt with a strong hand ... and God commanded us to do all these statutes for our good all the days, to give us life as this day" (Deut. 6:20-24).

Ibn Ezra explains that the son's question is not what the mitzvot are, but why we were given a yoke different than all other peoples. The Torah's answer is that we must have trust that the mitzvot are for our own good, because God saved us from slavery by taking us out of Egypt. Sforno elaborates that while the benefit of mitzvot is predominantly in the World to Come, they also bring us life in this world.

God introduces Himself at the beginning of the Ten Commandments as the God Who took us out of Egypt, and not as the God Who created heaven and earth. This reminds us that just as the redemption from Egypt was for our benefit, so too, the mitzvot are for our good, and not for God's sake. Though, as the Sages say, mitzvot were not given to us to enjoy, but rather as a yoke around our necks; the purpose of that yoke is, in the final analysis, our good.

The Haggadah attributes the Torah's question here to the wise son. The answer given to him in the Haggadah is that we do not eat after the Korban Pesach is all that is in our mouths at the moment of redemption. In the end, it is the benefit from mitzvot, such as eating the Korban Pesach, that remains with us.

* * *

FROM BEGINNING TO END

The Torah begins with God's loving kindness - His clothing Adam and Eve - and ends with His loving kindness - burying Moses. The entire foundation of Torah is chesed - God's total giving to those who serve Him. The Torah is, in its entirety, an expression of God's desire to do good for us. It is not an imposition on our life, but rather a framework within to earn eternal reward for our own good.

Delving deeper, Torah begins with the kindness of covering man's humiliation, his physical body. It gives us the means to utilize that body in God's service and thereby purify and elevate it. Moses was the culmination of this process of elevation to being God-like. He transformed his physical body into something so holy that only God could bury it and put it away until the resurrection of the dead. That is the very essence of Torah - to remove the shame of pure physicality by elevating the physical to Godliness.

When one sins, he actually commits a double crime: the first is rebellion against God; the second against himself in his disregard of the benefit from the mitzvah. Hence the punishment is also double. Not only does God punish him for his rebellion, just as a parent punishes a child to discipline him and guide him back to the right path. He also robs himself of the great benefit God so much desired to bestow upon him.

Consequently the comfort will also be double. The ultimate benefit will finally be realized, and, in addition, we will understand that the punishment itself was for our own good to prevent us from losing our eternal reward.

Published: July 24, 2004

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