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Uniting with the essence of G-d is a level beyond reward and punishment.

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Uniting with the essence of G-d is a level beyond reward and punishment.

"It will be, if you hearken to My commandments…." (Deut. 11:13-21)

This paragraph is the second paragraph of the Reading of the Shema. Although it is similar to the first paragraph (in the previous parasha, Vaetchanan, Deut. 6:4-9) in many ways - and even seems to repeat it - there are a number of significant differences:

The first paragraph is in the singular (each Jew is addressed individually), while the second paragraph is mostly in the plural (i.e. the Jews are addressed as a community).

In the first paragraph, we are commanded to love G‑d "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might". In the second paragraph, the third type of love, "with all your might", is not mentioned.

Learning Torah is…a direct experience of G‑dliness….

Unlike the first paragraph, the second paragraph raises the issue of reward and punishment.

Unlike the first paragraph, the second paragraph discusses the eventuality of exile and how - even in such circumstances - the Jew can and should continue to serve G‑d.

In the first paragraph, learning the Torah is mentioned before the mitzvah of tefillin, while in the second paragraph, the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned before learning Torah.

These differences mirror the different aspects of our relationship to G‑d described in parashat Vaetchanan and parashat Ekev. Parashat Vaetchanan focuses on Moses' request that G‑d grant us the unconditional gift of divine "sight". This sort of perception of divinity is so intense that fulfillment of G‑d's will is a given; there is no need to mention reward and punishment, and there is no room for exile. Furthermore, the intensity of this divine consciousness enables the Jew to transcend his innate finitude and love G‑d "with all his might", beyond his natural limits. In this context, each individual can rely on himself and his own, personal experience of G‑d to ensure his commitment to G‑d and His will.

Similarly, learning Torah is, relative to performing the commandments, a direct experience of G‑dliness, inasmuch as through learning the Torah we are granted a glimpse into G‑d's mind, as it were. In this context, therefore, it is given prominence over the fulfillment of the Torah's commandments. Since we are fallible, reliance on our own effort leaves room for the possibility of exile….

Parashat Ekev, in contrast, focuses on our response to the gift of divine insight, our "hearing", which obligates us to refine ourselves with our own effort. At this less intense level of perception of the Divine, it is necessary to delineate the consequences of heeding and ignoring G‑d's call. Since we are fallible, reliance on our own effort leaves room for the possibility of exile, and we need each other to bolster our commitment to G‑d's will.

Similarly, the experience of fulfilling G‑d's commandments, relative to Torah study, is an indirect experience of G‑d; in this context, therefore, it is given prominence over the study of the Torah.

The fact that the first paragraph is addressed to the individual indicates that it speaks to the Yechida, the unique, singular essence of the Jew, which - at least in the present order - lies latent, deep within our divine consciousness and is not normally evident. This aspect of the soul, in which the Jew identifies himself as "a veritable part of G‑d", knows nothing of the bounds of nature, and therefore, when it does surface, enables the individual to operate at a much higher level of divine energy and existence. This is possible because of the Yechida's singular focus on G‑d to the exclusion of all else.

In the second paragraph, which is couched in the plural, the Jew is addressed as a collection of various faculties and powers, i.e. at the levels below his Yechida. Therefore, the commandment to express love for G‑d "with all your might" is not relevant.

Copyright 2001 Chabad of California /www.LAchumash.org

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 9, p. 77, footnote 40; p. 83-85.

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