True, Ultimate Good (Vaetchanan)

True, Ultimate Good (Vaetchanan)

Sin is whatever obscures the soul. -Andre Gide

The Book of Deuteronomy comprises the parting words of Moses to the nation of Israel as they are camped on the eastern border of the Promised Land. God had told Moses that he would not enter the land but rather would die on the eastern border. The nation of Israel would cross the Jordan and conquer the land under the leadership of Moses’ disciple Joshua.

The Meshech Chochma on Deuteronomy 6:3 notes an odd incongruence in the language Moses uses. Moses talks about performing the commandments so it “will be good” for you. But in another instance, he states that it “is good” for you. Why the difference between the present tense and the future tense?

The Meshech Chochma explains that the performance of a commandment is its actual ultimate reward. The action of following God’s orders is somehow, deeply and intrinsically the greatest, truest, ultimate good we could ever experience or imagine. There is something about fulfilling God’s directives in this world that is so powerful, yet so sublime that the soul experiences indescribable ecstasy. At one point in our collective history, we were able to experience it – during that short period between the initial receipt of the Ten Commandments and God’s revelation on Mount Sinai, until our national betrayal of God via the sin of the Golden Calf.

During that short period of forty days, whenever a Jew performed a commandment, his soul would immediately feel the spiritual “reward” for having accomplished something of what the divine mandate expected.

However, after the sin of the Golden Calf, we lost that sensitivity. The coarseness of our material selves, our drives and desires buried our souls under layers of physicality that have made it almost impossible for our spirits to experience the instantaneous divine reward for performing a commandment. Therefore, Moses reverts to the language of it “will be good” for you. We don’t feel. We don’t automatically sense the spiritual payback of listening to God. Only in the future, only when our spiritual self is disencumbered from our physical shells will we truly feel and experience the true, ultimate good of the reward of our efforts.

May we not have to wait until then, and may we develop the sensitivity to “feel” the spiritual energy, the joy of following a divine path.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the rebuilding of the Temple, speedily in our days.

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