Parashat VaEtchanan- We are Always G-d’s Special Nation
Parashat Vaet’hanan recounts the event of Matan Torah, when G-d revealed Himself to our ancestors and gave Moshe the Torah to bring to us.
The Talmud famously tells of Moshe’s experiences when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The heavenly angels protested G-d’s decision to give Beneh Yisrael the Torah, arguing that it should not be given to a "Yelud Isha" – people "born from a woman." The Torah, they argued, preceded the world’s creation by thousands of years. And so its rightful place is in the heavens, and not on earth, among human beings.
What exactly was the angels’ claim? And why did they refer to human beings as "Yelud Isha"?
The explanation might be that the angels referred to the Yeser Ha’ra, to the base desires and temptations to which all human beings are subjected, and which make it all but impossible for people to avoid wrongdoing. Human beings are created as a result of lust, the union between a man and a woman. Desire and passion are part of their essence. And so the angels wondered, should the Torah be given to such creatures? The Torah is pure and pristine; should it not remain with the angels in the heaven, who are pure and free of physical desires?
The Talmud continues that G-d turned to Moshe and said, "Aneh Lahem Teshuba," which is commonly understood to mean, "Give them an answer." However, this can also be read as, "Answer them – repentance!"
The response to the angels’ claim is the institution of Teshuba. The verses in Tehillim (90) teach that already "before the mountains were born and earth came into being…You said: Return, O humans!" Meaning, repentance – like the Torah – was created well before the earth’s creation. Even before the world was brought into existence, G-d had written the Torah, the blueprint for life on earth, but He also established repentance – the opportunity we are given to correct our mistakes and return to Hashem. This is the answer given to the angels. Even though we human beings are frail and prone to making mistakes, we deserve the Torah because of the institution of Teshuba, which allows us to keep trying, to keep working to make ourselves better, to always learn from our mistakes and move forward.
The famous verse later in the Book of Debarim says, "Torah Siva Lanu Moshe, Morasha Li’kehilat Yaakob" – "Moshe commanded us the Torah, an everlasting inheritance for the congregation of Yaakob." The Name "Yaakob," which is derived from the word "Akeb" ("heel"), refers to the Jewish Nation when we have sunken to low spiritual levels. This is in contrast to "Yisrael," the name given to Yaakob after he defeated Esav’s angel – the Satan – and thus signifies triumph and success, the times when we reach great spiritual heights. The Torah was given to us as an everlasting possession which remains with us even when we are "Kehilat Yaakob" – even when we fall to the level of "Yaakob." G-d does not give up on us when we fail. Instead, He patiently waits for us to work our way back. We are always His special nation, despite our sins, and is always eagerly anticipating our heartfelt repentance.
Not coincidentally, we always read Parashat Vaet’hanan immediately after Tisha B’Ab, on "Shabbat Nahamu," when we are to experience comfort and consolation after our period of mourning for the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash. There is no greater source of comfort and consolation than knowing that the Torah has been given to us as a "Morasha Kehilat Yaakob," eternally and unconditionally; that we are always G-d’s beloved nation, even after we sin and even after He needs to punish us. We can be comforted by knowing that G-d specifically gave the Torah to us, to frail human beings with a Yeser Ha’ra, knowing that we will need to struggle and that we will at times fail, and that together with the Torah we were given the opportunity of Teshuba. Let us take comfort in this realization, and let us take full advantage of this opportunity, never despairing, never giving up, and never thinking for a moment that G-d no longer wants us back – because He always does, under all circumstances.