A Prayer for Serenity
The title, Va’etchanan means "and I pleaded,” (3:23). Moses shares with Israel his own personal struggle. He had sinned against the L-rd— he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as the L-rd had commanded him. For us his action would be excusable—the heat, the lack of water, and the murmuring of 2 million murmuring people would drive a person to distraction. Yet, the L-rd thought differently. Moses, the spiritual leader of Israel needed to demonstrate unswerving obedience to the L-rd. Now Israel is about to cross the Jordan River into Canaan. Moses is heartsick—after 40 years of mostly faithful leadership, to come so close to the promised land and yet not to be able to lead Israel into it... So, Moses k’vetched ("pleaded") to the L-rd. The L-rd refused to change His judgment—Moses was permitted to see the land from a mountaintop but could not enter the land.
This episode reminds us of Paul's struggle in II Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul pleaded for relief from his "thorn in the flesh," (probably, some sort of sickness such as eye disease). The L-rd's response was: "My Grace Is Sufficient for You,” i.e. "you have to rest in Me, despite the problem." As we struggle with this kind of an answer, we can use some tips from the "Prayer of Serenity" [from Alcoholics Anonymous]: "L-rd, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
There are times to wrestle with G-d in prayer for a need, as Jacob did, but there are times to release our burdens to Him and affirm the truth of Yeshua's words, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light...," (Matthew 11:28). This portion includes the Sh'ma (meaning "hear"), in 6:4. This statement of faith calls on Israel to devote herself to the L-rd alone and flee from idols.
Haftarah Na-chamu ("Comfort")
The Haftarah reading (Isaiah 40:1-26) provides a sharp contrast with the observance of Tish'ah B'Av. It provides a comforting word to those who have been mourning. In this Haftarah portion, the L-rd says, in effect, "You have mourned long enough." Israel has gone through much suffering, often as a punishment for its sin. The L-rd wants to comfort and encourage His people. This is particularly relevant today. We have passed 70 years after the Sho’ah (Holocaust), and we still sense that anti-Semitism is lurking around—all we need are some acts of anti-Semitic vandalism to remind us of that. The message of this Haftarah hits home—the L-rd does discipline us for our sin, yet He remains our loving, all-powerful Father. On this Shabbat of Comfort, let us rest in Him and offer His comfort to others.