Parashat Va’etchanan is the forty-fifth weekly portion in the Torah and the second one in the Book of Deuteronomy (3:23-7:11).
In the first seven verses (3:23-29), Moses tells the very personal story of how he begged God to let him cross the Jordan but was turned down. While this would seem to belong to the previous portion (as reflected by the chapter divisions), this is a necessary preface to the theme of the portion: the transmission of tradition. Moses is making the point that he will be turning the reins over to Joshua shortly, and so he must now deliver his last message to the people, both the law and the lore.
In Chapter 4, Moses stresses that the laws of the Torah are to be scrupulously maintained, as this defines the Israelites in the eyes of the world. These laws come from God — as the people personally witnessed concerning the most prominent of these statutes, the Ten Commandments, at Mount Horeb (Sinai). The generation which stands before Moses is the last to contain those who experienced the Exodus themselves, as children and as teenagers. They saw that God was not a corporeal being, but an entity beyond their ken. Therefore, they asked Moses to receive the rest of the Torah, which he now sets before them. He warns them not to fashion any physical representation of God “when you bear children and grandchildren.” (This is the reading for the Fast of 9 Av, which always falls out during the week in which Parashat Va’etchanan is read.)
Chapter 5 is a restatement of the Ten Commandments. The text is similar to that of Exodus 20, but there are some differences, e.g. “Remember the Sabbath day” becomes “Keep the Sabbath day” here. This demonstrates that even the same prophet, Moses, must deliver God’s message differently at different times to different audience. This is the template for all of his successors, as indeed Moses’ title is Rabbeinu, Our Teacher.
Chapter 6 contains the creed recited twice daily (often more): “Hear (Shema) O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This passage stresses the responsibility of parents to educate their children in God’s ways. It is mirrored by the first eleven verses of Chapter 7, which speak of the obligation not to intermingle or intermarry with idolaters, as this reflects a very different family tradition of paganism. God’s love is a consequence of studying and following His Law.
The portion from the Prophets opens a new series, the Seven of Consolation. Like the previous week’s entry, they come from the Book of Isaiah, but their theme is not desolation or punishment, but rather comforting the people after the Destruction of Jerusalem on 9 Av. The first of these is Chapter 40 of Isaiah, with the famous opening “Be consoled, be consoled, my people.” As in the Torah portion, it speaks of Revelation: just as God appeared on Sinai to speak to His people, He will ultimately reveal Himself to redeem them.