Shabbat Thoughts- Parshat Va-etchanan

Updated: Jul 28, 2018

Have you ever heard the Hebrew word ”l-heet-ra-ote”? It means be seeing you and is a gentle and encouraging way of saying farewell, especially offered when we don’t want to say goodbye. Hebrew verbs bearing the ‘eet’ prefix indicate a continuous action or a fully-immersive process. You are familiar with this prefix because you have heard it thousands of times; think of “Yeet-gadal, yeet-kadash, yeet -pa-ar and so forth from the Kaddish.

This week’s Parshah which begins with the word Va-etchanan bears this same grammatical form.( Ignore the missing ’e’). A little bit of puzzle-work is before us today.

Step 1 -Look at the word Chanan which gives rise to some well-known names; Hannah/ Anna/Amy and Chanan/Hannon and Yochanan which give birth to Johannes and John and Ivan/Evan. All of these names and their derivatives bear the same meaning of ‘Divine protective love’. Wow! How beautiful it is to name someone Divine protective love. You can now educate all the people you know with these names and inform them as to an aspect of their identities.

Step 2- It is time to learn bit of philosophy. The old English translation of Chanan/Chanah is Grace. Commonly spoken of in Christian life, Grace is not often mentioned in Shul. When I grew up as a child I knew Christians spoke of Grace and Jews didn’t. That is an error we need to correct. Jews do speak of Grace and the Siddur and Tanach are filled with its presence and significance. In fact the Hebrew word Chayn is most often connected to the very familiar word; Chesed. One of the most common phrases in Siddur and Bible is Chayn va-Chesed va-Rachamim which means Grace and Kindness and Compassion. To teach that God is close to us and protective kind and compassionate is very powerful and very significant!

Step 3- Let’s return to the Hebrew word ‘Et-chanan’ . Moses is speaking to the Israelites and summarizing the 40 year trek. He reminds them that he will die in the wilderness and will not accompany them into the Promised Land. He calls out to God and does Et-Chanan. What does Et-Chanan mean? We know the prefix means to be deeply involved in an ongoing process and Chan means Grace.

Put yourself in Moses’s sandals. You have been working for 40 years to help others and you asked for one big favor, one episode of forgiveness; only to learn your request was turned down. How would you reply? By throwing yourself upon the mercy of the court or saying it’s not fair or screaming? Or maybe you would call out from your deepest private place and seek the reassurance of an embrace of gentle protection to help you withstand the disappointment.

Perhaps the meaning of Et-chanan is to admit that when greatly disappointed we are vulnerable and we need reassurance from someone else; an extension of loving protection from God and gracious kindness from our fellow man.

May we all be granted the Grace to help each other withstand the disappointments we experience.

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