The unique concerns of an extraordinary leader

Raise eyes heavenward and worship the sun or the moon or the stars - not to replace G-d, but to serve Him by honoring his creations.

Phil Chernofsky ,


The Book of D'varim begins on Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat and mostly consists of the 37 days that Moshe Rabeinu spoke to the new generation that was poised to soon cross the Jordan river into Eretz Yisrael.

We don't know the exact date of Parshat Va'etchanan, but we do know that the sedra starts with Moshe telling us that his attempt to have the decree against his entry into Eretz Yisrael has failed.

We can imagine that Moshe senses the clock ticking faster towards the time he will depart this world.

And we can also sense - in Va'etchanan, that Moshe is getting nervous and worried about leaving the people without his guidance and leadership.

Inter alia, Moshe expresses his concern about the people, as follows:

V'NISHMARTEM M'OD L'NAFSHOTEI- CHEM - Guard your souls exceedingly well... This, after having already said to the people - RAK HISHAMEIR L'CHA USHMOR NAFSH'CHA M'OD... Just be careful and guard your soul well...

That's twice that Moshe has cautioned the people to guard their souls - M'OD, very well.

V'NISHMARTEM M'OD L'NAFSHOTEI- CHEM - What is Moshe's concern? Why is he worried?

Because we had not SEEN any image at Sinai when G-d revealed Himself to us and spoke to us.

So what's the worry?

Maybe we will look around us at the amazing world that G-d placed us in, and we will search for something great that we can see and we might venerate of worship that - something else that we can relate to, because we can see it, and we have a hard time with G-d's invisibility, with our total inability to see Him. Human beings have a problem with the intangible.

Lest we raise our eyes heavenward and worship the Sun or the Moon or the stars... Not to replace G-d, but to serve Him by honoring (and more) His greatest creations. (This is how Rambam describes the earliest form of idolatry.)

There is another side to Moshe's worry. Perhaps we will look around this world and/or raise our eyes heavenwards, and be impressed with what we see and not even connect it to G-d and His creation. After all, Nature is something easier to relate to than the intangible, invisible G-d. And maybe we will study nature and be taken with it as something separate from G-d.

In Pirkei Avot we find the teaching of Rabi Yaakov (or Rabi Shimon) that if a person is walking down the road of life and he is studying Torah, doing mitzvot - is engrossed in Torah life and thought - and he INTERRUPTS his study to admire nature (not as that which G-d created), the verse considers him to have put his life in danger. We need to balance our perspective on nature...