“You find three verses [two in this week’s portion] that command you to rejoice in the Feast of Tabernacles….For Passover, however, you will not find even one command to rejoice. Why not?” Several explanations are offered in the commentary for the variations of joy-related commandments (there is one command to rejoice for Shavuot). Each explanation suggests important ideas about the calendar, including the upcoming fall holidays, and reciting Hallel throughout the year.
(For more on the festival cycle, see, e.g., Michael Strassfield’s article at My Jewish Learning.)
This portion uses the phrase elohim acheirim asher lo-y’datem: “other gods” (Alter, Fox, JPS translations) or “gods of others” (Stone) “which/that you did not know” (Alter/Stone), “whom you have not known” (Fox) or “whom you have not experienced” (JPS). (See below for citations*.)
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced [asher lo-y’datem].”
—Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:26-28 (trans. from JPS/Plaut
Throughout Devarim/Deuteronomy, Moses has reminded the people, in essence, “you were there”: You saw. You heard. You covenanted. Etc. This portion introduces an additional idea: You “knew/experienced/[yod-dalet-shem]” God.
“It is your God YHVH alone whom you should follow, whom you should revere, whose commandments you should observe, whose orders you should heed, whom you should worship, and to whom you should hold fast.” — Devarim/Deuteronomy 13:5
R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: “After the Lord your God shall ye walk” (Deut. 13:5). But is it possible for a man to walk right behind the Presence? Has it not already been said, “The Lord thy God is a devouring fire” (Deut. 4:24)? Yes, but what the verse means is that you are to follow the ways of the Holy One.