Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah # 44: D’varim (Words) Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 3:7-4:11
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanon (John) 15:1-11; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 3:7-4:11
We begin a new book as we recap on the adventures of the Israelites, reminders of all the places they sinned against God, and further instructions from Moshe as he delivers his last message that takes 37 days to deliver. The review of these experience reminds us that we must constantly be on the move, if not physically, spiritually, ever modifying our behaviors towards a more synchronous relationship with YHVH/Yahshua. Any time we remain still, it is a time for reflection and preparation for the next part of the journey. This truth is illustrated in this parashah and by celebrating Rosh Kodesh every month. We take time to reflect, pray, and prepare for the next month with the goal of fully reflecting the light of the Son just as the moon fully reflects the light of the sun before moving into the next phase. Moshe’s “swan song” was the Song of Moshe and his last message. No greater legacy can we leave than to have shared wisdom gained through our lives with someone else. How do we accomplish this?
The most sustained research into this topic is the Grant Study, begun in 1938, which has tracked the lives of 268 Harvard students for almost eighty years, seeking to understand what characteristics – from personality type to intelligence to health, habits and relationships – contribute to human flourishing. For more than thirty years, the project was directed by George Vaillant, whose books Aging Well and Triumphs of Experience have explored this fascinating territory Among the many dimensions of successful aging, Vaillant identifies two that are particularly relevant in the case of Moses. The first is what he calls generativity, namely taking care of the next generation. He quotes John Kotre who defines it as “to invest one’s substance in forms of life and work that will outlive the self.” In middle or later life, when we have established a career, a reputation, and a set of relationships, we can either stagnate or decide to give back to others: to community, society and the next generation. Generativity is often marked by undertaking new projects, often voluntary ones, or by learning new skills. Its marks are openness and care.
The other relevant dimension is what Vaillant calls keeper of the meaning. By this he means the wisdom that comes with age, something that is often more valued by traditional societies than modern or postmodern ones. The “elders” mentioned in Tanakh are people valued for their experience. “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you,” says the Torah (Deut. 32:7). “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” says the book of Job (12:12). It is easy to abandon our ideals when we see the world becoming closer to the One World Order; to become disillusioned and disheartened. That is a kind of spiritual death. Those who never give up are able to hold on to their vision of possibilities of repairing at least a small part of the world. These visionaries encourage those around them and empower those who come after them to shine their heart lights in the darkness.
There are people who do their best work young. Felix Mendelssohn wrote the Octet at the age of 16, and the Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream a year later, the greatest pieces of music ever written by one so young. Orson Welles had already achieved greatness in theatre and radio when he made Citizen Kane, one of the most transformative films in the history of cinema, at the age of 26.
But there were many others who kept getting better as they aged. Mozart and Beethoven were both child prodigies, yet they wrote their greatest music in the last years of their life. Claude Monet painted water lily landscapes in his eighties. Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens at age 78. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum at 92. Michelangelo, Titian, Matisse and Picasso all remained creative into their nineties.
We can gain a sense of hop as we read of Moshe’s life; being able to look ahead and to the past; sharing wisdom from above and his experiences with the younger generation who would enter the land. While the body may age, the spirit can stay young ad meah ve-esrim, until a hundred and twenty, if we keep our ideals, give back to the community, and share our wisdom with those who will come after us, inspiring them to continue what we could not complete. It only takes one.
Deuteronomy 1:6 reminds us that our mountain-top experiences are not meant to be permanent; at least not yet. Moshe reminds the Israelites Adonai told them: “You have lived long enough by the mountain. Turn, get moving and go to the hill- country of the Emori and all the places near there in the Aravah, the hill-country, the Sh’felah, the Negev and by the seashore- the land of the Kena’ani, and the L’vanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates River.” G-d gives us these oases in the wilderness journey of our lives to receive instruction, rest, and reenergize for the next obstacle in the “hill-country.” We should always thank G-d for these times of respite and pray for strength and wisdom as we prepare to follow Him to the next checkpoint.
In this fifth and final book of the Torah, Moshe rebukes Israel for all they have done, and charges them to keep the Torah as they advance toward the Promised Land. Yahshua’s message to us is no different today. Rashi maintains that Moshe is listing all the places where Israel sinned. If this is the case, why didn’t Moshe just admonish the people outright instead of hinting at it by reciting the names of the places? Apparently Moshe wanted to get his message across to Israel in a subtle way. The people were well aware of the places where they sinned and what sins they committed. A hint was enough and a more effective approach than head-on confrontation. When our fellow believers stumble, we should follow this example set by Moshe, and that provided by the Ruach. We should not adopt an attitude of concern only for those who believe as we do or even people we may gravitate towards more than others. We must pray for our enemies (antinomians) as well as our fellow believers. After all, did Yahshua not die so than ALL men might live? The biblical concept behind Moshe’s reminding the people of their stopping-off points and the sins associated with those places is that humans tend to forget the “bad” things we do, minimize, rationalize, or justify them. However, G-d want us to learn from our mistakes and grow away from such behaviors. Direct confrontation only leads to embarrassment and negative results. It is to be avoided if at all possible. G-d is the ultimate diplomat, at least for now. He is giving us as time to ponder their sins, repent of them and move forward as he did the Israelites in the past. 3 John provides us an example of how we address sinful behavior of those around us. Finally, recall Nathan who cunningly revealed to David his great sin. King David responded not with anger but with remorse and repentance. We must consider what David’s reaction might have been had Nathan directly confronted him. We are to show no favoritism regardless of how a person presents himself, and we are to fear no one, because the final decision to judge is G-d’s (Deut. 1:17).
We are reminded of the incident of the spies illustrating the Israelites’ lack of faith and trust in G-d, and the ultimate punishment of not being able to enter the land G-d swore to our ancestors ( Deut. 1:34-37). Rather, the next generation would inherit the land (Deut. 1:39). The next passage reminds us that we cannot succeed in anything without G-d’s blessing. Recall that when the people sinned against Adonai in the spy incident, they decided to go up and fight on their own. Adonai told them not to go, but they went anyway. The people were promptly defeated and punished…again (Deut. 1:41-46). We are to serve G-d with awe, fear, and trembling (Ps. 2:11; Phil. 2:12). G-d will never become one of the guys as many leaders and clergy attempt to portray to win our allegiance or money. We are to strive for Aliyah (to go up) and not to return (go down) to Egypt.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 1:1-27
This is the third and last of the “prophecies of destruction,” that are read during the three weeks between the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Fast of the Ninth of Av. This haftarah is read the Shabbat before the Ninth of Av, the day of the first and second Temples were destroyed. This is the most fitting haftarah for the occasion. The vision Isaiah had clearly illustrates what was expected of B’nai Israel, and the low level to which they had fallen. In order to save the nation from itself, both the Temple and the state were destroyed of necessity. The haftarah concludes by giving us the formula for deliverance: “Zion will be redeemed by justice… (1:27). This is an excellent narrative to teach us that G-d sometimes removes things from this earth that if the situation or the life were to continue, a greater harm would result. We must trust that G-d’s will is perfect, even when the storms of our lives seem overwhelming. Remember, He who watched Israel (true believers) neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). Also refer to Rom. 5:4; 8:28, and James 1:2-4.
B’rit Chadashah: Yochanan (John) 15:1-11; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 3:7-4:11
John 15:1-2 reads “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Notice the reference to “fruit” and “pruning.” Fruit is that which grows naturally out of a plant or situation. In this context it refers to character qualities given to believers. The Greek word prune literally means “cleans.” Accordingly, in the aforementioned verse it means to cleanse from sin. Previously we learned that G-d chastises those He loves and this process is necessary to produce perseverance and more trust unto salvation. Some of us will receive salvation and some of us will not. These who do not are “cut off.” In verse 2 we read this term of being “cut off” in the context that if we do not bear fruit we shall be “cut off.” Daniel who wrote of the Messiah being “cut off” meaning executed may also help to explain “cut off.” So it is with people who do not honor the Sabbath. These passages further define what “cut-off” means in the sense that an unfruitful person will be “cast into the fire and burned” (a reference to Hell elsewhere in Scripture). This verse and many others teach against the doctrine of “eternal security.” It also begs the question: Who shall be saved? Someone who merely professes or one who professes and is fruitful, and how do we determine what “fruitful” is in G-d’s eyes? The rest of the passage in this section answers these questions. In verse 3 Yahshua unequivocally states “you are clean through the word I have spoken to you.” Does this mean by believing some portion of what He spoke we are automatically saved? If this were true it would contradict His warning of being fruitful and the result of being pruned if we are not fruitful. And of what word is He speaking? Yahshua taught, upheld, and lived the Torah of G-d, His Father. He is the eternal, living, manifest Word of G-d. Unfortunately, many people take this statement out of context and past their own brand of understanding originating from their own desires instead of properly interpreting Scripture. Yahshua further emphasizes in this passage that He obeyed the Father (YHVH-Torah) and He admonishes us in verse 10 to obey His commands if we are to remain in His love. Our salvation depends on us remaining in His love. To be outside that love is to be lost. What we can understand from this portion of scripture if we correctly focus our minds and pray for understanding through the Ruach is an intricate weaving of a person’s profession and belief in Yahshua that mandates Torah obedience, and the doing of “good works.” This concept is not only staunchly taught by Yahshua’s brother James, but is supported and reinforced by Paul, contrary to what many Christians are taught. Trust and obedience necessarily leads to ‘good works’
In this second passage of the B’rit Chadashah we see the consistency of G-d’s Torah. In this case it is the inextricable way in which obedience is tied to salvation. There can be no salvation in the absence of obedience to YHVH’s teaching/instruction (Torah). First comes our trust in the Living Torah, Yahshua, followed by obedience to the written Torah of YHVH Elohim as we pray, study, internalize, and act upon that which we learn. In Christian typology the “promised Land” is a type of Heaven where believers will fine ultimate rest. Think about what the previous passages reveal to us; YHVH did not allow the first generation of Israelites who rebelled against His Torah to enter the “Promised Land.” Rather, He assigned them to death in the desert. How could this generation who witnessed the miracles, signs and wonders; provision of manna and water that YHVH provided fall so far? Yet, they continued to grumble against Moshe, Aharon, and most importantly, G-d. They were condemned to death, falling short of reaching the “Promised Land.” Why? This generation was disobedient to G-d’s Torah. We may correctly apply this narrative to our own generation and consider whose side we are taking as individuals. Have we sided with the Levites as in the episode of the Golden Calf, or will we be destroyed with others who take their own path in their own wisdom?
Another point of interest in the passage is found in verse 12: “Watch out brothers, so that there will not be in any one of you an evil heart lacking trust, which could lead you to apostatize from the living G-d.” The Greek word used is “apostenai” from which we get the English word “apostatize.” Here it is translated “unbelieving; to fall away.” We must ask ourselves if it is possible for “true believers” to apostatize (to go away, desert, stand apart, become apostate)? Can a person fall away permanently or just be ‘back slidden’? Or do you choose to define this doctrine in a Calvinistic way where “believer” is defined as “tautologically” in such a way that no one so defined ever falls away? This issue should catalyze us into serious investigation of YHVH/Yahshua’s definition of a true believer that can be found in the seven-fold witness in the book of Revelation. If you have questions about what the seven-fold witness is and where the specific verses are located, you may e-mail me. Once you identify them, you may want to highlight them in some way for future reference. The destination of the soul depends on our understanding and obedience to this definition.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
(Excerpts of this message adapted from commentary by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks for Aish.com.)