Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #45: Va’etchanan (I pleaded) D’varim (Deuteronomy) 3:23-7:11
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:1-26
Brit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 4:1-11; 22:33-40; Mark 12:28-34;
Luke 4:1-13; 10:25-37; Acts 13:13-43; Romans 3:27-31; I Timothy 2:4-6;
Yaakov (James) 2:14-26
It may seem that because the entire Book of D’varim (Deuteronomy) is called “Mishneh Torah – The Review of the Torah”, repeating over 100 mitzvot already mandated in the previous four Books, its focus would be on the past as are the other four books. However, Rabbi S.R. Hirsch explains that of the 199 mitzvot commanded in this book, more than 70 of them are new. The repeated mitzvoth concentrate more on those that will be of greater immediate concern as Israel prepares to take possession of the Land (future). This is in keeping with the idea that Deuteronomy is more a book of the “future” of Israel (all true believers). The first five books of the Torah provide a beautiful illustration of the fact that in order to successfully negotiate the future, we must learn from the past. Our experiences, beliefs, and values carve the path which we will take as we move forward in life, much as water carved what is now the Grand Canyon.
Let us consider the prohibition against idol worship. Although already taught, it had to be reinforced as the Jews would confront inhabitants of Canaan, who were idolatrous. In our day, this applies to all true believers who must live among idolaters/antinomians in our “global village.” Also in this parashah Moshe continues his final instructions to the B’nai Ysra’el. All that he says in the first part of his farewell address prepares the way for his exposition to follow as well as the application of G-d’s commands, statutes and ordinances, for history and responsibility go together. G-d had done mighty and wondrous things for His People, both in blessing and chastening them. Throughout this parashah Moshe reminds Israel that they are a privileged people, the people of G-d, separated unto the L-rd from all the nations of the earth. Indeed it is when we forget who we are and our high calling that we descend into low living, returning to the Egyptian(sinful) way of life.
Moshe then pleads with HaShem to enter the Land. Then he blames Israel when G-d denies the request. After getting his mind realigned with this reality and G-d’s will, He stresses allegiance to G-d and the consequences to ourselves and our generations to come if we choose not to follow the One G-d and His Torah. The Cities of Refuge are designated and finally Moshe stresses the reaction of the nation after the giving of the Torah, and forewarns them not to deviate from it, either to the right or to the left. The first paragraph of the Sh’ma is recorded. Moshe warns the people concerning the dangers of prosperity, and directs them to keep the commandments and to remember the Exodus. He forewarns them about the dangers of assimilation and tells them to never forget that they are the Chosen People of G-d. Let us now delve deeper into this parashah.
Verses 3:23-29 Moshe implores G-d to allow him to the Land. G-d’s response is interpreted as an angry and terrible “No!” as a withholding of grace. Then G-d instructs Moshe to climb to the top of the mountain and get a clear view in all directions so that he might see and know that he has already arrived. The promise has already been fulfilled. On a temporal and personal level we often do the same as Moshe. We search with a preconceived notion of what our success may look like. We look towards the Promised Land- the right partner, the right job, perfect health, enough money to live the perfect lifestyle, etc. If we become assimilated in the world, we become blind to the destination G-d has ordained for those who will follow Him. We miss out on the blessings He provides for us daily and those He had planned for us; both the obvious and not so obvious because we are fixated on a particular outcome, our humanly manufactured idea of what the Promised Land should look like. The blessing of this parashah is the opportunity to hear G-d’s words again, “Rav lakh!” (You have so much!) If you follow my commands, statutes, and ordinances, you are already on your way to the Promised land. You must lift your eyes beyond your own limited expectations. Like Moshe, you must climb the mountain to take in the bigger picture. We can look at Moshe’s climb up the mountain as a thumbnail sketch of his and our long arduous journey of strengthening, purification, refinement and transformation prior to reaching the summit and looking out over the Promised Land which we too will inherit if we follow G-d’s Torah. We also see how even a man such as Moshe was held accountable for his sin of not trusting G-d and denying G-d glory by striking the rock for water and not allowing G-d to provide His way.
Chap. 4:1-40 We learn here that like the Israelites back then, we are forbidden from making and/or worshipping any graven image. As Messianic Jews we also know that an idol does not have to be a graven image. It is actually anything that takes priority over G-d. The people were not to marry those from surrounding nations lest they be drawn away from the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We see this in our own time with those who are married and have two different faiths. A reemerging problem I see today is what is termed “tolerance” by dual faith couples. They brag about the fact that they celebrate and “follow” each other’s faith and teach their children to do the same. We cannot follow G-d and His Torah and follow another faith as well. In reality, we are then following neither.
The commentators give another reason for the Biblical command against idolatry: it is perversion of the metaphysical order. We must subordinate our will to G-d’s will; self-nullification just as Yahshua submitted to the Father’s will. The nature of pagan worship is just the opposite. It is an attempt to influence and ultimately control spiritual forces. Our purpose is to achieve moral growth by emulating Yahshua’s behavior- not to influence spiritual forces into helping meet our own egotistical desires. Indeed, the prohibition against idolatry is not only mentioned here and in the Commandments but throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy alone it is reiterated in 4:15-19, 23,25,26-28, 6;12,14. To pour salt in the wound, Beit- P’or is brought up again. (Deut.3:29, 4:3, 4:46). While P’or was a place where idolatry was practiced, it was also a place where 24,000 were killed by a plague due to fornicating with the women of Midian at Baal’s prompting and enticement.
Verse 4:9: If we transliterate this verse from the Hebrew it reads: “Only be careful! to you and watch self of you closely so not you forget [Et] the things that they saw eyes of you and so not they slip from heart of you all of days of lives of you and you teach them to sons of you and to sons of sons of you…” When we look at the grammar we see that it is surely questionable. “and so not they slip from your heart of you all of days of lives of you and you teach them to sons…” There seems to be some word or phrase of transition missing but this is not the case. Let’s look past the pashat (literal) meaning to the drash (Midrash or exegesis) of this particular statement Using the following illustration:
A father chastises his child because he makes up a story about why he cannot go to a school dance. Actually he is embarrassed because he has acne. His father hears him telling a girl who wants to go with him that he cannot go because his father has something for him to do at the same time.
A few minutes later, there is a phone call and the boy answers. Someone wants to speak to his father so the boy holds the phone and tells his father the call is Yosef from the synagogue fund raising committee. The boy’s father tells his son to tell Yosef that his father is not in at the moment; that he should call back later. The boy does as he is told and hangs up. In the boy’s mind, he is now confused because he was chastised for a similar act.
Often when it comes to our actions, we forget the principles that we were
taught as children, but we remember them when chiding our children.
We may give speeches about integrity and corporate greed only to have pushed our own agenda in a certain direction through creative manipulation. So it is that the Torah warns us not to forget its principles for ourselves yet to teach them to our children. Consistency is the message for ourselves and our children, just as is our G-d and His Torah.
Verse 4:20: Moshe tells the people that G-d has “taken you out of the smelling furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of inheritance for Him.”. The words “iron furnace” (kur habarzel) in Hebrew. Why does theTorah use this phrase when it could have used the word “oven” as in Malachi (13:19) where it states, “behold a day is coming, burning like as oven?” According to Rashi the word “kur” (furnace) is likened to “a vessel in which gold is purified.” This would explain why the Egyptian exile is referred to as “kur” and not “tanur” (oven). An oven is used for everyday cooking. A furnace, on the other hand, has the specific function of refining gold. G-d ordained that His chosen would have to be refined to perfection. This could only come through adversity and trials as well as intermittent mountain-top experiences for encouragement and rest. To whom much is given, much is required. Each Pesach we are reminded that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt’s furnace until G-d chose to deliver them. Today our own wilderness experience starts with deliverance from our past life in “Egypt.” Then, we too must cross the sea and begin our walk in Torah. Whenever Israel/true believers forget who they are and starts to assimilate the ways of foreign nations and religions, it guarantees a trip back to the furnace.
Verse 41-43: Moshe establishes the three cities of refuge for those who may have killed someone by mistake; Betzer- in the desert located in the flatland east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea for Reuven; Ramot in Giliad for Gad, which is also east of the Jordan and north of Bezer; and Golan in Bashan for the Manashi also located on the east side of the Jordan and north of Ramoth. There is much importance and deeper meanings attached to these areas and associated tribes; however, there is not sufficient time to address this in this message. I encourage you to look them up to enhance your learning experience.
Chap.5: Although this section may seem like repetition of the commandments given in Exodus, it is actually a journey to a deeper level of understanding. As we noted I the beginning of this lesson, the earliest title given to the Book of Deuteronomy was “Mishneh Torah, the repetition of the Torah.” When the commandments are given this time, it is to a generation who did not experience the fire and thunder as did the previous generation. Instead they are given in the quiet of our practice, and they open us to an even deeper mystery, which is the Sh’ma. “Listen Israel, YHVH is your G-d, YHVH is One, NOT a trinity! Indeed, when Moshe was told to climb the mountain and lift his eyes, we are being invited to receive a glimpse of Unity. From the summit of this mountain, everything that Moshe thought and we think are separate, all of the opposites that have warred within us, are suddenly united. It is all “Echad-One”. Only at the end of our mission like Moshe’s, do we come to this realization.
Verse 29 echoes the passage I mentioned in Parashah Hukkat in Chapter 20:17 where Moshe is asking for passage through Edom: “We will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside either to the right or to the left until we have left your territory.” In this parashah Moshe now instructs, “Therefore you are to be careful to do as Adonai your G-d has ordered you; you are not to deviate either to the right or to the left. You are to follow the entire way (notice he does not say ‘pick and choose’), which Adonai your G-d has ordered you; so that you will live, things will go well with you, and you will live long in the land you are about to possess.” This is how we must follow our King’s highway; the Torah.
Chap.6: There is no doubt that the climax of this chapter is found in verses 4-9; the Sh’ma. I want to focus on just a couple of the phrases found here. Starting with verse 4 the word used for “hear” is Sh’ma which means hear the words, internalize them and then act on them every day continually. Interestingly, there is no word for “obey” in Hebrew. The word used for the concept of “obey” is “Sh’ma. This is the meaning Yahshua uses throughout scripture when he says “Let him who has ears to hear…” This phrase is also at the conclusion of each of the epistles found in Revelation. In other words, hear what needs improvement and make the changes!
Verse 5: “And you should love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” Rashi has an interesting take on this verse. If we examine the order of the verse we see that at first there is an increasing expectation of love from the “whole mind” to “life itself”. Then the verse seems to retreat to “all of one’s might/money/resources”. It is as if I say “I love you 300. I love you 400. I even love you 200.” This seems to make no sense since 200 is already included in 400. Therefore Rashi is eluding to the pathological personality type whereby money is more dear than obedience to G-d.
Verse 6: “These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them diligently to your children, and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you retire, and when you arise.” Not only are the people of Israel commanded to repeat these words; they are also commanded to make the entire Torah the focus of their thoughts, speech and actions. This is also found in the Sifri (halachic Midrash on B’midbar and D’varim.) It is actually in the term used for ‘and you shall speak of them”, (v’barta bam) that gives us the exact context of this verse. The Torah’s use of the verb D-B-R and the combination with the preposition BAM is explained: According to (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michal, 1809-1897), D-B-R refers to the human capacity for speech, and is therefore the most inclusive term for speaking. Other terms for speech are A-M-R and S-P-R. D-B-R is used when one explains in detail and elaborates all in ones’ considerations. Therefore V’dbarta must refer to ongoing, expansive speech. Had the Torah meant this verse to mean a mere mention of Torah during the course of one’s day, it might have said “V’amarta.” Mizrachi (Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, c. 1450-1526), in his super commentary on Rashi, further compares the phrase “V’dbarta bam with “v’shinatam”. Both of these contain a verb and an object. However v’shinantam combines the verb v’shinata (and you shall teach diligently) with the direct object OTAM (them), while BAM is the equivalent of a prepositional phrase, meaning “in them, about them”. The difference is this: V’shinantam (whatever words of Torah you teach your children or students, do so diligently and thoroughly). V’dbarta bam (and make all your discussions only about them. BAM it seems, obligates total immersion: remain in the words of Torah at all times.
Verse 8-9 are the commands for the mezuzah we place on our doors to the entrance to our homes, and the T’fellin placed around our foreheads (between your eyes) and arm (hand/yud) with the accompanying prayers. It is interesting that the command to wear tzitziot, to provide a constant reminder of the commands, is not mentioned here but commanded in Numbers 15:37. Reading that scripture we also see that wearing them is a reminder against following after the lusts of our eyes and hearts and being lead into idolatry. People tend to take this very lightly, feeling they can master their natural drives. If this were so easy, G-d would not have taken so much time, detail and space in Torah to teach us how to protect ourselves against such sin. We must keep in our hearts the action taken by Yosef when confronted by Potifer’s wife in Genesis 39:9-15. First he told her she was sinning against G-d. When she continued to attempt seducing him, he ran. We cannot dilly-dally in situations that place us in danger of idolatry/sexual immorality. We must keep the words of Torah before us at all times. We can only do that by “hearing”; Sh’ma…. Ysrael!
Haftorah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 40:1-26
We always read parashah V’etchanan on the Shabbat after the 9th of Av- a Shabbat known as Shabbat Nachamu, the “Shabbat of Comfort.” The comfort of this parashah embraces far more than the beginning verses of the Haftorah: “Comfort, comfort My people, “says your G-d. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has been fulfilled, that her iniquity has been conciliated, for she has received from the hand of G-d double for all her sins.” This message of comfort is a prophecy concerning the eventual Redemption and assures Israel that the destruction and exile are merely temporary phenomena in the context of an eternal covenant.
B’rit Hadashah: Mark 12:28-34
In these verses we are reminded of the consistency of Torah and Yahshua’s interpretation and teaching of G-d’s written Torah, not the traditions of men. Yahshua describes the most important mitzvah as the Sh’ma and the second as “You are to love your neighbor as yourself.” The Torah teacher rightly discerns that following these two commands means more than all the legalistic offering of sacrifices and burnt offerings. Again the spirit of the law or Torah observance must come before the letter of the law but not exclusive to the letter of the law. Indeed if one follows these two commands, they will lovingly offer sacrifices and burnt offerings to YHVH Elohim.
Sages Wisdom: “And love your Elohim… with all your heart.” (6:5)
Rashi explains that it means to love YHVH with the yetzer tov, “the good inclination” and the yetzer ha’ra, “the evil inclination. How can this be? When we can admit that we have sinned against YHVH Elohim and don’t try to justify our evil actions, then we love YHVH through our evil inclinations. Similarly, when we choose to take the action that is consistent with G-d’s Torah over our physical and emotional desires, we are demonstrating our love for YHVH/Yahshua over our evil inclinations related to self.
Rabbi Tamah Davis