Torah Portion: D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 1:1-3:22
HafTorah: Isaiah 1:1-27
This section begins with Moshe speaking to the people before they enter the Land. What do you think was the purpose of G-d freeing them from Egypt and bringing them here to claim their inheritance? Why did He reach out and bring us to Him? Here I think G-d brought the people of Israel for the purpose of being an example of how His people could live life as a G-dly people. A people who were concerned with righteousness and justice, a people who would be a light to the world around them, that it was/is possible to live life, work, marry, raise a family and still be a people who cared for the poor, the widow and orphan. He wanted them to be a people who treated everyone with respect and dignity, so is His wish for us. A people who were able to reflect their Father in the everyday life they lived. I believe this is the purpose of Moshe’s speech to them.
In Torah the word “deber” is always used to rebuke and here we see this when Moshe speaks to the people. However, that raises a question. These people were not the ones who refused to go into the Land when the spies came back with a bad report. Those people all died in the desert. So why was he rebuking the people present on this day when they had nothing to do with the past sin?
Maybe Moshe was telling them to learn the lesson of history. Seems like this would be easy but it wasn’t for them and it isn’t for us either. For example, take the destruction of both the first and second temple. History can be looked at as both Babylon and Rome came to power by the results of economic or social issues of that day. Maybe there is another way of looking at their rise to power. Jeremiah repeatedly refers to Nebuchanezzar as G-d’s agent of destruction. From this viewpoint, G-d allowed Babylon to grow to a world power for the purpose of destroying the first Temple and later Rome to destroy the second Temple. When Jeremiah writes he leaves no doubt that the people of Israel had become so corrupt that G-d could not allow His Temple to stand in the midst of such sin. In a divinely directed world everything is allowed/directed by G-d. Nothing is outside His will.
The HafTorah reading this week bears out this point. Isaiah chapter 1 speaks of the corruptness of the people. They were going on with the trappings of faith, bringing sacrifices, celebrating the holiday, Shabbat and New Moons. Yet at the same time they were living corruptly. Faith had been reduced to performance without allowing it to touch their day to day life. The poor were mistreated. Favor was shown to people of power. G-d says their outward efforts were an insult to Him, a stench in His nostrils. This is what Moshe is trying to get across here. Maybe they had not been there with the spies but he wanted them to learn the lesson of what happened.
When we look at their fathers and the sin of the spies we can see they did not grasp what they had done and tried to remedy their sin by sinning again saying, “now we go up and take the Land.” They did not stop and reconcile with G-d after their first sin when He told them to go up and take the Land and they didn’t go. After their disobedience G-d told them to not go because He would not be with them. They went anyway, trying to remedy one sin with another. G-d did not allow them to win. If they had won and entered the Land then they would not have been up to living a G-dly life in the Land and would not have been the light that G-d intended. Moshe was using this time to remind them who they were and what their role in the world was to be. Yeshua, in the New Testament, urges His disciples and followers to be that light, to treat people fairly, to take care of the down-trodden, the widow and orphan.
G-d’s plan has not changed. We are called to live our life in this world as an example of how G-d’s people are to live, seeking righteousness and justice. Our faith calls for more than empty practices. The trappings of our faith are important only when done with a pure heart and a willing spirit.