1.This week we start the Book of D’Varim or “Words.” This is Moshe’s final address to the people before his exit from the world stage. It was delivered over a 37 day period, just before Israel began the settlement of the Land of Promise. Remember this is the same man who told G-d, back in Exodus 4:10 he was heavy of tongue and needed someone to speak for him. Here we see he has no need of another person to speak for Him. What brought about this change? It would seem to me, in the beginning, Moshe was not able to trust G-d completely. He saw himself as inadequate. He focused on that instead of what G-d wanted to do through him. At the end of his life he had changed. His focus was on G-d, on taking care of G-d’s chosen and speaking G-d’s truth to them while he still had the time to do it. His main concern was for their future. He did not do this in arrogance but in faith that what G-d was asking was his destiny and until his last day he could accomplish what G-d asked of him. This is an important lesson for all of us. When we know G-d has a walk for us we are to put our feet on the path, even though we may believe we are not capable of accomplishing it in our own strength or talents. Faith calls us to trust Him. In Deut. 2:31 we read where G-d spoke to Moshe about delivering the land of Sihon into the hands of the Israelites. It is interesting that the verse says the people are to begin to possess the land. G-d tells the people to take the first step, to begin the process, to trust Him to follow through. He calls us each day to trust Him. We are to have our faith in Him for the process. We are only to “begin” to possess what He has said. Our walk with G-d is a daily matter of trust for that day, believing and knowing that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion. Philippians 1:6. Our life is built on that faith. Even though we do not know what tomorrow will bring our faith is in Him who does know and is always there to guide us and keep us. So, here in this verse we see G-d’s faithfulness to Israel even when they sin and fall. He is always there to pick them up and set them back on the path. He does the same for us. We may take a wrong turn or get off the path but if we come to Him, repent and ask, He is faithful to lead us on. We see this over and over in the life of the nation of Israel in this portion as Moshe goes back over their sins and also their victories. G-d’s love was always constant for His people and is for us.
2.These people Moshe is speaking to in this Torah portion 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 Nebuchadnezzar 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.
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.
3.Why is Isaiah 1:1-27 read on this Sabbath each year? Why is Isaiah 1:1-27 read on the Sabbath before Tisha B’Av? What is the issue brought out over and over in these few verses? Israel had fallen, because the people had forgotten who they were. Morals, honesty, caring for widows and orphans had ceased. Rather everyone was out for their own good no matter what they had to do, cheat, steal, depress the poor, whatever. Where did it lead? It led to Israel’s destruction. But G-d promises at the end to restore if they (we) repent and come back.
This Sabbath is known as the Sabbath of vision. This comes from the first verse of Isaiah, “the vision of Isaiah, son of Amos.” Isaiah began his ministry in 740, the year King Ussiah died. He prophesied during the reign of four different kings of Israel.
What is Tisha B’Av? It is the day when both the first and second temples were destroyed, first in the year 586 by Nebuchadnezzar and second in the year 70 by Titus. On this day the book of Lamentations is read. This book begins with the same word that we find in Isaiah 1:21. This is one of the reasons that Isaiah is the reading before Tisha B’Av.
4.This Shabbat is called the Sabbath of Vision. What verses can you find that tells us the importance of having a vision? Can you find examples of people who had a vision and acted on it and others that failed? The definition of Vision: an experience in which you see things that do not exist. It is always read right before the 9th of Av, which begins at sundown Wednesday. I would like us to take a little time and talk about vision and its application to us in our lives. We see this word in several places in scripture. In Daniel 10:7 Daniel saw a vision but the people with him did not see it. Yet they must have felt the spiritual force of what Daniel saw. However, the vision was for him. In Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” It is the same word in Hebrew in all of these places. In Proverbs we read that chaos reigns. So it is pretty clear that vision is important to us spiritually. Why is that and does G-d have a vision for each of us? I think so. Why? Without a vision, a personal vision, we can become like a ship without a rudder. A vision for our life gives us direction. When G-d gives us a vision for what He has for us we should see it as already a fact spiritually. Our only issue is to take those steps shown to us by G-d to bring this vision about in our lives practically. This involves taking steps to plow the ground, plant the seed and be ready to harvest the crop. We may have to educate ourselves, change the way we live our lives, or learn a new skill to bring G-d’s vision into reality for us.
In many ways this is where Israel failed in their first attempt to enter the land. In D’Varim 1:21 we read , “which the L-rd our G-d has given you.” In Hebrew the word for give is natan. Here in this verse it appears in the past tense. So it says G-d has already given you this land. All you have to do is cross over and possess it. G-d has already won the battle for you. Catch the vision and possess it. Maybe that is why Moses closes the verse with, “Do not be dismayed, hold fast to what G-d has given you.” But we all know what happened. They could not catch G-d’s vision for them so they wandered for 40 years.
Later we see this new generation faced with a similar situation in D’Varim 2:31-34 where they face Sichon the Amorite king. G-d again says, “Go and inherit the land.” They follow this vision and defeat the Amorites. Then in Verse 34 we read that Israel kills all the men, women and children. An interesting point is that the word for “man” in this verse is “matim” which means dead. These people were already dead in the vision of G-d. Israel seizes on this and wins the war. G-d promises a vision for each of us and assures the outcome. All we have to do is go in and possess it.
My prayer for each of us is that we grasp G-d’s vision for us. That we can walk in the spiritual sight that G-d gives us and hold on to our vision. Other people may not understand, like the people with Daniel, and may even try to discourage you but you hold onto G-d’s vision for you.
5. In Devarim 1:1 we read that Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness. In B’Midbar 36:13 we get this location tied down as across from Jericho. My question is, what else happened here and what might be the connection? First, think of Moses’ message here. He called them to a recommitment of their lives to G-d, to repent, and to do the will of G-d, before they passed through the river. Now, fast forward a couple of thousand years and what do we find? Someone named John calling Israel to come across the Jordan River and there repent before they entered the Jordan and then entered Israel. Yeshua, to show His devotion to G-d, was one of those who came to John and passed through the water before going back to Israel and the task before Him. John probably picked this place for its association with a similar call of Moses of repentance and a new beginning.
It was also the place where Elijah split the water with his cloak and crossed over before being taken to heaven. The water parted so that he and Elisha could cross. After Elijah ascended, Elisha again parted the waters with Elijah’s cloak so he could return to Israel. (2 Kings 2:1-2, 5-15.) Yeshua used this connection to tell the people that John was Elijah who was to precede the Messiah. (Malachi 4:4-5) – Jesus said of John the Baptist: “He is Elijah who is to come” (Matt 11:14).
One last comment, I am sad to report that some individual decided to throw a brick covered in swastikas and profane messages through the kitchen window of the Chabad Jewish Center, Monday night around 8:30 PM here in Pensacola. This is a stain on our community. Please pray for safety for our Jewish neighbors and friends. The police are investigating the incident.
To close I would like to share parts of an article I read written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It spoke to me and I hope it speaks to you.
The Torah says:“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his strength undiminished.” Deut. 34:7 Together with Abraham, a man of very different personality and circumstance, Moses is a model of how to age well. With the growth of human longevity, this has become a significant and challenging issue for many of us. How do you grow old yet stay young?
Among the many dimensions of successful aging is namely taking care of the next generation. We can invest ourselves in life and work that will outlive us. In our later life it is easy to stagnate and only look back at what we have accomplished. We can instead decide to give back to others: to community and the next generation.
The “elders” mentioned in Tanach 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).
We can be a part of handing on the values of the past to the future. Age brings the reflection and detachment that allows us to stand back and not be swept along by the mood of the moment or passing fashion or the madness of the crowd. We need that wisdom, especially in an age as fast-paced as ours where huge success can come to people still quite young.
What is striking about the book of Devarim, set entirely in the last month of Moses’ life, is how it shows an aged but still passionate and driven leader. It would have been easy for him to retire into an inner world of reminiscence, recalling the achievements of an extraordinary life, chosen by G-d to be the person who led an entire people from slavery to freedom and to the brink of the Promised Land. Alternatively he could have brooded on his failures, above all the fact that he would never physically enter the land to which he had spent forty years leading the nation.
Moses did neither of those things. Instead in his last days he turned his attention to the next generation and embarked on a new role. No longer Moses the liberator and lawgiver, he took on the task for which he has become known to Jewish tradition as Moses our teacher. It was, in some ways, his greatest achievement.
He told the young Israelites who they were, where they had come from and what their destiny was. He gave them laws, and did so in a new way. No longer was the emphasis on the Divine encounter, as it had been in Shemot, or on sacrifices as it was in Vayikra, but rather on the laws in their social context. He spoke about justice, and care for the poor, and consideration for employees, and love for the stranger. He set out the fundamentals of faith in a more systematic way than in any other book of Tanach. He told them of G-d’s love for their ancestors, and urged them to reciprocate that love with all their heart, soul, and might. He renewed the covenant, reminding the people of the blessings they would enjoy if they kept faith with G-d, and the curses that would befall them if they did not. He taught them the great song in Ha’azinu, and gave the tribes his death-bed blessing.
He left behind a legacy that would outlive him, summoning all his wisdom to reflect on past and future, giving the young the gift of his long experience. By way of personal example, he showed them what it is to grow old while staying young.
At the very end of the book, we read that at the age of 120, Moses’ “eye was undimmed and his natural energy was unabated” (Deut. 34:7). I used to think that these were simply two descriptions until I realized that the first was the explanation of the second. Moses’ energy was unabated because his eye was undimmed, meaning that he never lost the idealism of his youth, his passion for justice and for the responsibilities of freedom.
It is all too easy to abandon your ideals when you see how hard it is to change even the smallest part of the world, but when you do you become cynical, disillusioned, disheartened. That is a kind of spiritual death. The people who don’t, who never give up, who “do not go gentle into that good night,” who still see a world of possibilities around them and encourage and empower those who come after them, keep their spiritual energy intact.
There is something moving about seeing Moses, at almost 120, looking forward as well as back, sharing his wisdom with the young, teaching us that while the body may age, the spirit can stay young until 120, if we keep our ideals and share our faith and wisdom with those who will come after us, inspiring them to continue what we could not complete.