Torah Portions: Nitzavim (Standing) Vayelekh (And He Went) D’varim (Deut) 29:9-31:30
Haftorah Readings: Isaiah 61:10-63:9, Hosea 14:1-10, Micah 7:18-20, Joel 2:15-27
1. D’varim/Deuteronomy 31:17, “And in that day My anger will burn against them and I will forsake them and I will hide My face from them. What exactly does it mean, “I will hide My face from them?” Does G-d hide His face from us? If so what does this mean for us? How do we reconcile this with Deut. 31:6, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the L-rd your G-d, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” This is not the only time we read this phrase. The exact wording “I will hide My face” comes twice in this passage (vv. 17-18) and then once again in the following chapter when, in the song He tells Moshe to teach to the people as a witness for the future in response to Israel’s disobedience and idolatry G-d says, “I will hide my face from them” (32:20). This expression occurs nearly thirty times more in the Bible. When things are looking bleak during the time of the kings, Isaiah says, “I will wait for the L-RD, who is hiding His face from the House of Jacob, and I will trust in Him” (Isaiah 8:17). Looking further ahead, Micah prophesies, “Someday they shall cry out to the L-RD, but He will not answer them; at that time He will hide His face from them, in accordance with the wrongs they have done” (Micah 3:4) and the Psalmist painfully reports that “when You hid Your face, I was terrified” (Psalm 30:8).
Perhaps G-d does not actually abandon His people. The Bible speaks of times when God “hides” his face, or “turns” his face away from his people. This is usually an act of discipline or judgment, where God pulls back, experientially, from his people so that they would sense their need for his grace and power and seek him again.(Deut. 31:17) He removes the perception of His face but He is still there.
G‑d told Moses that the Jews would say during their misfortunes, “Is it not because our G‑d is no longer among us that these evils have befallen us?” Deuteronomy 31:17 We are naturally disposed to overlook our own faults – or, if we do acknowledge them, to rationalize them. We may find ourselves saying, “Is it not because G-d is no longer with me that evil has befallen me?”
Sometimes when we get involved in sin G-d allows us to struggle in our situation until we turn around and return to Him. This would mean that the promises of constant presence are never broken but that the people have a sharp lesson about their behavior and need of G-d.
If we are honest, there are moments – probably multiple moments – in each of our lives when heaven seems distant and unresponsive, when we pray and there is no answer and nothing happens. How should we behave in such circumstances and how can we understand what we perceive to be happening to us? We need to recognize that such times do come and that it is part of our growth cycle. First we check for possible sin in our lives. We persevere and hold on to the promises we have been given, in faith, and trusting in His faithfulness towards us. In His due time, He will come to us; He will speak to us; He will relieve us. In the meantime, our faith muscles will have been stretched and strengthened
2. In Deut. 30:15, 19 What does it mean to choose life? We see it set out clearly, life or death, good or evil. The choice is ours. Life and good return us to the Father, death and evil drive us away. How are we to make this choice? What happens when later in our walk there are times when we choose death and not life? On the surface we would surely choose life and good but is that really the case? Remember, apply this to our spiritual life or death. When scripture speaks of life it means growing closer to G-d, refining our physical being, facing life and its challenges and growing through them. Death on the other hand, can be taking the easy way out, choosing the more comfortable option. Our physical self prefers to avoid challenges. It is more inclined to pick the easiest way rather than grappling with challenges. In the Messianic scriptures we see it referred to as the battle between flesh and spirit. Our spirit has the opposite pull. It would push us toward spiritual growth. It would urge us onward saying, “Don’t take the easy way out. So Moses here is telling the people to choose life, to do good. Don’t give in to the pull of the flesh to take a nap and hope everything will be better.
What can we do in those times in our walk when we have chosen death and not life? When we have sinned by choosing death and not life we can repent. We can come to Him who loves us and acknowledge what we have done, take responsibility for it and ask for His forgiveness. This is choosing life and it happens every day, every day we are faced with situations which present us with a choice. May we always choose life.
3. in D’Varim 30:14 he says, “For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.” What is this thing that Moses speaks of? Most commentators agree that Moses is speaking of love of G-d. Each of us is born with an innate need for G-d. Our decisions in life sometimes cover that need or hunger for G-d but it is still there. So for each of us it is in our heart from the beginning – a hunger for G-d – but life sometimes or our choices sometimes may obscure it.
4.In Nitzavim look at Deut 29:12 in English and Deut. 29:11 in Hebrew where Moses asks the people to enter into the covenant with G-d. The word translated as “enter” is the Hebrew word “avar”. This, in almost every case, means to “pass over or cross over”. What is G-d actually asking them to do? So Moses is asking them for more than a formal commitment – sign on the dotted line, but he is asking them to cross over from one realm to another. He is asking them to cross over from the kingdom of sin and death to the kingdom of life and G-d.
In Deut. 29:15-20 Moses, as part of this crossing over, asks them to check their hearts (confront their sins). He warns them that this is not to be taken lightly, to not think that they can get by with pretending to go along while doing whatever they please.
Then, in Deut. 29:21-28 He tells them to consider the price. He reminds them of the curses and blessings, don’t go into this lightly. As I read these verses it reminded me of our own lives and how the Father deals with us. Our lives change when we enter the kingdom of G-d and it is not to be taken lightly. It costs us something. We serve a new king and there are consequences to sin.
In closing I would like to point out that Moshe prayed to G-d – not to live forever, not even to live longer, but simply, “Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deut. 3:25). Let me complete the journey. Let me reach the destination. But G-d said no: “That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter.” Deut. 3:26. Put yourself in Moshe’s place, how would you feel after 40 plus years of following G-d and have this as G-d’s answer to your request?
How did Moshe deal with G-d’s answer? The last few months of his life he continued doing what he was called to do. He instituted the Shemittah year. Every seven years the people were to gather together in Jerusalem to hear the reading of this covenant again – men, women, children and the strangers among them. Deut. 31:10-13)This was a time for everyone to personally renew this covenant. Think about your life. Hopefully all of us came to the L-rd at some point in our life. Most of us have had special times of renewal of that commitment. Here the children of Israel would revisit their commitment every seven years.
Why should this matter to us? We are human, things happen. We sometimes get caught up in the world more than we should and our commitment fades into the background. We all need a periodic renewal of our faith, reminding ourselves of where we came from, where we are going and why.
What better section of both Isaiah and Deut. to read before Rosh Hashanah. I would ask you to go through your own life and search out those hidden things that need to be brought out into the light of G-d.