Torah Portion: Va’etchanan (I Pleaded) Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3:23-7:11

HafTorah: Isaiah 40:1-26

Since we did not meet last week, I would like to say a few words about the last book of Torah. Deuteronomy comes from the Greek word meaning repetition of the Law. Remember, all the people to whom Moses was speaking had been children or were born during the 40 years in the desert. Here they hear the story again. They hear the commandments for themselves. Moses knows his death is close at hand so he sets about to give his last sermon to these who will be the ones to inherit the land He wants them to be well prepared to take their inheritance. They had grown up as free men and women, not as their parents, slaves to Pharaoh.

I think this book speaks to us as freemen and women about how to live our lives. Let us see what we can learn from, “I Pleaded.” First I would like to talk about the difference between the wording of the Ten Commandments found here and then in Shemot chapter 20. When we look at Shemot (Exodus) 20 we see some difference in wording. This is especially true when we get to the fourth commandment. Read Shemot 20:8 and compare it to Deuteronomy 5:11. The first difference is quite glaring. In Shemot the first word is, “Remember.” Or Zachar in Hebrew while in Deut. 5:11 we read “Keep or Guard.” These two words are quite different and emphasize two different aspects of relating to Sabbath. Rather than to limit these words to just the Sabbath, I would like you to consider these two words and how the same point might be made about us and our lives as believers.

So first, what can we see about “Zahar” or remember? What do we do when we remember? We recall, we think about, we can recollect an event. Here the people are reminded by Moses to not forget the Sabbath but to be aware of its coming, get food, cook, clean the house, remember, don’t forget.

In Shemot where Moses uses this word Moses is reminding these people that this event, Sabbath, is a testament of their belief in creation as it is set out in Genesis 2 and of the Creator. To remember is a function of the mind. We can remember something anytime. Now to apply this word to us today and our faith walk I think each of us should reflect on how it was before our encounter with G-d when we were slaves. We need to never forget what life without G-d was like and what a difference He has made in our lives. Reflect from time to time on who we are now and who we were. All because G-d reached out to us and drew us to Him. We had only to respond, no works were involved – just faith. So here with the children of Israel the verse in Shemot 20 calls them to remember how it was in Egypt and what G-d did for them.

Then here in Deut. Moses uses a different word, “shmore” or guard, or keep the Sabbath. Now what picture does this bring to mind? None of these people had been slaves so their recollection of life under Pharaoh was only stories they had heard. The remembering part might be a little difficult. But here Moses stresses guarding and keeping. How was guarding Sabbath to be worked out? Maybe the words of James 1:22 or Philippians 2:12 might help. Our part in this plan of G-d is to keep or guard our faith. We do that by practicing it everyday. Here Moses stresses what Sabbath means in the real world. We rest from the world. We offer back to our Maker this time of being focused on Him and giving Him our undivided attention. This speaks to us in our everyday life. Our faith takes work. It calls us to be aware of who we are and what we are called to be. Our faith is more than just something we remember. It must be something we do. It must change how we live and interact with this world.

In Deut 4:35 it speaks of G-d’s uniqueness and goes even deeper to say, “ein od milvado” or there is nothing other than G-d. G-d is reality. Everything that seems to us to be real is nothing but an expression of Him. Our lives are called to be an accurate expression of Him. He is our reality and our lives should reflect Him. Only then can man begin to appreciate who we worship.