Torah Portion: Va’etchanan (I pleaded) Deut. 3:23-7:11, HafTorah Isaiah 40:1-26
1.In Deut. 4:4 it says, “But you who held fast to the L-rd your G-d are alive today, every one of you.” What does it mean to “hold fast” ?
In Hebrew the word is “Had-vachem” included in this word is the root for stick or glue. How do we do it? And how do we keep doing it? What happens if we don’t stay stuck to G-d? If we look at what Moses goes on to say it gives us a few clues. Be diligent in obeying G-d. Each one of us has had our own Mt. Sinai salvation experience where we heard G-d’s call to us and felt His presence. Moses reminds the people here to be diligent to carry out what they heard, to be always faithful to what G-d has given us. His word is one of the ways to do that. We are a holy people, we must be aware that there is a way for us to live, usually not what we see around us but what we hear in our hearts from the Father. Without this diligence it is possible to have things begin to come between the Father and us. Those things left unrepented of can cause our sticking to slip. Moses tells the people this in Deut. chapter 4, verses 2,5,14,6,13, over and over. We who are labeled as G-d’s people must be watchful that nothing comes between our G-d and us.
2.Look at Devarim 4:2 and Matt. 5:19, a set of verses with an important principle. Both Moses and Yeshua teach that we are to not add or subtract from G-d’s word. In Mark 7:9 Yeshua speaks exactly to this. Here He tells the religious people of His day that they had become experts in setting aside G-d’s Law in order to keep their traditions. He was not saying He opposed traditions but He was saying that if it sets aside G-d’s word then it can’t stand. Neither can we allow our traditions to subtract or to add to the word of G-d. Given this, how do we interpret John 13:34? Also, can you think of any traditions that churches, congregations or individuals hold on to today that might subtract from G-d’s word?
My interpretation of John 13:34 is that it is not a new commandment. This was written in Lev 19:18. But what was new was His interpretation. He raises the standard. We are to love our neighbors not just as we love ourselves but as Messiah loves us. Yeshua clarified and demonstrated a commandments full depth but never took away one or added a new one. He was and is the Living Torah. I Peter 1:18-19 says we are not redeemed by our traditions but by the blood of the Messiah. A few traditions that take away from G-d’s word might be, Churches having Easter Egg hunts, praying to saints or mother of Yeshua, Christians celebrating Halloween.
Traditions: Mark 7:3-9 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ Isaiah 29:13…
Matt 15:1-6 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of G-d for the sake of your tradition? For G-d said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to G-d,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of G-d for the sake of your tradition.
3. Read Shemot/Exodus 20:8 and compare it to D’Varim/Deuteronomy 5:12. In Shemot the first word is, “Remember.” Or Zachar in Hebrew, while in Deut. 5:12 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 every day. 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.
4. In Deut. 5:22 In our English translation the verse reads, “These words the L-rd spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more.” First, this is making a statement about the voice of G-d. The phrase and “He added no more” can also be translated from the Hebrew as “never ending.” What does that say to you about G-d’s voice? What does he mean when he says G-d’s voice is never ending?
Think of it specifically in light of what this section says. His voice did not weaken as ours does. His voice is as relevant today as when He first uttered these words. G-d saw that His people might be caught up in different cultures or societies. The cultural norms would change. He saw people that would question if His words were still relevant. He was making a point here that the voice that goes on to speak the 10 commandments was not only relevant and powerful when it was spoken but it did not end. It still rings out. It still speaks to each of us and it spoke to them especially as they were about to enter the land. A land with different people who would seek to tempt the people of G-d with different ideas, values and idols.
So Moses was making a point to them and to us. The world may change. His voice does not. What He goes on to set out in the 10 commandments is still as relevant today as when it was spoken. Yeshua in the New Testament makes this same point over and over, in fact, in an even more strict way. In Matthew 5:21-22 Yeshua reaffirms this voice of G-d and again even expands on it.
5. In D’varim/Deuteronomy 6:20 we read, “ When your son shall ask you tomorrow to say, “What [are] the testimonies and the statutes and the judgements that the L-rd our G-d has commanded you?” Why is this verse important to us? When do you think a son, friend or relative would ask you this question? What would your answer be? This question and answer came from an article I read this week by Jonathan Allen.
Closely echoing Moshe’s words to the Israelites on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt – “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?'” (Shemot 12:26) and “And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him” (13:14) – both of which are referring to the specific ritual of Pesach, but it could be applied to any of the commandments. Exodus expects children to ask questions about the ceremonies commemorating the Exodus. Here, Moshe assumes they will be curious about Israel’s entire way of life. Deuteronomy sees all the commandments as opportunities for religious education.”
As followers of Yeshua, we need to think carefully about the implications of this command for ourselves. This passage implies there will be internal family teaching, in which parents answer children’s questions regarding specific events, rituals, or observances. The child’s question then becomes the springboard for explanation and teaching … The first thing to notice is that such questions and teaching opportunities would arise only if the parents themselves were daily observing the commandments. What was true for Israel as a whole was true for each family – no observance, no questions. If we do not put our faith into practice, then there is nothing to see and no reason for a child – or anyone else, for that matter – to ask questions. How terrible would it be if no question is never asked of us – if we were just like everyone else and there was nothing distinctive about us!
At the beginning of Chapter 6, Moshe tells the people that their observation of the Torah when they cross over the Jordan into the Land of Israel is “so that you, your children, and your children’s children may revere the L-RD your G-d and follow, as long as you live, all His laws and commandments that I enjoin upon you” (D’varim 6:2), confirming that “the obedience of the parents is done ‘so that’ the children will fear and obey G-D”. How will our children or friends, learn the importance of, for example, reading the Bible or prayer, if they never see us doing it, are never invited to join in and see how it is done, never receive an explanation for why we do it? Moshe’s last sermon, the book of D’varim, “can be seen as creating a memory for the generation it addresses by painting pictures and telling stories, so that the children may receive as real what they did not experience.
The Messianic Writings assume that this is the natural way that disciples will learn and grow: by hearing the stories and participating in events. As well as telling us about the miracles and teachings of Yeshua, all the gospels – to one degree or another – show us that Yeshua was a regular attender at synagogue and was frequently in Jerusalem for the festivals. These were times when He often spoke and taught; they provided the natural context for many of His miracles and signs. It is often impossible to understand the full meaning of what Yeshua said and did without recognizing the way in which – although at the same time “doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) – He maintained continuity with the Torah and the prophets, with all of Scripture.
Similarly, Yeshua enjoined the continued practice of G-d’s ways upon His disciples. Early in His teaching ministry, He assured them that “I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17), stressing that the Torah will not change or pass away until “everything has happened” (v. 18). He made it clear that obeying and teaching the commandments was expected behavior in the kingdom and concluded His earthly ministry with the instruction to “make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:19-20, ESV). Saul frequented the synagogue, taught from the Torah, participated in Temple rituals and recognized the priority of coming up to Jerusalem for the feasts. He too recognized the continuity of Yeshua’s ministry and the Scriptures.
We can see the same rhetoric at use in the Messianic Writings as in D’varim: The use of short historical summaries of the past as an affirmation of the love of G-d towards Israel. We too must encourage curiosity in our children (friends, colleagues, disciples) by our obedience to and observance of Yeshua’s commandments – “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15) – and His observance of Torah. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). How tragic would it be if our children, grandchildren or friends saw nothing in our lives that looked any different from the world and so failed to question us about our faith in Yeshua?
In his letter to the Corinthians, Saul makes what at first sounds like an odd comment: “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14, ESV). What can this be about? In the context of our text, it is quite simple. A believing spouse cannot ‘save’ their unbelieving partner or children, but by telling the stories, living the faith and offering participation, they can open the door and be an avenue for Yeshua’s invitation to work. D’varim is aimed at the next generation. It takes the present (next) generation back to the past and brings the past afresh into the present. The children are now the ones before whom all the choices are
laid and someday their children will be there and the divine instruction will confront them. Can they learn afresh what it means to love the L-rd wholeheartedly?
To conclude I would like to say I feel it is no accident that our Haftorah reading this week is found in Isaiah 40:1-26. Who is G-d speaking to in this passage? G-d through the prophet Isaiah is speaking to Israel and calling the nations to comfort Israel, the nation, during these difficult days. The days are days of a falling apart of the Kingdom of Judea.
This is not the only time in the prophet Isaiah that G-d is calling the nations to intervene and intercede for Jerusalem and for the people of Israel. Here also toward the end of Isaiah the prophet calls: Isaiah 62:1-7, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns. 2 The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the L-RD will name. 3 You shall also be a crown of glory In the hand of the L-RD, And a royal diadem In the hand of your G-d. 4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the L-RD delights in you, And your land shall be married. 5 For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your G-d rejoice over you. 6 I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night.” You who make mention of the L-RD, do not keep silent, 7 “And give Him no rest till He establishes. And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
The pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem was prophesied in Zechariah chapter 14, and in Isaiah chapter 66 and in the Psalms and in the end in the last chapter of the book of Revelation. Where do you think that the New Jerusalem, the city foursquare, with the twelve gates and the names of the Tribes of Israel on their gates accompanied with the names of the 12 Apostles will be?
Today the nation of Israel is in crisis. Even in our small town two Jewish places of worship have recently been vandalized. G-d is calling the nations in Isaiah chapter 40 to comfort His people (my people say the L-rd) and this prophetic mandate is still a valid command and a divine program that needs to be put in a priority before the coming of the Son of Man, The Messiah, the Son of G-d, The King of the Jews, returning home! We are mandated to support G-d’s chosen people wherever we find ourselves.