Torah Portion: Vayelech (And He Went) D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 31
HafTorah: Hosea 14:1-10, Micah 7:18-20, Joel 2:15-27
Today I want us to look at this chapter and see what it teaches us about “doing.” This Sabbath is called, “Shabbat Shura.” Shuvah is the word for repentance. Moshe speaks here on the last day of his life to a people he has led for the last 40 years. These are his parting words. We have seen him over the course of this last book of Torah recount the forty years of wandering. Here he is telling the people to come together every seven years and hear the story again.
Interestingly in Hebrew there is no word for history. The word used today in modern Israel is borrowed from English. Why would that be? The Hebrew Scriptures are not interested in the dry facts of years gone by but are concerned about remembering, and by remembering becoming a participant in the story of who they are.
Succoth is such an experience. We build a hut, we set in it, eat in it and so remember what G-d did for Israel long ago He still does for us everyday. So, by doing we remember and by remembering we refresh who we are spiritually. Hebrews 13:5-6 in the New Testament shows us this by quoting Deuteronomy 31:6 and tying us into that remembering.
Doing is also an important part of the whole process of repentance. Next Tuesday evening begins Yom Kippur, when according to scripture, we fast and afflict our souls. Let us look at repentance through the eyes of Judaism at the time of Yeshua. How would He have understood it? A sinner should abandon his sin, resolving in his heart to never commit the sin again. He must have a sense of regret for what he has done and never return to the sin again.
Now, how is this possible in our lives? Sometimes the abandoning part is the hardest, not returning to what has tripped us in the past. How do we change who we are? For us our experience with Yeshua is what brings us to confession and conviction. But how do we go day after day when the initial high is gone? Do we fall back into old ways? Do we begin to rationalize our actions? Do we soothe our spirit by saying, “That is just who I am,” in affect believing we are just that way. Well what is our natural state? Each of us were created perfect by the Father. We have our individual dispositions. The part of our dispositions that does not bring life is not there for us to wallow in but for us to redeem, to be in control of and not controlled by. We live in a clouded picture of reality. We change that reality by “doing.” Scripture tells us how to live our life. We have studied this over the past year. Scripture tells us how to treat our neighbor, how to treat the helpless, how to tithe, how to speak, how to treat our spouse, etc. If we are inclined to be stingy G-d’s word says, “open your hand to the poor.” It does not depend on our view or feelings. It is what G-d has said about how we are to live in this world. If we heard some juicy tidbit of gossip and are anxious to share it with a friend we know scripture speaks about that. We might even rationalize why we must share the news anyway.
Repentance involves getting rid of all the rationalizations and compromises and coming back to who we truly are and what we truly believe. We don’t need to defend ourselves before G-d. He knows us well. He made us and loves us. Yeshua spoke to the woman caught in adultery and did not lecture her on what a terrible person she was but simply told her to go and sin no more, to see herself as who she truly was and “do” something different with her life. It was interesting in the story of this woman she did not make excuses or try to defend her actions. She stood open and honest before Yeshua.
Scripture is full of actions. It does not tell us to be generous but tells us how to live so that we are generous, giving us what percentage of our income to give to provide for the poor. These guidelines transform our character and our misconceptions of who we are.
We will be tempted but by being well learned in what G-d’s Word says we will not stray after the gods of the foreigners. Deut. 31:16. Here “arising” means the people acted on the temptation. Action – we are called to follow the Word of G-d, not just in some general way but in concrete action based on how G-d says we should live. We don’t have to agonize over what to do. G-d has told us how to live our lives in His Word and by doing we transform our character. We find we are no longer angry, we no longer rationalize our bad decisions but can live as G-d intended. Actions are entirely in our control. When we change how we live using G-d’s directions then we have truly changed. It says in Deut. 30:14 “The matter is very near to you in your mouth and in your heart.”