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Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech

Parashat Matot-Masei

The ‘Real’ Promise Keepers

Most of this portion is given over to the narration of the Israelites in the process of the last stages of wilderness living; the Land is in sight and plans are being laid to take it. The time for maturity was now upon us, a time to consider what we’d learnt and how to apply it as we entered a new stage of our national development. One of the key commands attached to this entering of the next stage was given just before the actual division was discussed: Num 30:2: when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. On the face of it, not much connection between the main theme of the portion and this, but in reality there is.

It’s clear that for the basic functioning of a community to not only survive, but thrive and bear long term fruit, is that the words spoken by its members can be trusted. Humans are instinctively trust-givers and we normally will believe what we are told. That’s why con-artists and fraudsters are able to operate so successfully. The whole of our Torah Sinai revelation is given as a Word from God, each command, promise and statement given with ‘self-evident’ conviction because of the One who spoke it. Consequentially when promises are broken and vows not kept, we become despondent and cynical of promise givers.

There is never any disconnect between what God says and what He does, ever. Unlike man, He never fails to fulfil every word spoken. Vows and oaths given are serious and binding and should always be carried out. To do less is to injure the image of God’s own faithfulness which should be reflected through us.

Isa 55:10-11: “For just as rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return there, but water the earth, causing it to bud and produce, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out from my mouth — it will not return to me unfulfilled; but it will accomplish what I intend, and cause to succeed what I sent it to do.” God brings fruitfulness because He is faithful to what He has spoken. Note this; faithfulness to whatever words are said by us also creates fruitfulness in us and what we do. By not keeping our word, by being sloppy in speech and promise, we will harvest a barren spiritual life.

God’s integrity is absolute because He always keeps His word. Integrity in speech and words creates fruit that lasts. If people have no fruit, no lasting spiritual evidence of change both personally and in the people around them (and yes, that does start in the family and home too), then we are right to question their standing with God. You can tell if someone is to be trusted or not by how they speak and use words; do they keep their word regardless of personal outcomes, or are the words used to give an illusion of personal piety, an issue that Yeshua, and many other rabbis and sages of His day had to deal with.  Matthew 5:34 says: But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne; not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool; and not ‘by Yerushalayim,’ because it is the city of the Great King. And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. The elaborate mechanisms created by some to avoid keeping their words, promises and vows were becoming an issue of lack of personal integrity, which in turn was creating problems in the wider Jewish community.

The bottom line though is to be careful in making an oath or vow in the first place, and if we do then we absolutely MUST fulfil it. To not do so, according to the Hebrew used here is to bring a profanation against God’s name, since most vows are offered in His name. To break our promise is to effectively say that this is how God is too. Words and vows made are important to personal integrity. Taking a vow, or promising anything is serious; sadly the avoidance of keeping one’s vow became serious business too. Torah gave some credence to this in the passage before us today, that a father or husband could annul a vow taken in haste for example, but the vow-avoidance schemes were manifold by Yeshua’s day and went far beyond the obvious and common sense approach in Torah.

We live in challenging times where personal integrity is low and valued even less. In our Jewish communities we must lift the barrier higher because if we don’t there is another issue that affects us: Matt 24:12 reads: ‘…many people’s love will grow cold because of increased distance from Torah’. It is a sad thing when one’s love for the Lord grows cold and according to Yeshua, its cause is general Torahlessness. This is NOT what we see around us in the world, we expect them to be without Torah; this refers to us, the Jewish community, when levels of Torah righteousness are not upheld as we expect them to be as a righteous community. And this refers to what we say as well as what we do. The erosion of confidence in the Lord leads us to grow cold. Yeshua predicted that the love of MANY would grow cold due to this type of behaviour and this is serious for us. If we don’t reflect and shine out our God and His love, His integrity and His salvation trough Mashiach, then who will? And it starts when we open our mouth.

Parashat Behar-Bechukotai

Matters of the heart

Our portion opens with the teachings surrounding the Yovel year and Shmittah: how the Land ‎needs to rest from our labours and we learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by every ‎word spoken by God. It is trust and faith that bring life; the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness ‎thereof.‎

In the Haftarah, this message continues: Israel was about to be exiled and the Word of the Lord ‎came to Jeremiah telling him to buy his uncle’s field at Anatot. He knew the God of Israel would ‎bring our people back therefore investing in the Land according to Torah command was never ‎going to be an empty gesture.‎

Yet he also had doubts. We read in 32:24-25 Jeremiah’s doubt coming through. His fear ‎of the ‎situation and unpredictability of what might/could/would ‎happen ate away at him. How does God ‎respond? Verse 26-‎‎27. Is anything too hard for me? If this is true, and it is, then we ‎should throw ‎away all fear, worry, panic and stress of unbelief, ‎and instead lay hold of the truth of what God ‎says. And yet… we ‎battle with the certainties of God against the realities of our lives ‎and life in ‎general.‎

Jeremiah also records this truth: Jeremiah 17:5-9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things. ‎There is something wrong that interferes with our relationship with God: in order to trust Him and ‎be blessed, we should not trust our heart. Even Jeremiah struggled to combine faith with what ‎God was telling him: it is a heart problem. In Psalm 14:1, it says that the fool says in his HEART there ‎is no God. Not his mind. This is not a rational, thought through argument based on evidence and ‎deduction; it’s a heart thing.‎

From God’s perspective it is the heart that is the problem, not the ‎mind. Putting it at its most basic, ‎the heart needs to be ‎circumcised, the mind just renewed… The first has to undergo ‎a ‎fundamental change, the other simply needs some retraining. ‎ And if the heart has been ‎circumcised then the retraining ‎programme should be straightforward, albeit at times time-‎‎consuming!‎ Conviction of sin which comes upon us is not a rational reaction ‎to an understanding ‎given in a lecture about the definition of sin. ‎ It comes from a sense and awareness in the spiritual ‎realm ‎‎(because we ARE spiritual) of the presence of God.‎

We struggle to conceptualise this idea – the reality of this dimension in us. What is the heart? It’s a ‎nebulous concept: clearly it is not talking about the organ beating in our chest. We have a ‘heart’ ‎because God has one, we are made in His ‎image and it is from this idea that we understand what ‎the ‎‎‘heart’ is: God’s heart expresses his will, intention, emotions and ‎desire. His heart expresses ‎His nature, character and the ‎manifest expression of that. His heart motivates and drives ‎action ‎and response; it is the deepest internal dynamic of ‎existence. When we understand this, we begin ‎to understand ‎what the human heart is and also see how sad it is that our ‎hearts have become ‎corrupted and rebellious – a condition that ‎will inevitably put a strain on our spiritual hearts, our ‎essence ‎and core being.

Our hearts lead us astray and away from the Lord. That basic seat of human power and will, ‎emotion and personality MUST be circumcised if it is to actually become the home of the Spirit of ‎God who can then begin to renew and allow good to come out of it instead. And even then we ‎struggle as Jeremiah did at times. It is why the Torah must be written on our hearts, not our minds; ‎it must be internalised at the deepest levels, not just learnt at the superficial level. That is an ‎action and heart surgery that only God can do. So don’t just change your mind, lots of people do ‎that all the time; ask God to change your heart.‎

Parashat Chukat-Balak

Are we nearly there yet?‎

How many parents get tired of hearing that one?! The 40 years ‎of wandering are soon to be over, the camp of Israel is close to ‎the borders of the Promised Land, they are almost there and so ‎what happens? Throw a party to celebrate this achievement? ‎No,they grumble and complain, murmur against G-d and attack ‎Moshe and Aharon! ‎

In Numbers (B’midbar) 20:4-5 we read the questions being ‎asked: is this what it’s supposed to be like? It’s too dry, too little ‎fruit, too little progress. It’s just too hard, surely if it was a ‎blessing it would all be easy! Is that what you want? Easy? Or ‎do you want to walk the way of growth and maturity? Do you ‎want easy blessings or lasting blessings? The easy ‘blessings’ ‎were in Egypt, or so they thought, but the real blessings were still ‎ahead. They were growing towards them. It was hard, dry and ‎difficult, they had to struggle each new day it seemed. Stephen ‎summarises it in his sermon in Acts in that they wanted to turn ‎back to Egypt, to their former ways which apparently were so ‎much better, but wrong of course! Isn’t it interesting how the ‎word ‘back’ seems to encapsulate so many of our problems and ‎woes. Only when we say ‘I can’t go back’ do we begin to break ‎loose and move on, being released from the past.‎

Here was the delusion: It was hard in Egypt, but it’s worse now. ‎AND? The delusion is that it somehow should be easier and ‎better. But G-d isn’t interested in easy. The wilderness, and the ‎difficulty of it, got the people ready to enter the Land. Our life’s ‎journey is preparation for how G-d will unfold His will through us. ‎But notice this, G-d is interested in seeing His will done through ‎you, not your will to be used. ‘Am I nearly there yet?’ we ask, ‎surely I am ready to be used for you, to serve you? Not that that ‎in itself is wrong or laudable, but we have begun to see self-‎worth only in service and not in following G-d’s will alone. The ‎difference may be subtle but the outcomes can be vastly ‎different. G-d is far more interested in you and your personal ‎growth (spiritual, personal and knowledge of Him) than what He ‎will do with you. The myth today is that G-d is just waiting to ‎‎‘release’ you into ministry, impatient for your readiness. The truth ‎is, He is far more interested in your life becoming more like His ‎than anything He will DO with you. G-d doesn’t ‘need’ you to do ‎His work. Did G-d need us to conquer the Land? Instead of ‎rushing the job through He waited 40 years for us to be ready, to ‎be in that place where we said yes and submitted to Him.‎

Our decision on how to respond in times of difficulty will ‎determine whether we actually do arrive to where G-d wants to ‎get us. If when problems and difficulties arise (and they will) we ‎choose to attack the leadership by action or word, create ‎problems beyond the one in hand, begin to become angry with ‎G-d, then we shall walk a longer path than the one G-d intends. ‎If we choose to carry on anyway, G-d can begin to work. ‎Obedience is what we need to learn, not expressing our ‎individual needs through a ‘service’ that we feel we need to ‎bring.‎

This is highlighted by the two places mentioned in this portion: ‎Kadesh and Meribah. Interestingly enough both names are used ‎of the same geographical location. In Kadesh G-d wanted to ‎exalt Himself and make Himself holy to them. In Meribah they ‎fought against G-d. In some ways this is encouraging, that ‎despite our rebellions against G-d and revolts, at the end of the ‎day He will get us (either individually or corporately) to the place ‎we need to be in, in other words He will exalt Himself despite or ‎in spite of our sins. But that is no cop out. What place will we ‎choose? Is our will always so important that it’s worth going to ‎Meribah for? Will we continue to fight against G-d’s will and so ‎delay the entry? The hallmark of those who went through the ‎desert experience according to Torah was ‘they didn’t obey the ‎voice of the Lord’, in other words they didn’t act in faith or ‎trusting thus prolonging the walk. In our rebellion, lack of ‎obedience, we extended the learning process, but learn we did. ‎

We need to establish that G-d’s plan for our lives is to make us ‎more like HIM and less like ourselves, our needs and wants. ‎How we want to ‘serve’ is not necessarily how He wants us to ‎be. Service can be as idolatrous as anything else, when in fact ‎all G-d wants in us is change, a reduction in rebellion. Will we ‎see HIM exalted (Kadesh) in our lives, or will we fight and rebel ‎‎(Meribah)? The wonderful divine paradox of all this though is ‎that even at those times when we cause a prolonging and make ‎it harder than it might otherwise have been, He uses that to ‎continue to mould us into the image of His Son. ‎

So, the journey goes on. The length of it is determined often by ‎us, even if with hindsight we can see G-d’s hand at work. But the ‎destination is never in doubt, so lift up your eyes to One who can ‎set you free and bring you into the Inheritance by faith, the ‎hallmark of the Community and people of G-d.‎

Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim

Reactive Land

This double portion focuses completely on redressing the balance after the death of Nadav and Avihu and their sin of presumption, a presumption that God would accept anything they did and the inherent dangers of the people being taught the wrong thing due to their actions if not words. The long section on holiness naturally flows from this event, a corrective reminder of the path of righteousness, a path we see reflected in Ya’akov’s letter too.

We were not to be like the Canaanites who were there in the Land before us and not like the Egyptians from where we had just come. But despite our rallying call to ‘do and obey’ (na’aseh v’nishma) we seemed unable to walk in the path given to us. Such simple commands all seemed to be beyond our reach. And it was given to the prophets to tell us what the Lord felt about that situation.

Ezekiel’s commentary is typical: right from the outset he describes our holy and eternal city as a city of blood (ir hadamim), a place where the blood of innocents flowed. The city of holiness had become a byword of corruption and unrighteousness. Read Ezekiel 22:7-15. Judgement came in 586 BCE as Babylon invaded and although the final comments in verses 18-22 point to a glimmer of hope, the detailed charges laid against us are harsh and bleak. It is because of our sins as a nation that we were vomited out of the Land. The covenant in force dictates exactly how our history unfolds, if not the when.

Read Leviticus 18:26-28. The Canaanites who were there before us were vomited out of the Land too! The Hebrew word used of vomit is the same word used of Yonah’s ejection from the fish. There’s an instinctive and powerful reaction in the Land itself to unrighteousness and unholiness. Yet, hold on… WE were given the covenants and revelations; WE have the oracles of G-d and not them! Why would pagans be ejected from the Land? Indeed, why would God bring judgement upon the nations at all, nations that were never given the commandments of God in the first place? The vomiting out of the Canaanites opens up a much wider issue: what is it about the Land in particular and the world (earth) in general that connects adversely with sin?

Rav Shaul, in Romans 8:19-23 understands something profound: when he says that ALL have sinned, he means it. Although the commandments and covenants were given to US as a nation, rebellion against God is global. We do not as Jews hold the monopoly on sin. Sin spread with humanity to the whole planet, and so as Rav says, the whole of creation groans, and we groan too under the tidal wave of sin and uncleanness that threatens to swamp all righteous life. And it is this groaning of creation under this burden that calls out to God and He responds with His judgement. He HAS to judge nations now because unlike any individual who is judged before God as they stand before Him, nations do not die, they are merely repopulated on a rolling basis, so evil can multiply, and does. If it were not for His regular judgement and interruption of the ‘normal’ flow of humanity in nation states evil would reach unbearable levels.

This shows us something else: We so often talk about our role and calling as a nation to be the light to the nations attracting them to us and to our God and Mashiach. All that is true. But then so is the obligation on all nations to seek God and understand WHY judgement has come upon them; all have sinned and so all must seek Him. It isn’t all on our shoulders alone, thankfully! Each nation, and individual within it, needs to seek God to find a reversal of the sin burden afflicting them, an antidote to the wasting disease called sin that destroys not only people but places creation itself (which was created good) under pressure.

But that still leaves us with the ‘localised’ issue of the Land. The Land is different inasmuch as no other people groups have been vomited off the planet, nor any other country/nation has been vomited out due to sin. They may have suffered the consequences, but the experiences of the Canaanites was such that it is clear Israel is qualitatively different. That this real estate should function in such a powerful way suggests that it has been sanctified for the purposes of God alone, that His name is there in an immediacy not known elsewhere. We struggle with this concept because we feel in our modern egalitarian minds that all places are equal and equally holy. That isn’t true. Holiness, which this passage speaks so much about, is about dedication, offering FOR service and being set apart. Israel (the land) has been set apart by God Himself for His service, to be the homeland for His people to fulfil our calling and task. That the Canaanites were ejected now makes sense. Standards are higher in Eretz Israel than elsewhere because it has been chosen and dedicated to represent holiness and righteousness where other slices of land have not. Where the whole of creation groans, Israel vomits out. And before we rejoice in this (against those who we may not want to see living in our Land), just think… the same righteous requirements rest on us too!)

To live in the Land requires holiness and sanctity, it requires a cleaning process that is marked out ritually, but ultimately can only be done by the Lord. If God doesn’t help us, then the Land is lost…

But help is at hand. Read Ezek 22:15. It has always been God’s promise to us to make us righteous enough to live in our Land, holy enough and clean enough. It is all about His ability and not ours. That is the core message of Torah and of Judaism. He sets free to allow us to take up our residency. And this is reflected in one of the greatest verses in the Tanach, 2 Chron 7:14 ‘If my people humble themselves and pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and forgive their sins and HEAL THEIR LAND. Sin causes the Land to vomit us, and others, out but His ability to cleanse means that ANY who call on His name can be saved and be righteous enough in Him to live there.

Parashat Tazria-Metzora

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Parashat Vayikra

Who are you listening to?

Have you noticed that it is almost impossible to go somewhere and experience complete quiet? As technology has increased and the ability to communicate expanded, we are bombarded by voices and messages from all angles. And in this post-modern age one voice seems to be equal to any other. And in all this, wisdom and knowledge has not abounded, but confusion has. So who are you listening to?

For Moshe it was clear, and as if to illustrate this the portion begins with an amazing event: God calls to Moshe. Scriptures talk about ‘all who call on the Name of the Lord will be saved’, i.e. that man calls to God, yet here it is the reverse! This shows the honour given to Moshe by God; He only did it 3 times however! Each time was when He did something important; the first time was the burning bush, the second on Mount Sinai and the third time here when He was explaining the sacrificial system. So often God says or speaks to Moshe, but here He calls him, in other words the message needs to be heard and got right. Moshe listens, learns and instructs Israel what to do. Judaism begins to happen – it happens because we heard God speak through Moshe and we did it.

But as Israel we have often listened to other voices. And as always, when we allow multiple source inputs, each telling us different things, instead of wisdom and understanding we have confusion. Mashiach too had the same problem in the first century. In words that could again be construed as harsh, but actually were in-house criticism of a genuine prophetic nature, He says of Himself: John 10:22-30. Yeshua talks about voice here, He demands to be heard and that we hear His voice alone. He’s talking to our people, Israel, the sheep of Scripture, yet it seems some aren’t listening to God, or can’t (partly because of bad shepherds according to Yeshua) due to a cacophony of extraneous noises. The people knew the Torah, yet failed to see its true purpose, which according to Rav Shaul in Rom 10:4 is to point to Mashiach. Just knowing the Torah, even doing it, isn’t enough; the prophets railed against those who were apparently keeping Torah and yet were dismally failing to please God. The flesh does a very good line in righteous imitation. There are always many who claim to be ‘doing’, but as Yeshua said, the way and gate is narrow and few actually go through it and walk it. And that gate has a name: Yeshua.

How is it that the aim or point of Torah is Yeshua Mashichaynu? 1 Timothy 1:8-9a: we tend to think that Torah was given to us as “nice Israel”, that somehow we deserved it, yet this makes it clear that it was given to sinners. Torah should convict us of our sin and thus drive us into the arms of HaShem. But as fast as we run to Him, He moves back from us! Why? Because sin repels Him, sin quenches the Ruach. What to do? Is this a hopeless situation? No, and it brings us right back to where we began: sacrifices.

The core of Judaism is sacrifice and the Temple. As these two key elements functioned, it enabled the presence of God. And even here, the fact that the sacrifices had to be brought daily, repeatedly, meant that they were in themselves inadequate to actually deal with the issue of sin; they covered it and made it possible for God to dwell in our midst, but they never ultimately dealt the death blow to our natural sin inclinations and tendencies. And so in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. As a result of that sacrificial death it was possible to experience the presence of God for each and every one who called on the name of the Lord.

After the destruction of the Temple sacrifice became impossible, in the daily commanded sense of that word. Now we know that because of Yeshua’s death there was and still is today a sacrifice that operates daily for our sins, yet for the rabbis and sages of the first century who didn’t accept Yeshua as Mashiach this was a problem. As time went on the rabbis at Yavneh came up with solutions, and Judaism was fundamentally changed from being a sacrifice and Temple orientated faith with God’s presence enabled due to the shed blood, to a Torah focussed and text based faith. In fact, this new Judaism didn’t need a Temple, didn’t need the bloody sacrifices, nor even did it need the Land, it sat very happily with the Roman occupiers and presented no threat. But to have so changed the focus meant that now we were clinging to the gift and not the Giver. This distinction is critical because it is not text and its inherent obligations that brings Life, but relationship with the Giver alone.

Romans 10:1-4: even in the first century there were those who outwardly looked righteous, but according to Shaul this was merely an import of the flesh, replacing God’s righteousness with our own. And we all know what the fruit of unrighteousness is when it comes to the Land.

According to Heb 11:6, without faith it is impossible to please God. You’d think it would be Mitzvot or sacrifice even, but no, faith. Even when later covenants were added to us at Sinai, the first and crucial one was established through Avraham. And it was established with him because of his faith. In anything else we do as Jews, whatever mitzvah, if we have no faith then we are missing the mark. Because it is faith that imputes the righteousness of God in us as Jews. we have no righteousness of ourselves except that which is given to us by faith. If we attempt to establish any other base for our righteous living, it is a fake and cannot please God. We were, as Jews, never meant to have a righteousness based merely on keeping the Torah commandments. All of the Torah is there:

a. to illustrate that we have fallen short of HIS righteousness
b. to drive us to Mashiach for mercy
c. once we have HIS righteousness through faith, to actualise and internalise that through our lives yielded and submitted to Him in the Spirit.

So whose voice will you listen to? Will you be a part of what God is doing today in this revival movement, preaching His salvation in and out of season, seeing His changes in your life, leading you closer to works of righteousness that are acceptable to Him? Or will you choose your own way, listen to ‘other’ voices, doing what is right in your own eyes, being your own authority, seeking your own righteousness away from what the Lord is doing?

Parashat Devarim

Tisha B’Av

We’re starting to read from the final book of the Chumash: Devarim. The words of God are repeated for us again, summarised and the eternal truths spelled out in a fashion that we’re meant to learn from. This is Torah stripped down to the essentials, what we’re meant to know and do: the core of our faith. Moshe stands up to start speaking; according to tradition, he speaks for 36 days in total.

The journey from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea takes 11 days normally. Of course, it took our people 40 years. Verses 27 and 32 of Deuteronomy 1 stand out as unsettling: we didn’t believe God. Why? Because according to verse 27, we thought to ourselves: ‘God hates us’.

Nowhere in the Torah do we ever read that God hates us! It is amazing how often people conclude that God feels anything other than love towards them, bearing in mind that He has always pursued us even when we have run contrary to Him, eventually sending the ultimate expression of His love, Yeshua Mashikainu, as a sacrifice of complete atonement. Yet the enemy of our souls has determined that we should not trust in, believe in or have confidence in God at all. Even better from his perspective if we end up convinced that God must hate us. Despite all the bad things that happen to us, it is important we do understand that He is in control and that as Kefa concluded (1 Peter 5:7) ‘He cares for you’.

Ironically, one of the ways that we know that His love is real and that He is trustworthy and faithful is drawn from the Haftorah portion today. Isaiah paints a grim picture of what would happen in the future, if no repentance was brought. Isaiah was a man who was ‘blessed’ with seeing the future inevitable consequences of the actions of Israel. We see the raw consequences unfold before our eyes, no punches are pulled and there is no deception in sight. God tells us as it is warts and all, and then ensures that our dirty laundry can be washed forever in public down the ages by having the words written down for posterity. The covenant was clear; as Israel, we failed to meet God’s standards of righteousness and we failed to be the light to the nations that we were, and are, meant to be. God’s love and discipline in our failing was equally clear; this was no sign of hatred but covenantal correction. Severe? Yes, absolutely, but dare we say we weren’t warned? And so, as Isaiah said, the Temple would be destroyed, all of which sad ‘prediction’ brings us to Tisha b’Av.

Traditionally we read from Megilat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations at this time.  It makes sober reading too. But notice that even here the lament turns to a cry for salvation and deliverance too, ending with the words we all know so well: ‘Hashivenu Adonai eleycha v’nashuvah’ – cause us to turn and return to you. In other words, we have no power in ourselves to repent; we can only do so if He makes a way, does it all. According to the tradition, it was Tisha B’Av on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, sending our people into exile and completely changing the fabric of Jewish life. It was also the day, according to Taanit 29a that the Israelites refused to enter the Land, an action that, as Moshe recalls in this portion, meant 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Some other events that have occurred on Tisha B’Av:

  1. First Crusade, 1095
  2. Expulsion of Jews from England 1290
  3. Spanish Inquisition 1492
  4. WW1 starts 1914
  5. The start of the mass deportation of Jews from Warsaw ghetto 1942

Fundamentally it has been our inability to obey God and keep the commandments that has brought destruction: lack of faith and trusting. But read what Isaiah said in chapter 61:1-10. In the midst of national suffering He will bring deliverance and salvation. God will make a way. Where we have failed to walk righteously before God, He will ensure that we do! And the nations will see it too!

Hashivenu Adonai elecha v’nashuvah. Amen.

Parashat Vaetchanan

Seeking and finding?

HEAR O Israel, listen to who your God is! Listen to what He teaches you, and then do it! We are the people who hear God and obey (or at least should do) and it is this idea of obedience, doing what God says and wants and the consequences if we don’t, that frames this weeks’ portion.

However, the depth of God’s love shines through in Deut 4:29-31: despite our sins which were great, we were never beyond finding God again, as long as we sought Him with all our hearts and souls. To seek God is to seek His righteousness, and to seek to reflect that righteousness into this lost and broken, and it seems, increasingly globally corrupt world. And yet it seems today that so few in our Jewish communities actually seek Him, the One from whom we take our national calling and our very existence.

However, the Torah contains truths that we sometimes have to dig for. And today there is one. Having established that if you seek God you will find Him we are presented with a conundrum. What makes it worse is that it hinges on, or seems to hinge on the nature and character of God. Read Deuteronomy 3:23-27. As far as I am aware, this is the only time God ever speaks like this to Moshe. The answer is abrupt: enough already, my answer is no. But don’t we read that the prayer of a righteous man avails much? Moshe was supremely righteous, he stood before God, spoke to Him and heard His voice like no other man before or since. In the Hebrew Moshe ‘implored’ God to let him into the Land or ‘pleaded for grace’ (v’etchanan has the root chen, grace).

The reasons for God’s intransigence on this are interesting. God was angry ‘on account of the people’. Why so? Because according to Numbers 20:12, Moshe did not make God holy in the sight of the sons of Israel. Because Moshe didn’t do exactly what the Lord had said, the image of who God is was distorted before the people. They learnt what they saw too, and Moshe was a particularly visual and visible leader. God was made small in Moshe’s actions, he didn’t give the glory to God; in fact in his anger he said ‘must WE bring forth water…’ indicating that in some way he had something to do with the miraculous provision of water.

Because of this, God said He would not let Moshe into the Land and He tied this punishment to His nature and character of holiness. In other words, had God then later relented of this spoken word made before the people, then the initial wrong teaching illustrated by Moshe would have been compounded by God again. He would therefore be shown to be not holy, unreliable in word and deed, unpredictable, inconsistent and ultimately unjust too. God sticks to His word. There were consequences and Moshe had to take them to fully redress an otherwise impossible position, a place where the people would begin to think that God wasn’t faithful, or even worse, was partial and biased because of who Moshe was.

This is why Job, and later King David in the Psalms, were able to conclude that despite living in what many then and today conclude is an unrighteous world and universe with no moral compass, we CAN be sure on the basis of this refusal to change His mind, that God is just and He will judge, even if for a moment His mercy holds. Seek God, yes, but you cannot expect Him to act in ways that undermine who He is, or that make Him small, or that fail to grant Him the glory and majesty due to His name.

But there is another we need to consider in this overview: Esau. Again, a man who seems to beseech God and his father for a blessing yet is rejected. We know Esau was no Moshe, the two men are like chalk and cheese morally and in terms of righteousness, but there are parallels too. Firstly a recap of Esau; he casually and lowly esteems that which belongs to him by right, the first-born status and all its priestly inheritance, by giving it away for the sake of a meal, and then according to Torah he also goes on to join himself to Canaanite women knowing that it would offend his father and God. He apparently seeks repentance for his deeds and God rejects this, despite the tears.

God was not made large in Esau’s life. Far from it, his heart was far from God at all times. And this pattern is the first connect point: if in our actions before men we make God small, do not glorify Him and reflect who He is in a genuine way, then we can expect that God will not listen to us. Esau’s rejection of God made God small. God was not interested, enough already! Later on when Esau and Jacob met once more, Esau appeared to be welcoming, yet his words revealed even here his true intent: ‘let me walk before you’, i.e., ‘you recognise me as the real head of the house once more’. Esau just wanted his status back; he was not willing to submit to God or his brother.

Both Moshe and Esau had to learn that sin has consequences, and these are inevitable for a just God who keeps His word.