Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Nitavim

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Parashat Nitzavim: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 Isaiah 61:10-63:9; Ephesians 2:12-13

Nitzavim opens with the people standing before Yahweh to ratify the covenant, confronting their awesome eternal covenantal mission. The people “stand” (or present themselves) before Moshe from the greatest to the least, and he delivers to them a final solemn appeal, in order to “enter into the sworn covenant of Yahweh” in fulfillment of the promise Yahweh made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the actual “Covenant Ceremony” that marks the climax of Moshe’s earlier appeals in the narrative. There may have been a sacrificial covenantal ceremony here, as at Sinai. “Today”, may refer to this great day of completion of the law. It certainly marks Israel’s inauguration as a nation, about to enter the land. The Jewish commentator Rashi, claims that “today” refers to this final day of Moshe’s life-- and that he now makes a last marathon effort to bring Israel closer to God and His Torah; he poetically reviews Jewish history-- it all leads up to mankind’s return to its lost Messianic destiny. Moshe keeps reminding Israel to use his last day well!

The Plea to Ratify the Covenant

Nitzavim* means to stand up, as to erect or establish. Therefore the feeling is to have all the house of Isra'el, excluding none, establish themselves before God by choosing His covenant so He may establish them as a special chosen people unto Himself. The opening verse of Nitzavim reads, in the Hebrew: "Today you are standing, all of you, before Yahweh your God—your heads, your tribes, your leaders and your officers—all the men of Isra'el, along with your little ones, your wives, and your foreigners here with you in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water." (Verses 10,11) The beginning of this portion says it all! "Today you are standing, all of you, before Yahweh your God" (v9), no one is excluded from this assembly. It does not matter how you see yourself, either as Judah or Ephraim, family or stranger, Yahweh here is addressing everyone. Not only is He addressing those present but also the future generations to come. The purpose for the assembly is for the entry into the covenant and the promise or oath that ratifies the covenant. This rather all-conclusive list of representatives from the people of Isra’el, tells us that the important message to follow needs to be heard by all.

What Moshe is saying here is that all the commandments of Torah, which he had just spoken to the children of Israel at this time ending at Parasha Ki Tavo, apply not only to those who were there with him listening at the time, but also to all future generations of Israelites, to come. As heirs to the promises of God, New Covenant believers have also inherited Torah, by virtue of this passage. Even the strangers and sojourners who chose to live amongst the children of Yisrael during biblical times were expected to fulfil Torah. This principle applies now to any who choose to live with in our 'gates', i.e. in our homes.

In return these strangers and sojourners (gerim) were treated as equals in the land. Through rebirth, New Covenant believers have chosen to become members of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12), therefore they become subject to the teaching of Torah. In other words Moshe was, in these verses, referring to all believers in Messiah Yeshua. Every word of Torah, every commandment uttered by God, is as binding on the assembly of believers in Yeshua as it was on Yisrael, thousands of years ago. The grace we have is not to break Torah, the grace we have is to help us fulfill Torah.

Not all the people that came out of Egypt during the exodus were Hebrews; there were foreigners among them (called sojourners) who were either slaves which the Egyptians had with the Hebrews and/or Egyptians who after witnessing and experiencing the plagues decided to leave their country and their gods to join with the Hebrews and embrace the God of Isra'el.

They were standing there alongside Isra'el when this portion of Scripture was penned, that they were included in the "brit" which Yahweh made with Isra'el and that Moshe considered part of the camp. Throughout Scripture sojourners are treated as native born. They are not to be discriminated against and they observed all the commandments as well as the feast days. Numbers 9:14 15:29

The whole concept of being a sojourner was and still is, the exchanging of gods. That is, replacing whichever or whatever god you were serving, for the One True God of Isra'el. Rav. Shaul (Rabbi Saul), said to the believers of his time who were converted -- "That at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Isra'el, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Messiah Yeshua you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Messiah." Ephesians 2:12-13

Through salvation through the Messiah of Isra'el 'foreigners' - those without Messiah are made part of this commonwealth of Isra'el. Therefore with salvation through Yeshua comes membership in the Commonwealth of Isra'el and with membership in the Commonwealth of Isra'el comes the responsibility of Torah observance. The Torah is not a "Jewish" thing, it is Yahweh's manual of how a redeemed society functions and lives and all who embrace Yeshua the Messiah have a responsibility to obey Torah. Every sojourner who attached themselves to the God of Isra'el was included in one of the tribes.

Being a sojourner has its privileges also in the Messianic age as each shall be entitled to receive a portion of the promised land and to choose which tribe they attach themselves to. Ezekiel 47:22-23

The Plea For Commitment

After bidding them to come and enter into the covenant, Moshe asks them to check their hearts to see if they had a complete heart commitment to Yahweh, having forsaken everything else, or whether they thought that they could still walk after the dictates of their own hearts. "And it will be that when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart, saying, "Peace will be with me, though I walk as my heart sees fit...Yahweh will not be willing to forgive him."

The Torah is talking here about a curse, for the lack of observance, and therefore says of those who excuse themselves by blessing themselves in their heart - in Hebrew, with a "good heart" - and claiming - "It will be sufficient if I go with good thoughts in my heart" - but Yahweh will not be willing to accept this approach. This is equivalent to lawlessness based on one's own righteousness. We can choose to hear the commands of God and walk in obedience, or we can choose to turn away and walk after the vanity of our own hearts.

Moshe was attempting to warn them against making only a token verbal acceptance and to root idolatry out of their midst and be sincere from the depths of their heart in their commitment to Yahweh God. (29:17-19) He is calling them to count the cost and to forsake their sins reminding them of the consequences of disobedience which had been given in the curses of Ch.28, reminding them that if they break that covenant then desolation, exile and captivity will befall them.

Moshe informs the people that the covenant that Yahweh is making with them there, is not just with them alone, but, that the responsibilities will also fall on of their ancestors to come (29:14-16). This includes all who identify with Isra’el down through the generations and are pertinent for us today!

This was the same principle upon which Yeshua prayed for those entering the new covenant in John 17:20-21. The covenants are perpetual. Enlarged upon and extended in their spiritual application, but for all generations to come. “When the time arrives that all these things have come upon you, both the blessing and the curse which I have presented to you; and you are there among the nations to which Yahweh your God has driven you; then at last, you will start thinking about what has happened to you; and you will return to Yahweh your God and pay attention to what He has said, which will be what I am ordering you to do today, to you and your children, with all your heart and all your being (30:1-3).”

Torah historically records that the people forsook Yahweh their God, and prostrated themselves to, and served, false gods as He predicted. He says that Yahweh Himself would bring about a true change of heart and bring about the return of the people to the Land of Promise. He would show them mercy and cause their t’shuvah (repentance).

The Plea For Repentance

Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, explained that the word teshuvah (repentance) comprises five Hebrew letters, each letter a path and a method in the avodah - service - of teshuvah.

“Tav” is for “Tamim T’hiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha” - “Be sincere with the Eternal your God” (Devarim 18:13).

“Shin” is for “Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid” - “I have set God before me always” - i.e. constant awareness (Psalms 16:8)

“Vav” is for “V’ahavta Lereacha Komocha” - “Love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18; (Devarim 6:5).

“Beis” is for “Bechal Derachecha Do’eihu” - “In all your ways, know Him” (Proverbs 3:6) - acknowledging His Providence

“Heh” is for “Hatzne’ah Leches Im Hashem Elokecha” - “Walk discreetly (humbly) with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Rabbi Nahmanides connects, “this commandment” referred to in 30:11 with the duty of repentance outlined at the beginning of chapter 30 and stated in verse 10 as turning to Yahweh your God with “all your heart and all your soul.” The context is dealing with the subject of repentance: “See I have set before thee life and good...to love Yahweh, hearken to His voice and to cleave unto Him” (30:15, 20). The text extols the value of teshuvah (repentance) by indicating how easy it was to achieve: “For this commandment is not too hard for thee... “It is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off” (v.11 NKJ) Teshuvah (repentance) involves confession of the lips and remorse of the heart. The phrase: “it is not in heaven…” places an even greater value on teshuvah, implying that no effort is too great, even if it involves ascending to heaven. Repentance is a matter of individual free choice. It depends on a person’s resolution to return to Yahweh, however far one has become alienated from Him, and however numerous the barriers that have grown up between a person and his Creator: “but the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (v.14).

Hosea states: “take with you words and return unto Yahweh”. Returning to Yahweh only requires confessing our sins. The covenant obligations are not too difficult or esoteric, but are completely within one’s reach - since they are a matter of the heart - and are known by the heart’s decision to obey Yahweh. Moshe makes a final plea: “Choose life!” The path of life is to love Yahweh and obey His voice! The choice between life and death is now before them, and heaven and earth are eternal witnesses to the terms of the agreement. If they choose to obey, they will be blessed and prosper; otherwise, they will suffer exile, persecution, and ultimately perish.

Paul uses this parasha in a new covenant context for faith in Yeshua, saying, “For Moshe writes about the righteousness grounded in the Torah that the person who does these things will attain life through them. Moreover, the righteousness grounded in trusting says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend to heaven?’”—that is, to bring the Messiah down—or, “’Who will descend into Sheol?’”—that is, to bring the Messiah up from the dead. What, then, does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”—that is, the word about trust which we proclaim….” Romans 10: 5-8

Paul here (Sha’ul) is quoting Nitzavim, applying a well-known rabbinical method of interpretation, called midrash, to the text. Paul was identifying Torah with Yeshua the Messiah who came down from heaven to give us a living Word, as does John used in Chapter 1, verses 1-14 of his Gospel. What Paul is saying is that the Torah (the Eternal Word which was manifest in the flesh) is now manifested through the Spirit and is a matter of entering in by faith and making confession of the covenant with Yahweh.

Yeshua the Messiah is undoubtedly the subject of Romans 10: 5-8. Yet the rabbi identifies the “IT” of Deuteronomy with the Messiah! Yeshua came from heaven! —He did not remain up there, out of our reach, providing us with some valid excuse for lack of faith, which leads to disobedience; nor is he “beyond the sea”, or to put it the way Sha’ul did, still “in Sheol” (the fact that Sha’ul doesn’t use the exact same wording as Moshe here, but opts for the example of Sheol [the place of the dead, i.e. hell], does not seriously alter the meaning of what Moshe meant. In fact, Sha’ul’s example takes the application a step further. For the Hebrew mind, if something was “beyond the sea”, it might as well have been “in Sheol”—for it was beyond the reach of normal human efforts to obtain)

And in the case of Sheol, there is the implication that if Yeshua had remained in Sheol there would be no resurrection and deliverance from the old fallen nature of Adam - But He arose triumphant over death to give us victory over the power of sin. Having been risen from Sheol by the power of Yahweh, His life is now available for everyone who will put their trust in Him! His life from the dead now produces life in all that obey and put their trust in him! These are the very same choices that Moshe was describing! Because the goal, or focus, at which the written Torah aims, is the Messiah, all that go on to receive Him find, as Yahweh promised through the mouth of Moshe, life and blessing! We can see from these examples how intimately Yeshua relates to the Torah—not just as the “living Word”, but as the eternal choice presented to man. Today, we are also presented with this choice: life through Yeshua, the Living Torah…. Or death, because of disobedience and disbelief…. The fulfillment of the covenant would be found through Yeshua “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Messiah Yeshua”. Ephesians 2:7

Though Yeshua would come in the flesh centuries later the promise of Him would be known from the beginning and the hope of Israel would be found in the words of the Torah as it pointed to Him. By faith in the Messiah Yeshua, who is the “end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” A person is now justified before Yahweh, not by attempting to establish one’s own righteousness by performing various mitzvot/commands, but by believing that the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua was performed on one’s behalf, as both the means of obtaining forgiveness for one’s sins and for partaking of the newness of life that the resurrected Savior imparts to those who put their trust in Him. In this hope, then, one experiences salvation, and the righteousness of God is established in the earth.

Haftorah Isaiah 61::10 - 63:9 The Haftorah portion focuses on the ultimate purpose of Isra'el raised up as His special chosen people because of the blessings He has placed upon her and His righteousness and glory shining forth from her as a light to the nations. (see Matthew 5.15-16)

"Then their seed is to be known among the goyim (peoples), and their offspring, amidst the kindreds; all of their visionaries shall recognize them, because they are the seed that Yahweh has blessed. I will be utterly joyful in Yahweh, my soul shall be exuberant in my God, for He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation; He shall cloak me with the jacket of righteousness like a groom shall officiate-with a-turban and like a bride shall bejewel herself with her things. For as the land shall issue her plant and as her garden shall grow her seedling, so Yahweh shall grow righteousness and praise in front of all of the peoples." Isaiah 61: 9-11

This portion begins on a note of rapturous exultation in the restoration of Isra'el after their long exile. Just as a seed must "fall to the ground and die" (John 12:24) in order to become reconstituted into newness of life, so will the Isra'el of God, after having been nearly destroyed in the Great Tribulation, be raised to life when they receive their King in the days of His glorious kingdom.

They are the seed which He has planted which will come to maturity for the harvest. Clothed with the garments of salvation and righteousness, Messiah is pictured officiating in His High-Priestly role (bedecked in His priestly robes and 'turban') bringing the bride into her glory as Malachi prophesied "They shall be Mine .. .. On the day that I make them My jewels" (Malachi 3:17) The Bride, the Lamb's wife is described in Revelation 21 as illuminated with the glory of God as of the splendour of many precious jewels.

“For Zion’s Sake, I will not keep silent... (62: 1) ” Zion is the focal point of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. It is believed that Yahweh began the creation of the universe there, which would mean that the very dust of Mt. Moriah was used to create Adam. Indeed, it was in Jerusalem that Abraham met with Malkhi-Tzedek (Gen 14:18; Heb 7:1) and afterward offered Isaac upon Mt. Moriah (Gen 22:1-19).

King David made Jerusalem the capital of Isra'el (2 Sam 24:18-25), and the First Temple was built there (1 Kings 6-8; 2 Chron 3:1-2). Zerubbabel and Nehemiah built the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4-6) which King Herod later remodeled. And of course by means of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection from the dead, the Messiah performed His sacrificial work there also. Before the great celebration occurs, however, there is the ominous vision of Yahweh judging the nations during the time of the Great Tribulation. After this, paradise is restored, and Jerusalem is made the praise of all the earth. This is the climax of redemptive history, when “all Isra'el will be saved.”