Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Va'etchanan

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Va’Etchanan - And I Pleaded Deuteronomy3:23-7:11

This section of the torah begins with a reiteration of Moses’ plea to Yahweh to let him cross into the promised land with the children of Israel. We know that his plea was rejected and Yahweh instead orders him to strengthen Yehoshua and embolden him. That does not refer to encouraging him with words, but to building up military strength and ensuring that Yehoshua develops a bold and aggressive strategy for taking the land, “for he shall cross over before this kinfolk” leading them into battle. Moshe has prepared and trained Yehoshua beforehand to assume the leadership, and is now instructed to pass on the ‘baton’ and equip Yehoshua for the task ahead, of leading Israel in conquering the land.

The overwhelming theme of Va’aetchanan or “And I Pleaded” is obedience to Yahweh. In this portion, Moshe reemphasizes the need for the Israelites to obey Yahweh and be blessed, or not obey Him and be cursed. Certainly, as he writes, Moshe is reminded of his own mistake and urges the Israelites not to disobey, lest they be ejected from the Promised Land.

The Re-iteration of the Law

What Moses clearly understood in repeating and emphasizing all of these commandments to the children of Israel just before they were to cross into the land, is that Yahweh’s ways are superior to any man-made laws or rules, and he wanted to ensure that his words made a deep impression upon them. Life and authority over wickedness are the very essence of our Father’s Torah. Yahweh revealed His law to Israel for their benefit and edification. When they followed His ways they were blessed. When they went their own way, or followed the practices of the nations around them, they were cursed.

We read in Deut. 4:1-2, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and to the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that you may live, and go in and possess the land which Yahweh, the Elohim of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yahweh your Elohim which I command you.”

The rest of this section deals with the laws, statues, and ordinances Israel was to abide by once they entered into their promised inheritance. There are two benefits Israel will reap by doing the statutes and ordinances of Yahweh.

Firstly they will live. Remember what Deut. 8:3 says, “.....man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Yahweh does man live.” The very words of our Elohim are life to us. It’s a promise we see put forth many times in the inspired scriptures.

The second benefit to the Israelites for keeping the words of Yahweh was that they would possess the land He was giving to them. Israel was going into a land that already had a population of various nations and peoples. Yahweh promised them that they would be able to drive out these wicked nations if they would follow His words. The Bible testifies of Israel’s many successes and failures in this regard.

Moshe counsels them to hearken to the statutes (khuqim) and to the commandments (mishpatim) which I Myself teach you, to do so in order that you shall live, i.e. be quickened to life. ( takhayu, the hiphil, means “your lives shall be restored - enlivened or resurrected) His Words are life-giving to those who live by them and hence the warning not to change them by adding or taking from them. Moshe puts upon the words which he has delivered to Israel the seal of perfection and prohibits any additions or subtractions from it (4.2) — “Don’t add to the Saying which I myself order (metzaveh)you as a commandment (mitzwah), and don’t diminish from it; but be watchguarding (shomeir) the commandment of Yahweh your God that I Myself order you.” (literal interpretation) Not one additional word was to be thereafter legislated nor one word of original Torah thereafter eliminated. Henceforth the adaptation of application to situations of life called “halakhah” was limited to the interpretation of earlier legislations of the Torah as by a Beit Din, the governing body of elders such as the Sanhedrin.

Learning From Experience

Finally, in 4:32-39, Moshe summarizes all the great wonders that the nation has witnessed since the Exodus, to encourage them to solidify their belief in God - and properly face the challenges that await them: “For ask now of the days past... since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Has God ever taken a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm... “This was shown to you that you should know that Yahweh, He is God; there is none else beside Him. Out of heaven He made you hear His voice... “And because He loved your fathers... he brought you out of Egypt with His presence, with great power... to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day; Therefore, know this day, and lay it to your heart, that Yahweh, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.” (see 4:32-39)

This speech introduces the lengthy speech of laws that will follow in chapter five and Moshe reminds them: “And you shall keep [God’s] laws and commandments which I command you this day, that it will be good for you and your children, and so that you may prolong your days upon the land, which Yahweh has given you, for ever.” (see 4:40)

The Judgement on Idolatry

In the final section of his speech (4:25-40), Moshe warns that should Bnei Yisrael follow other gods, He will exile them for their land: “When you shall have children, and children’s children, and be living for along time in the land, and shall deal corruptly, and make a graven image, even the form of any thing.... I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land.... And God will scatter you among the peoples... And there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands...” (see 4:25-28) “But from there you will seek Yahweh your God and you will find him if you search for him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).

Moshe is speaking prophetically here making it quite clear that the covenant will not be broken but in being ‘forsaken’ by Yahweh because of their sin - that their exile could be ‘misunderstood’ by the people that God has left them for ever. Hence, Moshe must explain in 4:29-31 that no matter how severe their punishment may be, Yisrael will remain forever God’s nation His covenant with them remains eternal as well, and ultimately He will return them to the Promised Land after they come to true repentance. “Then you will seek Yahweh and find Him, if you search after Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. In your distress, when all these things will come, in the end of days, you will return to Yahweh and hearken unto His voice... (see 4:29-31) “In the latter days you will return to Yahweh your God” --

This has yet to have its complete fulfillment. This is alluding to them coming to full repentance and restoration and fulfilling the Shema -- “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength (ability).” (6: 5) “With all your soul” - This means being willing to give one’s life in love for him and to live only for him. “With all your ability” - The Hebrew word that is normally translated as “might” is “meodecha”, which does not only mean “your might”, but also “your ability”, “your possessions”, and it comes from the word “meod”, “much”. This word is not primarily speaking of physical strength, but of all that we are and have, which also includes material possessions. Love for the Eternal is also expressed in the way we administer our material possessions, but love always begins on the inside from our heart and works its way out in all that we do.

The Ten Commands

In Hebrew tradition, a thing is encompassed by the mere speaking of it. This is derived from the description that Yahweh spoke things into being. He said “Let there be ... “ and it was so (Genesis Ch 1). Hence, it would also be quite correct to render this phrase as the “Ten Matters” that Yahweh ordered as commands (mitzwot) in that these ten “matters” are that which He spoke into being and they are ten entities which He created.

Yeshua said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63), Paul also carrying this forward said that the Torah (given at Sinai) is spiritual (Romans 7:14). These ten words of Yahweh impart life to those who live by them.

The first of the Aseret ha-Dibrot is “You shall have no other gods before Me (al-panai; on/over My Face) (5: 7). This phrase is an Hebrew idiom meaning “on the surface of.” This phrase implies that physical likenesses of the non-physical Creator are like a mask, “over His Face,” that intervenes between the worshipper and Yahweh. Since Yahweh is spirit, those who insist on a physical semblance to worship, have only the mask (the image), the only physical thing they can visualize and “focus on” to worship.

No matter what the worshipper may claim that the physical image “symbolizes,” it is idolatry. No physical mask can symbolize the non-dimensional Being of Yahweh. It can only interfere and prevent the worship of the true God. In 4:12 Moshe said to the people, “Yahweh spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice.” The Hebrew word that is translated “form” is “temunah”, which means “picture”, “figure”, “image”, “silhouette”, “impression”. This teaches us that Yahweh does not have a form perceptible to our physical senses.

5.8 - Making a ‘likeness’ -- A 2-dimensional depiction or a picture isn’t equivalent to a “likeness” ( temunah). Early Judaic practice is that, as long as depictions or pictures weren’t objects of worship, 2-dimensional representations of actual things in the heavens or on earth aren’t prohibited by this passage. The prohibited images are those that are, or have been, worshipped - but not all pictures, photographs, paintings, sculptures and the like, are idols.

We can ask ourselves some questions to see if we have any other gods in our lives: Who rules my life? Who or what is the source of my enjoyment in life? Who or what do I place my trust in? What is my passion or interest in life? Who do I praise?

5.9 — “Who visits the sins...” -- “Visits” is not a good rendering of the Hebrew word ‘poqeid’ (he musters, monitors, audits). Contrary to the English, this doesn’t imply that sons are punished for the misdemeanors of the fathers. Rather, it states clearly that, like a concerned Father, Yahweh especially monitors, not “punishes,” sons for the misdemeanors their fathers did. So it has the sense of Yahweh monitoring the posterity to see that the offspring don’t follow the parent’s example in that trespass.

5:11 — “Do not bear the Name of Yahweh your God vainly, for Yahweh will not cleanse whomever bears His Name vainly.” “Don’t take the name...,” as if it meant “Don’t cuss using the Name.” But, although that would be included, that isn’t what the it means! This has two meanings:

1. swearing by the name of Yahweh was an intrinsic element of testifying in a Beit Din (Elders Council) or today in a court of law - i.e. giving testimony as a witness.

2. doing something in the name of Yahweh entails crediting Yahweh for an action, such as claiming His direction in what you do. When a “believer” is doing nothing - i.e. not practicing the faith, and he or she bears the Name of Yahweh, that’s bearing/carrying the Name is for nothing, in vain. Since one who carries the name is not living/practicing the Word, he isn’t “cleansed,” and therefore forfeits his inheritance in the age to come, unless he repents. Yahweh’s command “Do not mention My name in vain,” in a sense means “Do not exploit My ‘name’ “ - by religion - as a means of justification for your iniquities. Do not attempt to cover them up with a veil of righteousness and virtue. Therefore when people are led to follow the teachings of man, they also are worshipping Him in vain, for their ‘worship’ will have no redemptive value, even if well-intentioned. For this reason Yeshua strongly condemned those false teachers of His day who were leading the people astray. Matthew15.9 quoting from Isaiah 29:13

5:12 - Resting one day a week makes sense to many people, since even a machine needs rest, and how much more so a human body. Moreover, thanks to the rest period, the person functions better when he works, compensating for any loss caused by the day of rest. While this makes sense, Shabbat was not given to Yahweh’s people as a mere day off. In the wilderness the Jews did not have to work to earn a livelihood since their food and all basic needs were provided. Nonetheless, at Marah, Yahweh already gave them the commandment of Shabbat before He gave them the totality of His Torah. There is a twofold purpose for the observance of Shabbat: 1) To remind us that Yahweh created the entire world in six days and rested on the seventh. 2) To remind us that we were freed from Egyptian and spiritual bondage by Yahweh in order to keep His commands.

To keep entails having an attitude of watchfulness, of not doing anything that the Torah forbids for Shabbat. We are watchful not to go over the time with our work and not to begin work before the sun has gone down at the end of the Shabbat. In this way we can keep the Shabbat and be careful not to profane it. By this we make sure that it is consecrated, set apart for the exclusive use of Yahweh and occupy ourselves with Him in a special way. 5:20 -- “And don’t answer your companion with a nothing / vain witness, unreliable testimony”. This command prohibits falsely claiming “I didn’t see it” to evade one’s responsibility as a witness. This also involves turning a blind eye to your brother’s sin and failing to correct him out of your love for him.

5:21 -- “and don’t yearn for the wife of your companion. The operative verb here is khamad; he yearned for, longed for, desired, lusted after sexually; (and don’t you long for) the house of your companion. In this mitzwah, the operative verb is (ivah; he craved, desired, longed for, lusted after). Here the prohibition is not against admiring something belonging to your companion, but rather, against being obsessed with it and plotting or scheming to get it. “And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart.” (5: 6) - we are responsible for the Word to be in our heart and therefore the performing of the commands to come forth from our hearts out of love for Yahweh God.

Hearing the Word in our Heart

Yeshua gave the parable of the Sower in Mark 4:3-20, and explained it to them with these words “The farmer sows the word. These are the ones by the road, where the word is sown; and when they have heard, immediately Satan comes, and takes away the word which has been sown in them. These in like manner are those who are sown on the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with joy. They have no root in themselves, but are short-lived. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they stumble. Others are those who are sown among the thorns. These are those who have heard the word, and the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. These are those which were sown on the good ground: such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, some thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times.'"(HNV)

In verse 3, the Messiah says, “Listen!” (shema), which hails from the “Shema” (6: 4-9) and he ends with the words, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear”. He points out the importance of listening, just as Moshe does in the Shema text. In verse 20, it is written, “These are those which were sown on the good ground: such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, some thirty times, some sixty times, and some one hundred times."(HNV)

The great mystery in the Kingdom is to receive the seed that the farmer sows. The ground is man, who was once made from the dust of the earth. Depending on how the seed enters the ground, it will bear fruit. The great mystery of the Kingdom is to make sure that the Torah enters into the depths of the heart. According to this parable, there are four kinds of people:

1. Those who are like the road - who are hard around their hearts so that the seed cannot enter. The roads that existed at that time had been made by people walking on them many times. The more people walked on the road, the harder it became. The traditions of men are, therefore, the first hindrance to receiving the seed into the heart. We are used to walking where everyone walks, and we do not want to make the changes that the Torah demands, so satan comes and removes the precious seed.

2. Those who have rocks - who have a positive, receptive attitude in their minds, but in their innermost being, are obstacles and objections and they are not willing to change its lifestyle. They like to listen and they receive the word with great emotion, but when the moment of truth comes and there is persecution because of the Torah, they pull back since they are only looking for pleasure and do not want to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom.

3. Those who have thorns - who have heard and obeyed the Torah, but are more interested in the things of this world than the Kingdom. They seek to fulfill their own desires, the cares of this life consume them, rather than the desires of the heavenly Father. With time they loose the zeal for the Kingdom because they are more interested in what will bring short term pleasure than in obeying the commandments, which will produce greater long term pleasure.

4. Those who are good soil - who hear the Torah and receive it with all of its consequences, with inner conflicts and persecution from the outside. They allow the Torah to penetrate deep into their hearts and adapt their lives according to its teaching, in spite of the pain that comes because of it. They are not temporary, but they last and with time there will be a lovely result because of their faithfulness to the Word that was sown inside of them. They give harvest on three different levels, which shows us that there are three different kinds of people who are faithful to the Kingdom.

In Mark 4:24, it is written, “Take heed what you hear."(HNV) The secret of the Kingdom is to put the Torah in our hearts. We can find the same thing in Mark 4:26-28, where it is written, “He said, ‘The Kingdom of God is as if a man should cast seed on the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he doesn’t know how. For the earth bears fruit: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear."(HNV revised)

When you have succeeded in getting the seed down into your heart, you will have a unique experience. The seed will bear fruit on its own. You are not the one who must produce fruit in your life; the Torah will produce fruit on its own. Your worry is not whether or not you will bear fruit, but how you will get the seed down into your heart. The rest will come by itself.

How much fruit do you want in your life? Thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold? It depends on the measure of seed you manage to put into your heart, as it is written in Mark 4:24b, “With whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you, and more will be given to you who hear."(HNV)

How are we to deposit the seeds into our hearts? The Shema answers this question: “you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (5: 7) This is instructing us to constantly relate everything in life to the Torah, every minute of every day, from the moment you arise to the moment you go to bed. The next verse goes on to bind them as a sign upon your hand and between your eyes and on your door-posts. This is identifying everything we do and everything we are and all our possessions as belonging to Yahweh for all the world to see, i.e. nothing which gives an appearance of evil or unrighteousness. It involves giving a clear testimony to what we are before the world, labelling ourselves as observant followers of the Most High God, either by fulfilling the commands literally and/or by lifestyle.

Wearing Tefillin

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” (Deuteronomy 6:8) This statute has been traditionally interpreted as the law of tefillin (phylacteries). Tefillin consist of small, hollow, black leather boxes that contain several parchments of relevant Scripture verses: Exodus 13:1–10; 13:11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. The small black boxes are bound on the arm and forehead by means of long, black leather straps, thus literally fulfilling the commandment of binding the Torah on the hand and the forehead.

The Master criticized certain Pharisees for broadening their tefillin, but it should go without saying that the Master Himself wore tefillin. In the days of the Master, the straps of the tefillin were far less encumbering than the modern version, and they were worn all day long. During the Hadrianic persecutions in the Second Century CE, Rome outlawed the wearing of tefillin. During those days, “Many Jews risked their lives in order to wear tefillin.” (b.Shabbat 130a) As a result, Jews began wearing tefillin only during the morning prayers, a practice which continues to this day. The tefillin boxes bear the Hebrew letter shin ש, a sign indicating God’s Name. This has a connection with those passages of Revelation which speak of the saints who bear God’s Name upon their foreheads and the wicked who take the name of the beast on their arm and forehead. There is some argument over whether the commandment of tefillin was meant to be taken literally, or if it is just a figurative language. In the Near East, it was once common for blood covenant partners to exchange amulet-like pouches which contained tokens, or even full copies, of their covenant obligations to one another. These were worn as bracelets or necklaces. The commandment of tefillin is consistent with that ancient ritual, especially when one considers the rabbinic tradition that God Himself has ‘tefillin’ with Israel’s name on them. In that sense, the tefillin are similar to wedding rings. In fact, while a Jew winds the black leather straps for tefillin of the hand about his middle finger like a ring, he recites the betrothal passage from the book of Hosea: “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, a I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know Yahweh.” (Hosea 2:19–20) The binding on of tefillin is a tangible, ritual reminder of our obligation to bind God’s commandments on our very lives. God’s Word is to be between our eyes, filtering all that we see and think. It is to be bound on our hands, weighing all that we set our hands to do.

Stewards of the Counsel of God

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as Yahweh my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is Yahweh our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole Torah which I am setting before you today?

Being that the Torah comes from God it must contain the wisdom of God. Moshe tells the Israelites that if they keep God’s commandments and His Torah that they will become a very wise and understanding people. They will become so wise that the heathen nations around them will say, “What other nation is as wise and prudent as this!” (New Living Translation). This is something extremely important to grasp, Yahweh tells us that if we want to be wise, and have the heathen astonished at us, that we must obey His commandments. If we obey His commandments, then those outside of us will see how blessed we are and will hopefully want to enter in. They will want to know why we are blessed and it should give us the chance to minister the good news of Yeshua. Those that would reject His Torah and keeping its commandments demonstrate that they are not wise, and don’t desire to be a real witness to others. As individual Believers empowered by the Holy Spirit and who want to emulate Messiah Yeshua, we have a serious responsibility to be that example and that light to other people.

The keeping and doing of God’s commands were to be the wisdom and understanding of Israel in the eyes of the nations” History has confirmed this. Not only did the wisdom of a Solomon astonish the queen of Sheba (1Ki 10:4), but the divine truth which Israel possessed in the law of Moshe attracted all the more earnest minds of the heathen world to seek the satisfaction of the inmost necessities of their heart and the salvation of their souls in Israel’s knowledge of God.” The Torah is the source of all that His people need to keep close to Him. When they took their eyes off the Torah they wandered around and lost sight of God.

Moses reminds the sons of Israel that they were a small number of people but that Yahweh separated out a people chosen by Him to be His possession among the nations of the earth. The Almighty made an oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that He is bound to keep so that His Name will be glorified (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). We need to be those faithful bearers of the light to the rest of the world. We tend to take Yahweh lightly because we can not see Him. Seeing is believing to many, but if that is what God desired, I am sure He would have done it. When Yeshua came 2,000 years ago and walked the earth He was God in the flesh and yet most of mankind saw Him but did not believe in Him. Yet the remnant that did, held fast to their faith and spread the truth of Yeshua throughout the world. Yeshua is the heart, soul and spirit of Scripture because He is the living Word of His Father.

We need to search the Torah, as well as the New Covenant scriptures, to find ways we can please our Father and reap the blessings He has in store for us. Sometimes following the seemingly most insignificant commandments may bless us in ways we can’t imagine and give us fullness of life. May you be blessed as you search His word and follow His ways.