16 Av 5782
Why do we make things so complicated?
Do listen to the recorded message, click on: https://youtu.be/5r2RGlwTI7o
I can’t tell you how excited I was as I was reading this portion, Vaetchanan. It’s a long one but it is such an important message for us today. I could hear Moshe’s desperation; first, as he was pleading with the Creator to let him go into the Promised Land and later as he was reminding his people about being “am segullah”, a treasured people, chosen by the Bore Olam. That means that we are not to be like the other nations but to be an example to them so that they would say: “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there, that has their God so near to them, as the LORD our God is, whenever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances as righteous as all this Torah which I set before you this day?” (Deut. 4:6-8) This Torah was not meant to be exclusively for us; it was so that all the nations would come to “know” our God, the One and only Creator. How different the world would be today if that were the case!
As I continued reading, the words jumped out of the page at me as if I could see myself standing there at the mountain, listening to God’s voice thundering from the heavens. What made us not want to listen? What made us say “we will do, and we will obey”, but then we didn’t? What makes us prefer to hold onto Egypt, to our past, and not be willing to move forward? It seems that the more I read the Torah, the more questions I have and the fewer answers. It’s so frustrating because I know that my life needs to be an example for others to follow and yet I sometimes, fold under that pressure; but then I remember that I am only human that God is in control, that I just need to trust Him in all things, and to simply put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. When I speak to others about my experiences that brought me to “know” this wonderful God, most people can’t relate to them; we all need to learn from our own experiences. That should take the pressure off my shoulders and put it where it belongs, in God’s Hands. But just as Moses felt desperate, I too feel desperate especially when I see what is happening in our world today. There’s war again in Israel, there are wars all over the world – and the worst wars are those against the soul, against our moral values and our freedom. The solution seems so simple to me as it must have seemed to Moses, but it looks like on this side of eternity, suffering is an integral part of our growth; unless we suffer, we will never know true joy, unless we feel the heat of the day, we won’t appreciate the coolness of the evening.
Why do we make things so complicated? I think that if we just read the Torah, that should be enough, but it isn’t. Each of us needs a touch from our Creator to open our spiritual eyes. What is it about our nature that makes us fight and rail against the Creator who only wants the best for us? It’s possible to have a superficial relationship with life, with the people around us, and still think that we are happy, but true joy and shalom come from a place deep within our soul, a place that is connected to the Divine.
What makes some people get so caught up in this material world? What they’re going to eat, what they’re going to wear, who they’re going to see, where they’re going to go, to the point that they can’t see beyond their nose. The scriptures say they have ears, but they cannot hear, and they have eyes, but they cannot see. Speaking to them about the Torah accomplishes nothing. Our Rabbi Yeshua, like Moshe, desperately wanted our people to see and hear. In his sermon on the mount, Yeshua told us not to worry about what we wear or what we’re going to eat because our heavenly father knows it all. Yeshua was always pointing us back to the Creator, back to basic Torah but how many people even listened back then? They wanted signs and wonders, healing, and miracles, but simple obedience was never part of their plan. When Yeshua told us to go out into the world to make disciples, talmidim, students, I believe that he was speaking about those who already had their eyes and ears opened by our Bore Olam. Only He can do that.
Biblical Judaism is not a religion like Christianity, Islam, and even Rabbinic Judaism. Our love for the Torah makes us want to be an example instead of wanting to convert others to manmade rules. When I was involved in Christianity, I struggled with the idea that a man can be God. I had seen this in many of the religions and ideologies that I had sought out in my younger years. Moshe wasn’t telling us to obey the 613 ordinances quoted by our sages, nor was he pointing to the New Testament, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita or the teachings of the Buddha. God made it very clear in Deut. 4: 15 – 19: “Therefore take good heed to yourselves–for you saw no manner of form on the day that the LORD spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire– lest you corrupt yourselves, and make an engraved image, the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, any winged fowl that flies in the heavens, of anything that creeps on the ground, of any fish in the water; and lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon and the stars, all the hosts of heaven, you be drawn away and worship and serve them, which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” Religions have so many statues and pictures of their gods; there is pantheism and astrology from which we are told, here, to stay away. THERE IS ONLY ONE CREATOR, one Torah for all, and Moshe warned us “Do not add to the WORD which I command you nor take away from it so that you may keep the Mitzvot which I command you.” When religious leaders impose upon us their rules, their regulations, their words that our God did not tell Moshe to write in His Torah, aren’t they in direct opposition to His words?
In Chap 4: 26, Moshe calls two witnesses, heaven and earth to witness against us; that if we fail, we will perish from the land that He was giving us and “would be scattered among the nations and be left few in number”. Look at the nations today that are as ancient as Israel – India has 1.38 billion people; China has 1.4 billion, yet the Jewish people remain at only 14.8 million. His Word is true! It continues with “And there you shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God; and you shall find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul. And what drives us to search for Him…? Chapter 4: 30: “In your distress, when all these things have come upon you, in the end of days, you will return to the LORD your God, and listen (shamat) to His voice;” The people didn’t want to listen to His voice that day when they stood at the base of Mt. Sinai. It was too much for them. Most people today still don’t want to listen to anything about Him, including our friends or family. But here is what Moshe said in 4:32 “For ask now about the past, long before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven to the other, whether there has been any such thing as this great thing is, or has been heard like it? 33 Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? 34 Or has God tried to go and take 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, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is none else beside Him.”
In Chapter 5, Moshe repeats the most important elements in our relationship with our Creator…”Shema Israel el hachukkim v’el ha mishpatim, שְׁמַע אֶל-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶל-הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים. Now, listen, hear, pay attention to the chukkim, the statutes which are referring to the middle two commandments, about Shabbat and honoring our father and mother, and the mishpatim, the ordinances referring to the last 5 commandments, so that we can “DO” them, so that we may LIVE. The words Edut (testimony), Mitzvot, Chukkim, and Mishpatim are repeated and repeated in this portion to try to knock them into our stubborn heads. They refer to the Ten Sayings, Assarat Hadibrot. In chapter 5, Moshe repeats what lies at the heart of all that God wanted for His people to do and to teach others: 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers alone, but with us, we who are all here alive this day (that includes you and me). 29 You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”
In chapter 6, Moshe gives us the Shema, a prayer that we Jews have kept close to our hearts wherever we have been scattered, and we have been repeating for thousands of years. Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד שְׁמַע. Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is ONE and followed by the Ahavta. Rabbi Yeshua summed up the Ten Commandments using this prayer. We are to love the LORD our God with all our hearts, soul, and our resources and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Learning to love ourselves is a full-time job but unless we do, we cannot love others. Love isn’t a feeling, it’s about loyalty and commitment to serve others, and it takes hard work. As we step into the role that we are each given to fulfill in a community, despite our faults and weaknesses, as we use the gifts and talents that He built into us, our light shines out to others and our gifts increase. Let’s not compare our gifts with others but be happy with what we’ve been given. If you don’t know what they are, ask others who spend time with you…and then don’t say “YES BUT”!
And in 6: 20 “When your son asks you in times to come: ‘What do the testimonies (edut) mean and the statutes (Chukkim), and the ordinances (Mishpatim), which the LORD our God has commanded you?” How can our children ask us, if we don’t tell them the story that is at the foundation of our people, the Exodus Story at Pesach with its promises by God to never leave us nor forsake us; with its picture that no matter how difficult our lives can be in a foreign land, our God is with us (Im-anu-El).
“And the LORD commanded us to do all these chukkim, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might sustain us with life, as it is at this day.” What are the chukkim? To observe the Shabbat and to honor our parents. God doesn’t need us to observe them for Him; they are for our good so that it will go well with us. Are things going well for you? Perhaps it’s time to examine our behavior in respect to His commandments. When we read the Torah, we are learning from the best, and when we observe, when we do, what’s in the Torah, we are doing the best that we can for our lives and those around us.
What does that look like practically? Keeping His Ten Commandments is hard work. It’s a constant battle with our nature, and in the same way that God gave us the land, we had to work hard to attain it. God gave us His Commandments, but it takes willingness, and for Him and ourselves, along with the effort to keep them. He wants us to love mercy, love justice, love truth, help widows, take care of orphans and the elderly, those who cannot help themselves. It takes us out of our comfort zones” but remember “we are not alone”; whatever we do, we do in partnership with our Creator. That’s Powerful!
In Vaetchanan, Moshe was reminding us that our ancestors stood before the LORD God in Horeb, (Mount Sinai) telling us to come together to hear His words so that we could learn to fear, to revere, to honor God all the days that we live upon the earth and to teach our children to do the same. That’s our calling during all our days on this beautiful gift of a planet.