9 Av 5776 דְּבָרִים, ט” אב, תשע”ו פרשת
Devarim is the fifth book of the Torah and In Latin it is called Deuteronomy from deutero – nomio or second law. The Hebrew word devarim means the “words” referring to the words that Moshe spoke to his people. It has certain peculiarities when compared with the other four books which bring much cause for discussion among our sages. As I have said many times before, the Torah is not to be taken literally but to be looked at as the source of the principles for us to live by. It is the Almighty’s revelation to us. As we continue to study this book, we will hear Moshe telling us to choose life by following the Creator’s Torah. It was not only for that generation that stood at the base of Mount Sinai but it also for those of us who would follow it right up until today.
Listen carefully! The Torah is NOT a Jewish book rather it is a universal book for all the nations of the world. Israel was called to be the conduit to bring its light to everyone. Sadly today it is taught that only Israel and Jewish people have the right to this book. The two major religions Orthodox Judaism and Christianity both teach almost the same thing about the Torah. One teaches that the Gentiles do not need to keep the Torah in any way; that it is only for the Jews while the other teaches that their followers are no longer under the “curse of the Law”. Imagine! They are now under grace and have been given a better Torah. Both are wrong; this is simply not what the Scriptures teach. Even though they say that God does not change, yesterday today and forever, their teachings espouse the exact opposite understanding. The prophet Bilaam under the Creator‘s inspiration said that He is not a man who changes His mind.
This book is not considered by certain groups to be part of the Torah but as an extra book written by Moshe which encapsulates the other four where the Creator had spoken to Moshe who was directed to tell the people. Here it says that these are the words that Moshe himself spoke to us. We will find many new commandments including the Mitzvot- the Commandments, the Chukkim- the Ordinances and the Mishpatim- the Judgments or legalities. These divisions are like those in the Ten Commandments written in Exodus 20 which are repeated in chapter 5 with certain differences from those. For example, Exodus tells us that we are to “remember” – zachor – זָכוֹר the Sabbath while here in Devarim Moshe writes to observe – shomer – שָׁמוֹר the Shabbat. This is why it has become a tradition to light two Shabbat candles on Friday night, one to remember and the other to observe. This gives reason to those who criticize the Scriptures saying that these are contradictions. I disagree since they are simply different viewpoints or ways of expressing the same scenario.
Now Moshe would be speaking to a new generation, the ones who would enter the Promised Land. Many of you as parents with small children at one time or another had to leave them alone in the hands of a baby-sitter or older sibling. I am certain that you left plenty of instructions, everything you could think of, in order to make sure that they would be safe and sound. Moshe did the same thing. He knew that he was leaving to be with his forefathers and that his children would be on their own. Even though he trusted in the Creator and knew Joshua, he wanted them to know what had happened to their parents. However history repeats itself and we tend to keep making the same mistakes of our parents. Moshe wanted to give them the tochecha, the warnings or admonitions about what would happen to them when they were disobedient. As we say, “Forewarned is forearmed.”
The Ten Commandments are sufficient for us to live a good life but Moshe would not only repeat what he had spoken of before but he would also bring some new commandments while leaving out some others. It is impossible to write it all down. Our sages say that this is how the Sheve al Peh, the Oral Torah was formulated; that they were a compilation of the spoken teachings of Moshe which were not written down until much later even after the destruction of the second Temple. The religious establishment added many things in order to elevate themselves to an importance that they didn’t actually have. We in this community are not too popular because we are swimming against the current. We are questioning the religious establishment who have usurped the authority of the Creator. Don’t get me wrong; we are not against authority. We can see that the Torah had given authority to certain people such as the judges who would fight for justice within the community. However, we need to be careful not to institute new rules and regulations but that we follow what our Creator has already revealed to us and established within His Torah. This is being Shomer Torah, keepers of the Torah. When there is a dispute between two people and you have been given the authority to be the mediator and judge, you need to listen to both sides objectively. After you have heard both sides, you need to measure the reason and validity of the facts presented. Today however the law has to deal with the precedence that has been previously set down even if it is faulty. That is why our legal system is bogged down with volumes of precedence which outweighs the truth.
Moshe was teaching the people that they needed to continue what the Creator had begun with the previous generation and to follow the principles that He set down for them or they would be destroyed as a nation. It is always important for me to apply His principles for today. Although thousands of years have passed since that first appropriation of the Promised Land and our dispersion, we are finally back in the Land. It is a miracle even though the surrounding peoples today do not like it. The tiny state of Israel is there to stay despite the fact that most of the world is against them. We need to ask ourselves why there exists this free hatred against them.
Israel will never be destroyed by the nations who are outside but Israel can be destroyed from within especially because Israel as a people is so divided today. Moshe was looking for unity and was trying to teach them respect and reverence for the Torah. Today Israel is tired of being a unique nation similar to the time of King Shaul when they wanted a king in order to be like the other nations. Israel still wants to be like the other nations and forgets that we have been called for a higher purpose.
Each one of us may ask what we are doing here. Is this our place? Yes you have called here from your own free will. Most come from different backgrounds and now find yourselves being challenged in every aspect of your life and your way of thinking. The prophet Isaiah said…”my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” We have a United Nations right here and this can cause difficulty in understanding each other. He didn’t say, “My house is a house of prayer only for the Jewish people or for the Ashkenazim.” Are we bringing other nations to the Torah? Sadly our lives can be a stumbling block for others to come to the Torah. This is what Moshe Rabeinu was trying to warn us against. He mentions all the wrongdoings that their fathers had done so that they wouldn’t repeat them. Our nature however is to do the opposite. Can we learn from the mistakes of our forefathers and be renewed? Many here have come from different backgrounds, with various doctrines and dogmas and here you are being challenged. You are being challenged to think for yourselves instead of allowing others to think for you. Don’t be lazy…think and act and be responsible for what the Creator has given to you. Just because you learned one way doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in that way of thinking. Religions love to censor you in order to keep you blinded. Yeshua said to know the Truth, the Creator and He would cleanse you from anything that keeps you from having a direct relationship with Him. The one, two, three steps don’t bring us closer to Him. We expend so much effort to try and learn the mysteries that He has not revealed to us. We will see in this book that the Creator has revealed what He wants us to know and that which He has not revealed is not for us to know.
This process of being obedient is what we need to learn. The word “shema” which is translated as listen or hear Israel in “shema Israel” has more the meaning of obey. Obey the True Creator since He is the only One. That is what our Messiah Yeshua wanted for us to do, to return to the Torah. Those who called themselves Yeshua’s followers taught that he destroyed the Torah. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most refuse to read what he really said and prefer instead to believe the false press. It is similar to what is happening in the elections of the US. The journalists play to the perception of the people twisting the truth and reality. Today the journalists are known as the fourth power of the nation after the congress, the legislative, the justice and the administrative systems. Sadly they work to mold the minds of the people who believe more what is written in the newspapers than what is written in the Torah. It is time for us to look at what Moshe was doing with this generation before he left and apply it for today. He is warning us not to do certain things for our own good. We cannot complain and blame God for them; we are the ones at fault. The nation of Israel will always be at the center of the world’s attention because it is the only nation that has been called directly by the Creator to be a light to the rest of the nations.
In this portion we read how Moshe was speaking to the people about the promises that the Creator gave to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Once He promises something they are forever and they were given in spite of us. He is not a wishy-washy God as some of us believe and He doesn’t need to be defended by us. If that were the case, He would be very small indeed. Moshe was not defending Him rather he was telling us that if we don’t follow His Word, we would suffer the consequences. When the Lord tells us not to do something, it is not because He wants to punish us but because He wants to protect us. If we disobey we are on our own and reap the harvest of our disobedience. He loves us but we act destructively when we disobey. Moshe was begging his people not to deviate from the path as their forefathers did. Let us not repeat the same mistakes.
I look forward as this community goes through the process of renewal. We need to look positively upon what our upcoming challenges are. No one is more important than anyone else. Do not confuse roles with importance. Each role is important. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If one link is broken the chain is broken. We are each a link who needs to follow our Creator and our rabbi Messiah Yeshua who was an example of someone who was dedicated to keeping the Torah. He is our greatest example of shomer Torah.