My Way or God’s Way?
As I read Deuteronomy 29 and 30 in Parashat Nitzavim, I stood back in order to see the bigger picture, as our rabbi taught us, and it occurred to me that these verses hold the key to understanding the entire Torah. Throughout the 40 years in the wilderness, God repeated this message to Moses who wrote it down for posterity, for us, to absorb it, obey it and live it. The Torah holds the formula within the guidelines, for how to gauge Ultimate Truth…not my truth. It was meant for all humanity, not just for the Jews, whether we believe it or not, and how sad is it that so few want to hear it? I thought “How could I possibly find the words to better express Moshe’s message than what he himself wrote and how can we apply it to our lives today?
So, please bear with me as I read these passages to you and let’s listen to the heart of Moshe as if he is speaking directly to us. We begin in Deuteronomy 29: 9-15: “You stand (nitzavim) this day, all of you, before your God יהוה —the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officials, every man in Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp from the those who chop your wood to those who draw your water, that you should enter into the covenant of your God יהוה, into His oath, which your God יהוה is taking with you this day, to establish you as God’s people and to be your God, as He promised you and swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its warnings, not with you alone, not only with those who are standing here with us today before our God יהוה but with those who are not with us here this day.”
Who was God speaking about? The Creator of the Universe was making a pact, a covenant between Him and the highest level of society to the very least. This had nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the person because we are all equal in His sight, but rather He was referring to their positions in life. As in any agreement, it is bilateral; it includes rules and guidelines to be obeyed to ensure a healthy relationship. It’s like a good marriage. He wasn’t only addressing those standing there that day, but it was also for the generations to follow throughout the centuries, to you and me today.
Verses 15 and 16 continue: “You know very well how we dwelled in the land of Egypt, that we passed through the midst of various other nations, where you have seen their abominations and their idols of wood and stone, silver and gold that were among them.”
How many countries did we, descendants of these ancient Israelites, live in throughout the millennia, where we witnessed what those nations did, abominations that our God hated, but to which we and our children were attracted? Even today, we can see how we and our children are still being drawn into them. We are assimilating to foreign cultures which can be mesmerizing and certainly a lot more fun than these rules and guidelines in the Torah which hold us responsible.
Verses 17 and 18: “Perhaps there is among you some man or woman, some family or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from our God יהוה to go and worship the gods of those nations... When hearing the words of these warnings, they might imagine that they have a special immunity, thinking, ‘I’ll be safe even though I follow my own stubborn heart’, to the utter ruin of moist and dry alike ( i.e., to the utter ruin of everything). יהוה will not spare him. Rather, יהוה’s anger and passion will rage against them, till every curse recorded in this book comes down upon them, and יהוה blots out their name from under heaven.”
I know the results of living life my way, but isn’t it the ideal that is revered in our society… as Frank Sinatra sang, “I Did it My Way”? This attitude is narcissistic and doesn’t allow for a two-way relationship; rather it is a utilitarian one. Our God is not a pocket god that we can pull out whenever we please nor is He a fairy godfather who waves his magic wand and fulfills all our desires. We cry like babies when He doesn’t answer our prayers and then say, “I don’t believe in Him”. But the One who created us knows what we need better than we do, as a loving, mature parent knows what their children need. We may think that the LORD is punishing us or taking revenge upon those who disobey Him like an angry, vengeful god who needs to be appeased, but that is not the case. It’s impossible for us, living in this third dimension, to try to understand the nature of an infinite being, out of time and space and who is Pure Light. He cannot go against His nature. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of such Light.
Verses 20 -27: “And יהוה will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for misfortune, according to all the curses of the covenant recorded in this book of the Torah. And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you, and the foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that יהוהhas inflicted upon that land… and all nations will ask, “Why did יהוה do thus to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?” They will be told, “Because they abandoned the covenant that יהוה, God of their ancestors made with them. After He freed them from the land of Egypt, they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods whom they had not known and whom He had not given to them. So יהוה was incensed at that land and brought upon it all the curses recorded in this book. יהוה uprooted them from their soil in anger, fury, and great indignation, and cast them into another land, as is still the case.”
Our Promised Land lay in ruins for centuries as we were exiled to many other lands until today. Since there is only one God for all, can we apply this as a universal message pertaining to the rest of the world? Is it then any wonder that we have seen “plagues and diseases” hitting everywhere…. because we abandoned the covenant that יהוה, God of our ancestors made with us?
It may seem to be hopeless, but it is not, for Deuteronomy 30: 1-6 says: “When all these things befall you—the blessing and the curse that I have set before you—and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which your God יהוה has banished you, and you return (teshuva) to your God יהוה, and you and your children observe God’s commandments with all your heart and soul, just as I command you this day, then your God יהוה will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where your God יהוה has scattered you.” Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there your God יהוה will gather you, and from there He will fetch you. And your God יהוהwill bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. and He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your ancestors. Then your God יהוה will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring—to love your God יהוה with all your heart and soul, so that you may live.”
My heart was opened here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada after searching for so many years. have had a longing to live in the Land all my life but not as it is today. How much sinat chinam (free hatred), bowing down to foreign gods, superstition, and corruption, do we see in the land that belongs to our God? We are called to be an example to the rest of the world, and how do we do that? We need to return to the Written Torah as we read here in Deut. 29: 28: “The secret things belong to our God יהוה, but those things which are revealed, belong to us and our children forever so that they may do all the words of this Torah.”
Why is it that we have such a yearning for secret things when God gave everything that we need in the Torah? Remember, at this point, there were no other religious books, yet how many people over the centuries have trusted more in those teachings than in this Torah? Of course, there is value in all of them and there is nothing wrong with reading them, but where they don’t agree with or where they eliminate what was written in the Torah, we must question it and reject it for our own good. For didn’t God say in Deut. 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you take anything away from it, that you may keep the commandments (the Ten) of the LORD your God which I command you”? A tradition of man is good when it brings us closer to God, but some traditions tend to lead us away from a true relationship with the God of creation.
These verses in Deut. 30:11-16 are crucial: “Surely, this Torah which I command you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us so that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us, so that we may observe it?’ No, it is very close to you, in your mouth and your heart, so that you may observe it.”
Many Christians told me it is impossible to keep the “law”, but the Torah is not the “law”, it’s a book of instruction and here the opposite is true. Our libraries are filled with self-help books written by gurus and mavens who reveal their secrets on how to live. I’ve read and followed most of them and I did learn from them, but there was always something missing. And after searching everywhere, I finally found it right here in the Torah.
Every day we hear about acts of anti-Semitism, not only in Israel but around the world. The Torah contains the only antidote. We don’t need man-made religions; we need a relationship with the Bore Olam. It may sound like an oxymoron, but the two are very different. God’s Commandments were not meant for self-glorification, for control over others, or making a profit. They are for us to live well, in harmony with each other and with nature on this planet. They call for justice, mercy, and caring for the widow, the orphan and the stranger among us, for those who cannot defend themselves.
Of course, the Torah doesn’t leave us in a state of hopelessness. Deut. 30 ends with the promise of total restoration, well worthwhile reading yourself. Next Shabbat on Yom Teruah (aka Rosh Hashanah), we will listen to the blowing of the shofar, as a reminder that the God of creation is calling out to each of us to search our hearts for the dark places that lie within, that hold us back from walking in HIs light. He will test us and reveal what we need to change. Let’s pray that as the world grows darker, falling into moral decline, because of our disobedience, instead of blaming others, we will choose life as we read in Deut 30:15-16: “See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live— by loving your God יהוה, by heeding God’s Commandments and holding fast to Him. That is how you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that יהוה swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.”
If you think that you’ve blown it, that your life is such a mess that there’s no turning back, that is not the message in the Torah. Our God is a God of beginning again. It is never too late to turn back to Him and His Torah.