Last week I was asked this question by someone who is writing his second book, “Do you have anything you can suggest from your rabbi’s teachings that underscores the importance of Israel for the church to know?”
My first thought was “Why is that only important for the church?” The Torah tells us that the Creator formed Israel for a specific purpose. He engraved Ten Commandments in stone, handed them to Moses who spent the next 38 years writing the rest of God’s Torah on parchment. Israel’s mission has been to bring these to all the world, to live them and to be a light to all the nations. It is not a religion to convert to; it is the way to live. When any religion replaces the Torah with their books, they are in direct opposition to the Creator as it is written in this portion Vaetchanan… “You shall not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it but keep the commandments of your God (YHVH) יהוה.
Moses emphatically reminded the people, “יהוה spoke to you out of the fire; you heard the sound of words but perceived no shape—nothing but a voice declaring to you the covenant that you were commanded to observe, the Ten Commandments, inscribing them on two tablets of stone.” Israel was not formed as a nation to keep Torah for ourselves. We were not to say to the other nations… you have your gods, and we have ours; you have your books, and we have ours! There is only one God and one Torah for all.
Deut. 4:19 is crucial. Moses repeats “Since you saw no shape when יהוה spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. For your own sake, therefore, be most careful to not act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness whatsoever: the form of a man or a woman… (including beast, bird, crawling thing or fish). No wonder the many religions of the world with all their images had to either change or fully deny the Torah.
Moses told them that God was not only speaking to the generation standing at the base of Mt. Sinai but to every generation afterwards…to you and to me. In Vaetchanan the Ten Commandments are repeated, not exactly word for word but their lifegiving principles remain the same.
All the heads and elders of the tribes went to Moses and said: “Our God יהוה has just shown us a majestic Presence, and we have heard God’s voice out of the fire.” And God’s response was “May they always be of such mind, to revere Me and follow all My commandments, that it may go well with them and with their children forever!” If we could only see that the consequence of our disobedience leads to all the ailments plaguing this planet. If we leave the Creator out of any of our efforts to try to fix things, we are bound to fail.
That reminds me of another question I was asked this past week, “So how can we possibly fix the things that are wrong on this planet?” Without God we can’t, with Him, we can fix ourselves; it begins with each of us and the Torah helps us understand. It contains the formulas, His Ten Commandments, Israel’s constitution, by which we can measure all truth. Without them, chaos reigns and anything goes. Just look around.
How many people are suffering…physically, emotionally, financially, and mentally? Because of this, many question if God is even listening or cares about us while others doubt His very existence. We are so quick to blame others and especially God for our misfortune. Yet the answers lie right here in this portion. It speaks for itself. Moses pleaded, “O Israel, give heed (Shema) to the chukkim and the mishpatim that I am instructing you to observe (L’aasot – to do)”. He continues: “… what great nation has chukkim and mishpatim as perfect as all this Torah that I set before you this day?” Remember – the chukkim are ordinances which we are to obey simply because God said so since He knows what is best for our lives, and the mishpatim are regulations about how to treat our neighbor.
The Torah teaches us how to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is God’s handbook of instructions on how to live and all we need to do is follow it. I personally don’t like to read the instruction manual when I buy a new piece of equipment; but if I refuse to read it, how can I expect it to work properly? Then when it doesn’t, can I blame the equipment or the manufacturer?
Now this verse is important: “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם֮ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם֒ – v’shamartem v’asitem, Guard them and do them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and knowledge to other nations who upon hearing of all these chukkim will say, Surely, this great nation is a wise and discerning people. For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as our God יהוה whenever we call?” The key is in guarding and doing, listening and obeying. It is a call for us to be grounded on this earth knowing that our God is “close at hand”. The physical and the spiritual walk hand in hand. When we look at our lives, do we see order or chaos? The God of Israel is the God of order. Are we an example who would bring others to ask about our lives? Do we show one face outside the house and another one inside?
In this portion, Moses is reminding this second generation: “You saw with your own eyes … that your God יהוה wiped out every person from among you who followed Baal-Peor; while you, who held fast to your Godיהוה, are all alive today.” If I had known the Torah when I was young, I would have been protected from all the New Age ideologies that messed up my life, but now that I know better, I can do better. Moses warned us to stay away from being lured into bowing down to the solar system; that’s astrology (not to be confused with astronomy). It may seem harmless to rely on the daily horoscope, which is just one of their teachings, but when we add up all the small disobediences to our God, the repercussions manifest not only in our personal lives in ways we may not even realize, but they reverberate around the world.
When I was deeply involved in the New Age, I met Jews from every walk of life who practice and teach these ideologies. It is very much alive in Israel today, especially among the many who run to India and are immersed in them. In Deut. 6:14-15, Moses is warning us, ”for your God יהוה in your midst is an impassioned God—lest the anger of your God יהוה blazes forth against you, wiping you off the face of the earth”. Is there any wonder that antisemitism is on the rise again? He also warned us that” if we do these things, יהוה will scatter you among the peoples, and only a scant few of you shall be left among the nations to which יהוה will drive you.”
As I look back at my life I can see how I had been driven to search for Him, looking in all the wrong places, but finally, He revealed Himself to me when I was at my lowest point! How my life has changed for the better from that moment on! Remember God will never leave us nor forsake us and when I read these next words from Moses, my heart expanded with joy, because it is so true for me, “But if you search there, you will find your God יהוה, if only you seek with all your heart and soul, when you are in distress, because of all these things that have befallen you and, in the end, return to and obey your God יהוה. For your God יהוה is a compassionate God, who will not fail you nor let you perish; [God] will not forget the covenant made on oath with your fathers. You only have to inquire about bygone ages that came before you, ever since God created humankind on earth, from one end of heaven to the other: has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been known?”
The Creator asked us to remember all that He did when He brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and with awesome power… But you and I are living in the diaspora so what does Israel have to do with us? What does His Torah have to do with us? This Torah may have been given to Israel, but it was meant for every human being and is the only way that we can live in peace and harmony on this gift of a planet. The wealthy and the dictators of this world may think that the planet belongs to them and that they can destroy it, that they can establish a new planet to live on like Mars, but the story of ancient Egypt and Israel, the people of God, paints a picture of what our God has in mind for us and it’s far from that.
Look at how this portion ends: “Know, therefore, that only your God יהוה is God, the steadfast God who keeps the covenant and shows mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His Commandments, but who instantly repays those who hate Him, to destroy them … Therefore, observe the commandments—the statutes and the regulations—with which I charge you today.”
The point of all of this is for us to learn how to navigate through this life, this testing ground, in the best way we can until the day when we will all face our Maker. First, we must learn to trust the God who gave us His Ten Commandments since they are for our good. In the first three commandments, He reminds us of what He did for us and are about how we are to relate to Him. Trusting Him is the key.
The next two – the chukkim – are for you and me, so that we can have long life. The Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath is a sign of His existence and a once-a-week gift that reminds us that we are free, not slaves to false gods with their ideologies. It’s far more than a simple day of rest, so when it was exchanged for another day, it gave them permission to exchange Him for another god. The Fifth Commandment, to honor father and mother who gave us life, was for us to revere the One who brought all things into existence. If we blame them for our lot in life, it’s the same as blaming the Creator. When we turn to Him who is a loving father, He will help us as our prophet Joel said, “to restore the years the locust has eaten.”
The last five were for us to work at our relationship with others, for as it is written in Micah 6:8, He wants us to… “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”, to realize that we are our brother’s keeper – because we all descend from one family, Noah’s, and as Rabbi Yeshua taught us, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Moses “…pleaded” with יהוה at that time …” He was not only pleading with God to allow him to enter the Promised Land, but he was also pleading with his people to listen and obey the Words of the Creator so that all would go well with them. Obedience to His Torah brings us energy, health and a life filled with purpose and meaning. Our lives may be filled with testing and struggle, but we can see God’s constant covering, how he makes a way for us through difficult situations, the end product being shocks of joy and hearts filled with love for Him, for family and friends. Love isn’t a feeling; it’s an action; it’s not always easy to do but… For God so loved the world that He gave us His Torah so that whosoever might listen and obey, would have peace and fulfilment in abundance in their lives.
Peggy Jacobson Pardo