6 Tishrei  5777 פרשת  וַיֵּלֶךְ

We are at a very important time of the year, the ten intermediary days between Rosh Hashanah or Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur.  We call these days Yamim Norayim, the awesome days or Yamim Teshuva, the days of returning to God. This parashah is very short but filled with meat and meaning. Moshe is telling his people that his years as their leader are over and he will be going to sleep with his fathers. He won’t be allowed to go to the Promised Land and that he could simply to look out at it from the top of the mountain.  How difficult this must have been for him — to be at the door but not to be able to cross over.  He told them not to worry, that the Creator had chosen another leader, Yehoshua (Joshua) ben Nun to take them the rest of the way. Moshe had changed Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua implying that salvation comes from the Creator.  The nickname for Yehoshua is Yeshua, the same name as our great teacher, rabbi, prophet and messiah, Yeshua.  Moshe told Joshua not to be afraid, to have courage because our Creator wouldn’t abandon him but would be with him always. In the same way, whenever we end a book of the Torah, we pronounce these words: “Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!” חזק חזק ונתחזק   Hazak, hazak, v’nit’chazek!  

Moshe prophesied that the people of Israel would fail. This had caused much concern and discussion among certain sages about the difference between determinism and free will.  The Creator is omniscient, knowing the past, present and future. He of course knows what we will choose. It is we humans who are trapped in time and cannot see what the Creator can see. The beauty here is that He gives each of us “bechira chofshi” free will to act independently. This means that we are responsible for our own actions. Today however in this world, we have eliminated the idea of “sin” and replaced it with the notion of “crime”. This causes our society to be more secular, devoid of God. Our Creator has no place today within our society. Instead we speak of human rights — the right to life, to gather possessions and to self-determination. Laws are made in order to respect human rights. For example, the Torah states “you shall not kill’. Human rights place this in the category of a crime against another human being whereas the Torah would regard it as a sin, a transgression directly against the Creator. It is not a human rights’ issue. The Creator is the giver of life; He has breathed His Ruach, His breath into each of us placing us His Divine spark within us. This is not evolution or the quantum leap in which inorganic materials suddenly became organic and life began.  We have life because we have been made in His image and this is why life is sacred. Taking someone’s life is a direct assault against the Creator.

There was a debate last week between the two incumbent Vice-Presidents and the subject of abortion was brought up. Both of them are supposedly very “religious” people and both are against abortion. One however who was very liberal said that his religion was very personal and that he could not impose his beliefs upon others. The other said that he believed in the sanctity of life and that we have the right to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

Whether we like it or not, there are things that are wrong in the eyes of the Creator and are simply considered sin. Today’s society can choose to legalize abortion but that doesn’t make it right in the eyes of the Creator. The Scriptures say that life begins at conception. This fact is taken as truth by most scientists today. The mother is an incubator of the baby (which is not a fetus) and this baby is a totally separate entity from her. Abortion at any stage of pregnancy is for her convenience.  Yes, she has the right to do whatever she wants with her own body but the baby growing inside her has little to do with her body except that she is allowing it to grow within her.  They accuse anyone who is pro-life of being anti-woman. That is ridiculous! It is sin according to Torah.

At the end of Yom Kippur Leviticus 18 is read where it speaks about the relationships that are not allowed by the Creator…a man sleeping with his father’s wife, etc and at the end it says man cannot lay with a man and the woman cannot lay with an animal.  Today we have become such free thinkers, evolved human beings that what the Scriptures say no longer applies to us. Our personal convenience becomes more important and this is bringing humanity to our own destruction.

We greet each other at this time of year with several expressions, one of which is gmar chatima tovah, referring to having our names sealed in the Book of Life. There are two books – the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Our sages tell us that the righteous are already listed in the Book of Life and that evil people are sealed in the Book of Death. The rest of us have to look for ways to get our names in the Book of Life. How can we do this? There are religions that tell us that someone else will pay for our sins so that our names can be written there. They insist that it is impossible for us to pay for our own sins. They have us believe that we are handicapped and that God is not so evil that he would punish us for failing at something that is impossible for us to do. Therefore He gets us off the hook by sacrificing Himself and we get off free as a bird.

What does the Torah teach us? It says that the sins of the fathers cannot be put upon the sons and vice versa and that everyone is responsible to pay for their own sins (Deut. 24:16).  This is repeated in the prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  This is called personal responsibility.  You can choose to believe in wishful thinking where someone else will pay for your sins or you can deal with your own sins.  We would all like to take the easy way out where we simply repeat several words and our sins are placed upon someone else’s shoulders who pays for them. All we have to do is believe.  Another religion teaches that this life has no intrinsic value and if they die as a martyr, they go to paradise where they have 70 virgins.  Biblical Judaism is the only one that teaches that we need to respond and take care of our own sins. We need to confront them and we will be judged for them.

Yom Kippur is the time when we need to afflict our souls. An even better translation would be that we need to make our soul poor. Our Rabbi Yeshua gave his sermon on the mount and began with blessed or happy are those who are poor in spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.  There is an understanding that Yeshua delivered this message during the High Holidays just before Yom Kippur. He was most probably referring to Leviticus 23:27c where the same expression is used but translated as to fast. The word that is used is “ahnitem” וענתם to make poor, to impoverish. Afflict our soul has been translated as we need to fast but our prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 cries out to the people in the Name of the Creator… Why are you fasting? Your fasts mean nothing to Me. It doesn’t get us in the Book of Life. Instead we need to reckon with ourselves, to face our Creator, to be honest to Him and humble ourselves before Him making no excuses for our behavior.  Recognition and acceptance of what we have done is the first step on the way back to Him. Then we confess, acknowledge and finally make reparation.  How many things have we done that we can never repair but the good news is that He can repair anything when we go to Him. That is true teshuva. We afflict our soul means that we need to search deep within to examine the darkness of our souls and bring what we find to Him. Only He can cleanse that — no animal sacrifice, no human sacrifice. It is between Him and us.  Oh it’s wonderful that someone else would do all that for us and we could get off scot-free. Or don’t worry, I will kill myself and end up in paradise.  Sorry this is not the Word of God. We can’t run away from our Creator. We may think that we can hide from Him but He knows where we are.  Religion teaches escapism, to escape from our own responsibility.

Yeshua said “blessed are those who are poor in spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven”. A better translation would be “happy are those who humble themselves before God and acknowledge who they are for they will be in His Presence.”  Do you want to be in His Presence, written in the Book of Life? Don’t run away from your responsibilities, from your sins; face them and bring them to the Creator. It is my desire that during these days before Yom Kippur that we come before Him remembering that it is not about fasting but about our relationship with Him. I pray that we all follow the Creator and not man; that we all understand that we have faults and accept responsibility for our actions, not blaming someone else for what we have done. Today crime is always justified by man looking for excuses. With abortion, the woman has the right over her own body; with sexual aberrations, people have the right to do what they want with their own bodies. They do have that right but they do not have the right to impose it upon everyone else. Life is sacred and yes they can do whatever they want but we have the right to say that we are sorry but we do not accept their behavior. Respect is a two-way street. We have a great Judge who will examine all our hearts. My prayer is that we will be ready for this Yom Kippur, that we open our souls to Him and that we make things right. May our names be sealed in the Book of Life!