|V'Zot HaBerachah||וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה||33:1-34:12|
2012 - Devarim/Shabbat Hazon
The Shabbat just prior to Tisha b'Av is known as Shabbat Hazon. On it we read a specially designated Haftarah, the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, that begins with the word, Hazon/Vision.
The book of Duteronomy consists of speeches that Moses delivers to the people who are prepared to enter the Promised Land. This is a new generation born in the desert, unlike their parents who experienced Egyptian bondage. Moses has transferred the leadership to Joshua, his successor, because God has denied Moses the privilege of entering the land with the people. Thoughout the speeches Moses delivers we can hear Moses' anxiety that the people will not remember their roots, will not remain loyal to God and will not fulfill God's religious and moral expectations of them.
Though ostensibly a review of what has come earlier, Deuteronomy contains much new material. Some of it in disagreement with what has come in previous books. Deuteronomy reflects innovations that King Josiah brought about in the seventh century BCE, centuries after Moses. Many modern scholars see in Deuteronomy, a book that the priests claim to have found when they renovated the First Temple during Josiah's reign. Whether the found book and it innovations were ancient or not is lost to history.
In his introduction to Deuteronomy Jeffrey Tigay writes, "Deuteronomy strongly influenced later Jewish tradition. The core of Jewish worship is the recitation of the Shma (6:4) and the public reading of the Torah (rooted in 31:11). Also based on Deuteronomy are the duty of blessing God after meals (Birkat haMazon, 8:10), Kiddush on Shabbat (5:12), affixing m'zuzot to doorposts, wearing t'fillin (6:8-9), 11:18-20) and tsitzit (tassels) (22:12), and charity to the poor (e.g. 15:8). Deuteronomy is the source of the concept that religious life should be based on a sacred book and its study. As the Biblical book that deals most explicitly with beliefs and attitudes, it plays a major role in Jewish theology. In the theological-ethical introduction of his digest of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides cites Deuteronomy more than any other book, starting with the command to believe in God and Him alone.
"Deuteronomy's effect on Jewish life cannot be overstated. No idea has shaped Jewish history more than monotheism, which this book asserts so passionately. And no verse has shaped Jewish consciousness and identity more than Deuteronomy's classic expression of that idea, the Sh'ma.
With the completion of the book of Numbers the Torah narrative is complete. The entire book of Deuteronomy takes place at the conclusion of the 40 year wandering through the desert. Moses addresses the people in a series of speeches summarizing all that has transpired and reminding the people of their commitments and obligations to God.
Moses begins his first speech by recounting God’s directive to leave Mt. Sinai in the direction of the land of Israel. Leading the people alone would be difficult so Moses chose tribal leaders to assist him. They were instructed to judge the people impartially. Only the most difficult cases should be brought to Moses. When Moses encouraged the people to conquer the land they suggested sending scouts. A representative of each tribe was chosen and they brought back fruit from the land. Though they reported that it was a good land the people refused to go up, flouting God’s command, because they understood that there were giants in the land. Despite Moses’ pleading the people refused. God’s punishment was that no one who left Egypt, except Caleb, would enter the Promised Land. Moses complains that as a result he was given the same punishment. (This is an entirely different version of events than what we read in Numbers!) Instead Joshua would lead the people into the land. When the people heard the decree they determined to go up to the land, but God sent the Amorites to defeat them.
Near the end of 40 years God directed the people northward through the land of others. They should not provoke them and the text describes their travels through the lands which they traversed successfully. In route they seized the land from two Amorite kings who resisted allowing them to pass through. This land was assigned to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Menasseh. The men of these tribes would function as shock troops when the Israelites entered the land itself.
Both Torah and Haftarah readings this week deserve special attention.
Following Tisha b'Av, the day on which we commemorate the destruction of both the First and second Temples by the Babylonians and then 500 years later by the Romans, our Jewish tradition prescribes seven weeks of recuperation and recovery. These seven weeks take us from the depths of our historic experience to Rosh Hashanah and our Jewish New Year. The first week is known as Shabbat Nakhamu, the Sabbath of Comfort. The Haftarah reading from Isaiah 40 begins with the words: Nakhamu, Nakhamu Ami/ Comfort, oh comfort, My people. This is known as the first haftarah of consolation.
The Torah reading is the second weekly portion in the Book of Deuteronomy. In this book Moses addresses a new generation, a generation born in the desert that did not experience the hardship and oppression of Egyptian slavery, but was born in freedom. They are soon t enter the Promised Land, but without Moses who will be left behind to die on Mt. Nebo.
Moses is anxious about the future. Will this cantankerous people survive? Will they obey the commandments and expectations of God? His experience as leader has been one of frustration and difficulty. What will happen after he turns the reins over to his successor Joshua?
So, the entire book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches in which Moses both summarizes the experiences and expectations which are incumbent upon them. Thus our Torah reading this week contains two of the most well known and significant texts: the Ten Commandments and the Shema, legal principles and basic religious affirmations that under gird all of Jewish life.
The first paragraph of the Shema affirms our acceptance of the one universal God. It instructs us to love God, to teach and transmit our tradition to our children and to observe laws of Mezuzah and Tefillin which remind us constantly of our ongoing relationship to God. The Ten Commandments focus us on our fundamental obligations to God and to each other. They assert our both religious and moral requirements in order to create a just and ethical society.
In fact the Shema can be seen as a direct outgrowth of the first commandment. God who heard the cry of the slaves and redeemed us is deserving of our loyalty and exclusive devotion. We are instructed neither to test God, nor to allow prosperity to let us forget. This our Torah reading concludes enjoining us to "observe faithfully the Instruction-the laws and the rules-with which I charge you today."
This second installment from the book of Deuteronomy contains two of the most well-known and important texts in Judaism: the Ten Commandments and the First Paragraph of the Shema. The Shema pronounces our faith in the unity of one universal God; our obligation to "love" that God; to transmit that connection to our children; and to constantly remind ourselves of that connection through wearing Tefillin and placing Mezuzot on our doorposts and gates. The Decalogue outlines our principal obligations to God and to our fellow human beings.
The entire book of Deuteronomy consists of a series of speeches by Moses to the generation of Israelites born in the desert, reminding them of God's historical involvement in their salvation and revelation at Sinai and all that God expects of them as God's people. Parshat Va-Et'khannan completes the first opening speech and begins the second speech.
The parasha opens with Moses rehearsing his plea to God to allow him to enter the Promised Land. Rejecting personal responsibility Moses claims his punishment the fault of the people. God rejects Moses plea and encourages him to view the land from the summit. Joshua will lead the people into the land.
Moses reminds the people of their obligation to obey God's commandments lest they be punished. Obedience will mark the people as wise and discerning and will distinguish them among al the people. Moses reviews the experience of Sinai, that they saw no image in any likeness, not of human or beast or sun, moon or stars. These images were allotted to other peoples to worship.
God is to be found by all those who seek God. The Jewish experience of God is unique. Moses reminds the people of the cities of refuge.
Moses reviews the centerpiece of that covenant: the Ten Commandments, distinguished from those in Exodus 20 primarily in its explanation of Shabbat. In Exodus the reason of Shabbat observance was theological: as God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th, so should we. In Deuteronomy Shabbat is a product of social justice: as the Israelites emerged from slavery, so we must remind ourselves that we and all in our households must cease from work and rest on the seventh day.
The words were inscribed on two tablets of stone. The people feared death if they continued to hear God's "voice". The claimed that they would do all of God's expectations if only Moses would act as intermediary. God agreed to transmit the rest of the Instruction through Moses.
The Shema text that follows forms an additional sermon on the First Commandment and has consequently become "the centerpiece of Jewish daily worship" morning and evening.
The people are further warned not to allow prosperity to make them forget. They must not test God. Rather they must fulfill God's expectations and transmit them to their children.
When the Israelites enter the land, they must not make compromises with the native population. There must be no intermarriage with them, so that they will be enticed into idol worship. The people are to consider themselves an Am Segula, God's treasured people. This "chosenness" is not the result of numbers, but rather due to the oath God made with our ancestors, for God is faithful to God's commitments.
The Shabbat immediately following Tisha b’Av is known as Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat of comfort, based on the first words of the Haftarah from Isaiah: “Nahamu, nachamu ami/Comfort, oh comfort My people”. This is the first of 7 Shabbatot that takes us from the depths of the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av to the heights on Rosh Hashanah.
The Torah reading continues the first speech that Moses addresses to the people on the edge of the Promised Land and proceeds directly into the second speech. Two special highlights of this Torah reading are the review of the Decalogue/Ten Commandments at the beginning of the second speech (5:6-18) and the first and most familiar paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9).
The rabbis felt that the three paragraphs of the Shema were so important that they mandated that every Jew should recite them “when you lie down and when you rise up”, i.e. each evening and morning. They contained the central Jewish theological affirmations: the unity and singularity of God, demanding our total and absolute devotion, that our actions engender blessing and curse, the obligation to transmit our heritage to our children in everything we do and say, that we should remind ourselves of our commitment and obligations to God through the wearing of Tefillin, by posting God’s words on our doorposts and wearing Tsitsit and that it was God who delivered us from Egyptian bondage.
The Decalogue in Deuteronomy is virtually identical to the text in Exodus, with the major exception in the commandment about observing Shabbat. While in Exodus we are told to “remember” the Sabbath day because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh as an example for us to emulate, in Deuteronomy we are commanded to “Observe” the Sabbath day so as to remember that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt and God liberated us. Thus as a matter of social justice we, our entire households, hired servants, strangers among us, even our animals must rest on the seventh day.
Moses continues his discourse. He promises that obedience will be rewarded with fecundity, prosperity, health, security and special blessing. The people should not fear enemies even if they appear stronger. In victory the people must burn their gods, so that they not become a snare to the Israelites.
During the years of wandering God tested the people to see if they would remain loyal and keep the commandments. They endured hardship so as to learn that "man does not live by bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees." The land into which they will enter is a productive land where the people will lack for nothing.
Moses warns them not to forget god and become haughty, to remember all the gifts that God provided. If they forget God, they will perish. The people should not say that they have inherited the land because of their virtues, but rather God is dispossessing the native populations due to their wickedness. God recognizes that Israel is a stiff necked people and that God was provoked by the actions of the people when they built the golden calf, which Moses rehearses for the people in detail. God was provoked also at other times, particularly with the debacle of the spies.
Moses prayed on the people's behalf and God allowed Moses to carve a second set of tablets as a reaffirmation of the Sinai Covenant. The Levites were chosen to serve God and the people were given permission to continue on their journey.
Moses then speaks to what it is that God demands: "to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul."
Moses reminds the people that they witnessed all the miracles. They must therefore keep the Instruction so that they will have the strength to take possession of the land and endure long on the soil. Moses reminds the people that the Holy Land is different than the land of Egypt. He reminds them about tefillin, mezzuzah and the obligation to transmit God's teachings to their children.
For your entertainment and enjoyment I discovered the following wonderful animated Parshat haShavua summary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Rather than a complete overview, let me indicate well known passages from Parshat Ekev in the order in which they appear in the Parashah.
Deuteronomy 8:3 "He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to each you that man does not live by bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees."
What is fascinating about the well known section of this verse, is that in common usage it means something quite different that it does when placed in its context. Rabbi Kushner describes the difference as follows: "This familiar verse is usually taken to mean that people need 'more than bread'-including culture, art and food for the spirit. But in context, it is better understood to mean that people can survive on 'less than bread'-namely, the manna from heaven with which God sustains them."
Deuteronomy 8:7-10 "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothingl a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you."
The latter part of the verse is the scriptural basis for the recitation of the Birkat haMazon, the blessing we recite after a meal. A literal translation would read: when you have eaten and been satisfied, you should bless God. The list earlier in the verse are known as the Sheva Minim: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (the source of honey). Based upon this passage when any of them are eaten as part of a fixed meal, the full Birkat haMazon is recited.
Deuteronomy 11:13-20 "If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late, You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil-I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle-and thus you shall eat your fill. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the Lord's anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Lord is assigning to you. Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children-reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
This challenging passage became the second of the three paragraphs of the Shema. It promises in agrarian terms reward and punishment for obedience or disobedience. Though we moderns have disassociated the vagarities of weather from behavior, the Torah insists that there is a cause and effect between behavior and well-being. The Torah needs us to accept that there is order and justice in the universe.
The format of the entire book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches which Moses delivers to the generation born after the Exodus in the Wilderness summarizing all that has happened and all that God demands of the people.
Moses opens our Parashah will a promise that obedience by the people will be rewarded with God's faithful maintenance of the covenant and many blessings. All goodness will follow and the people will have nothing to fear. Moses reminds the people of the hardships they endured in the wilderness, which was God's test of their strength. The speech includes the famous line, "Man does not live on bread alone", the part that is usually quoted, but continues with the second part, "but man may live on anything that the Lord decrees."
Moses reminds the people that they will be entering a good land.. "of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey." When they proper they must not forget God and to keep God's commandments and think they provided all of this on their own. The people must not become self-righteous; their victories are no proff in and of themselves of virtue. The people must remember that they are a stiffnecked people and have angered God on several occasions, especially at Mt. Sinai when the people made for themselves a molten calf. God determined to destroy the people, but Moses prayed to God on their behalf.
God told Moses to carve a second set of tablets like the first and he deposited them in the ark that he made. The tribe of Levi was set apart to carry the Ark, but would receive no hereditary portion in the land. God urged Moses to resume the journey and lead the people to their land. In response the people must love God and always keep God's commandments.
The Parashah includes the promises we quote as the second paragraph of the Shema: blessing if we obey and disaster if we turn aside. To remind us we must bind the words on our hand and forehead (Tefillin), on our doorposts (Mezuzah) and constantly teach our children.
With this fourth Torah portion in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses begins in earnest and specificity to delineate God's expectations of the people when the enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.
Moses first tells the people what's at stake. God has laid out two courses: blessing and curse. It is up to the people to make their choice, blessing if they follow God's command and curse if they choose not to.
Moses begins with religious matters: the people are to destroy the pagan religious sites of the conquered people. They are only to consider the place where God will choose for their worship. It is to that place that they are to bring their sacred offerings. We learn for the first time that these offerings are to be offered in only one place. Moses now adds that people who live at a distance from that place may eat meat that has been properly slaughtered and from which the blood has been drained. (Prior to this description any domestic cattle could only be slaughtered as part of the sacred offerings.) Tithes must be properly distinguished and donated to the Levites.
Moses then turns to the possibility, even probability of incitement by prophet, close relative or friend or an entire town. Moses urges the people to beware that there will be charismatic individuals, even closest friends who will encourage individuals to worship other gods. These instigators must be resisted. Supposed prophets or other individuals are to be put to death. The Torah contemplates the possibility of an entire Israelite town that has abandoned God. Moses urges no mercy.
Moses reminds the people not to follow the ways of neighbors who disfigure themselves in the face of the death of a loved one.
Moses returns to food, delineating as was done in the Book of Leviticus which animals are appropriate to consume: Mammals with split hoofs and chew their cud, fish with fins and scales and birds with are not birds of prey. The section ends with the injunction not to boil a kid in its mother's milk, the basis for separation of milk and meat.
We turn now to the obligation of concern oneself with the poor. Every seventh year there shall be a full remission of debts. Although Moses contemplates a time when there will be no poverty, as long as the destitute exist, it is the obligation of everyone in society to assist them, not withhold from them. Hebrew slaves must be released in the seventh year and he must not leave empty handed. We must remember of own history of slavery. Should such an individual want to remain enslaved, he is to be marked with a piercing of his ear and will remain a slave in perpetuity. All first born animals are to be dedicated to God.
Finally our parasha deals with the calendar of pilgrimage holidays, outlining the observances of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
Moses sermon in this Parashah tells the people they have a choice between blessing and curse. There are consequences to their behavior, positive ones if they obey God and negative ones if they do not.
Moses tells the people that they must destroy the places of worship of the Canaanites, so that they will not be enticed to worship their gods and engage in their practices. The people are instructed to worship God and offer their sacrifices in the place where God will choose which is different from their practice in the desert. However they may eat meat wherever they live as long as they do not eat of the blood. They must be careful to separate tithes and firstlings of the herd and flocks.
The people should be skeptical of prophets. If a prophet encourages the worship of other gods, even if he can perform miracles, he is a false prophet. You must sweep such evil from your midst. Similarly is a relative urges the worship of another god, he should be put to death. If a neighboring Israelite town has gone astray worshipping other gods, that town must be destroyed.
Moses instructs the Israelites to avoid certain abhorrent mourning practices. They should be holy in what they eat. The Torah then lists the animals that are considered clean and edible in contrast to those which are unclean and must not be eaten.
Moses emphasizes the need to be scrupulous about tithes that should be consumed in the place where God will choose. The Levite who do not have a landed inheritance must also be provided for along with the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. Every seventh year all debts must be remitted by the creditors.
Though Moses holds out the promise of the end of poverty and need, he says that the needy must be provided for and not neglected. We should be generous to our kin. Hebrew indentured servants shall serve only six years and be released in the seventh. He must not be released empty handed, keeping in mind that we were all slaves in Egypt. If he wishes to remain, he should be pieced in the ear and become a permanent slave.
With this Parashah we enter the central core of the Book of Deuteronomy, the listing of God's expectations of us in terms of God's laws and obligations which will continue for the next few weeks. It is through obeying these laws that we demonstrate love of God and our fellow human beings. Though the entire book ostensibly is Moses' review of all that has passed, much contained in this extensive summary is new material.
This description of the laws places a different emphasis than the lengthy list of laws in Exodus 19-24. In Exodus much is centered on property and damages; here we see much more stress on criminal and moral issues. Though the Bible is not unique in formulating a law code, Prof. Moshe Greenberg saw the uniqueness in Deuteronomy in its shifting emphasis away from personal property as the central area of society's concern. This law code also is phrased in the second person singular (you), making the laws very personal and the laws provide explanations or justifications more so than in other law codes. Many of the "laws", such as providing for the poor, are moral ideals, rather than specific do's and don't's. Professor Weinfeld described the purpose of this formulation of laws as "securing the protection of the individual and particularly of those persons in need of protection."
"Moses does not present the laws in the style of a legal code. He devotes more attention to their basic provisions than to their practical details. The latter must have been provided by an oral interpretive tradition developed by courts, as they were in later times, and perhaps by admin9istrative agencies. The most distinctive feature of Moses' presentation of the laws is the way he frequently devotes as much-or more-attention to exhorting the people to obey the laws as to presenting the laws themselves. He recognizes that people must be persuaded to obey the laws." (JPS Torah Commentary)
The parasha opens with Moses telling the people they clearly have a choice: blessing or curse; blessing if they obey the commandments and curse if they do not obey. The blessings and curses will be presented dramatically when the people enter the land on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Moses adjures the people to make the right choice.
"See, this day I set before you blessing and curse" is the opening verse this week. God promises blessings of every type to those who obey God's commandments and misfortune for those who choose not to. Thus it is all up to us. We must choose our paths and be rewarded or suffer the consequences.
The bulk of the book of Deuteronomy is devoted to a review of God expectations of us. The review begins with religious matters, imploring us to destroy the pagan worship sites and the objects of worship of the native population in Canaan. We must not worship their gods or participate in their ceremonies.
Moses emphasizes that things will be different once the people enter the land where all offerings must be brought to the place where God will choose and no where else. As a consequence of requiring all sacrifices be brought to one central location, the people are given permission to slaughter animals for food in the settlements where they live, but they may not partake of the blood.
The Torah concerns itself with prophets or dream-diviners. They may be false prophets. The community must listen to what they have to say and determine from what they demand of the people whether they are true or false. A false prophet must be executed. Similarly an immediate family member who attempts to entice someone to worship alien gods must be stopped and put to death. Finally it is possible that an entire town might go astray. Following investigation and inquiry such a town must be doomed and destroyed.
Jews are prohibited from following the alien tradition of gashing their skin when confronted with the death of a loved one.
The Torah then discusses Jewish dietary laws, particularly which animals, fish and birds are considered appropriate for consumption. The separation of milk and meat is based on the final verse in the section, "You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk".
From here the Torah directs people to scrupulously tithe their produce, the tithe presented here is the one that must be consumed in Jerusalem. But every third year that tithe should be given to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and widow. (Tithes are included in several parshiyot and the rabbis combined them into a single coordinated system.)
Debts must be remitted every seventh year to remove abject poverty. The Torah first promises that there will be no needy among the people, but then prescribes obligations upon the community to care for the poor. Hebrew slaves must be released after serving six years. A slave that wishes to stay must be humiliated by having an awl put through his/her ear. S/he becomes a slave in perpetuity.
This portion concludes by describing the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot with a special emphasis on observing them in the place where God will choose, which Judaism has always understood to be a reference to Jerusalem.
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.” These are the opening verses of the Parasha, and restate the central theme of Moses’ message to the people as he prepares to transfer leadership to his successor.
Highlighting this parasha and in fact the entire book of Deuteronomy (as distinct from the other books of the Torah) is the centrality of “the place where God will choose”, which though not mentioned by name has always been considered a reference to Jerusalem. (The Torah could not mention Jerusalem by name, because it would only be under the leadership of King David, some 300 years after Moses that Jerusalem would become the Jewish capital.)
Particularly of note is the requirement that all sacrifices would have to be offered only “in the place that the Lord will choose”. Scholars assume from other texts that the only meat that was fit for consumption was that offered as a sacrifice. Centralizing all offerings in one place would require the possibility of non-sacrificial slaughter, so that those Jews who lived at a distance from Jerusalem could also eat meat.
Parshat Re’eh also demands that we take care not to be lured away from the worship of God. Listen carefully to the words of prophets or dream-diviners, even if they can perform miracles. If they urge worship of another God, they are false prophets and must be put to death. The Torah warns of immediate family members who might try to lure their relatives from worshipping God. They too must be put to death. And finally the Torah speaks about an entire town that has abandoned God. That town, the Torah demands, must also be destroyed. (Our Etz Hayim Torah commentary notes: Later, the Sages deemed it impossible for such a situation actually to occur. They considered it to be a purely hypothetical situation, included here to warn us of the serious consequences of idol worship.)
Our Torah reading incorporates a repeated description of the dietary laws, similar to that already provided in Leviticus 11. Here again we are told which animals are considered appropriate for eating: mammals that have a split hoof and chew their cud, fish that have fins and scales and birds that are not birds of prey. The section ends with the verse: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”, which became the basis for the dietary separation of milk and meat.
Holiness also includes being scrupulous about tithing. The tithe mentioned in our reading is the one that must be consumed “in the place where God will choose to establish Hid name”. Every third year that tithe must be given to support the Levites since they were not given a landed inheritance.
Debts must be remitted every seventh year. In this way the Torah tells us “There shall be no needy among you”. If however your own kin is in need the Torah instructs us that we “should not harden our hearts”, but must do what we can to help. Hebrew slaves must be released and given their freedom in the seventh year and they must not be released empty-handed. If the slave does not want to leave, s/he must be pierced through the ear with an awl and must remain in perpetuity.
Our reading concludes with another description of the holy days, this time with a focus on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, the three pilgrimage holy days that are to be observed “in the place where God will choose."
The first three articles of the U.S. Constitution deal with the legitimate authority of Congress, the President and the Supreme Court. Similarly parshat Shoftim opens with a delineation of the sources of legitimate authority. The include courts and magistrates, the king, priesthood and prophets. The torah indicates the responsibilities of each, their authority and the limits to their power.
Judges and magistrates are to be appointed. The people will appoint a king, but one chosen by God. The priesthood is determined by birth. Prophets will be assigned by God. Most interesting is the king and prophet. The king is required to keep a copy of the Torah and be limited by its teachings, which sounds like the basis for what we would call a Constitutional monarchy. Prophets though sent by God has the danger of encouraging charlatans. Thus although the people are duty bound to obey a true prophet, it is only by by listening and observing that the people on their own must determine with the prophet is true or not.
The Parashah also takes up other matters:
Asylum cities are to be set up where murderers may flee and if admitted after a hearing at the gates will be safe from revenge killings by the victim's family. Admission is based upon proof that the murder was accidental rather than intentional.
At least two eye witnesses are required to convict in capital cases. Testifying falsely is a serious crime. Those found conspiring to convict an innocent man as subject to the punishment intended for the accused.
Preparations for battle include a pep talk to the troops by a priest. Certain individuals are exempt from service and should be sent home: someone who has planted a vineyard but not harvested it, someone who is engaged to be married, but not yet married, anyone lacking in courage and is afraid. Prior to attacking a town they must be offered terms of surrender. Other rules of engagement are listed. The Torah specifically decrees that fruit trees must not be destroyed.
Lastly the Torah addresses the rituals attendant upon the discovery of a murder in which the victim is discovered between two towns and the perpetrator cannot be identified. The elders of the closest town must sacrifice a heifer and make a declaration that they did not have anything to do with the murder. Thus the town must assume responsibility for the area of the town. A murder was committed on their watch and on some level they must take ownership of the loss.
The first three chapter of our parashah constitute the Torah's constitution. What I mean by that is that our American Constitution delineates the sources of legitimate power, who is eligible to serve and what the powers of each branch are. So in Parshat Shoftim we read about 1. the establishment of a judiciary, the roles of judges and various courts which must administer justice, 2. the king and limits on his powers, 3. levitical priests and the role of religious authorities, and 4. the position of legitimate prophet whose message from God must be heeded.
The parashah then deals with other matters:
Asylum cities: these are cities to be established to which those accused of murder may flee. If it is determined that the death was not pre-meditated, the "murderer" may be given access and be protected from revenge killings by the deceased's family.
Boundary markers and the requirement that they not be moved so as to establish property rights.
Witnesses: The need for at least two witnesses to testify in order to reach a conviction. If determined that the witnesses lied, they are to receive the punishment intended for the accused.
Warfare: Armies must be addressed by a Kohen to bolster courage among the soldiers. Deferments were to be given to those who newly planted a vineyard, those newly married or anyone who was afraid. Only then are commanders given control of the troops.
When attacking a town they should first be offered terms for peace. Only when such terms are rejected is the battle to be engaged. Fruit trees must not be destroyed.
Finally our Parashah deals with the issue of murder in which the murderer is not found. If in the field, a determination must first be made as to which town is closest and thus must take responsibility. The elders of the town must slaughter a heifer and wash their hands over the heifer, and declare, "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel." Thus they would remove their own guilt for this tragedy n their watch.
Parshat Shoftim presents the sources of Biblical civil and religious authority.
1. Judges must be appointed who will show no partiality or take bribes. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof/ Nothing but justice shall be pursued. Cases that are too difficult whether civil or criminal should be referred to "levitical priests" in the place where God will chose (Jerusalem). The verdict they determine must be carried out.
2. Choosing to appoint a king is an option that the people may choose, a king chosen by God. He must not be a foreigner and he must observe predetermined restrictions on horses, number of wives and overall assets. He must keep a copy of the Torah and read it, so that he will revere God and observe God's commandments.
3. Levites and priests will be given no territorial possession, but will live off the gifts that are provided from sacrifices. His job is to serve God.
4. Jews are not to take on the abhorrent practices of the local population
including soothsaying, divining or sorcery, etc. However God will send prophets from among the people. They will bring God's word to the people and the people must obey. However left to the people will be how to determine which prophets are true and which false. As we can see from the example of Jeremiah where the people became convinced he was a false prophet and were prepared to execute him, we can see this was not an easy determination.
The Parasha then takes up the issue of asylum cities where perpetrators of accidental homicide could flee to seek refuge and be protected from blood vengeance where relatives of the deceased would be duty-bound to kill the perpetrator. This was to be distinguished from intentional homicide, where the perpetrator would be turned over to the blood avenger. In making criminal determinations two eye-witnesses were required. One witness or circumstantial evidence were insufficient to convict.
Regulations concerning war are introduced. Before battle the priest should address the troops with words of encouragement. Certain individuals, such as those newly married, were to be given deferments and sent home.
Before engaging in battle terms peace must be offered. If accepted the people shall be subjected to serve as forced labor. Once battle has begun all males must be put to the sword. Women, children, and cattle may be taken as captive. In besieging a city trees bearing fruit must not be destroyed.
The last topic is that of an unsolved murder where the body is discovered between two towns. The closest town must engage in a ritual of expiation, that such a horrible thing should have happened on their watch and the individual was left vulnerable and unprotected..
"Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord."
Parshat Shoftim can be easily divided into two distinct parts: a. civil and religious authority, and b. judicial and military matters.
In the first part the Torah (much like the American Constitution) delineates sources of legitimate authority in the Israelite community. They are: 1. judges who must be appointed from among the people, who have the responsibility to show no impartiality and to be fair. 2. the king, who the people may choose to appoint over themselves, but he must not be a foreigner. His power is not absolute in that he should not keep many horses, not send the people back to Egypt, have many wives or accumulate too much silver. He must retain a copy of the Torah and observe God’s teachings so that he will not behave haughty, and have his descendants rule after him. 3. Levitical priests born into their position by being of the tribe of Levi will not posses a territorial inheritance, but live off the sacrifices brought to them. 4. Prophets will be raised up by God to bring God’s message. But the people must be leery of false prophets, those who make predictions that do not come true.
The second part concerns 1. the cities that must be set aside as asylum cities, where those who inadvertently were responsible for the death of another might flee from blood avengers who would pursue him. Those guilty of intentional murder would not be admitted to these cities. 2. boundary markers must not be removed. 3. At least two witnesses are required in a capital case. However false testimony is to be punished severely, by imposing the punishment upon the witness that was intended for the falsely accused. 4. Laws about warfare: a. which individuals must be deferred from military service, b. limits on how a town may be besieged, and c. protection of trees during warfare 5. Unsolved murders: should a murdered body be found in the field and the murderer not identified, it must first be determined which is the closest town. The elders of that town must engage in an expiation ceremony, claiming that their hands had not shed this blood, not had they been witness to it. They then ask God for absolution for this tragedy that took place on their watch.
This Torah reading delineates the theoretical sources of religious and political power that Israel must establish when it settles in the Promised Land. (Though modern scholars assert that much if not all of this text was composed during the Babylonian exile or during the Persian period, the text is put into the mouth of Moses some 800 years earlier.)
The text determines four legitimate sources of power that each has its obligations and limitations:
Magistrates and officials to administer justice in each and every settlement. Judgment must be based on justice and complete impartiality. Difficult cases were to be referred to legitimate authorities, priests or magistrates, that would be established in a central “place where God will choose”
A king who must not be a foreigner and who ought not posses great wealth. Most significantly the king must consider himself subject to the guidance of the Torah which he must keep with him and read all his life. (A constitutional monarchy of sorts)
Levitical Priests, a distinction from birth, but a group that would receive no land inheritance. They shall be supplied with offerings from the people.
Prophets will arise from among the people who must be heeded. Since the community feared death from direct access to God, the prophet will act as intermediary. But the people will have to discern whether the prophet is true or false.
The parashah then describes the cities of asylum to which individuals who had been involved in an unintentional murder could flee and seek refuge from relatives seeking revenge. Those who had committed intentional homicide would not be admitted.
Boundary markers were not to be moved in order to preserve the integrity of land ownership.
Due process is described here as requiring at least two eye witnesses to convict. A proven false witness is to be given the punishment intended for the accused.
Our Torah reading then turns to rules of warfare. The army should not fear battle. A priest should inspire the troops with courage for the mission ahead. Various individuals were to be deferred from serving: a. anyone who built a new house or planted a vineyard, but hadn’t dedicated it or harvested it; b. anyone engaged, but not yet married, c. anyone afraid. Towns under siege must initially be offered terms of peace. But if they do not surrender, you must engage them in battle. However in besieging a town, trees that bear food must not be destroyed.
The last chapter deals with the case of an unsolved murder. The city in which a murder takes place bears responsibility for the lives of its inhabitants. If someone dies in the open between cities, the closest city must assume responsibility and offer a public sacrifice as a statement of atonement for the innocent blood that has been spilled. “Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord.”
613 is the traditional number of Mitzvot to which a Jew is obligated. That number is diminished by the fact that some of the Biblical Mitzvot have to do with sacrificial obligations which no longer pertain (or from an Orthodox perspective do not pertain until the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt), others only apply to those living in the land of Israel, etc. Of the 613 count 248 are called positive commandments (thou shalts) and 365 are negative commandments (thou shalt nots) corresponding to the traditional count of the number of bones in the human body and the number of days in a solar year.
Of that 613 number 72 Mitzvot are contained in this week's parasha, i.e just under 12%, the greatest number emanating from any parashah of the year. Mitzvot are further subdivided between religious and moral categories, i.e. obligation to God such a prayer, observing dietary restrictions and Shabbat and holiday observance versus moral and ethical laws having to do with human interactions. This week's parasha focuses almost exclusively on the later category.
The panoply of topics covered include marriage and divorce, incest, rape and adultery, parent-child relations as well as inheritance. It further speaks to the issues of our obligations to assist others, personal negligence, timely payment of wages, kidnapping, providing asylum for escaped slaves, fulfilling vows, maintaining proper weights and measures and obligations to the poor.
Some of the laws we have learned from previous books of the Torah, but much here is new. Moses is soon to transfer the leadership of the people to his successor, Joshua. He will climb Mt. Nebo. This fast-paced summary of laws speaks directly to Moses anxiety about the future. Based on his experience with a stiff necked and back sliding people he fears what the future will bring. It is a human emotion. We all fear letting go and turning over responsibility to others.
Parshat Kee Tetzei constitutes the final group of laws in Deuteronomy. "These laws are primarily concerned with individual family, civil and ethical issues. In comparison, the preceding section was more broadly concerned with the system of worship, the judicial procedures and the public administration of the nation as a whole.
"Laws expending legal protections to women in contexts where they would otherwise be disenfranchised concern female captive (21:10-14), the property rights of the less favored wife (21:15-17) and false charges of infidelity (22:13-19)." "Verse 24:5 guarantees the new bride a year of spousal companionship before her husband is sent to war. Concern for the welfare of women is also reflected in passages that stress their participation in religious ceremonies (12:12,18; 16:11,14; 29:10; 31:12)."
Also of note are laws regarding animals. Lost animals must be returned to their owner and until the owner can be located they must be taken home, fed and cared for. (22:1-3) If you see an animal that has fallen under its burden, you must help its owner to raise it. (22:4). A mother bird must not be taken with her young. Let the mother go before you take the young (24:6-7). An ox must not be muzzled when it threshes. (25:4)
Many laws in Kee Tetzei concern the poor. A Jew may not lend his fellow with interest. (23:20-21) A lender may not enter the house of the borrower to seize his pledge. If the borrower be poor and he offered clothing as pledge, the clothing must be returned to him at sundown. (24:10-13) Wages must be paid the same day to a needy laborer (24:14-15) The obligation to protect aliens, orphans and widows. ((24:17-18) Gleanings must be left for the poor. (24:19-22)
This Torah portion contains laws regarding the rights of children, prohibitions on transvestitism, the obligation to provide a parapet on roof tops for safety, issues of marital fidelity, rape and family morality, providing asylum for escaped slaves, fulfilling commitments, kidnapping, honest weights and measures and so much more.
Here in the heart of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses continues to summarize (and add to the laws) that God expects the people to keep sacred. This parasha contains more laws than any other, but they do not seem to follow any logical order.
The first three deal with 1. restrictions upon what a victorious army may do with captured women, 2. the special rights of a first born son even if he is the child of the less loved wife (the Torah presumes polygamy), and 3. stoning to death a “wayward and defiant” child. (The rabbis made it impossible to carry out such a punishment and were convinced it was in the text only for pedagogic purposes!)
Many of the laws require individuals to keep their eyes open to the loss, pain or sorrow of others. One may not lend a blind eye and simply act as if one doesn’t see, but one is obligated to assist one’s neighbor, and particularly the most defenseless, identified as the widow, orphan, stranger and the poor. Forthrightness and honesty are also featured in the mandatory requirement to fulfill vows in a timely fashion, paying wages in a timely manner, not harvesting in another’s field and the use of honest weights and measures
This parashah also contains prescriptions for sexual morality: prohibiting transvestitism and cult prostitution, the value of virginity, issues of rape and adultery and the levirate marriage. Chapter 24 is the only place in the Torah in which we may delineate the procedure for divorce, still in practice to this day. It is however buried in a prohibition against dealing frivolously with the institution of marriage all together.
Finally our parasha reminds us not to forget Amalek, who unconscionably attacked the Israelites from the rear cutting down the stragglers.
Parshat Ki Tetzei, concluding Moses’ summary of Jewish law, is the repository of more legislation than any other portion of the Torah. Its primary focus is civil and domestic life, rather than religious issues. In reviewing the scope of these laws one can see a pattern of concern about power relationships and the law’s effort to protect those most vulnerable to abuse. The Torah is even interested in protecting the dignity of criminals and war captives, the most marginal members of society. Animals too do not escape the protective eye of the law.
However most prominent throughout this portion is the Torah’s determination to protect women. Our portion opens with legislation about the rights of women captured in war. In a polygamous society the Torah acknowledges that one wife might be loved and another unloved, but that does not negate the offspring’s rights to inheritance. In a world where virginity is prized, women had to be protected against false charges that they were not chaste when they married. (However if the charge is true, she is subject to stoning!) The Torah considers issues of rape and how consent or lack thereof might be determined. Prostitution is illegal. Our portion is the only place in the Torah that discusses divorce, its basis and procedures for enacting it. The Torah also makes clear that marriage and divorce are not games in which partners are exchanged at will; a man may not remarry his former wife if she has been married to another in the interim. Newly weds are given a year before the husband becomes subject to being drafted into military service. Widows are listed along with the poor and the stranger as being entitled to special consideration as among the most vulnerable in society. A childless widow’s brother-in-law has the obligation to marry her and the first male issue of their relationship shall be named as if the deceased husband fathered the child.
In essence the Torah is legislating that it is not proper to take advantage of those in a weaker position. Justice dictates that power over other human beings must be carefully monitored and subjects those pressing their advantage to punishment.
Some of the legislation may seem primitive by our American contemporary standards, but in many cases they were must more compassionate than surrounding societies (and more compassionate than even certain societies today).
Surprisingly the Torah is short on litanies, the recital of prescribed words to be said on particular occasions. Congregational prayer as we know it is post-Biblical. However two such litanies open our Torah reading, the text of the first of which we know quite well. The Torah prescribes what people are to say when they come Shavuot time with their first fruits and donate them by handing them over to a Kohen. In this recitation they must remind themselves that their ancestors were slaves in Egypt and that God liberated them and brought them to this land. The rabbis took this recitation moved it to Passover and made it the centerpiece of the Passover Haggadah.
The less well known litany was prescribed for when the tithe was offered, proclaiming that all that is due is presented and asking God for a blessing for the entire people.
As we approach the end of the Torah text, we read of ceremonies that were to mark Israel's eventual arrival in the promised land. They were to set up large celebratory stones upon which "the Torah" was to be inscribed. (The translation translates Torah as teaching, since the text is undoubtedly not referring to the Torah as we know it.
In a dramatic ceremony the 12 tribes were to be divided in two with half on one mountain and the half on the other, with the Levites between them. The Levites would then call out proscriptions, defining certain behavior for which violators would be cursed and the Israelites would affirm by shouting "amen" from their positions.
The last and lengthiest part of the Torah reading is known as the Tokhekha. In it Moses lays out the consequences of blessing or curse that await the people depending on their keeping of God's commandments or violation thereof. The blessings are beautiful; the curses harrowing.
Finally Moses summoned all Israel, summarizes their indebtedness to God and says, "Therefore observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all you undertake."
Our Torah reading begins with one of the only liturgical statements prescribed in the Torah. When Jews brought the first crops on Shavuot as an offering to God, upon presenting the gift to the Kohanim, they were to say, "My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents."
If the above text sounds familiar, it should. It was taken from our Parashah and becomes the centerpiece of the telling of the Jewish story at the Seder table. It is the most concise synopsis of our Jewish master story.
Moses once again appeals to the people to remember their obligations to God.
Moses charges the people to create certain ceremonies when they cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. They should set up stones on Mount Ebal and write the words of the Torah. They are enjoined to build and altar and sacrifice burnt offerings. They should eat them and rejoice.
He directed them to create a ceremony in which the tribes would stand on mountains across from each other with the Levites in the valley below. There dramatically the Levites would invoke a list of curses upon violators of basic laws and the people would shout Amen.
Finally our Torah reading contains the Tokhe'kha, the blessings and curses that are promised for obedience or disobedience. The blessings are summarized in 14 verses. The warnings for disobedience take up the next 54 verses, threatening waves of curses that will attend continued disobedience.
For a truly wonderful animated introduction to the Torah reading, go to www.g-dcast.com.
Having completed the lengthy list of God's expectations, some in the form of laws with punishments and others exhortations as to how to form a sacred society, with this Parashah we begin the approach to the conclusion of the text.
We are presented with two liturgical declarations, the first a litany that the Israelites were to recite each year when they would bring their first fruits (Shavuot time) to the priest at the Temple. The text (which was taken from here and inserted as the central core of the Passover Haggadah) should serve as a reminder of the Israelites humble roots and that for all their good fortune they are indebted to God. The second ceremony accompanies the giving of the second tithe that was offered in this way every third year.
The Torah then proscribes a ceremony to mark Israel's arrival in the Promised Land. This involves setting up stones, coated in plaster on which they would inscribe God's teachings. Once done they would create a ceremony wherein the 12 tribes would be stationed on two neighboring mountains with the Levites in the valley below. The Levites would call out various offences for which offenders would be cursed and the people would respond "Amen".
What follows is known as the Tokhekha/rebuke. The Torah lists the blessings that are in store for the Israelites if they follow God's commandments: land, progeny, security, produce, etc. However this is followed by a much longer list of curses awaiting the society that ignores God's imprecations. This list is so frightening that traditionally it is read by the Baal Koreh in a soft voice.
Finally Moses summons the people to ratify the Covenant, enjoining them once again "to observe faithfully all the terms of the Covenant that you may succeed in all that you undertake.
Last week’s parasha, Kee Tetzei concluded Moses’ summary of the laws that God expects the people to observe. This week’s Parasha is devoted to two liturgical declarations and a long list of blessings and curses attendant upon obeying or disobeying God’s Torah.
First the Torah prescribes a ceremony that every farmer should engage in when bringing the first fruit of the soil as an offering to the Kohanim. When handing over the offering the farmers are to acknowledge their ancestry as descendants of slaves who were liberated by God and brought to this land. The gift of the fruit is the result of that history.
In addition when the farmers separate out the tithe which is given in certain years to the Levite, stranger, orphan, widow and the poor a separate declaration should be made proclaiming that this is the full obligation, nothing has been removed from it, fulfilling God’s demands. The farmer also asks for a blessing for the people and the soil.
Secondarily the Torah delineates ceremonies that should take place when Israel arrives in the land. Large stones should be erected with the words of the Torah incised upon them. After crossing the Jordan the people should engage in a ceremony upon the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, with 6 tribes on each mountain. The Levites between them will call out blessings and curse and the people will acknowledge their obligations by shouting Amen.
Chapter 28 contains a listing of the blessings awaiting an obedient community and curses which will befall a disobedient community. The blessing of prosperity, health, long life and progeny, safety from enemies, etc. are listed in the first 14 verses. The next 54 verses outline the curses that will come in waves of increasing severity, allowing the people to change their ways.
At the end of the parasha Moses again summons all the people. He reminds them of all the wonders they have experienced. Moses has led them for 40 years. They defeated all those who stood in their way. “Therefore,” concludes Moses, “observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all that you undertake.”
With the summary of God’s laws and expectations complete, we enter the final section of the book of Deuteronomy and the Torah itself. Our reading opens with two ceremonies to be performed on different occasions. The first was to take place in celebration of Shavuot when the people would bring the first fruit to the Kohanim as an offering.
The ceremony included a public declaration as a reminder of the central story of the Jewish people: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.”
This statement probably sounds familiar, because except for the last two sentences, this text forms the core of the Passover Haggadah (after the midrash of the Four Children). This is the text the rabbis chose in telling the story of our origins as a people. They took it from this ceremony of presentation of first fruits.
The second ritual ceremony was to mark Israel’s arrival in the promised land. They were first to set up plastered stones on Mount Ebal upon which the words of the “Torah” were to be written. There offerings were to be made upon an altar. The tribes were to then be divided with half on Mt. Gerizim and the rest on neighboring Mt. Ebal. The Levites would then call out that anyone who perform decignated violations of the law should be cursed and the people would assent be responding “Amen”.
Our Torah reading them provides us with a lengthy list of blessings and curses that would follow obedience or disobedience to God’s law. The blessings are much shorter: “Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall your be in the country. Blessed shall be the issue of your womb, the produce of your soil, and the offspring of your cattle, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall be your comings and blessed shall be your goings…” As a means of comparison the blessings are given 14 verses, the curses 54! The curses are listed in three groups each more severe than the former.
Moses concludes the parashah with the inducement: “Therefore observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all that you undertake.”
One of the shortest parshiot of the year, a mere 39 verses as compared to an average 180 verses, Parshat Netzavim packs a punch.
Moses gathers the entire community together for a dedication ceremony. Addressing the men, women and children he claims that this covenant is being made not only with the people present, but the people not present as well. This usually is understood to include all future generation, all Jews by choice, but it could also refer to those disabled and to those who have rejected the tradition. They too are included.
Moses speaks about punishment that will be meted out to those who want to separate themselves from the community and think they are immune. In the case of punishment, Moses reminds the people that return is always possible.
Moses instructs the people that the tradition he has transmitted to them is not too baffling or difficult. It is not in heaven, but here on earth to be lived as interpreted and understood. God is providing us with choices: life and prosperity or death and adversity. He urges us to choose life "by loving the Lord your God, heeding his commands, and holding fast to Him. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that the Lord swore to your ancestors."
The title of the Torah reading means standing (before God). Moses tells the people as they accept the covenant that they all stand before God at this moment, not just the men and not just the leaders, but all Israel enters this covenant, including all future generations. He warns anyone who thinks him/herself exempt, immune from the sanctions that God will not forgive such a person and will single him/her out for punishment.
But there remains the possibility of return to God. That person God will take back in love. (The word for return/shuv is the root of the term Teshuvah/ repentance. In this passage shuv refers both to Israel’s return to God and God’s return to Israel. The root word shuv appears 7 times in our reading.) Even outcasts have that opportunity available to them. God will make the returnee prosperous in all respects.
Moses assures Israel that obeying the Torah is not complicated or difficult or beyond the normal reach. It is not in heaven, but here available to us. God presents before us opportunities for life and prosperity or death and adversity and strongly urges us to chose life by loving God and heeding God’s commandments.
Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and Vayelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30
These final chapters of Deuteronomy and the entire Torah build up in dramatic intensity.
Moses addresses the entire community: tribal heads, elders, officials, men, women and children, resident aliens, from woodchopper to water drawer telling them that they are all included in the covenant which God is concluding with them. They will be God's people and God will be their God. Moses says that this covenant is being made both with those who are present that day and those not present, which interpreters have understood to include either future generations or to refer to Jews by choice who will choose to be included in the covenant.
Moses warns against apostasy, even the private worship of other gods. Such behavior, Moses warns, will be severely punished, such that the punishment will be a lesson for others.
Moses holds out the possibility of "return" to those who strayed. "The Lord your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love." God will restore the people back to the land of their ancestors. Moses assures the people that the Instruction is not baffling or beyond reach. It is not in heaven, but rather very close and accessible. The tradition exists to provide life and prosperity. Moses calls on the people to Choose Life.
In the second parashah Moses at age 120 makes preparations for his successor, Joshua. Moses will not cross the Jordan with the people. He encourages them to be strong and resolute. Moses wrote down the Torah and gave it to the priests and to the elders. Every seventh year when the Israelites gather for Sukkot, they should read the text to all the people.
Before Moses and Joshua God anticipates that the people will stray after alien gods. In God's anger, God will abandon them. They will realize the reason for their troubles. The "poem" that Moses will write will help them remember.
God also charged Moses to be strong and resolute.
"You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God..to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." As we approach the end of the book of Deuteronomy and the end of Moses career he wants the people to engage in a covenant ceremony where they will pledge their eternal loyalty to God.
Moses warns everyone that no one should think him/herself excluded, free to do whatever s/he wants. Such a miscreant will be punished. The same applies to the community as a whole and may be subject to collective punishment. Even after punishment when the people have been scattered, the possibility of returning to God remains as well as return to the promised land.
Moses encourages the people by telling them that God's teachings are not difficult. It is not in heaven, not beyond the sea, but rather close to you and available to observe. God leaves the Jewish [people with choices that have consequences. Moses urges the people to choose life!
Moses at age 120 reminds the people that God will not allow him to cross the Jordan with them. Joshua will take the reins of leadership. He encourages them to be strong and resolute. He instructs Joshua similarly and gives him instructions as to his duties once the people have crossed over.
Moses wrote down the teaching and gave it to the Kohanim and to the elders, instructing them that every seventh year on Sukkot they should read the teaching aloud so that everyone can hear and be reminded.
Moses and Joshua then presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting before God. God tells Moses that after he is gone the people will stray after alien gods. God's anger will flare and God will abandon them. Therefore his instructs Moses to write a poem and teach it to the people. When they have turned away from God the poem will confront them.
Moses encouraged Joshua as the new leader. "The Moses recited the words of the poem to the very end, in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel."
Our Parashah opens with a summons to the entire community to ratify the Covenant. The summons includes those who are there as well as those who are not, which the rabbis understood to include all future generations. “This parashah is read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, a time for taking to heart the commitment to God’s covenant.”
Moses reviews their journey together through foreign lands with alien traditions. These are not for Israel. If someone thinks himself immune from the promised sanctions for following those traditions, God will not forgive him. The people should continue to be loyal exclusively to God.
Moses offers repentance to the people as a whole if they are exiled, God will reinstate them if the people are sincerely repentant.
Moses also makes sure to assure the people that the terms of the Covenant are not onerous, to difficult to know, understand and fulfill. “It is not in heaven”. “No, the thing is very close to you.”
Moses tells the people that life and prosperity, death and adversity, the coice and the consequences are theirs. However he enjoins them to Choose Life!
In the second parashah Moses tells the people that he is 120 years old and can no longer be active. God has prohibited him from crossing the Jordan. Joshua will be their leader. He encourages them to be strong and resolute.
Moses wrote down the Teaching and instructed them to gather every seventh year to read the Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.
God tells Moses that the time is drawing near for him to die. Moses and Joshua presented themselves in the Tent of Meeting. God tells Moses that the people will stray. God will grow angry and abandon them. Hard times will follow. The people will recognize that all this has befallen because of their abandonment of God. This poem will then confront them. Moses instructed the Levites to put the book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant as a witness against the people’s behavior.
Moses recited the words of this poem to the very end, in the hearing of the whole congregation of Israel.
Even shorter than last week's reading, this parashah is dedicated to the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Moses announced to the people that at 120 he can no longer be active. God is preventing him from accompanying the people across the Jordan. Joshua will lead them and with God's help they will succeed. He urges them to be strong and resolute and not fear. Moses them commissions Joshua.
Writing down the Teaching/Torah, Moses handed it to the priests. Moses instructed them to read the Teaching before the people every seventh year on Sukkot.
God tells Moses to bring Joshua to the Tent of Meeting. God warns that the people will go astray after alien gods. God's anger will flare up and God will abandon them and terrible things will befall them. Eventually they will understand why these things are happening. Therefore Moses is to write this "poem" to remind them. Moses wrote it down and taught the people. Moses then addressed Joshua and then the Levites. The Teaching was to be placed beside the Ark where it will function as a witness. He then call the elders to warn them as well.
Moses is already 120 years old and can no longer be active. God has also prohibited him from crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. Joshua will become their leader and with God guidance help them enter and conquer the land. Moses confirms Joshua’s succession in a public ceremony urging him to be strong and resolute..
Moses wrote down the Torah and gave it to the Kohanim and to the elders. Moses instructed them that every seventh year on Sukkot, they should read the Torah publicly before all the people.
God tells Moses that it is time for Joshua and him to appear before God at the Tent of Meeting. God tells them that the people will break God’s covenant. God will become angry and forsake them and they will suffer as a result. Therefore Moses must write the “poem” down, so as to remind them when they enter the land.
Thus Moses wrote it down, so that it would be kept with the ark of the Covenant. Moses spoke to the elders and warned them about the predictions of the future. Moses then recited the words of the “poem” so that all of Israel could hear it.
The first 43 verses of this parashah are poetry, the last 9 verses narrative.
"The poem of Moses, known from the first Hebrew word as Shirat Ha'azinu, describes the consequences of Israel's anticipated betrayal of God. The style is typical of biblical poetry. Each line consists of at least two phrases or clauses that are "parallel"-synonymous, antithetic, or complementary-to each other."
"This is the last parashah of the Torah that is read at services on Shabbat morning. (Chapters 33-34 are read only on Simhat Torah, to complete the annual cycle of Torah reading.) It consists entirely of a oem reprising and summarizing the themes of the first section of Deuteronomy: the greatness and generosity of God and the stubbornness and unreliability of the Israelites."
However even after punishing their backsliding God has a plan to deliver Israel. God will demonstrate yet again that the gods of the heathens are of no help.
After the poem Moses recited them to all the people. He urges them to take the warnings to heart so that they will faithfully obey God commands. God then tells Moses to ascend Mt. Nebo where he can view the land of Canaan. There Moses will die and not be permitted to enter the land.
Parshat Haazinu is the final weekly parashah of the Torah. The last two chapters of Deuteronomy are not read on Shabbat, but rather on Simhat Torah. Haazinu is made up almost entirely of a final poem by Moses. The poem reprises and summarizes the themes of the first section of Deuteronomy: the greatness and generosity of God and the stubbornness and unreliability of the Israelites.
Heaven and earth are called upon as onlookers who serve as witnesses to the poem’s charges and the fairness of Israel’s punishment. The narrative of the poem can be divided into four sections: v. 1-3 introduction; v. 4-18 a recounting of God’s beneficent relationship with Israel met with Israel’s unfaithfulness; v. 19-25 God decides to punish Israel; v. 26-42 God decides to limit the retribution.
The last verses return to narrative form. Moses urges Joshua to take the warning to heart, encouraging him to have the people observe God’s commandments. “This is not a trifling thing for you: it is your very life; through it you shall long endure.”
The God summoned Moses to Mount Nebo facing Jericho so that he might view the land across the Jordan. There he will die. He will not be privileged to enter the land.
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Hazak, Hazak, v’Nit-hazek