This parashah focuses on Moshe’s song of deliverance (in song format to be learned and sung to each generation) – a wonderful song of redemption amidst rebellion, a song of hope and prophecy, of gloom and ultimate hope of salvation. A song of possibilities, riven with the anguish of a prophet who loved God and His people, yet knowing the end from the beginning. It is also the first time that we are introduced to our God as ‘av’, our father, and intertwined with this concept we find the themes of His steadfastness as Rock, His perfect work, His eternal qualities. We need to remind ourselves of who our God is: awesome and mighty, just and merciful, as well as being our Father.
This song reviews so much of our God and how He deals with us, what He taught us and how we rejected it. The wise understand the ways of the Lord and only the righteous walk in them.
We can choose to WALK the way of the Lord as an active thing, doing what He desires because we hunger for Him, or we can choose to walk, as an active thing, the way of this world. Yeshua put it thus: Matthew 7:13-14: “Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” What is most challenging about this is that it is easy to walk in the template of this world with its attitudes and thoughts and responses, so easy in fact we can even begin to carry them into the community of the righteous, setting them up in the Jewish community as paths to be emulated and desired. But the real walk is narrow; few walk it because it demands constant vigilance and self-checking, keeping alive the relationship with God to sustain a walk of repentance, forgiveness and restoration not only for us but towards others too.
Devarim represents the pattern of righteousness seen in God Himself. It shows us what the ‘path’ or way is that the righteous walk and understand and as such, surely it demonstrates what the heart of God is too. What we see is a deep desire in God to see social justice; how we treat each other is SO important because it reflects the heart of God to us and to all mankind. We see the constant pattern of helping the weaker in society, protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that they are not abused. “Remember you were slaves in Egypt” is the righteous cry that steers so much later thinking. We were once the weaker nation and so now all our righteous acts of Mitzvot are seen through these glasses. God had us in Egypt for a purpose. The motivational force behind such acts to protect the weaker is not just to ‘save’ them, give them the good news that we have (although we should), but to do nothing other than reflect the full panoply of who God is. It means nothing if such help is rejected; it is enough to say and do ‘God cares’. We can do no less than what He does. Redemption and salvation are themes rooted in release from things that hold us, sin and the effects of sin.
Yeshua summarised the 10 commandments when asked about the greatest commandment as Love God AND your neighbour as yourself. The 10 are 2 sets of 5: the first half directed towards God and the rest towards our fellow man. If we are unable to demonstrate our love of God by showing it in action outwards, the claim to love God itself becomes suspect. To live out the full aspects of the righteousness of God as revealed in the Torah and through Judaism is to do nothing other than reflect our God, whose work is perfect and all His ways are just and good. There’s nothing new here in what Yeshua says; we just need reminding what justice – social righteousness – looks like because God is passionate about it. Regardless of the outcome, showing HIS love is our imperative.
An excellent example of this is, of course, Avraham. Shortly after his self-inflicted circumcision, when he was still in pain and needing rest, strangers appear at his door. The hallmark of real faith immediately springs into action, he offers them food and drink, gets up to serve them despite his own discomfort. Generosity of spirit and goods, time or financial, linked with hospitality IS the heart of God, and not only towards our fellow brother in the community but also to the complete stranger.
Avraham, despite all his failings, was a man after God’s heart. He walked in the way of righteousness. His heart instinctively reached out to the weaker, vulnerable and needy, the strangers who needed shelter and food in a hot dry climate. As if that wasn’t enough, Avraham goes on to plead for sinners to be saved from destruction in Sodom. Where we would have been demanding judgement and destruction, Avraham pleads for God’s mercy so that any who may yet repent have time to do so. That’s God’s heart, and it’s why God allows Himself to be debated on the point, because He knows that Avraham knows that that is His heart.
And what was the result of the stranger’s visit, after generosity and hospitality had been shown? The promise was given to Sarah for a child. You see responding to the weak etc and being socially righteously aware actually moves God to continue the line of promise through you too, you become part of the national historical path called Israel, a fulfilment of the ancient promise. Fruitfulness was the reward and result for showing the beating, living, loving heart of God.
So we too must emulate not just Avraham, but God. Let us be stirred to walk in His ways and understand them, knowing that God’s righteousness reaches out, to each other first, and then also to the stranger, who could well be tomorrow’s community member.
Shabbat Ha’azinu (Give ear)