|In this week’s portion we start a new book of the Torah: the book of Deuteronomy! The whole book of Deuteronomy is basically just one long oratorical speech given by Moses, the man of God. I find this to be very interesting because in Exodus 4, when Moses encounters God in the wilderness at the burning bush, he says, “Lo Eesh Devarim—I am not a man of words.” When God first called Moses, Moses said, “I can’t speak,” however, by the end of his mission, a whole book is recorded containing just the words of Moses, the man who said he couldn’t talk. What can we learn from this?
First of all, when we look at the life of Moses, he never seems like a big talker.
Usually when Moses speaks, he is speaking on God’s behalf. Generally, we would read something like this in the Torah. “V’yadaber Hashem el-Moshe lemor: Daber el-b’nei Yisrael—And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel…’” or another common verse would be “V’yadaber Hashem el-Moshe lemor: Daber el-Aharon v’el-banav—And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons…’”
Moses was God’s mouthpiece during that era of time. God speaks through humanity and through humans; Moses was the vessel chosen to be God’s voice in his generation.
Moses was the voice of God in his generation because Moses wasn’t one to speak of his own accord. When Moses spoke, he spoke the words of God. Until we arrive at the book of Deuteronomy. There, it is just Moses speaking. Not on behalf of God, not through Aaron his brother…no, it is just Moses speaking out his heart to the nation of Israel. And here we must ask ourselves, what suddenly changed? We must also ask the question; if the Torah is God’s words to mankind, then why do we have a whole book filled with Moses’ words to the nation of Israel within the Torah?
The answer to both these questions is found in two Hebrew words, “Bittul Hayesh—Self-Nullification.” Moses had become so completely in-tune with God, that God didn’t need to instruct Moses what to say anymore, it had come to the point to where whatever Moses said came straight from the mouth of God. Moses had become a complete conduit for God; Moses’ words were God’s words. Moses had become a vessel wholly dedicated to God’s service. As it says in Numbers 12, “The man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth…” and “My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face…” God’s Divine presence spoke through Moses whenever he opened his lips. Moses is known in Judaism as “Moshe Rabbeinu—Moses our Rabbi/Teacher.” However, it wasn’t really until the book of Deuteronomy that Moses actually received the honor of this title. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “[Moses] changed career[s]. He shifted his relationship with the people. No longer [was it] Moses the liberator, the lawgiver, the worker of miracles, the intermediary…he became the figure known to Jewish Memory [as]: Moshe Rabbenu/Moses our teacher. That is how Deuteronomy begins – ‘Moses began to expound this law’ (Deut. 1:5)…Moses became the pioneer of perhaps the single greatest contribution of Judaism to the concept of leadership: the idea of the teacher as hero.”
|Moses exemplified the idea that a teacher can bring about more change than even the greatest of warriors, proving true the old adage written by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Not that a pen could win in a true swordfight. Just as the good ol’ cowboys say “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” So too, “Don’t bring pen to a swordfight.” Rather, what this is telling us is that the stroke of a pen can accomplish far more for history than bloodshed. Killing bad guys only goes so far; teaching children in the right way so that they never become “the bad guys” is a far better and much more peaceful solution.
The only time bloodshed was more powerful than the pen was when Yeshua “gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2). Through His death, He destroyed the power of the pen of destruction, as it says in Colossians 2. “[He] wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Even then however, the pen is still in play, as it says that through His death we “have been brought near by the blood of Messiah” so that our names may be inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The power of the pen is in what we say as it is written in Psalm 45, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” Proverbs 18 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The book of James also tells us that with the tongue “we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” Once we recognize that our mouth is a pen that can bring about goodness or destruction into the world, we must learn what we should use our speech for.
The book of Deuteronomy introduces a new word to us that has not been used before throughout the entirety of the other 4 books of Torah. This Hebrew word is the word “Lamad—To Teach, Instruct, Learn.” The book of Deuteronomy is all about teaching, especially about teaching the next generation. The word “Lamad” appears in the book of Deuteronomy 17 times and is several times connected to the phrase“teach them to your children.” What is the “them” we should teach to the next generation?
This Shabbat/Sabbath is referred to as “Shabbat Chazon—The Sabbath of Vision.” It is a special Sabbath as it precedes the Fast of “Tisha B’Av—9th of Av” when the destruction of Jerusalem/both Temples are mourned and remembered. Some have even come to call this day “Shabbat Shachor—Black Sabbath” because of the horrible tragedies remembered during this time. “Shabbat Chazon” gets its name from the first word of this weeks Haftarah (Reading from the Prophets) portion. The reading comes from Isaiah 1 and starts out by saying, “Chazon Yeshayahu ben-Amotz—The Vision of Isaiah son of Amoz…” And to put it nicely, many of the visions of Isaiah were not so “Pie-high up-in-the-sky” type visions, they were more “doom and gloom” revelations.
So, back to my question; what is the “them” we should teach to the next generation? When reading the text it is obviously referring to the commandments of God as found in the Torah. However, I think from a broader angle picture, the “them” we should be teaching the next generation are the two “Chazionut—Visions” that are set before us, as God Himself says later in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God… He is your life…”
The reason I think we should be teaching the next generation to have Vision rather than keep Commandments is because of what we read of in Isaiah 1:12. It says,“When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?” The next few verses continue concerning how Israel has caused the feasts and sacrifices to become a wearisome trouble to God. But these were the obedient Israelites…why was God sick of their offerings and festivals? Why did God rebuff their ceremonies? These were the Israelites who were faithfully keeping the feasts in Jerusalem and who were making the prescribed offerings. Why would God be upset with them? Shouldn’t He be upset with all the Israelites who had rejected His ways?
God was upset with these Israelites because they tried to keep all the minute details while failing to remember the heart/the vision of the Torah. As it says later in Isaiah 1, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” James, the brother of our Rabbi, Yeshua of Nazareth, tells us in his epistle, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” You see, the Israelites in Isaiah’s time were going through God’s Torah checklist forgetting to ask “What does God truly desire? What will make God smile?”
We must know WHY we are keeping the commandments of God. We must have vision when keeping the commandments of God. If walking in the light of the Torah doesn’t lead to greater purpose, drive and vision, then we have lost the purpose of the Torah.
Rav Moshe Weinberger, in his book “Sparks from the Fire” writes that way we rectify ourselves in this world is “not to become ‘frummer,’ but to become more ‘yashar.’” The word “frummer” comes from the Yiddish word “frum” which means “pious/religious.” While the term “Yashar” is Hebrew for “righteous/upright.” What Rav Weinberger is saying is, “we don’t need more religious people in the world, we need more people who pursue righteousness.” Even as Rabbi Yeshua said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” We must teach the next generation the vision behind the commandments and not turn God’s Holy Word into a list of check-marked do’s and don’ts.
|In the Talmud it teaches “Chacham adif m’Navi—A Sage is superior to a Prophet.” I know this may sound strange, especially after I have put so much emphasis on having vision for the future. However, R’Shlomo Carlebach once taught about this phrase based upon the teachings of Rav Naftali of Rupshitz, and he explained it like this. “There are three types of people in the world. A regular person can tell you what happened in the past. A prophet can tell you what will happen in the future. But ultimately, ‘Chacham adif m’Navi—A Sage is even greater than a Prophet.’ Because do you know what a Chacham/Sage knows? A Chacham knows what is right now. And that is the most important thing to know.” This reminds me of the saying I learned as a young child growing up. It went like this, “Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, Today is God’s gift to you, that’s why it’s called the Present.” Vision is important in today’s world. However, vision doesn’t mean our heads are stuck in some futuristic coming clouds of glory. It should mean that we are asking ourselves daily, “What am I doing right now?” and “What should I accomplish going forward from here?”
In a book called “Sparks from Berditchov” it makes this comment, “The Yetzer Hara (Our Evil Inclination) wants to ruin our future with our past. We must do the opposite. We must fix our past with our future!”
We must remember, even as Moses reminded the Children of Israel of all the times “the Lord God carried [us], as a man carries his son, in all the way that [we] went until [we] came to this place.” This place = the entrance to the Promised Land. A Land flowing with milk, honey and beauty, A Land both man and God call home. May we all merit to see the complete redemption of the whole world and may we daily ask ourselves “Am I making God smile today?”Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,