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Thoughts on Parashat Va’etchanan – Shabbat Nahamu

The parasha for this Shabbat is Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3.23 through 7.11.[i] It is the first of seven special Shabbats of Consolation following Tisha b’Av – this one being Shabbat Nahamu, (Consolation) based upon the first words of the Haftarah in Isaiah 40.1-26.

There is much in this week’s parasha, including the creedal cornerstone of Judaism, the Shema: Deuteronomy 6.4,שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone.” As many times as we read or recite the Shema, we often overlook the verse immediately preceding it, which in English, begins with the same words “Hear therefore O Israel”

Hear, therefore, O Israel, and take care to do this, so that it may go well with you and you may increase mightily, as Adonai the God of your fathers has promised you… (6.3)

There are at least two interesting things to note in these two verses. First, while they both begin the same, the first contains the promise, that if one obeys the mitzvot, life will go well with/for us while the second is simply an affirmation of fact – Adonai is our God and it is He alone who is our God. The second thing is less noticeable in English as both say “hear,” but in Hebrew, the verbs in verses three and four are in different tenses. Verse three uses the form שָׁמַעְתָּ, which is a qal perfect, 2nd person masculine singular verb that expresses a completed action or state of being, and can be translated in the past, present, or future. In other words, Moshe implores Israel to live in a state of hearing and obeying the mitzvoth, huqim and mishpatim. In verse four, however, the word שְׁמַ֖ע is a qal imperative masculine singular, which expresses a direct command. Also, in verse four, the emphasis is not on the mitzvot or the obedience thereof, but on the existence of Hashem Himself and the uniqueness of His relationship to His chosen people, Israel. Where verse three carried an expectation of action, verse four leaves no doubt – it is a direct command – Israel and all those who would align themselves with Israel, must acknowledge

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד

This parasha brings one further aspect to consider. Twice in chapter four Israel is warned,

But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart… (4.9)

Beware, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you… (4.23)

It is Hashem’s desire that His people remember from whence they came and the deliverance and salvation that was brought about by their God, not necessarily for His sake, though He is a zealous/jealous God (4.24; 5.9; 6.15), but because in remembering from where they came it is a motivation not to return to the slavery and bondage from which they were delivered. However, Hashem knew/knows that as humans, we tend to be forgetful and are easily led astray. Thus, Moshe affirmed,

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you (לֹא יַרפְּךָ) or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, that He swore to them. (4.31)

Rashi commenting on this verse notes that He will not abandon you means that HaShem will not let go of you with His hands. Rashi continues stating that the expression לֹא יַרפְּךָ means that HaShem will not cause you to be forsaken, He will not separate you from being near Him. He will not cause you to be forsaken. He will not separate you from [being] near Him.[ii] Following this line of thought, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote concerning our LORD, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13.5; cf. Deuteronomy 31.6 and Joshua 1.5).) As well as the Father’s promise, we have this assurance from Yeshua,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10.23-29)

This week’s Haftarah is especially relevant after the intensity of Tisha b’Av and the commemoration of the destructions of both the 1st and 2nd Temples, as well as the exile of the Jewish people from their land. The passage begins נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י, “comfort, comfort My people…” As with the Shema, this is also an imperative, a command for Israel to be comforted. Then the prophet states the reason for the need of comfort,

Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins. (40.2)

Jerusalem and all of Israel was disciplined for their iniquity but they were not left in a state of desolation. The LORD promised that though disciplined, they would be restored. Again, looking to the letter to the Hebrews we read,

Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (12.11)

The discipline was for Israel’s good; when we are disciplined it is for our good. And in that discipline, Israel, as well as believers in Yeshua, are secure in the loving care of our LORD (Hebrews 12.6). If we remember the mitzvot of the LORD, it will go well with us (Deuteronomy 6.3). But even when we “forget,” the LORD will not “forsake us,” but will guide us back to Himself.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Adapted from http://www.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading.asp?aid=2495794&jewish=Vaetchanan-Torah-Reading.htm&p=2

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Michael Hillel
Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.

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