Va’etchanan – “And I Pleaded”

This week’s Parasha is called Va-etchanan, which means, “And I pleaded.”  It covers Deuteronomy chapter 3:23 – chapter 7:11.  The parasha opens with Moses pleading with God to allow him to cross over into the Promised Land, but God refusing to allow Moses to enter.  If you remember, back in Numbers, chapter 20, Moses was supposed to speak to the rock at Meribah for water to come forth, but instead, he struck the rock twice, violating what God had asked him to do.  Because of this, Moses is not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

Perhaps you think that not being allowed to enter the Promised Land would cause Moses to be bitter towards the rest of the people, but in c4, we see that he redoubles his efforts to stress the importance of following God’s Word in order to possess the land.  How ironic that the one who will not be allowed to enter the land keeps urging those who will enter the land, and are perhaps a bit hesitant to take on this challenge, about the importance of following God’s instructions.  Moses tells the Jewish people not to take away or add anything to God’s Word.  It is important to follow the Word just as it has been given.  There is a purpose for this, and it is stated in Deut. chapter 4:6:  “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  By following God’s commandments, the Israelis will show the surrounding people the wisdom of God’s Word and bring glory to God.

Chapter 4 also reminds the Israelis of the giving of the 10 Commandments and the danger of turning away from those commandments to idolatry.  Worshipping idols will bring on God’s wrath, and indeed towards the end of chapter 4 Moses prophesies that a day will come when, because of idolatrous ways, the Jewish people will be scattered among other peoples because of idol worship.  However, Moses also says that if the people turn back to God, He will be compassionate, because He will remember the covenants that He made with their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In chapter 5, Moses repeats the 10 Commandments.  The 10 Commandments were not a covenant made with the patriarchs, but were instead a covenant made with Moses and the Jewish people at Mount Horeb.  However, because of the fire and the noise, the people were terrified, and asked Moses to stand between themselves and God due to their fear.  Chapter 5:29 tells us that this type of fear of the Lord is healthy.  And those of us here today should think of this fear in terms of ‘awe of God’.  Everyone should fear the Lord in terms of recognizing His awesome power and His total sovereignty over the entire universe.  God should never be taken lightly.  The 10 commandments, which are listed here in chapter 5, remind us of the type of relationship that we should have with God and with our fellow man.  Commandments 1 – 4 talk about the type of relationship we should have with God:  1. Nothing should come before God.  2. Don’t make idols.  3. Don’t take the name of the Lord in vain.  4.  Keep the Sabbath holy.  Commandments 5 – 10 speak of the relationship we should have with our fellow human beings.  5. Honor your parents. 6. Don’t murder. 7. Don’t commit adultery. 8. Don’t steal.  9.  Don’t bear false witness.  10. Don’t covet, which means want or envy things that are not yours.

Chapter 6 contains the best-known prayer in Judaism, which is called the Shema.  The Shema reminds us that there is only One God and that we should Love Him with all of our heart, soul and might.  We should also daily teach our children about God’s Word and meditate on it throughout the day.

Our Messiah expounded upon the Shema in Matthew, chapter 22:36 – 38 when someone asked Him what the greatest Commandment was:  Jesus replied that the foremost commandment was:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  He then went on to say the following in v. 39:  The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  This teaching of Jesus sums up the 10 commandments.  Loving the Lord with all of our energy covers commandments 1 – 4 and loving our neighbor covers commandments 5 – 10.

The parasha closes with Moses reminding the Jewish people that when they enter the land, there will be peoples living there that the Israelis must totally destroy.  The 7 nations that possessed the land at that time are named in 7:1.  These people must be utterly destroyed.  The Israelis must not intermarry with them, or their hearts will be turned away from God.  The idolatrous altars and worship symbols of these people must also be totally destroyed.  The Jewish people belong to God and must be kept apart from the idol worship of other nations in order to maintain their fidelity to God.

Rejection of God’s Word carries serious consequences and this is a main theme of this parasha.  We need to cling to God’s Word, like the 10 commandments and the Shema, and follow God’s instructions for our lives so that we can draw close to Him.  That is what our Messiah wanted people to do when He was here.  He wanted the people to draw closer to Him, to follow God’s Word.  But when He came, He found rejection of His teaching and many people straying from God’s Word and instruction.  In Matthew, chapter 23:37 – 39, He expressed His sadness in this way:  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”  My prayer is that those who do not know the Messiah will seek Him and, for those who know Him, that we will seek God’s will for our lives through following the teachings He has given us in His Word and thereby grow closer to Him in a deeper and more meaningful way.