Weekly Commentary


Parashah Vaetchanan “And I Implored"

Torah: Devarim (Deuteronomy) 3:23 — 7:11

Haftarah Shabbat Nachamu: Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 40:1-26

Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comforting

Shabbat Nachamu is the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, the day when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. It is called the Shabbat of Comforting because the comforting words of the prophet Isaiah: “’Comfort you, comfort you my people,’ says your God. Speak comfortably to Yerushalayim; and cry to her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received of Yehovah's hand double for all her sins. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of Yehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain: and the Glory of Yehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of Yehovah has spoken it.’“ Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 40:1-6

The prophet Isaiah not only is telling us that God’s people, the Jews, received a punishment - double - more than any other nation for their iniquities because of the high standards God set for them to be a Holy Nation and a light to the Gentiles - to whoever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked (Luke 12:48) - but also he shows us how will the coming of Moshiah be recognized: someone will call from the wilderness for the nation of Israel to repent preparing for the Glory of Yehovah to be revealed. And indeed, the Brit Chadashah tells us that John, Yochanan of the tevilah, was that voice and that the Glory of God was revealed in Yeshua the Messiah who came to forgive the iniquity of anyone who would believe in Him. Comforting words indeed.

But, on the heels of Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, comes Tu B’Av, the Fifteenth of Av. According to the Talmud, Tu B'Av was a joyous holiday in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, marking the beginning of the grape harvest. Yom Kippur marked the end of the grape harvest. On both dates the unmarried girls of Jerusalem dressed in white garments and went out to dance in the vineyards. “R. Simeon B. Gamaliel said: There never were in Israel greater days of joy than the Fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement. I can understand the Day of Atonement because it is a day of forgiveness and pardon and on it the second Tables of the Law were given, but what happened on the Fifteenth of Av? — Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: It is the day on which permission was granted to the tribes to inter-marry.” Talmud - Mas. Ta’anith 30b A puzzling permission since nowhere in the Bible is there a prohibition on “intermarriage” among the 12 tribes of Israel, never-the-less, it was a joyous day for matchmaking. In modern times, it has become a romantic Jewish holiday, a great day for weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, or proposing.


Tanakh - the Firm Root of our Faith

In this Parashah Moshe continues his teachings, repeating the Ten Utterances, giving new instructions and pleading (imploring) with the people not to forsake Yehovah. He lays out the foundation for religious life in the Land, not as a wandering Nation but as a Nation with established roots.

Now, therefore, give heed, O Israel, to the decree and to the ordinance, which I teach you, to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which Yehovah the God of your fathers gives you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish nothing from it, that you may keep the commandments of Yehovah your God which I command you... When you are in distress, and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, if you turn to Yehovah your God, and shall be obedient to His voice; for Yehovah your God is a merciful God; He will not forsake you, nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them... Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or has God ventured to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand, by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that Yehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that Yehovah is God; there is no other beside Him... Hear, O Israel; Yehovah our God, Yehovah is One; and you shall love Yehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

First, Moshe starts with the foremost instruction, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it.” Devarim 4:2

This is a timeless instruction about the Scriptures. Do not add words of your own imagination and do not pick and choose from God’s words with the implication that God’s word is lacking. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" writes the prophet in Isaiah 40:8.

The principles of God's Torah - God's teaching - are the same for every generation, past, present, and future even though some specifically apply to the Jewish people (the modern-day believers did not replaced Israel) and some to the Mosaic sacrificial system. This sacrificial system - which ended with the destruction of the Temple - was a shadow of the redemptive work of Yeshua which was foretold in all those sacrifices and was made obsolete by Yeshua's ultimate sacrifice on the Roman execution cross. Only believing in Yeshua the word of God remains true and nothing is added or diminished.

We just commemorated Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of the Temple's destruction, and indeed it is a sad day if you are not a believer, but for believers a new temple was built, the body of believers which can come together in any place on earth and worship Yehovah. God did not say that teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah, (repentance, prayer, and righteous acts) avert the severe decree, but He said that nothing coming from us, none of our actions, but the shedding of innocent blood on our behalf will atone for our sins: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” Leviticus 17:11

Notice that God Himself gave the blood sacrifice and that its blood made atonement, and not any of our actions.

Second, from verse 4:5 we are to make a distinction between decrees, chukim (singular: chok), ordinances, mishpatim (singular: mishpat), commandments, mitzvot (singular: mitzvah) and teachings, torot (singular: torah). The word of God has been violated throughout the centuries by careless translations giving rise to false doctrines. We are to study and divide the word of God correctly. Also in the Greek, the language that the apostle’s letters were written or first translated (we do not have any original Hebrew manuscript even though some early documents indicate that Matthew may have been written in Hebrew), we have two words for “law”: “nomos,” referring to the divine writings, or teachings, i.e. Torah, and “krino,” referring to a human level of laws, judgments and regulations. Many Bible translations do not make this distinction and unfortunately, most of the times they are translated only as “law.”

Let’s look at the Hebrew words. For God’s teachings the word in Hebrew is “Torah” but when the Biblical Hebrew refers to a judicial meaning or a human given law, the word is “chok.” For example, the first time the word “chok” appears in the Bible in this context is in Genesis 47:26: “And Joseph made it a law [chok] over the land of Egypt to this day.” This “law” was a practical and with judicial implications law, nothing to do with the spiritual matters, not a Torah. But the first time the word Torah appears is earlier in Genesis 26:5, where we read God's words: “Avraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments [mitzvotai], My regulation [chukotai], and My teaching [torotai].”

Please note that the word “torah” was used few hundred years before God gave Moshe the Torah on Mount Sinai. Therefore, this word “Torah” is a teaching that encompasses the physical as well as the spiritual realm, just as our relationship with God has two parts, salvation and lifestyle. We are saved by faith and not by any regulation, decree, ordinance, commandment or “law” that we could keep. The shed blood of Yeshua saved us from the condemnation of not keeping these "laws" as it is required for coming in the presence of a Holy God, but our lifestyle must reflect this new understanding and be in obedience to the Torah, to the teachings of God, as Avraham was, and for this he was called the “friend of God.” We are keeping God's instructions not to be saved but because we are saved - it is an internalized change of heart's desire and if you do not have this desire to keep God's commandments you need to check how sincere is your heart towards God's salvation.

Third, from verse 4:6, one is to “safeguard and perform” all God’s teachings. Living a godly life is not passive. It implies action, such as committing God’s words to memory so as one not only remembers to perform them but also to defend them from being trivialized by the non-believers.

Fourth, from verse 4:9, we are to make them known to our children and our children’s children. Teaching God’s Torah to the next generation is the most important legacy of our life as believers. Passing down the banner of God is one of our responsibilities as a light and salt to the world.

In chapter 5 Moshe is repeating the Ten Utterances (Hebrew: Devarim - words) which God spoke to him on Mount Sinai. The common translation of these utterances or statements is the “Ten Commandments,” but Moshe calls them “decrees and ordinances,” which we are to “be careful to perform.” Again, our salvation does not depend on keeping these decrees, but our lifestyle must reflect a careful performance of them. If we look at these utterances as mere commandments, our life would be lacking the spiritual element of holiness.

But if we elevate these commandments to the status of God’s teachings, as our Messiah Yeshua did, our lives will express God’s desire of holiness, for these are holy teachings uttered by a Holy God. These Ten Utterances form the Magna Carta of human civilization, thus, how much more our careful observance of them should be a witness to the world of our belief in a Holy God. The first four form the essence of our relationship with God and the following six with our fellow human being. And here there are:

1) I am Yehovah (YHWH) your God, you shall have no other gods.
2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
3) You shall not take the name of Yehovah, your God, in vain.
4) Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it.
5) Honor your father and mother.
6) You shall not murder.
7) You shall not commit adultery.
8) You shall not steal.
9) You shall not bear false witness.
10) You shall not covet.

The most recited sentence in the Torah is found in this Parashah: Shema Yisrael Yehovah Eloheinu Yehovah Ehad. “Hear O Israel, Yehovah our God, Yehovah is One.” Devarim 6:4 It is surprising to hear the answer that Yeshua gave to a scribe, when this scribe sought to find out from Yeshua which of the commandments is the most important of all, Yeshua answered: "The greatest is, 'Shema Yisrael, Yehovah Eloheinu, Yehovah Echad. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first mitzvah, commandment.’“ Mark 12:29,30

Even though the Shema seems to us to be more of a declaration of faith, a Jewish creed if you will, our Messiah tells us that it is a commandment. He is clearly establishing that our first duty, our first responsibility to God as believers, is to sanctify His Name in this world, to proclaim that there is One and only One who is holy.

Holy, in Hebrew 'Kadosh,' is the word which designates sanctification. We are to sanctify, to set apart, God from everything and everyone else. He is holy and He is the only One who is holy, and other persons, places or things are only holy as He has touched them and chose them for His service. For example, Torah is not holy because of the parchment that it is written on, but it is holy because in it we find God's holy words. Thus, we are commanded - given a Torah, a teaching - by Yeshua to recite the Shema, and by doing so to declare God’s holiness.

The Tanakh is the firm root of every believer, Jewish or Gentile. In Timothy's day there was no New Testament written yet, but we read the instruction apostle Shaul is giving Timothy concerning the Tanakh, saying: "All Scripture [Tanakh in this context] is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate equipped for every 'mitzvah' or good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Not only is the Tanakh - the Old Testament - a firm foundation for our faith in Messiah Yeshua, it is also necessary if we're going to bring fruit to maturity and for our lifestyle to reflect God's Holiness. Our God has given us a firm foundation in the Tanakh, let us deepen our roots in it by reading it and studying it every day.

The Rabbinic tradition states that we have lost the knowledge of pronouncing the tetragrammaton name of God, YHVH, and that when Moshiah will come He will tell us how to pronounce it. In the meantime, most of the time, it is read as HaShem, the Name. Well, in my commentaries I want to stress the fact that the Moshiah already came, therefore, based on the opinion of some Hebrew scholars, I am transliterating YHVH as Yehovah.


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Video of the week: The Jewish Festival of Tu B'Av

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