The readings for this week’s Torah Portion Re’eh are somewhat extended as it includes the special readings for Rosh Chodesh Elul, which begins at sundown on Friday, September 2nd. The Torah Portion is Deuteronomy 11.26 – 16.17[i] with the special reading from Numbers 28.9-15.
The reading begins with Moshe’s exhortation to Bnei Yisrael, an exhortation which would be repeated again after Israel entered into the Promised Land.
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing, if you listen (תשמעו) to the mitzvot of Adonai your God that I am commanding you today, but the curse, if you do not listen to the mitzvot of Adonai your God, but turn from the way I am commanding you today, to go after other gods you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11.26-28)
While I like this English translation, some of the emphasis is lost without understanding the nuisance behind the phrase “you shall listen” תִּשְׁמְעוּ. The root of the word is שמע (Sh’ma) “to hear”, and covers the same broad sematic scope as it does in English. The word Sh’ma ((שמע is well-known, as it is the first word of the cornerstone of Jewish faithשמע ישראל ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6.4). However, in both verses, “hearing” is not a passive action of hearing. It carries with it the need to respond to what is heard. While “Sh’ma Israel” is normally translated “Hear O Israel,” the verb in Moshe’s exhortation is usually translated “obey,” as the simple hearing does not alter the life of the hearers to come into alignment with the desire of Adonai to become a separate, set apart, holy people. The end of Moshe’s exhortation, to not “go after other gods you have not known,” is re-emphasized in Deuteronomy 12:30a, when Moshe charges the people that after they enter into the Promised Land to be careful not to be trapped into imitating other gods and not even to inquire about them. The subtlety of the temptation to succumb idolatry, the sin of placing something above or even alongside the worship of Adonai, is a problem that not only plagued Israel throughout her history but even plagues us as Yeshua believers today. In the conclusion of Deuteronomy 12.30 we read, “Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? I will do the same.’” The subtle temptation to blend “what works for others” into our worship or service to the LORD taints the purity of the worship and relationship He desires and deserves. The Ruach through prophet Isaiah stated,
“I am Adonai—that is My Name! My glory I will not give to another, or My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42.8)
While incorporating new innovations into the way we express our worship and devotion to Adonai, we must always be cautious not to taint that worship with the ways of the world.
This week’s Haftarah is Isaiah 54.11 – 55.4 and is the third in the series of seven “consolations” following the horrific reminders of Tisha b’Av. In this passage we read the familiar words, “…everyone who thirsts, come to the water, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat” (Isaiah 55.1). These same words were proclaimed by Yeshua in John 7.37 on the last day of Sukkot. According to John, this life-giving water was the Ruach, the Holy Spirit, who would soon be sent to indwell, comfort, and empower his followers. It is possible that the prophet Isaiah foresaw that indwelling presence as he continued,
Listen diligently (שמעו) to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, so that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55.2b-3a)
This sounds remarkably similar to Moshe’s exhortation to “listen (תשמעו) to the mitzvot of Adonai your God.” As a three-strand cord is not easily broken (Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 4.12), one should take note of the three strands here, in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Besorah. We are encouraged to listen and to obey the mitzvot and in doing so receive the indwelling presence of the Ruach. The LORD desires to bless and to comfort His people, both Israel and the followers of Yeshua. But that blessing is not automatic – it comes when we chose to “listen” and to “obey” His words to us.
The special Haftarah for Rosh Chodesh (Isaiah 66.1-24 with the repetition of 66.23) connects not only to this third week of consolation but also to the section of the Torah portion discussed above. First,
Thus says Adonai: “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is the House you would build for Me? Where is the place of My rest? For My hand has made all these things, so all these things came to be,” (Isaiah 66.1-2a)
Here the LORD reiterates that it is He alone that “has made all these things” so why would He share His glory with any secondhand fashioned object or thought. Then continuing in the consolation vein, the passage is replete with exhortations of comfort and joy, of redemption and restitution. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you, so you will be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66.13) paints such a heartwarming portrait of the care and concern of the LORD for errant Israel, who while was disciplined for her transgressions, remained loved, cherished, and cared for by her compassionate parent. Throughout the Scriptures, we see that though Israel habitually falls short of the standards set in the revelation of the LORD, as a loving parent, He continues to comfort and hold out the opportunity for redemption and restoration. In the Apostolic Writings, Rav Shaul, (Paul) encourages the believers in Corinth, as well as us today, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10.11). If Israel’s discipline serves as an example, how much more does the promise of their comfort and redemption exemplify the LORD’s character (cf. Exodus 24.6b-7).