Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parasha Nitzavim (and Vayalekh?)

EDIT (9/19/14): I was informed that, despite it being a leap year, Nitzavim is still paired with Vayalekh this year. In light of that, there are no changes to this teaching and you are on your own to study Vayalekh. Have fun. :)

Nitzavim (Standing)
D'varim 29:9-30:20

This is a short Torah portion this week. Normally it is combined with the next portion, Vayalekh, but since this is a leap year, we get it by itself. This is the shortest Torah portion of the year at only 40 verses. While this is a quick read, it should not be assumed that there is little we can learn. As usual, YHVH has given us much to think about at various levels in this short portion.

This parasha continues the final teaching of Moshe before Israel enters the Promised Land. He begins this section by telling us who he was addressing. He says that everyone there is "standing today before YHVH your Elohim". He this lists all who are there from the leaders of Israel down to the foreigner staying in the camp, the man who cuts your wood, and the one who draws the water. He tells the people that they are there to enter covenant with YHVH. But wait! Didn't Israel enter into covenant with YHVH back at Mt. Sinai 40 years ago? Yes and no. The generation who came out of Egypt entered into covenant with YHVH, but they broke the covenant and died in the wilderness. Moshe is now speaking to the second generation who have not made that official declaration of acceptance and commitment.

However, Moshe explains in the next paragraph that he is not speaking only to those who were standing before him. He explains that this covenant is "with him who stands today before YHVH our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today." All of Israel was standing there at the time? To whom else was he speaking? To all future generations of Israel, both natural-born and those grafted into the commonwealth. Some people say that Torah doesn't apply today. Moshe puts the lie to that statement right here.

Moshe then tells them (us) what would happen when the people turned away from Torah. First, the would think that they were okay. "I'll still do what I want and be counted among the righteous." Unfortunately for those who think this way, he tells us that YHVH will not forgive that attitude. All the curses spoken of in the last parasha will be put upon that person and his name blotted out from under heaven. This paragraph is written in singular form, speaking of the sins of an individual. The next paragraph changes to plural form, speaking of the entire nation of Israel.

Torah and it's blessings and curses apply to the individual and to the nation. As Israelites, we are expected to follow Torah and be accountable for our actions. As Israel, we are expected to follow Torah and be accountable for each other's actions. We must police ourselves so YHVH doesn't have to get involved. This is very similar to the way the motion picture industry was designed. At first there were no regulations; no censors, no ratings, etc. The movie makers went beyond what was acceptable and refused to police themselves. The Motion Picture Association of America was formed to take care of these issues. The community began to police itself to avoid government intervention. Those who would not govern themselves individually no had another safeguard in place. The safeguard can still be bypassed; unrated movies and independent releases bypass the MPAA. By doing so, however, the movie makers lose all benefits of membership in the MPAA; promotion, support, etc. How does this apply to us as believers?

If we don't follow Torah properly as individuals, the community is expected to intervene. We are to tell individuals the standards and work with them to stay within those standards. We can still bypass those safeguards by leaving the community, but in so doing, we lose the benefits of membership; blessings, instruction, and a relationship with YHVH. By choosing to stay within the community, a part of the nation of Israel, we are required to adhere to the community standards as set forth by Moshe from YHVH.

Just as there are some who say we don't have to keep Torah (an argument destroyed by Moshe as seen above), there are others who say we can't keep the Torah. It is too difficult. Well, that argument is handled by Moshe as well. In verse 29:28 Moshe tells us that the hidden things belong to YHVH. Some things are not for us to know or understand. We don't need to worry about those things; YHVH will take care of those. But all things that have been revealed belong to us. Therefore Torah belongs to us. We CAN, and indeed must, keep all of it. But what about our human fallacies? We all know that we make mistakes and fail to keep Torah correctly at all times. Doesn't that fit with the argument that we can't keep Torah? Only if you forget about t'shuvah (repentance). YHVH made a way for us to keep Torah even when we are too human to keep Torah. If we make a mistake, we can repent and turn back to the right path. Through Yeshua, we are restored and can retain our righteousness.

There is more in this short Torah portion, but I must leave something for you to study for yourselves. We have already heard from Moshe about the future misdeeds of our people. He knew that we would violate Torah and reap the curses and lose the land we were promised. This section of Torah can get a little depressing because of his comments and prophecies. However, reading the last half of this portion will keep your spirits up and give reason to rejoice. There is a day coming when... well, read it for yourself. I don't want to spoil the ending.