by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
The parashat for this week (two of them) are entitled Nitzavim, a word meaning “Those taking a stand” and Vayyelech, meaning “And he went”. The word used for “stand” is different from the common Hebrew verb for “standing” (omayd). The Torah reading begins with our people appearing before Adonai, taking a formal stand, with Moses as their liaison, their intermediary, in order to confirm the Covenant.
In the previous parasha, Moses prophesied that we would eventually violate the Covenant God made with us, and suffer severe consequences. In these chapters, however, God makes a beautiful promise – a promise of restoration, renewal, and a return to the land. A second chance! This is where the Torah (Deuteronomy in particular) parts ways with the conventions of the ancient Near East. God offers grace and forgiveness – something no Hittite king would ever have offered to a conquered nation!
God promised not only that He would re-gather us to Eretz Yisrael, but also that He would circumcise our hearts (30:6). It’s a rather strange sort of imagery – performing a bris upon one’s heart. What we’re supposed to understand is that the heart of man is hard and only through God’s intervention can our hearts become teachable and tender, and we come to a place of repentance. I believe that in a real sense this passage anticipated the future giving of the New Covenant – the Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, and brought to fulfillment through the person of Messiah Yeshua. What we learn from this parasha is that those who try to please God by their own efforts are guaranteed to fail and become disillusioned. Yet, all along, God promised that He Himself would do the necessary work to make us righteous, if we would just humble ourselves and receive salvation as His gift, rather than proudly insist on it as wages due for work performed.
Last week’s parasha represented the ratification of the Covenant (blessings and curses pronounced for obedience or disobedience). This week’s section is the summoning of witnesses. Moses declares in chapter 30,
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving Adonai your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which Adonai swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give them.’
In parasha Vayyelech, Moses reminded us that he would not be accompanying us into the Landof Promise. He and Joshua were summoned to the Tent of Meeting, where Moses commissioned Joshua to be Israel’s next leader. Just as Israel was assured that God would be with them, Joshua was now assured that God would be with him.
The Haftarah readings (Hosea 14:2-10, Joel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20) all have the theme of restoration. When Israel broke covenant with God and was defeated by enemies, those nations credited themselves and their gods for the victory. They also presumed that God was finished with the Jewish people. But God says that it is He Himself who delivered Israel up, and He Himself would restore her. In fact, God turned around and punished those nations that treated Israel harshly. There is a lesson here: you do not want to gloat over Israel’s failure, for God intends to restore her, and then where will that leave you?
Rabbi Paul had this in mind when he cautioned the Gentile believers in Rome not to gloat over the fact that Israel, for the most part, failed to acknowledge Messiah Yeshua. Some might be tempted to say, Branches were broken off, so that I might be grafted in. Paul warns them, saying,
If some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them… do not be arrogant toward the branches… and he culminates his remarks this way: For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved (excerpted from Romans 11:19-26).
Let me conclude with this: In the course of your life, you will be called upon, perhaps on several occasions, to take a stand. Some stand on tradition rather than truth, some stand on their own pride, rather than admit wrongdoing or mistake. One may take a stand for a noble cause. We at Congregation Shema Yisrael take our stand on the fact of the Messiahship of Yeshua and the truth of God’s Word. Where do you stand? Choose this day whom you will serve. To declare your allegiance is to take a stand. Israel’s history teaches us that there are consequences for our actions and sometimes arising from our inaction. May the Lord grant us courage to stand, and wisdom to choose well who and what to stand for.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Nitzavim-Vayeilech ניצבים וויילך. Other transliterations: Nitavim, Nitsavim, Nitzabim, Netzavim, Nesabim, Vayelech, Vayyelech, VaYelech, Va-yelech, Vayelekh, Va-yelekh, or Vayeleh