Parsha: Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11)

by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970

The Commandment is to Love

Va’etchanan וָאֶתְחַנַּן(“And I pleaded”) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

The Torah portion for this Shabbat is called Va’etchanan, meaning “and I pleaded”. It covers chapter 3, verse 23 through chapter 7, verse 11. As the parsha opens, Moses pleads with Adonai to reconsider allowing him to cross over into the Land of Promise. God’s answer was a firm “No” but He did allow Moses to ascend Mt. Pisgahand get a bird’s eye view of the expanse of the land from a distance. God also directed Moses to commission Joshua as his successor.

In these chapters we are repeatedly enjoined to steadfast, unswerving loyalty and faithfulness to the God of Israel. There was to be no making of treaties with the surrounding nations. There was to be no intermarriage with polytheists. We were reminded of the horrible consequences of our toying with paganism at Baal-peor, and urged to walk according to God’s commandments – not only for our sake, but for the sake of those watching us. Through Moses God declares that we should obey His commands, saying,

… for that is your wisdom and 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’ (4:6).

Isn’t it interesting that God cared about our making a favorable impression on those around us? Why would He care what the nations thought, unless He desired that peoples from all nations come to be His worshipers? That same sentiment is echoed through the prophet Isaiah:

Also the foreigners who join themselves to Adonai, to minister to Him, and to love the name of Adonai… even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

So when Jewish people claim “Jews doesn’t try to convert people,” it isn’t something to be proud of. Frankly, it’s something to be ashamed of, because it shows that mainstream Judaism has drifted far away from God’s calling. We were supposed to be a light to the nations! Furthermore, if Jewish people insist they are not trying to convert Gentiles it means either, a) they don’t think Judaism is important enough to make the effort to convert people, or, b) they don’t think Gentiles are important enough to make the effort to convert them.

But let’s not forget that, as believers, we are also called to live quiet, dignified, godly lives, because just as Israel was on display to the nations, we too are being watched from the outside. That doesn’t mean we need to obsess about our “witness”. If we’ll just keep our eyes on Yeshua, the Author and Perfecter of the faith, and give due attention to God’s word, our lives will naturally reflect His character, and we won’t have to be self-conscious about how others perceive us.

In Chapter four, we’re reminded that nothing like what occurred in Egypt had ever happened before. God’s power to free a nation from within a nation lets us know that He alone is to be served. The Lord God of Israelis mighty! That should cause us both joy and reverence. Joy that He cares about our plight and desires our greatest good; reverence, because He is both all-powerful and all-knowing. He knows every secret of our hearts. Nothing is hidden from the eyes of Him with whom we have to do!

In light of Israel’s withdrawal a few years ago from Gaza, which, predictably, did not bring peace, and in light of all the rockets being fired daily into Israel, I find it interesting that in chapter four, verse 40 we read, So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time. That land, includes the five Philistine cities of Gath, Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza. Giving away God-ordained land for false promises of peace with Islamo-fascists is not only an act of disobedience, but is breathtaking in its historical naivete, and I submit, lethally naive.

In chapter five the ten commandments are reiterated. Moses recounts the fact that when our people came face-to-face with God at Sinai, we were (understandably) terrified, and we besought Moses to mediate for us. We dared not look upon God’s fiery presence or hear His voice, lest we perish. God commended us for that, and ultimately did appoint Moses to be our middleman.

So don’t let anybody feed you the nonsense that Jewish people don’t need a middleman in order to go before God. We have always had and needed middlemen. Moses was our middleman. The High Priest was our middleman. The prophets were our middlemen. And the only way to the Father today is through the ultimate Mediator, Messiah Yeshua.

Chapter six contains the Shema, the central declaration of our faith in the one true God of heaven and earth. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. For centuries the rabbis have cited this passage, sometimes less an affirmation of their own faith as much as a renunciation of the doctrine of the Trinity. But the same word, echad, used here in the Shema to mean “one” is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a man and his wife cleaving to each other and becoming “one flesh”. I am one person, my wife is another person, and yet we are one. If some want to argue against the triune nature of God, they’ll have to find a passage better suited to support their argument. That is not at all what the Shema is addressing.

Meanwhile, the command is that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our might. That’s a daunting enough task without resorting to bad hermeneutics.

Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Va’etchanan וָאֶתְחַנַּן‬.