(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
This week's portion contains two of the most fundamental concepts in Judaism: the Asarat HaD'varim (the Ten Words, also known as the Ten Commandments), and the "Shema".
This is Parashat Va'etchanan. Moshe is still outlining some familiar reminders of Isra'el's disobedience and the awesome fact that HaShem nevertheless has brought them this far! In fact, they are right at the eastern side of the Yarden (Jordan) River!
Chapter four contains what I like to call the "Jewish Great Commission". Here in verses 1-14 Moshe carefully instructs the community to live out the Torah in such a way that the surrounding nations will see and learn about the unique and awesome mercy of the One and Only True God. Because of its significance, I want to quote some of this passage at length:
"See! I have taught you rules and laws as God my Lord has commanded me, so [that you] will be able to keep them in the land to which you are coming and which you will be occupying.
Safeguard and keep [these rules], since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They will hear all these rules and say, "This great nation is certainly a wise and understanding people."
What nation is so great that they have God close to it, as God our Lord is, whenever we call Him?
What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws, like this entire Torah that I am presenting before you today?
Only take heed and watch yourself very carefully, so that you do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let [this memory] leave your hearts, all the days of your lives. Teach your children and children's children about
the day you stood before God your Lord at Horeb.
It was then that God said to me, "Congregate the people for Me, and I will let them hear My words. This will teach them to be in awe of Me as long as they live on earth, and they will also teach their children."
You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain. The mountain was burning with a fire reaching the heart of heaven, with darkness, cloud and mist.
Then God spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no image; there was only a voice.
He announced to you His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He wrote them on two stone tablets.
At that time, God commanded me to teach you rules and laws, so that you will keep them in the land which you are crossing [the Jordan] to occupy." (D'varim 4:5-14, Pentateuch)
What makes this passage stand out is Isra'el's position and influence among the surrounding people groups! What a legacy! To be the vessels to carry the precious Word of HaShem unto those who have not heard! Isn't this the same as the Great Commission? Indeed, it is the very same good news that is contained within the Torah, the message of the mercy and grace of an all-loving, all-forgiving God, who is intimately interested in the well-being of his created subjects, both Jew and non-Jew!
God is indeed our source of salvation, for there is no other means of salvation except that which has been provided by his Son's obedient sacrifice! A reader asked me to comment on the phrase "ADONAI Tzidkenu", a phrase which roughly translates "God of our Righteousness", or "God is our Righteousness". In light of the previously quoted verses, where Moshe is attempting to establish with absolute certainty, that HaShem, the God of the Hebrews, is the source of all their subsequent righteousness (see verses 6-8), I want to share my response with you here.
God and his Word are the source of Truth and righteousness! His Son is the physical embodiment of these two important attributes of God. In my response to my reader, I tried to convey this import fact. The Torah, as Moshe is instructing, is indeed the objective source of God's righteousness, but the revelation of the unity (see Shema below) is the power that allows us to live the Torah out in our lives!
Here is my response:
"You have stumbled unto a most wonderful phrase! First of all, the verse that you are looking for is most likely found in 1 Chronicles 16:35. I say most likely, because the exact order of words suggested, do not appear anywhere in the Torah. Using Hebrew as our guide, the phrase "Jehovah Hoseenu" roughly translates into "God of our salvation" or "God, our Salvation". In the RSV, it reads, "Deliver us, O’ God of our salvation, and gather and save us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory in thy praise" (emphasis mine). The same verse in the Hebrew (transliterated by myself) reads,
"V’imru hoshi-eynu Elohey yish-eynu v’kab-tzeynu v’hatzi-leynu min-ha’goyim l’hod’ot l’shem kad’shekhah l’hish-tabeyach bit-hila-techah" (emphasis mine).
As you can see from my transliteration above, the exact word used for "God" in this instance is the Hebrew word "Elohey", not "Y-H-V-H" (sometimes pronounced "Jehovah"). The word used for "salvation" (found 157 times in the whole Bible) comes from the Hebrew root word "hoshiah". The suffix "nu" means "our". So your mystery phrase probably came from this verse.
As an interesting side study, a number of other verses also use a cognate of the same word for salvation, in proximity to a name for God. Notable examples include Psalm 65:5; 79:9; 85:4 ("yisheynu"), and Psalm 68:19 ("yeshuah-teynu"). Of the last one mentioned, you might notice that our Messiah’s name is directly located within the phrase "YESHUAh-teynu"! This is a wonderful discovery when compared to Hebrews 5:8-9, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him."
Moshe mentions the Ten Words in 4:13, and chapter 5 is easily given over to mostly repeating what we have already read about in Exodus chapter 20. Allow me to recall my comments from their more familiar location in Exodus chapter 20.
" The themes surrounding the giving of the Torah, embodied in the Ten Words, is one of the mostif not the mostsignificant events in the history of the offspring of Avraham. Surely, it carries the most impact, even for Jewish folks today. Our sin nature, however, makes us prone to disobedience. The Torah of HaShem serves to remind us of how short we fall, when we try to measure up to God's righteousness. While it is true that no one alive could have ever kept all of the commandments of God, it is also true that HaShem never expected anyone to be able to! The Torah doesn’t demand perfection, else, there would be no need of the upcoming details concerning sacrifices for sin. What the Torah expects from its followers is genuine trusting faithfulness to the giver of the Torah, who is the Holy One of Isra'el! Today, that implies placing one's complete trust in his Only, Unique Son Yeshua! The Torah is a document of grace, not "Law". We need to begin to understand that this is the true nature and function of the Torah. Translator David H. Stern, in his Complete Jewish Bible stated it succinctly when he explained, "For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts." (Romans 10:4)"
In an open commentary to a well-known Messianic Colorado forum, I supplied these comments about the Ten Words:
" We in the 20th Century have a tendency to reduce the Torah into numbers (i.e., the TEN Commandments), because it conveniently serves our intellect to present something so (seemingly) "monumentally complex" into "bite-sized" chunks that we can handle. This remains one of the primary roots of our problem in our approach to the Torah: it is a complete, functional document; it is designed for us to be received as a whole, or not at all. ("Do we divide the Messiah up this way? Of course not." Then why do it to the "written messiah"?) If we think that only TEN belong to "this group", or that the New Covenant only spells out these TWO to "that group", or even, that we should only focus on these FOUR (hint: Acts 15, 21), then we have missed the point! The Torah is a UNIT document. Only the LIVING Torah, Yeshua, could "improve", that is, modify the original. We have no authority dissecting it."
The most notable feature of this week's portion is the Shema. The word "shema" means "hear", "listen intently". It is a Hebrew imperative that carries the notion of an action-oriented command. In other words, "Now that you have heard, go and do something about it!" The Shema introduces the difficult concept of the "tri-unity" of our unexplainable God. The ancients called HaShem "Eyn-Sof", a term which quite literally means "without borders". Our God is infinitely unknowable. Yet because of our finite minds, he has chosen to express himself in ways that we can perceive. However we shall have to wait to gain a fuller perception of him, once we put off this corruptible flesh and our eyes are able to see through this mirror clearly instead of darkly.
For the sake of understanding, I am going to use familiar language in this next section.
The "trinity" is a doctrine that has long been characterized by misunderstanding, both among my people, as well as a few Christians. I believe that most of the confusion actually stems from the language that we choose to use when describing the unified nature of our somewhat incomprehensible God. However, the Torah does not expect us to label God and stuff him in box. Nor are we so smart that our systematic theological viewpoints of him will ever fully describe his wonderful glory. Yet the revelation that has been graciously granted to us is a complete one, in that, all that we need to know to maintain a right-standing relationship with HaShem is found within the pages of his Word, and most specifically, in the person of his only and unique Son Yeshua our Messiah.
I will single out just one passage and comment on it. To be sure, it is the most famous passage in the Torah: the "Shema" of Deuteronomy 6:4.
"Sh’ma Yisra’el, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra’el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one].
Anyone with a knowledge of the Hebrew text will realize that the word translated ADONAI is the four-letter name for HaShem, Y-H-V-H, also known as the Tetragrammaton. The Jewish people use this name only in a very sacred and personal way. To be sure, today Torah-observant Jews, in reverential fear of misuse never speak it. Because of the understanding that the Shema "defines" the oneness of Y-H-V-H (which is what the Hebrew word echad implies), many Jews are fiercely monotheistic. After all, is this not what the plain sense (p’shat) of the verse in Deuteronomy is teaching?
But, by understanding what the B’rit Chadashah teaches believers about the unity of Yeshua and the Father (John 10:30), we are given the ability to interpret the Shema in a more theologically correct light. ADONAI is echad…. Yet, according to Yeshua’s own testimony, He and the Father also constitute an echad. Is HaShem more than one?! Is Yeshua crazy? This relationship of the Father to the Son has long since been a problem for my people to grasp. And we’re not even talking about the trinity yet!
The Shema teaches Torah observance to be sure (read 6:6-9). Moreover, Yeshua also agrees with the centrality of the Shema and commandments in the life of a believer!
"Sh'ma Yisra'el, Y-H-V-H Eloheynu, Y-H-V-H echad! V'ahavta eht Y-H-V-H
Eloheycha, b'chol l'vav-cha, u'v-chol naf'sh'cha, u'v-chol m'odecha."
(D'varim [Deuteronomy] 6:4, 5)
"V’ahavta l’reyach kamochah." (Vayikra [Leviticus] 19:18)
There is little or no disagreement over the "concepts" explained by these mitzvot (Love God; love your neighbor) used by Yeshua and (at least the former) known in Jewish circles as the "Sh'ma" ("Hear!"). Every Jews knows that this is not the whole of the Torah, simply the hallmark of the Torah, the "cornerstone" of keeping the mitzvot. This is what Yeshua meant when he said, "all of the Law hangs on these two". Anyone, who correctly understands these two commands, is well on his way to keeping any of the rest that may apply to him (notice the context of the complete dialogue transaction, in the corresponding Scripture of Mark 12:28-34. The teacher of the Law is said to have been "not far from the Kingdom of God [vs.34]).
These two are not the only ones that make a person Torah-observant, yet they genuinely verify his change in status as a true follower of HaShem. How so? For if one truly loves HaShem (as the Shema is challenging him to), he will have no problem falling in love with Yeshua. Moreover, if he truly loves HaShem and Yeshua, he will have no problem loving his neighbor. The secret is unhindered love for HaShem, and all that he authoritatively represents! Anyone who genuinely loves the Father and the Son will have no problem wanting to keep the mitzvot. There is an unbreakable tie between the Father, the Son, your neighbor, and the mitzvot! Even Yochanan would agree with me (1 John. 2:3-11; 3:1-18). If our theology is weak in any one of these pillars of teaching, we will tend to be in an imbalance. Here are some examples:
(In my small opinion)
-The Church tends to be strong in their theology about Yeshua, but weak in the other three,
-The Synagogue tends to be weak in their theology about Yeshua, but strong in the other three,
-The world (humanitarian groups) tends to be weak in every area, except the one about their neighbor,
-Messianic Jews (made up of born Jews and converted Gentiles) tend to be the better equipped to correctly internalize all four areas, yet corporately, we still fall short many times, due to lack of support from the other groups. As of late, we just seem to fall short due to lack of love...
Anyone who seriously conducts a study of the dynamics of Torah-observant peoples will come to a similar conclusion as the one purported above. Why? Because the nature of the Torah is designed to be received and practiced by the Jew primarily (Romans 1:16). Yeshua is a Jew, and will always remain a Jew. The Torah is a Jewish document, and will always be one. Our father Avraham is forever the father of those who believe, by faith, in the One true God. Gentiles have been grafted into a Jewish Olive Tree. They, formerly strangers, have joined the commonwealth of Isra'el (Ephesians 2:12-19). There simply is no other way that it has been designed to work. There is no room for pride from either group, for the Torah clearly teaches that this (matrix) came to be by the mercy and grace of an all-loving God!
In my small opinion, if the other three groups would assist the Messianics in supporting the Torah Community (teaching and living the theology of all four areas), we would have a better time "repairing the world (2 Chron. 7:14)" (Tikkun ha-'Olam). Does this mean that I believe that most Gentiles should become Jews? No. But the time is coming (and now is) when the grafted-in branches must recognize their place and duty in this Olive Tree of ours (Romans 11:13-32). Only a unified effort from both types of branches will achieve the purposes that HaShem designed for us. The organized church of the last 2000 years has enjoyed success, at the expense of its first century counterpart. Isn't it time to return to the old ways (Jeremiah 6:1619)? How much of spiritual Babylon will we tolerate, before we heed the call to leave her?
The closing blessing is as follows:
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy email@example.com