Welcome to Nitzavim (You Are Standing) and Vayeilech (And He Went), this week's Torah portion.
NITZAVIM /You Are Standing
Deuteronomy 29:9 (10)–30:20;
“You are standing [nitzavim] today in the presence of YAHUVEH your ELOHIM …. You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with YAHUVEH your ELOHIM.” (Deuteronomy 29:10–12)
Last week, Parasha Ki Tavo (When You Enter) concluded with Moses telling the people that 40 years after they had attained nationhood, they still had not acquired “a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear” all that YAHUVEH had done for them throughout their wilderness journey. (Deuteronomy 29:2–4)
In this week's portion, YAHUVEH confronts the people to choose now His way of life and blessings or the pagan way of death and curses.
Free to Choose Good
In Parasha Nitzavim, YAHUVEH sets before the Jewish People two diametrically opposed choices: life and good, or death and evil
(et ha'chayim v'e ha'tov; v'e hamavet v'e hara).
Just as a good father might instruct his son or daughter as to the best decision to make, YAHUVEH implores His children to choose life.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
This verse provides an incredible insight into the purpose of the Torah.
YAHUVEH gave the Scriptures to us as a guide so we know what is good and what is evil; nevertheless, it is up to each of us to either live according to YAHUVEH’s Word by accepting the good and rejecting the evil or to live according to the dictates of our own heart and the current cultural perspective or worldview.
This is the concept of free will that YAHUVEH has given to mankind.
Free to Choose Life in Adversity
While it is not possible to control all the circumstances that affect our lives, we can determine how we will react to them.
It might be easier to be happy or be nice when everything is going well, but there is no guarantee that we will be happy or nice even in the midst of good times.
Likewise, tragic circumstances do not have to shake us from our firm foundation so that we lose faith in YAHUVEH and become miserable and bitter.
Job was able to say, 'He gives and He takes away. Baruch Hashem,' after losing his health, his children and his livelihood." (Job 1:21)
Even under extreme physical and emotional stress, we can choose our behavior — whether to love and forgive — or remain in hatred and bitterness.
Most of us will never have to endure such brutal conditions, but each one of us will be presented with choices throughout our lives.
We must choose whether or not to be courageous, unselfish and faithful; or bow to fear, fight for our own way, and lose our human dignity, especially during serious adversity.
The truth is that we always have the ability to walk in accordance with the values of the Torah or to walk along that broad path that leads to destruction.
We would do well to consider carefully our ways as we prepare to enter into the Days of Awe starting next weekend.
Free to Return to YAHUVEH
The ten-day period called Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im) that ushers in Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish calendar New Year 5781) and ends with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
These ten days are meant to be a period of somber introspection during which time we pray for forgiveness of our sins — and ask for forgiveness from those we have sinned against throughout the year.
The repentance required at the time of these upcoming Fall Feasts of YAHUVEH is meant to bring each person back to ELOHIM.
In YAHUSHUA'S day, people came to Yochanan /John the Baptist at the Jordan River during this season of preparation for the Fall Feasts, to be immersed in the mikvah /baptized. There, he warned them that they must produce fruit demonstrating their repentance.
“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’” (Luke 3:7–8)
The Hebrew word for repentance, t’shuvah, comes from the root shuv, meaning return.
In other words, when we choose the path of sin, evil and death, it leads us out of the presence of YAHUVEH. And when we repent, we return to the presence of YAHUVEH.
We learn in this Parasha, that the result of unrepented sin for the Israelites would be even more than personal separation — it would also be national exile.
But Baruch YAHUVEH, exile is not the end of the story.
In this Parasha, YAHUVEH tells the Israelites that those who will be scattered into exile due to sin, would be gathered back to the Promised Land when they returned to Him. And after He gathers and returns them to their own land, He would bless and prosper His people Israel.
“When you and your children return to YAHUVEH your ELOHIM and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then YAHUVEH your ELOHIM will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.” (Deuteronomy 30:2–3)
Still, today many believe that it is just too hard to obey YAHUVEH or keep the Torah.
In this Parasha, YAHUVEH tell us that it is not too difficult for us to walk in obedience:
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.... The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14)
Moreover, there are many rewards for being obedient.
These rewards are not relegated to olam habah /the world to come but are also for our lives here and now.
They are not only spiritual rewards for when we get to Heaven; they are also physical, material, and emotional rewards such as long life, prosperity, and success for today.
Yet, evil persists, and we know that even the obedient ones fall prey at times to the oppression and attacks of the enemy and to a world that is fallen. YAHUSHUA even said that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Those who have troubles do not have to succumb to fear.
Scripture tells us that the enemy cannot take away from us many good things: our freedom to choose good; our faith in YAHUVEH of Israel; and our faith in YAHUSHUA as our Messiah, who sacrificed His own life to release us from spiritual bondage so we can truly experience freedom in this life.
No matter how bleak things look at any given moment, YAHUVEH will show us evidence of His goodness and mercy while we are yet on this earth.
As King David said, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of YAHUVEH in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
Choosing life entails loving YAHUVEH with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, listening to the voice of RUACH HAKODESH /Holy Spirit and keeping His commandments. Doing so is the very best choice we could ever make — for this is our very life!
“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love YAHUVEH your ELOHIM, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For YAHUVEH is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
VAYEILECH (And He Went)
Hosea 14:1 (2)–9 (10);
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for YAHUVEH your ELOHIM, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
In Parasha Nitzavim, YAHUVEH emphasized that we have freedom of choice to follow after the way of life or the way of death.
In the Torah portion, Vayeilech (וַיֵּלֶךְ)—Hebrew for "then he went out"—Moses invests Joshua with leadership and initiates the writing down of the Torah.
Vayelech is the shortest Torah reading of the year, consisting of only one chapter.
This Shabbat before Yom Teruah (Rosh haShanah) is called Shabbat Leil Selichot, which is a time of prayers for forgiveness in preparation for the High Holy Days.
Succession Planning: Moses and Joshua
“Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: ‘I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also YAHUVEH has said to me, “You shall not cross over this Jordan.”’” (Deuteronomy 31:1–2)
In this Parasha, Moses faces his imminent death. At the age of 120 years, he prepares his people for a future without his leadership.
Moses knows that he will not be the one to take the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
Although Moses would not go with the people, he assures them that YAHUVEH will go with them and give them victory against their enemies.
YAHUVEH also gives a word to the people of Israel through Moses: “Be strong and of good courage.”
Why did they need this encouragement?
It is because in the Promised Land they would be facing new enemies and challenges that they had never encountered in the wilderness.
They would also need to learn how to work the land instead of having manna rain down each day from Heaven.
Moses, however, was not about to leave the people leaderless, like sheep without a shepherd. He ordained Joshua as his successor to take over the leadership role.
“Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which YAHUVEH has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it.’” (Deuteronomy 31:7)
Moses gave us a beautiful example of someone who knew how to exit his position of prominence with grace and dignity. He knew when it was time to step down.
He not only passed on the torch to the next generation without any display of resentment or hurt feelings, he also publicly bestowed blessings, encouragement, and affirmation upon the one who would take his place “in the sight of all Israel.”
Joshua ben Nun of the tribe of Ephraim was groomed for this leadership role.
He was a skilled military leader of the campaign against Amalek (Exodus 17:8–13) and loyal disciple of Moses. He was also the first to greet Moses after patiently waiting 40 days for him to descend from Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:15–17).
It seems that Moses made a wise decision in choosing Joshua—even over his two sons (Gershom and Eliezer)—for Joshua followed YAH's directions, trusting Him to successfully lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.
As a result, Joshua conquered Jericho and eventually the rest of Canaan.
We, too, when embarking upon a new venture, need to have the strength and courage to trust that YAHUVEH will be with us to help us overcome every challenge and to meet every need.
“Through ELOHIM we will do valiantly, and it is He who shall tread down our adversaries.” (Psalm 60:12)
Moreover, people may come and go in our lives, but YAHUVEH is the faithful One who will never abandon us.
We may come to depend upon people, even those who are capable, strong, spiritual leaders, but ultimately we need to trust that it is YAH who will be our “ever-present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1–2)
Succession Planning and the Torah
Succession in this Parasha was not only about leadership. Moses ensured that the people had what they needed to bring them into the future.
He wrote down the Torah and commanded the Israelites to read it every seven years in the year of the Shemitah (Sabbatical year) at the time of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).
Moses entrusted the safekeeping of this Torah into the hands of the sons of Aaron who were the Cohanim (Jewish Priests) as well as all the Levites, who were charged with carrying the Ark of the Covenant, among other duties.
In this way, the Torah was to be taught and handed down to generation after generation so that they would fear YAHUVEH and keep His commandments.
We also have a responsibility to teach the Word of YAHUVEH to our children—that they may teach their children and so on down the generations—to fear YAHUVEH and obey His Word.
“Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YAHUVEH your ELOHIM and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear YAHUVEH your ELOHIM as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:12–13)
The responsibility to diligently teach our children the Torah is still taken seriously today by much of the Jewish People, based on the command:
“Hear, O Israel: YAHUVEH our ELOHIM, YAHUVEH is one! You shall love YAHUVEH your ELOHIM with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–7)
Passing on our faith in YAHUVEH to our children is not the job of the youth ministry teacher once a week during congregation services; it is meant to be a lifestyle of living out faith and obedience in front of our children, as well as talking about YAHUVEH and His Word throughout the day—every day.
Sin, Repentance and the Glory of YAH
In this Parasha, we come to realize that YAHUVEH knew that despite all His warnings, the people of Israel would go astray and commit spiritual adultery by seeking after other gods and worshiping the idols of the pagans around them in the Promised Land.
“And YAHUVEH said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.
“‘Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our ELOHIM is not among us?’” (Deuteronomy 31:16–17)
Twice, YAHUVEH says He will hide His face (hester panim) from His people because of their sins. This term does not indicate the lack of Divine Providence but the concealment of it.
We can see this at work even today. YAHUVEH is maintaining His state of being hidden from the people of Israel—but the Father is revealed through YAHUSHUA HaMashiach .
“Anyone who has seen Me,” YAHUSHUA said, “has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
In YAHUSHUA, we see YAHUVEH in all of His glory:
“For YAHUVEH, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of YAHUVEH that is seen in the face of YAHUSHUA the Messiah.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
"Hear the word of YAHUVEH, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over His flock like a shepherd.'" (Jeremiah 31:10)