Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat R’eh – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26 – 16:17

Behold! – “r’eh,” “see, look” - I set before you today a blessing and a curse…” (Deut.11: 26, emphasis added). The imperative form of the verb “see, look or behold” is in the singular person, while the “you” in this verse is in plural form. Thus, although that which is about to follow is a charge to the entire nation, each and every individual Israelite is to consider what is being said, and is to be personally responsible to obey YHVH’s Word.  Contrary to the English rendering that, a blessing will result “if you hear the commandments of YHVH your Elohim which I command you today; and a curse, if you will not hear the commandments of YHVH your Elohim” (11:27 italics added), in Hebrew it is simply: “Behold I set before you today a blessing and curse; a blessing [of] hearing the commandments…” The prepositional “if” is attached only to the curse.  Thus, keeping YHVH’s Word constitutes a blessing in itself, which is the very reason He gave Yisrael the Torah in the first place - instructions for life abundant! (cf. John 10:10). The blessings are a "given", a default, if you will, that are obtained by living in obedience to YHVH's Word.

In order to maintain the blessings in the land of their inheritance, the Israelites are commanded: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall possess serve their gods… and you shall obliterate their name from that place” (12:2a.3c italics added). The verb used for “utterly destroy” is the same as for “obliterate” - “abed” of the root a.b/v.d (alef, bet/vet, dalet).  The first reference is a double rendering, “a’bed ta’abdoon (destroying you will destroy - singular)”, while the second (obliterate in English) is “ve’eeba’de’tem (plural)”. "Abed” (here in its different forms) puns with “avod” (ayin, bet/vet, dalet), which here is used for “worship and service rendered to idols”, and may be an intentional device employed in our text. Thus we read above, “The places where the nationsserve [av’du] their gods”, and in 13:6-8: “If your brother… or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend… entice you secretly, saying, ‘let us go and serve [na’avda] other gods…’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him…” (emphasis and italics added), as serving other gods will indeed bring about utter destruction and obliteration – avadon - of the above root a.b/v.d - upon those thus engaged (see also 13:10-17).

 But while the command to “obliterate” points to the places (of the nations’ idol worship), when the text describes idolatry that originates with one’s relatives and close associates a completely different course of action is enjoined: "But you shall surely kill [harog ta’hargenu – killing you will kill] him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.  And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the YHVH your Elohim…” (Deut. 13:9-10).  

Having been nomads in the wilderness, the Israelites have not yet experienced the “rest and the inheritance” promised them by YHVH (12:9).  It is precisely in order to obtain those two promises that they are to “not do according to all that [you] are doing here today, each doing all that is right in his own eyes… And you shall cross over the Jordan, and shall live in the land which YHVH your Elohim is causing you to inherit. And He shall give you rest from all your enemies all around; and you shall live securely” (12: 8, 10, italics added).  Rest” is “menu’cha” (root – noon, vav, chet), and “inheritance” here is “nachala” (root – noon, chet, lamed), with the first two consonants of the latter forming “nach” – rest, thusly making these two (inheritance and rest) an indivisible unit. From Hebrews 4:1, 2 we learn that “the word [of the promise to enter the rest and receive the inheritance] did not profit those hearing it, not having been mixed with faith in the ones who heard” (italics added). 

 Large portions of our Parasha deal with YHVH’s place of choice of where He is to be worshipped. It is no wonder, therefore, that just beforehand He commands Yisrael to cleanse the land of all vestige of idolatry. As we saw in Parashat Va’ye’tze (Genesis 28: 10 – 32:2, in chapter 28:10ff) “place” is “makom”, originating from the verb “kum” which means “to rise, stand up, or go up”.  This place is defined as: “The place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose out of all your tribes; for you shall seek His dwelling, to put His name there” (12:5).  It is there that the Israelites are to “go” -- it is there that they are to “bring” their “offerings, sacrifices, tithes, contributions and oaths” (12:6, 11). It is also there that they are to “do” all that He commands them to do (12:14).  It is to be a place for both individual and corporate service to, and worship of YHVH, with the Pesach sacrifice being offered there (ref. 16:2, 6), and where the “rejoicing” during the Feast of Shavu’ot (Feast of Weeks) is to take place (ref. 16:11), as well as at Succot (16:15).  Finally, “three times in a year shall all your males appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose” (16:16 emphasis added).  The word here for “males” is not the usual “z’charim” (singular, “zachar”), but another version of the same root ( zayin, chaf, resh), “z’churim”. The root means to “remember”, and thus a “male” is “one who remembers”.  But here the changed form (“z’churim”) means “those who are remembered”. If the Israelites remember to obey YHVH’s Word, He will definitely not forget them and will maintain His faithfulness to them (and to their households). "The place that YHVH chooses" (for His dwelling place in the land of Israel), which is repeated several times in our text, as we just noted, calls to mind Yeshua's words: "I go to prepare a place for you…" (John 14:2b), which is preceded by His statement: "In my Father's house, there are many mansions" (v. 14a). Whether on earth or in heaven, in the terrestrial or in the celestial, Elohim always desires to live with and in His people, and is, therefore, the Builder of their shared abode (cf. 1st Chron. 17:25; Ps. 127:1; Is. 66:1; Heb. 11:10).

Whereas the sacrifices and offerings are not to be offered randomly (“take heed to yourself that you not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see”, 12:13), the slaughtering and partaking of meat, once Yisrael enters the land, may be done at will (v. 15). This will enable the people to eat the meat of undomesticated animals such as deer and ram, which although kosher, could not be eaten in the wilderness as they were not to be used for sacrifices.  But in addition to this changed regulation, another change is now being enacted.  Because meat eating in the wilderness always involved a sacrifice (“peace offering” for the laymen), those partaking of it had to be “tahor”, that is in a state of ritual cleanliness. However, with the changed conditions and requirements for and in the Land of Yisrael, he who is ritually unclean, the “tameh”, will also be able to partake of meat (except, of course, meat which is to be sacrificed in the place designated by YHVH).  It is here that the prohibition of consuming blood is also repeated (12:16) and elaborated upon in verse 23, where it says (literally): “Only, be strong not to eat the blood, for the life is in the blood, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh” (emphasis added). Rashi, quoting Rabbi Yehuda, comments that it took “strength” to restrain oneself and not partake of the blood. He further quotes Rabbi Shim’on ben Azay who says that this indicates that if fortitude was needed to stay away from blood, which naturally does not constitute a great temptation, how much more so regarding YHVH’s other injunctions![[1]]  However, the blood that we are obligated to ‘drink’ is Yeshua's, for He said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood you do not have life in yourselves.  The one partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53, 54).

The expression “life is in the blood”, of 12:23, is actually the “blood is [or constitutes] the soul”, as we see also in B’resheet (Genesis) 9:4.  Soul - “nefesh” - stems from the root (noon, pey/fey, shin) meaning, “rest” or “refreshing oneself”. Shmot (Exodus) 23:12 provides a good example and illustration of the usage and meaning of this verb: “Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor [in order] that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger may refresh themselves” (emphasis added). Thus, embedded in the very word for ‘soul’ is YHVH’s original intent and design for it, which is “rest, repose and refreshment”. What's more, in Exodus 313:17 we read the following: "...for in six days YHVH made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed - va'yinafesh" (italics added).

 Chapter 13 begins with a challenge concerning false prophets or dreamers of dreams, which the Israelites are not to heed if they are to truly express love for YHVH their Elohim.  Accordingly, we read the following in verse 3: “You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for YHVH your Elohim is testing you to find out if you love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul”.  The Hebrew for “you love…” is “ha’yesh’chem ohavim…”  This is an unusual usage of “yesh”, which means as a rule, “there is, substance, or existence” and is generally not attached to verbs.  The particular usage employed here indicates that the love the Israelites are supposed to have for YHVH is to be part and parcel of their very being, their make-up, and fiber.  

The rest of chapter 13 and the first part of 14 deal (again) with idolatrous practices, about which it says: “You shall put away evil from among you” (13: 5c, see also v. 17a).  The verb for “put away” is “(u)ve’arta”, of the root (bet, ayin, resh) which literally means to “burn”.  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 11:1 we read, “And when the people complained, it displeased YHVH and YHVH heard it; and his anger was kindled, and the fire of YHVH burnt among them”.  That fire of YHVH, which burnt among them, was denoted by the same verb.  And thus, we may infer that Yisrael is not only to “burn” the “evil”, but that failing to depart from it they will incur YHVH’s burning (anger).  Moreover, there is another word that is spelled the same and means “brutish or ignorant” and by inference also “beasts and cattle” (e.g. Gen. 45:17).  The fools are addressed in Tehilim (Psalms) 94: 8 – 11 in this way: “Understand you beastly ones [“bo’arim”] among the people; you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who chastises the nations, shall He not punish, He who teaches man knowledge?  YHVH knows the thoughts of man, that they are vain”.  It appears that (“burning,” but also “removal” and “brutish”) is applied to the ignorant ones who have incurred YHVH’s burning anger, or to those who may be in danger of doing so. 

 The laws of tithing are also repeated in our Parasha: “You shall surely tithe all the increase of your seed that the field yields year by year” (14:22).  Aser ta’aser” – “you shall surely tithe” (lit. “tithing you shall tithe”) is emphatic. The letters ayin, sin [also shin], and resh from the word “eser” - “ten” (the tithe of course being the tenth part of the whole, and therefore called “ma’aser”).  These letters also form the root of ashir - rich (with a slight modification in the letter “sin”, placing the dot – vowel - on the upper right-hand side, turning it to “shin”).  Are we to surmise from this that he who pays his tithes is guaranteed riches?  The reason given here for the tithes (and for having to be faithful to eat it in the place chosen by YHVH), is for the purpose of teaching the “fear [of] YHVH” (14:23).  The commentator Alshikh asks, “How can eating, drinking, and abundance of rejoicing teach people to be God-fearing? … Perhaps the Holy One blessed Be He commanded them to take a tithe of all their possessions to Jerusalem, to deter them from repudiating the source of their bounty, and that they should realize that this wealth did not originate with the power of their own hands. It was as if they were giving the king his portion. This tithe is ‘holy to the Lord’, and from the table of the Most High. They were partaking of the table of the Most High (this tithe was regarded as their own personal goods…) … The ‘living would take this to heart’ that he was a slave of the king of the universe, partaking of His bounty, and in this way never stop fearing the Lord continually.”[[2]

 The principle of the release of debts comes next. “Every seven years you shall make a release [“sh’mita”] (15:1), of the verb sh.m.t. (shin, mem, tet), which means to “drop, release, or let go” (as we saw in Parashat Mishpatim – Ex. 21-24, in 23:11).  The lesson learned thereby is not only the remission of debts but also the remission of sins, granted us by YHVH who in forgiveness and grace “lets go” of our transgressions. The theme of generosity expressed in 15:3-4 is repeated in verses 7-11, where we find the expression, “an open and free hand” (15:8). Such an attitude, with the resultant deeds, will produce conditions where there will be, “…no one in need among you, for YHVH will greatly bless you in the land that YHVH your Elohim is giving you for an inheritance, to possess it” (15:4).  But should the poor nevertheless remain in the land, “sh’mita” will afford an opportunity to “give freely” (ref. vs. 7, 8, 10, 11) and, further, to be blessed in return.  Even Yeshua made the comment that “the poor are always with you” (John 12:8).  The word used in our text for “poor” (15:7, 11) is “ev’yon”, of the root a.v.h (alef, bet/vet, hey) which is “submit to existing demand” [3], thereby describing the lot of the less fortunate member of society. In verse 2 we read: “… every creditor shall release what he has loaned to his neighbor…” - “loaned” here being “yasheh” (root, noon, shin, hey) and means “obligate, give up rights”. It also forms the root for the name Menashe. In verse 6 we read again: “For YHVH shall bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow…” “Lend” here is “avot” (a.v.t. ayin, bet/vet, tet), meaning “obligate, be indebted”. [4] Conditions of full graciousness and generosity result in full freedom, with none having to “submit to the demands of others” to whom they are “indebted”. But, as mentioned above, when that is not the case, YHVH makes provision for those who fall under this category, thus giving an opportunity to the rest of society to be exercised in goodness and care for the needy. The centrality of this principle is well expressed in Proverbs 19:17, which says: “He who has pity on the poor lends to YHVH, and He will pay back what he has given”.

In the latter part of chapter 15, we encounter instructions concerning Hebrew slaves, who are to be released on the seventh year: “And when you send him out free from you, you shall not let him go away empty. You shall richly bestow on him from your flock, and from your threshing floor, and from your winepress…” (v. 14, emphasis added).  The Hebrew reads: “bestowing you shall bestow”, while the verb for “bestow” is “ha’anik” (the root is a.n.k, ayin, noon, kof). According to Daat Mikra commentary [5] the usage of this verb here is connected to “anak”, a necklace, in order to point out that rather than ‘hang burdens on the neck’ (as the idiom goes) of the former slave, the master is to ‘hang on his neck’ gifts of every kind. Still on the same theme, in 16:11 we read concerning the Feast of Shavu’ot: “And you shall rejoice before YHVH your Elohim, you and your son, and your daughter, and your male slave, and your slave-girl, and the Levite that is inside your gates, and the alien, and the fatherless, and the widow that are among you…” According to Rashi, the first group of four parallels the last four. The first lot belongs to man, while the second lot belongs to YHVH, who says to man: “If you will treat well those who belong to Me, I shall likewise be kind [literally, ‘cause to rejoice’] to those who belong to you”. [6]


[1]  Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

[2]  New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner  

      Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed

      Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

[3] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the commentaries of   

     Samson Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New    

     York, 1999.

[4] Ibid

[5] Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

[6] Ibid







[1]  Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

[2]  New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner  

      Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed

      Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

[3] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, based on the commentaries of   

     Samson Raphael Hirsch, Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, - New    

     York, 1999.

[4] Ibid

[5] Dvarim with Daat Mikrah Commentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

[6] Ibid







Thursday, August 18, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ekev - Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12–11:25

“And it shall be, because you hear these judgments, and keep and do them, even YHVH your Elohim will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers” (italics added)), is the opening verse of Parashat Ekev. “Because” (here) is “ekev”, from the root a.k.v (ayin, kof, bet/vet) the primary meaning of which is “heel”. In other words, taking the right step (of hearing and obeying) will result in the desired consequences. Our forefather Ya’acov was so named because he was born holding his twin brother’s heel (Gen. 25:26).  He literally came in the footsteps of his brother, and thus his name, which means to “follow”, perfectly matched the birth condition. His, however, was not the kind of following of the faithful disciple, who walks in the footsteps of his master. The image of ‘heel-holding’ or ‘heel grabbing’ refers to hindering or trapping someone, such as we see in the following examples: “Dan shall be a serpent... that bites the horse’s heels” (Gen. 49:17 italics added); “The trap shall take him by the heel” (Job 18:9 italics added); “They mark my steps [heels]” (Ps. 56:6).  In the following words of Psalm 41:9, we find an allusion to Messiah’s destiny: “My own familiar friend... which did eat of my bread has lifted his heel against me” (italics added).  This type of follower steals quietly behind the one he follows with a crafty intent (as was the case with Messiah’s “familiar friend”). Indeed, from the same root of “heel” and “follow” (a.k.v.), stem words like “crafty, cunning, and deceptive”, as we see, for instance, in Yirmiyahu (Jeramiah) 9:4: “... surely every brother deals craftily [akov ya’akov]” (italics added).  When Esav (Esau) was startled by his younger brother’s cunning, in B’resheet (Genesis) 27:34, 36, “he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry: ‘… Is he not rightly named, Ya’acov? For he has supplanted (“akav”) me...?’” (italics added).  The prophet Hoshe’a (Hosea), many centuries later, traces the waywardness of the nation of Yisrael (who in this prophecy is called “Ya’acov”) to their progenitor: “In the womb he took his brother by the heel” (Hos. 12:3, italics added).  In the wake of this ‘birth mark’ of crookedness, Ya’acov (the man and the nation) remained true to his (and their) nature, as is even evidenced here, where YHVH makes it perfectly clear: “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness [yosher – lit. ‘straightness’] of your heart that you are going to possess their land…” (9:5).  


“In the wake of” or “as a result of” - in short “because” - is “ekev”, such as is employed in our Parasha. Quite often YHVH declares: “And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because (ekev) you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:18 italics added). David answered the prophet Na’tan (Nathan), who told him a parable following his sin with Bat-Sheva (Bathsheba) and said: “He must make restitution for the lamb, because [ekev] he did this thing and had no compassion” (2nd Sam.12:6 italics added). Thus, this little “ekev” - “because” - becomes the fulcrum on which the balance of justice depends, much like the heel in the physical body. And just as this section of the Parasha started with, “And it shall be, because [EKEV] you hear these judgments, and keep and do them…” it also ends with: “So you shall perish; because [EKEV] you would not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim…” (Deut. 8:20).


Parashat Ekev features two major themes, which alternate throughout: the physical conditions of the Land and the connectedness of these conditions to the people’s obedience to YHVH. The second of these themes is in the form of reflections on Yisrael’s rebelliousness during their wilderness journey. The recounting of the latter is for the purpose of illustrating sin and rebellion and issuing warnings in face of the new circumstances that Yisrael is about to face.


In 7:12-13, “keeping the judgments”, as we saw above, guarantees a promise of love, blessing, and multiplication, a promise which is built into the two-sided covenant (the other side being the curse incurred by disobedience to the “judgments”, as we shall see next week).  “Covenant” is “b’reet”, of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), forming the verb “barot”, with its primary meaning being to “separate out the parts” [1], thus rendering the covenant as a special agreement with a special and set apart people. “Blessings” – “bracha” is primarily “growth or unhindered prosperity”. Its root, (bet, resh, kaf), is also the root for “berech”, which is “knee”.  This all-important word, to “bless” or “blessing", is surprisingly not attached to the imagery of a more regal hand-stretching gesture, or to the mouth which is also an instrument of blessing, but rather to the humble action of kneeling.  Neither is there a special word assigned to Elohim's blessings (so as to distinguish it from blessings conferred by men).


The words uttered in 7:12, and 13 are echoed in 8:13: “And your herds and your flocks will multiply, and your silver and your gold will have multiplied [root of “rav”], and all that you have is multiplied [“rav”]…” Moreover, the land YHVH promises to Yisrael is a land “in which you shall eat bread without poverty – miskenot” (8:9). “Misken” (of the same root,, samech, kaf/chaf, noon) is a “poor person, one to be pitied (e.g. Ecc. 9:15, 16). Shmot (Exodus) 1:11 tells us that the storage cities that Yisrael built for Par’oh were “arey miskenot”.  Ironically, the Hebrews themselves were very “miskenim” (plural for miserable) when they built those “miskenot” cities.  Now, not only will they be free from poverty and want, but they will also not have to labor for someone else.  In fact, last week we read in 6:10, 11 about their future dwelling places: “…to give to you great and good cities, which you have not built, and houses full of every good thing which you have not filled…” There will be so much provision that they will not even need to erect for themselves “arey miskenot”, cities of storage, as storing up for the future will not be called for.  However, this plenty will require “watchfulness” lest they forget YHVH (ref. 8:11), who “took you out of Egypt… who led you through the wilderness”, and “who fed you” (ref. vs. 14, 15, 16).  There is always the danger of saying in one’s heart: “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (v. 17), while it is YHVH “who gives to you power to get wealth” (v. 18). Wealth is a translation of “cha’yil”. Remember “not by might, not by power…” in Z’chariah 4:6? There “cha’yil” is translated as “might” while “power” is “ko’ach”.  Thus, it is only YHVH’s might – cha’yil - which is able to grant all this wealth. It is therefore paramount that you should “remember YHVH your Elohim, for He gives to you power – “ko’ach” - to “do well”, in this case implying wealth – “chayil” (Deut. 8:18).


The above exhortation stresses remembering YHVH, as forgetfulness will lead to idolatry which, in turn, will bring about destruction (ref. 8:19, 20). The wilderness, therefore, was to serve as a place of refinement, humbling, and trial (ref. 8:2, 3, 16) in order to obviate just this kind of outcome.  Some of the blessings (in 7:13) will entail “the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock”.  Here “increase” is “sh’gar”- “cast or throw” in Aramaic, hence “that which comes forth from the womb”. [2] “Oxen” in this context is “alafim”, which also means “thousands” (“elef” singular).  We already encountered this term in Parashat Chayey Sarah (in Gen. 24:60) where we found that its root, a.l.f, is also shared with “aluf” which means “prince or chief” and with “alef”, the name of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The prominence of “alef” makes it, by implication, also of great numerical value – hence “elef” - a “thousand”.  Thus, the oxen mentioned here allude to great wealth. The “wealth of the flock” is the rare “a’shtarot” (used in this way only in Dvarim) of the root (ayin, shin, resh), related to “osher” – “wealth” and to “eser”, which is the figure “ten” (as well as being  connected to Ashtaroth, the goddess of fertility).


In Shmot (Exodus) 23:27, 28 (in Parashat Mishpatim), we read the following promise: “…and I will confound all the people among whom you come. And I will give the neck of your enemies to you. And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you” (italics added). Here, in 7:20 we read again: “And YHVH your Elohim shall send the hornets among them, until the ones who are left perish, even those who hide themselves from your face” (italics added), and again in verse 23: “And YHVH your Elohim shall…. confuse them into great confusion until they are destroyed” (literal translation). Both “confound” in Shmot 23:28 and “confusion” here in 7:23 are of the root h.m.m (hey, mem, mem) meaning to “make noise, confuse or discomfort” (and is an onomatopoeic word, just like the English “hum”). This, then, in not only a promise for the future; but is also a glimpse into the past recalling that YHVH had “confused – “va’yaham” - the camp of the Egyptians” (Ex. 14:24), during Yisrael’s exodus out of the “house of bondage”.


In this first part of the Parasha, included in the promises that will result in obedience, there are several echoes of Parashat Sh'lach Lecha (Bamidbar 13:1-15:41), that relate to the spies' report. In their account, ten of the spies announced that the land "devours – literally eats – its inhabitants" and what's more, there are "giants [there], the descendants of Anak…" (13:33). In response (in 14:9) Yehoshua and Calev chided the complaining Israelites who believed this report, by declaring that "the people of the land are our bread…". This idea is now picked up In Dvarim 7:16, where YHVH promises to Yisrael, that they will, literally, "eat all the peoples whom YHVH your Elohim is giving you". Moreover, the "descendants of Anak" will be consumed by Him (ref. 9:2-4).


In spite of all the material wealth and the increase promised at the beginning of the Parasha, and later in 8:7-10, sandwiched in between these two passages, in 8:3, is the following passage: “And He has humbled you, and caused you to hunger, and caused you to eat the manna, which you had not known, and your fathers had not known, in order to cause you to know that man shall not live by bread alone, but man shall live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH” (italics added). All material goods, whether plentifully or scantily supplied, are the outcome of a “word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH”.  One way or another He ‘calls the shots’.  Moreover, it is not these provisions, again whether in great or small quantities, which determine life or the quality thereof but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of YHVH”.  When Yeshua cited this very scripture, in a situation somewhat similar to that of Yisrael, which like Him was tried (according to 8:2, 3, 16) in the wilderness, He passed the test and overcame his trial (Mat. 4:4; Luke 4:4).


The word “bread” - “lechem” - is many times translated as “food”, as indeed it is a generic term for man’s sustenance. The root of “lechem” is (lamed, chet, mem), with the last two consonants - ch.m - making up the word “cha-m,” meaning “hot” or “warm”.  Only by baking the dough in a hot oven will it turn into the desired edible substance.  Hence, heat, energy, and effort are all part of the bread-making process. Another noun that shares the root is “milchama”, which is “war”, as does the verb tofight, or struggle for one’s existence or survival” – “lachom”.  The closeness of these two terms is well illustrated by two verses in Mishley (Proverbs) 23. Verse 1 says: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, look carefully at what is before you”.  The Hebrew for “eat” reads here “lilchom”, which literally means “to fight”, but because of’s dual meaning it is possible to read the verb as “eat” or more literally “to partake of bread”.  Verse 6 of the same chapter says: “Do not eat the bread of one who has an evil eye, and do not desire his delicacies”. Here “eat” is “tilcham”, which again could be read as “fight”.  We may infer, therefore, that if man were to live solely by the bread of his own making (or imagine that he does), he would have to fight and strive for it. Thus, once again, we turn to Zechariah 4:6 “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says YHVH of Hosts”, which proves to be very applicable.


The circumstances awaiting the Israelites in the land will differ vastly from those prevailing in the desert. Yet just as until now every detail pertaining to their lives and needs was determined by “every word proceeding out of the mouth of YHVH”, so will it continue to be the case in their new home. But for this principle to stay afloat, the people must keep and guard His every word and live accordingly. The 8:7-10 passage is regarded “as the classic description of the fertility and other wonderful qualities of the holy land. But we must not ignore its other implication. The Torah sings the praises of the land to emphasize too the moral dangers and pitfalls that such gifts might bring with them. Although the life of the Israelites in the Promised Land would no longer be dependent on water being extracted from the rock or on manna dropping from heaven, nevertheless even the normal rainfall and all the natural gifts of the land were similarly derived from the Creator and not in virtue of their own power and might of their hand”.[3]


Chapter 9 continues to center on YHVH’s promises of “consuming the enemies” in the land, and also recounts Yisrael’s golden calf rebellion and the need that arose then to inscribe anew the two tablets of the Torah.  It opens with the famous words: “Hear oh Yisrael…” implying that Yisrael is to hear and obey, as “hearing the voice…” is a Hebrew idiom for obeying, which is evident from the previous verse (the last one in chapter 8): “…You shall perish; because [EKEV] you did not listen to the voice of YHVH your Elohim” (8:20, emphasis added). In 9:6, 13 references are made to Yisrael’s “stiff neck”, or literally “hard nape”. Having a “stiff neck” implies a literal inflexibility, which does not allow one to turn one’s face (panim - “face” - from the root p.n.h which is also the root for the verb “turn”, while “pina” is “corner”).  Thus, the proverbial stiffness of the neck speaks of a head that is facing in one direction only, and of a person who is headstrong and unable to turn (from his old ways).  We have already noted in the past that “panim” - “face” - stemming from the verb “to turn”, exposes the essential nature of YHVH’s approach toward us, and that is His relational nature to which we are to respond. Yisrael’s “stiffness” and “hardness” of neck and uncircumcised heart are addressed in the following: “And you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your neck anymore” (10:16).  “Such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it [that is, of the exhortation], and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it”. [4] In chapter 30:6 there is a promise that YHVH will circumcise their heart, so that they may love Him, thus laying the foundations for the new covenant of the heart, in the course of which the latter becomes the ‘parchment’ on which the Torah is inscribed (ref. Jer. 31:33).

The Parasha ends with another look at the land - “a land which YHVH your Elohim cares for; the eyes of YHVH your Elohim are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to its end” [5] (11:12). “Care for” is “doresh”, with its literal meaning being to “seek”. YHVH is very intent in His constant surveillance of the land, “from the beginning of the year to the end…” meaning that He is involved in every part of the natural cycle to which this land is subject.  Curiously, “beginning (of the year”) – resheet - is spelled here without alef (normally this word is spelled resh, silent-alef, shin, yod, and tav), thus calling to mind “resh” or “rosh” (spelled, resh, yod/vav shin) which is poverty. With the biblical year’s beginning occurring in the spring, after the rainy season, crop shortage may indeed be quite prevalent. But to return to our topic… As pointed out already, Yisrael’s conduct toward YHVH will also have its ramifications on the land (e.g. 11:13 – 17).  These words of YHVH were to be inscribed on the hearts and are also to be for a sign on frontlets – “totafot” – between the eyes and on the hand (ref. 11:18).  One of the explanations for “totafot” is that it is a derivative of the Egyptian word for a hair ornament called “tataf”. [6] 

Above we noted that multiplication (of the root “rav”) of both people and livestock is mentioned several times in our Parasha.  In summation of the Parasha we read: “And you shall teach them [YHVH’s commands] to your sons by speaking of them as you sit in your house, and as you go in the way, and as you lie down, and as you rise up. And you shall write them on the side posts of your house, and on your gates, that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied [“yirbu”, again of the root “rav”], and the days of your sons in the land which YHVH has sworn to your fathers, to give to them, as the days of the heavens over the earth” (11:19-21). The “heaven and earth”, according to last week’s Parashat Va’etchanan (4:26), are YHVH’s witnesses to His dealings with the people of His choice, both here and also when He proclaims a new covenant in Yimiyahu (Jeremiah 31:32, 37).


1 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem. New York.

2 The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson. Publishers, PeabodyMass. 1979.

3 New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

4 Online Bible, Gill Commentary.

5 The spelling of the word used here for “beginning,” “resheet”, is irregular.  This spelling possibly hints at “ree’sh”, which is poverty (ref. Parashot Matot/ Masa’ey), since the beginning of the year in the month of Aviv occurs at the end of the winter dormancy.

6 Chumash Dvarim with Daat Mikrah comentary, Pub. Mossad Harav Kook, Jm. 2001.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Times of Transition

 In all three Bney Yosef National congresses, in 2015, 2016, and 2018, mention was made of the need to transition Hebrew Roots congregations into communities.  Between then and now there has been much discussion on this important issue, but with the action mostly still pending… Nevertheless, such a transition is a fundamental step for Israel's scattered sheep in their process of ingathering and preparation in the wilderness, so that the eventual reunification and return to the land can take place.  Like most moves of the Spirit, so it is in this case, the reconstitution of our national identity as Israel and all that it involves, including righteous living - YHVH has to sovereignly create the need for changes, both on an individual and corporate basis. Indeed, it seems that He has… as the present conditions and world circumstances are all but secure, predictable, and positive.

In the last two Torah portions, Moses lays out very important instructions regarding the preparation for entering the land. He is impressing upon the nation the need to implement the Torah requirements before crossing the Jordan. But Moses, having been with these stiff-necked people for an extended time period has learned his lesson quite well, and has no illusion as to what would happen to them as a result of their heart condition.    

Yet Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 4:23-40 does not pertain to his contemporaries only, but also to a remnant in our generation.  Standing by the Jordan River and about to cross into the land, our ancestors were told by their leader what would happen to them in the land.  He predicted that their continual rebellion would result in their dispersion among many nations.  The conditions for the return of present and future generations are the same as those that were placed upon the ones who were standing at that time with Moses and Joshua.

YHVH gave the instructions in the wilderness expecting the Israelites to keep them, before coming into the land. This is a principle that we too should be aware of. If that were not the case, He would not have given the Torah during the wilderness sojourn.  Nor would John write in Revelation about the remnant that “keep the commandments and the testimony of Yeshua" (Rev. 12:17).

For us to keep YHVH's commandments in our wilderness conditions by necessity also includes the "testimony of Yeshua". Obviously, most of us are already living in mixed communities in the world, with a few like-minded folks (if you’re fortunate), who take seriously the Torah’s commandments, statutes, and ordinances. At the same time, for the most part (in our diaspora locations) we, the Israelites, have been quite comfortable living out in the wilderness of the nations.  But as of late, circumstances are becoming a little more unstable.  As mentioned above, this instability is getting us to think more about preparing for community living. Such 'arrangement', however, would compromise our privacy and customary individualism.  One of the main reasons for staying in congregations that gather occasionally for study and worship is that we may be absolved from too much exposure, possible uncomfortable intimacy, and even occasional unpleasantness. But if we truly understand communing (community) we will embrace the need to partake in one another’s lives.  What does partaking in each other's lives in the Messianic body mean?

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses a very important issue, concerning the redeemed Israelite body of Yeshua.  I take that to mean that we, the believers, are the body of Messiah that Paul is referring to and that this body is as bread that has been leavened by His life.  Let us read the following scripture through this lens: "Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Messiah? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 emphasis added). Paul is not talking about Constantinian communion (no offense, I hope you know what I mean…). He is referring specifically to those believers whose lives are in Messiah and have His life in them. “That which you have done to the least of these my brethren you have done it to Me”, is how Yeshua defines it (Matthew 25:45). "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28).  “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves that Yeshua the Messiah is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If we fail this test we are partaking of His body and life/blood in an unworthy manner (expressed in our relationship with one another). We are Yeshua’s vessel/cup. The Messiah poured out His blood/life so that He can fill us. If there is a cup of iniquity, certainly there is also a cup for His righteousness. 

“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:29-32).

When we come together, whether it be two or more, in the body of Messiah, think about the reality of 'eating' and 'drinking' one another. Just as Yeshua said, "This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever" (John 6:58).  He was referring to a statement that He had made just previously, resulting in many turning away from following Him: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).  Today, as long as we are His flesh and blood representatives in this world, we have to be ready to be blessed by Him and then broken and given out, until all twelve baskets/tribes are full.  

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’etchanan – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 3:23 – 7:11


If there is one term that typifies the book of D'varim, it is "transition" - or "avor" in Hebrew, stemming from the root. e.v.r, (ayin, vet/bet, resh) meaning to "traverse, cross over, pass by or through, transgress, get angry/cross, other side, for the sake of and fords, or passageway", being also the root for the word “Hebrew”.  This term, with some of those derivatives, shows up many times in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is why we will follow it not only there, but also throughout the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy). This excursion will also provide an opportunity to observe, once again, patterns of the Hebrew mindset and the compactness of the language, as well as the mutual effect of thought and language on each other. We will see how “avor” lends D’varim its special character, and in turn how it expresses the calling of the People of Yisrael.


In Sh'mot (Exodus) the Hebrews passed over from one state of existence (slavery) to another (freedom and redemption) as well as to a new geographical location, by crossing the Sea of Reeds. Here, in Dvarim, they are about to experience another crossing. This time it is the Yarden, which is to become the passageway that will lead them to the land promised them by YHVH. They will, once again, go through a change of status, ceasing to be nomads. In the past we have noted that "Hebrews"- "Ivrim" - are those who are destined for transitions of one form or another. This group of people is seen here (and throughout Scripture) fulfilling this very destiny, already alluded to by the name of their progenitor Ever (Eber, Gen. 11:14,15) mentioned five generations before Avraham, whose name they bore.  However, nowhere is the "passing" or "crossing" – designated by e.v.r (ayin, bet/vet, resh) - more evident than in D'varim, where the term is used in several connotations forming, as it were, a series of milestones that enable us to accompany the Israelites in their journeys and transitions as depicted in this book.


Already in Dvarim’s opening verse, we see Moshe addressing "all Israel on the side of the Jordan – Ever ha'Yarden" (1:1 italics added). Ever (vowel sounds like in “essence”) is "the other side", thus rendering the land on the Yarden's eastern shore, "Ever haYarden".  It was also at "Ever ha'Yarden" where Moshe "began to explain the Torah" (1:5). Sometime later Yehoshua (Joshua) reminds the Israelites of another "ever" -  the place where their forefathers came from, saying: "Thus says YHVH the Elohim of Israel: `Your fathers Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side [ever] of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side [ever] of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac'" (Josh. 24:2,3 italics and emphases added).


In recounting the wilderness journey and its adventures, Moshe says, "We came through [a'va'rnu] the nations which you passed by [a'va'rtem]… "(Deut. 29:16 italics added). About these nations, he made earlier comments, recalling YHVH’s words to him: "You are passing [ovrim] by the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau" (2:4).  And as to the actual event: "And we passed [va'na'vor] and turned beyond our brother the sons of Esau… and we passed [va'na'vor] by way of the Wilderness of Moab" (2:8). “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over [avarnu] the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as YHVH had sworn to them" (2:14). Although the wording here appears to be recounting technical details, it captures the tragedy that the Israelites brought upon themselves - the passing on of an entire generation. Preceding the crossing of this river (Zered), YHVH exhorted the Israelites: “Now rise up, and go over [e’e’vru] the river Zered! And we went over [va’na’avor] the river Zered” (2:13, italics added).


The next “crossing over" [o-ver in Hebrew] (2:18) was through the territory of Moav and Ammon, that according to YHVH's word was not to be trampled. But the command to "cross [e’e’vru]" the River Arnon, was different! The land of Sichon, the Amorite king, was to come under Yisrael's dominion. The Amorites ignored the message, "Let me pass through [e'ebra] your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink; only let me pass through [e'ebra] on foot, just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross [e'evor] the Jordan to the land which YHVH our Elohim is giving us" (2:27,28 italics added). Instead, "Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through [ha'a'virenu]" (v. 30 italics added). Thus, the land of the Amorites was conquered. A similar fate awaited Og the king of Bashan, whose land was also subjugated by the Israelites. Moshe recalls: "We took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were on this side of the Jordan [Ever haYarden], from the River Arnon to Mount Hermon" (3:8 italics added).


This was also the land requested by the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, who had to meet one condition: "All you men of valor shall cross over [ta'avru] armed before your brethren, the children of Israel" (3:18 italics added), in order to help them take control of the Promised Land. Moshe continues, promising to Yehoshua: "YHVH will do to all the kingdoms through which you pass [over]" (v. 21), what He had done to the former kingdoms”.


In addition to the above promise, there is an even greater one (preceded by the words "Sh'ma Yisrael - Hear O Israel" in 9:1): "Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over [ha'over] before you as a consuming fire" (9:3 italics added). And moreover, "YHVH your Elohim Himself crosses over [o’ver] before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over [o’ver] before you, just as YHVH has said" (31:3 italic added). The "crossing over [ovrim] to possess" or "inherit" the land is also an inseparable part of the description of the Land itself, as everything about its conditions constitutes a major change-over and transition from the setting of the desert (for details see 11:10 -12).


And while Moshe was thus preparing the nation, which he had so greatly nurtured and for whom he had been willing to give up his life, he did not conceal from them and from posterity the sad fact that he had "pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying: ‘O my Adonai YHVH, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand… I pray, let me cross over [e'ebra] and see the good land beyond [ever] the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But YHVH was angry [va'yita'ber] with me on your account, and would not listen to me" (3:23-26 italics added). Yes, "angry" in this context is also made up of the root ayin, vet/bet, resh! Thus, there is more than one way to 'cross over'. ‘Crossing over' to the 'wrong side' and 'crossing' YHVH's will, will incur His anger (“evrah”).


Moshe continues to relate his plight, as pronounced by YHVH: "Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over [ta'avor] this Jordan. But command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over [ya'avor] before this people…" (3: 27,28 italics added). Just before Moshe's death on Mount Nevo (Nebo), called here “Avarim” (32:49) - the Mount of Crossing - he is once again reminded by his Elohim, "I have caused you to see it [the land] with your eyes, but you shall not cross over [ta'avor] there" (34:4 italics added). In Psalm 106:32 this story is repeated: “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes [ba’a’vu’ram]” (italics added). The singular form “(ba)avu’r” literally means “one who has been caused to pass over”.  Thus, even a common preposition such as “for someone’s sake” is rooted in e.v.r – i.e. “crossing or passing over” - pointing to the centrality of this term and to an active force, or agent, outside of one’s self who, as this preposition shows, acts as the Prime Cause.


In our text, the covenant and the commandments are not 'passed over' either.  In his discourse, Moshe elaborates extensively on these issues. YHVH made another covenant with the Children of Yisrael, "in the land of Moab besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb… that you may enter [le'ov'recha] into covenant with YHVH your Elohim" (Deut. 29:1,12 italics added). Thus, in “entering” this covenant they were literally "crossing" into it. "Transgressing" YHVH's commandments, according to 26:13 is also referred to as "crossing". Some of these commandments are: "When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged [ya'avor] with any business…" (24:5 italics added), and "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through [ma'avir] the fire…" (18:10 italics added). "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond [meh’ever] the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over [ya'avor] the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it" (30:11-14 italics added). According to these words, it appears that fulfilling Elohim's Word does not necessarily require a physical crossing or passing over; it is simply a matter of turning inwardly, to that which He has already deposited there  (see Rom. 8:11).


Finally, "And it shall be, on the day when you [plural] cross over [ta'avru] the Jordan to the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over [be'ovre'cha], that you may enter the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you [plural] have crossed over [be'ovre'chem] the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today…" (27:2-4 italics added). Thus, the "crossing over" is to be marked by stones that were to be a testimony of a genuine "crossing over" and a “change over” undertaken by the Hebrews, the 'People of Transition'!


The root e.v.r, however, is also being applied to the enemies of Yisrael. Prior to the actual crossing, Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho (Jericho). These two were pursued by men who themselves had to cross the Yarden’s "fords”. These “fords” are “ma’a’barot,” literally, “that which enables passage” (ref. Josh. 2:7).


Interestingly, the Hebrew translation for Hebrews 6:20, speaking about the Place of the Presence (behind the veil), states that Yeshua has “gone over” (in Hebrew - ‘o’ver’) there for us, as a forerunner.


In closing, let us pause briefly on “va’etchanan”, the title of our Parasha, which takes us back to its opening verse (3:23) where Moshe pleads with YHVH to let him cross the Yarden. “And I pleaded or implored…” – etchanan – is of the root ch.n.n (chet, noon, noon), which means to “show favor or be gracious”, while “chen” (chet, noon) is “grace” (e.g. Zech. 4:7, 12:10). Thus, he who pleads with, and implores YHVH knows he is invoking His grace, cognizant of the fact that even the pleading itself is linked to YHVH’s compassion and favor active in the one who is pleading with expectancy.


Note: In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are placed in an ark called “teiva”.  When the representative of the congregation who prays on their behalf stands before the ark, he too is said to be “passing [over] before the teiva”.