Friday, September 22, 2023

Bitter-Sweet Tearful Guideposts


Last Shabbat, as we were reading Jeremiah 31 (one of the traditional readings for Yom Zichron Teruah), a verse from this chapter that exploded into my life back in 1976, was illumined in a surprising manner.  The 1976 experience is described in my testimony book, Return to the Land - an Ephraimite Journey Home*.  But little did I know at that time that there was far more to the episode…

The aforementioned incident occurred when a friend and I drove a motor home from San Francisco to Ohio.  Here is a quote from the book: “We were now out of the mountains and were crossing the Wyoming Plains. Wanting to get an early start, I woke up that morning at about 4:00 a.m., walked into the kitchen area, and saw my Bible open next to the sink. I was somewhat surprised, as I did not remember leaving it there. The flashlight lit up the open page and these verses jumped up at me as if they were on springs: “Set up for yourself road marks, place for yourself guideposts, direct your heart to the highway, the way by which you went. Return, O virgin of Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter?” (Jeremiah 31:21, 22).

"Tears started streaming down my face. I couldn’t help but wail as if I had lost a loved one.  I think my travel partner thought I had “gone off the deep end.” How could I explain to her this longing in my heart for the Land of Israel?” End quote.

Fast forward almost 45 years. Here I was, sitting in my living room in Aviel ("God is my Father") Israel, with my wife, son, and his pregnant wife reading these very words, when Rimona pointed out a peculiar word from the above-mentioned verse that was used in Hebrew for “guideposts”.  In sort of a nonchalant way, as if it is just natural for a Hebrew speaker to make these connections, our son pointed out that the same word - “tamrurim” – also appears in a previous verse (15), which is translated as “bitter” (8564), “Thus says YHVH: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children because they are no more’" (Jeremiah 31:15, emphasis added. The Hebrew reads: "he is no more", referring to Joseph's disappearance in Gen. 37:30; 42:13;32,36).  However, in verse 21 “guideposts” (8563) is the translation of the same word, "tamrurim". Why would the prophet (Holy Spirit) connect these two verses with the same word, albeit each having an altogether different meaning?

My thoughts immediately went back to that strange experience in the Wyoming desert.  Was my bitter weeping a reaction to something so deep within that it reached back to the very heart of Joseph’s mother, Rachel?  I too felt as though I had lost a loved one, as she did over the loss of her firstborn Joseph.  Was Jeremiah using the one-word - “tamrurim” - as a guidepost for the sole (soul) purpose of directing us/me back to our/my identity as Rachel’s lost beloved son and in some mysterious way, comforting her and giving her hope?  “Thus says YHVH: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded, says YHVH, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope in your future,’ says YHVH, ‘that your children shall come back to their own border’” (Jeremiah 31:16-17). Examining the respective roots of those two identically written and sounding words, one finds that bitterness is rooted in m.r.r.  whereas guidepost is rooted in t.m.r. which means "tall", hence a high heap of stones, a (tall) palm/date tree, as well as the fruit "date" – tamar. Breaking up "tamar" into "tam-mar" reveals that "mar" (bitterness) has come to an end and is therefore gone, that is, "tam".

Interestingly, an episode in our forefathers' desert experience also brings these two words together.  “They moved from Marah and came to Elim. At Elim were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there” (Numbers 33:9 emphases added).  Originally there were seventy Israelite souls who went down to Egypt, and now their progeny was moving from the bitter waters (that were made sweet) to an oasis that provided them with seventy palm trees loaded with sweet fruit.   

It is no coincidence that Jeremiah 31 presents the New Covenant immediately after all those verses that speak of Ephraim and Rachel’s “tamrurim”.  The prophet Amos addresses those who do not grieve “for the affliction of Joseph” (Amos 6:6), warning them of the punitive measures that will be taken against them.  Perhaps the sages of old made no mistake when they chose the following readings for the feast of the first of the seventh month: 1st Samuel 1 -2:10; Jeremiah 31:2-21; Hosea 14; Micah 7:18-20.  Was it the wording of Psalm 81 that influenced their choices, since the House of Joseph is charged in this text to blow the shofar on that particular day?  “Blow the shofar at the time of the New Moon, at the covered moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the Elohim of Jacob.  This He established in Joseph [Yehosef] as a testimony” (Psalm 81:3-5). This the only instance where Joseph's name in Hebrew is spelled Yehosef (rather than Yosef).  Why Yehosef? Is it because he has been hidden and now, through the New Covenant, is brought out of darkness and concealment into the light by the power of resurrection life in Messiah Yeshua? The letter hey added to his name indicates the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  

I would like to end this letter with the apostle’s exclamation from the end of Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of Elohim! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”   (Romans 11:33).  "But if you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness all these things [understandings] will be given to you" (Matt 6:33 emphasis added).

 *   Return to the Land  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ha'azinu - D'varim (Deuteronomy) Chapter 32

Parashat Ha’azinu, which consists almost entirely of the ”Song of Moses” - Shirat Ha’azinu in Hebrew - is the crescendo that has been building up in the Dvarim (Deuteronomy) account. It is a recitation that summarizes the Israelites’ history, projecting future situations, while at the same time continually revolving around a central pivot - YHVH as the Almighty and as the loving Father of His people. Shirat Ha’azinu (the Ha’azinu song or poem) was to bear testimony for future generations. Last week heaven and earth were also summoned as “witnesses”, as they are, indeed, here too: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth” (32:1, italics added). The imperative “ha’azinu” (“listen”) is a derivative of “ozen” – “ear”, and would therefore be best translated “give ear”.  Psalm 80 also opens up with:Give ear- ha’azina - O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!” Perhaps if we “give ear” to the Shepherd of Yisrael, He will also give ear to our cry.

The common Hebrew word for “scales” is “moz’na’yim” (e.g. Lev. 19:36). The ancients must have known that the ear is responsible for balance, thus connecting the two words which stem from the root a.z.n (alef, zayin, noon). With that said, the picture depicted before us is of heaven and earth acting as scales that are to weigh Israel in the balance. You will notice that many of the verses are made up of couplets, where the same point is stated once and then repeated with a slight variation. Perhaps this device highlights all the more the ‘weighing scales', as well as being a double witness. The first two verses of the poem serve as a good example of this poetic device, which is so typical of biblical poetry:

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;

And hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.

My doctrine shall drop as the rain;

My speech shall drop down as the dew.


As the small rain on the tender plant,


These words find their confirmation in the following: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11 emphasis added).               

YHVH’s love and care for Yisrael form the backdrop against which Yisrael’s past and future are respectively described and cast. According to the poem, the people’s relationship with and toward YHVH appears to be a primary cause of the events (past, present, and future) that befall them. 

Verse 4 exclaims that YHVH is “the Rock whose work is perfect”. The word used here for rock is “tzur”. This word is repeated a number of times in the poem, and thus we read in verse 13, in reference to YHVH’s benevolence toward Yisrael, “He made him suck honey from the rock and oil out of the flinty rock” (italics added). In response, Yeshurun (Jeshurun) – rooted in “straight",?acts?more?like?apYa’acov (root of cc

"crookedness”), and; “scorned9the?Rockbofftheir Salvation” (v. 15).  Verse 18 reads thus: “You forgot the Rock who birthed you”. The verb used here for “forgot” is “teshi” of the root (noon, shin, hey), which is also the root for the name Menashe (Manasseh). The imagery of the “rock”, a substance that is definitely not associated with tenderness, much less with motherhood, is juxtaposed with metaphors related to birthing and suckling. This type of unusual imagery is echoed somewhat in 1st Corinthians 10:1 and 4, where we read: “Our fathers…. all drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Messiah”.

In verses 30 and 31 there are several more references to “tzur” ("How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and YHVH had surrendered them?  For their rock is not like our Rock…"), while in verse 37 the “rock” is the one in whom “refuge is taken” (He will say: 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?) “chasayu”, ch.s.h., chet, samech, hey – is to “take refuge”, being a more conventional usage of the rock metaphor. Because the idols of the peoples were often made of stone or carved into a rock, “tzur” is also used here in relation to the gods of the pagans (e.g., verse 31), contrasting the term with Yisrael’s Elohim, who is totally detached from the literal substance of the rock.

Other parts of our text appear to highlight different attributes of Elohim, one, in particular, is found in verse 27, but let us also include verse 26. YHVH says about His treacherous people: “I will make an end of them, I will make their memory cease from among men. Were it not that I dreaded the enemy’s provocation, lest their adversaries should misconstrue, lest they should say, ‘our hand is exalted and not YHVH has performed all this’” (italics added). This last verse (27) contains a very daring anthropomorphism [personification-humanization of YHVH], “indeed attributing to Him the sentiment of fear, as it were… has no parallel in the Torah”. In this commentary Nechama Leibowitz includes other instances where Moshe expresses concern over the desecration of YHVH’s name among the nations and concludes: “This concern over desecrating the Divine name… assumes a much more intense and extreme form in our sidra [Parasha]. Here it is the Almighty Himself who is, as it were, “concerned” over the world being misled and diverted from the path leading mankind spiritually forward. He is filled with apprehension lest His name be brought into disrepute instead of sanctified and His sovereignty universally recognized and acknowledged, which is the ultimate goal of all creation.”[1]  

I will make an end of them…” (back to verse 26) is couched here in a very unique term, which appears nowhere else in the Tanach (O.T.) - “af’ey’em”. Several possible interpretations of this term have been extrapolated. Most “have traced its meaning to the word pe’ah – “corner”, while others connect it with af (“anger”)”. Rashi breaks up the word into its three syllables and comes up with: “af ey hem”, which is a question that reads as follows: “In anger (“af” meaning YHVH’s anger), where are they?” Thus implying that YHVH’s anger has reduced/*- them to non-existence.[2]?Da’attMikra4offersyanother interpretation, with the same “pe’ah” – “corner, edge” in mind: “I will not leave of them as much as an edge”,[3] or being picked up in the shemitta year by anyone who so wishes, and/or being scattered to the utmost ends (symbolized by the edges of the fields).

Another verse that requires some attention is verse 5 - which says: “They have corrupted themselves: they are not His sons; it is their blemish; they are a crooked and perverse generation”. And although the Hebrew is somewhat obscure, according to Da’at Mikra it should read, “His sons’ blemish is theirs” (literal translation), that is to say: “their perversion is of their own making. Hench it may then be said that they are “lo-banav”- “not-His-sons” (although there is yet another, alternate, though similar, reading of this). This is also reminiscent of the name that will be given at a much later date to Ephraim - “not-My-people”0(“Lo-Ami”,oHos.1:9).RIn? contradistinction, verse 6 names YHVH as “your father, the One who purchases you” – “kone’cha”. Quite often the term “koneh” (k.n.h, kof, noon, hey) – to “buy, or purchase” – is synonymous with redeeming and lends the latter act its graphic meaning, as the role of the redeemer is primarily to pay for and buy that which is lost (such as freedom or property). In 1st Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23, Shaul (Paul) reminds the redeemed community: “You are bought with a price”. “Kone’cha”, with its similarity to “ken” (a “bird’s nest”), inspired Rashi to suggest that this is a reference to the nest that YHVH is making for Yisrael (see also verse 11) [4].

At this point, starting with verse 6 and through 14, the poem expounds very tenderly on the establishment of the Israelite nation, and on the care and love bestowed on it by its Maker. That Yisrael, even in its nascent state, had a major role in global affairs is made apparent from verse 8: “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance; when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the sons of Israel” (italics added). When one takes into consideration the fact that the above separation took place after the Flood, and more particularly that YHVH scattered the people during the Tower of Ba’vel (Babel) era (see Gen. 10:25, 11:8), this statement becomes all the more significant and points to an even greater future for Yisrael.

A string of verbs, which follow one another in progressive intensity and describe YHVH’s involvement with Yisrael is introduced in verses 10 & 11. “He found him…He compassed him about … He cared for him…. Like an eagle that stirs up His nest… He hovers… He spreads his wings… He takes him… lifts him….”  The “desert land”, the “waste” and the “howling wilderness” mentioned here (v. 10), bring to mind a lost entity wandering around, and thus these verbs appear as the solution and response to the people’s dire condition. These verbs are fraught with activity: “vay’vone’nehu” (root b.n.h, bet/vet, noon, hey), translated “cared”, in actual fact could relate to “bina” – “wisdom” and thus may read: “endowed him with wisdom”. Another possibility is that the above verb stems from “hitbonen”, which is to “look closely, watch”, or to “boneh”, “build, build up, or edify”. “Guarded him” is a translation of “yitz’renhu and continues, “as the apple of His eye”. The latter is the pupil, “eeshon”, which literally is a “little man”. When one looks into someone else’s eye, one sees a miniature reflection of one’s self.  “Hovers” is particularly interesting, as it is “ye’ra’chef”, of the root (resh, chet, pey/fey), which is found in B’resheet (Genesis) 1:2 in reference to the Spirit of Elohim. We recall the idea of being protected from above as well as being airborne in Parashat Va’era, in Shmot (Exodus) 6:7, 8 where we read YHVH’s promise: “And I will take you…. to the land concerning which I lifted up My hand…” (italics added). In Sh’mot (Exodus) 19:4 YHVH addressed Yisrael: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself”. Parashat Ha’azinu, therefore, echoes and captures promises of the past, transferring them to the Israelites’ present reality on the threshold of the Promised Land.

Next is the enumeration of the goodness and plenty that was conferred upon Yisrael, and with which she shall be blessed in the future ("He made him ride in the heights of the earth, that he might eat the produce of the fields; He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock;  curds from the cattle, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs; and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the choicest wheat; and you drank wine, the blood of the grapes" vs. 13-14). Verse 15 witnesses a transition, and once again there is an inventory, if you will, of densely listed verbs. Unfortunately, not all of them can be translated into verb form in English: “Yeshurun grew fat… kicked… became fat… became thick… covered in layers… forsook Elohim his maker….” In Hebrew all these are in verb and adjective form, and follow one another thusly: “va’yishman… va’yiv’at… shamanta, avita, kasita, va’yitosh… vay’na’bel”, almost in stampede fashion. Just as before, where YHVH’s intense activities around His people were depicted in verb form, action-laden, so too here - the Israelites’ intent on turning away from their Creator is described in a chain reaction of fast moves.

The excerpt of verses 28-35 presents a controversy, which has been engaging the commentators for generations. Who is the subject of verses 28-29 ("For they are a nation void of counsel, nor is there any understanding in them.  Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!")? Is it Yisrael, or is it the enemies? In verse 30 ("how could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight…), again, who is being chased, is it Yisrael, or the enemies? Verse 36: “For YHVH will bring His people justice; and He shall have compassion on His servants…” seems to indicate that the former section would have referred to the enemy. However, according to verses 30 and 31 again, it would appear that Yisrael is the subject of the section: “How shall one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight unless their Rock had sold them and YHVH had shut them up?  For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges”. Who is it that YHVH is “selling”? (Remember verse 6, where He was depicted as the Father and the “buyer”?) Does He not sell that which belongs to Him? And in verse 31, in the references to “their rock” and to “our rock”, is there, not a distinction made between Yisrael and the other nations?  Verses 37 and 38 ("He will say: 'Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?  Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise and help you, and be your refuge") present a similar dilemma. Again, is it Yisrael or is it the nations that are the subject of this brief portion? Having just read that YHVH will have compassion on His people, this could possibly refer to the enemies, whose rock and god (the rock is the "god" and not a mere metaphor for strength, unlike the Elohim of Yisrael who is symbolized by the rock but is not the rock itself) is unable to help them. Conversely, this could also be talking to Yisrael, who had been leaning on false gods whom they trusted to no avail. What do you think?

“And Moses made an end of speaking all these words to all Israel. And he said to them, ‘Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your sons to observe and to do, all the words of this law; For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. And by this word you shall prolong your days in the land where you go over Jordan, there to possess it’” (vs. 45-47 italics added). Thus, Moshe seals these most solemn words of the testimonial poem. The words, “for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life” are rendered in Hebrew, “for it is not an empty word for you, because…” and here it is possible to read, “He is your life…"  “I am the way, the truth, and the Life”, were Yeshua’s words in John 14:6. And just as Shirat Ha’azinu was to bear a testimony, so did the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14) who bore testimony in His very being, “so that all may believe…” (John 1:7).

Once the recitation of the poem is over, Moshe is told by Elohim: "Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, across from Jericho; view the land of Canaan, which I give to the children of Israel as a possession"

(Deuteronomy 32:49). "Abarim" – avarim in Hebrew pronunciation - is rooted in our familiar "over", to cross or pass over. Thus, although Moshe was not to cross over to the land of C'na'an, there is another crossing that awaits him… from this present world to the next…


[1] 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.

[2] Ibid

[3] Da’at Mikra, A’ahron Mirski, Rav Kook Inst., Jerusalem, 2001

[4] Ibid.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Yom Zichron Teruah

 Yom Zichron Teruah – The Day of Remembering the Sound

Why is the first day of the seventh month on YHVH's timetable designated as the Day of Remembering the Sound? On that day begins the countdown to Yom Kippurim - the Day of Atonement(s). What sound are we to remember? Obviously, it is the sound we all heard as His people. It was the one teruah no one could miss. If Israel ever had a moment of unity it was that moment that they all heard “this” sound. Most scholars and sages are in agreement that this is referring to the “voice” of YHVH heard at Sinai.  We experienced the "voice" back in the third month at a previous appointment, so why now, in the seventh month? What are we to remember about “YHVH’s Voice”, which to our ancestors' ears sounded like a shofar, when in actuality there were none there? Why are we, generation after generation, brought back, on the first of the seventh month, to Sinai to remember His voice with the blowing of the shofar?  

At Mount Sinai, YHVH’s voice materialized into our world as the “Ten Words” or “Ten Commandments". Thus, in a manner of speaking, the past meets the present in a unique way on this day, a day that inaugurates the Ten Days of Awe or Teshuva.  The prophet Malachi declared to all Israel that before the great and terrible day of YHVH they were to:   "Remember the Law (Torah) of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Malachi 4:4 emphasis added).  Malachi is simply warning YHVH's people to remember the “Voice” before the great day of YHVH’s righteous judgments. Is this not what the Ten Days of Awe are all about? This is why there is so much soul-searching and repentance going on during this season.  It is a sobering time. But is it a time to fear or a time to stand in awe? 

Our forefathers at Sinai shrunk back as the Voice grew nearer (and that is why it kept getting louder), crying to Moses that he should hear for them lest they die.  Do you remember the time when the “Voice” called from the deep recess of your ancestral being, to come into the courtroom of heaven and stand trial before the Judge of the Universe? Do you remember how long you defended your pride and self-righteousness, while the Law was doing its job in pointing to the truth of your sinful condition? HaSatan was there too, as the prosecuting attorney, accusing you, of what he excels in, that is of your "lie".  Do you remember the moment you finally broke and admitted and submitted to the truth?  Do you remember how the courtroom suddenly became the most silent place in heaven and on earth as it waited for you, the defendant, to say those two fearful words, “I’m guilty!”?  Your heart was broken and you stood in your shame, you had nothing more to say in your defense, except for the admission: “I’m guilty”.  The prosecutor had no more to say either, only: “I rest my case”, and closed his files, waiting for the judge's decision of the impending death sentence. 

But what happened next surprised all and left them in awe. The Judge stood up to hit the gavel, but instead, he took off His judicial garment and came down to you, revealing His blood-stained, broken body that was nailed to the cross, taking you into warm loving arms, and with deep compassion He whispered: "I love you. You are forgiven. Come now with me out of this cold judicial courtroom, to the place that I have prepared for you". 

Recommended reading, Romans chapters 3&5

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Hebrew Insights into Parashot Nitzavim and Va’yelech – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 29:10 - Chapter 31


Parashat Nitzavim may be subtitled “The Hebrew People - A Testimony of the Covenant and of the Promises”. Although Nitzavim is translated "You stand…" - it actually means "standing in position, standing firmly, or taking a stand", the root being (yod, tzadi, bet/vet) and the definition is “set, establish or take a stand”.[1] According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, however, the root is tz.v.v (tzadi, vet, vet), and means “cover while moving”. [2] Embodied in the two Parashot is the definition of the nation, as well as the ultimate promise of grace. Interestingly, about the “nations” which “rage” and “the peoples” who “contemplate a vain thing”, with their “kings and rulers” (mentioned in Psalm 2:1-2), it is said that they “take their stand together against YHVH and His Anointed…” (v.2). In Hebrew “take their stand” is, again, “yit’ya’tzvu”, which places the latter in a parallel but contradictory position to those who are now standing in solemn formation before entering the land promised to them by their Elohim. Moreover, Thus, these two “stances”, present a choice of, where to stand and with whom

The familiar verb "avor", which means “to pass, go through, go over, enter”, and the noun and verb forms of "witness or testimony” ("ed"), show up more than once. The Hebrew people, YHVH’s witnesses, are characterized, as we know, by ‘crossing’ or ‘passing over’, hence different aspects of this action are presented in the text. 

But why are the “passers-over” standing “in position” or “formation”? “That you may enter ("avor") the covenant with YHVH your Elohim, and enter ("avor") into His oath [alah – an oath that if broken incurs a curse; in 30:7 it is used as “curse”] which YHVH your Elohim is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your Elohim, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of YHVH our Elohim and with those who are not with us here today" (29:12-15). With all the crossing over of the Hebrews, the passing/crossing over into the covenant is of prime importance. Notice also the far-reaching aspect of the covenant, to those “not with us today”, thus pointing to the continuity of the people of Yisrael and to generational unity within the boundaries of the covenant. Moreover, in 29:10-11 the text stresses the all-inclusiveness of the covenant by addressing “all of you”, as well as by enumerating the entire social structure of the nation: “your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives -- also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water”. 

Covenant” – “brit” – is of the root b.r.t (bet, resh, tav), meaning to “cut". “Making a covenant” – “karot”- is another verb for “cut” (or fell, a tree, for example). Consequently, in making the covenant there is a double cutting as it were, which points emphatically to separation from one’s former situation, both naturally and spiritually (and is signified by the cutting entailed in the physical circumcision). By the same token, by transgression one may experience a “cutting (again, k.r.t, e.g. Lev. 7:20) … away” from the boundaries prescribed by the covenant. 

This covenant, being two-sided, is therefore like a two-edged sword. Abba laid down the conditions, but knowing the infidelity which is characteristic of His children’s heart, He also built into the covenant the promise of grace. In other words, ultimately it will be Him only who will make possible its fulfillment, as is seen so vividly in 30:3-10. In verse 6 He promises that at a latter time, He will “circumcise the heart” of His people. “Circumcise” is designated by the root m.u.l (mem, vav, lamed), meaning… “to cut”, once again. In between this promise of grace and the warnings of transgressing His commandments (29:16-28), we read in 29:29: “The things hidden are to YHVH our Elohim, and the things revealed are to us and to our sons -- that we may do all the words of this Torah” (literal translation, italics added). Disobedience cannot be excused by claiming that the Torah is mystical and concealed, and as if this were not enough it says in 30:11-14: "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 the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over 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”. The word for “mysterious” here is different from the one employed in 29:29 for “hidden”. The present term (v. 14) is “niflet”, rooted in p.l.a (pey, lamed, alef. See Shoftim - Judges 13:18 and Tehilim - Psalm 139:6, in both this word is translated “wonderful”). However, having said all of the above, in the next Parasha, there is a warning that could result in situations where YHVH will hide His face from His people (31: 17).   

Repentance and turning to YHVH will bring a restoration which is expressed in the 30:3-10 passage where all the verbs are in the ‘active causative form,’ denoting that He is both the initiator and the ‘enactor’. Not only does He take it upon Himself to enable the fulfillment of the covenant, and at a later date sends Yeshua to carry all of our afflictions and sufferings, in 31:13 it also says that "YHVH your Elohim [is He] who will cross (“avor”) ahead of you" (italics added). YHVH is truly the Elohim of the Hebrews! He goes ahead of them by "crossing over" Himself! At the same time, together with the “crossing” or “passing over” we have here one of those Hebraic dichotomies indicated by “standing firmly”. The blend of both is the desired condition and status designated for the People of Yisrael. And indeed, we see Yeshua crossing - “over”* – ahead of us, entering within the veil giving us a hope which is sure and steadfast – “yatziv” (ref. Heb. 6:19, 20, Hebrew translation of the Greek, being also of the root Thus, with a “yatziv” (sure) hope, we are enabled to be steadfast and stand firmly in our crossing-over journey.

Hebrews 12:15 warns against "a root of bitterness", alluding to Dvarim 29:18's "root producing poison and bitter fruit". The person so disposed of is said to treat the oath, which if crossed will incur a curse (alah, as mentioned above) with cynicism and arrogance, boasting, and even blessing and reassuring himself that "'I will have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of heart" so that the saturated one may heap suffering "sfot" - on the thirsty one" (v. 19 literal translation). Some more strokes are added to the picture depicted before us: The poisonous and saturated plant, as it produces more of its fruit desires to infect the rest of the vegetation, around it, that which may be suffering from thirst, to bring all of it to utter destruction ["sfot" - e.g. Gen. 18:23]. 

In the meantime, the drama of the covenant nation, its unfaithfulness, and the grace granted it, is to unfold in front of the entire universe and creation. The testimony – witness - “ed” – is being established by calling upon heaven and earth (ref. 30:19). The Song of Moses (referred to in Parashat Va’yelech 31:21 and presented in chapter 32) is the written record that serves as a witness, as does the Torah too, which is to be kept in the ark in the Holy of Holies (31:26). The desolate land (29:23-28) will also bear witness to the unfaithfulness of the people, both before their own sons' eyes, and in front of the foreigners (v. 22), as will their banishment from it (i.e., the land). All this is with a view toward the end that, the Hebrew people themselves will become a witness and a testimony nation. "You are my witness, declares YHVH" (Is. 43:10), to the fact that He is the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of creation, and the Elohim of the universe.

As we have already seen, the covenant pertains to this preset day generation (see 29:14-15), just as much as it was to those who lived back then. Therefore, we too are to "stand firm in position", standing our ground today, to be a covenant people and a witness to the Elohim of the covenant, the Elohim of Yisrael, the Elohim of the Hebrews - the Elohim of grace.

While Parashat Nitzavim (“standing” as compared to “and he went/walked”) focuses on the “crossing over” of the Hebrew people, Parashat “Va’yelech” starts with… the “going” of Moshe: “va’yelech Moshe”, that is “and Moses went”, and continues with: “and spoke these words to all Israel” (31:1). These words of introduction, “Moses went”, regarding the statements that the elderly leader was about to make to his compatriots is quite curious. Was it a hint of his impending departure, and that he was ready to proclaim this fact to all Yisrael? Indeed, Moshe continues: “I am a hundred twenty years old today. I can no more go out and come in. Also YHVH has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan’” (31:2, italics added). Notice the elderly leader’s words, “I can no more go out and come in”, which in Hebrew is: “la’tzet ve-lavo” [literally “to go out” and “to come in”). The previous Parashot [plural for Parasha], Ki Tetze, “when you go out”, and Ki Tavo”, “when you come in”, seem to be related (respectively) to these words of Moshe about “going out to war” (Deut. 21:10), and “coming into the land” (26:1). Thus, paraphrased, Moshe is implying the following: “I am not able to lead you in war, and neither am I able to enter the land with you”.

But whereas Moshe will not be accompanying the people, he consoles them saying that “YHVH your Elohim will cross before you” – which is once more the familiar “over” (a.v.r – the root of “Hebrew”).*  “He will destroy these nations before you”, and in addition, Yehoshua will also “go – pass, cross - “over” - before you” (v. 3). Verses 6, 7, and 8, spoken to Yisrael and to Yehoshua summarize all of the above:  "’ Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them [the people of the land]; for YHVH your Elohim is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you’.  Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and of good courage, for you will be the one to go with this people to the land which YHVH has sworn to their fathers to give them and you shall cause them to inherit it.  And YHVH is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed". Notice the repetition of “be strong and of good courage”, and of “YHVH is the One who goes with/before you”. YHVH is with His people, He is also with their leader, and at the same time is also going before/ahead of both. 

The third expression which is repeated in the above passage: He will not fail you nor forsake you” is, “lo yar’pecha, ve-lo ya’az’vecha”. “Yar’peh” – translated “fail” - is rooted in r. p/f. h (resh, pey/fey, hey), meaning to “become weak, let go, be negligent, or remove”. In Tehilim (Psalms) 46:10 it says, “Be still and know that I am YHVH”. However, in Hebrew the rendering is “harpu”, literally “let go”, or “become weak”. Because YHVH will not “let go” of His people, they are the ones who must do the “letting go” and become “weak” before Him, and in so doing they will know that He is the Elohim who alone can give them strength. Shaul (Paul) echoes this when he says: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’. Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Messiah may overshadow me” (2nd Corinthians 12:9 italics added). The next verb (of the above-mentioned expression, “lo yar’pecha ve-lo ya’az’vecha”) is azav (ayin, zayin, bet/vet), and means, “leave, abandon or forsake”. It is also used elsewhere in our Parasha, although in a different connotation, as we shall see at once.

 Thus verses 16 and 17 of Dvarim 31 record: “And YHVH said to Moses, ‘Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. And this people shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers of the land into which they are going, into their midst. And they will forsake Me – ve’azavani - and break My covenant which I made with them. Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them - ve’azavtim…’” (Italics added). Verse 5 reveals to us that there is a condition for being preserved by YHVH: “…do to them [the nations in Cna’an - Canaan) according to all the commandments which I have commanded you”, to not “go lusting after [their] gods”, thereby forsaking the true One. Nevertheless, in verse 16 we read that, “This people shall rise up…” which is “ve’kam”. In  Parashat Nitzavim, above (Det. 29:13) it said: “…that He may establish you today for a people to Himself…” which is literally “that He may raise you up… - hakim”. Hence, it is the very people, whom YHVH was raising up – establishing - who “shall rise up and go lusting after the gods of the strangers…” (italics added), while the people themselves will own to the fact that, “have not these evils come upon us because our Elohim is not among us?” (v.17b italics added). Clearly, while the people are ‘engaging’ with false deities YHVH, Yisrael’s Elohim, cannot be present among them!

In the two examples above (and in many similar ones throughout the Tanach, some of which we examined very recently), we see the usage of identical words, or derivatives of the same root for the purpose of conveying contrasting messages. This method highlights or enhances an idea, and at times adds a touch of irony and a moral to the story or the description at hand.

YHVH is commanding Moshe to call on Yehoshua in order for both to “present” themselves in the Tent of Meeting (31:14); a command which is designated by the imperative “(ve-hit)yatzvu”, of the root that we just encountered in Parashat “Nitzavim” above. In presenting himself, Yehoshua is to make a “firm stand” and a commitment.

 Mentioned above, in Nitzavim, are "the hidden things – "nistarot" - that "belong to YHVH", while "those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (29:29). This renders the Torah laws as not hidden or mysterious, in other words, "doable". In the present Parasha of Vayelech, the sins that Yisrael will be committing will incur the "hiddenness"… of YHVH's face from them (31:17). Whereas in 29:29 there is a promise that YHVH will be taking care of that which is hidden, relieving His people of certain burdens, now it's their lack of obedience that will cause Him to hide His face from them.

Further connection to Parashat Nitzavim is evident in the concept of “witness” – testimony – “ed”, masculine, and “eda”, feminine. In the previous Parasha, heaven, and earth were mentioned as witnesses (30:19). Now the “Song” (which constitutes the following Parasha), the book of the Torah (which of course includes the "Song"), and heaven and earth (again) are singled out as witnesses. The “Song”, in particular, is to “testify as a witness” against the people, “when many evils and troubles have found them” (31:21). “Testifying” in this particular case is “an’ta” (of the root a.n.h – ayin, noon, hey), meaning to “respond or answer”, as according to verse 19 the “Song” will be “in the mouths of the Children of Israel”. Therefore, when they recite this Song, their own words shall “respond” to, or echo, their evil actions and become a testimony against them. This brings to mind Parashat Nitzavim’s: “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it” (30:14 italics added), which is the other side of the same proverbial coin. Another usage of “ta’aneh”, “respond”, in relationship to “witness” is found in Sh’mot (Exodus) 20:16 and Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 5:20, where it says: “You shall not bear – “ta’aneh”- respond” - a false witness against your neighbor”. In view of this, we may ask: Are the things that we say and do but mere responses, or answers bearing testimony to a ‘Primary Cause’ (be it YHVH or the adversary)?

In 31:10-11 we read: “And Moses commanded them, saying, ‘at the end of seven years, at the set time of the year of release, in the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel has come to appear before YHVH your Elohim in the place which He shall choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing’.” The word for “read” is “kara” (k.r.a, kof, resh, alef), meaning to "read, recite, call”. At the end of the Parasha, in verse 29, it says: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will happen to you in the latter end of the days…”  Moshe predicts that “evil” will “happen to you”, which is rendered here ve’karat, and shares the same root as the aforementioned “kara” (“read”). However, as a rule the spelling for “happen” (albeit of the same sound as “read” or “recite”), is different and therefore has another root. Thus, the special rendering and spelling of “happen” in this particular case incorporates, as it were, the verb for “reading”. Hearing the Torah read while turning away from it and from its Giver will result in evil befalling or happening to those who know better yet choose to rebel against its Giver (and against their own better judgment). 

Finally, the ironic vein makes its appearance again, in verses 28 and 29, if compared to verse 12, by the usage of the verb “gather” in its imperative form. In the first instance, it is the command to gather all the “people, men and women, and little ones, and the stranger… that they may hear and that they may learn to fear YHVH your Elohim and carefully observe the words of this Torah” (that is in the 7th year gathering at Succot). In the second instance, “all the elders of your tribes, and your officers” are to be gathered “that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them”. The object of this second gathering is in order to predict that after Moshe’s death “You will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (verse 29). Whereas the first gathering is of the entire people, the second is addressing only the ones with leadership responsibilities. Thus, if the first gathering will not yield the desired results, it will become necessary for the second one to take place. 


[1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown Hendrickson.

Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979.

 [2] Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Rabbi Matityahu Clark, Feldheim

Publishers, Jerusalem, New York.

 *  “Over” is pronounced like “overt,” minus the “t” sound.

Thursday, August 31, 2023



As I mentioned in last week’s “Impressions”, we visited my sister in the State of Wisconsin, where we were shocked at the sight of all the dead ash trees that we saw on her property. During our stay there we spent time with a number of old friends and acquaintances that we made when we lived in the area for four years, back in the 1980's. One particular lady (Chris) was our midwife, who coached us through both pregnancies and subsequent births. Now two of her daughters, Beth and Billy Jo have joined her in this wonderful profession and calling. When we contacted them, they were excited to show us around their new birthing center.

We were first invited to Billy Jo’s new home on a small pond, to enjoy some refreshments and reminisce about years gone by. Her husband took us for a short ride around the pond in his pontoon boat. While relaxing and conversing on the boat, Billy Jo referred to something that she had read in my book “Firstborn Factor”.  Being a midwife, she naturally brought up the story of Joseph who offered his knees to his grandson’s wife, while she was giving birth. This episode is found in chapter 40, page 14 of the book.

“Joseph lived to see the third generation of the children of Ephraim, but when it came to Manasseh’s firstborn, Machir, he did something quite strange. Scripture tells us that Machir’s sons were born on the knees of Joseph (ref. Genesis 50:23)…  So when the wife of his grandson Machir gave birth, she sat on Joseph’s knees as a sign that the child came out of his own loins, and in that way he became his great grandfather’s offspring and belonged to him. Many years earlier, Joseph’s mother Rachel enacted this very same proxy procedure. “So she said, ‘Here is my maid Bilhah; go into her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her’” (Genesis 30:3).” End quote. 

Billy Jo then proceeded to tell us about a situation that she was in, which required her to act as a birthing stool, positioning herself so that the mom sat on her (Billy Jo's) knees. She then surprised us with an observation that could have only been made by a midwife.  She exclaimed, “I know how Joseph adopted Yeshua!” She didn’t have to say another word, our souls were already filled with joy at what was about to be uttered verbally. Of course, Miriam gave birth to Yeshua on the knees of her husband! Their immediate circumstances (of being by themselves), as well as the legal requirement, made it most likely that this is how the birth took place. Thank you Billy Jo!

After our little ride around the pond, we proceeded to meet Billy’s mom at the birthing center. That also turned out to be a big surprise, as we drove up to a beautiful little red brick church building (picture below) that was sold to them by the seven members who were left of the congregation. The three midwives, along with a local Amish community, renovated the building into a first-class facility for mothers (and fathers) to give birth in the most accommodating conditions. The sign on the front of the building says: MAMA 1-2-3 CENTRAL WISCONSIN MIDWIFERY.

I want to end this short missive with a comment that Billy Jo made while we were in the building: “This church failed to bring forth new life and so the community died. But now, once again, new life is being birthed here". 

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ki Tavo – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 26 – 29:9


When you have comeki tavo – into the land…” informs us that “living in Israel is the assumption behind the Torah itself”, to quote Nehemiah Gordon.[1] And whereas last week’s Parasha raised the issue of the firstborn son, this week the Parasha deals extensively with firstfruit (both of which belong to YHVH, ref. Ex. 13:2; 22:29; 23:19, Num. 18:13). Here in 26:2 and 26:10, just as in Shmot (Exodus) 23:19, the term used is not “bikkurim” but rather “resheet”, which literally means “beginning”. (In Parashat Emor, Vayikra-Leviticus 21:1-24:23 we dealt extensively with this term, as it applies to the Beginning/First of the Omer, 23:10).  It is the very term which is attached to the Messiah who is IN the beginning and who IS the beginning (John 1:1-2). Rendering to YHVH the first fruit/beginning that belongs to Him can be done only in the land of Yisrael. The triune bond of the Heavenly Father, His people, and the land is expressed here in a most poignant way. “And it shall be, when you have come into the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you as an inheritance, and you have possessed it, and live in it; then you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground which you shall bring in from your land which YHVH your Elohim is giving to you, and shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which YHVH your Elohim shall choose to cause His name to dwell there” (Deut. 26:1,2 italics added). Once the Israelite person is well established in the land that YHVH has caused him to inherit, and once that land yields its produce that same Israelite is to render back to YHVH the first/fruit/beginning of the produce while doing so only in the place and in the manner prescribed by Him.

“And the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and place it before the altar of YHVH your Elohim. And you shall speak and say before YHVH your Elohim…” (26: 4). Now the Israelite is bidden to recount before YHVH some of the history of his people (v. 5ff), which of course highlights YHVH’s indispensable role, generating thanksgiving in the said Israelite worshipper, as well as a greater sense of oneness with his ancestors and with the future generations. And so (as we have noticed in many other instances), place, time, and people all come together under the sovereign rule of YHVH. 

However, the declaration: “… And you shall place it before YHVH your Elohim, and bow yourself before YHVH your Elohim” (26:2), along with the presentation of the fruit in the basket, does not end this particular activity. In verse 11 we read: “… and rejoice in all the good which YHVH your Elohim has given to you, and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the alien who is in your midst”, immediately leading to: “When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, that they may eat inside your gates, and be filled…” (v.12). Thus, what issues from recalling the historic continuum, are joy and a sense of gratitude that leads to concern for and empathy with the less fortunate. 

In Parashot R’eh and Shoftim (2 and 3 weeks ago, respectively, and before that in Parashat Mishpatim Ex. 21-24) we encountered the root (bet, ayin, resh), used in reference to YHVH’s burning anger, and also in regards to removing any and all impurities from Yisrael’s camp, hence meaning, to “burn, purge or consume” (in Mishpatim we examined this root closely, finding several more meanings not mentioned here).* Last week’s Parashat Ki Te’tzeh also cited several times this term in regards to sexual impurity (22:13-24), with one more reference to kidnapping (24:7).  Here this term is used once more, but surprisingly in a very different context: “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year -- the year of tithing -- and have given to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before YHVH your Elohim: 'I have removed the holy tithe from my house… I have not eaten any of it when in mourning...‘” (Deuteronomy 26:12-13, 14 italics added).  In Hebrew both “I removed” and “I have [not] eaten” are rendered as “bi’ar’ti”. This further emphasizes the potential for YHVH’s burning anger to be kindled if one were not to fulfill the above-mentioned requirement of rendering that which is set apart (kadosh) for those to whom it is due (i.e. the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow).  

Let's reiterate, the individual Israelite, who is responsible before his Elohim for handing over the initial yield of his land, for thanking Elohim and rejoicing before Him, is at the same time also to encompass the needy ones within his gates, since doing so is as good as “lending to YHVH” Himself (ref. Prov.19:17). 

The afore-mentioned address made to the Israelites (in chapter 26) is in the second person singular, which constitutes, as noted before, a means to underscore the individual responsibility to be borne by each person (as well as the oneness of the people – one and all). The confession, however, that the Israelite worshiper is to make is in first person plural, denoting the collective national identity in relationship to YHVH (vs. 5-9). In verse 10 there is an immediate change, again to the first person, as the focus shifts back to the individual’s responsibility and relationship with his Elohim. Verses 17-19 sum up the ‘transaction’ which will take place: “You have today declared YHVH to be your Elohim, and to walk in His ways, and to keep His statutes and His commands, and His judgments, and to pay attention to His voice. And YHVH has declared you today to be His people, a special treasure as He has spoken to you, and to keep all His commands. And He will make you high above all nations that He has made, in praise, and in name, and in glory; and that you may be a holy people to YHVH your Elohim, as He has spoken” (italics added). The verb “declared” in both instances is “he’emir,” of the root a.m.r (alef, mem, resh), meaning to “say, utter, declare, speak”. However, because “he’emir” is an unusual conjugation, rather than the regular “amar”, some translate it “elevate”, stemming from the root word “a’mir”, which is “top or summit” (for example, “uppermost branch” in Isaiah 17:6). The wilderness journey had seen many incidents of rebellion, as Moshe states in Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 9:24: “You have been rebels against YHVH from the day that I knew you”. There, as in many of the other references to the Israelites’ rebelliousness, the word used is “mam’rim” of the root m.r.h. This sad fact is stated in alliteration form in Tehilim (Psalms) 107:11: “They defied Elohim’s words” – “himru ee’mrey El”, and another alliteration is found in Tehilim 106:20, "they exchangedva'ya'miru – their glory for the glory of an ox". Both of these (himru and he'emiru) find their ‘remedy’ (tikkun) in the present term - “he’emiru” - that is in the definitive action of the Israelites “saying and declaring” YHVH’s “elevated” words, deeds and goodness toward them. Additionally, we can't fail to see that in the second part of this "transaction", YHVH promises to make His "special treasure" – the segula – "high above all nations". 

The rest of the Parasha is mostly devoted to the blessings and the curses (chapter 28). Even the undertaking in the future, of writing the Torah on “large stones” after crossing the Yarden and reading it to the people, is intended to illustrate vividly the extant dichotomy of “blessings” and “curses”, as this event was to take place between the “Mountain of Blessing” and the “Mountain of Curse”.  And, as if to make sure that the people will understand the simple equation of ‘obedience equals blessings - rebellion equals curses’, it says: “And you shall write on the stones all the words of the law very plainly” (27:8). “Very plainly” is “ba’er heytev”, and while we have already examined once the verb “ba’er” (and its connection to “be’er,” “well” – in Deut. Ch. 1), here we encounter the additional “heytev”, of the root “tov” - well, good, pleasant”. “Ba’er hey’tev”, then, is plainly “do a good job of explaining and making the meaning clear and simple”. 

Moving now to the blessings versus the curses, we take a look at 28:1 (regarding the blessings) and at verse 15 (the opening verse of the passage enumerating the curses) and read the following commentary: “Particularly remarkable is the difference between the emphatic double phrase of obedience used in the positive passage: ‘If thou shalt diligently hearken (shamo’a tishma)’ and the bare: ‘if thou shalt not hearken’ in the negative one. … Rashi, following Talmudic exegesis, interprets the idiomatic doubling of the verb in a conditional sense: ‘And it shall be,’ im shamoa, ‘if thou shalt hearken’, tishma, ‘then thou shalt continue to hearken’. Though grammatically this is not the implication of the verb doubling, it nevertheless expresses a deep psychological truth that once man has started on the right path, his progress becomes easier, gathering momentum with each fresh good deed. Maimonides also observed: ‘The more man is drawn after the paths of wisdom and justice, the more he longs for them and desires them’”. [2] 

The blessings and the curses are set side by side in chapter 28 and are parallel in content. But whereas it takes 14 verses to spell out the blessings, it takes almost four times that to go through all the curses. It appears that both blessings and curses are all-encompassing. When blessed, one is blessed everywhere one goes or happens to be, and likewise when one is cursed. The blessings and the curses are therefore all-pervasive. The more the blessings sound pleasant and appealing, the more horrendous and appalling are the curses, and using some of the same words in both underscores this fact all the more. The word fruit, for example, is used this way. In 28:4 and 11 we read: “The fruit of your body shall be blessed, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, the offspring of your oxen, and the young ones of your flock (italics added)”. “And YHVH shall prosper you in goods, and in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land which YHVH swore to your fathers to give it to you” (italics added). In the next section, we read about a fierce nation, which “shall eat the fruit of your livestock, and the fruit of your land, until you are destroyed” (v. 51, italics added. In the English translation “increase” and “produce” replace “fruit”. See also v. 42, "produce" = "fruit"). But what renders “fruit” and its usage much more macabre and sinister is verse 53: “And you shall eat the fruit of your body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom YHVH your Elohim has given to you… “(italics added). 

Let us review several other similar examples (where the same term or root is used in widely differing contexts, highlighting the severity of the message). In 28:11 it says: “And YHVH will grant you plenty of goods…” (emphasis added), which is “ve’hotircha” from the root y.t.r -“that which surpasses” and is therefore a “surplus”. But y.t.r (yod, tav, resh) is also the root for “that which remains”. And so, in 28:54 the root y.t.r is employed once more, though with a very different message: “The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest – “yeter” - of his children whom he leaves behind – “yotir” - so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat…” (emphasis added). These words, aside from highlighting the horrid situation, especially as juxtaposed against the blessings of y.t.r., also echo the same morbidity which characterized the passage we just read above (having had to do with “fruitfulness”). “Avod” - “work, labor, worship, serve” is another term that is used in this manner.

Verse 14 concludes the list of blessings by saying: "So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them” (italics added). In contrast, it is written in verses 47-48 “Because you did not serve/worship YHVH your Elohim with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, you shall serve your enemies whom YHVH shall send on you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in lack of all things. And he shall put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you” (italics added). Verse 64 takes us even further: “And YHVH shall scatter you among all people, from one end of the earth even to the other, and you shall serve [of the root a.v.d again] other gods there, wood and stone, which you have not known, nor your fathers” (italics added). 

Becoming “a proverb and a byword – ma’shal u’shneena - among all the peoples” (28:37) is another outcome of not heeding YHVH’s voice, as opposed to “all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of YHVH, and they shall fear you” (v. 10). In Parashat Chayey Sarah (Gen. 23-25:18, in reference to 24:2), we examined the noun “ma’shal” extensively. We found that one of the verbs for “to rule” – mashol – shares its root ( with words such as “proverb, parable, and example”. Thus, a ruler who represents his higher authority, as he is meant to do in YHVH’s kingdom, becomes a fit example of the latter. Here Yisrael is warned against misrepresenting YHVH and becoming an object lesson exemplifying what happens to those who betray trust. In Yoel (Joel) 2:17 the prophet laments: “And do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule (“lim’shol”) over them. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their Elohim?'" 

The second term used in the above “proverb and byword” - “sh’neena” - stems from the root sh.n.n. (shin, noon, noon) and means to “sharpen, whet”, and by implication “repeat”. Thus, if Yisrael should set a negative example, that fact will be told repeatedly, over and over, and in every place. However, if they obey the word, “vesheenantam… “teach repeatedly” YHVH’s Word to their children (Deut. 6:7), not only will they not become a “sh’neena” - “a byword”- among the nations, but rather they will be at the “head” of all the nations (ref. 28:13). 

The last phase of the fulfillment of the curses is a scattering among the nations. This entails unbearable conditions: “And among these nations you shall find no ease, nor shall the sole of your foot have rest – ma’no’ach…” (28:65). In Parashat No’ach we read: “The dove was sent to see if the water had abated and, found no resting place – again ma’no’ach - for the sole of her foot….” (Gen. 8:8-9). But the suffering, anguish, and dread only continue: “And your life shall hang in doubt before you, and you shall fear day and night, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, Oh that it were evening! And in the evening you shall say, Oh that it were morning! For the fear of your heart with which you fear, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see” (28:66-67 emphasis added). "Hang" in this excerpt is spelled with additional alef – thus, tlu'yim – has become tlu'eem, landing an additional meaning of "trouble" – t'la'ah - to the 'hanging position' of one's life.  A book that was authored by a Holocaust survivor about his experiences, was named, Oh That It Were Evening. “Evening” as we noted several times already is “erev” of the root e.r.v (ayin, resh, bet/vet), with its numerous derivations such as mix, pleasant, raven, and guarantee (at the end of the day “erev” is a guarantee of the coming morning). In the present case, the Guarantor of the ‘coming day’ is directly involved in the circumstances of those to whom He has pledged His guarantee. Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) chapter 30, for example, contains tremendous (and guaranteed) promises to Yisrael. In verse 21 we read the following: “Their leader [“moshel” which we just encountered above] shall be one of them and their ruler shall come forth from their midst [remember Parashat Shoftim and the leader who was to be raised from “among their brethren”?]. And I will bring him near and he shall approach Me; For who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?”. “Dare to risk (his life)” is of the same familiar root, e.r.v - “a’ra’v”. The answer to this question is quite clear then, as no one else but Elohim’s Son could risk His life, as indeed He has, by “sacrificing” (which is identical to the “approach” above) Himself! 

Finally (in 28:68), “And YHVH shall bring you into Egypt again with ships, by the way of which I said to you, ‘you shall never see it again’” (see Exodus 14:13).  The mention of ships is rather curious here, as it would not have been the normal passageway from Yisrael to Egypt. This imagery may be pointing to the sea that the Children of Yisrael crossed miraculously on foot when coming out of their land of bondage. Returning to that same place would be very different from the supernatural and miraculous means they had once experienced; this time it would be more like “crossing the sea of distress” (ref. Zech. 10:11) on proverbial ‘slave boats’. There, in Egypt, the place where the Israelites had experienced deliverance from slavery, they will once again be in bondage. Should this happen, they will sell themselves as slaves, the word being “hit’makar’tem” from the root (mem, kaf/chaf, resh), which is a very unusual form of “to sell”, meaning “becoming sold by selling oneself”. However, while willing to sell themselves to slavery, “there shall be no buyer” (v. 68)! 

Verses 1-9 of chapter 29, which form the epilogue of our Parasha, serve to remind the Israelites, once again, of the miracles that they had experienced in this Egypt, which just a moment ago was presented before them as a potential place of untold future sufferings. They are called to remember in the future the extent of YHVH’s past goodness toward them and His great mercy, love, and power; a remembrance which will be essential for their conduct and wellbeing, hence the exhortation: “Pay attention to the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may act wisely in all that you do”! (29:9)


[1] Karaite Korner

* This is not to be confused with, bet, ALEF, resh, which means "to expound", found here in 27:8 and in chapter 1.

[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.