We are now preparing ourselves for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we beg God to write our names in the Book of Life (Sefer ha Chaim). Many people leave the Synagogue after the Yom Kippur service without being certain that their names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Those who have understood that Messiah has already come and that he, Yeshua has led us back to God (teshuvah), we rejoice in the assurance that our names have been sealed in the Book of Life, blessed be His Name.
Vayelekh is a very small portion being read on its own only when it is a leap year; during regular years, it is read with Nitzavim. Here God is telling us through Moshe Rabbeinu that we will fail and that we will abandon him. There is a debate among the rabbis about whether this is a prophecy or a warning. It seems to be confusing since if we already know that were going to fail, then why should it matter how we live? There are always the two extremes of thought among the Jewish people: on one hand it is God who decides who is good and who is bad, while on the other hand, we have total free will and we can do whatever we want. The grey area however is where we need to walk. In this area we are flexible knowing that God is in control while we still have the choice to follow him or not.
God did not create his people to destroy them, but to have a relationship with them. In order for there to be a relationship, there needs to be two people involved. Our God is One and he never changes; he is faithful and always keeps his promises. We are the ones who fail so when the relationship with God is broken, it is we who have turned away from him. In Deuteronomy 31: 16-18, 16 And the LORD said to Moses: ‘Behold, you are about to sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up, and go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake Me, and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day: Are not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? 18 And I will surely hide My face in that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned to other gods. I will hide My face from them…. וְהִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי מֵהֶם The expression, hester panim הסתר פנים means divine abandonment, absence of God, literally, his presence is gone, for good or bad. In the book of Esther, we do not read about God anywhere, but we know he is everywhere. Here, it says the people will "rise up" meaning that they will become prosperous (fat) and they would start to believe that what they had achieved was from their own ability. They would forget then God. When we become prosperous today, we become proud and believe that we don’t need God. The next step in this process is that we create our own gods— luck, fortune, circumstances. We don’t acknowledge what God has done for us. It is most important however that we always learn to walk in balance. In the book of Proverbs, Mishlei, 30: 7-9 King Solomon prays… ‘Two things have I asked of You; deny me them not before I die: 8 Remove far from me falsehood and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with mine allotted bread; 9 Lest I be full, and deny, and say: ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.’
At the time of the Bible, there were many ethnic peoples and each one had its regional gods. Each thought that their god was better than the others. The Greeks with their many gods took this idea from ancient times, where they were always ready to add one more god. Rav Shaul understood this when he spoke in Athens to the people about the unknown God. Sometimes we make our God so small, similar to a local god when we tried to describe him or put him in a box. The God of Israel is impossible to describe. Many of us think that we alone hold the truth. We need to constantly remind ourselves that when we have any victory in our lives, it is because of God and not because of what we do. When people kill to avenge or defend their god, it is telling me how small their god really is. The God of Israel doesn’t need defending.
Today, our rabbis have put Israel on a pedestal and cover-up the reality that they have built a religion with its costumes. Everyone dresses the same, some are stricter than others in certain areas and some are more lax. Instead of being a light to the nations, they wear black and isolate themselves from the world. They don’t want to be open to outsiders and teach that they are the only ones who follow the true God and that the others don’t need to do what they do because they are not Jewish.
The paradigm shift which I have been teaching is to get rid of religion. We need instead to say yes to God and no to religion. This is a difficult thing and very uncomfortable for those who have been so indoctrinated. When God has revealed himself to you, you are humbled by the knowledge that you have been chosen. It is not a matter of pride.
Israel was not brought back to the land because they were righteous. According to: Ezekiel 36:21-22, 21 But I had pity for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations, whither they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD: I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, whither you came it was for the sake of God’s name. Our people have suffered much over the centuries. We have a long memory of this from the Assyrians to the Babylonian, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, Spain, England, the Soviets, to the most recent, the Shoah (Holocaust) in Germany and Europe. The problem is that we Jews do not like to hear the truth. God told us in the Torah that these things would happen to us if we abandoned him. We are a stiff-necked people and we need to humble ourselves before God. He said come to me and I will give you rest.
Today, we have fallen into the trap of enlightenment, modernism; humanism is the religion of today. It has replaced God and enthroned man. We make idols out of humans. We worship human rights; we have changed the word “sin” and invented a new word, “crime” for which we are sent to jail. In America, we have been given basic rights in three areas – life, body, and property. My rights end where your rights begin. If you break these rights, it is a crime. Sin has a different connotation where people of the community are most important. There is a violation of the responsibility and infraction of the obligations placed upon humans. Simply put, to sin means to disobey God’s Torah rather than human laws. For e.g. abortion is legal today, yet God’s Law requires us to speak out against murder and for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves.
Psychologists have developed new terms to keep people out of jail such as "deviation of personality". In this way we could say it wasn’t my fault. Something or someone made me do it. This is not a new invention. We read the story of Adam and Eve and we see how they blamed the other one and God. We have become our own saviors, selfish and self-centered to the destruction of humanity.
In this parashah, Moshe is telling the people, listen to me, I am 120. I can no longer come and go. What did he mean? We know that he was still strong and capable. However, God told him that he couldn’t go due to his sin. The one who would cross the Jordan would be Yehoshua and that God would go before him. God said, I will send Yehoshua to go before you. Notice the similarity in names of Yeshua and Yehoshua. Both have the same meaning and the same task. God also sent Yeshua to go before us but God is the one who went before him.
The paradigm shift is in the understanding that God is everywhere. He sees us even in private. We need to be who we are both in private and in public. The idea of teshuvah is returning to God, to humbling ourselves because we cannot lie to him. We are the ones who hide our faces from him. We don’t want to see God. This time of Yom Kippur is a time of afflicting our souls, asking God to search within because we cannot see ourselves. That is why I love Psalm 139 and repeat it every day. We need to be careful not to become blinded by our own faults and think about what others say to us about ourselves, to see if it is true.
Be careful that we do not defy the living God. Are we under the laws of man or God? With God comes responsibility not forced but out of love and it is the right thing to do. May our hearts be changed and may we return to God as we afflict our souls on Yom Kippur.
By Netanel Ben Yochanan
Tags: covenant, day of atonement, extremes, god is in control, god is one, grey area, leap year, Messiah, moses, moshe rabbeinu, promises, prophecy, rabbis, relationship with god, small portion, synagogue, ter, yom kippur, yom kippur service
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