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Parashat Vayeilech - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Vayeilech ("and he went")

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Parashat

Torah

Haftarah

Brit Chadashah

Vayeilech
 

Deut. 31:1-30

Isa. 55:6-8
*See note below

Rom. 10:14-18

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Torah Reading Snapshot:

In last week's parashah (Nitzavim), Moses formally gathered the people of Israel together to ratify their covenant with the LORD. Moses then pled with the people to "choose life" by pursuing the path of obedience to the Torah and its commandments. If the Israelites would do so, they would be blessed and prosper as God's chosen nation; but if not, they would be cursed with exile, persecution, and the threat of utter destruction.

Vayeilech

According to Jewish tradition, it was at this time (the seventh day of Adar) that the Heavenly Voice called out to Moses, "This is your last day on earth." Moses then went to speak with the elders of Israel to bid them farewell:

Deut 31:1 (BHS)

"I am one hundred and twenty years old today," he told the people, "and can no longer go forth and come in." Moreover, since the LORD had confirmed that he was soon to die, Yehoshua (Joshua) was to be ordained as his successor to lead the people successfully into the Promised Land across the Jordan river. In the presence of the entire assembly, Moses urged Joshua to be strong and courageous, and to place his full trust in the LORD.

Moses then committed the Law to writing and delivered the scrolls to the kohanim (priests) for safekeeping. He then commanded that after Israel was safely in the land, the law should be publicly recited to all of Israel every seven years, at a special ceremony on the festival of Sukkot, in order that they people "may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law." This is sometimes called the mitzvah of hakheil (literally - gathering).

The LORD then called Moses and Joshua into the Mishkan (tent of meeting) to commission Joshua as Moses' successor. While there, the LORD foretold that the Israelites would "whore after the foreign gods" and break covenant with Him.  On account of this, Moses was instructed to teach the Israelites a prohetic song called the Ha'azinu. Joshua was then commissioned with these words from the LORD: "Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you."

After this, Moses further instructed the Levites to put the scroll of the Law beside the Aron HaKodesh (Ark of the Covenant) to bear witness against Israel if they were to deviate from its teachings. (Later King Josiah hid the scrolls before the Temple was destroyed).

The parashah ends with Moses gathering the people together to teach them the Ha'azinu, which would again remind them of the consequences of turning against the LORD.


Note: Parashat Vayelech is often read with parashat Nitzavim.

Haftarah Reading Snapshot:

Note: The Haftarah is Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27 when Vayelech falls on Shabbat Shuvah; otherwise the reading is only Isaiah 55:6-8. When parshah Vayelech is combined with parshah Netzavim, the haftarah for Netzavim (Isaiah 61:10–63:9) is read instead.

The Haftarah for Vaiyeilech (when it falls on Shabbat Shuvah) is connected with the theme of the Ten Days of repentance. The first reading from Hosea begins with a clarion call to do teshuvah (Hosea 14:1).

Hosea 14:1 (BHS)

And even though Israel has repeatedly sinned, the LORD is ready to forgive them and heal them of their apostasy:

Hosea 14:4 (BHS)

The second part of the Haftarah is read from Joel 2:11-27. The LORD warned the people that a locust attack was coming to destroy the land, but Joel was sent to appeal to them to repent. However, repentance must be wholehearted - with fasting and weeping - with rending of the heart instead of outward garments. Happily, the people did repent, and the LORD greatly restored the people and the land.

The last portion of the Haftarah is read from Micah 7:18-20, recalling the grace and compassion of the LORD for Israel:

    Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

Brit Chadashah Snapshot:

The reading from the Brit Chadashah appeals to the believer in the Messiah Yeshua to share the message of the LORD's redemptive love with all the world.  Ethnic Israel, beloved as she is of God, has undergone a partial hardening until all of those whom the LORD has called from among the nations have been "grafted in" to the covenant promises originally given to Israel. After this time, all Israel will indeed be saved (Rom. 11:26), and the chosen nation will once again be restored and fully forgiven. Then the words of the prophets will all come true, and Israel will be adorned with honor and blessing above all the nations of the earth. Our "eschatological brethren" will finally be home from their long exile!

Rosh Hashanah Meditation

Divine Absence and Teshuvah...

Lilian Broca Mosiac Detail
 

The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face."  It is often used when discussing the Book of Esther, where God's Name isn't mentioned even once, yet the hidden Presence is realized in the outcome of the story. In this sense of the term, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's providential care for us is at work at all times, whether we perceive it or not.

Parashat Vayelech begins on the last day of Moses' life. The LORD said to him, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. This people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them" (Deut. 31:16). The parashah continues: "Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.... And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods" (Deut. 31:17-18).

Unlike the happy thought that hester panim refers to God's hidden providence for good, in this case hester panim refers to the terrifying prospect of the withdrawal of the Divine Presence itself. God "hides His face" from us because our own desire for evil blinds us to the truth of His Presence. Hester panim therefore is not only "absence of Divine Presence," but "presence of Divine Absence."  In other words, sin and selfishness causes the Divine Presence to remove from us, but that is precisely because we remove ourselves from Him. "I will hide... because you have turned..."  The distance is therefore reciprocal: Selfishness turns God away from us and turns us away from God.


 

In difficult moments, many people cynically ask, "Where's God?" and yet they have no intention of turning from sin to seek the Divine Presence.  They are quick to judge the Divine Absence as an excuse for the return to selfishness. This "hardening of the heart" leads to ever-increasing spiritual darkness and confusion... Finally the line is crossed and they become unable to turn away, unable not to sin (non posse non peccare). They are consigned to a frightful state: "God gave them up to a debased mind (αδοκιμον νουν) to do what ought not to be done" (Rom. 1:28).

People tend to blame God for the Divine Absence yet forget that God "hides His face" from those who elevate selfish desire over all other things...  "Whoring after other gods" is nothing more than perverse self-exaltation, stubborn self-worship, and the incessant return to yourself as the object of ultimate concern in life.... This profound despair form is truly the "sickness unto death."

These are not happy thoughts, chaverim.  In some tragic cases, the disease "reaches term" and the person actually dies.  The "hiding of face" is then forever sealed. Since we have hidden our face from Him, God has hidden His face from us.  God forbid that this should be anyone's ultimate spiritual destiny....

Is there a redemptive side to all of this? In some cases God "turns away" from us in order to afflict us and understand our need to return to Him: "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statues" (Psalm 119:71).  The sense of "Divine Absence" can be a gift that helps us seek the Divine Presence: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8).  The "dark night of the soul" can be a means of leading us to godly sorrow that leads to life (2 Cor. 7:10).

In keeping with the Days of Awe and the call to do teshuvah shelmah (a complete repentance), then, let me quote from the prophet Isaiah:

    "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7).
     

Let us "wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and hope in him" (Isa. 8:17). Wishing you teshuvah shlemah be'ahavat Yeshua - "A complete turning in the love of Jesus."

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