‘A Taste of Torah’ is a devotional study through the five books of Moses by well-respected Hebraic teacher and Author Keren Hannah Pryor. For more readings from the Torah, please visit HIS-ISRAEL website: his-israel.com/torah-portion/
08/02 Devarim – Words Deut. 1:1 – 3:22; Isaiah 1:1-27
08/09 Va’etchanan – And I Besought Deut. 3:23 – 7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26
08/16 Ekev – Because Deut. 7:12 – 11:25; Isaiah 49:14-51:3
08/23 Re’eh – Behold Deut. 11:26 – 16:17; Isaiah 54:11-55:5
08/30 Shoftim – Judges Deut. 16:18 – 21:9; Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Devarim, meaning ‘words,’ is the Hebrew name of Deuteronomy, the fifth and last book of the Torah. Distilled within it, is the teaching of the previous books, with the primary focus of how to live as God’s people; including the repetition of the Ten Words or the Ten Commandments. At the same time, 70% of the instructions now given by Moses are entirely new. He demonstrates that the great truths of God’s revealed Word need to be constantly learned anew, and that they always yield deeper and richer insights. A good teacher prepares his students for future needs while reinforcing the lessons of the past.
This first discourse of Moses is a review of the Israelites’ journey from Horeb (Mount Sinai) to Kadesh Barnea. We are informed in verse 2 that it is “eleven days’ journey” between these two points. The estimated time, eleven days, was extended to forty years! Moses is trying to impress upon this new generation the lessons that needed to be learned in order to be prepared to enter the Land promised by God. Until now, like children, the Israelites had remained under God’s constant care and training before they had reached the stage of accountability. On the long and arduous journey, they had known God’s faithful and tender care and had experienced: “…how the Lord your God bore you, as a man bears his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place” (1:31).
Moses concludes the parasha with a repetition of the assurance proclaimed in the first chapter (1:30): “You shall not fear; for the Lord your God, He it is that fights for you!” Whenever we go forward in faithfulness according to His direction, we see the salvation of our God and witness His unfailing love.
In the portion Va’etchanan, Moses honors God’s appointment of Joshua and encourages and strengthens the new leader. Moses also emphasizes that the one indispensable condition upon which the future victory and prosperity of the people depended was obedience to the will of God as expressed in His Word. He urgently proclaims: “And now, O Israel, hear the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you today … so that you may live and possess the Land” (4:1).
When we truly hear Him our response involves every aspect of our lives. This is highlighted in the portion by the declaration of Moses that has become the constant affirmation of faith of the Jewish people, morning and evening: “Sh’ma Yisrael—Hear O Israel—the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might…” (6:4-9). To achieve this goal, Moses exhorts the people to “…fear the Lord your God” and to “…teach [His Word] to your children” (4:10).
The third portion of the month, Ekev, fittingly carries the confirmation of God’s covenant with His people, “It will come to pass, ekev, because of, your hearing these social ordinances and carrying them out with care, that the Lord your God will keep for you the covenant and lovingkindness that He swore to your fathers” (7:12).
The word Ekev compares with the Hebrew word for heel. In the light of the context, we could say that the blessings of God, enumerated in the ensuing verses of the portion, follow on the ‘heels’ of our obedience. As we willingly heed and obey His commandments, statutes and ordinances, our focus should not be on the rewards to be reaped; rather our joy should stem from hearing the Word of God and wholeheartedly applying it to our lives for His glory. As loving children, we do this in order to please our Father in heaven. Then, He assures us, His blessings will follow.
The portion, Re’eh, begins with Moses saying: “Behold! Re’eh – See! I am setting before you today blessing and curse.” An emphasis can be placed on today as we have the choice every day to follow the good way that God sets before us in His Torah – His teaching and instruction – and to walk in it. Or, we can choose to go our own way. The latter ultimately will lead to curses and sorrow rather than His blessing.
Today the world is facing an enormous challenge – that of standing with the nation of Israel, in accord with the Word and purposes of God, or with the enemies of the God of Israel. God revealed to Abraham that all the land of Canaan was the Land He had promised to him and his descendants. And God said, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3-7). Again, the results of the choice made will be either blessing or curse.
The portion also emphasizes the principle of tzedakah, or charitable giving, primarily to the Levites (those who serve as priests, who minister to God and the people, and who receive no inheritance of a portion of the Land itself), and also to the poor and to widows and orphans. Giving is particularly connected with the celebration of the biblical Festivals which are specified as particular times of God’s blessing (16:15b).
The final portion, Shoftim, stresses the importance of righteous judgment (mishpat tzedek) by judges and officers of the court. The concept is doubly stressed in 16:20, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof! “Justice, justice shall you pursue!” Why? “That you may live.”
Justice affects life. This biblical theme establishes the priority of social righteousness, which involves and affects every individual, family and community, as well as every nation. On a social level, the injunction weighs in particular upon those who act in a legal capacity and in their dealings on behalf of the weaker members of society, such as widows and orphans. On a national level, the justice and righteousness of the judiciary should be an example for all the country. Corruption at this level brings dire consequences. How blessed we would be if the Word of God was honored by all and in every endeavor of society!
“For the Word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:4-5).