They were about to cross the Jordan River and on that side of the river were two mountains – Gerizim and Ebal. From Mount Gerizim the blessings were to be proclaimed and from Mount Ebal the curses were to be pronounced. The blessings would come if they obeyed God and the curses if they did not.
Every vestige of pagan worship was to be destroyed. Sacrifices and burnt offerings were only to be made in the place of the LORD’s choosing. They could not just do what they thought they saw fit.
Animals that were just to be used for food could be slaughtered anywhere but the blood was not to be eaten – it was to be poured out on the ground. Animals set aside to give to God were to be taken to the place that the LORD chose. The blood was to be poured out beside the altar, but the meat could be eaten. Care was to be taken to do everything exactly as God had prescribed.
When Israel had dispossessed those nations whose territory it was taking over, they were not to try to find out how those people worshipped their gods. They did detestable things like burning their own sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices.
If any false prophet performs a sign or wonder and entices people to serve other gods it is because God is testing hearts to see if they would follow God wholeheartedly or not. That person was to be put to death. Even if that person is your own flesh and blood a wife a son or a daughter or a close friend entices you to serve other gods, they were not to do it and were to be the first to stone them to death for trying to lead you to worship other gods.
If it is heard that there is a town where they are teaching the people to worship false gods and after close scrutiny it turns out to be true, then that town must be toatally destroyed including the livestock and the town is to be totally burnt down. Then the LORD would turn from his fierce anger and show compassion.
No marks on the flesh or shaving the front of the head as would have been done by the idolators was to be copied by the Israelites.
Sheep goats and deer are all permitted to be eaten. They all have a divided hoof and chew the cud. An animal that chews the cud has more than one stomach and digests food more than once. The camel is not kosher because, although it chews the cud it does not have a divided hoof. The pig is not kosher because although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud.
Fish with fins and scales are kosher but what we would classify as seafood is not kosher.
Birds that are kosher are as a rule of thumb those that are not predatory hence eagles owls hawks and birds of prey are not to be eaten. A bat is a mammal not a bird but classified in the Torah as a bird. It is not kosher.
Winged insects are not kosher except for some (locusts and grasshoppers)
Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.
Every year a tithe of the year’s produce was to be put aside so it could be taken to the Sanctuary for a celebration of God’s provision. This appears to be in additional to the tithe each tribe had to give to support the Levites as mentioned in Parashat Korach. If the Sanctuary was too far away, then they could turn their produce into money and then go to the Sanctuary and buy whatever they needed there to celebrate God’s goodness. Apart from supporting the Levites who served in the Sanctuary they were to include the Levites who lived in their own towns in the tithe celebrating God’s provision.
At the end of each three year period they were to gather the tithes into barns for the benefit of the widows and fatherless and the Levites in their towns who had no inheritance of their own.
Every seven years any debt to a fellow Israelite was to be cancelled. That did not however apply to a foreigner. The temptation though would be to withhold a loan to someone in need because the year of cancelling debt was imminent. This was a wicked thought and lending to the poor and needy was a priority at all times.
Freeing Hebrew Slaves
Like the cancellation of debt, Hebrew servants who had sold themselves should be freed after six years. They weren’t simply to be freed but they were to be liberally provided with the things they needed to their freedom.
If however the servant had grown to love his master and did not want to be set free, the master would take an awl and drive it through the servant’s ear onto a door and the servant would belong to the master for life.
Freeing slaves should not be considered a hardship since the cost of a paid servant for the six years he or she served would have been considerably more.
Firstborn animals are to be set aside. Firstborn oxen are not to be yoked and firstborn sheep are not to be shorn. They will be taken to the Sanctuary and sacrificed and eaten there in the LORD’s presence. Only perfect animals were to be taken to the Sanctuary. An animal with a blemish was to be eaten at home and the blood was to be poured out on the ground.
Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks) and Succoth (Tabernacles)
The month of Aviv (or Nisan) was the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt. An animal from the flock or the herd was to be sacrificed in the Sanctuary. Matzo (Unleavened bread) is to be eaten for seven days to remember the hast in which the departure from Egypt took place. The sacrifice was to be eaten on the eve of the anniversary of the Exodus and none was to be left till the morning.
Seven weeks after the start of the harvest of the first standing corn a freewill offering was to be made according to the bounty of the harvest. It was to be made in the Sanctuary and the festival; was to include the widows and fatherless and the Levites from the towns where the people who had come to make the offering were from.
When the last of the produce of the fields and vineyards have been brought in the festival, of Tabernacles is to be celebrated with great rejoicing. All the townspeople who had come to the sanctuary for the festival are to celebrate. God will bless the work of the hands of those who had laboured for the harvest.
These were the three times a year they were to appear before the LORD bringing an offering commensurate with the way their crops had been blessed.
Haftarat Re’eh הפטרת ראה
The passage contains words of comfort telling the nation that even though it was destroyed it would be built back better. All it’s children would be taught of the LORD and live in peace. Anyone who attacks would be defeated.
The suffering and the discipline were only the hammer and bellows of a skilled blacksmith crating a weapon for his use, with the promise that
No weapon forged against you will prevail, (Isaiah 54:17)
The prophet sends an invitation to the hungry and thirsty to come and buy food and drink with no cost. Why should we spend our money on things that don’t really feed and satisfy us.
God was going to fulfil a promise made to David, who would become a witness ruler and commander of peoples. Nations that we know nothing about will come running to us because of God, the Holy One of Israel who has transformed us into an object of splendour through Him.
Just like statistics, the chosen Haftarah passages can hide more than they reveal. Haftarat Ekev studied last week ends with Isaiah 51:3 and this week begins with Isaiah 54:11 missing the passages that so clearly speak of our Messiah in Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The message that does come through clearly in this Parsha is the need to stay close to God and to his Word. The blessings of keeping close to and obeying the voice of God as he leads us by His Spirit are a source of great joy. On the other hand, defiance leads to God’s discipline which can be catastrophic
It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)
The danger of false prophets is ever with us and likewise, it’s important to be discerning about what we read and which preachers we listen to. In ancient Israel even a spouse or a close family member suggesting worshipping other gods was to be put to death. As believers under the New Covenant, we need to be careful as well.
‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
That does not mean being violent towards those we love. It means that when faced with a choice between doing the will of God and of those whom we love God’s will has to take precedence. The paradox is that as we chose to prefer God, our relationships that we have chosen not to make a priority will likely in practice improve.
The other thread that we see in this Parsha is that of joy. When the tithes were brought to the Sanctuary there was to be a time of great joy and celebration. The same was to happen when the full harvest was brought in over the Feast of Tabernacles. It is the will of God that we should have joy and be thankful at all times.
in everything give thanks;
for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 TLV)
The history of Israel is one of rebellion followed by punishment followed by restoration. Our punishment was taken by Yeshua as expressed in the Haftarah non-included passages about which the silence is deafening.
Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our pains. (Isaiah 53:4)
He does however continue to put us through the furnace to produce a vessel fit for his kingdom. The end result will be a people God can use for his glory.
This article originally appeared on the BMJA website, August 26, 2022, and reposted with permission.