Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Va’etchanan

This week’s Torah portion,Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3.23 – 7.11,[i] begins with Moshe pleading with the LORD to grant him favor and to allow him to enter into the Promised Land. The LORD’s response, in modern Hebrew, was ״די כבר״ or “Enough already” we’ve already been over this and there is nothing more to discuss. While some see this as harsh, the fact that Moshe was not going to be able to enter into the Land after all he had been through, illustrates the principle that our actions reap consequences that last well past the point of forgiveness and restoration. Remember, Moshe’s inability to enter into the Land was a result of his disobedience in Chukat (Numbers 20.7 – 12). Interestingly however, in this Parasha, Moshe attempts to shift the blame from himself to Bnei-Yisrael.

“Furthermore Adonai was angry with me because of your words, and He swore that I would not cross over the Jordan or enter the good land that Adonai your God is giving you for an inheritance. For I must die in this land; I am not crossing over the Jordan. But you will cross over and take possession of that good land.” (Deuteronomy 4.21 – 22)

But this is not what the LORD said to Moshe in Numbers,

But Adonai said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me so as to esteem Me as holy in the eyes of Bnei-Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given to them.” (Numbers 20.12)

Reading the full narrative in Numbers 20, it is evident that Bnei-Yisrael were complaining once again. But Moshe and Aaron were not judged for the peoples’ transgression, rather for their own. Moshe’s perception may well have been skewed a bit but the reality is that he did not obey the LORD, which resulted in the pronounced discipline. The continuing narrative shows thatADONAI continued to use and to bless Moshe and his leadership, but the judgement stood firm, he would not enter the Land of Promise.

This week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 40. 1 – 26, is ״שבת נחמו״ or Shabbat Nachamu(Comfort). It is the first of the seven Haftarot of Consolation following Tisha b’Av. The passage begins, “‘Comfort, comfort My people,’ says your God” (Isaiah 40.1). This seems to be an imperative, a command in the third person masculine. To whom then is Hashem speaking? According to Rabbi Hertz, ז״ל, it appears that He is speaking to the prophet(s) who will pronounce consolation and eventual deliverance. However, Rabbi Hertz goes a step further stating that the pronounced comfort should come from all those who love Jerusalem.”[ii] That seems to indicate that anyone who claims to love and follow the LORD and His Messiah Yeshua should seek and even earnestly work for the comfort and consolation of Israel, Jerusalem and the Jewish people as a whole. Likewise, the double pronouncement expresses “rhetorical intensification (Kimhi). In Ibn Ezra’s opinion, it ‘indicates that the comfort will occur swiftly or repeatedly’.”[iii] In other words this is not a command that is to be taken lightly or lackadaisically, rather it deserves both our immediate and continual attention. This is especially important to note in this day and age when anti-Semitism is on the increase causing the attitudes of the Middle Ages and Nazi Germany to pale in comparison.

The prophet Zechariah enforces the importance of the need to comfort Israel and Jerusalem with these words which he proclaimed to those scattered to the four corners of the earth,

“For thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, He has sent me after glory to the nations that plundered you—because whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye — ‘For behold, I will shake My hand against them and they will be plunder to their servants.’ Then you will know that Adonai-Tzva’ot has sent me.” (Zechariah 2.12 – 13, (2.8 -9 in English), cp. Deuteronomy 32.10)

Israel is the “apple of His eye” who remains His beloved, even in the midst of discipline and correction. Therefore, as His love continues, so our responsibility continues to stand with and comfort Israel.

It is important to remember, as exemplified in Moshe’s situation recorded in the Torah portion, transgressions have their consequences but the grace ofADONAI and His faithfulness to His promises to the forefathers should give all of us hope both here and in the world to come. In the penitential prayer, Tahanun, we proclaim,

He is compassionate. He forgives iniquity and does no destroy, Repeatedly He suppresses His anger, not arousing His full wrath, Lord, do not withhold your compassion from us. May Your loving-kindness and truth always protect us. Save us, Lord, our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise. If You, Lord, were to keep an account of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.[iv]

Earlier in the Shacharit service, in אהבה רבה, we acknowledged in faithful hope,

And because we have trusted in Your holy, great, and revered name, may we be glad and rejoice in Your salvation.[v]

As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, discipline for a season is surely not pleasurable.[vi] Equally hard for us as finite creatures, is to understand the length of “seasons” as the LORD counts time. But we can take heart in the fact that as we trust in Him, we will be able to rejoice in His salvation.[vii]

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible.

[ii] Hertz, J. H., Rabbi Dr. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. (English and Hebrew Edition). Soncino Press, London, 1988. p776

[iii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2002. p202

[iv] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz; Introduction and Commentary by Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, 2009. p144

[v] Ibid. p96

[vi] Hebrews 12.11

[vii] Psalm 13.6 (13.5 in English)

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.