Thoughts and Teachings: Haftarah for Vayelech / Shabbat Shuvah

The Torah portion for this week, Vayelech, is found in Deuteronomy 31.1-30[i] and is the shortest portion in the yearly reading cycle. Three times in this week’s parasha, Moshe uses the phrase “Chazak! Be courageous!” (31.6, 7, & 23). The first time was to “all Israel” as he was attempting to motivate them to trust in the LORD’s leading and protection as they entered into the Promised Land. The second and third time was to Joshua, as he (Moshe) commissioned him (Joshua) as his replacement to lead the people into the Land. One has to wonder if maybe Joshua did need the extra encouragement to take over the leadership, knowing all the trouble that Bnei-Yisrael had caused Moshe over the years.

Along with the words “Chazak! Be courageous!” (v. 23a) there comes an interesting statement. “For you will bring Bnei-Yisrael into the land I swore to them—and I will be with you” (v. 23b). Apparently following the LXX, many translations attribute this statement to Adonai, affirming His promise of the Land, as well as His abiding presence with Joshua and all of Israel. But there are some traditions and translations where it appears that this statement is a continuation of Moshe’s narrative to Joshua, affirming Moshe’s promise to lead the people into the Land. In fact Moshe did remain with Joshua, probably via his teachings and his influence as he (Joshua) led the people in this next phase of their journeys. While it is perfectly understandable that the phase works well coming from the LORD, it equally works well from Moshe, himself. The adage that we are but “dwarfs, standing on the shoulders of giants” conveys the idea that we are walking on the foundations of those who went before us; in other words, Moshe accompanied Joshua, so long as Joshua walked in the LORD’s statutes, mitzvoth and teachings that Moshe taught.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance, which precedes Yom Kippur. As such, the Haftarah readings are from three different sections of the Twelve (the Minor Prophets). According to Ashkenaz tradition, they are Hosea 14.2-10 and Joel 2.15-27. In Sephardic tradition, Hosea is read but in place of Joel, Micah 7.18-20 completes the reading.

Looking forward to Yom Kippur, the prophet Hosea cries out, “Return O Israel, to Adonai your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (14.2). Then the passage ends with, “For the ways of Adonai are straight, and the just walk in them, but the wicked stumble in them” (14.10b). It appears to me that walking in the straight ways of the LORD ties back to either or maybe both the LORD’s and Moshe’s promise to be with Joshua. Like Joshua, neither you or I, are expected to walk this life’s journey alone – but we walk with the LORD’s presence, as well as those who have gone on before us (Hebrews 12.1).

As we continue to look toward Yom Kippur, the passage from Micah provides a degree of comfort and encouragement as he affirms that it is the Almighty and His mercy that we depend upon as we pray and seek His acceptance.

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. (Micah 7.18)

Then from Joel, we see a call for all of Israel to gather and sanctify the fast. Not just the High Priest, or the family heads but everyone is to come together. This sounds quite similar to the gathering recorded in last week’s portion,Nitzavim. When the LORD renewed His covenant with Israel (Deuteronomy 29.10-15) it was with everyone – great and small, young and old, male and female – all who were a part of the community – native born or the recently added. Likewise, this same call is to all for Yom Kippur.

Blow the shofar in Zion! Sanctify a fast; proclaim an assembly. Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even those nursing at breasts. Let the bridegroom come out from his bedroom and the bride from her chamber. (Joel 2.15-16)

The shofar is sounded as a call to awaken ourselves and the entire community to the need to come before the LORD – not with any works of our own but trusting in His grace, compassion and mercy. Just before this week’s passage, the prophet echoed the Thirteen Attributes recorded in Exodus 34.6-7 when he stated

Rend your heart, not your garments, and turn to Adonai, your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abundant in mercy, and relenting about the calamity due. (Joel 2.13)

As we consider Shabbat Shuvah and the upcoming Yom Kippur, let us truly examine ourselves, our actions as well as the thoughts of our hearts. We need to be right with one another before we can expect the LORD to accept our prayers, continuing to be right with Him. In the Besorah, Mark records the Master’s words, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your transgressions,” (Mark 11.25).  As a side note, it is interesting that this verse comes immediately after Yeshua’s proclamation that “whatever you pray and ask, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (11.24). It would appear that living by faith and living in unity with one another go hand-in-hand, two sides of the same coin.

Finally, returning to the passage from Joel we are assured that there is time coming when the reality of Adonai’s promise will be fully realized within Israel,

“You will know that I am within Israel. Yes, I am Adonai your God—there is no other—Never again will My people be shamed.” (Joel 2.27)

May it be so this year, that all Israel, both here and in the Diaspora, will fully recognize the One who is Adonai their God, their Salvation and Deliverer.

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

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

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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.