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D'varim/Deuteronomy 11:18 And you shall place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul
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Our text comes from the second paragraph of the Sh'ma (D'varim 11:13-21), at the head of a little trio of verses which seem very familiar - as indeed, they should - from the first paragraph of the Sh'ma in last week's parasha. Given the Torah's usual economy with words, we need to think about why they are repeated here and what significance that has for us today. Here are the three verses:
Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children - reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (D'varim 11:18-20, NJPS).
These verses offer an instruction to take particular care in memorising and cherishingHaShem's words, followed by a set of intensely practical ways to make those words a real part of every-day life. From here, of course, we draw the mitzvot of tefillin and m'zuzot, two very physical - almost ritual - reminders, and the imperative to talk about, learn, study and share HaShem's words - particularly with our children - at all opportunities throughout the day.
But how are they different here from the first time they are given? The answer to that lies not in the verses themselves, but at the end of the previous sentence which provides the context for this command: "you will soon perish from the good land that the L-RD is assigning to you" (v. 17, NJPS). Here it is: the first set (6:6-9) are entry verses, while the second set are exit verses. The first set was given to our people as they were about to enter the Land, telling them how important it was to remember HaShem's words at all times when they are in the Land; the second set is given to our people telling them how important it remains to remember HaShem's words at all times when we are in exile, as we are today.
Our Sages explained it this way: "Even though I am about to exile you from the Land (of Israel) to a foreign land, you must continue to be marked there by the commandments, so that when you return they will not be new to you. A parable: A king of flesh and blood grew angry with his wife and sent her back to her father's house, saying to her, 'Be sure to continue wearing your jewelry, so that whenever you return, it will not be new to you.' Thus also the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, 'My children, you must continue to be marked by the commandments, so that when you return, they will not be new to you'" (Sifrei, Piska 43). This is why the prophet says, "Erect markers, set up signposts; keep in mind the highway, the road that you travelled. Return, Maiden Israel! Return to these towns of yours!" (Jeremiah 31:21, NJPS. The signature mitzvot of tefillin and m'zuzot are markers and signposts that remind us who we are - HaShem's people - and remind us of how to return to Him. In exile in Babylon, the Psalmist cried, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory even at my happiest hour" (Psalm 137:5-6, NJPS) as he fought to keep Jerusalem fresh in his mind each day.
Even the Hebrew text itself emphasises the importance of these practices. A closer look at Jeremiah's words shows us that he says, "Erect for yourself road-markers,set up for yourself signposts", echoing the well-known call on our father Avraham's life: ", Go for yourself to the land that I will show you" (B'resheet 12:1). These are things that we do not only because we have been commanded to do them, but because it is necessary for ourselves that we do them: they define our identity, refine our obedience, inspire our faith and prove our relationship with HaShem.
How do we know which mitzvot apply when we are in exile? The Mishnah tells us, "Every commandment which is dependent upon the Land applies only in the Land, and which does not depend upon the Land applies both in the Land and outside the Land" (m. Kiddushin 1:9). This is repeated in the Bavli Talmud and followed by "Said Rabbi Judah: This is its meaning: every precept which is a personal obligation is practised both within and without the Land; but what is an obligation of the soil (such as tithes, gleaning, etc.) has force only within the Land" (b. Kiddushin 37a).Rashi comments, "Even after you will go into exile, be distinguished through the commandments - put on tefillin and make m'zuzot", while the Sforno adds, "on your heart - to reflect upon them; and on your soul - to fulfill them willingly." Avigdor Bonchek explains that "when the Jew continues to keep the mitzvot in exile, it is his proclamation that he believes his connection with G-d has not been severed. G-d's promise of redemption and return will be fulfilled - albeit at some unknown time in the future ... By continuing to keep His commandments, we bear testimony to our abiding trust in the irrevocability of His covenant with His people".1
Being in exile is a serious business and needs to be taken seriously to avoid assimilation, identity loss and - ultimately - forgetting who we are as the people of Yeshua and losing our faith in Him. Jeffrey Tigay reports that "'heart' usually refers to the interior of the body, conceived of as the seat of thought, intention and feeling, and 'soul' refers to the seat of the emotions, passions and desires. To do something with all the heart and soul means to do it with the totality of one's thoughts, feelings, intentions and desires." We must be whole-hearted in our pursuit of and relationship with G-d. But how do we do that? RabbiHirsch answers: "When you have to leave the Land and no longer have your own country which is in your power to make serviceable to G-d's Torah, still take that Torah of G-d out with you, your hearts and your souls are still to remain bound to the Words of G-d ... remain bearers of the Words of G-d, remain people of the Laws of G-d and bring up your children to that idea and make your whole life, within and without your houses, devoted to that idea."
How, then, as believers in Yeshua, are we to conduct ourselves in the state of exile in which we increasingly find ourselves? How do we prevent ourselves assimilating and disappearing? There are three steps in the process. The first is to acknowledge where we are and what is happening. The followers of Yeshua have always been under threat; Yeshua warned the disciples, "If you belonged to the world, the world would have loved its own. But because you do not belong to the world - on the contrary, I have picked you out of the world - therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19, CJB). While Rav Sha'ul is clear that "we are not struggling against human beings" (Ephesians 6:12, CJB), James reminds us that we have an enemy, "the Adversary, [who] stalks about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, CJB). We are now in a state of exile, with the values of the kingdom increasingly at odds with those of the societies and cultures within which we live. No amount of compromise or appeasement will make the disciples of Yeshua, those who proclaim the good news of the kingdom and invite sinners to accept G-d's offer of forgiveness and reconciliation, acceptable to the powers that be - "the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers governing this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm" (Ephesians 6:12, CJB) - until Yeshua returns.
Secondly, we need to recognise who is going to win this battle. It will be won, of that there is no doubt, but as David told Goliath, it is not our fight: "the battle is the L-RD's, and He will give you into our hand" (1 Samuel 17:47, ESV). Yeshua Himself will win the battle when He leads His army to victory: "Behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems, and He has a name written that no one knows but Himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of G-d. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of G-d the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-15, ESV). In the meantime, He wins every skirmish where we submit to His authority and allow Him to set the agenda: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the L-RD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6, ESV). This segues into the third step in the process.
Lastly, our daily, weekly, hourly task is to faithfully remember Him and declare His sovereignty in the face of the world and all those who are watching. This is done both by markers and signposts - the "life of good actions already prepared by G-d for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10, CJB) and the lines that we will not cross - and by means of education: passing the words, vision and calling of the kingdom on to the next generation. The latter is partly accomplished by the former, but must also be achieved by deliberate and intentional discipleship and formation as the proverb says, "Train up a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6, NASB). The world is already fighting - and too often, succeeding - to steal our children and others who would come to faith in Yeshua. Yet, by persistent and dogged endurance, by words coupled with practical demonstration, the kingdom can be made manifest to the world and those who are being saved. Let us push on and do our part to proclaim the name of Yeshua and make disciples in His name!
1. - Avigdor Bonchek, What's Bothering Rashi Volume 5, Devarim, (New York, Feldheim, 2002), page 89.
Further Study: Isaiah 62:10-11; Ephesians 6:13-18; 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Application: Do you sometimes feel weary and discouraged by the level of opposition and noise that surrounds you each day? Ask the Chief Strategist to show you the markers and signposts to set up in your life to anchor and encourage you in the ways of His kingdom as we wait for Him to return.
Comment - 13:39 06Aug23 Janet Gray: Yes and Amen indeed may we ever have the Grace of Yeshua to know the truth that "it is more Blessed to give than to receive".(Acts 20:35).
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© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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