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D'varim/Deuteronomy 4:1 And now, Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgements that I am teaching you to do, so that you may live and enter and possess the Land
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The word 'now' that starts our text is being used here in the same way as 'therefore' is so frequently used in the letters in the New Covenant Scriptures. Moshe is linking what follows to what has come before - what he is about to say to what he has just said - so that the people can learn from his story and not repeat the mistake that he has made. It shows something of Moshe's greatness as a leader that he is prepared to revisit and expose his own failure as an example from which the people can benefit.
The parasha starts, just seven verses earlier, with Moshe admitting that he had pleaded withHaShem to allow him to enter the Land of Israel after all, in spite of his public misdemeanor hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. But HaShem is having none of it and retorts somewhat testily, "Enough! Never speak to Me of this matter again!" (D'varim 3:26, NJPS). Moshe had sinned and, although he had remained leader until now, he was not going to be allowed in to the Land. No way, no how! Hence his warning to the people: Now - in the light of this - don't let the same thing happen to you. The Sforno sums up: "Since you see that the decree of G-d, the Blessed One, is to exile you if you sin, be careful not to transgress, but (rather to) observe the commandments without adding or diminishing."
The commentators are interested in the verbs in the first half of the verse. RabbiHirsch comments that , the Qal ms imperative of the root , to hear or listen, "'listen' is a constant listening to a teaching not to satisfy ourselves with having known it once, but always to keep it clear and present in our mind." In biblical Hebrew, often appears to be a synonym for the root , which strictly has the meaning to keep, watch, guard (Davidson). The two roots have an overlap of meaning in the area of obedience, observance; perhaps 'listen' has the sense of acoustically registering, while 'hear' means to cognitively receive (or vice versa). Many an exasperated parent has asked an errant child, "Didn't you hear what I told you?" implying that to hear means (or should mean) to obey.
Linking the first verb - , hear - to the second verb - , teach - Hirsch observes that "Repeatedly Moshe designates the agency by which he transmitted the Torah of G-d to the people as (something taught), not as (something written). So that it was not the written but the spoken word, verbal teaching, which was the medium by which the Divine Torah was implanted in the people." Teaching bespeaks life, action and engagement - it must be done by people in real-time - while writing betokens something that is static and fixed, unchangeable, almost dead. Perhaps this was in the back of Rav Sha'ul's mind when he wrote, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6, NASB).
TheBaal HaTurim picks up on the combination of the second and third verbs, , "teaching to do" and connects this to the rabbinic assertion that "study leads to deed", a saying from the Talmudic Sages: "Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper storey of Nithza's house, in Lydda, when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice? Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: Practice is greater. Rabbi Akiba answered, saying: Study is greater, for it leads to practice. Then they all answered and said: Study is greater, for it leads to action" (b. Kiddushin 40b). Ibn Ezra agrees, pointing out that "The essential purpose of teaching the commandments is doing them." Jeffrey Tigay, a modern commentator, adds that "It is often stressed that the laws are not merely to be learned, but to be performed."
Tigay goes one verb further into the second half of the verse to explore why the Israelites were to be taught HaShem's decrees to do them: , "that you may live". He notes that "this unit begins and ends by indicating that life itself depends on observance of the commandments. This belief is taken quite literally in the Bible. The commandments are 'My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live' (Vayikra 18:5, NJPS)." The proverb-writer echoes this: "He who has regard for his life pays regard to commandments" (Proverbs 19:16, NJPS).
The last pair of verbs in the text - , both Qal affix 2mp forms of the roots , "to enter, come" and , "to inherit, possess" respectively, both with vav-reversive constructions to render a future tense - "and you shall enter and possess" describe what the Israelites have been promised to do. Taken in a row, the three last verbs - "you may life and enter and possess the Land" - are precisely what Moshe is pointing out that his sin has prevented him from doing. Nachmanides suggests that unlike Moshe, "they, the children, would indeed enter the Land and take possession of it, if only they would refrain from being, like their parents, a 'wayward and defiant generation' (Psalm 78:8, NJPS)." Learn from my consequences, Moshe is saying, so that you don't have to go there. You have the promise future of the Land before you, but if you are to realise those promises, then you must listen carefully and learn to do, so that your study becomes actions.
John the Baptist used the word 'therefore' in his preaching. He told the Pharisees and the scribes, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance" (Matthew 3:7-8, NASB). There is wrath coming, he said, therefore repent. After re-telling Isaiah's parable of the vineyard, Yeshua told the Jewish leadership, "Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of G-d will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it" (Matthew 21:43, NASB). You have failed to render service to G-d and you have mistreated His prophets and His Son, Yeshua rebukes them, therefore you will be replaced as the leaders in G-d's kingdom. After describing the way that mankind has turned away from G-d, despite the witness of creation around them, and worshipped idols, Rav Sha'ul explains that, "Therefore G-d gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them" (Romans 1:24, NASB). Because man refused to acknowledge and worship G-d, but rejected Him in favour of idols and images, Sha'ul declares, G-d let them have their own way so that even their bodies would be abused and destroyed by themselves.
What are we supposed to learn from this? Rabbi Hirsch suggests that the Israelites were being urged to learn from their own recent history: "Out of all the experiences they had had, one fact emerges: that obedience to the will of G-d is the one sole and indispensable condition for the security and happiness of their future." Rav Sha'ul agrees, writing, "whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4, NASB). While none of the people in the past did or said what they did in order to be an example for us, a record of what happened has been preserved - in the Scriptures - so that we might learn the lesson of their successes and failures, emulating their good behaviour and choices and avoiding their bad behaviour and choices.
Further Study: Psalm 78:5-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Do you learn the lessons of Scripture, or are you inclined to take it all
with a pinch of salt and just hope that everything will work out alright on
the night? Look where it got Moshe; you don't want to go there!
Comment - 04:15 22Jul18 B: "Thank you; yes; I hope to be learning"
Comment - 04:15 22Jul18 B: "Thank you; yes; I hope to be learning";
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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