This is adapted from a drash Z. S. will read this weekend at Devar Emet Messianic Congregation. A drash is a brief takeaway from the weekly cycle of texts.
This Week’s Readings:
Torah: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26
Brit Chadashah: 1 Peter 1:18-25
I’m excited for camp, which for us starts tomorrow! I started going to camp when I was ten, and I think every summer since I have been involved either as a camper or as a counselor. I always had a lot of fun at camp with all the high-adrenaline activities. But as I grew older I began to realize that a couple very special things happened through camp. First, over the years, my cabin mates became strong friends, the kinds of friends who last a lifetime. I will never forget the time when I learned of my grandmother’s passing at teen camp. The whole camp prayed over my little brother and me, and then two of my longtime cabin mates brought me aside to pray with me. I would have never expected this when I first joined camp. Second, camp offered an opportunity to really focus on spiritual growth. I always liked singing praise music (…I always liked singing, period.) But as life got more complex in high school, getting off the grid and having long conversations with God in the silence of nature helped put my priorities in perspective. These two things—a loyal, loving community and a retreat to talk to God—can be very difficult for young people to come by. Often, congregations are geared towards adults, especially older adults, and the same is true for other spiritual resources like books and videos. Camp specifically ministered to my age group, my generation.
In today’s Torah portion, we see Moses passing on instruction to a younger generation. He tells them to learn from all the mistakes his own older generation made, and then he encourages them to seek a better future by following God faithfully. Moses repeats the Ten Commandments and then gives them the Shema and Ve’ahavta as a constant reminder of God’s law for them. It is here that we learn of some of the dangers the younger generation will face. The younger generation entering the Land have no reason to fear the Anakim (the giants). Instead, their own unfaithfulness is the one thing that can lead to their destruction. This gets especially dangerous when success comes their way: when “you eat and are full, then watch yourself so that you do not forget Adonai” (6:11-12). I think this is way scarier than giants. It can be nice to have an external challenge to defeat. It’s easy to compartmentalize something external to yourself, and once you’re done, you’re done. But overcoming your own weakness is a constant battle that follows you to your apex and threatens to bring you down. What ought to be done about this danger? Moses offers three pieces of advice.
1) Form habits that act as reminders to keep you from forgetting (talk about God’s laws everywhere at all times, hang up mezuzot, wrap tefillin).
2) Educate your children (this is a mitzvah!) so that they will follow God. It’s one thing to be part of a good generation; but it takes a whole new level of faithfulness to do your part in ensuring that the younger generation will follow God. Each generation needs to renew God’s covenant with them, personally. Moses specifically points to this: “Not with our fathers has Adonai cut this covenant but with us—all of us alive here today. Adonai spoke with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire” (5:3-4). This is why we reenact our time wandering in the desert, from Pesach to Sukkot.
3) When you fall, repent and return to God. In the parashah, Moses predicts the unfaithfulness of Israel and the exile, but he also ensures Israel of God’s mercy. When we repent and seek Adonai with all our heart and with all our soul, we will find him.
The first two pieces of advice—to form habits that remind us and keep us from forgetting, and to educate our children—these are things we can and should do at all times. This is why we run camp every year. The third piece of advice—to repent and turn to God with all our heart—mostly happens thanks to God’s mercy. I want to follow this third piece of advice through the Haftarah and Brit Chadashah readings.
In our Haftarah portion, God comforts Jerusalem after disciplining her. He tells of a time when all will be at peace. Then a voice tells Isaiah to say that “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades” (40:6-7). How is this supposed to be comforting? Well, Isaiah is compartmentalizing our own weakness as something external to God, something that God can overcome for us, because God is strong. So Isaiah’s oracle ends with some of the most reassuring words: “the grass withers, the flower fades. But the word of our God stands forever” (v 8). We must rely on God’s grace to remain faithful; otherwise, we will fall.
In our Brit Chadashah portion, believers suffering under Roman dominion look to Yeshua’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. We no longer rely on our weak selves, the “perishable seed.” Instead, we have been born again and rely on Yeshua (Jesus), the imperishable seed, “the living and enduring word of God.” It is through Yeshua that “you are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your trust and hope are in God.”
As a second-generation believer, I used to be scared of the prospect of taking my faith for granted and walking away from it. This is exactly what Moses warns against in our Torah portion. But I am comforted by the fact that I do not have to rely on my own insufficient faith to walk with God. We are fickle and easily broken, like the grass that withers and the flower that fades, but God has given us His word, which stands forever. Through Yeshua’s perfect life, we are born again and become new creations, now with an assurance of a faithfulness grounded in God’s unwavering word.