This parashah is the one between the end and start of the Torah reading schedule. On the eighth day of Sukkot, called Sh’mini Atzeret (also called Simchat Torah, Joy of Torah) we celebrate turning the Torah back from the end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of Genesis. Today’s parashah is the intermediate parashah, and (I think) very apt for both ending and starting the Torah reading cycle because this parashah is, to me, the essence of Torah.
Moses has already broken the first tablets (with the commandments) and asked God to forgive the sins of the Golden Calf incident. He is talking with God, and asks that God remain with the people as they travel, or not send them anywhere at all. He asks to know God’s ways, meaning how he, Moses, is to rule in a way that will always be within God’s will. He asks to see God.
Moses wants to know God intimately; he wants to know God better and more fully than any human, ever, because he wants to lead the people in the way that will always please God. In this parashah we see the true nature of Moses, a man who is humble and fearless, almost demanding of God that He stay with the people, arguing that His divine presence is the only real sign to the other nations that Israel truly is God’s chosen people.
God agrees with all Moses asks, and we have in 34:6-7 the 13 Attributes of God, the Divine nature identified for all to know. Most every prayer in Judaism is based on, repeats and acknowledges God with these attributes.
God is “the Lord, the Lord”: the Talmudic “take” on this is that this repetition means that God is the same God before we sin and after we sin, defining His attribute of mercy; he is the all-mighty Lord of the Universe, Ruler of Nature and Mankind; He is merciful; He is gracious; long-suffering; abundant in goodness; abundant in truth; keeping mercy to the thousandth generation; forgiving of iniquity; forgiving of transgression; forgiving of sin; not allowing the guilty to remain unpunished; visiting the iniquity of the of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.
The last aspect is meant to identify that although forgiveness of sin is available, it is the spiritual forgiveness that we receive: the physical consequence of sin in the real world will still be felt, down as far as the 4th generation. However, mercy will be given to the 1,000th generation.
The end of this parashah is the repetition of the Covenant God made with the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. I would think that these conditions God identifies here must be the ones that are really important to Him, since we know there are many more laws, rules, regulations and commandments than the handful given here.
The reason I stated above that I feel this parashah is so appropriate between the end and beginning of the Torah reading cycle is because we have it all here: the proof of the Jewish people being God’s chosen people is by His presence, and that presence will be with us as long as we act as he requires. His divine attributes identify who and what God is; the requirements of the covenant are that God will do marvelous things, we are to worship only God and not the idols of the Gentile people, we are not to intermarry so as to have the pagan’s influence us to turn from God to idols, we shall keep the feasts of the Lord as He decreed us to, especially the Shabbat, and all the first born belong to God, of both animal and man. No blood is to be offered with the sacrifice and we should not do as the other nations do in how we eat (I get this from the restriction of boiling a lamb in it’s mother’s milk. I don’t think anyone really knows why this law was given, but it must be important because it is repeated three times in the Torah.)
Here we have it all: who God is, how we are to worship Him, and the promise that when we do as He says He will do wonderful and marvelous things for us. Really, isn’t that all we need to know?
God’s presence goes with His people, and who are His people? The ones who worship Him as he says they should. Throughout the Tanach we read how those sojourning with the Israelites are to be considered as natural-born Jews when they do as the Israelites do. Having the same rights as the people, they also have the same obligations, meaning to fulfill the requirements in the Torah just as the Jews do.
What I am getting at here is that everyone is a child of God physically, but only a child of God, spiritually, when they do as God says. That means if you are a Catholic, but you respect and honor the Torah, you don’t bow down to the statues in the church and you ask forgiveness from God and not the Priest, praying not to Jesus but in His name to God, then you are one of God’s chosen people.
On the other hand, if you were baptized, had your Holy Communion, answered all the questions correctly at your Confirmation, studied the Sacraments and went to church every Sunday, but you don’t honor God’s Torah and you bow to statues, pray to saints (ignoring God) and generally reject the Torah as valid, don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms when you go before the Lord.
When Jesus died for our sins He did so to make up for the fact that no matter how hard we try, we cannot live up to Torah’s standards of behavior. His death was to cover the sins we can’t stop doing, but it was not license to continue to sin. Ignoring the Torah and the requirements that God gave us to show that we are His people was not done away with when Yeshua died; in fact, they were confirmed as necessary because He was resurrected!
Read this parashah, and read it as someone who knows nothing about religion or God. Look at it fresh, anew, and ignorant of whatever you have been told by your religious leadership; allow your heart to be open to what it says and your ears to hear the Holy Spirit. It tells us who God is, it tells us what he requires, and it tells us that He is there as long as we walk with Him.
God is the leader, He knows the way, and He desperately wants us to walk with Him. In fact, God so desires that we walk with Him that He is willing to walk with us, so long as we walk correctly. God led the people through the desert, but this parashah says that He went with them: in other words, when we walk the way God wants us to walk, He will be with us. I believe we are being told that where we walk is our decision, our choice, and that we are always walking to our eternal destination. We are on the way, whether or not we want to be, and we are all walking along a path that leads to eternal joy (this is the one that God is on) or to eternal damnation.
The question to ask yourself is: which path will you choose?