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Saturday 4th September 2020 16th Elul 5780


Deut. 26:1-29:9 (29:8 in TaNaCH); Isaiah 60:1-22; Matt 4:13-24 (Rev. 21:10-27)

by Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel

In August of 1967, The Young Rascals recorded what would become their fourth Top Ten hit, How Can I Be Sure? The chorus echoes in our thoughts as we traverse the month of Elul in preparation for the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

How can I be sure, in a world that’s constantly changing?

How can I be sure, where I stand with you?

The month of Elul is a time of introspection, looking back on our lives and actions, on our thoughts and motives, on our attitudes toward the world around us. A time not just to examine, but more importantly to adjust or change what is needed and to work toward reconciliation or restoration when required—both with God and with our fellow man (or woman). So, what does Elul have to do with this song? How can we be sure where we stand in our relationship with our God as well as with others? In Deuteronomy 10:12–13, Moses encouraged Israel,

So now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of Adonai and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good?

Moses could have ended this admonition with “for you must be holy as Adonai your God is holy,” which would have been a true statement, oft repeated in Scripture. Instead, Moses chose to end with the words, “for your own good.” Serve Hashem, keep his mitzvot, because it is “for your own good.” The prophet Micah would later write similar words,

He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Then there is Yeshua’s declaration to his talmidim, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). In context, Yeshua is explaining to his talmidim how to stay in proper alignment with his father.

Therefore, in answer to How can I be sure, where I stand with you? (in reference to standing before Hashem) the answer is quite simple—obedience to what we know we ought to do. Just to be clear, I am not talking about our eternal relationship with God or the forgiveness of our sin that comes through Yeshua, but of our daily relationship with him. It’s interesting that in Micah’s words, justice and mercy are actions focused toward our fellow man, while walking humbly is focused on Hashem. If expressed mathematically, it seems that we need to work twice as hard to ensure proper relationships with others than we do to be rightly related to Hashem.

Now let’s consider this week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8. It begins by describing the offering that Israel was to bring to the kohen (priest), after they had come into the land, and possessed and settled it (Deut 26:1). I want to draw our attention to the affirmation of the covenant in Deuteronomy 26:16–17.

This day Adonai your God is commanding you to do these statutes and ordinances—so you are to take care and do them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have affirmed Adonai as your God, that you will walk in His ways, keep His statutes, mitzvot and ordinances, and listen to His voice.

Again, we see an answer as to how we can be sure of where we stand—by taking care and doing all that Hashem has requires. Moses then points out some specific areas of obedience:

1) Care for those in need. “When you finish tithing the full tenth of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you are to give it to the Levite, to the outsider, to the orphan and to the widow, so that they may eat within your town gates and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 26:12).

2) Proper treatment of one another. In Deuteronomy 27, the causes of the curses that will come upon Israel are listed. Notice that these causes deal with how we treat one another:

a. Dishonouring parents (vs 16)

b. Misleading the blind (vs 18)

c. Perversion of justice (vs 19)

d. Sexual immorality (vss 20–23)

e. Murder (vs 24–25)

3) Idolatrous worship (vs 15). While idolatry could be considered an action toward God, the making and setting up an idol potentially draws others away from the true worship of Hashem, so that idolatry also applies to human relationships. Therefore, it could be said that all the causes of the curses are due to improper interactions with others.

These points affirm one way to know “how we can be sure where we stand with Hashem”—by remaining properly related to others. We need to guard their dignity, to help supply their needs when we are able, and to truly see ourselves as responsible for one another’s welfare.

Social justice and care for the poor and needy are intrinsically tied to Judaism. The conditions of this fallen world breed want and need, poverty and despair. But Hashem prepared a solution for tikkun olam, for the repair of the world. He desires to pour out his blessings on his people, not for their betterment alone, but for the welfare of the community. But this understanding of tikkun olam is not primarily motivated by the needs of others. Rather tikkun olam should motivate the people of God to follow his commandments. This week’s parasha ends with, “keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may prosper in all that you do” (29.8; [9]). John would later write to his community: “We know that we love God’s children by this—when we love God and obey His commandments” (1 John 5.2).

Probably the best answer to “how can I be sure” comes from Yeshua’s answer when a lawyer asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Torah?”

And He said to him, “‘You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matt 22:36–39)

In other words, Yeshua was telling the lawyer that the greatest commandment is to be properly related to both Hashem and to one another. During this month of Elul, we can know where we stand with Hashem by ensuring that we too are properly related toward God and toward one another.

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