“See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers…” (Deut.1:8)
This, of course, refers back to the great moment in history when God personally made some rather important promises to Abraham. These promises included the inheritance of a “promised land”, and also encompassed the notion that all the earth would be blessed through his descendants.
Zion, therefore, (as a place) has far more than localized, territorial implications. In spiritual (as well as physical) terms, the ability of Israel to inhabit and rule over Zion is a godly destiny as well as an imperative which must be diligently pursued, overseen, and cherished.
Yet, how few periods in history have seen this reality take shape. For most of Israel’s existence, it has represented a hoped-for promise that is yet-fulfilled. Even today, with Israel being a miraculously re-formed nation-state, the Islamic Dome of the Rock remains perched on Mt. Moriah, easily the city’s most recognizable and controversial landmark on her horizon.
Our chosen verse from this week’s parsha is explained by Rashi as being self-evident because of the miracles which had been performed for Israel by God in delivering the people from the clutches of Pharaoh. Therefore, (according to Rashi) they should not doubt the validity of the promise of God and their ability to conquer the land.
In the form of an aside, I often hear Jewish leaders lecture pompously about how miracles are not an important part of Jewish faith, like they appear to be (to them) to Christians, and yet both faith traditions base many of their confident proclamations upon the miracles which have been performed on behalf of their ancestors in each respective tradition. This narrative, then, is somewhat disingenuous.
One need not look further to the presence of the Song of the Sea in the daily Shacharit prayers to realize this cogent fact. So, don’t let anyone tell you that miracles are not important to Jewish faith; without them there would be no reason for any Jew to have confidence in what they believe, because it is the miracles performed for the generation which left Egypt and stood at Sinai which forms the foundation for the redemption that generation experienced, and the template for the future redemption yet to come.
The real objection being articulated in this sense is an objection to the deification of the man Jesus, who is considered a heretic by most Jews, just based purely on a handed-down tradition which is not founded upon actual study of his teachings.
What these Jewish teachers/rabbis are correct in saying, however, is that miracles do not determine the presence of a Messianic or prophetic figure. This is determined by a different test, one which will resonate for us in a future parsha. The test is related to Torah for a prophet. And to Torah and redemption for the Messiah. Redemption is (in large part) the restoration of the sovereignty of Israel over the land of Israel, the very land that the children of Israel are about to enter as they are being lectured by their statesman-leader, Moses, in this passage. Truly, miracles are somewhat irrelevant in this pursuit. This must be accomplished by grit, discipline, patience and faith.
Regardless of the miracles performed for Israel in the past, faith is still required of her children to enter into the land today. Faith is also required to take and also to maintain possession, both of the physical land and the spiritual inheritance it represents.
This redemption, which is yet-hoped-for (both in the Christian and Jewish tradition, which equally long for that moment, albeit through different channels), will, according to the prophets, reveal a massive shift in the relationship that the nations have with Zion.
“For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve Him with one accord.” (Zeph.3:9)
This means that Israel must become sovereign over Zion, not only for her own sake, but for the sake of the nations. And it also means that the nations cannot afford to dismiss Israel as a “problem”, but must ultimately recognize the State of Israel as part of the spiritual redemption of the world. This can appear incongruous with reality, and yet, prophetically, this reality cannot be ignored.
Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul was referencing in his epistle to the Galatians when he says,
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother….” (Gal.4:25-26)
Typically, in mainstream Christian tradition, this passage is interpreted to be conveying the idea that Jerusalem is in slavery to the Old Covenant, represented by the strict, deadening influence of the religious scribes and Pharisees; the forefathers of modern Rabbinic Judaism. However, that cannot be the “slavery” that Paul is referring to, since he was, by his own scripturally-revealed confession, a practicing Pharisee. No, Paul is talking, most certainly, about the state of servitude that the nation found itself in during his time on earth, as Israel was under the crushing control of the Roman Empire.
Paul envisioned an apocalyptic change to this present reality, initiated by the ministry of the man he proclaimed to be the Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. The resurrection (a miracle!) had proven the authenticity of this man to Paul, and also had proven to him the reality of the promises made by God to his forefathers.
In Paul’s mind, it seems, was the vibrant vision (first articulated by the prophets of Israel) of a sovereign, messianic kingdom, centered in Jerusalem, the holy city, and radiating out to the nations as a blessing to the entire world, with the Messianic King on the throne in Zion. In Paul’s etymology of Jerusalem, it included the concept of “mothering” faith for the nations.
By referencing Abraham in Galatians, Paul is giving a reckoning point which predates Sinai, a point often lost on many people. This unites both Jews and non-Jews in his narrative as standing equally before God in relation to faith. This must be understood.
This amazing thought is captured by one of modern Orthodoxy’s foremost spokesmen and of the State of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin:
“The LORD created all of humanity from one divine womb…Jerusalem will one day unite all of humanity within her bosom, for she is the heart, the Shekhina, the divine womb. This makes all human beings siblings; God’s children are inextricably interlocked by the love we must feel for each other because of the eternal part of God in each of us, and the concomitant responsibility each must therefore bear towards the other. The love which will emanate from Jerusalem must extend to all the nations, even those who have cruelly harmed us in the past, even those who have sought to destroy us. This love is extended as long as they now come in peace to worship the God of love, forgiveness, and peace. It must be an unconditional love, like a mother has for the fruits of her womb.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “Devarim: Moses Bequeaths Legacy, History & Covenant“, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, pg.15)
This is such an important point.
Moses stands before the people of Israel, knowing through the revelation of God, as Israel’s greatest prophet, that the nation will become apostate and abandon the faith they have been given, causing a painful cycle of exile and redemption. Yet, he stops short of declaring their existence a failure. The exhortation is given from the perspective of knowing that, ultimately, God will see them through and that the remnant who perseveres will experience the promise.
Debate swirls around the difficult questions of “Who is Jewish?” and “What is appropriate Torah observance for Gentiles?” Also, the question of conversion. These are worthy conversations, to be sure, but in the end they are the real estate of kings and queens, of dukes and lords. It is not the territory of the simple Jew, nor of the pagan turning to monotheism.
I came across an article recently which was of extreme interest to me. It is here: https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/243928
In the article, it is stated that as many as 100 million people around the globe associate in some way as being connected to Israel and the Jewish faith, either through long-lost lineage, faith practice or some other identification. It represents a hugely important dynamic that is at work in our world today.
At the grass-line of faith, where people actually live and breath, it is not about any of the aforementioned politically-charged questions of legal identity.
It is about the heartbeat of the people of God; a flow of life that circulates throughout the earth and gathers the exiles from the four corners of the globe.
This flow leads inevitably back to Zion, the womb of all true faith.
Who on this earth has the right to stop the pilgrimage?