“You stand today all of you before the LORD your God, your leaders…your strangers in the midst of your camp…from the hewers of your wood and the drawers of your water, to pass over into your covenant with the LORD your God.” (Deut.29:9,11)

According to Rashi, the above phrasing, “hewers of your wood and the drawers of your water”, refers to non-Jews who have come before Moses to convert to Judaism. They are compared to the Gibeonites who came in deceptive fashion to trick the leaders of Israel into accepting them (see Josh.9), only these people referenced here are not being deceptive, but are joining Israel because they want the benefits of association as they enter and take possession of the land, and not because they love the Torah. Therefore, according to Rashi, Moses assigns them to manual labor. They are converts, but do not enjoy the full privileges of citizenship.

This reading perhaps reflects the animosity that Rashi’s generation experienced at the hands of Christianity, and a general ambivalence to outsiders which crept into the Jewish community over centuries of pograms, blood libels and other forms of wicked persecution. Such experiences breed deep-seated distrust and make one question people’s motives when they seek to draw near.

I say this because, in today’s landscape, with Israel miraculously reformed as a nation-state, and hundreds of thousands of non-Jews seeking to learn Torah around the world, it would seem that we have a veritable repeat of history forming before our eyes; one that is reminiscent of this scene in our parsha.

Just as Israel entered into a “Third Covenant” just before entering the Promised Land, today there are many Gentiles seeking to attach themselves to Israel at the dawning of the “footsteps of the Messiah”, when the Final Redemption appears to be near.

Yes, some of them are insincere. Some are play-acting. Some have designs on missionizing Jews. So be it. Because there are also many among them who sincerely wish to do nothing more than to attach themselves to God’s people and to God’s Torah. It is part of the messianic imperative.

“‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” (Matt.13:30)

Stop policing people! Stop telling people what is appropriate for them to be doing! Focus instead on your own devakut (intimate connection) to God, and let God sort out the wheat from the chaff.

The Third Covenant is one that follows after Sinai. At Sinai, the nation is formed, but here, in Moses’s final address to the people, the Third Covenant is announced, declaring the terms of Israel’s establishment. This relates to her taking possession of the land. It also relates to the blessings and curses which follow the faithfulness (or faithlessness, as it were) of Israel to the conditions expected of her.

“There is is an almost indelible connection between our Third Covenantal Mission to the world, and the persecution of Jews throughout the generations at the hands of the gentiles. After all, if we fail in our mission to live in accordance with compassionate righteousness and moral justice, to at least adopt the seven Noahide laws of morality (Rambam, Law of Kings 8:10), it is largely because we have failed ourselves to be proper teachers, because we have failed to become a holy nation and kingdom of priest-teachers, because our light has not shined brightly enough to remove the black holes and to reshape the chaotic corners which pervert human potential. Then it becomes only just that the nation chosen and privileged to carry the banner of redemption to be God’s witnesses and light unto the nations must become the “suffering servant” (Is.53), having allowed that banner to fall from its hands and that light to become extinguished.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “Torah Lights: Devarim”, Maggid books, pg.331-332)

In this understanding, we see a consecrated Israel being judged according to her role in the education and leading of the Nations towards a relationship with God.

When she fails to do so, she suffers. And the world suffers along with her.

What is this??

Now that, in this generation, the presence of Israel on the worldwide stage has instigated both a sweeping interest in Torah and Judaism as well as an equally sweeping rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, it’s time for us to choose sides.

So much talk today among “messianics” (what I am increasingly prone to call “messy-antics”) is about identity. I tire so of boring conference room banter about what Jews are supposed to be doing and what Gentiles are not supposed to be doing (take your hands off those tzit-tzit!). It makes me want to drink a fifth of Yukon Jack and drive my van straight off a cliff.

So much confusion!!

We need to get past our hang-ups. The King is on his way. He will be teaching Torah from Zion to all people. My recommendation to the Bilateral Ecclesiology adherents and the political pundits who are oh-so-concerned about “space” and “sensitivity”:

ADJUST.

I will finish by once again quoting Rabbi Riskin, who articulates this far better than I:

  “God has “separated” Israel unto Himself not to the exclusion of the other nations of the world but rather for the sake of the other nations of the world. After all, God created the world, not only Israel, and God loves all of humanity, not only Israel…Is not this Third Covenant focused on the world? For what other reason would the Bible have its laws translated into all seventy languages of the world (Deut.26:8)?

Just as the Kohanim are the priest-teachers of the Israelites, so is Israel the priest-teacher of the nations of the world, a “goy kadosh umamlekhet Kohanim” (holy nation and a kingdom of priest-teachers). (See Sforno, Ex.19:6)

This is the divine charge in Ki Tavo…It is our task as a people to educate the world towards recognition of a God of morality, love and peace; in our global village, the nations must become united as a source of praise and glory to a God of compassionate righteousness and moral justice…

Indeed God’s covenant must encompass Jew and gentile alike. And it makes perfect sense that our biblical reading precedes Rosh Hashanah, when Jews must realize their true mission: to turn the wicked of the world towards a God of morality, to perfect the world with the Kingship of the Divine.” (IBID, pg.330)

Choose your path wisely.

Shalom and Happy New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Love God with all your heart; with all your being. Love your neighbor as yourself. God would have us follow the two greatest commandments as a beginning to our learning. These are found in the Torah. Period.
    Yes, they are also found in the New Testament and emphasized by Yeshua. Why is that? Because Yeshua studied Torah. He is our example of walking out Torah perfectly.
    On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets. To me, this is an invitation from God to study and learn. Furthermore, we have a guarantee of God’s love for each of us when we seek to draw near.
    I hear your frustration, David. People miss out on the beauty of Torah and all the promises to mankind as they get stuck in the mire of petty bickering (or worse). This practically crushes our morale. Thanks be to God who renews our strength each morning!
    Please be encouraged by those of us who understand your value as a talented teacher, friend, and human being. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “I tire so of boring conference room banter about what Jews are supposed to be doing and what Gentiles are not supposed to be doing…” My sentiments exactly. If children could “hear and learn” {Deut 31:12} the Torah once every seven years by a public reading why is there such arrogance today based on details embedded within hundreds or thousands of years worth of traditions and complicated (or convoluted) interpretations?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. good point. It’s like a bunch of snake charmers bantering for the attention of the disinterested multitudes passing by. HR and MJ has lost a lot of credibility with me, if in fact it ever had any.

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      1. I don’t think this is an issue exclusively with HR or MJ. I would contend this is ingrained behavior, for lack of a better term, from the longstanding judgments between denominations or sub-denominations within traditional Christianity or Judaism. Submerge vs sprinkle, confessional vs personal prayer, corporate salvation vs personal relationship. The challenge my wife and I have found, which has put us on the outside of traditional churches, is asking questions that challenge the establishment, regardless of the denomination. HR, MJ, Baptist, AG, etc all have long standing prejudices that cloud the ability to think freely or adapt to new information. New information can come from scholars learning from archaeological digs, new scrolls whether extra-biblical or even historical biblical texts from a different translation such as recent discoveries of NT books written in original Hebrew that challenge the Greek text and especially cause problems within the English translations. I have found that just about any organized denomination or sub-denomination holds on to their doctrine and theology as if there are no other alternative then uses that doctrine or theology to judge other denominations or sub-denominations. Not much has changed in 2,000 years, eh? Isn’t that exactly why Yeshua opposed the Pharisaic leaders?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. very good comments. I would quibble slightly with your last statement, only in the sense that I don’t believe Yeshua had issues with the Pharisees doctrinally. I think he was troubled by their attitude and approach. At least the ones who are represented in the gospel narrative. It bears noting that many Pharisees ultimately joined the Yeshua-sect later on, as evidenced in Acts 15. I have come to the belief that Yeshua was chiefly about reforming his own native faith at a time of great controversy and dissention and impending exile. I don’t believe the mission of Yeshua is accurately reflected by Christianity in any of its forms. He was a Jewish rabbi. Thanks so much for weighing in with your well thought-out reflection.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with your position on Yeshua. I should have been more specific. I also agree that he only challenged a select few Pharisaic leaders not the entire Pharisaic sect. Even those he challenged, he was challenging their halachic rulings, which was, and still is, common and accepted from one rabbi to the next. By doctrine, I meant the unrealistic halachic fences around the Torah burdening followers to the point of certain failure, although after your point above, I’m not sure doctrine was the right word to use. I agree that traditional Christianity has hijacked and misrepresented the identity and mission of Yeshua.

    Thanks for the discussion. I appreciate the intellectual conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

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