Shabbat shalom! Our portion this week from #Devarim continues to highlight the reasons for the variant readings in the text of Devarim (Deuteronomy). The differences between theses texts and the original events elsewhere in the Chumash (Pentateuch) are well known but maybe less well known are the reasons why.
The question is, should we have a faith crisis about these ‘changes’? The answer of course is no, but to merely dismiss them as mere nothings or ancient scribal anomalies is to miss the point and in fact we rob ourselves of an understanding that will truly enrich our concept world of Judaism and Messiah’s role in it. In Devarim 1:1 we read that these are the words MOSHE spoke to ALL Israel. The implications are clear, this is his paraphrase, his interpretation of all the events and commandments that had gone before. It was as if he was saying ‘now you are entering the Land. you must understand what all this (Judaism) is all about.’ And because he spoke to ‘all Israel’ he spoke them to us too today. It means that these words contain not just verbal truth but deep conceptual truth and spiritual meaning, which is what v20 says… for Moshe it is not just TEXT that he is relaying but MEANING. He is communicating his legacy to Israel in terms of not raw data or even a founding document, but he is trying to get the idea over that LIFE should be our guiding principle, or to put it another way, look beyond the mere words to see what connects the big idea, what makes righteousness tick not just tick the boxes. I think Moshe would say today ‘feel the spirit of the Torah’, its core intention and motivating dynamic, why it what it is and look behind to feel the essence of it. It is why of course to be fair, so many passages do try to do just that, to distil the core ideas down to a basic principle, like ‘love.. and neighbour as yourself’.
The same idea comes out in Dev 6:17-18, 20 where the children are asked to seek the MEANING of the Mitzvot, not just their execution. What may be more surprising is that the Talmud (Baba Mezia 30b) states ‘Rav Yochanan said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled in accordance with the strict letter of the law, as opposed to ruling beyond the letter of the law.’ It seems that this is what Moshe is hinting at avoiding when he says ‘do that which is right and good in the eyes of the Lord’. This is such an obvious redundancy after all the commandments have been given that it begs understanding. What Moshe wants us to do is to reach for the essence of the Torah, not just the letter of literal meaning. I think he would say ‘Seek what you are meant to learn from the command as you carry it out’, what is the Lord’s intention for you, what do you learn from His heart by being obedient? Seen this way we begin to understand why the Torah is not just a repetitive book hammering home a monotonous message. This is not about indoctrination but inculcating LIFE. Clones need not apply, this is about thinking for yourself with the Spirit of God ‘bringing back everything I have taught you’ as Yeshua said. We Messianic Jews have the Spirit of God to guide us, teach us, the actual Author living in us by whose spirit the Torah was written and communicated. Doing what is right and good should now be first not second nature to us in all situations, even the ones not legislated for by commandment or tradition.