In this week’s sedra, Moses completes his review of the Israelites’ journey to the Land of Israel. He explains to the Israelites the importance of keeping God’s commandments when entering the Land, repeats the 10 commandments, and recites the Shema. Quite a lot to get going on!
But let’s start at the very beginning. The sedra begins with the words ‘va’etachanan’ – and he (Moses) sought God’s favour – from the Hebrew root ‘chanan’ – to show favour, to be gracious. Moses makes a request to God – Moses wants to cross the Jordan and enter the Land of Israel. After all he has done, Moses certainly deserves to see Israel but he does not give that as his reason. Rashi – French commentator on Bible and Talmud (1040-1105) – points out that Moses views his request a different way. Moses is asking God to do him a kindness – a favour that he may or may not receive.
It is the difference between saying ‘I deserve to get what I want’ and ‘I hope to get what I want’. Consider the Wimbledon Championships and Djokovic saying he deserves to win because he’s worked so hard and beaten his competitors every year till now. And Djokovic saying God has given me the talent so it’s in His hands, but I am hoping to win. It’s putting yourself or putting God at the centre of things. For some people a God-centred world is a natural – for other’s a hard one to struggle with. Particularly hard when there is no intermediary. Just God and us. This sedra stresses the point that there is and must be no intermediary. Moses reminds the Israelites that no image was seen when God revealed Himself at Horeb: ‘you heard the voice of the words, but you saw no form’ (4:12) and a bit later Moses links the fact that God cannot be seen with the commandment to the Israelites not to worship idols. ‘…..even the form of any figure, the likeness of male and female. The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the heaven, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth; in case you lift up your eyes unto heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them and serve them which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven’ (4:16-19).
Interesting to note that it is only the Israelites that must respect the formlessness, the awesomeness and the starkness of the One God – the other nations of the world are allowed to worship in their own way.