Parashat Vayelech – Erev Shabbat 4 October 2019
Week of 29 September – 5 October 2019
Torah Portion: Deuteronomy 31:1-30 Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
Theme: That All May Know
This week’s Torah reading begins on the eve of the long-awaited entry into the Promised Land. The wilderness wanderings have drawn to a close. The people of God can almost taste the promised milk and honey. And yet, Moses shares his journey has come to an end. The journey that began in slavery in Egypt, and ended with freedom in a God-selected paradise. Their leader, their representative before the LORD, their spiritual father would not be completing the journey. Scripture does not give insight into what surely was a bittersweet moment. But perhaps the tension between the joy of the Promised Land and sorrow of saying goodbye to Moses prepared them for Moses’ final words – a call that “All may know”.
What does it mean that “All may know”? Moses began with all. His teachings, written down for future generations, was to be read “in the presence of all Israel” (Deut 31:11). He further details all, insuring no one may be left out. All includes men, women, children and even strangers living among them. No one is left out in God’s all. Not those we disagree with. Not those we dislike. Not even those we would rather look past and pretend they are not among us. Gather all the people, Moses declares, so they can hear, learn, revere and observe. Moses’ instruction remains today. Gather all. Leave no one out. God’s invitation also remains. All are invited to come and hear – so that “All may know”.
But what should they know? And how should they know? God wanted to insure all of Israel – the men, women, children and strangers – would know to be strong and resolute, to not fear or be dismayed, and to know the LORD would always be with them (Deut 31:7-8). He desired his instructions and teachings would forever be known by his people – in that generation, and far beyond. He knew many of those gathered had personal experiences of the LORD’s redemptive acts. Others had heard shared stories and memories. But for those who had neither, the LORD also instructed Moses to write it down and instructed Israel to read it annually. All would have a means of knowing. Those who could not remember. Those who were new to the community. Those who could not read. For indeed, “All may know”.
But when all gathered, and all were made to know – the words they heard were filled with dread and despair. Instead of revering the LORD, Israel would prostitute themselves with alien gods. Instead of enjoying God’s promises, they would know evil and troubles. Instead of experiencing the LORD’s presence, Israel would lament for an abandoning and hiding God. And while these declarations are grim, our Haftarah this week reminds Israel the Lord takes delight in and rejoices over them (Isa 62:4-5). The LORD delivers and redeems them from their defiant, stiff-necked ways. (Isa 63:8-9, Deut 31:27). For the people of Israel on the edge of the Promised Land that realization would require generations to discover and experience. For us, we read both texts alongside one another, and learn to hold that delicate tension. And the call that “All may know” continues yet today. Gather, hear, learn, revere, observe.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Which part of God’s all is excluded in your gatherings? How might you better gather all?  What instructions and teachings do you still not fully know? What personal experiences, shared memories and writings are more and less significant in your knowing?  How do you hold the tension between the Torah and Haftarah realities in your personal and community lives?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, T.C. and A.L. Weiss. The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008).
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