Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech: Returning to Goodness as the Promised Land

We have many examples of how prophecy works in Judaism. In essence, the Jewish prophecy is a declaration that functions as a divine commandment or decree, or as a divine covenant, promise or commitment. Interestingly, it is proclaimed as an already-done occurrence as written in past tense by most of our prophets. This invites us to reflect on the semantics of Hebrew syntax and the potential diverse meanings of allegories and metaphors, but let’s keep it on semantics.

If something is done or happened already, we have two choices. Either we recognize it and accept it as such, even if we are not able to “see” it, and wait until we see it; or stretching our consciousness to grasp its dimensions and implications; or starting to visualize it and pursuing the ways and means to see it happen. We remember King David’s promise and Nathan’s prophecy (both the same one) in regards to enthroning Solomon as the heir of his father.

This is one of many prophecies that required diligent human efforts, in that case on behalf of Batsheva and Nathan, to make it happen. Also we remember Jonah’s negligence to fulfill God’s will, which guides us to the adequate conclusion that all prophecies demand human engagement and active participation.

“Then the Lord your God will bring back your exiles, and He will have compassion on you. He will once again gather you from all the nations where the Lord your God had dispersed you.” (Deuteronomy 30:3)

The prophecy of the Gathering of the [Jewish] Exiles is not an exception to the conclusion mentioned above. Even if the Creator executes His will in His own ways over the destiny of the Jewish people, we as Jews have to complete our part of the deal. Some may claim that such effort is too big, without remembering probably the most difficult task ever accomplished, the Exodus from Egypt, that needed unprecedented divine intervention. If the circumstances under the most abject oppression and slavery were overcome then, what makes us believe that in our current times may not happen?

Those who don’t believe in the returning of the exiled are implicitly removing themselves from this prophecy, as it also occurred according to the midrash with eighty percent of the Hebrews who preferred to stay behind in Egypt, and allegedly “died” during the plague of darkness. Dissidence, defections, rebellions and assimilation have characterized the Jewish people throughout their history since the times of Joshua, during the division of the nation in two kingdoms, the exile in Babylon from which less than forty thousand Jews returned to their land; the assimilation, dispersion and diaspora during the Persian, Hellenic and Roman occupations; and similar repeated situations in the last millennium and a half under Crusades, Muslim caliphates, Inquisitions and Pogroms.

The lessons of history teach us that being and remaining Jewish is a real miracle of survival. But let’s go back to our reflections on this prophecy that is being visibly fulfilled since the reestablishment of the Jewish State in 1948. Clearly, it has been unprecedented the increasing Jewish religious observance, the number of Jewish converts, and the fast growing baal shuvah movement from all sorts of life and particularly from the arts and entertainment milieu.

“(…) and He will do goodness to you, and He will make you more numerous than your forefathers.” (30:5)

Goodness is the banner by which the Creator gathers His people, for goodness is the bond of their Covenant. This prophecy is about its purpose, which is making goodness rule again all aspects and expressions of human consciousness in this world. This is the premise for the advent of the Jewish final redemption and the Messianic era, when through the ways, means and attributes of goodness we are promised to discover and unveil its unrevealed expressions.

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, [to] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your life.” (30:6)

This promised final redemption can manifest its ways and qualities only after their opposite negative traits and trends are completely removed from human consciousness. For this we undoubtedly need the assistance and intervention of God, but we have to initiate the process by our willingness to make goodness prevail within ourselves and our immediate surroundings.

Thus we understand the “circumcision of the heart” as the precondition to finally assimilate the meaning of “loving our God with all our heart and our soul”, which leads us to the complete awareness of the real meaning and purpose of life.

“And the Lord your God will make you abundant for goodness in all the work of your hands, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will once again rejoice over you for goodness, as He rejoiced over your forefathers.” (30:9)

Parshat Vayelech: Returning to where we belong

“(…) and this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them.” (Deuteronomy 31:16)

Once again the Creator through Moses warns the children of Israel against the scourge of idol worship as the choice of living in ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions instead of living in the ways, means, attributes and expressions of goodness. As we indicated in our commentary on Nitzavim, Jewish prophecy is the declaration of an already done occurrence.

It sounds ironic that even before entering the Promised Land, God is telling us what is going to happen. If this was our predicament, then what would be the purpose of entering the land? Only to realize that human nature rather follows ego’s fantasies and illusions instead of the ways and attributes of goodness as our bond with the Creator.

“And this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations of the land into which they are coming. And they will forsake Me and violate My covenant which I made with them. And I will hide My face on that day because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities.” (31:17-18)

We mention often that in the Hebrew Bible, God rather takes credit for our transgressions than pointing them out to us. We are who hide our faces from Him by choosing our own ways, and our returning to Him depends only on us, for He is always the same loving and compassionate God. Hence we always hope for His promised redemption.

“He shall return and grant us compassion; He shall hide our iniquities and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving kindness of Abraham which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.”
(Micah 7:19-20)

Again, the prophet reiterates that the necessary change of consciousness required for the Jewish final redemption is facilitated by our Creator and molder. The only way to adopt a compassionate and loving approach to life is by completely removing that which makes us transgress against the ways, means and attributes of goodness, for which we are all accountable because it is our source and sustenance. This same requirement is the precondition to fully engage ourselves to the truth and loving kindness inherent in the goodness that characterized our patriarchs.

The haftaroth of the last portions of the Torah all deal with the purpose of Jewish prophecy, which is divided in three main subjects. First, God’s denunciations and condemnations of our transgressions linked to idol worship as the main reason for abandoning His ways and commandments. Second, God’s convocations and invitations to repent and return in one single process to our true essence, identity and purpose as His people. Third, God’s promised final redemption as the threshold to enter the Messianic era with a new transformed (“circumcised”) consciousness (“heart”).

As we prepare these last weeks for the Jewish new year 5778, the final portions of the Torah repeatedly invite us to reflect in these three-part transition. This encompasses the necessary changes in the ways we approach ourselves, others and our immediate reality. We do it as a returning path to who we really are, for in our Jewish identity we find our eternal bond with the Creator of all.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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