Parshat Va’etchanan: Living in the Land of Goodness

The last book of the Torah encompasses Israel’s destiny in the Promised Land, according to the individual and national identity God gave to the Jewish people. It contains frequent reminders, warnings and admonitions, either direct based on previous transgressions and rebellions or as prophecies through Moses’ speech. All these are relevant because they are closely related to living in the land as the field where life is destined to experience and rejoice in goodness.

“And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, so that you should do them in the land to which you are crossing to possess.” (Deuteronomy 4:14)

Here we understand that God’s commandments, statutes and ordinances for us are the complement and also the supplement of living in the goodness of the land of Israel. God’s ways and attributes are inherent in goodness, for it is the source of our life and its purpose, expression, and destiny. In this context we understand the numerous admonitions and warnings against all kinds of idol worship throughout the book of Deuteronomy.

“And you shall watch yourselves very well, for you did not see any image on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire.” (4:15)

This verse is fundamental to understand the Jewish conception of God, which makes Judaism an exceptional principle of belief, and one of the reasons for the anti-Semitic feeling and ideology throughout history. Hence the Jewish people assimilate that God is not conceived or perceived as an image of anything (4:16-19) but as a ruling principle with vast ethical and moral implications in His creation.

Hence our sages teach us that the human depictions of God mentioned in the Hebrew Bible are allegories for us to understand the ways and means with which He relates to His creation, for something abstract as a ruling principle can be understood as an acting entity similar to a king whose hand executes according to his will.

The exclusivity of this ruling principle implies a fierce “jealousy” and ardent “wrath” against anything that threatens its essence and purpose. In this context we assimilate that the ethical frame of goodness does not allow anything different or opposite to its ways and attributes.

Thus we also understand that this principle is the emanation of goodness for the sake of goodness, and anything different of opposed to it is called “images” that reflect human imagination, belief, ideology, feeling, emotion, passion or instinct, with their traits and trends based on ego’s materialistic desires. These are represented as “likeness” of man, woman, beast, winged bird, crawling creatures on the earth or under the water, the sun, the moon, the stars and the multitudes of the firmament.

“(…) which the Lord your God assigned to all peoples under the entire heaven, and be drawn away to prostrate yourselves before them and worship them.” (4:19)

Here we see that these “images” are followed by other peoples who believe in gods with the likenesses mentioned in the verse. These nations find unacceptable that the Jewish people rather follow the universal ethical principle of goodness over the limitations of ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions based on beliefs and feelings of lack. These are triggered by lower passions and instincts out of control.

Our oral tradition tells us that when God offered the Torah to “the nations”, they rejected it because they couldn’t subordinate to the ethical principles of goodness, considered by them as opposed to their egocentric approach to life.

“But the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron crucible, out of Egypt to be a people of His possession as of this day.” (4:20)

Hence the Jewish identity is manifest as God’s possession as the “image” and “likeness” of goodness as His ruling principle. We are His possession as long as we reflect what makes Him our God.

“And you shall do what is upright and good in the eyes of the Lord, in order that it may be good for you, and that you may come and possess the good land the Lord swore to your forefathers.” (6:18)

Thus we also realize that goodness is the principle, the reason, the context and the purpose, for it is the quality of the land God gave us to live up to as the quality of life He want us to have and rejoice in. In this awareness and higher level of consciousness is also reiterated that nothing else but goodness is what matters in life, and this compels us to defend and enforce such principle.

“In order to drive out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has spoken.” (6:19)

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 Kochav Yaakov.
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