This week’s Torah portion opens with Moshe’s anguished plea to God to be allowed to enter the Holy Land. His request is denied but from the summit of Mt. Nebo he is shown the entire Land.
It was some years ago that I had the privilege of visitng Mt.Nebo which is in present day Jordan. As I stood on its summit in the general area where Moshe had stood, it was an exceptionally clear November day. From the mountaintop I could see vast distances to the north, the south and the west. To say it was overwhelming is a gross understatement. As I stood there, the realization of how important the virtue of obedience is to the heart of God made an impact on my that has never left me. Moshe was denied entrance because earlier he had hit the rock to bring forth water, rather than speak to it, as he had been instructed. Along with that apparently simple act of disobedience, he also succumbed to anger, a trait that is repugnant to Hashem. He was angry with the people, this same Moshe who had repeatedly cried out to God on their behalf. For these reasons he was denied entrance into the Land of Promise. Some have questioned the apparent harshness of this decree but let us not forget: this is Moshe we’re talking about, the man who saw God and lived! The greater the privileges and gifts we receive, the more responsible we are to follow Hashem in everything. As I gazed across the Land from the top of Mt. Nebo, the importance of obedience was never more profound.
That would almost be enough food for mediation this weekend, wouldn’t it? But let’s go on.
“Now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and to the ordinances that I teach you to perform, so that you may live….See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances, as Hashem my God has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land which you come to possess it. You shall safeguard them and perform them, for it is your wisdom and discernment in the eyes of the peoples who shall hear all these decrees and shall say, ‘Surely a wise and discerning people is this great nation!'”
Israel is the only nation who received its laws before it received its Land. Other nations conquer territories and form nations by creating laws and statutes to govern themselves. In contrast, Israel became a nation through its Torah, which outlines to the people how they are to live in the Land which Hashem gives them. The Commandments of Torah do not create the nation; they inspire the nation in how to conduct every area of their lives.
The Torah also transcends time and space. It is true that Torah is lived to its fullest within the Land of Israel, but it is also the prescribed way of life for all of Israel that lives outside of the Land. Torah applies in every generation and in every country on earth where Jews are found.
The reality of Jews living in exile is addressed later in this same portion. In chapter 4:29 of Devarim, Moshe foretells that the people will rebel and will be sent out of their Land, but he goes on to say, “From there you shall seek Hashem your God and you will find Him if you seek for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things befall you, at the end of days, you will return to Hashem your God and listen to His voice. For Hashem your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon you or destroy you, and He will not forget the covenant which He swore to your forefathers.”
This passage is one of the strongest declarations on the power of repentance in all of the Torah. Repentance is for all time and in all places; it is not conditioned on the presence of a Temple in Jerusalem. The heart of repentance is that the sinner seeks Hashem with all his heart; that he acknowledges the wrong he did and sincerely seeks forgiveness with a determination to do everything in his power to avoid ever repeating his folly.
In Tune with Torah this week = repentance is a gift which enables our reconciliation with God at any moment that we have strayed from His ways and His will. Has there been a gentle knocking at the door of your heart over some issue or other?
This week is the right time to respond to His urgings in your soul.