Light from the Sidra

Ki Tavo ('When you have come...') 13 September 2014. 18 Elul 5774.

Torah: Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8.Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22

It’s a beautiful day

This week’s readings remind me of a You Tube video which shows a beggar with a crude cardboard sign that says, ‘I’m Blind. Please help.’ No one pays much attention to the poor guy until a young woman stops and rewrites the sign for him. Suddenly everyone begins dropping money into the bind man’s tin. What did the girl write? ‘IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY BUT I CAN’T SEE IT!’

This week’s Parasha is about darkness – Israel’s darkness - and the Haftarah is about light – Israel’s light.

Moses led God’s people faithfully for forty years but in the Torah reading he is about to depart and be separated from the people. For a single act of disobedience one of Israel’s greatest figures was denied entrance to the land to which he had been called to lead Israel. But Moses was reconciled to the fact that he would not enter the land of promise and so Deuteronomy 26 begins, ‘When you [not ‘we’] enter the land that HASHEM, your God, gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it...’ (emphasis added).
Moses holds out to Israel the possibility of enjoying fabulous blessings when they enter the land but, in contrast, Deuteronomy 28 also describes the darkness of calamity that will befall the Jewish people should they fail to be loyal to their God:

But it will be if you do not hearken to the voice of HASHEM, your God, to observe, to perform all His commandments and all his decrees that I command you this day, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Accursed will you be in the city and accursed will you be in the field. Accursed will be your fruit basket and your kneading bowl... (Deuteronomy 28:15-17).

Fourteen verses of blessings for obedience are followed by more than 60 verses of curses that concludes with the statement: ‘These are the words of the covenant that HASHEM commanded Moses to seal with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he sealed with them at Horeb’ (Deuteronomy 28:69).

Israel was unfaithful to the covenant of their God and eventually, as Scripture and history attest, they went into exile. But, in spite the return from Babylon and although a sovereign Jewish state exists today, Israel continues to suffer the consequences of their covenant unfaithfulness. Some Orthodox Jewish thinkers say that so long as a single Jew remains outside the Land, Israel remains in exile. They refer to the exile not as the ‘Diaspora’ but as ‘Galut,’ a state of darkness, alienation and degradation. Even though Israel is now home to the largest community of Jews in the world, the Jewish state is surrounded by enemies intent on their destruction. Iran is dangerously close to nuclear capability, while the terrorist organisation ‘Islamic State’ makes no secret of its intention to annihilate Israel and establish a powerful caliphate stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Persian Gulf in the east. Added to that, former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has warned that ‘a tidal wave of anti-Semitism’ is deluging Europe. No wonder Orthodox Jews are crying out for ‘Moshiach now!’

The rabbis who chose the Haftarah to accompany the Sidra obviously chose Isaiah 60 to balance out the terrifying list of curses in Deuteronomy 28 with a passage that foretells a time when HASHEM’s light will shine so brightly on Israel that the nations of the earth will also walk by that same light.

Arise! Shine! for your light has arrived and the glory of HASHEM shines upon you. For, behold darkness may cover the earth, and a thick cloud [may cover] the kingdoms, but upon you HASHEM will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine (Isaiah 60:1-3).

As a Gentile, I am grateful to HASHEM for Isaiah 60, because in it Israel’s God reveals that the Goyim will one day walk by his light. Some ago I met Elimelech, a pious Jew, who asked why I read the Tanakh. When I said I said I read it because it’s the Word of God, he was puzzled. ‘Why do you want to read the Word of God?’ he demanded.

I told him it was because the Tanakh tells me what I should believe and how I should live, to which he replied that the Tanakh is only for Jews. I disagreed because in the last 27 chapters of Isaiah, HASHEM addresses the ‘ends of the earth,’ the heathen nations, and calls them to look to him and to hear him. I, a Gentile and former atheist, have heard HASHEM’s call and I look to the God of Israel every day of my life.

The light of Israel is the Messiah and the fact that I and millions of other Gentiles are walking in the light of HASHEM’s glory is proof that the Messiah has come and that Jesus is the Messiah. When Jesus was eight days old, his parents took him to the Temple to be circumcised in obedience to the Torah. An elderly devout tzaddik called Shimon who was looking for the ‘comfort of Israel,’ foretold in Isaiah 42:6, had been told that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. Seeing Jesus, he blessed HASHEM for allowing him to see the one who was to be ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’ (Luke 2:32).

I’ve been walking in the radiance of Israel’s light for over forty years. I follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah who made the astonishing claim that he was the ‘Light of the World’. How do I know Jesus is Israel’s light? When the sun comes up, you don’t need anyone to tell you that it’s morning. Like C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia Chronicles, I believe in Jesus in the same way I believe in the sun: not so much because I see him but because I see everything else by him.

Of course, there are Jews and Gentiles who don’t believe Isaiah 60 has been fulfilled. They don’t believe the sun has risen. But imagine if the blind man in the video had taken exception to the young lady telling everyone that it was a beautiful day but that he couldn’t see it! Who was she to decide that it was a beautiful day! Bizarre, right?

But there are people – Jews and Gentiles – who tell me that Israel’s light isn’t shining and that the glory of God hasn’t risen! Pardon me for being so blunt but I think it’s the height of arrogance for blind people to tell those who can see the light that it’s dark! Perhaps that’s what you’re thinking even as you read this. All I can say in response is that it’s a beautiful day but if you can’t see that’s not my fault. If you’ll only open your eyes you’ll be able to walk in the glory of God too.

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