Light from the Sidra

Ki Tavo (‘When you enter…’). 24th September 2016. 21st Elul 5776

Torah: Deuteronomy 26:1–29:8(9)*. Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1–22

Après moi, le Deluge

Louis XV became king of France in 1759 at the age of five and died in 1774. A well-intentioned but weak-willed monarch, he was dominated by his mistresses and on his deathbed uttered the cryptic prophecy: ‘Après moi, le Deluge’ (After me, the Flood). He realised that he could have done far more to improve France but had failed to do so. If he had made the necessary reforms he might have left his kingdom in a more governable condition and the country’s economy in a more stable state. Although his 19 year-old grandson Louis XVI tried hard to put things right, he was dominated by the beautiful but heartless Marie Antoinette, she of ‘Let them eat cake’ fame. The monarchy had lost forever the iron grip it once had, France’s finances fell into confusion, the peasants starved and the French Revolution began. The hapless Louis ended up being tried for treason and executed. And so the Ancien Régime (Old Order) came to a bloody end.

In the Parasha, Moses is about to depart and be separated from the people he had led faithfully for forty years. He was reconciled to the fact that he would not enter the land of promise and so the portion begins, ‘It will be when you enter the land…’

God is faithful and Moses holds out the possibility of Israel enjoying fabulous blessings when they enter the land. But Deuteronomy 28 describes the future deluge that will sweep over Israel following the death of Moses, if she fails to be loyal to her God:

But it will be that 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 today, 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 fruitbasket and your kneading bowl... (Deut. 28:15-17)

Fourteen verses of blessings for obedience are followed by a list of curses that occupies more than 60 verses and concludes with the bald 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 in Horeb’ (Deut. 28:69.).

The rest is history. From the Babylonian exile until today, Israel remains in ‘Galut,’ a state of alienation, degradation and exile from the Promised Land in which she continues to suffer. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Britain and Europe and the Islamic nations make little effort to disguise their ambition to wipe ‘the Zionist entity’ off the face of the earth. Despite the existence of a Jewish state, Israel is still suffering the consequences of their covenant unfaithfulness.

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

Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived, and the glory of HASHEM shines upon you. Behold! 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 (Is. 60:1-3.).

Although the light is Israel’s light, Israel is not the light. Nevertheless, Israel’s light will shine on the Gentiles and the nations will walk by the shining radiance that enlightens Israel.

An Orthodox Jewish man called Elimelech once asked me why I read the Tanakh. When I said I read the Bible because it was the Word of God, Elimelech asked why I wanted to read the Word of God. Because it tells me what to believe and how to live, I answered. When he informed me that the Tanakh was only for Jews. I disagreed. In the last 27 chapters of the book of Isaiah in particular, God addresses the ‘ends of the earth’ and calls them to look to him and to hear him.

When Jesus was eight days old, he was taken to the Temple to be circumcised in obedience to the Torah. In the temple was a tzaddik named Shimon who was looking for the ‘comfort of Israel’ foretold by Isaiah. It had been revealed to Shimon that before he died he would see the Messiah. Seeing Jesus, he blessed God for allowing him to see the one who was to be ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [HASHEM’s people] Israel’ (Luke 2:32).

As a Gentile, I can testify to the truth of Isaiah’s prophecy and Shimon’s prophecy, both of which foretell the same thing. For over forty years I have been walking in the radiance of Israel’s light, I have been following Jesus the Jewish Messiah who made the astonishing claim that he was the ‘Light of the World’. Before Israel’s light shone on me, I walked in the darkness of atheism and the relativistic and fatuous Hippie philosophy of doing my own thing and making love not war. When someone switches on the light, you don’t need to be told that it’s no longer dark. When the sun comes up in the east, you don’t need someone to tell you that it’s morning. When I encountered Jesus, I knew the sun had risen. C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books, said he believed in the sun not simply because he saw it but because, by it, he saw everything else.

The tragic irony is that I meet so many Jewish people who have been persuaded that the sun has not risen; they refuse to walk in the light promised to them as a nation. They appear blind to very glory in which so many Gentiles like myself walk. I meet frum Jews who understand virtually nothing about their own Scriptures and who seek enlightenment by resorting to Mishnah and Gemara that serve only to confuse and darken the minds of many Jews who sincerely want to know the truth.

But God is faithful. He has kept his promises to Israel. He has raised up for Israel ‘a prophet like Moses,’ a ‘Redeemer’ to restore Israel to God, the Messiah who was sent to lift the curse on Israel by becoming a curse for them.

How about you? Do you walk in darkness or in light? The light is shining. All you have to do is cast off your prejudice, open your eyes and walk in the glory of Jesus, ‘the Light of the World’.


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