Shoftim Six: Gideon

The pattern repeats itself. The people do something to piss God off, so He punishes them by giving them to another nation – this time Midian, for seven years. “And it was, when Israel had sown, that Midian came up, and Amalek, and those of the east; and they came up upon it (Judges 6:3).” We haven’t heard about Amalek in a while, but they’re the ultimate enemy, so things must be really bad at this point. Amalek is destroying the land, and Israel is subject to Midian – all in all, not a good situation. So they cry to God, and He sends them a new prophet. “That the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, and he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, God of Israel; I brought you up from Egypt, and I brought you out of the house of bondage (Judges 6:8).'” God made promises to the people, but they were conditional promises, and the people failed to keep up their end of the bargain.

God sends an angel to Gideon, who God sees as a man of valor. Gideon asks why all of the tragedy that the people are currently suffering has come to pass, saying that God has forsaken the people. “And the Lord turned toward him and said, ‘Go, with this your strength, and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you (Judges 6:14)?'” Just as Moses, the ultimate prophet, protested his mission, Gideon also shows hesitation. His worry is that he is the youngest member of the poorest house in his tribe, and will not be able to save Israel. Also just as with Moses, God reassures him that He will be with him. Gideon asks for a sign that all of this is real, and his request is granted. He recognizes the angel of God, and commits to his mission.

God tells Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal. But not just any altar. He is to destroy the altar that his own father has created, and to put an altar to God in its place. “And Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had spoken to him. Now it was, because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city, to do it by day, that he did it by night (Judges 6:27).” This reminds me of the midrash about Abraham smashing his father’s idols once he encountered God. I wonder if this is the story that midrash is based on, because I don’t recall any similar text from the Abraham saga. This seems to be the ultimate show of obedience to God, while rejecting the sinful culture surrounding the people at that time.

The locals freak out, and tell Joash, Gideon’s father, that he must die. However, Joash tells them that Baal, not the people, should contend with Gideon if he sees fit. The people back off, and Gideon begins to gather troops. God provides signs, and Gideon prepares for battle.

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Yehoshua Fourteen: Caleb

The Israelites had a specific inheritance given to them in the form of the land of Israel. Each tribe had its own designated territory, given to them by lot. Nine and a half tribes inherited land on the western side of the Jordan, with the other two and a half being allotted land on the eastern side of the river. This arrangement makes sense when one remembers the history that brought the people to this point. “For the children of Joseph were two tribes, Menashe and Ephraim, but they gave no part to the Levites, in the land, save cities to dwell in, and the open land about them, for their cattle and for their flocks (Joshua 14:4).”

So, the people are gathered in Gilgal, and representatives from the tribe of Judah come to Joshua. Specifically, Caleb comes to speak to him. “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord, sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him back word as it was in my heart. And my brothers that went up with me, made the heart of the people melt, but I fulfilled the will of the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land upon which your foot had trodden shall be your inheritance, and your children’s forever, because you have fulfilled the will of the Lord my God (Joshua 14:7-9).'” Caleb is now eighty-five, and he is asking for the fulfillment of the promise that Moses made to him for being the spy, other than Joshua, who tried to instill confidence in the people. Caleb was truthful and brave, and is the only Israelite, other than Joshua, to have survived the whole journey. Joshua agrees to Caleb’s request. Hebron becomes the inheritance of Caleb and his family, outside of the tribal affiliations of the rest of the land. In this act, another story seems to come full circle. Things seem to be starting to wind down, and the people are getting settled in their land.

Yehoshua One: Taking up the Mantle of Leadership 

This book, the first book of Prophets, follows immediately after the end of the Torah proper. Moses is dead, and Joshua picks up the mantle of leadership. “Moses my servant has died, and now arise cross this Jordan, you and all this nation, to the land which I give the children of Israel (Joshua 1:2).” God promises Joshua that they will have the same kind of relationship as He had with Moses, to be by his side and support him. This reassurance must have been very welcome, because I truly can’t imagine any larger shoes to fill. “Be strong and have courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land that I have sworn to their ancestors to give to them (Joshua 1:6).” God repeats this admonition, to be strong and courageous, many times, which can indicate that Joshua was hesitant to be those things at first. He had to grow into the role of leader, something that many people find challenging.

Joshua issues his first command. “Go through the midst of the camp and command the nation, saying: Prepare provision for yourselves, for in another three days you will cross this Jordan to come and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit (Joshua 1:11).” The people obey Joshua in his first moments as a leader, demonstrating their loyalty to him. His journey as a leader will be chronicled throughout the book, and it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up.

Devarim Thirty-Four: The End of an Era

We’ve made it to the final chapter of the Torah. The five books of Moses end, fittingly, with the death of Moses. “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, top of the summit facing Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the Land: The Gilead until Dan (Deuteronomy 34:1).” Moses takes in all of the land, the land that Abraham was instructed to walk and that God promised to the Israelites. He looks at all of it, at the closest thing to the reality of the dream that he has been working towards for most of his life. And then, in the presence of the land, he dies. “And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there, in the land of Moab, by the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 34:5).” Moses has died, and God Himself buries him, so that no human being knows the exact location of the burial. Although Moses was old when he died, having reached the age of 120, we are told that his eyes hadn’t dimmed and he was still vibrant. What does that tell us? If Moses hadn’t made a mistake, could it not have been his time? Did he only die now because of the punishment, and not because he needed to?

“And the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days, and the days of weeping over the mourning for Moses came to an end (Deuteronomy 34:8).” Joshua takes over the leadership of the people, and prepares to move them into the next stage of their journey. However, neither he nor any future prophet would ever compare to Moses. “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, as manifested by all the signs and wonders, which the Lord had sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his servants, and to all his land, and all the strong hand, and all the great awe, which Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel (Deuteronomy 34:10-12).” None were like Moses, and no one else could have done what he did. The people have to move on without their great leader, and to enter the land, figuring out what it means to be conquerers and sovereigns for the first time.

With that, the Torah ends. I can’t believe that I’ve officially read every chapter on its own, not glossing over the ones that I might have thought of as boring, but paying attention and reflecting every day. I’ve obviously found something to say about each one, even when I never thought I would, and I’m so happy that Project 929 has given me that opportunity. I’m eager to continue with the project, and to move into the stories of the Prophets. There’s so much more to read and learn and understand, and I’m so glad that this project encompasses all of Tanakh, not just Torah, because I wouldn’t be ready to end at this point.

The Torah is five books, and 187 chapters. Now, there are 742 chapters to go in this project, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Devarim Thirty-Three: Last Words

“And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death (Deuteronomy 33:1).” The text itself literally introduces this chapter, so I don’t have to. Some of the blessings that he bestows are for the entire congregation, while others are designated for a specific tribe. “May Reuben live and not die, and may his people be counted in the number (Deuteronomy 33:6).” This reminds me of Jacob’s blessing to his sons back in Bereshit, right as he prepared to die. It’s so interesting to think about the progress and change that has occurred since then. Jacob blessed twelve individuals, his sons. Now, the prophecy has been fulfilled, and they have become a nation, which Moses is now blessing once again. It would be interesting to do a full comparison of these two speeches, and to see if the themes of one reflect in the other.

“Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people whose salvation is through the Lord, the Shield Who helps you, your majestic Sword! Your enemies will lie to you, but you will tread upon their heights (Deuteronomy 33:29).” With this, the final speech of Moses officially ends. He hasn’t mentioned himself at all, or expressed regret for the circumstances that have lead to this moment. As in his life, his thoughts are with the people, and with God.

Devarim Thirty-Two: Moses Shares His Wisdom

Moses begins his final, epic speech with some poetic language. “My lesson will drip like rain; my word will flow like dew; like storm winds on vegetation and like raindrops on grass (Deuteronomy 32:2).” These are beautiful metaphors, and a little unexpected in this context. Obviously some books of Tanakh are full of this type of flowery language, but Moses is usually a lot more straightforward in his speech. I guess this truly marks the end of an era, and he wants to make sure everyone understands the gravity of the situation. There are some wonderful life lessons in this speech, things that we should continue to listen to. “Remember the days of old; reflect upon the years of generations. Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders, and they will inform you (Deuteronomy 32:7).” So many more people should pay attention to advice such as this today. We don’t pay enough attention to history, or reflect on the past, or listen attentively to the wisdom of our elders, and we should.

God is described as a warrior, a champion of the people, a miracle worker, and as one with a lot of wrath. “See now that it is I! I am the One, and there is no god like Me! I cause death and grant life. I strike, but I heal, and no one can rescue from My Hand (Deuteronomy 32:39)!” God is everything. He is absolute, He controls the rhythms of the universe, and of our lives. Moses conveys all of these things to Joshua and to the people. Then, he gives his final teaching. “And he said to them, ‘Set your hearts to all the words which I bear witness for you this day, so that you may command your children to observe, to do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, for it is your life, and through this thing, you will lengthen your days upon the land to which you are crossing over the Jordan, to possess it (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).'” Torah is not just comprised of words that we’re supposed to follow blindly. It’s not an empty vessel, but a guidepost for our lives.

That same day, God tells Moses to go to Mount Nebo, to see the land on the other side, and then to die on the mountain. “For from afar, you will see the land, but you will not come there, to the land I am giving the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:52).” Quite honestly, this sucks. A lifetime of loyal service, dealing with these people (who seem pretty annoying), and because of one transgression, Moses is denied his life’s dream. He gets to see it, a mere glimpse, but cannot complete the journey. I can’t imagine being shown your destination and knowing that you will never achieve it. He accepts this far more gracefully than I ever could, which seems to emphasize to me why I wish he could have reached it.

Devarim Thirty-One: Happy Birthday Moses

It’s time for Moses’s birthday! Today, he turns 120 years old. It’s a slightly morbid birthday though, because it means he’s basically reached the end of the road and won’t be fulfilling his ultimate goal of crossing the Jordan and entering Israel. The people will complete the mission without him, lead by God and Joshua. “The Lord, your God He will cross before you; He will destroy these nations from before you so that you will possess them. Joshua, he will cross before you, as the Lord has spoken (Deuteronomy 31:3).” Moses gives words of wisdom to the people, who are now on the precipice of losing the only leader they’ve ever known, right as they embark on this new stage of their journey. “Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be dismayed of them, for the Lord, your God He is the One Who goes with you. He will nether fail you mor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).” Even at this moment, Moses is concerned about his people and not himself. 

The leadership transition is publicly made. Moses tells Joshua to be strong and courageous in the presence of the people, placing his confidence in his successor. God also has a role in the turnover. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, your days are approaching to die. Call Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting and I will inspire him.’ So Moses and Joshua went and stood in the Tent of Meeting (Deuteronomy 31:14).” This is a model that modern businesses should pay attention to. The leadership transition was done mindfully and clearly, with time for wisdom to be shared and lessons conferred. 

Even though there are several chapters left, it is at this time that Moses finishes writing the Torah. “And it was, when Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their very completion (Deuteronomy 31:24).” The scrolls are placed in the ark by the Levites. The next few chapters will consist of Moses’s final speech to the people before his death. I guess it’s Joshua who writes those down and adds them to the final record, making the honoring of Moses his first task as the new leader. 

Devarim Ten: Circumcise the Foreskin of Your Heart

Moses continues his recap of the giving of the Ten Commandments. He recalls how God instructed him to recreate the first set of tablets exactly when he made the second set. “And He inscribed on the tablets, like the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain, from the midst of the fire, on the day of the assembly, and the Lord gave them to me (Deuteronomy 10:4).” It’s interesting to me that this doesn’t acknowledge the differences that we just saw in the second set of commandments, such as the whole issue with the commandment to both remember and keep Shabbat. Was it written the same but conveyed differently? Or was the intention the same each time, but manifested differently?

The people moved to Moserah where Aaron died, and to Yotvath, where the Levites were given their separate mission to serve God. “Therefore, Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord, your God spoke to him (Deuteronomy 10:9).” Moses repeatedly intervened with God on behalf of the people, protecting them from His wrath and moving them towards their ultimate goal of entering the land. “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12).” What does it mean to walk in God’s ways? Does it mean to follow His laws? Or to behave in a godly manner, something akin to being made in God’s image?

Now, we have a particularly lovely sentence. “You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, and be no more stiff necked (Deuteronomy 10:16).” What a visual! I’m taking this verse to mean that just as the circumcision is a way of dedicating oneself to God physically through the covenant, ones heart must also be dedicated to God.

Devarim Nine: Interceding

Finally, after forty years, the moment seems close. “Hear, O Israel: Today, you are crossing the Jordan to come in to possess nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens (Deuteronomy 9:1).” The people are not at a tactical advantage, and there is still a huge struggle ahead of them. After forty years, one might think that they are done with their journey and are up to the reward stage. Instead, a whole new challenge looms before the people that must be surmounted before they can finally settle into their new homes.

“Do not say to yourself, when the Lord, your God, has repelled them from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness, the Lord has brought me to possess this land,’ and because of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord drives them out before you (Deuteronomy 9:4).” Once again, it must be emphasized that the people have very little merit on their own. Any victories that they have are attributed solely to God, while any faults are theirs alone. To emphasize that point, we get a list of their evil deeds:

1. They angered God at Horeb

2. They created the Golden Calf

3. They didn’t have faith in God during the incident of the spies

Each time, it was Moses who interceded for the people with God and saved them. What will happen now that he won’t be there? When the people mess up, will there be anyone to bargain for them?

Devarim Five: Shamor v’Zakhor

Moses continues his prelude to the laws and statutes that the people will need to follow. He reminds the people how special their position in history is. “Not with our forefathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, we, all of whom are here alive today. Face to face, the Lord spoke with you at the mountain out of the midst of the fire: and I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to tell you the word of the Lord, for you were afraid of the fire, and you did not go up on the mountain, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Deuteronomy 5:3-6).'” Then, he recaps the giving of the Ten Commandments, with a few differences from the first version. One famous example of this is the commandment regarding Shabbat. “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord your God commanded you (Deuteronomy 5:12).” This differs from the original iteration of these words. In the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments, the Shabbat commandment is to remember the day in order to sanctify it. Much has been written and explored about this difference. Why both? Why was one not enough? Was one more important? Which is accurate?

In the classic Shabbat evening song, Lecha Dodi, the first verse says, Keep and Remember were uttered as one. Somehow, in one moment, we were given a dual commandment, to both keep and remember Shabbat. Both the action and the intention are necessary in order to fully fulfill the commandment and do the appropriate honor to Shabbat. By having two versions of the Ten Commandments in Tanakh, we see the multiple layers of their messaging, something that God could convey in one breath, but that we need to completely understand their meaning.