Nitzavim-Vayelech (Deut. 29:9–31:30)
The last command of the Torah reads:
“Now therefore write down for yourselves this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be my witness within the people of Israel.” D’varim (Deut.) 31:19
Many Jewish scholars have asked ‘why a song?’ and was the song the next section of Deuteronomy or the whole of the 5 Books of Moses?
Rabbi Sacks refers to Rabbi Yechiel Michal Epstein who states that one of the reasons the Torah is called “a song” is because a song becomes more beautiful when scored for many voices interwoven in complex harmonies.
Rabbi Sacks goes on to write: “The Torah is God’s libretto, and we, the Jewish people, are His choir, the performers of His choral symphony. And though, when Jews speak they often argue, when they sing, they sing in harmony, as the Israelites did at the Red Sea, because music is the language of the soul, and at the level of the soul Jews enter the unity of the Divine which transcends the oppositions of lower worlds.
The Torah is God’s song, and ‘we’ collectively are its singers.”
He also argues that through the writing and singing of this Torah ‘song’, the Torah is renewed afresh with each generation and each individual.
The Torah Portion, Nitzavim includes some of the most fundamental principles of faith in The God of Israel.
It speaks of:
- the unity of Israel;
- the future redemption;
- the practicality of Torah; – see http://goo.gl/m9Dz95 and
- Freedom of choice.
The Torah Portion (Parshah) of Vayelech also speaks of how the Almighty will ‘hide His face’ – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/
(Thanks to Chabad.org & Rabbi Jonathan Sacks for the thoughts paraphrased above).
In considering this Torah Portion, and the concept that the Torah is God’s Song to be sung by all who love the Instructions of God (Torah), as well as considering how it can be renewed through the generations, I think it also worth reflecting on how the writer of Yochanan’s (John) Gospel in the Apostolic Writings (the NT) saw Torah.
You can get closer to the source of Yochanan’s understanding by going back to the original Hebrew of Proverbs 8:
“The L-RD purchased me at the very beginning of His way before any of his activities at that point. From before time began, I was poured out, even before there was “earth” … And I was BESIDE (or WITH) Him, a master artisan, And I was full of delights, daily playing before Him at every moment’ – Proverbs 8:22, 23, 30 translated by Uriel ben Mordechai
This ‘wisdom’ is TORAH. The Torah existed before the foundation of the universe.
Thus, it seems that it is the Torah, that Yochanan (John) refers to in John 1:1, which if we had the original autograph in Hebrew would more likely read in English something like this:
“In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.”
Get Uriel ben Mordechai’s book for more details on the validity of this translation – see http://above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html
This translation is also very well presented and attested for in Jacobus Schoneveld’s scholarly article: ‘Torah in the Flesh‘
Further, when we consider that Yochanan was not writing in a vacuum, but actually quoting what other Jewish writers had written before him (and in Hebrew), we can be fairly sure of his intent, even if we only have poor Greek translations.
Yochanan, like Yeshua relied on the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh.
Yeshua when he repeatedly said ‘It is written …” were referring to the Tanakh. When Yochanan concluded his Gospel account by stating that these things were written so that you may trust, or have faith, that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God (Jn 20:31), he was clearly endorsing and supporting the work of Yeshua and his own argument that in Yeshua. The Torah had put on (or wore) flesh.
To understand anything in the NT and to appreciate the intent of the NT authors such as Yochanan, we need to look not only into the Tanakh to understand their perspective and biblical reality, but also to documents from the inter-testamental time (perhaps as late as, late 3rd century BCE to early 2nd century BCE, through to around 40-50 CE) to appreciate common Jewish thinking, understanding and terminology. So this includes works like the ‘Wisdom of Sirach’.
In this respect even sectarian works from this period can be relevant.
So with this appreciation, it is worth asking if the concepts and ideas presented in Yochanan’s prologue were already existent or even prevalent in the Tanakh and in Jewish thought of his time.
What we find is that Yochanan’s prologue, for example John 1:3 “through ‘it’ (the Word or the Torah) everything came to be: no single thing was created without ‘it’ ” was a Jewish ‘commonplace’.
That is, it was already part of Jewish writings prior to Yochanan.
For example in the Book of Jubilees we read that God “has created everything by His word/Torah” (12:4), and so it is also said in Wisdom of Solomon 9:1.
Even more similar to Yochanan’s prologue is the wording of two sentences in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “By His (God’s) knowledge everything came to be, and everything which is happening — He establishes it by his design and without Him [nothing] is done” (1QS XI: 11).
And “By the wisdom of Thy knowledge Thou didst establish their destiny ere they came into being, and according [Thy will] everything came to be, and without Thee [nothing] is done” (1QH 1:19-20).
Thus, the concept that God created the world through his ‘word/Torah/wisdom’ is a Jewish concept.
In fact, the Tanakh informs us that Almighty created the entire universe through ‘fiats’; through His word. So not only does the ‘word’ of God have a creative function, it also has an analytical function.
Consider for example, Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit. …and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Here we see the ‘word’ or ‘logos’ having an analytical function. Interestingly, even the Hellenistic Jew Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE) took this position.
In Wikipedia we read: ‘Some scholars hold that his concept of the Logos as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology. Other scholars, however, deny direct influence but say both Philo and early Christianity borrow from a common source. For Philo, Logos was God’s “blueprint for the world”, a governing plan.’
So consider that Yochanan starts with: “In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.” And then goes on to state (paraphrasing Yochanan 1:14):
“And the Torah dressed itself in human flesh and so dwelt amongst us, so that we could see its (the Torah’s) glory from the Father, a glory full of grace and truth.”
So God’s Song has dressed itself in humanity, so that all who love Torah, and see the perfect example (in Yeshua) of how to live Torah, can properly renew, and in unity, sing Torah daily.
Perhaps we can even sense the rising crescendo of this ‘Torah Song’, as we witness the great signs through the creation of State of Israel, and the dawning of the final Redemption!