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Nitzavim -Vayelech

The following is my son Samuel’s Bar Mitzvah sermon for נצוים-וילך on 4 September 2010

I.      נצוים-וילך

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I am greatly honoured today to be called to the Torah for the first time. I want to thank everyone here today for coming to celebrate this occasion with me. The portion that I read (part of נצוים-וילך) says much about the choice that we all have between life and good, and death and evil. Could you please turn to Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 15. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki who lived from 1040 to 1105 CE) points out that there is a relationship between life and good. If you do good, you will have life. Likewise, if you do evil, you will have death. We really do have a choice between life and death. The choice boils down to loving G-d and straying from Him.

II.    Love for G-d (30:16)

In verse sixteen we are commanded to love G-d, to obey Him, so that we might live and that He might bless us. It is easy for us to love all kinds of things. I’ve been a long time fan of LEGO for example, although I don’t have as much time for it as I used to. The command to love G-d is more difficult, because if we love G-d we have to obey his commandments and we don’t always want to do so. Nowadays people think love just happens, but Moses is saying here that this type of love is a choice.  We can choose whether or not to love G-d.

We can never seem to keep the things that we love.  I have loved many pets during my life. There was my favourite chicken and a duck in Snohomish, Washington that were both eaten by hawks. There was a lovely duck that when I was three I sat on to warm it up and ended up killing it. We had Bernie the cat who poisoned himself by eating poison ivy. We had a canary that died of fright, and at least four other small birds that have died of various causes. Our cat Poppy was hit by a car on Wentworth Road. We had a hamster that died of wet-tail (a disease) and another that died of old age, and so on. If we love God, however, the result is life, not death.

III.  Straying from G-d (30:17-19)

Verse seventeen, which says ‘but if your heart deviates and you do not listen, and you will be drawn astray, and you will prostrate yourself to other deities and serve them’ reminds me of when I first moved to this house. I spotted a so-called ‘elephant god’ idol in the garden and smashed it several times against a brick until it was reduced to dust, even though it wasn’t mine. Shame on the people who forgot their god in the garden! I did that because I did not like an idol with the head of an elephant in my garden.

Believe it or not, some people actually bow down to clay idols! The people of Israel are commanded not to do this. Today I am a bar mitzvah, which means I am a ‘son of the commandment’.  As one of the people of Israel I am commanded to avoid idolatry. The Torah promises me that if we as a people practice idolatry, we will surely perish. Isn’t it interesting how similar the words idolatry and adultery are?

Rav Sha’ul tell us in 1 Corinthians 10:14 that we must flee from idolatry. The book of Revelation chapter 21 tells us that in the heavenly Jerusalem no one who practices idolatry will be able to enter. From this we know that all people, not just Jews, are commanded not to bow down to idols, but to choose life. The Torah tells us to choose life so that we and our children and our children’s children will live.

IV. Love for G-d (30:20)

Verse twenty tells us more about what we are to do. First we have to love G-d. Second we have to listen to his voice. Third we have to cling to him. Every time in history we have as a nation turned to idols we have been prevented from living in the Land of Israel. For every Jewish person, how he behaves before G-d has a part to play in how secure the Jewish people as a whole are in the Land of Israel. We are all responsible for one another. The L-rd our G-d has given us the Land that he swore to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  

Every Erev Shabbat we read from Psalm 95 that tells us not to be like our ancestors who hardened their hearts at Meribah in the desert, and refused to enter the Land of Canaan to possess it. In the book of Hebrews chapter three we are told to keep our faith in Yeshua. The book tell us ‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Messiah if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

V.   Conclusion

In conclusion, this Parshah comes just before Rosh HaShanah. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that just before the new year we are reminded of the choice that we have between life or death. Yeshua our Messiah defeated death and symbolises life to us. Yeshua said (John 11:25) ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.’


One Response

  1. A good word–yasher koach to Samuel, and a hearty mazel tov to him and you. Shanah tovah!

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