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D'varim/Deuteronomy 27:9 Be silent and listen, O Israel; this day you have become a people for the L-rd your G-d.
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Several times in the book of D'varim Moshe has said, "Hear, O Israel", most famously in 6:4, but also 5:1, 9:1 and 20:3. What makes this occasion unique is that this is the only occasion when silence in enjoined. According to Jeffrey Tigay, "This is the first time that the appeal to hear is preceded by a call for silence. Absolute concentration is required at the awesome moment when Israel becomes the people of G-d and in order for everyone to be prepared for the solemn promises and warnings they are about to hear." More, the first word of the verse is a hapax legomenon; technically, is the Hif'il ms imperative form of a root , but Even-Shoshan's Hebrew concordance confirms that the root is used nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible.Ibn Ezra explains, "Scripture's appears only here in all of the Bible and its meaning is obscure; it should, therefore, be translated to fit the context of the passage." Naturally, such an invitation attracts a number of responses.
TheSforno suggests that the root means 'imagine': "Imagine (portray) in your mind. The listening/hearing is a result of the imagining and visualising the covenant in your minds." Hirsch counters that, "The phonetic relationship to , perfect quiet, and the intensive direction of one's mind to a purpose, speak for its having the meaning of a strained intensive attention not to be diverted by anything else. Accordingly, Moshe demanded the most concentrated attention for what he had in mind to say to Israel and what he wanted the priests at his side to make everybody understand perfectly."
The Sages of the Talmud also entered into the debate: "Rabbi Judah spoke further in honour of the Torah, expounding the text, 'Attend and hear, O Israel: this day you have become a people to the L-rd thy G-d.' Now was it on that day that the Torah was given to Israel? Was not that day the end of the forty years [of the wandering]? It is, however, to teach you that the Torah is as beloved every day to those that study it as on the day when it was given from Mount Sinai" (b. Berachot 63b).Rashi picks this up: "Every day [the commandment] shall be in your eyes as if you had entered the covenant with Him that day", while the Taz adds "the force of the covenant must not be allowed to abate with routine" (Divrei David)1. Just as G-d's mercies are "new every morning" (Lamentation 3:23), so must the words of Torah and our covenant relationship with G-d be new and fresh to us each day.
What, then, is it that makes us a people? The verb is the Niphal affix 2ms form of the root , to be; it is passive and here has the meaning "you were caused to become". That is to say, people don't become the people of G-d because of something that they do; rather, because of something done to them. Tigay points out that "Israel became G-d's people by an act of G-d." The phrase "becoming the people of G-d" - in its several variations2 - echoes the formula that frequently describes the covenant between G-d and Israel: they become His people and He becomes their G-d, for example, "I will walk among you and will be your G-d, and you shall be My people" (Vayikra 26:12, ESV). In this verse, it is applied only to Israel: they are becoming the people of G-d. But how does G-d make this happen?
It is Rabbi Hirsch who provides the answer. He explains that it is "the common duty to, and responsibility for the Torah which has just been declared for all of you without exception, the common care of the Torah to the guard of which you have all been posted, that makes you into a nation. Today, before you get the impending possession of the Land, the common possession of the Torah, is what makes you into a nation." Even before the people enter the Land, before they take possession of the promises that G-d has given them, they have been given the Torah and a collective responsibility to ensure that it is kept. Throughout the books of the Torah, we see how the various duties and obligations for the people interact: the priests are to light the menorah, but the Israelites are to bring the olive oil; the Levites are to teach the people, but the people bring the tithes; the priests kindle the fire and remove the ashes, but the Israelites supply the wood. Jewish tradition has it that the tribes worked together to support each other: that Zebulun worked and engaged in commerce while Issachar studied Torah; the food and the merit were shared between both tribes.
As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we too have been made into a people: "By G-d's grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before Him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 3:24, CJB). Whether Jew or Gentile, we "who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah's blood" (Ephesians 2:13, CJB). Notice that the active party in this transaction is G-d - we are redeemed, we are brought near - He has done this through Yeshua's death and resurrection; He does this today by the work of the Spirit, raising us to new life in Messiah Yeshua. We are to receive and participate in what G-d has done for us in making us His "one new man" (v. 15); both Jew and Gentile are distinct yet equal partners in what G-d is doing.
At those moments when G-d speaks to us by His Ruach and reminds us of this truth, we - like the Israelites on the plains of Moab - have to be silent and listen very closely, to focus and pay particular attention, to hear G-d's words. As the Psalmist recorded, "Be still, and know that I am G-d. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" (Psalm 46:10, ESV). We need to concentrate and be sure that we have understood: "For thus said the L-rd G-D, the Holy One of Israel, 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength'" (Isaiah 30:15, ESV). All too often we are noisy and full of ourselves as we rush into G-d's presence and start singing or shouting; this can be a good thing, but the Psalmist has it differently: "For G-d alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation" (Psalm 62:1, ESV).
Inspired by one of the verses relating Moshe's encounter with G-d at the bush
- "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on
which you are standing is holy ground" (Shemot 3:5, ESV) - David
Evans wrote a chorus that encapsulates the need sometimes to pause and to be
silent before G-d:
Be still for the presence of the L-rd, The Holy One, is here.
Come bow before Him now, with reverence and fear.
In Him no sin is found; we stand on holy ground;
Be still for the presence of the L-rd, The Holy One is here
Be still for the glory of the L-rd is shining all around.
He burns with holy fire; with splendor He is crowned.
How awesome is the sight - our radiant King of light -
Be still for the glory of the Lord is shining all around
Be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place;
He comes to cleanse and heal, to minister His grace.
No work too hard for Him; in faith receive from Him;
Be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place.3
Be still for the presence of the L-rd, The Holy One, is here.
We ignore the power of those words and those moments of connection at our peril. When heaven speaks we need to listen that we may be drawn closer into G-d's presence and become ever more the people of G-d.
1. - Divrei David is a supercommentary on Rashi, published in 1690, written by David HaLevi Segal (c. 1586-1667), also known as the Taz after his magnum opus, the Turei Zahav, Rows of Gold, a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch.
2. - such as "become My people", "be His people", "be a people for the L-rd", etc.
3. - Copyright © 1986 Thankyou Music (administered worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com excluding Europe which is administered by kingswaysongs.com)
Further Study: Romans 6:17-18; Ephesians 5:8-12
Next time you recognise that G-d is speaking or you feel His presence moving,
why not stop whatever you are doing and just listen quietly to make sure that
you have heard what He is saying to you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.