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D'varim/Deuteronomy 5:29 And you shall take care to do as Adonai your G-d commanded you; you shall not turn aside to right or to left.
In an abrupt switch of speaker without any speech verbs in the text to help us, the Torah has ended the account ofHaShem's approving words about the way our Jewish people responded to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, to Moshe's words of exhortation to the next generation of our people listening to him now on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, across from Jericho. Moshe is on a roll here, building up towards the climax of the Sh'ma in just a few verses time, and inserts two verses of his personal advice to the listening people. If this text were in Rav Sha'ul's letters, we'd expect a big 'therefore', meaning "in the light of all that I just been saying to you," but none is present here.
There are three verbs in the first half of the verse. The first starts the verse and the first major phrase: , the Qal affix 2mp form of the root , "to keep, watch, guard, to observe or mark" (Davidson) with a vav-reversive to make it future: "and you shall take care". The second, , is the Qal infinitive of the root , to do or make; so here "to do"; the action that is being taken care over. is the prefix preposition , as or like, with the relative pronoun , "that, which, what" sometimes even 'who', literally, "as or like what" it starts an object clause: what is to be taken care of to do. is the Pi'el affix 3ms form of the root , to set up or appoint, to charge or command, to send with orders or commission (Davidson). , the L-rd your G-d, is the subject of 'command', followed by the definite direct object indicator with a 2mp object pronoun, to make the object of the verb: 'you'. At this point, the atnach accent splits the verse in half, to be followed by a qualifying phrase. The latter's verb - , is the 2mp Qal affix form of the hollow verb root , to turn aside, to or away from something - is preceded by the negative particle, , 'not' - and the vav-conversive from the first half of the verse isgapped here as well, resulting in "and you shall not turn aside from to", followed by two direction nouns: right and left, needing an implied direct article 'the' in English. The first phrase could have stood alone as a positive exhortation: "You shall take care to do what the L-rd your G-d has commanded you", but is coupled with the second to complement and amplify the meaning: not only shall you take care to do what HaShem has said, but you shall not turn aside or get distracted in the process!
Regarding the second phrase, a consistent theme runs through the Jewish commentators, from ancient to modern.Nachmanides starts with the assertion that "this refers to the Ten Commandments." The Sforno interprets it like this: "You shall neither add that which you think will improve them nor diminish from them whatsoever." The Ralbag continues: "Do not add or subtract. One who adds to the Torah often has good intentions, thinking he is doing what G-d wants and more. But in fact he detracts from the intent of the Torah." Most recently, Richard Elliot Friedman translates the phrase simply as "you shall not turn right or left" and comments, "this expression complements the command not to add to or subtract from the commandments (4:2, 5:19). The emphasis is on focusing on the law as given. Later, King Josiah will be singled out from all the kings of Israel and Judah because 'he did what was pleasing to the L-RD and he followed all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not deviate to the right or to the left' (2 Kings 22:2, JPS)." Ibn Ezra suggests that the sole reason for the first phrase being there at all is to introduce the second, a new and additional command.
The words "not turning to the right or the left" are historically used to describe a journey or a process that does not deviate. Moshe asks Edom if Israel may pass through their land: "We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King's Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory" (B'Midbar 20:17, ESV). The cows bringing the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines "went straight in the direction of Beth-Shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went. They turned neither to the right nor to the left" (1 Samuel 6:12, ESV). The proverb writer urges his readers, "Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil" (Proverbs 4:26-27, ESV).
We can see these thoughts forming the backdrop to Isaiah's famous words, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left" (Isaiah 30:21, ESV). Recognising that people will get distracted, will think they can see an easier path, or will even willfully turn aside - after all, Isaiah also said, "All we have sheep have turned astray, each one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6) - G-d promises His people that He will correct them when they are in error, when they step off His way. The Psalmist says, "Good and upright is the L-RD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the L-RD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies" (Psalm 25:8-10, ESV), finding these words for G-d Himself: "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8, ESV). Jeremiah encourages the people to stop and think, whenever there is a decision to be made, a change of direction being considered, a choice to take: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV); the ancient paths - the consistent, faithful ways of following G-d and walking in His ways - are the best. Yeshua told the disciples how this would happen: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26, ESV); the Ruach is to be the voice behind us saying 'This is the way."
So what is the way in which we should walk? How do we avoid turning to the right or the left? When He first sent out the disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead and proclaim the kingdom, Yeshua told them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6, ESV). This was followed by a set of detailed instructions about clothing, money and accommodation; their way - like Yeshua's own ministry (15:24) - was tightly bounded to the people of Israel. After the resurrection, Luke reports that mandate now being widened to "Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, ESV), while Matthew records Yeshua saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, ESV). At this point, let's take a look at the first word of Yeshua's instruction: now in Greek - - a participle from a root verb meaning to go or travel, to conduct oneself, live or walk. This is very similar to the idea of the Hebrew verb , to go or to walk, from which Judaism gets the word halachah - the way of walking, how one implements the Torah in practice in one's life. The next word is , then or therefore, followed by , the imperative verb of the command, make disciples. The translation "Go and make", though common and often used in missionary meetings to recruit workers for overseas mission projects, is not strictly correct. Better would be, "In your walking - by the way you conduct your lives - then, make disciples".
Where do we walk? Where do we conduct our lives? In both the public and the private arena. The first paragraph of the Sh'ma reminds us every day to talk about G-d's word "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up" (D'varim 6:7). When we walk in G-d's way, when we conduct our lives as G-d has instructed, when we acknowledge His sovereignty and grace in our lives - not in some showy or theatrical posed sort of way, but simply and naturally in everything we do and say - then disciples will be made. And this will almost be without our involvement or deliberate action; our lives themselves, the values we display without words but in action, will cause people to follow us, to want to know and serve G-d, and to become a part of the kingdom. Our families, friends and the wider community will be inexorably drawn towards a consistent, gentle and graceful living out of the gospel by real people like you and me!
Further Study: D'varim 5:31-33; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10
Is your walk, your daily life, a consistent living out of kingdom values as
you "walk by the way"? Or is some adjustment necessary so that you can hear
G-d's voice: this is the way, walk in it?
© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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© Jonathan Allen, 2015
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.