|In this week’s portion, Moses celebrates his birthday! As he says in verse 2 “I am one hundred and twenty years old today…” For over 40 years, Moses has faithfully led the nation of Israel. But instead of sitting back easy, eating his one-hundred-and-twenty candle manna cake, Moses is busy with the final preparations for the nation to enter the Land of Canaan while also making sure all is in order before his fast-approaching death.|
Moses is ordered by God to commission Joshua before all of Israel, as the one who will lead the nation into the Promised Land. Next, he finishes writing the Torah, giving it to the priests. “Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests… Moses had completed writing the words of this law…”(verses 9 & 24) He not only gives the priests the Torah he wrote, he then charges them, that they are to read this Torah every 7 years when all of Israel is required to come to the spot that the Lord chooses as His resting place.
Here is where it becomes interesting. When the priests read the Torah in the presence of the people, this is how it is written in verse 11, “…you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing.” But as we have learned through doing these observations…read things in their original language. Because, when we read how it’s written in Hebrew, the word for “before” (as in “before all Israel”), is the Hebrew word “Neged.” The word “Neged” can also be translated as “against.”
This totally changes the meaning of this verse; the priests are to read the Torah “against all Israel” in their hearing. Why would the Torah be read “against Israel” every seven years? Later in this chapter we read the reason…verse 16 & 20 tell us, “…this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners… and they will provoke Me and break My covenant…”
In verses 19-22 Moses is told by God to write a song that will be a witness against Israel. Chizkuni writes in his commentary, “the ‘song’ will reply to those who say, “Why have all these disasters befallen us?” What he means is, this song will actually have the ability to respond verbally to the nation of Israel when they go astray. How so?
In last weeks portion we read of the nations response when God disperses His people and destroys the Land. The nations will say, “Why has the Lord done this…?” This is the verbal response of the song of Moses. When the people of Israel hear these words coming from the mouths of the nations, they then will be reminded of the song of Moses, which is a reminder to return to God.
According to the Rashbam concerning verse 19, he states, “the entire book of Deuteronomy is called שירה, [Shirah] ‘Song, Poem.’” So when we read that this “song” will be a witness against Israel, it is not necessarily referring only to the “Song of Moses” that we read in Deuteronomy 32. Rashbam says the whole book of Deuteronomy will be a witness confronting Israel. And because Deuteronomy is basically a summarization of the Torah, this would mean that the whole Torah is a witness to challenge the people of Israel in their relationship with God.
Ibn Ezra (A great Rabbi of the middle ages, Spain. 1089-1167) records that this was the reason verse 19 says “write for yourselves.” It wasn’t just the job of Moses to write this song down, instead, “…Everyone who knows how to write, is commanded to do so.”
Why is everyone to write it down? Also, why are all the people to hear the Torah read every 7 years? Here is the reason…That the “children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord…[and that it] will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants.” (Vs. 13 & 21)
It was about the future generations. God wanted each generation to connect to His word, because He knew it would be the guide they would need, both in the good times as well as the bad times. At the times when Israel walked with God as well as the times they rebelled.
God knew Israel would walk away from Him. That is what this “song” was all about. It was a reminder that even though Israel would be exiled because of their rebellion to God, God would still be there every step of the way, and in the end, bring them back to Himself. The song of Moses is God’s grace and mercy to take back the wandering sheep of His flock. There still come consequences and punishments for disobedience, but He as our loving Shepherd receives us back into the fold.
Alshich HaKodesh writes that the exile actually had to take place, and the reason the exile will “not be forgotten” (vs. 21) is because, the Jewish people “…will ultimately be refined with the final exile, for then Torah will increase amongst the Jews, and that will protect [them]…”
In this portion we read of God knowing that Israel would rebel against Him and so He gives Moses a song to relate to the nation of Israel. There is a lot we could learn from all this. But before I wrap everything up, I want you to notice someone who was faithful in doing everything as God commanded him.
God had told Moses earlier in the chapter that he was about to die; yet He also instructed him to record a song as a witness to Israel. The Rabbi’s explain this to mean that the death of Moses hinged on the fact that he first write the song for the nation of Israel. It meant that he couldn’t die without first composing this song. Yet, we read in verse 22, “…Moses wrote this song the same day…” Ibn Ezra again explains this to mean, “…He did not postpone the matter.” What we learn from Moses is that he cared more to do God’s instructions than preserve his own life. Loving God more than Life. Psalm 63:3. Through this entire portion we learn something about going our own way versus following God’s instructions. Some of us will choose to be like Moses, who followed Gods commands straight away, even though he knew they would be some of the last of his life. Others of us will be like Israel; we will end up straying and getting sent into exile. But when we do go into exile, don’t think of it as punishment, remember the “song of Moses” and know that in the end of it all we will come out more refined and purified with each successive generation. But wherever we are on the journey, may it be soon that all of us will join together in singing “the Song of Moses…and the Song of the Lamb!”