Spiritual Disciplines

Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law (1659) by Rembrandt van Rijn

Parasha Re’eh


Shabbat Shalom! God’s revealed truth comes to us this morning from Deuteronomy 11:26 through 16:17. The title of this parasha is Re’eh, translated “See”—and what we “see” in this passage is a pretty good road map for faithful believers in their practice of a few, key spiritual disciplines.

The text begins with Moses forcing the hand of the Israelis concerning the reaffirmation of their covenant with God: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God […] and the curse, if you do not obey.”

These “commandments” can be thought of as spiritual disciplines, the intention of which were to set Israel apart as a holy nation. I believe that with a little exegetical legwork, they can do the same for us today.

The first is a command for Israel to claim the land that God had given them, and to do so in a very particular way. This is not the polite pussyfooting of one college freshman girl moving in with her new roomie. This is more akin to guerrilla warfare. It is God using the Israelis as a holy wrecking ball against wicked icons, wicked temples, and wicked cities… and not stopping to consult the wicked city code first. It is also Israel filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over every living thing that moves on it. The fact that God’s first commandment in Genesis is His first commandment here should tell us a little something of its importance.

The second commandment was to sacrifice, or “tithe”. Again, not just any type of sacrifice, but the best sacrifice one can make. The Israelis were to give their finest vow offerings, freewill offerings, and the firstborn of their herds and flocks. This was to be done, not wherever they pleased, but specifically, “[…] in the place that the Lord your God will choose.” In other words, your tithe is not a proper spiritual discipline if it’s not rightly placed. If God has called you to Shema, then the First Church of Blank and Blank probably shouldn’t be receiving your ten percent. This also goes for your time and talents too; if God made you a fish, you should probably swim to the glory of God, not fly.

The following commandment is the first and only negative one, meaning it calls for a type of inaction rather than action. Here, the action to be avoided is idolatry. To paraphrase a few examples, “Take care that you not be ensnared to follow the gods or the (sac)religious practices of those whose land you overtook.” And again, “You shall not listen to the words of the prophet or dreamer of dreams who asks you to go after other gods.” And another time, “You shall not yield to, listen to, pity, spare or conceal your loved one who asks you to serve another god.” What were they to do? They were to stone them. And the same goes for the city that turns to idolatry. They were to devote these cities to destruction, right down to the cattle therein, so that they might be a burnt offering for the Lord. Clearly, avoiding idols and destroying idolaters is a spiritual discipline. Perhaps Christians are losing the culture war because in fear of being the first to cast a stone, we forget that God made some stones for casting. Just ask David.

Next is perhaps the most familiar of the commandments, namely the laws regarding a kosher diet. These, I think, can actually be broken up into two spiritual disciplines. The first is obvious: remain pure by avoiding the unclean, specifically that which can cause disease. The second is slightly different: never pervert the true nature of a thing. The clearest example of this comes from my favorite verse of this passage, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Why, you ask? Well, because, simply put, man should not use for death that which God meant for life. It is wrong for a mother to outlive her child, and even more so to see that child die in her own milk. On the flip side, that which is meant for death should not be used for life. For instance, angels are warriors, not women designed for the procreative act. Just ask the Sodomites.

Moving on, we reach the fifth commandment, Christian charity. At the end of every three years, the Israelis were commanded to gather in their towns the collective tithe of all their produce to feed, among others, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. Additionally, three times per year, at Passover (the Holiday of Unleavened Bread), at Shavuot (the Holiday of Weeks), and at Sukkot (the Holiday of Tabernacles), each Israeli male was to present before God all that he was able. If you’re paying attention, you can see why Christian charity is often so unpopular. When the Church is doing her job, her charity perplexes the secular and pagan world. She offers freely what the world is forced to demand, often on threat of violence, in taxes, for example. She leads in servitude. She boasts in weakness. She grows under persecution and hardship. Where else but in Christ and his bride do we find such beautiful paradoxes?

Finally, God commanded of Israel faithful observance of Passover. And it is reasonable to infer that, for us today, this includes not just the Passover but also the Holy Communion, the apotheosis of the Passover. The spiritual discipline here is the act of formally recalling to mind our deliverance out of slavery—to Pharaoh, yes, but also to sin and death. For the liberated Christian or Messianic Jew, the Lord’s Supper is about as optional as the manna was for the Israelis starving in the wilderness.

In conclusion, even though we do not have Moses setting before us a blessing and a curse, the spiritual disciplines behind his commandments still apply, perhaps more powerfully now than ever before. After all, Messiah set the bar higher, not lower, when he said, “[…], You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

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One Comment

  1. Gal Jerman

    Top site ,.. amazaing post ! Just keep the work on !

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