Commentary for Vayeilech

21 Sep

This week’s parshah, like many in Deuteronomy, is about G-d warning the Israelites what will happen if they should stray and worship false gods. Most of these parshahs counterbalance this warning of punishment for not obeying God with a section talking about the rewards the Israelites will reap for obeying God, or at least some verses at the end telling the Israelites that everything will get better if they turn back to God, but this week’s parshah, strangely, does not.

The section about the punishment reads as follows:

“And this nation will rise up and stray after the foreign gods of the land they will enter and forsake Me and annul My covenant that I have made with it.   And My anger will flare up against it on that day and I will forsake them and I will hide My countenance from them, and they will become prey and will encounter many evils and troubles; and they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these troubles have found us.’   And I will keep My countenance hidden on that day because of all of the evil that they have done for they have strayed after other gods (Deut. 31:16-18).”

One of the major themes of the High Holidays is that forgiveness can be achieved through teshuvah: examining our deeds, determining what we have done wrong, and developing strategies to ensure that we don’t make those same mistakes in the future. The future Israelites in this section simply blame all of their woes on God, simply saying that ‘God doesn’t like us’ when they should be examining their own deeds to find the root cause of God’s anger with them. This parshah does not talk about forgiveness because the people who take the attitude of those quoted in 31:17 don’t deserve it.   They make no attempt to do teshuvah. If we do not want God’s countenance to be hidden from us, then it is up to us to go look for it. “The Lord is near to all who call to Him, to all who call to Him with sincerity (Psalms 145:18).” “You will search for Me and find Me, if only you seek Me wholeheartedly (Jer. 29:13).”

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