Last Shabbat we studied the Torah portion Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22. This is Moses’ final address to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. Moses recounts all the events the Israelites went through since leaving Egypt, and they have acquired a history by this time. Moses recounts how he personally could not make rulings over the needs of the people, so he appointed judges from each of the tribes to decide on the minor issues they deal with. Moses also recalls the spies who surveyed the Land and came back with their report, and the people were too terrified to enter, fearing the people they would encounter, having no faith the God would aid them; therefore, they would not set foot in the land, but their children would, having not experienced slavery and the slave mentality. Moses also recalls the battles with the kingdoms that they tried to negotiate a passage through, but the kings refused them. It’s as if Mosess and the Israelites are at a point where they can assess their progress as a people.
The Haftorah is Isaiah 1:1-27. Isaiah preaches the prophecies of God to the people of Judah; the people have forgotten God and turned from Him, and God has thus punished them for it. God is not pleased with rote mechanical ritual, such as the burning of incense and animal sacrifice; God desires that the people live and act righteously and justly with one another-to act for justice, and to defend the rights of widows and orphans. Redemption is possible if the people return to God. So many people confuse ritual with faith, not caring about others, as God would want us to do.