Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. Deuteronomy 31:19
The Torah portion for this week is Vayelech, which means "and he went," from Deuteronomy 31:1-30, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 14:2-10.
As human beings, we are prone to making mistakes. Sometimes, we make really poor choices. However, the rabbis warn that while a person must regret his or her sins and repent of them, we should never fall into depression over them. We must remember that God loves us, and it's always possible to return to Him.
As Moses' death drew near, God told him that when the people entered the land, they would ultimately sin and be punished. He commanded Moses: "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them."
What was the purpose of this song and why did God need a witness?
The rabbis explain with this parable: There once was a king who freed his servant from prison and appointed him keeper of his treasury. The king knew that the servant had been convicted of theft and that he could be tempted to steal again. A second offense carried the death penalty. Therefore, the king ordered that it be written in his record book that this servant had once been a thief.
Everyone in the royal household thought that the king did this in order to warn the servant of what might happen to him if he stole again. However, the truth was that the king wanted the reminder for himself so that he wouldn't deal too harshly with the servant in case of a repeat offense. After all, it was the king who chose the servant for a position of trust even though he knew that the servant had dishonest tendencies. The king wanted to protect his servant, not harm him.
Similarly, God wanted this "song" - basically recording how the Israelites were prone to turning away from Him - as a reminder for Himself, as a witness in favor of the Israelites, not one incriminating them. This song would advocate for leniency when the people would sin. After all, God knew that they had the tendency toward sin, but chose them as His people anyway and would bring them into His Holy Land no matter what.
In Jeremiah 1:5, God declares: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." God knows us and nothing that we do surprises Him. Yet, He chose to create us anyway because He loves us and believes in us. When we make mistakes, even big ones, God is not shocked and He doesn't write us off. It was God who chose us and He knew exactly what He was getting when He did.
Know today that God loves us despite our faults; He is merciful and forgiving. If God believes in us in spite of our shortcomings, we should, too!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President