Summary: Delivered 17 Aug 19 Tree of Life Messianic Congregation. Parsha Va'etchanan Moses tells the Children of Israel to Guard Their Souls against anything that would lead to idolatry.
20190817 Parsha Vaetchanan – Guard Your soul
Va’etchanan means ‘I pleaded’. This is the story of Moses asking God one more time to rescind his judgement prohibiting Moses from entering the promised land. Midrash says that Moses asked 515 times. But there is no evidence of that. I believe that he did ask multiple time to be allowed to enter the land. That let’s us know that making multiple petitions before God is ok.
Today I want to focus on chapter 4:15-19
Deuteronomy 4:15-19 “So be very watchful over your souls since you saw no form on the day that Adonai spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire, (16) so that you do not act corruptly and make for yourselves a graven image in the likeness of any figure—the form of a male or female, (17) the form of any animal that is on the earth, the form of any winged bird that flies in the sky, (18) the form of anything that creeps on the ground, the form of any fish that is in the water under the earth— (19) and so that you do not lift up your eyes toward the heavens and see the sun and the moon and the stars—all the heavenly host—and are drawn away and bow down and worship them. Adonai your God has allotted them to all the peoples under all the heavens.
“Be watchful over your souls…”. In some translations it is rendered ‘guard’ rather than ‘be watchful’. So the name of the sermon today is “Guard Your Souls”.
Slide: Nefesh Diagram
Five Levels of the Soul
1. Nefesh –
The first verse of this portion makes an interesting premise. It says to guard your own soul, not the soul of your wife, daughter, or son. Your soul is yours to keep.
In Jewish thought, the soul referred to here is the nefesh. Nefesh is the most basic level of our consciousness. It is the animal level, the level which animates and gives function to the body. Every animal that breaths has a nefesh.
The second level is the Ruach. That is the ‘wind’, but could be called the emotion generator.
The next level is the Neshama. Neshama is the third level and it is what allows one to distinguish between good and evil.
The nefesh could be argued not to be a soul at all. It is the most ethereal of all physicality, like a wisp of air disappearing into a small breeze. All animals and all humans have a nefesh, each programmed with the bodily stimuli God wanted for the particular individual or species. Only humans have a neshama. If you want to see the difference, watch the animals. Anything both animals and humans do is of the nefesh, for example, eating an apple. Anything only a human does, is of the neshama. For example, saying a prayer of thanksgiving before and after eating that apple.
The last two levels of the soul as enumerated in Jewish thought are Chaya ‘Life’, and Yechidah ‘Oneness’. These two are complex and beyond the scope of time we have this morning.
In our text this morning, the level of the soul referred to is nefesh. This is the most basic level and just means ‘hey, I’m alive’.
So what is Moses trying to say here? I believe he is saying that we should start with the basics. He was reminding Israel that they needed to go back to the defining moment of all Judaism, the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. He said to remember that in all the awesome displays of power and majesty at Sinai they never saw God in any physical form. He is a Spirit and as such must be worshipped as a spirit and not as a physical being.
John 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
People in the days of Moses were used to having gods that could be touched, held, seen and carried with them in some cases. These deities appealed to their senses and gave them a feeling of security, confidence, happiness, basically a warm fuzzy. So Moses is warning Israel that their God is not like any of the Canaanite false gods. We look at them and think how foolish the people were to want to put their faith and trust in a rock, or stick.
Fortunately, we don’t do that today. Or do we?........ Do we make idols out of hardware, software, Hollywood, Washington DC? Do we spend all our waking hours with our eyes glued to a computer screen? Now that might not qualify as worship. But those things certainly divert our mental and emotional and physical resources away from our calling. Does that make all those things idols? Maybe not in the traditional sense, but it is close.