This prohibition of the making of carved images is accompanied by the warning that God is a consuming fire:
“Watch out for yourselves, so that you won’t forget the covenant of Adonai your God, which He made with you, and make yourself a carved image, a representation of anything forbidden to you by Adonai your God. For Adonai your God is a consuming fire, a Jealous God [El Kanah].” (Deuteronomy 4:23–24)
The name of God used in this verse is El Kanah (Jealous God). This name is also mentioned elsewhere in this Parasha in Deuteronomy 5:9, 6:15 and in Exodus 34:14 (see also 1 Kings 19:10, 14).
The names and titles of God declare to the world who He is. They also answer our deepest questions regarding our relationship to God.
The name El Kanah reveals that God is protective of His people and His relationship with them. In the same way the relationship between a husband and a wife is sacred, He will not share our praise and devotion with other gods.
In fact, the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai is likened to a marriage ceremony, complete with the cloud covering symbolizing the chuppah (marriage canopy) and the ketubah (marriage contract), outlining the responsibilities and privileges of both bride and bridegroom and the agreed upon vows.
God is, therefore, asking His people to be faithful unto Him, forsaking all other gods. All forms of idolatry and worship of false gods is “spiritual adultery,” and can be likened to an unfaithful spouse who commits adultery.
The Lord lovingly and faithfully watches over His Bride, and guards her jealously, like a passionate husband protecting His bride.
Unfaithfulness and Exile
“Adonai will scatter you among the peoples; and among the nations to which Adonai will lead you away, you will be left few in number.” (Deuteronomy 4:27)
In this Parasha, Moses prophesies the tragic consequence of Israel straying from their devotion to God and turning to idols: they would be sent into exile (galut) and scattered to the four corners of the earth.
This happened with the destruction of the Holy Temple and Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans.
However, God is merciful; He promised that if the people would repent and turn back to Him with all of their heart and soul, then He would relent and bring them back to the Land.
Indeed, in fulfillment of a great number of prophecies, including those of Moses, the Lord did bring His people home from Babylon. In these last days, He is once again bringing His people home.
“In your distress, when all these things have come upon you, in the last days [acharit-hayamim], you will return to Adonai your God and listen to what He says; for ADONAI your God is a merciful God. He will not fail you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your ancestors which He swore to them.” (Deuteronomy 4:30–31)
This miracle has happened in our very generation as Jewish people are returning to the Land of our forefathers from the north, south, east and west. It is not because of our righteousness that we have come back to the Land, but because of the covenant God made with our ancestors.
Haftarah Va’etchanan: Comfort My People
This week’s Haftarah (prophetic portion) is the first of a series of seven special Haftarot of Consolation that begin on the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av and continue until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).
These seven Haftarot follow three special Haftarot called the “Three of Rebuke,” which are read from Tammuz 17 to Av 9, the three weeks during which we mourn the destruction of the Temple and the onset of the exile of the Jewish People.
Isaiah 40 opens with a word of comfort to those who are in exile in Babylon and to the destroyed city of Jerusalem:
“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)
This week’s Divine consolation to the people of Israel declares reconciliation, restoration, national renewal and hope:
“A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40:3–5)
This prophecy of Isaiah would likely have been understood by the Israelites as an allusion to the ancient practice of eastern monarchs sending harbingers before them to prepare the way, leveling roads and removing impediments for the king. And just as these monarchs prepared the way before themselves, God will prepare the way and lead the Jewish exiles home from Babylon just as He led them from Egypt to the Promised Land.
This passage also speaks of the future manifestation of the Lord before the world, in which people would be led out of bondage to sin and into the Kingdom of Heaven.
God confirms the trustworthiness of this promise, stating that while all flesh is like grass, God’s Word stands firm forever. God is watching over His Word to perform it, and His promise to restore and save Israel is reliable and can be trusted by all.