Cast Away so we can be a Blessing: A Sermon for Parashat Massei
What are the important things in your life? What is it that you pursue? Are you an idolater? Are you bowing down to false gods?
Parasha Massei specifically admonishes us against this practice. Let me bring you up to speed. The Israelites have made it out of Egypt and through their 40 years of wandering. They are standing on the doorstep of Ca-naan, ready to go in and take the land. Before they do, Moshe reminds them of their recent history. Then in Bamidbar 33:50-56, Moshe gives HaShem’s specific instructions for entering the land. The Israelites are to dispossess all the inhabitants, destroy their idols and high places, take possession and apportion the land. If they fail to dispossess all the inhabitants they will be forever harassed and tempted by them and HaShem will apply the same judgment on the Israelites He had planned to do to them.
Keep in mind, the Israelites just experienced the deaths of 24,000 in the plague associated with the Baal-Peor incident ended by Pinchas. That is where they profaned themselves with Moabite and Midianite women who also led them into idolatry with Baal-Peor.
HaShem is saying to the Israelites that any inhabitants or idols left in the land will tempt them away from the L-rd. They will be like thorns that will not go away. A blended loyalty will not suffice. HaShem was not just the G-d of the Exodus and the journey. He is also the G-d of the land. He is G-d: always and for all things. So HaShem is saying that should Israel fail to kick out the inhabitants and cast away their idols, they will succumb to their temptations and thus they will have to be exiled.
Did they obey? Do you? Are you chasing after things to keep up with the Joneses? Do you sacrifice at the altar of new technology or perhaps at the temple of vanity and style? How much of your time is spent on the frivolous, the gluttonous, or the immoral? Are you loving your neighbor or one-upping him? Do you obey?
In our Haftorah, Jeremiah 2:2-28, Jeremiah provides an extensive indictment against Israel for its faithlessness, ingratitude and apostasy. “And where are those gods you made for yourself? Let them arise and save you, if they can, in your hour of calamity. For your gods have become, O Judah, as many as your towns.”
And it’s result? Exile.
Jeremiah is talking here to Judah, as the northern kingdom of Israel has already been destroyed and the Babylonian Exile is just around the corner. His prophetic words here could also apply to Israel just before the Romans destroyed the second Temple and dispersed us again. They also apply to us. I know I’m not perfect.
So what happens now? Are we doomed to live in exile?
No. Let’s return to the Parasha. Bamidbar 33:52 says to destroy and demolish the idols. Jeremiah says in 4:1 at the end of the Haftorah, “If you return to Me, if you remove your abominations from My presense…” Do you see it? “Teshuvah.” “Return.” Return to HaShem and repent. Cast out the idols. Cast them away!
Rav Shaul makes it clearer still. He says in his letter to the Colossians, 3:5-8, “Therefore, put to death the earthly parts of your nature – sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed (which is a form of idolatry); for it is because of these things that G-d’s anger is coming on those who disobey Him.”
So that’s the key. HaShem knows we’re human. We’re going to be tempted and we’re going to stray. Yeshua’s redemptive sacrifice cleanses us but doesn’t excuse us. Let me say that again. Yeshua’s redemptive sacrifice cleanses us but doesn’t excuse us. As believers in Mashiach we must constantly seek out and purge the idols in our own lives. We must be vigilant. We must strive to follow Yeshua’s lead in Torah so that we can live under HaShem’s blessing and as Jeremiah says in the last verse of the Haftorah (Jer 4:2) so that through us the nations shall be blessed.
So, I say to you, return. Return again. And return again. Be vigilant. Let’s cast away our idols and be a blessing. Amen.