In the opening line of this week's Torah portion, Vayeilech, Deuteronomy 31:6, God enjoins Moses and the people to:
חִזְק֣וּ וְאִמְצ֔וּ אַל־תִּֽירְא֥וּ וְאַל־תַּעַרְצ֖וּ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם כִּ֣י ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ ה֚וּא הַהֹלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹ֥א יַרְפְּךָ֖ וְלֹ֥א יַעַזְבֶֽךָּ׃
"Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for Adonai your God marches with you: Adonai will not fail you or forsake you."
Why did God say this? And why now? Perhaps God was trying to reassure the people who were on the cusp of entering the Promised Land and threatened by the armies of other nations.
Or perhaps God was trying to fortify Moses right before issuing some devastating news: that the end of his days are approaching and it is time to appoint a successor.
Or, maybe it was meant as a reminder for all of us, for all time, that in both our collective and individual hardest times, God is with us.
The way God's presence is described is fortifying. The rabbis elaborate:
"God will not fail you" means, according to 10th century French Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, that God won't abandon you. Sforno, who lived 500 years ago in Spain, understands this to mean that in the hour of battle, God will give you extra mental strength, and God will not diminish attention paid to you.
Ibn Ezra, who lived 1,000 years ago in Spain, says that this was said so that, “now that you know that God will stand with you in any place where you go to do battle.”
The places where we have social battles against threats like Covid, World Wars, and economic downturns. God is with us. The places where we fight intimate personal battles like addiction, trauma, and the ability to acquire new skills, God is with us.
God is with us in our hardest times. Or perhaps we tell ourselves that God is with us to give us that extra boost of confidence which helps us conquer the challenge set before us.
16th century Turkish Rabbi Alshisch reminds us that strength and courage comes when we unite. He comments, "When you unite, you need nothing." Unite with one another, unite with God. In the connection, there is strength. May this be so.
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Vayeilech, Deuteronomy 31:1-31:30. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.