This Week’s Torah Portion from Briteinu
Va’etchanan — ואתחנן
God Is a Consuming Fire
We often think of Moshe as a prophet and lawgiver. However, sometimes in the Torah we get a glimpse of his talent for writing. This parasha provides one of these occasions.
In 4:1–24, Moshe builds on the theme of fire. First, he reminds Israel that the mountain from which God spoke to them was “burning with fire up to the heart of heaven …” (4:11). Then in 4:12, he relates how the Lord actually “spoke to you out of the fire.” Continuing the motif of fire, Moshe says in 4:20, that the Holy One brought Israel up “out of the iron-smelting furnace (a method for refining metal using fire,) out of Egypt … .” Finally, the point to which Moshe was building, he declares in 4:24, “God is a consuming fire.” What are we to learn from this image of fire?
In the Scripture, fire, among other things, was used to indicate both God’s wrath and God’s purification. First, our parasha speaks about the Holy One warning Israel not to follow the ways of idolatry (verses 16–18). One who practiced idolatry could not have been a believer. To such, God would be a consuming fire, unleashing His wrath upon all who worship anything or anyone other than Him who deserves full allegiance.
On the other hand, when we learn that God is a Consuming Fire, it can also indicate His purifying process rather than His stern judgment. In this sense, the fire does not really consume in order to destroy, it merely consumes one’s flesh and helps to sanctify and purify God’s own people.