Thoughts on Vayetzei

This week’s parasha is Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 – 32:3.[i]The Haftarah, according to Sephardic tradition, is Hosea 11:7 – 12:14 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 4:5-30.

This week we read the well-known narrative of Jacob’s twenty-year separation from his parents and his brother, while he works for his uncle Laban to earn his wives and his property (Genesis 31:41). Along the way, he not only built up his possessions, but he obtained two wives, Leah and Rachel, as well as two concubines Zilpah and Bilhah that eventually resulted in the birth of twelve sons.

Much could be said about Jacob and the trials he underwent. Whether his trials were of his own making or of Laban’s treachery is debatable. This much we know for sure, Jacob would return home with much more than he left with. This was according to the promise HaShem made to Jacob at the beginning of his journey.Even though Jacob was technically running away from home to escape Esau’s fury,ADONAI affirmed His blessing and His choosing of Jacob as the one who would continue his grandfatherAbraham’s heritage.

“I am ADONAI, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie,I will give it to you and to your seed. Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15)

Fo one who was fleeing for his life, this promise should have been like a“Presidential Pardon” to a convicted felon. HaShem not only confirmed Jacob as the one who would continue the promises to Abraham and Isaac, but he would also be watched over and taken care of until his return to the land he was fleeing.When he awoke, Jacob immediately recognized that he had been in the presence of the Almighty. However instead of simply acknowledging the word of the LORD, with a little bit of chutzpah he added conditions to the promises of ADONAI.

“If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAIwill be my God. (Genesis 28:20-21)

It would appear that Jacob was not satisfied with HaShem’s promise to watch over him, he wanted personal provision as well. Equally, he did not want to just return to the land of his father Isaac, he wanted to come back “in shalom” with everything restored and in proper working order. These two conditions were not explicit in HaShem’s earlier promise even though one could argue that His promise of being with Jacob and watching over him would infer such blessings.The real chutzpah though came in the final phrase, “…thenADONAI will be my God.” DidJacob make God’s blessing a condition of his allegiance to Him? Rabbi Sarna suggests not at all. He posits that these verses

…are not conditional but temporal. Jacob pledges himself to a certain course of action as an expression of gratitude to God after the promises will be fulfilled. According to the natural order presupposed by our story, Jacob’s vow cannot be understood as a bargaining withGod since all he has asked has already been promised. [ii]

In other words, it wasn’t “if You do this and this then I will be Your man and You will be my God,” but rather more of a clarification of what HaShem promised him and the reality of his father’s blessing(Genesis 27:28-29). With all trials and hardships that Jacob endured, he was, in the end, living proof of Rav Shaul’s words

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Note that Rav Shaul says all things, not just the good things or the things that happen because we are walking properly and in obedience. In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis states

Every life is peppered with these sorts of tests and trials. Why is life set up this way? Certainly not so we will inevitably fail and fall, but rather so we will keep being confronted by opportunities to grow.[iii]

Jacob, when he returned to the land of his fathers, had definitely grown and matured from the young man who fled his home twenty years earlier. Equally the trials and struggles we face throughout our lives give us the opportunity to grow and mature into the individuals that ADONAI desires each of us to be. In fact, it might be said that without the struggles we would not be the man or woman that we could be. So when life’s situations bring trials and struggles, we should make the choice to see them as opportunities to grow and mature, knowing that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians10:13).


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright ©2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Nahum M Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the NewJPS Translation, Commentary. Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 200.

[iii] Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish SpiritualPath of Mussar, Kindle Edition, Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 2007, p.102.

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Thoughts on Toldot

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha is Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9.[i] The Haftarah is Malachi 1:1 – 2:7. The reading from the Apostolic Writings according to the Chayyei Yeshua cycle[ii] is John 3:1-21.

Dena Weiss of Mechon Hadar in New York begins her weekly Dvar Torah study with the following observation,

Yitzhak is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Torah. It is hard to understand what motivates him and what makes him unique, as he quite literally follows in his father’s footsteps and seems to allow his life to be determined by others. He marries the wife his father’s slave picks for him, re-digs the wells that his father had dug, and appears to be tricked by his wife and youngest son. … He does not even appear to be the gibor, the hero, of his own story![iii]

I included the last line of the quote above because of Yitzhak’s imitation of his father’s actions in claiming that his wife is his sister in order to protect his own skin. Seriously not much of a gibor.

It has been said that one of the reasons for Yitzhak’s lackadaisicalness stems back to the Akedah (Genesis 22). Abraham, his dad, took him along to make a sacrifice to ADONAI, when Yitzhak suddenly found himself bound and prepared as the sacrifice. Yes, HaShem provided a ram in Yitzhak’s place, but I am sure the event left an impression on the young man. Rabbi Sacks on the other hand, sees Yitzhak in a different light,

Isaac is the least original of the three patriarchs. His life lacks the drama of Abraham or the struggles of Jacob. We see in this passage that Isaac himself did not strive to be innovative, digging the same wells and naming them with the same names as his father. Often, we try to make ourselves distinctive from our parents. We do things differently, or even if we don’t, we give them different names. Isaac was not like this. He was content to be a link in the chain of generations, faithful to what his father had started.

Isaac represents the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity.[iv]

I believe this picture of Yitzhak, exhibiting “the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity,” should give each one of us a great amount of comfort and hope. The Almighty has gifted all of us with certain gifts and skills. We have all gone through trials and tribulations, though maybe not as intense as those listed in Hebrews 11:33-38 or as the Akedah experience. However, earth-shattering encounters with ADONAI are not necessarily what we need. Remember when the Almighty wanted to get Elijah’s attention, He did not do it through the destructive wind, the earthquake or the fire, but through a still small voice, which is an everyday occurrence. We need to remain steadfast, faithful, and hopeful through the events in our daily lives. Rav Shaul admonished the believers at Colossae that through the death of Messiah they would be presented to God “…holy, spotless and blameless in His eyes—if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, not budging from the hope of the Good News that you have heard,” (Colossians 1:22-23).

Yitzhak was and remains an example of steadfast faithfulness in the midst of adversity, in the midst of his own mistakes, and even in the midst of the scheming of those closest to him. Every day, several times a day, we bless God for the Patriarchs in the first bracha of the Amidah, “Blessed are You, LORD our God and the God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob… .”[v] Yitzhak stands among these great men by whom the God of Israel is identified, because of his persistence and continuity. May we all have the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity like Yitzhak so that we will be presented “holy, spotless and blameless” when we stand before the heavenly throne one day.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle year 3, last accessed 8 November 2018.

[iii] Weiss, Dena. Tough Love, Parashat Toldot. Email, 6 November 2018.

[iv] http://rabbisacks.org/cc-family-edition-toldot-5779/ last accessed 8 November 2018.

[v] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 108.

 

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Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1 – 25:18.[i]The haftarah is 1 Kings 1:1-31 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 2:13-25.

This parsha begins and ends with death, the death of Sarah, the death of Abraham and the death of Ishmael. In the middle of these three obituaries, there is an interlude that shows the grace of HaShem as He honors Abraham’s request for the acquisition of Isaac’s wife. At the beginning of this interlude, Abraham extracts an oath from Eliezer that he will not find Isaac a wife from among the Canaanites where they are sojourning but will go back to his brethren and find a wife from within his extended family.

In his quest to fulfill Abraham’s charge, there is an aspect of Eliezer’s search for a wife for Isaac that is important for us to incorporate in our walk with HaShem. Eliezer prayed for a sign to let him know of Adonai’sprovision for Abraham’s request (Genesis 24:12-14). Then when he had an inclination of HaShem’s answer, he “ran to meet her (Rebekah)” (24:17). Eliezer did not sit and wait for HaShem to drop Isaac’s future wife into his lap. He prayed and then he put action to his prayer. I realize that there are times when we are to “wait on the LORD,” (Psalm 27:14). But there are other times that we must be like Eliezer and take action. There are times when we just that the answer is there, we just reach out for it. Just like the woman with the issue of blood, who “kept saying to herself, ‘If only I touch His garment, I will be healed,’” (Matthew 9:21).

As with Eliezer and the woman, let’s reach out to HaShem this Shabbat and receive from Him the renewing of our strength the healing that we need and the rest that He has promised.

It has been a week since the heinous anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. As you gather in your houses of worship this Shabbat or on Sunday, please remember to pray for the comfort and consolation of the Squirrel Hill Jewish community who are still grieving their loss,עליהם השלום.

Shabbat Shalom

[i]Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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Thoughts on Vayeira

canstockphoto3712801Torah reading for this Shabbat is Vayeira, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24.[i] The haftarah is found in Second Kings 4:1-37 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 2:1–12.

This week’s Thoughts could well be retitled, A Tale of Three Women. While Vayeira begins with the visitation of the “three men” and the expression of Abraham’s great hospitality, it is Sarah hiding behind the tent flap that draws our attention. Here is a woman who apparently stood beside her man through thick and thin, whether she understood him or HaShem’s plan for him. She left her home and family and had reached the point that she had even given up on having a family of her own with Abraham. But ADONAI had promised, that ninety-year-old Sarah would have a son with her one hundred-year-old husband (Genesis 17:19). When one of the “three men” reaffirmed this promise, Sarah had to laugh, possibly because the situation was more than humorous. But more than likely it was a nervous laugh that resulted from her imagining herself as mother. Then when ADONAI caught her laughing, suddenly her laughter became one of embarrassment. In the end, she had a son, and he became the second of the three patriarchs of Bnei Yisrael upon whom the promises of ADONAI would rest. But we have to ask, in the natural, was Sarah really looking to get pregnant at ninety years of age? For sure earlier in her marriage with Abraham she desired children, even if only through a surrogate, hence the episode with Hagar and Ishmael. But at this point in the story she had “stopped having the way of women,” … and had grown decrepit,” (Genesis 18:11-12, these are her words not mine), did she really want to bear children?

The second of the three women is in the haftarah, the Shunammite woman. Apparently she was determined to meet the needs of Elisha and Gehazi when they were in her area. Elisha wanted to tangibly thank her for her kindness and hospitality. After she rejected his suggested acts of gratitude, Elisha turned to Gehazi for suggestions. Gehazi suggested that she needed a son, as she was barren and her husband elderly (2 Kings 4:15). The Shunammite’s immediate response was one of shock, excitement and hope, “No, my lord, do not lie to your handmaid, man of God,” (4:16). Whether she was recoiling from the idea of childbirth or simply of being compensated for her acts of charity and hospitality, we are not told. But she like Sarah had a child, a son in spite of her condition. According to some traditions, her son was the prophet Habakkuk who prophesied in Judah during the time of Jeremiah and King Jehoiakim.

In the concluding prayers of Shacharit, in ובא לציון גואל (a redeemer will come to Zion) we read “Blessed is my LORD for day after day He burdens us [with His blessings]; God is our salvation, Selah!”[ii] This phrase is based upon Psalm 68:20, “Blessed be my LORD!
day by day He bears our burdens—the God of our salvation! Selah.” While it is true that He does in fact bear our burdens, if we allow Him to do so, at times His blessing may well seem burdensome, as both Sarah and the Shunammite woman discovered. We need to remember that ADONAI always has our best in mind just as He did for Jeremiah,

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It was this hope that brought strength to Sarah as she raised a son in her old age. And it was this strength that motivated the Shunammite woman to turn to Elisha when her son seemed to be taken away from her. However, sometimes we have to hold on to these words of hope and shalom, even when we do not see the desired outcome, like those in Hebrews 11:35-40, who in spite of not seeing their deliverance, still stood strong in their faith in ADONAI.

But there is a third woman in our tale this week, one who, like Sarah and the Shunammite woman, had a son through a miraculous birth, Miriam. Though Miriam was much younger, she too had to face difficulties with her special son. In this week’s reading however, it was her son who had to face difficulties with her. They were at a wedding and the worst possible thing happened – the wine ran out. Miriam stepped in like a good Jewish mama and fixed the situation. Looking at the servants she said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Mom! I told you, “my hour hasn’t come yet,” (2:4), indicating that he wasn’t going to step in. Yeshua’s time in the Gospel according to John does not come until his arrest and crucifixion (John 13.1, 17:1). Whether Miriam understood the depth of her son’s comment or not, she exercised extreme faith in her son and his ability. Then she walked away, confident that Yeshua would do what she asked. Maybe this faith was the root of Yeshua’s statement to his disciples,

“Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

The common thread in the tale of these three women, like the three stranded cord of Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a unique birth experience, each had a special son, and most importantly, each had faith in ADONAI that He would accomplish His will and purpose in their lives and the lives of their children. We should be encouraged by the faith of these three women, knowing that as HaShem worked on their behalf, He is more than faithful to work on our behalf as well.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 176.

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Thoughts on Lech Lecha

canstockphoto0885276The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.[i] The haftarah is from Isaiah 40:27-41:16, and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:35-51.

I find the beginning of this week’s haftarah very interesting. If we back up and read all of Isaiah 40, we see ADONAI comforting Israel as she begins to return from Babylonian captivity. The chapter begins with comfort and encouragement,

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. (40:1-2)

When we continue reading, we see that the chapter ends with the assurance that ADONIA would be Israel’s source of strength as they return to Him and to the land of Israel,

…but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength. They will soar up with wings as eagles. They will run, and not grow weary. They will walk, and not be faint. (40:31)

However, our haftarah begins a few verses prior to the above assurance, on a cautionary note. First, HaShem brings to mind Israel’s questioning of His care for His people,

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from ADONAI, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (40:27)

I have heard it taught that the phrases “my way is hidden” and “the justice due escapes me” indicate that Israel assumes she has “gotten away” with her transgressions, that somehow Israel has hidden her sin and transgression from ADONAI. However, this does not fit the context. The Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary points out that Israel assumes that HaShem has turned away from them in His anger and is wearied of them because of their actions. This coincides with what we read in the end of Parashat B’reshit, “So ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained” (Genesis 6:6). While it is true that HaShem was not pleased with Israel’s behavior, which resulted in the Babylonian Exile, He did not turn His back on Israel, even in their disciplined state. In fact, the prophet Isaiah proclaims HaShem’s sovereignty and long suffering,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? ADONAI is the eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding is unsearchable. (40:28)

In this verse we read that ADONAI is the Creator of the ends of the earth. This means that the same God who “in the beginning…created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), is still active in the lives of His creation. ADONAI is the one who created the earth from one end to the other, indicating the extremities and everything in between. This means that even though Israel is in Babylon, there are not beyond His reach. They are not beyond the scope of His vision or the domain of His power. HaShem is eternally that same, therefore He still possesses the power He possessed and manifested displayed at creation. He is continually active in the lives of His creation, and nothing and no one are outside of His continual sovereignty. If this is the way HaShem looks after His creation as a whole, how much more does He watch over and care for His chosen am segula.

Nevertheless, there is a conundrum in verse 28. While it is true that HaShem does not grow weary with His creation, the verse says, “His understanding is unsearchable,” or as the CJB[ii] renders it, “His understanding cannot be fathomed.” Many of the actions of HaShem are simply beyond our understanding. Rav Shaul challenged the believers in Rome with these questions,

For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?” (11:34, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16)

When we realize and accept that there are things we may never know or understand, simply because HaShem has not revealed them to us, we can rest, not in our ignorance or lack of knowledge, but in the assurance that HaShem knows what He is doing. Resting in this assurance may will be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). Equally, it is resting in this assurance that prompted the prophet to write “but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength.” It is not the knowledge of the future or the understanding of the plans of ADONAI that gives us the courage and strength to continue on. It is the assurance that He knows what He is doing, even when we do not. Two of my favorite verses on this topic are found in the writings of Jeremiah and Rav Shaul. Jeremiah’s words were written while awaiting the soon coming fall and exile of Jerusalem and Judah, and Rav Shaul’s were written to the believers in Rome.

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Whenever we think the HaShem does not see or does not care for our situation or condition, remember and consider this week’s readings. In the Torah portion, Avram was told, “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1). He did not know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, but he trusted in Him who would become known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then when Abraham got close to the land of Canaan, ADONAI appeared again and said, “I will give this land to your seed,” (12:7) which was a great promise to an elderly, childless married couple. But we all know the end of the story, Avram (who became Abraham) became the founding patriarch of Bnei Yisrael and thereby brought blessing to all of creation. We may not know our next step. We for sure do not know the end of our story or our children’s stories, but we can and should rest in the fact that HaShem most assuredly does.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

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Thoughts on Noach

canstockphoto0885276This week’s portion is Parasha Noach, Genesis 6:9-11:32. The Haftarah is Isaiah 54:1-55:5 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:19-34. The study below was prepared for the UMJC Weekly online study.

Is the God of the Old Testament an angry God, as is sometimes claimed? Isaiah 54:9,[i] which connects this week’s haftarah to the parasha, links Hashem’s oath concerning the waters of Noah to his affirmation that he would not be angry with the children of Israel:

This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.

There is a paradox in this statement because there were times, more often than not, when Hashem was angry with Israel and did in fact rebuke them. In his introduction to the haftarah for Noach, Dr. Meir Tamari makes this observation concerning the idea of the angry God:

There is a common misconception of the Jewish God as a zealous and angry deity of justice. There are many references, primarily in non-Jewish and in Jewish secular writings, to the “angry God” of the Old Testament. This is one of the many myths that are perpetuated, either to enable other religions to drape themselves in the rhetorical mantle of a “loving and caring God,” or to substitute for the Biblical moral system a humanist value structure, free from either Divine instruction or punishment. Any examination, even a casual one, of the Biblical texts or of Rabbinic literature, will show that these are nothing more than myths, and that while there is a Divine judge and ruler, there is also a Divine provider and father.[ii]

After Moshe persuaded Hashem to forgive Israel for worshiping the molten calf, he asked God to show him his glory. Hashem responded to this request by proclaiming,

ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7)

This proclamation is included in many of the prayers said during Selichot (the service of repentance) and the High Holidays, especially on Yom Kippur. From this proclamation we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of Hashem’s character. It is not just what he does, but who he is. Hashem disciplines and judges sin to the third or fourth generation, but is forgiving, gracious, and merciful for a thousand generations. The ratio between three to four generations and one thousand generations shows us that Hashem’s forgiveness, graciousness, and mercy are far greater than his judgment or discipline.

This week’s haftarah is replete with examples of the love and care of Hashem for his chosen people Israel, even as he responded in anger.

“For a brief moment I deserted you, but I will regather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger, I hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says ADONAI your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7–8)

Similarly, King David affirms, “For His anger lasts for only a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:6). Herein, however, lies a problem for both Israel and all humankind—time. Hashem stated that he only deserted Israel for a brief moment, and David affirms that Hashem’s anger lasts only a moment. Was seventy years of the first exile and almost two millennia of the second “a brief moment”? Dr. J. H. Hertz notes “Although the years of Exile seemed interminably long, they will prove but a brief space in the vast sweep of Israel’s history.”[iii] Also commenting on “a brief moment,” the medieval rabbi and biblical commentator David Kimhi (Radak) contrasts the time of exile with Hashem’s abundant mercy. “Even though the millennia of exile are much more than ‘but a brief moment’ they are insignificant compared to the abundant mercy (compassion) with which He will gather you in, with all its attendant good.”[iv]

Israel throughout the centuries marked time much differently than Hashem, and so do we today. As finite creatures we live in time and tend to want, even demand, answers and divine intervention immediately. We do not want to wait for deliverance from our problems. We want action and we want it now. Peter, leaning on the words of the Psalmist, reminded his community that Hashem lives outside of time in eternity and “that with the LORD one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4). We would do well to apply the words of the author to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). We need to have faith in the very character of ADONAI who shows mercy to a thousand generations and who has compassion on us with everlasting kindness.

Just because we do not see these realities, God’s promises are not negated. It simply means that we have to wait and trust in his character and his Word. Even though we do not see the provision of ADONAI it doesn’t mean that he does not love and care for us. We trust in his love and provision, not because of what we have but because of who he is. The examples of Hashem’s love and care for Israel in this week’s haftarah confirm that he is loving and caring, and faithful to fulfil his promises.

May we all heed and be encouraged by the words of the psalmist, “Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI” (Psalm 27:14).

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Meir Tamari, Truths Desired by God, An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2011), 9.

[iii] J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, second ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1988), 42.

[iv] Nosson Scherman, The Later Prophets: Isaiah (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2013), 411.

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Thoughts on B’reshit

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat the yearly reading cycle begins again with Parashat B’reshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8.[i] In this parasha we read the general creation account (chapter 1), the specific creation account of humankind (chapter 2), the apparent fall of humankind (chapter 3), the first incidence of fratricide (chapter 4), the genealogical records of humankind from Adam to Noah (chapter 5), and finally the most horrific words possible,

ADONAI said, “I will wipe out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the ground, from humankind to livestock, crawling things and the flying creatures of the sky, because I regret that I made them.” (Genesis 6:7)

These first six chapters of the book of Genesis are familiar to almost everyone, whether Jewish, Christian or non-affiliated with any kind of religion. Many other religions around the world have creation stories that ultimately end in a judgement account such as the flood (next week’s parasha). As I started to read this week’s parasha, I was asking HaShem to show me something different than the traditional teaching that accompanies this well-known passage. Then something caught my eye as it were.

Genesis 1:4 – God saw that the light was good. So God distinguished the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:6-7 – Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water! Let it be for separating water from water.” So God made the expanse and it separated the water that was below the expanse from the water that was over the expanse.

Genesis 1:9 – Then God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered to one place. Let the dry ground appear.” (Seas were separated from dry land.)

Genesis 1:14 – “Let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. (This is not the divine light of Genesis 1:4, but the created luminaries, sun, moon and stars.)

Genesis 1:20-24 – all living creatures, animal, sea, insects, etc. were created “according to their species…”

Genesis 1:26 – “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness!” (Whatever this is, it is unique and distinct from the rest of creation.)

In all of the above verses of creative activity, two things specifically stand out, singularity and totality. Individually everything was considered good, cumulatively they were very good. Throughout the creative activity, there is a cumulative whole in that each part is part of “creation” as a whole, but each part inside of that cumulative whole is separate, distinct, and unique. Each good in their own right, but all working together to be very good.

A number of years ago, while visiting Switzerland, we stayed with a Swiss family who quite happily held to no religious persuasion and were in fact proudly considered themselves secular Swiss. During one of our discussions, we compared the concept of unity as it related to the United States and to the European Union. Our hosts felt that the EU was a much better example of true unity than was the USA. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that the original rally cry of the EU was Unity in Diversity.

According to Wikipedia, “Unity in diversity is a concept of ‘unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation’ that shifts focus from unity based on a mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” [ii] It is not my intension at this point to argue the correctness of this definition or the potential problems that extreme diversities can cause, or the problems that could arise from blending diverse ideas or ideologies into a homogenous, uniform bucket of goop. However, I do believe that there is an important key in the above definition, which is the reality of “a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” Looking back at creation, if there were no differences, can we even begin imagine what type of existence there would be?

Before leaving the thought of diversity within a cumulative whole, think of Rav Shaul’s discourse to the believers in Corinth concerning the diversity within the physical body – as it compares to the diversity in the spiritual body.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body—though many—are one body, so also is Messiah. For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body—whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free—and all were made to drink of one Ruach. For the body is not one part, but many. If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” is it therefore not part of the body? And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” is it for this reason any less part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the parts—each one of them—in the body just as He desired. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts, yet one body. (I Corinthians 12:12-20)

Did Rav Shaul change his mind or adjust his doctrine when he wrote to the believers in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua,” (Galatians 3:28), thereby removing the distinctions he seems to be affirming in 1st Corinthians? Not in the least. In Corinthians, as exemplified in creation, Rav Shaul is affirming the distinctness of the parts of the body as they work together in a cumulative whole. In Galatians, he did not remove the distinction, rather he affirmed that regardless of, maybe even within, our distinctions we are all one in Messiah.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_in_diversity. Last accessed Oct. 3, 2018.

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