Thoughts on Pinchas

Have you ever looked back on some of your prayers and then immediately went into ecstatic praise because Hashem chose not to answer them? Do you remember Moshe’s prayer during one of the numerous episodes of Bnei Yisrael’s grumbling over their perceived lot in life?

“…I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me!If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!”

Numbers 11:14-15

In this week’s haftarah, it appears that Elijah took a page out of Moshe’s prayer book after he fled from Jezebel’s ranting against him.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom bush. He prayed that he might die. “It’s too much!” he said. “Now, ADONAI, take my life! For I’m no better than my fathers.”

1 Kings 19:4

Interesting enough, to this day Moshe Rabbeinu, is still considered by many, the greatest prophet and teacher, second only to Yeshua. What’s more, Elijah is prophesized to be the forerunner of the Messiah and the Messianic Age to come. Had the prayers of these two men been answered according to their words, the story today would be quite different.

There are other prayers or vows before Hashem that were made in haste and had unexpected and unwanted repercussions by the one who spoke them. Two immediately come to mind. First is Yiftach’s (Jephthah’s) vow to ADONAI before he went out to battle the Ammonites.

“If You will indeed give the children of Ammon into my hand,then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the children of Ammon, it will be ADONAI’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

In and of itself this vow, at least in Yiftach’s mind, was a safe vow, seeking protection and deliverance from Hashem over his enemies. Unfortunately, the first thing out of Yiftach’s dwelling was not a lamb, goat, or even a chicken but his only child, his unwed daughter. Human sacrifice was an anathema in ancient Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31), but Yiftach was in a dilemma due to the words of his mouth. One can imagine that Yiftach felt even more convicted by his rash vow due to his daughter’s response,

“My father, you have opened your mouth toAdonai,” she said to him. “Do to me what proceeded from your mouth… .”

Judges 11:36

Did Yiftach sacrifice his daughter? In reality, we do not know as she disappears from the story. However, it is safe to assume that Yiftach’s family was never the same again. 

There was another man whose family was almost destroyed by a rash vow. During his reign, King Saul had many border disputes with the Philistines. At one point, the situation wasn’t going well for Israel’s first king and it appears that some of his people, possibly even his army, switched sides and joined the Philistines. In response, King Saul called for a daytime fast with repercussions for disobedience.

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed that day, for Saul put the people under oath saying, “Cursed be the man that eats any food before evening, until I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the people tasted food.

1 Samuel 14:24

Jonathan, King Saul’s son did not hear of his father’s decree and on the way to battle ate some honey and even denounced his father’s words claiming that Israel, energized by the honey, would be assured of victory (cf. 1 Samuel 14:29-30). Israel won the battle and Jonathan was brought before his father for judgment. King Saul declared that his son would have to die. Unlike Yiftach’s daughter, the people rose up against the king’s decision because Jonathan was the hero of the day. King Saul relented and Jonathan lived, but one has to wonder if the relationship was ever the same again.

The rashness of both men caused irreparable damage to their families. It would have been good had they heard and internalized the words the writer of Kohelet penned years later,

Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin,and don’t say before the messenger,“It was a mistake!”Why should God be angry at your voiceand destroy the work of your hands?

Ecclesiastes 5:5

In the Apostolic Writings we read another prayer that teaches us about the use of the words we speak as well as the motivation behind those words, which can cause harm, specifically to ourselves. Once, while Yeshua was teaching on various aspects of prayer, he focused on trusting in one’s own righteousness.

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “O God, I thank You that I am not like other people—thieving, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and tithe on all that I get.”

Luke 18:11-12

Rav Shaul, after outlining his religious pedigree, made the following affirmation,

But whatever things were gain to me, these I have considered as loss for the sake of the Messiah. More than that, I consider all things to be loss in comparison to the surpassing value of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua my Lord.

Philippians 3:7-8

The Pharisee in Yeshua’s parable trusted in his own righteousness, his obedience to the Torah, Rav Shaul did not discount what he had done but instead focused upon his faith in Yeshua his Messiah. This is not an either/or situation, obedience and good works or faith in Yeshua, rather it is a gam v’gam, this and also this, situation. Remember Yeshua’s words 

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:23

In closing, I believe what we, myself most of all, need to take from this week’s thoughts is that we need to watch tenaciously over the words of our mouths and also the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Let’s remember the words from Kohelet, “Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin….” Abba, may our thoughts and our words this week be pleasing to You and uplifting to all those around us. 

The readings for this week are
Parashat Pinchas ~ Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Haftarah ~ I Kings 18:46 – 19:21
Apostolic Writings ~ John 17:1–26

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Thoughts on Balak

The weekly Torah reading is Balak, Numbers 22:1 – 25:9.* The haftarah is Micah 5:6 – 6:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 16:29–33.

Parashat Balak has always intrigued me. It begins with Balak, the Moabite king who is more than a bit concerned about the great multitude of illegal aliens that are about to descend upon his country. He had seen the devastation left behind in the land of the Amorites and did not wish the same to happen to his country. So he did what any self-respecting ruler in the Ancient Near East would do. First, he entered in an allegiance with Midian, then he checked his records and discovered there was a seer of some renown, who had been proficient in cursing one’s enemies to the point that a military victory would be assured. (This is good enough to be made into a Netflix Original series.)

Enter now Balaam, Seer Supreme (sort of like Stephen Strange), the go-to man when you need someone or multiple someones cursed – for the right price. Balaam’s identity is shrouded in obscurity, in that all we know is that he was a seer or diviner. He was the son of Beor and that he was either from or chose to make his home in Pethor on the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. For a well-known seer, back in the day, not much information has remained. An online search however did produce one interesting notation.

Balaam was a wicked prophet in the Bible and is noteworthy because, although he was a wicked prophet, he was not a false prophet. That is, Balaam did hear from God, and God did give him some true prophecies to speak. However, Balaam’s heart was not right with God, and eventually he showed his true colors by betraying Israel and leading them astray, (cf. Deuteronomy 23:3-6).

https://www.gotquestions.org/Balaam-in-the-Bible.html

This observation, while true, is often either overlooked or ignored by many. How can a seer, a diviner, a dabbler in dark arts, hear from ADONAI? But apparently, he did and was familiar with doing so. 

First visitation of Balak’s emissaries, “…I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me” (Numbers 22:8), and HaShem responds, “Do not go with them! Do not curse them, for they are blessed!” (22:12)

Second visit, “…you may spend the night here, too. Then I may find out anything else ADONAI may say to me” (22:19). Again, HaShem responds, “arise and go with them. However, only the word I tell you are you to do!” (22:20)

Over the next two-and-a-half chapters, Balaam interacted with or spoke directly for HaShem no less than five times. At one point, he proclaimed to Balak,

No misfortune is to be seen in Jacob, and no misery in Israel! Adonaitheir God is with them—the King’s shout is among them!

Numbers 23:21

This was a very important revelation, and one that set Israel apart from the other nations. The gods of the other nations were locality gods. Chemosh, the god of the Moabites ruled and reigned in the territory of Moab. The Midianites whom Balak hoped to ally with against Israel (cf. 22:4), worshipped a collection of gods, Baal of Peor, Ashteroth, and even HaShem after a fashion—probably due to being related to Abraham through his wife Keturah. But again, these were all local to the territory of Midian. Israel’s God however was different. He had Israel build a Mishkan, a dwelling place for His glory which was placed in the center of the Israeli camp. Israel’s God, lived in the midst of Israel—He traveled with them, He camped with them—His presence was always with them. We know that Israel grumbled and rebelled numerous times and were disciplined by HaShem. But they were still, in their covenantal state, holy as HaShem was holy and no misfortune, no אָ֙וֶן֙, or iniquitywas found in the camp because “Adonaitheir God is with them.”

Finally, Balak was so frustrated with Balaam’s words, he proclaimed, “Do not curse them or bless them at all” (Numbers 23:25). It would seem that Balak finally got to the point where he realized that regardless of what he asked Balaam to proclaim over Israel, the result would be a blessing. 

So, in the end, should we consider Balaam a true prophet or a false prophet? While his words all seemed to be correct and uplifting, Israel soon discovered that he was anything but a true prophet. As this parasha comes to a close, we read of the children of Israel engaging in “immoral sexual relations with women from Moab” (Numbers 25:1) and in turn “joining themselves to Baal of Peor” (25:5). In the end, Balaam did not curse Israel with the words spoken over them, instead he provided Balak a “workaround” or a temporary fix that had the potential of destroying Israel and her relationship with the God in her midst. While Balaam could not, or would not curse Israel, he apparently told Balak how to get HaShem to curse Israel, which He did as a plague brought about the death of 24,000 individuals (25:9). 

In Jude’s letter, Yeshua’s followers are admonished to avoid the wrong doings of three figures from the Tanakh,

Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain; they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error; and in Korah’s rebellion they have been destroyed.

Jude 11

Peter goes on to describe Balaam’s error when he speaks of those who

They have abandoned the straight way. They have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Peter 2:15

Even though Balaam spoke the true word of HaShem and blessed Israel at least three time, he still erred because “…whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it—for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Balaam thought he could have his cake and eat it too—bless Israel with the proclamations of HaShem and then show Balak how to get God to curse Israel, supposedly leaving himself in the clear. 

Balaam learned the hard way the truth of Rav Shaul’s words to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived—God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he also shall reap” (Galatians 6:7). Balaam’s schemes did not fool HaShem. There may have been times when we have found ourselves pulling a Balaam, knowing what we ought to do, what HaShem desires for us to do, but choosing to do what we want anyway. Seeking instant gratification in place of struggling with living holy and righteous. Israel had a choice, HaShem was in their midst, and they still chose fleshly gratification. Quoting Deuteronomy 31:6, the writer of Hebrews both challenges and assures us, through the ages, that we should 

Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you….”

Hebrews 13:5

As I closed last week’s Thoughts, I remind us all once again, that we all have choices to make each and every day. As we dwell in the presence of HaShem along with His Son our Messiah and through the power of the Ruach, we can make the correct choices, if we only will.


* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references 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 Chukat

This week’s Torah reading is Chukat, Numbers 19:1–22:1.* The haftarah is Judges 11:1–33 and the Apostolic Writings is from John 16:12–28.

During last week’s discussion of Korach, it was brought up that the punishments and the sheer number of deaths attributed to the anger of HaShem in metering out discipline was, to say the least, beyond the pale. This week, though not numerically the same, another situation appears to have been judged much harsher than it should have been—at least according to our modern standards of justice. 

Setting the stage we read, 

In the first month,the entire community of Bnei Yisrael arrived at the wilderness of Zin. The people stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Numbers 20:1

It is the first of Nissan in the fortieth year of the wilderness wandering. Bnei Yisrael is winding down their travels looking expectantly to soon enter the land promised to the patriarchs. Then there is an apparent scene change.

Now there was no water for the community, so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

Numbers 20:2

What does the fact that there was “no water” have to do with the death of Miriam? The Sages attempt to explain the connection of Miriam’s death and no water in the camp.

Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: Three good sustainers rose up for the Jewish people during the exodus from Egypt, and they are: Moses, Aaron and Miriam. And three good gifts were given from Heaven through their agency, and these are they: The well of water, the pillar of cloud, and the manna. He elaborates: The well was given to the Jewish people in the merit of Miriam; the pillar of cloud was in the merit of Aaron; and the manna in the merit of Moses. When Miriam died the well disappeared, as it is stated: “And Miriam died there” (Numbers 20:1), and it says thereafter in the next verse: “And there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2).
(English translation from https://www.sefaria.org.il/Taanit.9a?lang=bi)

b. Ta’anit 9a

Far-fetched, maybe, but the fact of the matter is that the cloud and the manna did surely appear–so why not a travelling rock that provided water. Interestingly, there are three episodes of Israel grumbling about no drinking water. The first two occur at the very beginning of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 15:22-25 and 17:1–7) and the third is just after Miriam’s death (Numbers 20:1-5). The above Talmudic interpretation holds that while Miriam was still living, Bnei Yisrael always had drinking water they needed, but after her death, the well dried up. 

Now the stage is set for the divine discipline that seems a bit harsh. Look again at the end of verse 2 and the first of verse 3. Water is no longer readily available so Bnei Yisrael come together and quarrel with Moshe. One might have thought that by now Moshe would have grown used to the grumbling and complaining of those that Hashem had left in his charge. Nonetheless, this time Moshe and Aaron are not in top form as their beloved sister had just died. Again the people complain, 

…why have you brought the community of ADONAI into this wilderness, for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us from Egypt to bring us to this evil place—a place without grain, fig, grapevine or pomegranate—and there’s no water to drink!”

Numbers 20:4-5

As with Korach’s rebellion, Moshe and Aaron go straight to the Tent of Meeting and fall on their faces before HaShem. HaShem instructs them to go and

…speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give out its water. You will bring out water from the rock, and you will give the community something to drink, along with their livestock.

Numbers 20:8

Two things to note at this point. First, HaShem tells Moshe and Aaron to go together, and for Moshe to speak to the rock. He does not say to strike the rock as earlier at Rephidim (Exodus 17). Second, Moshe’s speaking to the “rock” both reinforces the idea that this is the rock that had accompanied Miriam and with her death ceased to provide water but now it would respond to Moshe. 

Unexpectedly, Moshe and Aaron seemed to lose control. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe struck the rock, not once but twice. Then Moshe’s words to the assembly were not “wait and see how HaShem is going to provide for you” but an emphatic 

Listen now, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?

Numbers 20:10

It appears that Moshe, with Aaron standing alongside, at least verbally assumed the responsibility for the water that Bnei Yisrael would receive. HaShem graciously provided the water that Bnei Yisrael needed, this time without punishment for their grumbling and complaining. However, for Moshe and Aaron it was a different story. Consider Yaacov’s warning in the Apostolic Writings, 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, since you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.

James 3:1

The word for teacher, in the Greek is didaskalos, which most often means teacher, but also carries the understanding of rabbi and master or in other words a leader either in word or by example. Instead of revealing the glory and presence of HaShem, Moshe and by inference Aaron responded in anger. The story concludes with the divine discipline prohibiting both Moshe nor Aaron from leading, or even joining, Bnei Yisrael into the land which had been promised. They had run the race, only to be disqualified before crossing the finish line.

In conclusion, while Miriam’s death may well have been a factor in Moshe’s slip of the tongue, but it was that slip of the tongue and then the striking out in disobedience to the specific revealed word that brought about Moshe and Aaron’s discipline. We can clearly understand the importance of David’s prayer when he prays, 

Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Psalm 141:3

It is important to note Yaacov’s affirmation the warning mentioned earlier, 

For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

James 3:2

It is inevitable, some would say even unavoidable, that we are going to slip sometimes. But with this in mind, let us do all that we can to ensure that we do not stumble through the words of our mouths. The Irish nobleman poet, Wentworth Dillon once wrote, “Words once spoken, can never be recalled.” May we not regret the words of our mouth as I am sure Moshe and Aaron did.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references 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 Korach

This week’s reading is Korach, Numbers 16:1–18:32. The haftarah is 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22, and the Apostolic Writings is John 15:1–17. *

The three readings this week contain a series of choices, each with long term repercussions. The Torah portion begins with Korach and company choosing to reinterpret HaShem’s declaration to Bnei Yisrael “as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim (priests) and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) to mean that Moshe and Aaron were not to be leaders but equals among all (cf. Numbers 16:1-3). Korach and company soon discovered their error, the consequences of which led to the death of the ring-leaders and their families (Numbers 16:32-33). Unfortunately, an indirect result of Korach’s rebellion was that the people once again grumbled and complained against Moshe and Aaron. This time, however, they blamed Moshe and Aaron for the punishment of Korach and those who followed him, instead of recognizing that it was the rebellious ones who were solely responsible (Numbers 16:41). The end result was a plague that killed 14,700 more individuals bringing the total dead due to Korach’s choice close to 15,000 individuals.

There are two extremely important lessons we need to glean from this narrative. First, we should be very careful when questioning HaShem’s appointed authority. The Psalmist gave this stern warning from HaShem, “Touch not My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15). There is no question that we have a right, as did Korach, to question our leaders, even confront them if they are in error. But we must always be cautious to do so with the proper attitude, in the proper setting and in humility, questioning their actions not their calling or position that was appointed by God. Second, we must realize that we are not the only ones affected by our choices; our families, our friends, co-workers and others often get caught in the tidepool of the repercussions of our choices.

In the haftarah, we read about Israel’s choice to exchange HaShem’s leadership as King functioning though His appointed and anointed judges to being led by an earthly king like the nations. Although HaShem acquiesced to their request for a king (1 Sam. 8), and it was foretold in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, their decision affected the following generations and even our theology. Over the subsequent centuries of Israel’s existence in both the united and divided kingdoms there were good kings, not so good ones, and really bad ones. The existence of each, however, can be traced back to the decision to have an earthly king rule over them as recorded in 1 Samuel.

Finally, in Apostolic Writings we read of another aspect of choosing. In John 15, we read Yeshua’s words, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I selected you so that you would go and produce fruit, and your fruit would remain. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (15:16). This same thought of being chosen yet not necessarily choosing is elaborated upon by Moshe when he stated,

For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI your God has chosen you to be His treasured people. It is not because you are more numerous than all the peoples that ADONAI set His love on you and chose you—for you are the least of all peoples.Rather, because of His love for you and His keeping the oath He swore to your fathers, ADONAI brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

I am not suggesting that neither we nor Israel have/had a choice in whether or not to be related to HaShem or our Messiah Yeshua. One of my favorite verses from Jeremiah should put that notion to rest. Hashem emphatically states,

“For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalomand not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.” 

Jeremiah 29:11

Interestingly, He does not state, “I am going to make you or force you to follow My plans.” The choice to follow remains ours individually. The choice to be obedient to God’s call remains with us, individually and communally. Remember Joshua’s words to Israel as he was about to step down from leadership, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). Moshe, many years earlier said something similar,

See, I set before you today life and good, death and evil … Therefore, choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him. For He is your life…. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

A few verses earlier than the passage from John 15 mentioned above, we see that obedience is also a key factor. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (15:10). We have the choice whom we will serve and whom we will obey. Our choice to obey assures us of His abiding love.

Consider this, HaShem placed the man and the woman in the Garden which apparently was very good. However, in that garden the snake was already present. Chava (Eve) may well have been deceived by the snake to disobey HaShem’s command but the man there with her choose to follow in her disobedience. From the very beginning the choice has always been present, as Moshe later proclaimed to Israel, to “choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” Had Korach obeyed the leading of HaShem, his, his family and his followers’ outcome would have been different. We each have the opportunity to choose a life of obedience to the purposes and plans of the One who has called us to Himself and provided a way though His Son Yeshua.

  • Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from theTree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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Thoughts on Sh’lach

This week’s Torah reading in Israel is Sh’lach, Numbers 13:1 – 15:41.*The haftarah, the reading from the prophets, is Joshua 2:1-24 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 14:1-24.

The parasha starts with the episode of leaders from the twelve tribes being sent into the land of Canaan to investigate the territory, which did not end well and eventually led to Israel’s extended journey in the wilderness instead of their immediate entrance into the land of promise. The parasha ends with HaShem telling Moshe to command Bnei Yisrael

…that they are to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each tzitzit.It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of Adonai and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God.

Numbers 15:38-40

Concerning the phrase “your own hearts and your own eyes” Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, ז״ל, comments,“…the eyes mentioned in the verse here are not the eyes one uses for physical vision, but are spiritual eyes, the eyes which understand and recognize things. Nor is the heart the anatomic heart, but it is our drives, the mental factors, which are present within man.” (Accepting the Yoke of Heaven, Urim Publications, 2002, p. 139.)

Rashi also commenting on verse 39, stresses “and not go spying out (וְלֹא תָתוּרו)”. He points out that a different form of the same Hebrew word (מִּתּוּר) is used in Numbers 13:25 when the spies return from investigation or scouting out the land. He goes on to note that “the heart and eyes are the spies for the body. They act as its agents for sinning: the eye sees, the heart covets, and the body commits the sin (Midrash Tanchuma, Sh’lach 15).” (See: https://www.sefaria.org.il/Numbers.15.39?lang=bi&aliyot=0&p2=Rashi_on_Numbers.15.41&lang2=bi)

In other words, as the eyes and the heart as the spies of the body prepare the way for the body to transgress. In Matthew, Yeshua teaches his followers similarly,

…the things that proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and those things make the man unholy.For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.

Matthew 15:18019

Years ago, when I was on active duty in the Marine Corp, for a season I was a Data Systems Analyst. I worked with maintenance and supply statistics in order to determine manpower and material usage as well as to determine the reasons for aircraft being out of service. One of the first things we learned in school, which became quite obvious in the field, was the term GIGO or “garbage in, garbage out.” GIGO is used to express the idea that in computing and other spheres, incorrect or poor-quality input will always produce faulty output. If I put in the wrong data, if I misplaced a decimal point one direction or the other, the result could have been not only false but also very costly. Attention to detail was an absolute must.

Returning to the scriptures for today, we must guard what our eyes see and what our heart dwells upon. GIGO is active in our spiritual lives as well. This concept is reflected Yeshua’s words when he told his disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore, if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23). Similar to Prof. Leibowitz’s interpretation of heart and eyes noted above, Yeshua was probably not speaking about the physical eye, but the spiritual eye, which is the gateway to the inner self that has the potential to corrupt not only the soul but every aspect of one’s life. 

Social media is one area that we must guard not only our eyes and our hearts but also our time. I am not saying all of social media is wrong or bad, but it is an area that must be guarded. This morning when I opened Facebook, I saw a cartoon posted by Rabbi Michael Schiffman. It was the picture of a stereotypical scraggly prophet, walking down a busy street, carrying a sign that read, “The END of the WORLD came & went while you were on Facebook.” Yeshua said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). There is nothing wrong with Facebook or social media in general, unless it consumes us and becomes a “treasure” that moves our focus from HaShem and His Messiah to the things of the world. 

One verse from this week’s reading from the Apostolic Writings that is appropriate. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me” (John 14:1). When we focus on trusting God and trusting Yeshua, we will live in the reality the words from Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life”. Let’s purpose this week and throughout the rest of our lives to carefully choose what our heart and eyes dwell, guarding them and focusing them on these living waters that admonish us to trust in God and Yeshua.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from theTree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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Thoughts on Beha’alotcha

This week’s Torah portion, in Israel, is Beha’alotcha, Numbers 8:1 12:16. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 13:1-20.

I found the timing of this week’s parasha quite interesting. As we began the new week on Motzei Shabbat/Sunday, we celebrated Shavuot, a time in which we remember not only the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai but also the giving of Ruach HaKodesh in the Temple courts as the disciples celebrated Shavuot after Yeshua’s ascension. The reason I find this so interesting is HaShem’s actions in Numbers 11.

The narrative begins as many do, with the people are grumbling and complaining, and Moshe reaching his breaking point. In fact, he is so frustrated that he cries out to HaShem,

I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15)

How often have we felt similar frustration in our family, our work, or even our ministry? “God I can’t do it anymore, just kill me and bring me home to you.” Fortunately for Moshe, as well as for you and me, HaShem seldom answers our cries of frustration and despair in the manner we express them. Take Moshe for example, instead of HaShem addressing Moshe’s suicide request to be smote, He gave Moshe a way to deal with his situation. HaShem told Moshe to set aside seventy elders of Israel, men known to be leaders, and to bring them to the front of the Mishkan where HaShem would take some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, empowering him to fulfill his role, and place it upon these seventy elders, enabling them to assist Moshe so that he would not have to carry the burden alone. Moshe did as HaShem commanded him, and similar to what would happen in the Temple courts centuries later, the seventy elders received the Ruach and began prophesying (cf. 11:24-25).

However, there were some differences between the incident recorded in Numbers 11 and that of Acts 2:1-4. In Numbers 11, HaShem came down in the form of a cloud, spoke with Moshe and then took some of the Ruach that was on Moshe, distributing it among the seventy. This cloud-form may well be reminiscent of the cloud that led Israel during their time in the wilderness. However, at Shavuot the situation is different. While gathered in the Temple courts the Ruach came in a different form:

…a sound (from heaven) like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. (Acts 2:2-3)

While the sound and sight are reminiscent of Mt Sinai, I believe the greater importance to note is that the Ruach was not metered out as a portion of another’s but poured out without measure. Also notice that in Numbers the elders are said to have never “prophesized” again, but in Acts there is no indication that the effect of the Ruach’s outpouring had an ending or ceasing point.

Rashi’s comment on the statement וְלֹ֥א יָסָֽפוּ, that they did not continue (prophesying; 11:25) is thought-provoking. He notes that the Targum renders “and they did not cease” to mean that their prophetic powers remained. This would make sense in that if these elders were to continue to assist Moshe, they would need the power to do so. In this same vein, it is important to note that contrary to modern understanding, prophesy is not simply a miraculous, visible expression (as the vocal utterances in Acts 2). Looking at some of the synonyms of the word prophesy, we come to understand that it carries the nuance of giving advice, of having insight in a particular situation, and of being able to speak the truth, even in difficult situations. Kefa (Peter) may have had this last nuance in mind when he encouraged those of his community to “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,” (I Peter 3:15). The three nuances just mentioned are not exciting or miraculous expressions of prophesy, but they are expressions that are needed at different times in our lives. In Mishlei (Proverbs), we read,

A person finds joy in giving an apt reply– and how good is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:30, NIV)

We usually don’t want to hear correction or advice from others, but the reality is that there are times when we cannot hear from HaShem and need to hear the prophetic word through one the Ruach brings into our lives. In 1972, Bill Withers released a song entitled Lean on Me. The chorus of that song is

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

We are all in the same boat on this journey through life. There are those around us, just as those standing before the Mishkan or those standing in the Temple courts, that have the ability to speak into our lives words that can guide, words that can heal, words that can restore life situations. Not only that, but there are times when you or I are the ones that have words that others may need because “We all need somebody to lean on.”

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Bechukotai

This week’s parasha is Bechukotai (with My statutes), Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34. * The haftarah is Jeremiah 16:19-17:14 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 11:17–37.

Technically, there are multiple kal v’homer or if/then clauses in this week’s parasha, 26:3 & 12; 26:14 & 16, essentially “if you walk in My ways then you will walk in My blessings” or if you do not walk in My ways then you will walk in the consequences of your choice.” Then there are a couple of with sub-categories (26:18-28; 26:40 & 42) which also are kal v’homer clauses, which affirm, “if you continue (to choose) to walk contrary to My ways then the consequences will get even worse. However, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is filled with the promise,

“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I hate them into utter destruction, and break My covenant with them, for I am ADONAI their God. But for their sake, I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am ADONAI.” (Leviticus 26:44-45)

For those who erroneously assume that HaShem has finished with His covenant people, Israel, this affirmation should soundly quell that idea. Then if they bring up the fact that this statement in the “Old Testament” and thereby before “Christ”, let them be reminded of these words of Rav Shaul,

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1)

Neither in the Tanakh nor in the Apostolic Writings could it be said that HaShem rejects His covenant people Israel, even when He needs to discipline them. The Psalmist records the heart cry of HaShem when he wrote,

Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes. (Psalm 81:14-15)

The heart cry is immediately preceded by the discipline that HaShem was forced to bring upon Israel due to their choice to not walk in the way of HaShem,

But My people did not listen to My voice. Israel was not willing to be Mine. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own counsels. (Psalm 81:12-13)

Notice that the Psalmist agrees with the text in this week’s parasha that discipline or judgment is brought about not due to HaShem’s anger, rather discipline is the consequence of the people’s choice to not to walk in the ways of HaShem.

We also hear the same sentiment echoed in the words of Yeshua as he cried over Jerusalem,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

While the killing of the prophets and the stoning of the messengers of HaShem is bad, without a doubt, the most telling accusation here is again the choice signified by the words, “but you were not willing.”

There is another thing about choices that I want us to consider in this week’s “Thoughts.” We often hear the assertion that “though I do not follow the commandments of the God of the Bible, I don’t do anything really bad either” or the declaration that “I live a moral, ethical life without following God.” What these people are trying to say is that there is a middle ground, between the positive and negative poles that our parasha seems to set.

In Kiddushin 61b:13, our Sages did away with the idea that there might be a middle ground or that place where rejecting God might lead to a neutral position.

The Gemara asks a related question: Granted, according to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, this is the reason that it is written: “If you walk in My statutes” (Leviticus 26:3), you will receive blessings; conversely: “And if you shall reject My statutes” (Leviticus 26:15), you will receive curses. However, according to the opinion of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Gamliel, why do I need both of these clauses? The Gemara answers: They are both necessary, as it might enter your mind to say: If you follow My statutes you will receive a blessing, whereas if you reject My statutes you will receive neither a blessing nor a curse. The verse, therefore, teaches us that the rejection of God’s statutes warrants a curse. **

The compiler of Mishlei would agree with the Sages, as at least twice there is the warning not to reject the way of HaShem,

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)

On the other hand, John stated about Yeshua, the Living Word and the embodiment of the Torah,

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment, so that we may know who is genuine; moreover, we are united with the One who is genuine, united with his Son Yeshua the Messiah. He is the genuine God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20, CJB)

Our being united with him, following his way and not our own way, requires that we make a choice to do so. Yeshua has given us the discernment to know the right way to walk, but we still have to make the choice. After Joshua had led Bnei Yisrael into the promised land, after HaShem had given the victory over all their enemies, Joshua challenged all the people to, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:14-15). This challenge comes down to each of us today, may we choose wisely and walk in the ways of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom

  • Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

** https://www.sefaria.org/Leviticus.26.15?lang=bi&with=Kiddushin&lang2=en

 

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