This week’s parasha, Shelach lecha, Numbers 13:1 – 15:41, takes its name from the first words of the second verse, “send for yourself,” which concerns the meraglim (spies) that were to go into the land of Canaan to check out the place before Bnei Israel would enter in and take possession. Sending the spies into Canaan to ascertain the lay of the land, the people, the produce, and the defenses can be considered as counting the cost (see Luke 14:31-32) before taking action. Counting the cost is a valid principle, but it needs to be balanced with the expressed word of HaShem. In Exodus, even before HaShem delivered Bnei Israel, he made this promise,

“I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Exodus 3:17

There should not have been any doubt in the minds of Bnei Israel that he would fulfill his promises. To this point in the narrative, HaShem had fulfilled everything he had promised Israel. He had delivered them from slavery and oppression, provided for their needs, and even quite visibly entered into covenant with them at Sinai, making them his am segula(treasured people). But Israel still doubted his word and promises. Recounting this episode, Moses wrote in Deuteronomy,

All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe.

Deuteronomy 1:22-23

It must be noted that the first part of the spies’ report upon returning from Canaan was great, 

“We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. … They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.”

Numbers 13:27 & Deuteronomy 1:25

However, then there was a “but,”

Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. … But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us.”

Numbers 1:28 & Deuteronomy 1:26-27

Rav Pam (Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam ז״ל) in his commentary on Shelach lecha wisely stated, 

A person should always try to avoid putting himself into a situation of nisayon (temptation), where he will be confronted with the opportunity to sin.

(Rav Pam on Chumash, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2004, p 169.)

Going into the Land and checking out the situation was not the problem. Israel’s doubting the word and the character of HaShem to fulfill his promise was. Unfortunately, this lack to trust in HaShem’s promises would cause a generation to fall in the Wilderness without entering into the Promised Land. This should remind us that we need to guard our own walk with HaShem to prevent doubt from growing as we follow his leading. James addresses this concern to followers of Yeshua who seemed to be operating in doubt when he wrote the following warning, “…ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).

As many of you know, one of my favorite Scriptures is from Rav Shual’s letter to the Corinthians, 

No testing (trial or temptation) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Sometimes his provision leads in a circuitous direction, just as he took newly delivered Bnei Israel the long way around to Canaan so they would not run into the Philistines (Exodus 13:17). Other times, he allows us to draw on our inner strength, as he did Joseph when Potiphar’s wife confronted him. HaShem did not need to intervene, because Joseph fled the situation. Unfortunately, not all the examples in Scripture turn out positive. The spies not only doubted HaShem but convinced the people to doubt as well, which led to a generation dying in the wilderness. King David also succumbed to temptation when, instead of fleeing from Bat Sheba, he submitted to lust of his eyes and committed both adultery with her and then murdered her husband, which resulted in the death of his new-born son.

We, like Bnei Israel, always have a choice. We can trust in the word and promises of God and the leading of the Ruach (Spirit), or we can trust in our own strength and follow the distractions of our heart and eyes. First Corinthians 10:12 warns each of us “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall,” and the letter ends with these words of encouragement,

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

Let this short phrase become a daily mantra as we walk out our journey together; all the time trusting that when we are weak, he will intervene—if we allow him to do so. 

* All Scripture readings are from New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  

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This week’s parashah, Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:111, begins with what many consider one of the saddest prayers recorded in Scripture. Flashback: Moses began his life under a death sentence simply for being a Hebrew male child. He was born in slavery and oppression. Then miraculously saved by a Pharoah’s daughter and raised as a prince in pharaoh’s household. Later circumstances caused him to flee to Midian, where he became a lowly shepherd compared to his status as a prince. His life circumstances changed once again after his extraordinary encounter with HaShem, after which the slave / prince / shepherd became the instrument of HaShem to bring judgment upon Egypt and her gods and lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the land promised to them. During the thirty-eight-plus years the journey took, there were times of high exaltation as well as times of great depression, but through it all, HaShem empowered Moses with the ability to lead Bnei Israel. Also, throughout the years of travel, HaShem cared for his am segulah even when they grumbled, complained, and outright disobeyed. 

But then, as the journey was coming to an end, the people complained again. This time Moses seems to have “blown a fuse.” Instead of obeying the word of HaShem, Moses reacted, whether in anger or frustration or both, he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it as HaShem commanded. Even after all that had happened in his long life, in the end, Moses was forbidden entrance into the promised land. Moses pleaded with Hashem to avert the decree, which led to the prayer mentioned above.

I pleaded with ADONAI at that time, saying, O Lord ADONAI, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand—for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do deeds and mighty acts like Yours? Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:23-25)

All those years, all the trials, all the high points and the low, were blown away like chaff in the wind. The exodus and the wilderness travels, all leading toward the goal of the homeland promised to Abraham and reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob, were now brought to a halt, at least for Moses, as he received HaShem’s final answer,

“Enough!” ADONAI said to me, “Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan.” (Deut. 3:26b-27)

Moses continued to lead the people under HaShem’s authority, but his disobedience, while not separating him from HaShem, had consequences. We all need to remember this lesson throughout our lives and walk with Messiah. When we err, there is forgiveness if we repent and return. Sometimes there is a restoration of life circumstances or even ministry – but sometimes there are consequences for our actions. King David, forgiven for the adulteress episode with Uriah’s wife and subsequent murder of Uriah, still lost the son from his affair with Bathsheba. 

Before one think that this is just a pre-Calvary concept or occurrence, consider these words from Sha’ul to the Galatians,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he also shall reap. For the one who sows in the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. But the one who sows in the Ruach will reap from the Ruach eternal life. (Gal. 6-7-8)

While John’s words are true, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9), there is nothing in the Apostolic Writings that can lead one to believe that there may not be consequences to our erroneous actions, words, or even thoughts. 

We serve a gracious, loving, forgiving God. The very essence of HaShem’s nature was described when HaShem passed before Moses on the mountaintop, 

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)

However, just as he is gracious, loving, and forgiving, or maybe better said because he is gracious, loving, and forgiving, he disciplines those he loves, those who are called by his name.

My son (or daughter) do not take lightly the discipline of ADONAI or lose heart when you are corrected by Him, because ADONAI disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He accepts. … Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6 and 11)

It can be said that at least part of the discipline brought about by our actions, words, and thoughts result from the consequences of our actions. A bank robber or murderer can be forgiven, but the consequences are usually prison time, community service, or both. Even after repenting, the natural consequence of a hardened heart or an unforgiving spirit may manifest in health issues. As we learn to accept the discipline and successfully live through the consequences, hopefully, we can see the peaceful fruit of righteousness manifest in our lives.

Wherever we may be on our journey with HaShem, whether it be in the wilderness or on the bank looking over into the land of promise, may we find strength and comfort from the words of Sha’ul,

Now to Him who is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine, by means of His power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the community of believers and in Messiah Yeshua throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1All 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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A couple of weeks ago, in Parashat Matot, concerning vows made by an individual to HaShem, we read the following exhortations to fulfill the vow without delay.

Whenever a man makes a vow to ADONAI or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)1
“When you make a vow to ADONAI your God, you are not to delay to make good on it—for ADONAI your God will certainly require it of you, and you would have sin on you. … Whatever comes out of your lips you are to take care to do since you have vowed to ADONAI your God a freewill offering that you have promised with your mouth.” (Deuteronomy 23:22 & 24)

However, in this week’s parashah, D’varim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, we see quite a different situation. As an intro to D’varim Rabbi Garfinkel makes this observation,

When someone is tardy in the fulfillment of an obligation, we often forgive the oversight and say, “better late than never.” Usually, that is a noble sentiment. There are, however, times when it is better not to do something at all than to do it late.2

Remember the narrative, in Numbers 13 and 14, twelve spies were sent to reconnoiter the land HaShem promised through the patriarchs. Upon their return, ten of the spies recognized the bounty of the land but doubted their ability to take the land and in essence, doubted HaShem’s promise. This doubting by the ten caused Bnei-Israel as a community to doubt the ability of HaShem, which brought swift discipline. The ten spies were killed in a plague, and judgment was pronounced upon the community. Even though the people were forgiven through Moses’ intercession on their behalf, the consequences of their actions remained.

ADONAI answered, “I have forgiven them just as you (Moses) have spoken. But as certainly as I live and as certainly as the glory of ADONAI fills the entire earth, none of the people who saw My glory and My miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness—yet tested Me these ten times and did not obey My Voice— not one of them will see the land I promised to their forefathers. None of those who treated Me with contempt will see it! (Numbers 14:2-23)

Unfortunately, the people decided they would now advance and take possession of the land as HaShem had commanded initially. Apparently, they recognized their sin against HaShem and decided, in a turnabout of choices, to go up and fight as HaShem had commanded them. The lack of obedience was not the primary factor that brought about HaShem’s discipline, though it was certainly an aspect. The primary factor was the way most of the people “treated [ADONAI] with contempt” by doubting him and his power even though they had seen his glory and miraculous signs in Egypt. Moses tried to warn the people not to go up and fight after the fact, but they did not listen.

Then you answered and said to me, “We have sinned against ADONAI. We will go up and fight, just as ADONAIour God commanded us.” So, each of you strapped on his weapons of war, figuring it was easy to go up to the hill country. But ADONAI said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight—for I am not with you, and you will be defeated by your enemies.’” So, I told you, but you would not listen—you rebelled against the command of ADONAI and presumptuously went up into the hill country. …and they chased you as bees do and scattered you from Seir to Hormah. (Deuteronomy 1:41-44)

Not only did Bnei-Israel treat HaShem contemptuously, but they acted presumptuously by thinking that just because the promise was there once, they could also walk in that promise at a time of their choosing. For sure, HaShem’s promise of the land remained, but now it would be fulfilled in the next generation. 

So, what is the practical takeaway for us from this passage? First, we must never forget that just because we invoke the Name of HaShem as Bnei-Israel did it does not mean he will honor our invocation.

Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23)

Second, many of us know of individuals and groups who stand firm on the word that declares, “For in Him all the promises of God are ‘Yes.’ Therefore, also through Him is the ‘Amen’ by us, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). They feel it is their right to claim any of the promises as their own. While there is truth in this passage it needs to be balanced by these words from Sha’ul.

But who in the world are you, O man, who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does the potter have no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

In other words, we are not ultimately the ones in control. For sure, we have free will and that is a paradox for another time but in the end, we are the clay, he is the potter, and our times, our lives, and our very existence are in his hands (Psalms 31:16). While we can commit all the scriptural promises to memory and proclaim them as our own, in doing so, we must be very careful and not act presumptuously as did Bnei-Israel and in so doing incur the wrath of HaShem, our LORD, and Master.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1 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.
2 Eli L. Garfinkel. The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press (JPS), 2021. Apple Books.

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In preparing this week’s Thoughts, I came across a couple of fairly well-known sayings, and while they appear to be in contrast, they really are not. The first one, I share will be in three forms of the same idea. 

The oldest account is by the Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who is often misquoted as having said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Then there was the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952) who was credited as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Finally, the British statesman, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The common thread in each of these statements is that one must not only know ones past but actively remember it if they do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Then the contrasting quote, is attributed to the modern American actor/writer, Michael McMillian (1978-present),

You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

In other words, according to Mr. McMillian, it is difficult, maybe even impossible to move on if one is always dwelling in the past. Today, this is a particular malady for many baby-boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 as well as Generation Xers, 1964 and the early 1980s. With all the problems in the world today, we often look back nostalgically on days gone by before the internet and social media. Life was slower, more carefree, and many of the troubles that plague today’s world was not even imagined. We often forget that during this carefree time there was the Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missel Crisis. And although illegal abortions and substance abuse problems have long been with us, the latter part of the 1950s through the 1980s saw an explosion of these problems. 

What does this emphasis on the past have to do with this week’s parasha? Much I believe. This week’s parashah, Maasei, Numbers 33:1 – 36:13, brings the book of Numbers to a close. Bnei-Israel has wandered in the wilderness for thirty-eight plus years and are preparing to soon enter the land of Canaan which was promised to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The parashah begins,

These are the journeys of Bnei-Yisrael when they came out of Egypt by their divisions under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command. These then are their journeys by stages. (Numbers 33:1-2)1

As is often the case, the sages look at verse 2, and seem to be in a quandary over the word order. “Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command. These then are their journeys by stages.” According to Rabbi Twerski, 

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch says that when God made the Israelites break camp, the purpose was always to reach a fresh goal. Each journey was a progress toward a goal. But to the people it was the reverse. They were generally dissatisfied wherever they stayed. They just wanted to leave. It did not matter where they were going next. Hence to God it was “their goings forth according to their journeys” (or “the stages of their journeys”), whereas to the Israelites it was their “journeys according to their goings forth” (or “their journeys by stages”).2

Think back to the number of times Bnei-Israel complained to Moses about various situations they found themselves in during their time in the wilderness and the number of times they nostalgically looked back on their time in Egypt, as something to be desired, totally forgetting the oppression and slavery they had been under. In other words, in verse 2, may be showing two different perspectives, or possibly two different reasons for Bnei-Israel’s moving on. 

According to R’ Hirsch, the reason for the listing of “the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command” was to remind Bnei-Israel of HaShem’s guidance and care. In Deuteronomy, Moses reminded the people that even when disciplined, they were cared for.

You are to remember all the way that ADONAI your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness—in order to humble you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His mitzvot or not. He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you manna—which neither you nor your fathers had known—in order to make you understand that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of ADONAI. Neither did your clothing wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these 40 years. Now you know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so ADONAI your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:2-5)

Much later, Sha’ul would write to the Corinthians as well as to each of us today,

Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

But, as much as learning from the past is important, it may be just as important not to live in or excessively yearn for the past. As stated earlier, many times Bnei-Israel’s solution to their complaints against Moses was to return to Egypt, which if they had done, they would have missed the eventual entrance into the land promised to the patriarchs. Vered and I have been in Israel now for over thirty years. We have seen numerous people over the years, singles and families make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) at the leading of the Ruach, only to return to their home country when things got too difficult. Often, these folks could not release the easier (or perceived easier) life they left behind when faced by the trials that life in Israel.

Remember, each of us are on a journey in our lives. There have been numerous stops along the way, some good, some not so good. Let’s remember the two perspectives R’ Hirsch brought out as we look back on our journey. We can see the steps along the ways as the guidance and provision of HaShem, in the good times and the bad. Or we can see them as our own running from one stop to another, either seeking something better or fleeing something perceived as unfavorable. It would do us all good to remember the words of the psalmist as well as the compiler of Proverbs

ADONAI directs a person’s steps, and he delights in his way. He may stumble, but he won’t fall headlong, for ADONAI holds him by the hand. (Psalms 37:23-24, CJB)3
A person may plan his path, but ADONAI directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, CJB) 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1 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.
2 Abraham J. Twerski, Twershi on Chumash, Brooklyn, Shaar Press, 2003, p 349.
3 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.

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The first chapter of Genesis concludes with HaShem’s final act of creation, 

God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)

I believe that this verse from the conclusion of Genesis is important in understanding this week’s parashah, Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9. The reason for its importance should become clear directly. As we begin to read Parashah Balak, we soon discover that the two main characters are not Israelites or even part of the myriad of non-Israelites that left Egypt in the Exodus almost forty years earlier. We are first introduced to the main supporting character of the narrative, Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab, (Num. 22:2-4), who was understandably afraid of the Israelite hoard that had recently decimated the Amorites (Num. 21:34-35). Next, we come to the main character in the narrative, Balaam, son of Beor, who was at Pethor near the Euphrates in northern Mesopotamia, probably Balaam’s native land (Num. 22:5). We all know the story; Balaam was not a military commander or even a fighter of any kind. He was a priest-diviner, interpreter of dreams and omens, and a maker of amulets and charms. Balak however was not interested this part of Balaam’s stock and trade, he had another job in mind.

He (Balak) sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, at Pethor near the River in his native land, saying to him, “Look now, a people have come out of Egypt. See now, they cover the surface of the earth and are settling beside me. Come now, curse this people for me, because they are too strong for me! Perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them away from the country. I know that whoever you bless will be blessed and whoever you curse will be accursed!” (Num. 22:5-6)

It is significant, the answer Balaam gave to Balak’s messengers, “Spend the night here. I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me” (Num. 22:8). If one reads the Hebrew of this verse, one quickly discovers that Balaam would be speaking to and expecting an answer from HaShem, the God of Israel. After dialoging with HaShem, Balaam returned to the messengers the next morning and said, “Go back to your country, for ADONAI has refused to let me go with you” (Num. 22:13).

At this point, I return to the Genesis passage, reminding us that God created (all) humankind in his image. This fact brings to mind a term I first learned in Bible school, more years ago than I want to remember, that being general revelation or the knowledge of God’s existence that is given to all humanity, his character, his moral and physical laws. To the Romans, Sha’ul wrote,

His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made… (Romans 1:20)

In an impassioned speech to the Lycaonians, Sha’ul explained,

In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without a witness—He did good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with joy and gladness. (Acts 14:16-17)

So, whether it was by studying nature and natural phenomenon, or paying attention to HaShem’s actions in or behind historic events, or simply as all humanity has been created in the image of God there remains an inner sense of HaShem’s being in every human heart – even though in many it is often pushed aside and ignored. Balaam, attuned to spiritual things as his profession and reputation required, knew of the God of Israel. This is evident by his response to the messengers when they approached a second time, “Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot cross beyond the mouth of ADONAI my God, to do anything small or great” (Num. 22:18)!

While it should be acknowledged that Balaam knew of the God of Israel, that he had general revelation of God that is available to all humankind, he did not have special revelation, that which led him to make the God of Israel his own God, forsaking all others. While Balaam knew of HaShem, even spoke with him, he did not choose to internalize that general revelation in his heart, in his very being. As it were, he kept God on the outside, much like a tool to be rented and used then discarded when no longer needed. Balaam would not have grasped the importance of Yeshua’s words,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27)

Balaam heard the voice of HaShem, he knew what he ought to do, in fact his three oracles and then Messianic prophecy proved this to be true. But though Balaam heard the voice and knew what he should do, he did not internalize HaShem’s desires. He blessed Israel with his mouth in obedience to HaShem, but in his heart he was looking for a work around to be able to satisfy Balak’s desire to see Israel cursed. And he apparently succeeded. In the Book of Revelation, to the ecclesia in Pergamum, the angelic messenger spoke these words, 

But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. (Rev. 2:14, cf. Num 25:1-3)

Kefa (Peter), in describing false teachers who attempt to lead Yeshua-followers astray, stated, 

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)

Balaam, just as all humanity, had the option, of not just hearing the voice of HaShem, but responding to that voice with his whole heart; internalizing and accepting HaShem not just as Israel’s God but his own. Unfortunately, Balaam chose the ways of the world and its riches – which in the end led to judgement and his death. 

Before closing this week’s thoughts, let’s consider an individual, similar to Balaam, this time from the Apostolic Writings. In Acts 8 there is the story of Simon the Sorcerer. “Now a man named Simon had been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, saying he was someone great,” (Acts 8:9). Then under the preaching of Philip “…Simon himself believed; and after being immersed, he continued with Philip. And when he saw signs and great miracles happening, he was continually amazed,” (Acts 8:13). Things seemed to be going well until the Apostles came from Jerusalem and conferred the gift of the Ruach upon the new believers. We have no idea why Simon did not receive the Ruach initially. But whatever the reason, Simon thought he could acquire the Ruach by his own means, by offering Kefa money. Kefa was less than impressed to say the least and immediately corrected Simon offering him the way of returning to proper faith. The last we hear of Simon is his request to Kefa to pray for him. “Pray for me, so that none of what you have said may come upon me,” (Acts 8:24). Since there was no judgement recorded, I choose to assume (and this is only an assumption) that Simon was restored. If this assumption is factual, it should give us hope; if we falter or stray, the opportunity to return is always available. By the way, another reason for this assumption is found in Luke’s account of the hours leading up to Yeshua’s arrest. Yeshua told Kefa, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32-33)

Kefa knew what it was like to falter, to make a serious error in judgement. He also knew what it was to receive forgiveness and restoration to fellowship upon repentance. There is such power in Yeshua’s words, “when you turn back….” Yeshua not only acknowledged Kefa’s return, in doing so he offered the option for any of us to return if we falter. There always remains the opportunity to choose life, not death so long as we have breath. 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

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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Toward the end of Sha’ul’s letter to the Yeshua followers in Rome, he wrote these words,

For whatever was written before was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)*

These words are particularly relevant as we look at this week’s parashah, Beha’alotcha – Numbers 8:1 through 12:16. This parashah shows HaShem providing Moses with much-needed assistance in leading Bnei-Israel.

ADONAI said to Moses, “Bring me 70 of the elders of Israel whom you know to be elders of the people and their leaders. Take them to the Tent of Meeting, so they may stand with you there. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the Ruach that is on you and will place it on them. They will carry with you the burden of the people, so you will not be carrying it alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17)

Then in verse 24, he fulfilled his word. However, I believe it is important to back up and recognize Moses’ inner turmoil which led to this action by HaShem. Remember, the people had once again been murmuring and complaining about their lot in life, specifically that they were tired of eating manna – they wanted a more varied menu. Then it is written that, “Moses heard the people wailing by their families, each man at the door to his tent. ADONAI’s anger became very hot, and Moses was troubled” (Numbers 11:10).

It was in this troubled state of mind, Moses cried out to HaShem,

“Why have You brought trouble on Your servant? Haven’t I found favor in Your eyes—that You laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people, or did I give birth to them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom just as the nurse carries an infant’—to the land You promised to their fathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? For they wail to me saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 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 11:11-15)

How often have we felt similar frustration with 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 Moses, as well as for each of us, HaShem seldom responds to our cries of frustration and despair in the manner we express them. Instead of HaShem complying with Moses’ death wish, he gave Moses a way to deal with his situation. No longer would Moses shoulder the burden of leadership alone, but others would now assist him through the enabling power of the Ruach HaKodesh. A similar act of empowerment would, in the future, enable a group of disheartened disciples of Yeshua to begin to fulfill the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20) only after they too had received the Ruach HaKodesh.

And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you, but you are to stay in the city (Jerusalem) until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Without a doubt, HaShem was moved by Moses’ need for more help in leading the people. I also believe that another thing that moved HaShem to assist Moses was Moses’ honesty in his approach. He openly brought his complaint to HaShem, “Why have You brought trouble on Your servant? Haven’t I found favor in Your eyes—that You laid the burden of all these people on me?” Moses did not try and hide his feelings from HaShem, but rather laid his soul unashamedly before him, “I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me!” Just as HaShem answered Moses, from the depths of his despair, we can rest in the hope, in the assurance that he will answer us as well. Hear Yeshua’s words to his disciples (as well as all of us) as he prepared for his departure, “And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

Many times, we try and hide our true feelings and emotions from HaShem, much the way Adam and Chava tried to hide from HaShem in the Garden. But the psalmist plainly affirmed,

Whenever I sit down or stand up, You know it. You discern my thinking from afar. You observe my journeying and my resting, and You are familiar with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, ADONAI, You know all about it. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Since we cannot hide anything from HaShem, let’s be honest with him, regardless of our situation or circumstance, secure in the knowledge that he has a plan for each of us, and that he will accomplish his work in our lives if only we allow him to do so.

Now may the God of patience and encouragement grant you to be like-minded with one another in the manner of Messiah Yeshua, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. (Romans 15:5-6)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* 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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In Israel, this week’s parashah is Naso, Numbers 4:21–7:89.* Among the various issues covered in Naso are the regulations concerning the Nazarite vow, which could be taken by either a male or female. 

Speak to Bnei-Yisrael and say to them: Any man or woman who desires to vow a Nazirite vow to be separate for ADONAI, is to abstain from wine and any other fermented drink. He is not to drink any vinegar made from wine or any fermented drink, or any grape juice, or eat grapes or raisins. (Numbers 6:2–3)

Notice that nothing is said about the reason a person might choose to undertake this vow. We are only told that 

All the days of his separation, he (or she) is to be consecrated to ADONAI. (Numbers 6:8)

Another thing we are not told about the Nazarite vow is the duration of the vow. According to rabbinic tradition, the vow is only for thirty days, but this is only tradition. The vow depends upon the one entering it (Numbers 6:2). The choice is solely upon the one desiring to take the vow. The aspect of choice is important to recognize as there were at least two, possibly three individuals in the Tanakh who were under a Nazarite vow not by their own choice but by others. 

We encounter the first two in the haftarah for Naso, Judges 13:2–25, the angelic calling of Samson, 

For behold, you will conceive and bear a son. Let no razor come upon his head, for the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb. He will begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. (Judges 13:5)

In our familiarity with the calling of Samson, we often miss the calling of his soon-to-be no longer barren mother to this special vow, at least during her pregnancy. 

Then the angel of ADONAI appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have not borne children, but you will conceive and bear a son. Now, therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink or eat any unclean thing.” … The angel of ADONAI said to Manoah, “Let the woman abstain from all that I mentioned to her. She should not eat anything that comes from the grapevine or drink wine or strong drink or eat any unclean thing. She must observe all that I commanded her.” (Judges 13:3–4 & 13–14)

Apparently, neither Samson nor his mother had a choice; the choice was made for them by the angelic visitor. The difference lies in the length of the vow; Samson’s mother was only under the vow until Samson’s birth, while Samson’s Nazarite vow was to be “from the womb to the day of his death” (Judges 13:7). Also, the reason for the mother’s vow is not stated while Samson’s Nazarite vow is clear —“He will begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). It can be said that Samson’s mother was not under a Nazarite vow as nothing is said about her hair or her avoidance of contact with a corpse. But then again, nothing was said about Samson’s avoidance of corpse contact – but he was specifically called a Nazarite from the womb.

Another well-known individual who had no choice in taking a Nazarite vow is Samuel. Hannah, a wife of Elkanah, was another barren woman who desperately desired a child. 

While her soul was bitter, she prayed to ADONAI and wept. So she made a vow and said, “ADONAI-Tzva’ot, if You will indeed look upon the affliction of Your handmaid, remember me and not forget Your handmaid, but grant Your handmaid a son, then I will give him to ADONAI all the days of his life and no razor will ever touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:10-11)

Once again, nothing is said about the child’s abstinence from wine or any other fermented drink or product made from grapes. Nor was there any mention of the need to abstain from contact with a corpse. However, the “no razor” verbiage and then the total dedication to the service of HaShem (1 Samuel 1:22), makes it clear that Samuel would be a Nazarite from birth.

John the Baptizer is one more notable individual in Scripture who was considered a Nazarite from birth. This time it was not the soon-to-be no longer barren mother who received an angelic visitation but her husband, Zechariah, a kohen who entered the Holy Place to offer incense on the altar.

Zechariah was in turmoil when he saw the angel, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to your son, and you will name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. He will be great before ADONAI, and he should not drink wine and intoxicating beverages, but he will be filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh just out of his mother’s womb. Many of Bnei-Yisrael will turn to ADONAI their God. (Luke 1:12-16)

This time nothing is said about the child’s avoidance of the razor or the need to avoid contact with a corpse, but Zechariah is told emphatically that his son, John, “should not drink wine and intoxicating beverages” and that John would be set apart for the service of HaShem as “he would be filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh just out of his mother’s womb.”

One of the reasons I share this history lesson about three men, seemingly Nazarites, is to show that just because one was called from birth to serve HaShem, the individual has the choice whether or not to walk in obedience to that calling. Of the three men, Samson’s life choices were less than honorable – though interestingly HaShem’s power continued to flow through him, even returning to him after all seemed lost due to his shearing by Delilah (Judges 16:16-17). In the end, HaShem honored Samson’s prayer and brought judgment on the Philistines and their false god Dagon through Samson’s last act that brought down Dagon’s temple and killed over three hundred Philistine lords as well as Samson (Judges 16:28-30). Another thing to notice is that while John lived a somewhat ascetic lifestyle, there is no indication that this was Samuel’s practice, and it certainly was not Samson’s. Both of these men remained an active part of their community—separated to the service of HaShem but not set apart from the people. 

Intriguingly, there are two other men, who while not called Nazarites, were called to serve HaShem before they were even born. First is Jeremiah, whom HaShem called when he was yet a boy,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart—I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Then there is Sha’ul who described his situation thusly,

But when He (HaShem) who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me… (Galatians 1.15-16)

Both Jeremiah and Sha’ul had to choose whether or not to walk in their calling, separated to the service of HaShem, or not. Some people have specific callings upon their lives from Hashem, some from the womb others later in life. For some, like Samson, Samuel, and John, their life paths were laid out for them from the very beginning. Others like Jeremiah and Sha’ul may have been “set apart” in the womb but did not “receive the call that required a choice until later in their lives. And then there are still others, probably many of us, who for whatever reason, make a choice to be separated for service later in life. 

Today, the choice to become a Nazarite according to Numbers 6 is no longer an option since there is no longer a priesthood or Temple to bring the vow to its conclusion. However, it is still possible to be like Jeremiah or Sha’ul and choose to serve HaShem when one recognizes the call. Equally, like the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6, one could choose to separate themselves to HaShem’s service. The key today, whether called from birth or a personal choice to serve HaShem, is to complete the work that one has begun. Sha’ul told the Yeshua followers in Corinth,

“But now finish doing it, so that just as there was an eagerness to be willing, so also to finish it, out of what you have.” (2 Corinthians 8:11)

In other words, if we desire to set ourselves apart for service or ministry unto HaShem, we need to follow through with it, completing the work or calling that was started. Sha’ul followed his exhortation to the Corinthians with these words to the Philippians,

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 1:6)

In other words, when we choose to serve ADONAI, he will work with us to perform that which we started to do in service to him and to others.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* 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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Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, begins with the following affirmation,

Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Yehoshua (Joshua); Yehoshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. They (the men of the Great Assembly) said three things: Be careful in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence for the Torah.1

Pirkei Avot 1:1

The first two of the three things stated by the men of the Great Assembly are fairly easy to accept. The idea of being careful in judgment is exemplified in Yeshua’s words,         

Stop judging, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)2

In John, the aspect of judging is clarified further, as Yeshua plainly states,

Do not judge by appearance, but judge righteously. (John 7:24)

But surely there are times when we are required to make a judgment concerning another’s actions or blatant attitudes. HaShem, through the prophet Zechariah, gives these words of guidance.

These are the things that you are to do: Speak the truth one to another; administer the judgment of truth and shalomin your gates; do not let any of you devise evil in your hearts against your neighbor; and do not love false oaths, for I hate all these things,”—it is a declaration of ADONAI. (Zechariah 8:16-17)

Or as stated in Pirkei Avot, we need to be careful in our judgments.

Then there is the admonition to “raise up many disciples.” Once again Yeshua openly spoke similarly to his followers,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

So now we can all agree that we need to be careful in judgment and to make disciples. But what about the aspect of “making a fence for the Torah?” There are two passages that many followers of Yeshua turn to as proof texts against “fences,” both from Deuteronomy,

You must not add to the word that I am commanding you or take away from it—in order to keep the mitzvot of ADONAI your God that I am commanding you. (Deuteronomy 4:2)
Whatever I command you, you must take care to do—you are not to add to it or take away from it. (Deuteronomy 13:1)

Both verses are quite clear that we are not to add to or take away from the words of the Torah. The thing is, the fences are NOT additions to the Torah but protections for each of us, to aid us in not violating the words of the Torah. A fence, no matter how high it might be or what it may be made of, is not the house it encircles. Picture a long driveway, lined with stately oak trees. Around the base of each oak tree is a small picket fence. No one expects the picket fence to totally protect the oak tree, but the fence does draw attention to the fact that there is something there to protect it. Equally no one would ever consider the picket fence an oak tree. A careless or out-of-control driver might well crash through the picket fence but hopefully, the damage to the tree would be minimal. Likewise, the fences created over the years by our sages are an attempt to protect the Torah while at the same time protecting the one who is trying to observe the requirements of the Torah as it is written,

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvotof ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Interestingly, we see the picture of this protection in this week’s parashah, B’midbar, Numbers 1:1-4:20. In Numbers 1:52 we read, “Bnei-Yisrael will encamp, each man with his own camp, each with his own standard, according to their own divisions.” With this, the picture begins to develop. In the very center of the camp is the Mishkan (Tabernacle) the visible representation of the presence of HaShem among his people (Number 2:17). Then the Levites are to arrange themselves around the Mishkan as a buffer between HaShem and the people (Numbers 1:53). Next is the arrangement of the rest of the tribes of Israel. Surrounding the Levites are the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun on the east side (Numbers 2:3-7), of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad on the south side (Numbers 2:10-14), of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin on the west side (Numbers 2:18-22) and of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali on the north side (Numbers 2:25-30). Thus, the Mishkan and, by inference, the Presence of HaShem was protected by two sets of fences, the Levites and the rest of the tribes of Israel. The fences were not the Mishkan or the Presence of HaShem, and no one would mistake them as such.

While it is true that for followers of Yeshua, we can “draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16) we still need to come before him with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalms 24:3-4). We must not suppose we can enter his presence in an unseemly manner. In Galatians, Sha’ul lays this out rather plainly as he wrote,

But I say, walk by the Ruach, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Ruach, but the Ruach sets its desire against the flesh—for these are in opposition to one another so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Ruach, you are not under the law. Now the deeds of the flesh are clear: sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, idolatry, witchcraft, hostility, strife, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, just as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit God’s kingdom. But the fruit of the Ruach is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—against such things, there is no law. (Galatians 5:16-23)

In essence, the way we walk and what we surround ourselves with become the fences around each of us. They can either enable each of us to walk with our God (fruit of the Ruach) or separate us from the Father (fruit of the flesh). To be sure, walking in the Ruach is not an easy activity; it takes making a conscious choice to do so. Loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself is a choice that has to be made each and every day, often multiple times each day. As we approach the Sabbath, let’s look forward to being in his presence. Then as the new week begins, let’s commit within ourselves to “be careful in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence for the (Living) Torah” by walking in the fruit of the Ruach.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

Footnotes:
1 The Koren Siddur, Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, 2009, p 641.

2 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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