Torah Thoughts – Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1 & 4 – HaShem told Abram to go forth and he did so … almost. The command was “… from your na­tive land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” While Abram left his father’s house he didn’t do so completely – he took Lot with him which caused a lot of problems both in his lifetime and in that of his offspring.

12:10ff – there was a famine in the land that HaShem sent Abram to, and instead of seeking the direction of HaShem, Abram sought refuge and deliverance in Egypt. Then to compound the issue, he apparently feared for his life due to Sarai’s beauty, so he convinced Sarai to say that she was his sister. Pharaoh took Sarai to be his wife (15 & 19), Abram grew in wealth and prestige because of Sarai (16), and in the end Pharaoh and his household, though he operated in faulty knowledge, was afflicted with “many plagues” (17). Interestingly, Abram was sent off with his wife, increased possessions and apparently no repercussions (20).

Chapter 13 records one of the “issues” with Lot, who seemingly acquired wealth and possessions as did Abram. Again, Abram attempted to settle the issue without seeking the assistance of HaShem. In the long run, Abram was blessed in the outcome though it would eventually cost Lot everything. 

Lot’s decline begins in chapter 14 as King Chedorlaomer and his allies reasserted their rule over Sodom, Gomorrah, and their allies. Chedorlaomer’s group won the opening skirmishes but with the help of Abram and his allies, the Chedorlaomer group was defeated and Sodom and their allies were restored. In the process, Abram met a kindred spirit in King Melchizedek of Salem. Melchizedek reaffirmed HaShem’s blessings on Abram, and Abram, in turn, refused the blessing that the King of Sodom wanted to bestow on him for his assistance against the Chedorlaomer group. 

Chapter 15 begins with HaShem and Abram in dialogue, as HaShem attempts to calm Abram’s fear over his progeny or better yet the lack thereof. This brings to mind three sayings from Mishlei. 

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the tongue’s answer is from ADONAI.

Proverbs 16:1, TLV

The heart of man plans his course, but ADONAI directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9, TLV

Many designs are in a man’s mind, but it is the LORD’s plan that is accomplished.

Proverbs 19:21, JPS

Understand, there is nothing wrong with making plans and trying to reason out the issues of life. That is why the Creator, Blessed be He, gave us a mind with which to think and to plan, thus fulfilling the initial command to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it…” (Genesis 1:28). I believe Abram’s handing of the famine, the struggles with Lot and even the rescue of Lot bears this out. However, HaShem, as the creator who actually cares for His creation has plans and purposes for each of us; the key is recognizing and accepting His guiding hand. 

This brings us now to the poignant issue of his promised son in 15:2-3, where Abram is expressing both his doubts of HaShem being able to fulfill His promise as well as offering his plans to rectify the situation of an offspring, to which HaShem responds, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” Sarai, too, was concerned about her inability to provide a son for Abram. The IVP Old Testament Commentary describes problem and a possible solution.

Failure to produce an heir was a major calamity for a family in the ancient world because it meant a disruption in the generational inheritance pattern and left no one to care for the couple in their old age. Thus, legal remedies were developed which allowed a man whose wife had failed to provide him with a son to impregnate a slave girl (Code of Hammurabi; Nuzi texts) or a prostitute (Lipit-Ishtar Code). The children from this relationship could then be acknowledged by the father as his heirs (Code of Hammurabi). Abram and Sarai employ the same strategy when they use the slave girl Hagar as a legal surrogate to produce an heir for the aged couple. (Note on 11:30) … Slave women or bondswomen were considered both property and legal extensions of their mistress. As a result, it would be possible for Sarai to have Hagar perform a variety of household tasks as well as to use her as a surrogate for her own barren womb. (Note on 16:1)

John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament © 2000. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.3

In other words, according to the traditions and rules of the Ancient Near East, Sarai’s giving of Hagar as a surrogate mother to Abram was perfectly acceptable (Genesis 16:2), while also remaining within the parameters of HaShem’s statement to Abram, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir,” as having a son with Hagar would be of Abram’s “issue.” And while this might work for the normal couple on the street trying to ensure their lineage, it was not the plan that HaShem had for Abram. At the beginning of this parasha, HaShem told Abram that “I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you…” (Genesis 12:2), and there is little doubt that the twelve sons of Ishmael grew into great and mighty nations. But the sons of Ishmael were not the ones that HaShem had determined to establish as those of Abram’s seed through whom He promised, “I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:3).

What would today’s world look like had Abram chosen to fully trust HaShem and wait on the fulfillment of the promise? Closer to home, let’s imagine some choices we’ve all made in our past, stepping out trying to help the plans of HaShem when they were not going as fast or as well as we thought they should. Our God is for sure a redeeming God, and He often redeems our folly or impatience. In the end, Abram’s faith and trust in ADONAI is lifted up as an exemplar, much like the humility of Moshe. Lech Lecha is a challenge to each of us to use our knowledge and strength to accomplish the various goals and situations that come into our lives. More than that, is the challenge to rest in the knowledge that HaShem has a plan for our lives and will see it through to the end – even when we cannot see the end ourselves.

This week’s Reading is Parashat Lech Lecha
Torah: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
Apostolic Writings: Hebrews 11:8-12

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Torah Thoughts – Noach

In a blog article entitled Are Some People Better Than Others, Laura Maguire observed, 

When Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are created equal,” he didn’t mean that we’re all born with the same virtues or talents in life. He was not denying that obvious truth. But despite our natural differences, he believed our lives were of equal value. For Jefferson, all people should have the same rights and the same responsibilities as one another. In the moral sense, none could be superior or worth more than another.

In last week’s parasha we read, 

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness! Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the flying creatures of the sky, over the livestock, over the whole earth, and over every crawling creature that crawls on the land.” God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

In a manner of speaking, Mr. Jefferson was correct in his statement that all men (or all humankind) are created equal. Each individual, whoever has lived, does live, or will live, has been created in the very image of the Creator of the universe. However, one of the things that makes us different from one another is the choices we make as we travel though the life we’ve been allocated. A few verses before the beginning of this week’s parasha we hear HaShem’s indictment against His creation,

Then ADONAI saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time.

Genesis 6:5

This indictment is followed by an even stronger one in this week’s parasha, 

Now the earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and behold it was ruined because all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Genesis 6:11-12

But the first verse of this week’s parasha lends some hope to the narrative, 

These are the genealogies of Noah (Noach). Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.

Genesis 6:9

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.

Genesis 6:9 (JPS 1917 edition)

The two translations say the same thing, Noach was a righteous man, blameless and wholeheartedly focused on HaShem, who “continually walked with God.” This immediately brings to mind Enoch, as it was recorded in last week’s reading that “Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). 

As we have seen, Noach’s generation was not particularly praiseworthy or righteous. In fact, it is just the opposite. So how “righteous” was Noach? One answer to this question is eluded to in the following story.

A certain man possessed a wine cellar. One day he went downstairs to fetch some wine and found that his wine had turned to vinegar. “Alas,” he murmured, opening one barrel after another and finding it sour. “It’s all no good.” Finally, he hit upon on barrel that was only half sour. “This one is great,” he exclaimed. “Compared to the rest, it could be called good.”

Moshe Weissman. The Midrash Says: The Book of Beraishis. Brooklyn, Benei Yakov Publications, 1980, p 86

The phrase “in his generations” בְּדֹרֹתָיו is key to understanding Noach’s righteousness. Rashi, relying on BT Sanhedrin 108a and Midrash Tanchuma Noach 5 points out two opposing views of our sages concerning this phrase. The favorable interpretation holds that if Noach had lived in a generation of righteous people, then he would have been even more righteous. The derogatory interpretation holds that if he had lived in different generation, specifically Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered as righteous. Thus, like the wine in the cellar, when most is bad and one is noticeably better, the better one stands out like a beacon. Do not misunderstand me, I am not downplaying Noach’s righteousness before HaShem; but as the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, Noach’s willingness to walk with God and not after the ways of the world, does not necessarily mean that he was a great tzaddik. It does mean that he made a choice, whether the motive was out of love for HaShem or holy fear for the coming judgement, we don’t know. Look at the comparison in Hebrews between Enoch and Noach.

By faith Enoch was taken so as not to see death, and he was not found because God took him. For before he was taken, he was commended as pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to please God. For the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

By faith Noach, when warned about events not yet seen, in holy fear prepared an ark for the safety of his household. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:5-7

It is written that Enoch was “pleasing to God,” while Noach was obedient, out of fear and self-preservation, however, both men were considered righteous. I am suggesting that Noach’s “righteousness” was not so much what set him apart from the others in his generation, but his willingness to choose to “walk with God” instead of walking in the ways of the world.

So, what is the purpose of all of the verbiage this week? As people who have chosen to follow Messiah Yeshua and to walk in the ways of ADONAI, occasionally we compare ourselves with those around us. At times we might even pat ourselves on the back, thinking that we are doing better that those who are not walking the same path. We know our righteousness is not based upon our own works but still, there is the propensity to consider ourselves “better” than they are. Luke 18:9–14 records the now familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray that Yeshua taught. Except for comparing himself to the tax collector, those things that the Pharisee said he did not do, were the exact things that the majority of the population of Noach’s day actually did. By not doing such, Noach was considered blameless, wholehearted toward God, even righteous. Might it be that part of Noach’s righteousness was rooted not on what he did in walking with God, but in what he did not do by comparing himself to others. When our eyes are focused on Him who called us to be holy as He is holy, (cf. Leviticus 20:7 & 1 Peter 1:16), then we will be less likely to compare ourselves with others. While Noach was righteous in his generation, just as was Enoch in his or Abraham in his, we need to be righteous in ours and realize that we are not to compare ourselves with Enoch, Noach or Abraham. Nor are we to compare ourselves with our peers as the Pharisee seemed to do. Instead we are to keep our eyes and our hearts focused upon the one who called us to Himself. Likewise, as Thomas Jefferson noted that “all men are created equal” and as the biblical narrative and world history both affirm, all men have a choice to make that being whom and how to serve, as well as how to respond and relate to others. Some choices lead to righteous activities in life, while others lead to death and destruction. As we are encouraged in Torah, let’s choose life as we walk together with HaShem.

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

Readings for Parashat Noach
Torah: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Apostolic Writings: Luke 18:9-14

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Thoughts on Shabbat for Chol Ha’moed Sukkot

The Shabbat during Chol Ha’moed Sukkot has a special Torah reading, Exodus 33:12 – 34:26. In it we read of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem after the incident with the molten calf. Hashem affirms that He will continue to go with the people of Israel with Moshe as their leader and mediator—at least for their immediate future. Moshe is tasked to prepare two new stone tablets to replace the ones he broke in anger upon seeing the peoples’ transgression with the molten calf. And finally, what many see as the crux of this passage and is almost as well known as the Shema, are the “Thirteen Attributes of Hashem,” that Hashem proclaims about Himself.

Then ADONAI passed before him, and proclaimed, “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 (TLV)

This affirmation of Hashem’s character remains a source of comfort for both Jews and Christians alike as He announced to Moshe and essentially to all of creation that while justice and discipline are assuredly a part of his character, compassion, grace, lovingkindness and mercy are even more so. All who are in relationship with the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob should take heart and comfort in this proclamation.

While I said that many find this affirmation to be the crux of this week’s portion, I was especially impressed with the next section of the Torah reading, that being Hashem’s specific promise to Moshe as he continues to lead a people who in the natural seem to be more trouble than they are worth. 

Then He said, “I am cutting a covenant. Before all your people I will do wonders, such as have not been done in all the earth, or in any nation. All the people you are among will see the work of ADONAI—for what I am going to do with you will be awesome! Obey what I am commanding you today.

Exodus 34:10-11

Another translation states, 

He said, Behold! I enter a covenant: Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations; and the entire people in whose midst you are will see the work of Hashem – for it is awesome – that I am about to do with you.

Exodus 34:10-11, (Artscroll)

The reason for the second translation is that while it is true that in calling Israel out to be His own, Hashem did wonders the likes of which had never been done before, but it is also true that in doing so, He made distinctions such as had never been seen before. Israel was and still is to be a people set apart, holy unto ADONAI Tzva’ot. Rashi noted that the word נִפְלָאֹת, translated ‘wonders’ in the TLV, is related to נִפְלִינוּ, which in 33:16 is translated ‘set apart’ or ‘distinct’ from all the peoples of the earth (Rashi on Exodus 34 10). The Psalmist would affirm these distinctions when he wrote,

For ADONAI has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His treasured possession.

Psalm 135:4

He declares His word to Jacob, His decrees and His rulings to Israel. He has not done so with any other nation. They have not known His judgments.

Psalm 147:19-20

Israel is unique, not because of anything intrinsically special about Israel, but because of Hashem’s own choosing. 

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

It is often said that the Apostle Paul, or Rav Shaul, did away with these distinctions, though his own words would seem to nullify that assumption.

Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God. So what if some did not trust? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? May it never be! Let God be true even if every man is a liar, as it is written, “that You may be righteous in Your words and prevail when You are judged.”

Romans 3:1-4

In this day and age when anti-Semitism is once more on the rise, and almost weekly there are episodes of hate crimes perpetrated against Jews and Jewish places of worship, it is often said that if the Jews would just put aside their distinctive actions and practices and become like everyone else, these so called atrocities would end. In other words, it is the Jews that is causing the “nations” to rise up against the Jews. Here is a secret, it was not the Jews who chose to be unique or distinct. It was Hashem who set the Jewish people apart, who established the distinctive lifestyle and practices that make them different from the rest of the world. And secret number two, the Jews aren’t going away.

Thus says ADONAI, who gives the sun as a light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars as a light by night, who stirs up the sea so its waves roar, ADONAI-Tzva’ot is His Name: “Only if this fixed order departs from before Me”—it is a declaration of ADONAI—“then also might Israel’s offspring cease from being a nation before Me—for all time.” Thus says ADONAI: “Only if heaven above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then also I will cast off the offspring of Israel—for all they have done.” It is a declaration of ADONAI.

Jeremiah 31:34-36

Hashem set Israel apart to Himself and established His covenant with Bnei Yisrael knowing full well what a stiff-necked disobedient people they would be. But Israel is His choice, even when we err and are disobedient. In Deuteronomy 1:31 Moshe reminded the people, “in the wilderness … you saw how ADONAI your God carried you as a man carries his son, everywhere you went.” Moshe could well have added a postscript, “even when you grumbled and complained, made a molten calf, and doubted the promises of Hashem, He carried you.” Today in remembrance of His carrying, in remember of His forbearance on our behalf, we sit in the sukkah for seven days. During this time of the year we are reminded of the transitory status of our existence and in that of Hashem’s love and care for each of us – in spite of our shortcomings and failings. Though we said the following blessing the first night as we entered the sukkah, as well as other times in the year, maybe it should be on our heart and lips daily in remembrance of His care for us each and every day.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֲינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזּמַן הַזֵּה.

Blessed are You, ADONAI our God, King of the universe, has kept us alive,
sustained us, and brought us to this season.

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

In a Huffpost blog which appeared on March 9th, 2016, psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra wrote,

Never underestimate the impact a single decision can have: one wrong move can ruin a relationship, a career, a life, etc. We must choose wisely to generate joy in our lives. But when the road forks, confusion suddenly sets in. It’s normal to feel bewildered when different options present different pros and cons. As we advance down the path of life, sudden shifts require our attention and quick thinking: Should I give this person another chance? Should I take this job opportunity? Should I invest in a new home? And under the pressure of making the correct choice, all or none of our choices may even seem right. Where, then, do we turn for guidance?

In order to help us answer Dr. Harra’s closing question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” Let’s take a look at the second to last reading in this year’s Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52 (TLV). 

First, here is a bit of background. Ha’azinu is a poem, Shirat Ha’azinu, attributed to Moshe that details Hashem’s relational history with Israel, past, present and future. There is no question that there are segments of the poem that are direct from Hashem, however the beginning of the piece seems to find its impetus in Moshe’s closing words from last week’s parasha, 

…I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. Indeed, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against ADONAI—how much more then after my death? Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 31:27-29

Much of the poem deals with Israel’s straying from the dictates of the Torah and the consequences of their disobedience; at times it would seem as if Hashem completely turned His back on His chosen ahm segula (treasured people), (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18).

As the poem ends, Hashem assures Israel that they will not suffer under the chastising hand of Hashem forever nor will the physical vessels of that chastisement (the nations) forever rule over errant Israel. Israel will ultimately be restored, and a reckoning will be required of the nations.

Make His people rejoice, O nations, for He will avenge the blood of His servants. He will return vengeance on His foes and atone for the land of His people.

Deuteronomy 32:43

This affirmation is reiterated by Hashem through the prophet Malachi, probably around the time that Ezra and Nehemiah were resettling Jerusalem. 

“…they shall be Mine,”—says ADONAI-Tzva’ot—in the day I make My own special possession (segula). So, I will spare them, as one spares his son serving him.

Malachi 3:17

Remember the purpose of the discipline of Hashem is like that of a father to his children, correction, education, and restoration of relationship. 

After ending his poem, Moshe charges all of Bnei Yisrael with these words, 

…he said to them, “Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

This charge is somewhat redundant as Moshe already said this two parashot ago,

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. Then you will live and multiply, and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are going in to possess.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16

So here, occurring twice toward the end of Moshe’s tenure as Bnei Yisrael’s leader and teacher, do we find the answer to Dr. Harra’s question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” We find guidance for all of life’s situations in the Torah. It would seem that Yeshua agreed with this sentiment as he responded to the Pharisees when they questioned about the greatest commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Love Hashem and love your neighbor as yourself – for all the Torah and the Prophets hang on these. In other words, guidance and instruction on how we relate to Hashem, how we relate to others, even how we deal with our own personal issues, are found in the Torah.  

One final thought on guidance. Dr Tigay, in the JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy makes an interesting observation concerning Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, who reigned from c. 1792 BCE to c. 1750 BCE some 300 years before Moshe. Concerning his laws and achievements, Hammurabi is credited as stating, “My words are choice, my deeds have no equal; it is only to the fool that they are empty; to the wise they stand forth as an object of wonder.” (Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia, JPS, 1996. p 316, fn. 47.) Dr. Tigay noted that the word רֵק or “empty” appears in both proclamations – Moshe stating that the Torah “is not an empty thing for you” while Hammurabi, “it is only to the fool that they are empty.” It would seem that both Hammurabi and Moshe felt that not to choose to follow the guidance they provided would be a vain, foolish thing. With this in mind consider these words from Proverbs:

A fool despises his father’s discipline, but one who accepts reproof is smart.

Proverbs 15:5

The fear of Adonai is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

A fool finds no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2

Even as the fool walks along the way, his heart lacks sense and tells everyone what a fool he is.

Ecclesiastes 10:3

It would seem that the choice is simple. If we want true guidance and direction, we need to look to the Word of God. If, on the other hand we prefer to wander aimlessly, this way and that, we can by choice walk like a fool. King David gives us his recommendation on which choice to make, though like us he occasionally chose not to follow his own admonition,

The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of ADONAI is trustworthy, making the simple wise. The precepts of ADONAI are right, giving joy to the heart. The mitzvot of ADONAI are pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of ADONAI are true and altogether righteous.

Psalm 19:8-10

May we all choose to walk in the ways of ADONAI as written in his Word.

This week’s readings are as follows; Torah: Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52,
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51, and from the Apostolic Writings: Luke 17:1-4.

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Thoughts on Vayelech and Shabbat Shuvah

We are in the midst of the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when introspection is the order of the day and each of us is attempting to ensure that all is right between ourselves and Hashem and even more importantly between ourselves and others. Consider these two passages from the Apostolic Writings as we contemplate our relationships and our desire to ensure rightness, both vertically and horizontally. 

First this admonition from Yeshua,

Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Matthew 5:23-24, TLV

It would appear that the validity of our gifts to Hashem are contingent upon our relation to our brothers and sisters. 

The second admonition, in my opinion, is even stronger and is one that we often read over due to its familiarity. This admonistion is part of Yeshua’s instructions to his talmidim regarding the proper attitude and way to pray.

Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us.

Matthew 6:12, CJB

This is immediately followed by an even stronger statement by Yeshua,

For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:14-15; cf. Mark 11:25-26, TLV

I realize that I am sounding redundant, but it is necessary to walk in a state of mutual forgiveness with our brothers and sisters, horizontally as it were, if we want to walk in the forgiveness of our heavenly Father. 

But what about vertically, can we, as sinful, flawed individuals hope to be in a right relationship with our God? A cornerstone passage in the Selichot prayers, prayers for divine forgiveness, that is offered up during the Days of Awe is found in the book of Exodus. Multiple times in our prayers we affirm these thirteen attributes of Hashem. 

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)

Exodus 34:6-7

King David reworks these attributes, personalizing them due to his many experiences with both Hashem’s discipline in his life for his shortcomings as well as Hashem’s restorative actions according to His abundant forgiveness and grace.

ADONAI is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and plentiful in mercy. He will not always accuse, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not treated us according to our sins or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:8-12

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah, is one of the special Shabbatot of the year. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and draws its name from the beginning of the special haftarah reading for this Shabbat.

Shuvah Yisrael, Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.

Hosea 14:2

There is no question, that we, like Israel and King David, have struggled with life and fallen short of the righteous standard that Hashem requires of us. But we need to recall the words of the prophet Micah from the second haftarah reading for Shabbat Shuvah,

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old.

Micah 7:18-20

Throughout the Selichot prayers and the prayers for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we acknowledge our faults, our disobedience to the laws of Hashem, our continual missing of the mark. Along with this acknowledgement, is the recognition that it is only God’s grace and mercy that will restore us, and not any actions or good deeds of our own. Each of us is totally and solely dependent upon the pardoning grace of God as we return to Him in t’shuvah (repentance). It is His desire for us to be restored to fellowship with Him. 

As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that the finished work of Yeshua’s sacrifice—his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension— is the application of Hashem’s restorative grace in our lives. For all those who are not yet followers of Yeshua, it is our hope and prayer that eyes will be opened, ears will be unstopped and hearts softened during these Days of Awe and that the reality of Messiah’s love and his gift of grace will be received by all who seek the LORD and who cry out like David,

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy. According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach haKodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:3-4; 12-14

The Torah reading for Vayelech is Deuteronomy 31:1-30. The special haftarah reading Is Hosea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Matthew 18:21–35.

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Rosh Hashana – 5780

In the list of the mo’adim (festivals) that Hashem told Moshe to proclaim to
Bnei Yisrael in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23,

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation.”

Leviticus 23:24

Vered and I wish you a sweet New Year, abounding in blessings, both physical & spiritual, and may this coming year be a time of renewal and restoration
in the Ruach HaKodesh. 

Ketiva v’chatima tova &
Shana tova u’metukah to  all.

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Thoughts on Ki Teitse

Last year, while introducing this week’s parasha, Rabbi Sacks related the following story:

Many years ago, Elaine and I were being driven to the Catskills, a long-time favourite summer getaway for Jews in New York, and our driver told us the following story: One Friday afternoon, he was making his way to join his family in the Catskills for Shabbat when he saw a man wearing a yarmulke, bending over his car at the side of the road. One of the tires was flat, and he was about to change the wheel.

Our driver told us that he pulled over to the roadside, went over to the man, helped him change the wheel, and wished him “Good Shabbos.” The man thanked him, took his yarmulke off and put it in his pocket. Our driver must have given him a quizzical look, because the man turned and explained: “Oh, I’m not Jewish. It’s just that I know that if I’m wearing one of these” – he gestured to the yarmulke – “someone Jewish will stop and come to help me.

One of the reasons for assisting a fellow Jew is given in this week’s parasha, Ki Teitse Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19,

You must not watch your brother’s donkey or ox fall down on the road and ignore it—you must certainly help him lift it up again.

Deuteronomy 22:4, TLV

Those familiar with Yeshua’s teachings in the Apostolic Writings will immediately recognize this verse, as Yeshua uses it to justify his healing on the Sabbath.

Now when Yeshua went into the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to eat a meal on Shabbat, they were watching Him closely. And there before Him was a man swollen with fluid. So Yeshua said to the Torah lawyers and the Pharisees, “Is it permitted to heal on Shabbat, or not?” But they kept silent. So Yeshua took hold of him and healed him, and He sent him away. Then He said to them, “Which of you, with a son or an ox falling into a well on Yom Shabbat, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Luke 14:1-6

The Pharisees could not reply to Yeshua because they knew he was correct. Later the Sages would write,

Thus also it was taught [in a Baraita]: One heats water for an ill person on Shabbat, whether to give him to drink or to wash him, [since it might help him recover]. And they did not say [it is permitted to desecrate] only the current Shabbat for him, but even a different, future Shabbat. And one must not say: Let us wait [and perform this labor] for him [after Shabbat], perhaps he will get well [in the meantime]. Rather, one heats it for him immediately because any case of uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation overrides Shabbat. And this is so not only with regard to uncertainty [whether his life is in danger] on the current Shabbat, but even in a case of uncertainty [with regard to danger] on a different Shabbat.

B. Yoma 84b

In Judaism, every individual’s life is important and essential because we all are created in the image of God and given life through the breath of the Ruach (cf. Genesis 1:27 & 2:7). Showing the gravity of this importance, pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, takes precedence over almost any other command. Interestingly, this obligation applies not only to an immediate threat but a future one and also to a less grievous threat that may have the potential of becoming serious threat in the future. Yeshua’s healing of the man on Shabbat falls into the realm of uncertainty; he did not know whether the man’s condition would remain the same or increase in severity before the end of the Shabbat, thus he healed the man.

Notice, if you would, that I said in Judaism every individual’s life is important, that even includes our enemies. Yeshua taught,

You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Matthew 5:43-44

Often this verse is understood to indicate that the Tanakh taught hate of one’s enemies and that Yeshua replaced this with a higher ethical principle to love one’s enemies. Nowhere in the Tanakh are we commanded or told to “hate our enemies.” In fact, the Tanakh teaches to treat with dignity and compassion our enemies and those who hate us. The first thing to notice is that Yeshua says, “You have heard it said,” not “it is written.” We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Qumran community juxtaposed love of the sons of light with hate of the sons of darkness (the enemies; 1QS 1.10). It is also safe to assume that the Zealots hated and taught other to hate the Romans. Both of these are examples of traditions alive during the time of Yeshua, not Scripture. Yeshua’s command to “love your enemy” is a reflection of the teaching in the Tanakh. Consider Exodus 23:5, which by the way, is very similar to Deuteronomy 22:4:

If you see the donkey of the one that hates you lying down under its burden, do not leave it. Rather, you are to release it with him.

Exodus 23:5

Also consider Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Rome, who had suffered intervals of persecution. Quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Rav Shaul says:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For by doing so you will heap coals of fire upon his head.”

Romans 12:20

Rabbi Sacks, in the same article mentioned at the beginning, defines such treatment as the ethic of “help your enemy.” Putting love into action and helping meet the needs of those with whom we are not on the best of terms, has the potential of removing the dividing lines and building relationships—sometimes creating friendships where there were none, and  occasionally simply constructing bridges of understanding where there was mistrust and suspicion. A cup of water or a helping hand can go a long way in building and/or restoring relationships. It is my prayer and hope that we can all set as a goal from the day forth to put the ethic of helping one another into practice, not just for those whom we love and care for, but also for our enemies.

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