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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A few weeks ago, in Parashat Bereshit, we read about a couple of poor choices people made. The first poor choice was that of Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden when they chose to eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, contrary to the command of HaShem (Gen. 2:17). 

“Now the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a thing of lust for the eyes, and that the tree was desirable for imparting wisdom. So, she took of its fruit, and she ate. She also gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” 

Genesis 3:6

It is noteworthy that the “snake” did not force Chava and Adam to disobey HaShem – he merely made suggestions, twisting the words of HaShem which led the new couple to making the poor choice on their own. Then, the next poor choice was that of Cain in Genesis 4:3-7. 

“So it happened after some time that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to ADONAI, while Abel—he also brought of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. Now ADONAI looked favorably upon Abel and his offering, but upon Cain and his offering He did not look favorably. Cain became very angry, and his countenance fell. Then ADONAI said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Here it was not the “snake” that was causing Cain problems, it was his own heart. Cain was jealous and resentful of his brother, but HaShem told him that he had the power or ability to take control of the situation.

It is important to recognize that we are just like Cain. Situations and circumstances in our lives continually cause us to respond in ways that are contrary to derech eretz or “the way of the land.” Derech eretz means (1) being a mensch or being a person of integrity and honor (2) living ethically or responsibly and finally (3) appropriate behavior. The third definition most aptly exhibits HaShem’s encouragement to Cain, “If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here, Cain is told that he has a choice to make, either master his anger and jealousy or be consumed by it. His choice is well known. We too have choices to make every day. A favorite verse of mine is from Rav Shaul’s letter to the Yeshua-believers in Corinth,

No temptation (trial or test) has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it. 

1 Corinthians 10:13

There is always a way of escape, we just have to make the choice. 

This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27 begins with a command and a choice. HaShem commands Abram to pack up and leave his home to go to someplace new, though the particulars were not made clear. Abram, in an act of faith, made the choice to follow the command of HaShem, trusting that HaShem knew what he was doing. Aside from the command to go, (lech) HaShem promised that Abram would be the father of a great nation. Unfortunately, this did not happen quickly.

According to tradition, Sarai was around 75 years old when they left Haran. In Genesis 16, some 10 to 15 years later, the narrative introduces Hagar. It was then that Sarai, still childless, followed an accepted custom of offering Abram her handmaid to provide an heir (Genesis 16:2). Two poor choices were made or maybe better said, two temptations were surrendered to. HaShem’s promise of an heir seemed to be long overdue. Instead of continuing to trust in HaShem, Sarai took it upon herself to aid HaShem and “Abram listened to Sarai’s voice” (Genesis 16:2). Interestingly, “Abram listened to Sarai’s voice” sounds quite similar to “She also gave to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). One has to wonder, how the narrative might have been different if Adam had stopped Chava or if Abram had refused Sarai’s suggestion. But then again, we seldom recognize the repercussions of our poor choices until long after they have been made.

Abram and Sarai were not the only ones to make poor choices. Hagar, whom HaShem blessed with a son, chose to despise her mistress (Genesis 16:4). Thus, instead of joy over the potential birth of an heir, there was enmity and strife between Sarai and Hagar. Sadly, Abram did what many husbands have done in the past, he chose to capitulate to Sarai’s complaining, allowing her to deal with Hagar as she wished. The end of the story saw HaShem’s promise of making his seed into a great nation split into two nations, half-brothers who would, like Jacob and Esau in the very near future, become enemies, holding animosity against one another even to this day.

Traditional Judaism teaches that we all have the capacity and the responsibility to make good choices. We are not predetermined to make bad choices, rather we can master our evil inclinations. Yaacov wrote to his community, 

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’—for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is dragged away and enticed by his own desire. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full grown, it brings forth death.” 

James 1:13-15

It would appear Yaacov’s words could well have been said to Cain, just as HaShem’s encouragement to Cain should be taken to heart by each of us, “If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Instead of following the example of these poor choices, consider for a minute Yeshua’s choices when he faced temptation in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). At no time did the tempter force Yeshua to do anything. Rather as with Chava, Cain, and even Sarai, he played on Yeshua’s physical and emotional needs, hoping to cause Yeshua to make a poor choice just as Adam and Chava, Cain, Sarai, and numerous others have made throughout history. Yeshua never argued with tempter, he responded with the Word of God and when the tempter used the Word of God incorrectly, Yeshua answered by accurately handling the word as Rav Shaul encouraged Timothy to do. May these closing words be our mantra as we continue our walk of faith.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

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

** 2 Timothy 2:15 from New American Standard Bible — NASB 1995. Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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In the closing verses of Parashat Bereshit, we hear HaShem’s inditement, describing the condition of His creation, specifically humankind,

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. So, ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained. 

Genesis 6:5-6

Then an even stronger inditement of creation is expressed in this week’s parasha, Noach, 

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

Wedged between these two inditements are glimmers of hope, specifically in last verse of Bereshit and the first verse of Noach,

But Noah found favor in ADONAI’s eyes. … These are the genealogies of Noah. Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.

Genesis 6:8-9

Noach was a righteous man, blameless and so focused on HaShem that he is said to have “continually walked with God.” This immediately brings to mind Enoch, as it is recorded in last week’s reading that “Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). 

Now consider 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 Noah, 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

The author of Hebrews wrote that Enoch was “pleasing to God,” while Noach was obedient.  Whether Noach was obedient out of fear or simple self-preservation, he still, like Enoch, was considered righteous. Also, like Enoch (Genesis 5:22 & 24), Noach chose to “walk with God” (Genesis 6:9) instead of walking in the ways of the world. 

It is thought-provoking that while both of these men walked with HaShem, HaShem dealt with them differently. Enoch walked with HaShem and HaShem took him, seemingly removed him from the world that was spiraling out of control. Noach, on the other hand, walked with HaShem and HaShem hid him and his family away in the ark while the world was destroyed by the waters of judgement. 

So why is it that some people seem to be delivered from the evil and troubles of this world (like Enoch) while others (like Noach) seem to have to work their way through the very center of everything?

Through the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, I believe that HaShem gave Israel, as well as each of us, clues to the answer to this question.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of ADONAI. “For as the heavens are higher than earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

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

Jeremiah 29:11

At this point, I will add two more scriptures,

Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Do not be anxious about anything—but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the shalom of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua.

Philippians 4:6-7

Sometimes we are miraculously delivered from the evils and troubles of this world, at other times we are not. However, in all things, whether they appear to be positive or negative, we can be sure of one thing, HaShem knows who we are, where we are, what we are going through and is there with us to help us make it through to the other side. We may not “know His thoughts” but we can “trust in His plans.” While our own understanding might fail us, we can trust in “the shalom of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Messiah Yeshua.” And just as He promised Israel, so He promises each of us, 

ADONAI—He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. Do not fear or be discouraged.

Deuteronomy 31:8

So, whatever situation or circumstance we find ourselves in this Shabbat, let’s determine to trust in HaShem and His plan and purpose in our lives, knowing that ultimately, He will not fail or abandon us.

* 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

Genesis 6:9 – 11:32 / Isaiah 54:1-10 / Matt 24:36-46

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In a recent Family Circus cartoon strip, concerning the month of August, Billy, the seven-year-old eldest child explains to three-year-old Jeffery that “This is the best month for a vacation ‘cause August doesn’t come with and holidays. You hafta make your own.” ( 

Billy’s statement is just as true for the month of Elul, which began August 9 and ends September 6, as   it is for the month of August; there are no “holidays” in the month of Elul. Even though there are no holidays in Elul, there are a few things that bring special attention to this month. 

First, Elul (אלול in Hebrew) is traditionally recognized as representing the acrostic אני לדודי ודודי לי, ani le’dodi ve’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” from Song of Songs 6:3. This verse has long exemplified the love relationship between Israel and HaShem and between HaShem and Israel. A second aspect of the month of Elul is that in many synagogues the shofar or ram’s horn is sounded every day after Shacharit (morning prayers) in preparation of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana (biblically Yom Teruah, the Day of the Trumpet Sounding),

“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

Though we are not told exactly the reason for the shofar blowing, there are a number of suggestions. From the Psalmist we read, “With trumpets and sound of the shofar blast a sound before the King, ADONAI” (Psalm 98:6). Traditionally, within Judaism, Rosh Hashana commemorates the coronation of the Creator and King of the Universe, thus this is a time of great joy. Then from Numbers 10:9 we see that the sound of the shofar is a call to battle, “Whenever you go to war in your own land against the enemy who is hostile to you, you are to sound short blasts of alarm. Then you will be remembered before ADONAI your God and be delivered from your enemies.” Another important aspect of hearing the shofar is suggested by Maimonides in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4,

“Although the sounding of the shofar on the New Year is a decree of the Written Law, it hints at a deeper meaning, as if saying, “Awake O sleeper, from your sleep; O slumberers, arouse yourselves from your slumbers; examine your deeds, return in teshuvah, and remember your Creator. You who forget the truth for the ephemerality of time, and go astray the whole year in futility and emptiness which is neither effective nor salvific–look to your souls; improve your ways and works. Abandon, every one of you, your wayward course and your harmful thoughts.”   

While Maimonides may have been thinking of passages like Isaiah 52:1, “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion!” … as well as Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Rav Shaul already linked the passages with the coming of Messiah and the need to be awake and ready for his appearing.

“Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Messiah will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:14

Thus, the daily blowing of the shofar during the month of Elul is to awaken our hearts to the need to be prepared and ready not only for King of the Universe but equally ready for Messiah Yeshua. Therefore, the holiday-lite month of Elul is in fact a very important month in our yearly cycle as it: (1) reminds us of our covenantal relationship with HaShem; (2) directs us to prepare ourselves for the memorial of the coronation of the King of the Universe; (3) and probably most importantly, challenges each of us to awaken and examine ourselves to ensure we are ready for our coming Messiah. 

In the middle of this week’s Torah reading, Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9, Moses challenges by Bnei Israel (Deuteronomy 18:13).

You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God. (JPS)

You are to be blameless before ADONAI your God. (TLV)

You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God. (NRSV)

As can be clearly seen from the three different translations of the same verse, Moses is challenging, possibly even pleading, with Bnei Israel to remain wholehearted, blameless, and completely loyal to HaShem, the one who delivered them from Egyptian oppression and bondage and then led them and cared for them throughout the decades of wandering in the wilderness. Every step of the way HaShem affirmed his desire to bless and care for his covenant people, even when he had to discipline them. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds Bnei Israel,

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 mitzvot of ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good?

Deuteronomy 10:12-13

This challenge is for all of Israel, natural born or grafted in. Let’s take the opportunity afforded to us in the month to refocus our hearts and lives on things of God. There is definitely much wrong in and with our world today, and for many of us there is very little we can do about the “big picture.” However, we can attune our hearts and minds to the things of God, we can make restitutions and restore relationships that have become strained or non-existent – whether by our own actions or the actions of others. We can remember and effectuate the words of the prophet Micah, who paraphrased Moses’ words mentioned above, 

He [HaShem] has told you, humanity, what is good, and what ADONAI is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

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

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Chabad’s Eikev in a Nutshell commentary on Deuteronomy 8:3 makes the following statement, 

“Their forty years in the desert, says Moses to the people, during which G‑d sustained them with daily manna from heaven, was to teach them “that man does not live on bread alone, but by the utterance of G‑d’s mouth does man live.”

As many of you know, Yeshua quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, to the devil when tempted by him.

And when the tempter came to him (Yeshua), he (the devil) said, “If You are Ben-Elohim, tell these stones to become bread.” But he (Yeshua) replied, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:3-4

Often when we read these Scriptures, we focus upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Such a focus is proper—so much so that Rav Shaul would remind Timothy,

All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed. 

2 Timothy 3:16-17

But something else common to both Deuteronomy 8 and Matthew 4 is that Hashem is the source of the affliction or temptation suffered by Bnei Israel and Yeshua.

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.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

Then Yeshua was led by the Ruach into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4:1

Notice, the stated reason for the affliction or maybe more appropriately “the testing,” was “in order to humble you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His mitzvot or not.” HaShem did not need to “test” the people to know what was in their hearts, as King David tells us, “… He knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:22). No, HaShem was not the one that needed to know the people’s hearts; they needed to know their own hearts. Jeremiah illuded to this when he wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable—who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9) 

Rav Shaul reminded the believers in Corinth about Israel’s testing and what it meant,

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. Therefore, let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall. No temptation (trial, testing, or affliction) has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

Both Bnei Israel in the wilderness and each of us today need to know what is in our hearts. We need to know whether we will keep His mitzvot or not. Very often, the only way to know whether or not we will keep the commandments of the LORD is when we are tested. Also, like Bnei Israel in the wilderness, we need to know and to be assured of the fact that HaShem knows our weaknesses and that his tests are for our betterment and improvement. Hashem’s testing not only strengthens our faith in him but also helps us learn though obedience and practice to be victorious over life’s trials and afflictions that come our way. Through Hashem’s “tests” or those thrown at us from this world, we would do well to embrace and internalize HaShem’s affirmation to Israel, and by extension to us, through the prophet Jeremiah,

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

Jeremiah 29:11

* All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

** This week’s Torah portion is Eikev is Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25 and the suggested reading from the Besorah is Matthew 3:16-4:4.

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In the beginning of this week’s parasha, Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, Moses explains why he would not be taking Bnei Israel into the Promised Land after leading them for the last 40 years. It is interesting however, what Moses shares with the people and what was recorded in Numbers which we read a five Shabbats ago.

In Va’etchanan we read Moses’ perspective – “But ADONAI was angry with me because of you, so He would not listen to me” (Deuteronomy 3:26). But in Numbers 20:12, we read HaShem’s perspective – But ADONAI said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me so as to esteem Me as holy in the eyes of Bnei-Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given to them.”

It has been said that perception is strongly affected by what one has experienced in the past and the expectations of what one might experience in the future, and how it’s compared to the specific situation. These factors of past experiences and future expectations are often used to explain how two or more people can experience the same incident yet remember it completely different. However, in this case, it is not two different people remembering the same incident, rather it is one person remembering an incident that would profoundly affect the conclusion of not only his forty plus year ministry but his very life.

Often memory can be a funny even deceptive thing. Let’s look back at the incident once again in Numbers 20:1-2, “In the first month, the entire community of Bnei-Yisrael arrived at the wilderness of Zin. … Now there was no water for the community, so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.” Remember Moses and Aaron had been leading Bnei Israel for almost four decades by this time. Almost all of the original people who left Egypt have now died in the wandering and have been replaced by their children and possibly grandchildren. If we were to go back and read the account of this almost four-decade relationship between Moses and Bnei Israel, one thing becomes abundantly clear, the people knew well how to grumble and complain when things did not go according to their wants and desires. A second thing they learned well was that grumbling and complaining against HaShem often brought judgement but grumbling and complaining against Moses and Aaron usually brought a satisfactory conclusion. Now, in the wilderness of Zin, water had either run low or become non-existent and instead of trusting in the provision of HaShem who has led them literally all their lives, they complained to Moses. Moses and Aaron’s immediate response was to fall on their faces before HaShem at the entrance to the Tabernacle, at which time he told them what to do (Numbers 20:7-8).

Pausing the narrative right there, one could assume at Moses and Aaron would rise up from HaShem’s presence, gather the people together, speak to the rock, thereby satisfying the needs of the people and their livestock. However, for some reason, that is not what happened. 

Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock. He said, “Listen now, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with the staff. Water gushed out and the community and its livestock drank.

Numbers 20:10-11

Two things are immediately clear. First, Moses did not react to the crowd in the manner that HaShem required. After gathering them together, he upbraided the crowd, calling them rebels or disobedient ones, suggesting that they (the crowd of people) were depending on him to provide for them instead of trusting in HaShem. Then he struck the rock, twice, instead of speaking to it as commanded. It should be remembered, that though his actions and attitudes were contrary to HaShem’s command, water still appeared and the satisfied the needs of the people. The second thing that is often overlooked, is that Aaron was silent throughout the incident. He could have attempted to quiet or calm his brother, but he didn’t. Thus, Moses’s actions and Aaron’s silence brought swift discipline from HaShem.

But ADONAI said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me so as to esteem Me as holy in the eyes of Bnei-Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given to them.”

Numbers 20:12

So, in this week’s reading, did Moses forget that he and Aaron were at fault as is stated in Numbers 20:12, or do we need to read Deuteronomy 3:26 differently. Certainly, the people carried part of the blame as their constant grumbling and complaining throughout the years of wandering surely had worn down Moses’ and Aaron’s ability to respond properly in the manner HaShem required. Plus, Moses’ and Aaron’s sister, Miriam, had just died, so they were probably still suffering the grief of her passing. But neither of these excuses justify their disobedience to the command of HaShem. 

In Yaacov’s letter to his community, it’s written,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, since you know that we will receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man (or woman)…

James 3:1-2

If this higher standard is true of teachers, how much more so it is true of leaders, whether they be secular or religious. Moses and Aaron had the responsibility of exhibiting their trust in HaShem and his word. They were to establish HaShem’s holiness in the eyes of the people – but they did not. So, while Moses could say to Bnei Israel, in all honesty, “ADONAI was angry with me because of you, because your constant complaining and grumbling wore me down,” he could not absolve himself of his own personal disobedience to the expressed word of HaShem.

Yaacov tempered his warning to teachers (and I believe leaders) that we all stumble, it is in our very nature to do so. However, he followed that tempering with “If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man.” Many he was remembering Yeshua’s words recorded by Matthew,

“But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:36-37

Moses’ careless words, regardless of the reason they were said, kept him from entering the promise land with the people he had led for almost four decades. May it always be that we are justified by our words and not condemned by them.

* 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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This week’s parasha, Balak, (Numbers 22:1 – 25:9) is not one of most popular readings in the yearly cycle. Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab along with the Midianites were quite concerned with Israel’s victory over King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. Consequently, Balak’s idea of counting the cost for further battles was to employ the services of Balaam son of Beor the premier sorcerer in the region. Balak’s message to Balaam was simple and to the point,

Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.

Numbers 22:6

Most know the outcome of the story. Try as he may and to the great disappointment of Balak, Balaam was not able to curse Israel. By his words, he stayed true to the command of HaShem,

Balaam said to Balak, “I have come to you now, but do I have power to say just anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say.”

Numbers 22:38

Therefore, what was supposed to be curses, actually became blessings, one from Numbers 24:5-9 found its way into the Siddur (Jewish Prayer Book).

How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!

Like palm-groves that stretch far away, like gardens beside a river,

like aloes that the LORD has planted,  like cedar trees beside the waters.

Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall have abundant water,

his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.

God who brings him out of Egypt, is like the horns of a wild ox for him,

he shall devour the nations that are his foes and break their bones.

He shall strike with his arrows. He crouched, he lay down like a lion,

and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? 

Blessed is everyone who blesses you and cursed is everyone who curses you.”

Like the first three, the rest of Balaam’s oracles were equally displeasing to Balak, as they all spoke of coming judgements on the surrounding nations either at the hands of Israel or of foreign armies used by HaShem to execute judgement. Sadly, Balaam did not leave well enough alone. At the end of the parasha we read of Israel playing the harlot and Balaam’s involvement is noted later Parashat Matot.

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Thus, Israel yoked itself to the Baal of Peor, and the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel. … These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.

Numbers 25:1-3; 31:16

Instead of being remembered as the premier sorcerer who heard and followed the ways of HaShem, Balaam has gone down in history as an anathema. Peter wrote these words concerning those who knew the right way but chose to deviate from the ways of HaShem,

They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of doing wrong …

2 Peter 2:15, also see Jude 11

Balaam example proves that one must follow the ways of the LORD completely, not picking and choosing what one might wish to do. Balaam spoke the words that HaShem put in his mouth, but then Balaam proved that the plans of his heart were truly evil, and this brought about his downfall.

Rav Shaul affirmed this truth as he wrote to the Yeshua-believers in Galatia.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:7-9

Let commit this week and forever more to follow Solomon’s advice to “trust in the LORD with all our heart, and do not rely on our own insight.” (Proverbs 3:5)

* 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 parasha, Chukat (“statute”), is found in Numbers 19:1-22:1. Among the various items covered in this week’s reading are Moses’ and Aaron’s rebellious activity which led to their inability to enter into Canaan—the land promised to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and the deaths of Miriam and of Aaron, which brought about the elevation of Eleazar, Aaron’s son to the position of Kohen HaGadol (High Priest). One of the most notable events covered in this week’s parasha is the enigmatic purification ritual for a person contaminated though contact with a corpse. The ritual is performed with water and the ashes of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19:1-20). I use the word enigmaticbecause this ritual is much like that of the potentially unfaithful wife which uses a mixture of holy water and dust from the floor of the Mishkan (Tabernacle; Numbers 5:11-28). 

According to Jewish tradition there are 613 commands or mitzvot in the Torah: 248 positive ones, mitzvot aseh, things that Jews should do, and 365 negative ones, mitzvot lo ta’aseh, things that Jews should not do. However, for this week’s Thoughts, another division of mitzvot need to be considered, that is mishpatim, those mitzvot that can be understood, or that one might say are rational. The Ten Commandments are a good representation of rational mitzvot. There are also chukim, those mitzvot that are not immediately, if ever, understood or appear rational. The laws of kashrut, the clean and unclean animals that are allowed to be consumed fall into this category, as do the two rituals briefly mentioned above. All of this leads to the question of the week, does a mitzva (command) have to be rational or even understood to be obeyed?

Rav Shaul in his letter to Timothy wrote, 

All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness, so that the person belonging to God may be capable, fully equipped for every good deed.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

It would be wise to note that he did not say that all Scripture was understandable or even rational, but that it was useful for teaching, for reproof, for restoration, and for training in righteousness. In preparation for this Torah portion, I found the following relevant and informative observation,

Human understanding is, and will always be, fallible. In order for us to know what’s best to do, we need to have God direct us. When God’s perfect judgment conflicts with our own, the rational conclusion is that our judgment is wrong and the best thing is to follow God’s judgment instead.

In light of this observation, the compiler of Proverbs gives these words of encouragement and warning,

Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. … There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Proverbs 3:5-6 & 16:18

I am not suggesting that as followers of Yeshua we “check our brains at the door” and blindly follow the Scriptures without thought or consideration. Earlier in in his letter to Timothy, Rav Shaul wrote,

Make every effort to present yourself before God as tried and true, as an unashamed worker cutting a straight path with the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

Timothy, as well as the rest of us, was admonished to study the Scriptures and learn how to apply them to our daily lives. However, there may well be times when logic, common sense, and even rational thought would seem to run contrary to the written Scripture. Moses provided what could be considered an escape clause for this type of situation when he wrote,

The secret things belong to ADONAI our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever—in order to do all the words of this Torah.

Deuteronomy 29:28 (:29)

In conclusion, there are or will be things in Scripture that remain a secret to us, things that HaShem chooses not to reveal or justify his reasoning. There will be things that remain enigmatic no matter how we look at them or try to explain them. Rav Shaul, in his letter to the Romans wrote,

O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how incomprehensible His ways! For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?”

Romans 11:33-34

We are not required to understand everything, but we are to have faith in HaShem and his word, as it is written, “…without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrew 11:6).

* 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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