Thoughts on Bereshit – 5778

canstockphoto12820422The festival of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret for this year is now a memory, but its memories go with us through the year. A posting on FB sums this up well, “we are to bring into our home all the rich experiences we have received during the Festivals of Tishrei, and put them into use throughout home, work and lives.” As with all aspects of our journey with Hashem, we are to remember His goodness, grace, and comfort – not only because He has done it for us in the past but because He will continue to do the same in our present and in our future. It is part of His character that HE revealed to Moshe when He said,

God answered Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Then He said, “You are to say to Bnei-Yisrael, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses: “You are to say to Bnei-YisraelAdonai, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and the Name by which I should be remembered from generation to generation. (Exodus 3.14-15)[i]

The God of Israel is ever present with His people in every situation, and with those who call upon His name with all of their hearts. There may be times when His presence is difficult to see or recognize – but He is there all the same.

This week, we begin the Torah reading cycle once again with Bereshit, (Genesis 1.1 – 6.8), which records an account of creation. The Genesis creation account does not answer all the questions that scientists or rationalists would like answered. The answer lies in one of my favorite verses (if you have been following these thoughts of mine for a while, you will recognize it),

“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 English)

Recognizing that there are some things have not been revealed to us and that we must trust the LORD to know what is best is an act of faith. That does not mean that we cannot search out the unknown and ask questions, but it does mean that we may never find the answers for which we are looking.

In reading various commentaries on this week’s parasha, I came across the following from aish.com

It is interesting that at the beginning of the Torah we are told seven times that all that God created was good. We are then told of the one thing in God’s world that wasn’t good: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). … The Torah is telling us that we can be in the perfect environment, with every conceivable pleasure in the world, but if we are missing one vital ingredient, we might still be miserable. Everyone needs someone to share things with: someone to take us out of ourselves and extend our sense of generosity, whether in terms of sharing physically, emotionally, or spiritually.[ii]

In the immediate context, we see that Hashem remedied the potential problem by making the man a “well-matched helper” (2.18, TLV). The inference here however, is not one direction but bi-directional. The man and the woman are ideally matched to help each other, to guard one another’s blind spots, and to keep one another strong in the presence of the LORD. Last Shabbat, during Sukkot, we read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) that two are better than one and three are even stronger (cf. Ecclesiastes 4.9-12).

In this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 42.5-21, Hashem proclaims through the prophet

“I, Adonai, called You in righteousness, I will take hold of Your hand, I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, (Isaiah 42.6)

Following on the idea that two are better than one, the God of Israel desired and still desires to take Israel by the hand, keeping her strong and safe as a “light to the nations.” Israel was never meant to be a “light to the nations” in her own strength. Rather, Israel is a light to the nations as she reflects her relationship with her God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Equally, as believers in Yeshua, it is not our light that others see, but the reflected light of Yeshua shining through us.

The reading from the Apostolic Writings, John 1.1-18, is often said to be a commentary on creation account in Genesis 1. In John’s account, the enabling power of creation is the Word of God (John 1.1) reminiscent of the nine times in Genesis 1 where it is recorded “and God said…”. Likewise, from the very beginning it was the light of the Holy One which was to be reflected in the world, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it” (John 1.4-5). We might not always recognize the “Light” but that does not negate the presence of the “Light.” Yeshua was with the Father in the beginning, (John 1.1) and He holds all creation together until today (Colossians 1.17).

This Shabbat, we have an opportunity to answer the call from the LORD. In Bereshit, the man hid from the LORD (Genesis 3.9). Later, in the Akedah, Hashem called to Abraham (Genesis 22.1) and instead of hiding, Abraham answered “Hineni,” “I am here.” Will we hide from the Light or run to it, the choice is always ours to make?

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] http://www.aish.com/tp/b/parsha-point/Not-Good-for-Man-to-be-Alone.html?s=mm

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Thoughts on Sukkot

canstockphoto11083651Last year, Rabbi Joshua, of Ahavat Zion Synagogue in California, wrote on his blog,

By dwelling in sukkot every year, we are faced with the reality of our human frailty and immortality. Just like the sukkah, our earthly bodies are but temporary dwelling places. When forced to dwell in a sukkah during the festival days, we find ourselves exposed to the elements, eating our meals without certain familiar comforts, and spending time in a shelter that at any moment could be brought down by weather.

This fragile reality was brought home last year as our sukkah fell to strong winds about an hour after I finished building it. A Google search later that evening showed that due to weather conditions around the world, numerous communities suffered wind and rain damage during Sukkot. This year, so far, the weather has been cooperating but the fragility of life is still ever before us. Sunday evening over fifty people were killed and more than five hundred wounded at an open air, country music concert in Las Vegas in a shooting attack. Earlier on Sunday, two women were brutally stabbed to death in a train station in Marseille. Last week, three young men, a border policeman and two civilian security guards were gunned down while foiling terrorist attack outside the community of Har Adar, in the Jerusalem hills. The reality is that we have no assurance of life, limb, or property in this life. While we can do our best to protect and care for ourselves, ultimately, we, like Israel in the wilderness, are totally dependent upon Hashem for everything. The psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8.4) To balance that question, we have read Psalms 27 daily since the beginning of Elul and will continue until Simchat Torah. While the entire Psalm is phenomenal, the beginning and ending verses carry particular importance

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27. 1 & 13-14)

The psalmist’s paradox, on one hand, what is man in comparison to the greatness and majesty of the Creator of the Universe – on the other hand, is his sole trust is in the character and grace of the very same LORD.

Recently, a question was posted on Facebook, “where is G-d, when innocent suffer?” Not a new question, simple people, theologians and philosophers have been dealing with this for ages. Logical, rational thought demands answers, “how can a good G-d allow such horrendous things that we see and at times experience daily.” Sadly, the Scriptures do not always answer to our rational, logical demands. There are times when “In some areas of life, leaving a question unanswered is the appropriate response.”[i] One of my favorite passages from the Torah is found in Deuteronomy,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (29.28, 29 in English).

This does not mean we should not seek answers to perceived dilemmas or to seek solutions to obvious paradoxes. What is does mean is that we can and should trust Hashem to have things under His provincial care, even if we do not understand, thus walking out the admonition of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11.1), which also brings us back to the psalmist, as he proclaims

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (42.12, 11 in English)

So, as you build your sukkah this year, or as you sit in a friend’s sukkah; enjoy the goodness and provision of the LORD and at the same time remember the paradoxes and tragedies that abound in our world (and even our lives). Let’s commit to trust in the LORD as the psalmist encourages, even when we do not understand, knowing that He loves and cares for us.

Chag Semach

[i] http://blog.webyeshiva.org/insights-in-pirkei-avot-the-suffering-of-the-righteous/

 

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Thoughts on Yom Kippur

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16.1-34)[i] ends with

“It is to be a statute to you forever, that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you are to afflict your souls, and do no kind of work—both the native-born and the outsider dwelling among you. For on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. From all your sins you will be clean before ADONAI. … “This will be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins.” It was done as ADONAI commanded Moses. (16.29-30 and 34)

Whether one reads the words a “statute to you forever” or an “everlasting statute” the meaning remains the same; Israel is to observe the fast of the seventh month, on the tenth day as a day of atonement for the nation. But some might say, “there is no Temple, no way to offer the required sacrifices,” and this would be true. However, the ending of this passage infers that the primary important thing is to “afflict your souls,” which is interpreted as fasting and introspection with accompanying repentance and restitution as required. Surely, this is not enough

Often, the Word of the LORD through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 is held up to show that the fast of Yom Kippur is no longer acceptable (Isaiah 58.3-5). But look again. What is not acceptable is the people’s attitude when they fast. This is similar to Yeshua’s chastisement of the Torah scholars and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He was not telling them to refrain from tithing mint, dill and cumin, but rather to tithe mint and dill and cumin without forgetting the aspects of justice and mercy and faithfulness (23.23). It is not the fast of Yom Kippur for which the Ruach of the LORD reprimanded Israel through the prophet Isaiah, but their attitude before, during, and after the fast. They neglected the aspects of justice and mercy, and faithfulness toward their fellow man (and woman), toward their neighbors, and even toward the outsider who dwelt among them. Yom Kippur is an everlasting statute for all of Israel. It is at least one day during the year when each individual, corporately with every other individual, stands before the LORD in hope and expectation that WE will be forgiven – not on our own merit but on the grace and mercy of the Creator and King of the Universe.

At the end of the daily Shacharit service, the second section of ובא לציון גואל, “A redeemer will come to Zion” we recite

LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Yisrael, our ancestors, may You keep this for ever so that it forms the thoughts in Your people’s heart, and directs their heart toward You. He is compassionate. He forgives iniquity and does not destroy. Repeatedly He suppresses His anger, not rousing His full wrath (Psalm 78.38). For You, my LORD, are good and forgiving, abundantly kind to all who call upon You (Psalm 86.5).[ii]

This prayer asks Hashem to remember His own character in dealing with His people, Israel. Then beginning the first of Elul (August 23rd this year) and continuing through Hoshana Raba (the end of Sukkot) we read Psalm 27 which begins,

ADONAI is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear? ADONAI is the stronghold of my life: whom should I dread? (27.1)

And ends,

Surely I trust that I will see the goodness of ADONAI in the land of the living. Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let Your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI. (27.13-14)

During the Yom Kippur prayers, all Israel acknowledges that we have sinned (Viduy) and that we have no righteousness or merit of our own to warrant the forgiveness of our trespasses. It is only the grace and mercy of ADONAI that can bring about the forgiveness that we seek. Now comes the catch. Hashem has provided the required way of atonement for Israel, the finished work of Yeshua. However, as Rav Shaul reminded the believers in Rome that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” (Romans 11.25). Israel, for the most part, has not recognized the provision of Yeshua’s sacrifice. But Rav Shaul immediately followed the “partial hardening” statement saying,

…and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11.26-27, cf. Jeremiah 31.32-34)

This Yom Kippur, may more of the “partial hardening” be removed and the eyes and hearts of Bnei Yisrael be opened to see and accept the Father’s love and provision for them.

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

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

[ii] The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem 2009. p 176.

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

canstockphoto3712801A little over eight weeks ago we commemorated the destruction of both Temples, Israel’s exile among the nations, and various other atrocities perpetrated upon and suffered by the Jewish people over the centuries. This was followed by the Seven Weeks of Consolation which reaffirmed ADONAI’s love, care, and concern for His people, assuring them that no matter how far afield they were scattered, they remained His am segula, and He would return them to both Himself and their ancestral land. This evening (Wednesday) begins the Days of Awe, with the two-day observance of Rosh Hashana or Yom Teruah (the Day of the Blowing of the Shofar). Traditionally at this time, we remember the creation of mankind as the living soul who had the power and ability to acknowledge Hashem as Creator and King of the Universe. In that position, we also acknowledge Hashem’s right to judge the thoughts of our hearts, the words of our mouths, and the deeds of our hands – not only as they are in relation to Him, but also as they are in relation to our fellow man. Within traditional Judaism it is understood that at this time the ledgers are inscribed and read by the heavenly tribunal, and we, as subjects of Hashem, have the opportunity to repent and make restitution for the wrongs accomplished. Granted, as believers in Yeshua our iniquity has been dealt with, but we still need to deal with the results of said iniquity, especially as it relates to our fellowman (cf. Matthew 5.23-24).

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur lies Shabbat Shuvah, and Parashat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32.1-52).[a] It begins with what is known as the Song of Moshe (Deuteronomy 32.1-43), which encapsulates Israel’s somewhat turbulent history to date. It conveys the understanding that the turbulence is not yet over, but that eventually the LORD will be victorious and His people will truly be His am segula for all eternity.  At the end of the song, Moshe charges the people once more

“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.” (32.45-47)

The words of the Torah are your life! He implores the people to understand and grasp this reality, knowing that they won’t for at many more centuries.

Shabbat Shuvah gets its name from the first verse of the Haftarah reading from Hosea “Return O Israel, to Adonai your God.” (14:2).  The full Haftarah reading is Hosea 14.2-10 and Micah 7.18-20.

Kohlenberger and Mounce Hebrew Lexicon translates shuvah (שובה) as to turn back, turn to, or return, and is the same root as repent.[b] During this time between Rosh Hashana where iniquity and shortcomings are recorded and judged, and Yom Kippur where forgiveness is either sealed or denied depending upon one’s attitude and actions, the Rabbis placed the reading of this impassioned plea from the prophet

Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words with you and return to ADONAI. Say to Him: “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so we may repay with offerings of our lips… “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger will turn away from him. (Hosea 14.2-3, 5)

Just as Moshe pleaded time and time again with Israel to choose life not death, Hosea pleads with Israel once again to choose life by returning to ADONAI. The words of Hashem, “I will love them freely…” should bring both immense joy as well as deep sorrow to our hearts. Joy because He is our LORD and He desires only our good, even when He must chastise us. But then there is sorrow, because like a Father, His love for each of us knows no bounds, no limits and still we fail to follow Him with our whole heart – often choosing our own way instead of His. But then there are the words from the prophet Micah,

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)

Our restitution and redemption, while dependent in part to our returning to ADONAI, is primarily based upon His love, His grace, and His character. As we have and will continue to recite many times of the next ten days

ה׳, ה׳, אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן, אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת, נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים, נֹשֵׂ֥א עָוֹ֛ן וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד, עֲוֹ֣ן אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ וְעַל־בְּנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים׃ – שמות לד.6-7

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)

Were it not for the grace and character of Hashem, we would have all perished in the wilderness – whether it is the desert and desolation of the world or the habitation of our own making. It was and remains His love that keeps us under the shelter of His wings. In Deuteronomy, Moshe reminded Israel that it was not because of their great number or mighty prowess that they were chosen (7.7-9). Equally Yeshua reminded His followers, as well as us today, that we did not choose Him, but He chose us, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I selected you so that you would go and produce fruit, and your fruit would remain…” (John 15.16). Our choice then, just like Israel’s, is to accept Yeshua’s choosing of us and to walk in His ways. During these Days of Awe, we should reflect on where we are in this journey and what we need to do, not to earn our place but to please Him who has called us to this place.

Chag Semach

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

[b] Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by John R. Kohlenberger III and William D. Mounce, Copyright © 2012 by William D. Mounce. Accordance edition hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.7

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Thoughts on Nitzavim-Vayelech

canstockphoto3712801Moshe’s time with Bnei Yisrael is quickly coming to an end, as he winds down his last discourse in this week’s parasha. This is his last impassioned plea with Bnei Yisrael to remember all that ADONAI has done for them, all He has revealed to them, and what He lovingly expects from them. The parasha is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Deuteronomy 29.9 – 31.30.[i] Often when we read the Tanakh, we get the impression that it is primarily male oriented, and at least slightly misogynistic. But this week’s parasha begins with an all-inclusive call to

Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God – your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. (29.9 – 10)

As with last week’s parasha, the purpose for carefully following the terms of the Covenant is laid out plainly, “…so that you may prosper in everything you do.” But it was not just the men, or the camp leaders that heard this impassioned plea of Moshe, everyone – “your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps,”– was to hear and to take heed of the words of the covenant that Moshe was reiterating. There was not to be a single person left out of the hearing, so that no one could later say, “we didn’t hear” or “it doesn’t apply to us.”

The “foreigners living in your camps,” or in some translations the strangers or sojourners, in Hebrew is גר, ger, which carries a number of nuances and understandings. Most popular today is that of a proselyte or convert. While this is a modern understanding, there is some question as to what was intended by the original writers/compliers. The word ger also can mean resident alien, such as Abraham in Genesis 23.4 or Moshe in Exodus 2.22 or Israel while in Egypt. While both Abraham and Moshe lived among their neighbors, as foreign residents, neither one of them converted to their ways. In other words, it appears to be possible that the ger could well “live” among Bnei Yisrael, and by their presence with Bnei Yisrael they fell under the dictates as well as the blessings and curses with the rest of Bnei Yisrael – without becoming Bnei Yisrael. In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Jeffrey H. Tigay notes, “Resident aliens did not normally own land and were dependent on others for their livelihood. Because of their dependency, gerim were often poor and exposed to exploitation, and the Torah regularly includes them along with the widows, orphans, and the poor in appeals and laws designed to protect vulnerable groups.”[ii] Tigay is commenting on the equal justice that is to be administered to both “an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you” (Deuteronomy 1.16).  We just saw a perfect example of this common care in Ki Tavo last week

When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 26.12)

Tigay goes on to comment in this week’s parasha, that “while not Israelites, resident aliens are subject to the civil law and certain religious prohibitions, enjoy particular rights, and are permitted to participate in certain religious celebrations. For this reason, they, too, take part in the covenant ceremony and must hear the Teaching read (Deuteronomy 31.12; Joshua 8.35).[iii]

Recently, the Jerusalem Counsel of Acts 15 has become the topic of discussion once again. The council decided not to burden the new believers from the nations with the requirement of full conversion to Judaism, as some were insisting (Acts 15.5). The general consensus of the counsel was that the they “should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God,” (15.19). They did however, establish four guidelines seemingly to facilitate moral and table fellowship (15.20), then adding “For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (15.21). It would appear that these new believers in Yeshua were in fact familiar with the synagogue and the Teaching (Torah) that was read every Shabbat. They were “resident aliens” as it were – not full members but participants.

Later, Rav Shaul would write to the believers in Rome, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’.” (Romans 10.12-13) There is no difference in our coming into the kingdom, we must all come through Yeshua our Messiah and Lord. However, neither this statement nor what Shaul wrote to the believers at Galatia, (Galatians 3.28) changes the distinction between Jew and non-Jew, nor the individual responsibilities of each. As long as there are physical distinctions between the sexes, there will be distinctions between various cultures and social groups, including Jew and non-Jew – what there is not and never will be, is a difference in the way that we each approach Messiah. The barrier that has come down is not that which makes us distinct, but rather that which demands that we stay distinct but united.

This week’s haftarah is the last of the seven weeks of consolation, where Israel has been comforted since the horrors of Tisha b’Av, and awaits Rosh Hashanah and the memorial of the coronation of the King of the Universe. The reading is found in Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9. The passage begins in heights of joy and exaltation as redeemed Israel proclaims

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61.10)

The prophet recognizes that it is not Israel’s righteousness or Israel’s own power that has brought about her restoration; it is her God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the father of our Messiah Yeshua. More than that, it is not only that our God has rescued and redeemed Israel, He felt every bit of her pain and despair while exiled from His presence. The prophet closes with these words

In all their distress He too was distressed, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. In His love and mercy, He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63.9)

All the time Israel was in exile, Hashem too felt the pain and despair of the separation from His am segula. His love and His mercy brought about our redemption, and not something that we ourselves have done.

Israel will forever remember and “will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which He is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us — yes, the many good things He has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses” (63.7). It would do us well to remind ourselves to do likewise.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Commentary by Jeffrey H. Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary; Deuteronomy. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1996, p 12.

[iii] Ibid. p 278.

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Thoughts on Ki TAvo

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26.1 – 29.8 (9 in English),[i] is best known for Moshe’s lengthy declaration of the blessings and curses that are the natural result of obedience or disobedience to the mitzvot of ADONAI (28.1 – 68). The parasha begins however, with two essential things that had to be dealt with when entering into the Land. First, Bnei Yisrael was to bring a portion of the first produce of the land to the priests as an act of gratitude for Hashem’s blessing (26.1-2). There are two things to note about this offering. First, Rashi interprets this as happening after Hashem has driven out the inhabitants, and Bnei Yisrael has settled in peace, recognizing ADONAI’s provision and care. Second, is that the importance of this offering is in recognizing that Hashem is the one who blesses and gives the increase, not only of the produce of the land but in all aspects of life (26.5-10).

The second important issue covered is the tithe of the produce that is to be set aside to be given “to the Levite, to the outsider, to the orphan and to the widow, so that they may eat within your town gates and be satisfied” (26.12). Three weeks ago, in Re’eh, Moshe reminded the people

However, there should be no poor among you, for Adonai will surely bless you in the land Adonai your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess. If only you would carefully listen to the voice of Adonai your God, being careful to do all these mitzvah that I am commanding you today! (Deuteronomy 15.4-5)

Social justice and care for the poor and needy, are intrinsically tied to Judaism through Hashem’s self-revelation of His character and His expectations of His chosen people. The conditions of this fallen world breed want and need, poverty and despair. But Hashem prepared a solution for tikkun olam, for the repair of the world. He desires to pour out His blessings on His people, not for their betterment alone, but so that through those blessings “to the Levite, to the outsider, to the orphan and to the widow, so that they may eat within your town gates and be satisfied.” But this tikkun olam is not contingent upon the needs. Rather it is contingent upon the LORD’s people following His commandments. This week’s parasha ends with, “So keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may prosper in all that you do” (29.8; 9 in English). In the Apostolic Writings, John wrote to his community

We know that we love God’s children by this—when we love God and obey His commandments. For this is the love of God—that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For everyone born of God overcomes the world. And the victory that has overcome the world is this—our faith. (1 John 5.2-4)

We overcome the world, not because of our innate strength or righteousness. We overcome the world because we are the children of God and as His children; we obey (do) and we keep (guard) His commandments. Also, according to John, those commandments are not burdensome or hard. In next week’s parasha, Nitzavim, we will read

For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. (Deuteronomy 30.11)

This seems to agree with John’s assessment that the commandments of the LORD are not burdensome or hard, but doable by those who love Him.

One comment on the curses listed in this parasha. Often, the last of the twelve curses pronounced from Mt. Ebal – “Cursed is the one who does not uphold the words of this Torah by doing them” (27.26) – is connected with Rav Shaul’s warning to the Galatians, “For all who rely on the deeds of Torah are under a curse—for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep doing everything written in the scroll of the Torah” (Galatians 3.10). If John says that keeping the commandments is a result of loving Hashem, and Moshe affirmed that the “mitzvah… is not too difficult,” then what is Shaul actually saying? Neither within traditional Judaism or in our Messianic faith in Yeshua, are we kept secure by the מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה, “deeds of Torah” but rather we are kept secure by the One who called us and set us apart unto Him. The deeds of the Torah, keeping His commandments, are an out working of our existing relationship with the LORD.

In Va’eira, before the Exodus and before Sinai, Hashem told Moshe,

Therefore, say to Bnei-Yisrael: I am Adonai, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am Adonai your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6.6-7)

Israel was the people of God before Sinai, Sinai just sealed the covenant, the choice that Hashem had already made. But it is the מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה, deeds of Torah that show the world to whom we belong – when we care for the poor and needy, the sick and destitute – and not just those who are like us. Yeshua took the letter of the Torah and expanded it to incorporate all of creation.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Even the pagans do that, don’t they? Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5.43-48)

The Haftarah, Isaiah 60.1-22, is the sixth of seven Haftarot of Consolation read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading, more than many others depicts the hoped for Messianic Age when the pain and memory of the exile will be removed, and the glory of the Kingdom of God will be realized. From the very beginning the Haftarah blends together with both the Torah and the Apostolic Writings.

Arise, shine, for your light has come! The glory of Adonai has risen on you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness the peoples. But Adonai will arise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to the brilliance of your rising. (Isaiah 60.1-3)

The glory of the LORD will arise over Israel and the light of that glory will draw the nations to the light. Again, it is not to the glory of Israel, but the glory of the God of Israel that draws the nations to the light. There will come a day, and may it be soon, that all Israel will “keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that [we all] may prosper in all that [we] do” (Deuteronomy 29.8) and so we shall all “be perfect (שלם),[ii] just as [our] Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5.48).

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] To be finished, be completed; be at peace; derived from Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by John R. Kohlenberger III and William D. Mounce, Copyright © 2012 by William D. Mounce. Accordance edition hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.7

 

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Thoughts on Ki Teitzei

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21.10 – 25.19[i] and, according to some reckoning, contains a listing of seventy-four of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. These include the taking of captured women as wives (21.10-14) and the communal dealing with rebellious sons (21.18-21). Interestingly, the account dealing with the rebellious son explains the reasoning, So, you will purge the evil from your midstand all Israel will hear and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21.21) Notice that this is a communal action, not an individual action or that of the parents.

The phrase, “you will purge the evil from your midst,’ is emphasized in this week’s parasha, as it occurs four other times. Three of these occurrences address relations between a man and a woman. The first, concerns the virginity of a new wife (22.21), the second the act of adultery (22.22), and the third, the act of an engaged woman, a virgin, having sexual relations while in a city, the implication being that it was without her consent (22.24). The fourth appearance deals with the issue of someone kidnapping an individual from among Bnei Yisrael and treating them as a slave. The kidnapper is to die in order to purge the evil from your midst (24.7). This concept of communal action to guard the “sanctity” of the community is not limited to ancient Israel. Rav Shaul writes to the believers in Corinth

But now I am writing to you not to mix together with anyone who is being called a brother if he is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater or a slanderer or a drunkard or a swindler—not even to eat with such a fellow. For what business do I have judging outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But those who are outside, God judges. Put away the wicked fellow from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5.11-13)

It must be remembered that this action is not to be taken lightly. Last week, in Shoftim, we read that no accusations were to be received or acted upon without the presence of two or three witnesses. Equally, it should be noted that while we should be concerned about the actions of those in the world, as far as social awareness is concerned, Rav Shaul stipulates that we are to deal specifically with such injustices within our communities, allowing the LORD to deal with the situations outside the community.

This week’s haftarah is the fifth of seven readings of Consolation that follow Tisha b’Av and conclude the Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading is from Isaiah 54.1-10. Possibly just before or during the beginning of the first exile, the author of Eichah (Lamentations) wrote

For the Lord will not reject forever. For though He has caused grief, yet He will have compassion according to His abundant mercies. (Eichah 3.31-32)

This week, Isaiah confirms the assurance of Hashem’s compassion for Bnei Yisrael when by the Ruach he wrote,

“For a brief moment I deserted you, but I will regather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger, I hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says Adonai your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54.7-8)

But then Hashem ties His promise to an older promise,

For this is like the waters of Noah to Me: for as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more cover the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor will I rebuke you. (Isaiah 54.9)

In the beginning of chapter 13, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews continues with this week’s idea of maintaining a separate, holy community, as he writes

Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13.5; cf. Deuteronomy 31.6)

As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we have the same assurance, that just as the world will never again be destroyed by flood waters, and that the LORD will never again turn His face from Israel completely, neither will He turn His face from us. This does not mean, however, that we, or Israel, are free to act any way that we desire. We are responsible to obey the LORD and the teachings of our Messiah. As Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe are merely weeks away, now would be a good time to begin taking inventory, physically, mentally and spiritually, of the past year – asking the LORD to make us aware of the areas where we may have fallen short of the mark and what we need to do to correct any infraction we may have allowed to enter into our lives.

Just one closing note, as many of you are aware, southeast Texas was recently hit pretty hard by the wind and rain of Hurricane Harvey. There are numerous agencies and individuals doing what they can to bring relief to that area of Texas, including Israeli disaster relief operations.[ii] If you are interested in providing specific assistance to the Messianic believers in the Houston area, the UMJC (Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations) has set up a way to contribute online at http://www.umjc.org/donate/. Under “special instructions” please write Hurricane. The funds will then be sent to Baruch Hashem Congregation, where the team will distribute them to specific congregations and teams that can meet the needs of the families who have been directly affected. The Psalmist wrote, “For He rescues the needy crying for help, also the poor and the one with no helper” (Psalm 72.12), and while the LORD is the ultimate provider, He often uses the work of our hands to meet those needs.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] https://www.israel21c.org/israel-sends-aid-to-flood-battered-texas/

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