Thoughts on Matot-Massei

canstockphoto3712801The last reading from the book of Numbers is the double portion, Matot-Massei, Numbers 30:2-36:13.[i] The haftarah, Jeremiah 2:4-28 and 4:1-2, is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction” leading to Tisha b’Av, the annual commemoration of the destruction of both Temples as well as other atrocities suffered by the Jews throughout the centuries. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Acts 9:1-22 according to the Flame Foundation’s schedule prepared by Dr. Jeffrey Feinberg.

Larry Perry in his blog Ethics for Success stated, “I like one of the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary for the word “bond.” It states that “bond” is a “duty or obligation imposed by a contract, promise, etc.” I have faint memory of when a man’s word was his commitment and promise and was worthy of honor. Today, words are cheap! Men use words today in business, politics, and the biased media to manipulate the thinking of others to accomplish their agendas.”[ii]

With the idea of the importance of a man’s word, this week’s double portion begins, “Whenever a man makes a vow to Adonai or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2). A few weeks ago, the haftarah recorded Jephthah’s vow to ADONAI, as he attempted to secure divine covering over an upcoming battle (Judges 11:30-31). Though victorious, Jephthah’s vow came back to haunt him as the first thing out of his house was his daughter, his only child, (Judges 11:34-35).

The author of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) offers these words of advice

Do not be quick with your mouth nor hasty in your heart to utter a word in God’s presence. For God is in heaven, and you are on the earth—therefore, let your words be few. As a dream comes with excessive burdens so a fool’s voice with too many words. When you swear a vow to God, don’t delay in fulfilling it. For He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better for you not to vow than to vow and not pay. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-4)

Yeshua continued this line of thought when He taught His followers,

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall carry out your oaths to Adonai.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all—not by heaven, for it is the throne of God; or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’—anything more than this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37; cf. James 5:12)

Why are the words of our mouths so important? It is said that man is the only creature that most intimately mimics HaShem in that his words have the power to build up or to tear down, to bring life or to cause death. The author of Mishlei reminds us, “Death and life are in the control of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), while James warns us,

For every species of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Adonai and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be. (James 3:7-10)

In today’s world, as Perry noted above, words are often used to manipulate people and situations according to the agenda of the speakers. As Yeshua believers, we should not allow ourselves to follow this pattern. Life and blessing are ours to dispense, if we pay attention to the words we speak, as well as the attitude of our hearts when we speak. In closing, here is a Chasidic folktale that epitomizes the power of our words.

Once there was a young fellow who went about town slandered the local rabbi. One day, for whatever the reason, he realized he was wrong and went to the rabbi’s home and asked for forgiveness. The rabbi, realizing that the young man had not realized the full extent of his transgression, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the rabbi’s house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the young man was happy to be let off with so easy a reparation. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

“Just one more thing,” the rabbi said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers, each and every one.”

“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”

“Precisely,” he answered. “And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”

Whether speaking to the LORD or to one another remember Rav Shaul’s exhortation, Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, to know how you ought to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

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://ethicsforsuccess.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-mans-word-is-his-bond.html

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Thoughts on Pinchas

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1,[i] continues the narrative begun last week with Balaam. Only in this week’s parasha, Israel falls prey to Balaam’s suggestions on how to cause HaShem to curse Israel even though he (Balaam) had not been able to do so (Numbers 25:1-9). Also in this week’s parasha, we read about the second census of Israel. This census is to ascertain all who are of age to serve in army in preparation of entering into the Promised Land.

Another episode in this week’s parasha, which I find specifically relevant, concerns the five daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-7). In the primarily patriarchal world of the Ancient Near East, the family inheritance, especially land, was passed on to the firstborn son of the father, thus perpetuating the family name. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read that even if the firstborn son is of the less favored wife (yes for a longtime polygamy was acceptable), he would receive the inheritance. In the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, they are not disputing the reality of normative practice, but the perpetuation of the family name in their particular situation, “Why should our father’s name diminish from his family just because he had no son?” (Numbers 27:4). Moshe could have said, “this is the way it has been, this is the way it is, and this is the way it will always be!”  But he didn’t. Moshe also could have ruled according to his own understanding of the HaShem’s revelation as he had explained to his father-in-law Yithro.

“When they (Bnei Yisrael) have an issue, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, so I make them understand God’s statutes and His laws.” (Exodus 18:16)

However, this being a potentially volatile situation, Moshe turns to HaShem for His direction in the situation. The response from HaShem was simple and to the point,

“The daughters of Zelophehad are right in saying you should give them property by inheritance among their father’s relatives. You are to turn over the inheritance of their father to them.” (Numbers 27:7)

The daughters operated within normal parameters of the Torah; they saw a problem that they could not solved within the direct parameters of Torah, so they took it to the leader who could. Consequently, the inheritance laws for Israel were adjusted, forever. The firstborn son still was the heir. However, HaShem clarifies the situation stating, “Furthermore, you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael saying: If a man dies without a son, you are to transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (27:8). It is important to remember that one of the primary reasons for the inheritance was to secure the family name and land allotment, so the there was a restriction place upon the daughters

This is the word that ADONAI commands for the daughters of Zelophehad saying: “They may become wives to whomever they please, as long as they marry within the family of the tribe of their father.” (Number 36:6)

Thus, the laws of inheritance were amended and clarified to cover this new situation.

Imagine for a minute the feelings of the five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They saw a problem; their father’s name and land were going to be lost as he had no male heir. Not only that, but their own standing in the community would potentially suffer without an inheritance or family protection. HaShem did not leave them in this situation but adjusted the “Law” to accommodate the need. He did not set aside the “Law;” if a daughter was the firstborn child and she had a baby brother, the brother would still be the heir, in that nothing changed. However, these five daughters pushed the envelope so to speak and, in the process, effected change.

Last month my wife, with my blessing, also pushed the envelope of normally accepted behavior when she received her smicha (Rabbinic ordination) through the laying on of hands by the rabbis of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. At that point Vered joined a line of firsts.

…Judith Eisenstein, who was the first to become a bat mitzvah in 1922, and in the first women ordained as rabbis: Regina Jonas (in 1935), Sally Priesand (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1973), Sandy Sasso (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974), and Amy Eilberg (Jewish Theological Seminary in 1985).[ii]

Vered like Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, and others, has opened the door for future women who seek to follow ADONAI in exercising the gifts and callings that the Ruach has placed within them. It is safe to say that the Zelophehad’s daughters did not receive immediate acceptance any more than the women mentioned above did, but they all persevered. Today there are women in multiple areas of ministry that were once closed to them due to gender or social status. Equally there are young women who see the potential to be much more than ever before. The desire is not to change the Scripture, but to interpret it so that it is living and applicable.

The regular haftarah for this Shabbat would be 1 Kings 18:46-19:21, however, because Parashat Pinchas comes after the 17th of Tammuz this year, we read Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The 17th of Tammuz was marked by a fast in remembrance of the siege of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (First Temple) and the Romans (Second Temple) before the city fell and the Temple was twice destroyed. The 17th of Tammuz begins three weeks of mourning and somber reflection that ends on Tisha b’Av, which this year falls on July 22nd. It is on Tisha b’Av that we remember the actual destruction of both Temples as well as numerous other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries.

The haftarah records Jeremiah’s calling and commissioning, as well as the beginning of HaShem’s discipline upon Israel. It is noteworthy that Jeremiah, like Moshe centuries earlier, tried to convince HaShem that he does not know how to speak, “Alas, ADONAI Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak!” (Jeremiah 1:6). This argument did not work for Moshe, neither did it work for Jeremiah.

The Besorah this week covers Luke’s account of Yeshua’s last meal with His disciples (Luke 22:7-20). Whether this was an actual Passover Seder or just the Teacher’s final meal with His disciples upon finishing their course of instruction, or a pre-Passover meal looking forward to His death as the Passover Lamb, has been discussed, debated, and argued over for centuries. The bottom line is that as Israel was standing before the Jordan and preparing to enter into the Promised Land to begin a new adventure in and with ADONAI, the disciples were standing on the edge of all they had come to know about the Kingdom of God and were preparing to enter it through the blood of the Lamb. Like Israel of old, the disciples discovered that their journey was just beginning, and ours continues.

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] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-daughters-of-zelophehad-power-and-uniqueness (Accessed July 5, 2018).

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Thoughts on Balak

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9.[i] The Haftarah is Micah 5:6 – 6:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is found in Romans 11:25-32.

Israel is moving through the Wilderness on their way to the land of Canaan. Like other rulers in the area, Balak the king of Moab is concerned with his country’s survival, as well as his own, in the face of Israel and Israel’s God. Balak turns to the prophet Balaam for help,

“Come now, curse this people for me, because they are too strong for me! Perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them away from the country. I know that whoever you bless will be blessed and whoever you curse will be accursed!” (22:6).

Balaam was a non-Israelite diviner, obviously famous for his effectiveness. Balaam was not a follower of the God of Israel, he was at best a polytheist – acknowledging the multiplicity of gods of the various surrounding countries and peoples. It was this acknowledgement of others’ gods that led Balaam to approach ADONAI to see if HE would allow His people to be cursed. This is what Balaam tells the first emissaries from Balak, “I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me,” (22:8). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would so guard the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts? The Psalmist cried out, “Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart turn to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness…” (Psalms 141:3-4). We all know the story! Even though Balaam sought ADONAI’s direction and spoke His blessings over Israel, while acknowledging the God of Israel (Numbers 23:6-10; 23:17-24; 24:3-9; 24:15-24), he eventually brought curses upon Israel – not by what he said but by what he suggested Balak should do. In Numbers 25:3 we read about the sin of Israel as they “became bound to Baal of Peor”, the god of the Moabites. While Balaam is not mentioned in this narrative, we see later that he was responsible for the events occurring in Numbers 25.

Before Israel entered into the Promised Land, they had another encounter with the Moabites. Israel was told to exact vengeance upon Moab for the events described in Numbers 25. However, when Israel returned from battle, Moshe was less than happy with the plunder the army brought back.

But Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands, the commanders of hundreds, those returning from the campaign of the war. Moses said to them, “You let all the women live? Why, they are the ones—because of Balaam’s advice—who caused Bnei-Yisrael to be unfaithful to ADONAI in the matter of Peor, so that the plague was on the community of ADONAI! (Numbers 31:14-16)

The in Deuteronomy, HaShem not only reminds Israel of Balaam’s sin, but also of the judgment upon the Ammonites and Moabites.

No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the community of ADONAI—even to the tenth generation none belonging to them is to enter the community of ADONAI forever—because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way when you came out from Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor from Petor of Aram-naharaim to curse you. But Adonai your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Adonai your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. You are never to seek their shalom or welfare all your days. (Deuteronomy 23:4-7)

This warning, about not following Balaam’s example, is not only a Torah command, is also in the Apostolic Writings. Peter reminds his community that they are not to be like Balaam, seeking rewards for wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:15-16). Also, in the short book of Jude, Yeshua believers are encouraged to avoid “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into indecency and deny our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah,” (Jude 1:4). Jude goes on to describe those whom these people are imitating,

 Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain; they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error; and in Korah’s rebellion they have been destroyed. (Jude 1:11)

Finally, in the Revelation, the Ruach acknowledges that the believing community in Pergamum lives in the midst of demonic activity and yet continues to hold on to the Name of Yeshua and to their faith in Him. However, some correction is needed.

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

Throughout the Torah and the Prophets, there is a continue plea for Israel to obey ADONAI and to stay away from idols. Balaam’s advice impacted both of these commands, thereby bringing judgment upon Israel (Numbers 25:1-7).  These are not just a historic events or issues. Ancient Israelites are not the only ones to have problems with obedience and idolatry. Today each of us potentially have idols that we have allowed in our lives. It is said that idols are anything that we allow to come between HaShem and ourselves. We need to remember and remind ourselves continually of the beginning words of the Ten Words (Decalogue)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to them, do not let anyone make you serve them.” (Exodus 20:3-5)

Following ADONAI is a choice, one which we have to make, regardless of what is going on around us. There will always be those people and situations that will seek to pull us away from serving the LORD alone, at times with seemingly good works and projects. We must learn and discipline ourselves to keep our eyes and hearts upon the LORD and His Messiah, not drifting or turning to the right or left. Rav Shaul exhorts us to “pay careful attention to how you conduct your life — live wisely, not unwisely. Use your time well, for these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but try to understand what the will of the Lord is,” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Complete Jewish Bible).

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.

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Thoughts on Chukat

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 is probably one of the saddest portions in the entire cycle. In 20:1, Miriam dies and was buried in the wilderness. In the same chapter, HaShem’s anger at Moshe and Aaron find them losing their right to lead the people into the land of promise.

 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.” (20:12)

Next, still in chapter 20, the Edomites, Israel’s cousins, refuses to allow Israel to pass through their land – even after Israel promises not to veer off the thoroughfare. Finally, coming to Mount Hor, the first part of HaShem’s pronounced discipline at Meribah is realized as Moses takes Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of Mount Hor where Aaron’s garments and emblems of authority are removed and given to Eleazar, and Aaron dies. After his burial, Moses and the new High Priest Eleazar descend the mountain, and remain in a state of uncleanness for seven days (19:11).

At this point, Bnei-Yisrael have to travel back toward the Sea of Reeds, having to detour around Edom. As they retravel the original Exodus route, “the spirit of the people became impatient along the way” (21:4), and they complain and murmur against HaShem and Moses (21:5). Discipline is swift, and, once again, many people die, only this time of snake bites (21:6). The remembrance of this discipline seems to be what Rav Shaul had in mind when he wrote to the Believers in Corinth “let’s not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:9). In fact, Rav Shaul has much to say in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 10, warning the Yeshua believers, from events in Israel’s history, that the discipline of the LORD at times is swift and decisive, as we saw last week in Parashat Korach. In fact, Rav Shaul wrote

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. (10:11)

However, Shaul does not stop with Israel simply as an example. He warns the Yeshua-believers, “let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall” (10:12). Israel was and still is the chosen people of God, His am segula, treasured people, (Deuteronomy 7:6). But that chosenness, that treasuredness, was never a license to do wrong – in fact if anything it was and is just the opposite. Peter reminds his audience, as well as each of us today, that as believers in Yeshua, we are first and foremost to be

…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim (holy) you shall be, for I am kadosh (holy).” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

Therefore we are all

…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were “not a people,” but now you are “God’s people.” You were shown “no mercy,” but now you have been shown “mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

In the CJB Besorah Reading Cycle, John 4:3-30 records Yeshua’s interaction with the Smartian woman at the well. Among other things He tells her is this profound statement.

“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming—it is here now—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people as His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24).

Once again, this plays into Rav Shaul’s often misunderstood teaching that

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Galatians 3:28)

I, as well as many others, have noted, there remains a very distinct difference between males and females, and there are social, cultural and ethnical differences between not only Jews and Greeks, but between all the nations and ethnicities of the world. Yeshua did not remove the difference between Samaritans and Jews. He clarified a new and living way to approach the Father, that being in spirit and in truth. That is how Rav Shaul could say to the believers in Rome,

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all—richly generous to all who call on Him. (Romans 10:12)

In a recent class on Halakhic Process we read the following from the Babylonian Talmud,

One sustains poor gentiles along with poor Jews, and one visits sick gentiles along with sick Jews, and one buries dead gentiles along with dead Jews. All this is done on account of the ways of peace, to foster peaceful relations between Jews and gentiles. (Gittin 61a)

While distinctions most assuredly remain between Jews and non-Jews, we remain responsible to care and to do good for one another, regardless of those distinctions, thus fostering דרכי שלום, the ways of peace. I suggest that while the rabbis may have seen the ways of peace as a physical reality needed between them and their non-Jewish neighbors, in light of Yeshua’s teaching the way of peace is the wholeness and completeness that comes in approaching the Father in spirit and in truth. Salvation, which is from the Jews in the person of Yeshua, is for all creation, for all humankind as we each approach the Father in spirit and in truth.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Korach

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Korach, Numbers 16:1 – 18:32,[i] the haftarah is 1 Samuel 11:14 – 12:22. Most of the parasha’s deals with the rebellion of Korach, HaShem’s judgement on Korach and his party, the rebellion of the people against Moshe and HaShem’s judgement on them, and Moshe’s intercessory action on behalf of those who spoke out against him.

Korach and the party he gathered around him made the following claim against Moshe and Aaron, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI,” (Numbers 16:3)?

Moses responded,

By this you will know that Adonai has sent me to do all these works, that they are not from my own heart. If every one of these men die a common death and experience what happens to all people, then Adonai has not sent me. But if Adonai brings about a new thing, and the earth opens her mouth and swallows them and everything that is theirs, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will know that these men have despised Adonai. (Numbers 16:28-30)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks, “What was wrong with Korach and his fellow rebels? On the face of it, what they said was both true and principled. ‘You have gone too far,’ they said to Moses and Aaron. ‘The whole community is holy, every one of them, and God is with them. Why then are you setting yourselves above God’s congregation?’”[ii] When one remembers HaShem’s words to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, it would seem that Korach was correct.

“So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.” These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael.” (Exodus 19:6)

Moshe hoped that all of Israel would have the same relationship with HaShem as he did. This is seen in his response to Joshua concerning those in the camp manifesting the ministry of the Ruach Hakodesh.

“(Joshua) are you jealous on my behalf? If only ADONAI would make all the people prophets! If only ADONAI would put the Spirit on all of them!” (Numbers 11:29)

But, while Korach and company vocalized their complaint against Moshe and Aaron, Moshe recognized correctly that Korach stood against HaShem himself. Recently, Vered noted that when Moshe received an attack against him personally, against his character, he said nothing, leading to the Torah proclaiming him the meekness, most humble man (Numbers 12:3). However, when Moshe felt that the character of HaShem was in question, he spoke out, forcibly – both when he felt the attack was from without as with Korach or when he felt that HaShem Himself was doing something that might impugn His name or character,

I prayed to ADONAI and said, “O Lord, ADONAI, do not destroy Your people—Your inheritance that You have redeemed through Your greatness and brought out from Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people or to their wickedness or their sin. Otherwise the land from which You brought us out may say, ‘Because ADONAI was not able to bring them into the land that He spoke of to them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.’ Yet they are Your people—Your inheritance that You brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:26-29)

What we learn from this parasha is that Moshe was intensely concerned about both the people with which he was charged, as well as with the God he served. We too, at times, may find ourselves in the position of defending our faith and/or practice before those who feel we are in error. Peter’s words ring true at that point,

Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with humility and reverence—keeping a clear conscience so that, whatever you are accused of, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Messiah may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

There is another important point to learn from this week’s parasha. Just because someone quotes Scripture or paraphrases Scripture in such a way to make it sound like the truth, the reality is that while true it may be, the motivation or intention may be anything but good and proper. While Korach spoke the right words, his motivation was to displace the LORD’s choice. On a blog entitled, Life of a Steward the author notes,

As Christians, our motivation is crucial. The difference between righteousness and evil is often not what we do but why we do it. Furthermore, we have a tremendous ability to deceive ourselves. It takes a lot of honesty to look deep within and see that your motivations are off.[iii]

There was a time, when I was a young believer, I learned to argue well against those who had differing views than those I held to be right and true. Looking back on that time, I wish I could take back some of the communication, because while I was using Scripture to prove my position, my attitude was one of self-righteousness – I was right, and they were wrong. I now realize that while I still believe I was right, I know that they were not necessarily wrong, but simple interpreted Scriptures differently.

In this week’s reading from the Besorah, Luke 19:1-28, we read about Yeshua and Zacchaeus’ encounter with one another. Zacchaeus, a tax-collector, was socially considered a sinner, which brought about the charge from the crowd, “Yeshua has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (19:7)! Their words were technically correct, as they were motivated by common perceptions – but the motivation was misinformed. Zacchaeus the tax-collector had a change of heart due to the fact that “Today salvation has come to this home, because he also is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Korach operated under a wrong motivation, the crowds around Zacchaeus operated under a misinformed motivation. We must follow the admonition of the compiler of the Proverbs

Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

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://rabbisacks.org/when-truth-is-sacrificed-to-power-korach-5775/

[iii] http://www.lifeofasteward.com/six-signs-your-motivation-is-incorrect/

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Thoughts on Sh’lach lecha

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Sh’lach lecha (you send), Numbers 13:1 – 15:41,[i] which is the well-known, though tragic episode, of the twelve spies being sent to check-out the land before entering as a nation (Numbers 13-14). Tragic, because of the twelve men chosen, all of whom were leaders of their individual tribes, ten decided to stand against the word of HaShem, sowing fear and discontent in the people. In spite of all the miracles and despite the delivering power of HaShem they had already witnessed; the people chose to listen to the bad report and even suggested replacing Moshe and returning to the bondage of Egypt. Then, after being chastised and disciplined by the LORD, they presumed to obey the original command to enter the land, even though the grace and authority had been removed. The end result was a resounding defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites and a further thirty plus years of wandering until the entire generation that had left Egypt passed away – except Joshua and Caleb.

There is a lesson to be learned for us today. When we know the direction of the LORD, we need to do it in the proper time. If we choose not to do so, there may well be consequences, even if we try to do what we should have done originally. We know of people who over the years have had a strong desire to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel). After much prayer, they knew they should make the move and that the LORD would be with them, going before them to pave the way. However, perceived family issues, work issues, or simply fear of the unknown of Israel life and society caused them to delay, and in doing so missed the timing of the LORD. When they tried later when everything was right and in order, they were unable to make Aliyah. They missed their window of opportunity. As with the children of Israel, the missed opportunity was not a permanent situation, but there were for them and often are for us, consequences that could have been avoided with a little faithful obedience.

As this week’s parasha concludes, HaShem gives a command that in many ways becomes an aspect of self-definition of the Jewish people.

ADONAI spoke to Moses saying “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael. Say to them that they are to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each tzitzit. It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of Adonai and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God. I am ADONAI your God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am ADONAI your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41; c.f. Deuteronomy 22:12)

The exact understanding of this command has been a matter of debate throughout the centuries. Was the command for all of Israel, male and female, or just the males? What about the garment – if one wore a robe that had no corners, was the command obligatory? In Matthew’s Besorah, some of the Pharisees are chided for the length of their tzitzit (23:5) while in Luke 8:44 as in Mark 6:56, it appears that healing was realized just by toughing Yeshua’s tzitzit. While the mitzva of wearing the tzitzit is important – what is more important is HaShem’s stated reason for the mitzva, that “you will remember all the mitzvot of ADONAI and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves.”

Traditionally, the fulfillment of this mitzva is accomplished in two ways. First, is the wrapping of one within their tallit, a four corned garment worn at specific times of prayer and other life cycle events. As one wraps their tallit around them, it is almost as if they are putting on a uniform (think whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18) or we are like Mordechai when the king had him wrapped in his own robe to honor him (Esther 8:15). When we wrap ourselves in the tallit, with the intension of focusing our thoughts, praises, and prayers upon the LORD, it is as if we transcend our mundane reality and enter into His very presence. But there is another way of observing this mitzva, that is the wearing of a tallit katan (a small tallit) which is worn under your shirt with the tzitzit tucked in, unseen by others. Rabbi Sacks describes this as

…the most inward, intimate, intensely personal aspect of faith whereby in our innermost soul we dedicate ourselves to G-d and His commands. There is nothing public about this. It is not for outer show. It is who we are when we are alone, not trying to impress anyone, not wishing to seem what we are not. [ii]

The tallit katan is not for the world to see; it is an intimate reminder of not only the LORD’s commands but also of His awesome power and His intense care and concern for each of us. In the same article mentioned above, Rabbi Sacks notes that customs and styles have changed, the observance of the tzitzit is no longer obligatory but in wearing the tallit katan, as well as the regular tallit when we pray, we are by an act of our will, freely accepting the covenantal duties of Jewish life – to be holy as He, HaShem, is holy.

This week’s haftarah is Joshua 2:1-24, which deals with the second incursion of spies into the land promised as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Interestingly the report of the two unidentified spies was quite similar to that of Caleb, (Joshua 2:23-24 & Numbers 13:30).

The reading from the Besorah, Luke 18:31–43 records the beginning of Yeshua’s final journey up to Jerusalem. Along the way, He encounters a blind beggar, who when he realizes Yeshua’s presence, loudly intercedes on his own behalf. Earlier in the narrative (Luke 18:15-16) those with Yeshua tried to quiet the beggar, so he wouldn’t bother the Master, but as with the little children, Yeshua called the beggar to Him, then granted the beggar’s request for healing. Yeshua was not burdened by the people but for the people. Isaiah said that one of the signs of the Messiah would be,

…to proclaim Good News to the poor. …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… (Isaiah 61:1)

Yeshua did these things and more, as He did the work of His Father who sent Him, (John 5:19). Yeshua expects His followers to emulate His actions.  He proclaimed

…he who puts his trust in Me, the works that I do he will do; and greater than these he will do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Doing the works of Yeshua, is in essence doing the works of His Father, (John 5:19), and in doing this we obey His commands thereby we walk out the command to be holy as He is holy.

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://rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-shelach-lecha-beyond-the-fringe/

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Thoughts on Beha’alotkha

This week’s parasha, Beha’alotekha (when you set up) Numbers 8:1 – 12:16,[i] specifically refers to the lamps which constitute the Menorah in the Mishkan. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, and the Besorah reading is Luke 18:1-17. It may well be that the seven lamps of Numbers 8:2 connects this week’s parasha to the haftarah as once again HaShem commands the use of seven lamps (Zechariah 4:2). Allegorically, we understand with the Psalmist that the Word of HaShem is the light that guides (or should guide) our paths, (Psalm 119:105). As believers in Yeshua, we understand that Yeshua is the light (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16) that illuminates the world, bringing those in darkness into His light.

Usually when one looks at this week’s haftarah, they focus upon the high priest Joshua in chapter three, where the angel of the LORD cleanses and restores him (Zechariah 3:3-5) and charges him to the service of the LORD (Zechariah 3:6-7). But this week, we’ll look at the beginning of the reading in Zechariah 2:14-17.

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will live among you”—it is a declaration of ADONAI. “In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.” Then you will know that ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me to you.ADONAI will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. Be silent before ADONAI, all flesh, for He has aroused Himself from His holy dwelling.”

Not only is Israel and Jerusalem restored to their covenantal place before HaShem, but the nations, in fulfillment of HaShem’s promise to Abraham, are brought to ADONAI as well. The angel of the LORD told Abraham, in response to his obedience concerning the Akedah,

“I will richly bless you and bountifully multiply your seed like the stars of heaven, and like the sand that is on the seashore, and your seed will possess the gate of his enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed—because you obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)

The pairing in this announcement is of utmost importance. Almost in the same breath HaShem is confirming His covenantal relationship with Israel, His chosen people, while acknowledging that many nations will join themselves to Adonai as well. Rav Shaul, recognizing this action, proclaimed to the believers in Ephesus, “…now in Messiah Yeshua, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah” (Ephesians 2:13) as well as to the believers in Colossae, that HaShem, though Yeshua, “reconciled to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20). The restoration of creation and HaShem’s indwelling presence with His creation remains in the heart of God. If there were ever any doubt of HaShem’s love for Israel, Jerusalem and Zion, the words of the Psalmist puts such confusion to rest,

For ADONAI has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His dwelling: “This is My resting place forever. Here I dwell, for I have desired it. (Psalm 132:13-14)

And it is this desire to dwell among Bnei Yisrael that brought about HaShem’s command to Moshe concerning the building of the Mishkan

 “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:5)

Most commentators follow Abarbanel’s understanding that Zachariah’s proclamation looks to a future redemption in the Messianic Age, when “ADONAI will then be King over all the earth. In that day ADONAI will be Echad and His Name Echad,” (Zechariah 14:9). Others feel that the return from Babylonian exile satisfied this prophecy, however the second exile as well as present political instability would suggest that the future redemption idea is more accurate. It is unlikely that in today’s climate “many nations” or “all flesh” would come up to Jerusalem – least ways in an attitude of peace. However, just because a promise isn’t immediately realized, does not negate its validity. The prophet Habakkuk affirmed this fact

For the vision is yet for an appointed time. It hastens to the end and will not fail. If it should be slow in coming, wait for it, for it will surely come—it will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:3)

Or as Peter wrote the Messianic believers in the Diaspora,

The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This call to patiently wait on the promise of the LORD is the underlying focus of the first of Yeshua’s parables in this week’s Besorah. The situation of the woman in need and the unrighteous judge ends with said judge answering the woman because of her incessant pleading. Interestingly, the parable ends with Yeshua’s words, “but when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8). While this seems to be a simple exhortation to exercise constant faith in our lives, the key is in the introduction to the parable, “Then Yeshua told them a parable to show that they should always pray and not be discouraged” (18:1). It takes faith, to pray and not be discouraged, especially if the answer does not immediately come or even worse if the answer that comes is not the one for which we are hoping. In seeking to try and understand why bad things sometimes happen to good people, Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote,

God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal. living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.[ii]

Rabbi Kushner’s words have brought comfort to multitudes of people who have come to realize that while HaShem is not the author of our problems or situations, He is the author of our strength and comfort through whatever the situation and its conclusion are. In the roll call of faith, Hebrews 11, we read of situations that seemed to have accomplished their desired end and others that would seem to end as failures. But in the middle of the chapter we read these words of comfort,

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised—but they saw them and welcomed them from afar, and they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

The immediate context was the promises to Abraham and Sarah, which they did not fully realize. We are each living proof of the faith for which they were credited. Today, may each of us stand in faith, without losing hope, so that in each and every situation in which we find ourselves, HaShem, though Messiah Yeshua, may provide the comfort and strength to transverse the situation. Then regardless of the eventual outcome, our faith in God and His goodness will remain firm, and in every situation, we can say yes, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth.”

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] Harold S Kushner (2011). “When Bad Things Happen to Good People: 20th Anniversary Edition”, p.159, Pan Macmillanhttp://www.azquotes.com/quote/898800

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