Thoughts on Miketz

Erev ShabbatParashat Miketz, Genesis 41.1 – 44.17,[i] is part two of the three-part narrative of Joseph’s life. There have been six dreams so far – two Hashem sent to Joseph when he was but a teen, with no immediate fulfilment. Then there were two in prison, one to the cup bearer and one to the baker. This time however, Joseph had matured a bit, and offered to assist the two bewildered men, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Please tell me.” (Gen. 40:8) They do! Hashem gave Joseph the interpretation, and it happened as he said. This week’s sidra begins with the final two dreams given to Pharaoh by Hashem (Genesis 41.16 & 25). Because of the fulfilment of the two dreams in prison, Joseph could with confidence, interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Little did he know however, that soon, most aspects of his original dreams would be fulfilled in a manner his seventeen-year-old self could never have imagined.

After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was elevated well beyond his station – from prisoner to vizier, second only to Pharaoh in importance and power. Apparently, Joseph liked his new status, so much so that he accepted his new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah (God speaks, and He lives) and an Egyptian wife – Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (not a god but a geographic area in lower Egypt near to the border of Goshen). So much at home was Joseph that his first son was named Manasseh, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,” and his second son, Ephraim, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression” (Genesis 41.51-52). According to Rabbi Pinchas Peli, “Joseph does not think, indeed does not want to think, of the past, of the old country and the folks back home. His assimilation into Egyptian society is complete, flawless. He has no qualms about it.”[ii] Then suddenly his past caught up with him, in the form of his brothers seeking deliverance and salvation (Genesis 42.5-7). There are numerous ideas of why Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. Perhaps it was that they could not imagine the brother they sold into slavery could be the prince who now stood before them. Or perhaps, Joseph’s assimilation was so complete that he lost all family resemblance. Rashi comments that “he behaved toward them like a stranger verbally, by speaking harshly.”[iii] Whatever the reason, they did not recognize him, but he did recognize them. Suddenly, the years melted away and though he was not ready to reveal himself yet, he was going to take care of his family – more than that, he was going to test his brothers to see if they had changed from the ones who through jealousy and hatred sold him into slavery.

The story is very familiar. Joseph not only provided the required grain but returns the brothers silver as well. When they discovered the silver in their sacks, they understandably freaked out, knowing for sure that Hashem was bringing their past back upon them (42.21 & 28), especially since Simeon had to remain in Egypt as guarantor that they would return with their youngest brother Benjamin. The famine continued, and the sons of Jacob had to return to Egypt if they were to survive. First Reuven then Judah gave oaths to their father concerning Benjamin’s safety, and Jacob finally relented.

Second trip, and Joseph was no more forthcoming. After providing a feast for his brothers, which he did not join (43.32), he sent them on their way with their provisions and once again their silver, as well as his divining cup in Benjamin’s bags. Caught, and returned to Joseph, Judah speaks for the brothers, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we justify ourselves? [Or how can we be cleared of our guilt since…] God has exposed your servants’ guilt. …” (44.6). This speaks of Judah’s relationship with Hashem, quite like Jonah who, when he knew he was wrong, responded to his frightened shipmates in the storm, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, … then the sea will become calm for you. For I know it is because of me that this great storm is upon you” (Jonah 1.12). Judah, as well as Jonah, knew Hashem and knew that He was just, holding men accountable for their actions. In Jonah’s case, he knew if he was thrown into the sea, it would appease ADONAI and the ship would be saved. Whether the LORD saved him or not was up to Hashem. We won’t see it until next week, but as Judah pled for Benjamin’s life, Joseph’s façade finally breaks, and restoration can finally begin.

Looking back on this narrative, Stephen recounts, “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him. He rescued him out of all his troubles and granted him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and all his household” (Acts 7.9-10). It is amazing how hindsight is often 20/20 but when going through life’s tough situations we often are wearing blinders that allow us to only see the situation in from of us.

The Haftarah, Zachariah 2.14 – 4.7 is particularly apropos considering the recent proclamation by President Trump concerning Jerusalem. Hashem, through the prophet states plainly,

“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.” (Zachariah 2.14-17)

The reading then ends with an affirmation of who will do the work of reestablishing Israel and Jerusalem, “This is the word of ADONAI to Zerubbabel saying: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach!’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot” (4.6). The nations may rage, and there may be “days of rage” but the power and presence of the Ruach of Hashem will ultimately be victorious.

Chag Semach

This blog is now posted on Twitter ~ michael hillel @HillelMichael

[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] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 44.

[iii] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading.asp?tDate=12/16/2017&p=complete#showrashi=true (on 42.7)

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Chanukah – 5778

 

First night.jpg

The celebration of Chanukah has begun throughout the Jewish world. Last night Vered and I were entertained by a parade sponsored by the local Community Center that included bright lights, Chanukah songs and a multitude of children in tow with multi-colored flashlights.

Just to clear a bit of muddied water, let me say that (1) Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas” even though Christmas and Chanukah share a common thread of deliverance and salvation. Another shared trait is that neither are festivals with biblical commands, though unlike Christmas, Chanukah is mentioned in Scripture; John 10.22, notes that Yeshua was in the Temple, in winter, during the Feast of Dedication, which is Chanukah.

A continual question about Chanukah is why eight days. The Sages of the Babylonian
Talmud explain that a single jar of purified oil, enough for one day, was found unopened, but a miracle occurred in that that one jar of oil kept the menorah burning for eight days  (BT Shabbat 21b). However, neither 1st or 2nd Maccabees, Josephus, or the Jerusalem Chanukah lightsTalmud record this story. First Maccabees states that after the Temple was purified and restored, and a new altar built, the altar and Temple were dedicated, and the celebration lasted for eight days. From this is derived the idea that the first commemoration of eight days was to celebrate Sukkot, which they could not do earlier in the year because of its defilement by the Greco-Syrians.  For whatever reason we observe Chanukah for eight days, our celebration focuses on the deliverance and salvation of Hashem. The additional prayer during Chanukah, said in the Thanksgiving section of the Amidah during, expresses this nicely.

על הנסים We thank you also for the miracles, the redemption, the mighty deeds, and the victories in battle which You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time.

בימי מתתיהו In the days of Mattiyahu, son of Yohanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and to force them to transgress the statues of Your will. It was then that You in Your great compassion stood by them in the time of their distress. You championed their cause, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous,and the arrogant into the hands of those who were engaged in the study of Your Torah. You made for Yourself great and holy renown in Your world, and for Your people Israel You performed a great salvation and redemption as of this very day. Your children then entered the holiest part of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and designated these eight days of Hanukkah for giving thanks and praise to Your great name.

Regardless of the reason we celebrate for eight days, let’s remember  that Hashem is not only our God, but He is our Deliverer, our Shield, our ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46.1) and the Father of our Messiah, Yeshua.

chag-chanukah-sameach

 

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Thoughts on Vayeishev

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha, Vayeishev, Genesis 37.1 – 40.23,[i] begins a narrative that will span the next three weeks, as we watch Jacob returning home, hoping to find rest as he “dwelled in the land where his father had sojourned” (37.1). Rabbi Pinchas H. Peli notes,

Jacob, at last, after years of wandering, hardships and conflicts, comes back to Canaan, the land of his fathers. He is now dominated by a desire to settle down and live peaceably surrounded by his family, children and grandchildren. He is well-to-do and respected. Even Esau is convinced that is better to have Jacob as a good neighbor, than as an enemy: they work out an arrangement for co-existence in the area.[ii]

But Jacob’s life was anything but settled. In 37.14, Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers in Hebron which begins Joseph’s journey from lowly shepherd, favored son and hated brother to prince of Egypt and family deliverer. In the narrative we see some of the hints about Joseph and his relationship in the family. First there is the statement, “These are the genealogies of Jacob. When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth) …” (37.2) and the eleventh son in birth order. Immediately, those reading the narrative realize that there is a special relationship between Jacob and Joseph. Instead of listing the full genealogy as with Esau in the previous chapter, only Joseph is mentioned. Then, there is the side note “he was a youth,” which Rashi, drawing on Genesis Rabbah 84.7 says, “he behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so he would appear handsome.”[iii] Possibly a little vain in his youth, maybe even narcissistic. Jacob did not help matters in that he gifted his son with “a long-sleeved tunic,” possibly richly embroidered that served to set Joseph further apart from his brothers. Joseph did not help his relationship with his siblings from Bilhah and Zilphah, as he took it upon himself to “tattle to dad” about them (cf. 37.2), even if what he was saying was true. Finally, the dreams were just too much – even to the point of shaking his father’s resolve

Then his father rebuked him and said to him, “What’s this dream you dreamed? Will we really come—your mother and I with your brothers—to bow down to the ground to you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the speech in mind. (37.10-11)

Let’s return now to 37.14, Joseph was sent by his father to check on his older brothers. Jacob’s charge was to check on their welfare, but Joseph’s track record as a tale-barer and “daddy’s favorite” was just too much for his brothers to handle. You know the rest of the story, Joseph’s sundry trials, his brothers’ deception and Jacob’s heartache. All of this could have been avoided had Jacob not played favorites – possibly a trait he inherited from his parents – Isaac loved Esau, Rebekah loved Jacob. Perhaps as the Proverb says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but a rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22.15). Malbim suggests that the “rod of discipline” is “corrective education.”[iv] This admonishing follows on an earlier charge, “Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it” (22.6). It was Jacob’s responsibility to train Joseph as well as his other sons and daughters. By apparently not doing so, he was robbed of the peace and tranquility that he could have had. On the other hand, the LORD provided Joseph with “corrective education” though his years of servitude and imprisonment.

The beginning of the Haftarah, Amos 2:6 – 3:8, ties mnemonically to Vayeishev as one of the three or four things that will bring about the judgement and discipline of the LORD – “For they sell the righteous for silver” (2.6, TLV and closest to the Hebrew). The Chabad translation, however, reads, “For selling an innocent man for money.” Either way, Joseph did not deserve the treatment he received from his brothers any more than the LORD deserved the treatment He received from Israel in turning their back upon His mitzvot. The passage ends with another connection to Joseph

For the Lord ADONAI, will do nothing, unless He has revealed His counsel to His servants the prophets. (3.7)

Even before Pharaoh’s dreams, Hashem showed Joseph his future position. In his youthful mindset he did not fully understand the dreams, but years later the reality of those dreams came to fruition. There have probably been times in all of our lives when we felt the LORD speak and we had a vision or a calling that we felt was from the Ruach. Sometimes the fruition or realization of that vision or calling comes quickly. However, more often than not, there is a time of preparation – sometimes years with seemingly no results. Our responsibility, like Joseph’s is to hold on to what we know was from the LORD and wait for it’s coming. In his short commentary, Solomon Colodner notes three attributes of which Joseph never let go,

Bitahon (trust) Throughout the trials of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph never lost his trust in God and a better future. The Hebrew word Emunah, (faith) is related to Emet, (truth). Trust a is vital prerequisite in any close relationship.[v]

Trust, faith, and truth must be the cornerstones of our lives as well. Rav Shaul told the believers at Philippi, “I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 1.6). The writer of the discourse to the Hebrews continues with “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (Hebrews 11.1). Faith in the Word of the LORD, whether we “see” its outworking or not. And in one of His last prayers to the Father, Yeshua praying for His followers requested, “Make them holy in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17.17). We do not stand on our word or the word of the world – we stand on the truth of word of Hashem.

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] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 37.

[iii] http://www.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading.asp?tdate=12/9/2017&p=complete#showrashi=true (on 37.2)

[iv] Wengrov, Charles., Malbim on Mishley: The Commentary of Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim in the Book of Proverbs, New York: Feldheim, 1982, p 232

[v] Colodner, Solomon., Concepts and Values, New York: Shengold Publishers, Inc. 1968, p 29.

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Thoughts on Vayishlach

Erev ShabbatIn this week’s parasha, the wanderer, the one who seemingly ran away from home, returns to his land and his father’s presence – and even more to his brother’s presence. But the title of this parasha is not “and he returned” Vayachzar but Vayishlach, “and he sent” Genesis 32.4 – 36.43.[i] The reason is quite simple, although Jacob was returning, the emphasis is put upon what he did to insure his and his family’s safe re-entry into the land promised through his father and grandfather. In last year’s Thoughts on Vayishlach I noted that Jacob seemed to work out Rav Shaul’s admonition, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people” (Romans 12.18), and that “as much as it depends on you” means anything you can do – pray, make use your own wisdom and knowledge, seek counsel and guidance from others, most anything (legal and ethical anyway) that is in your power to do, do it. This it seems is what Jacob was doing – exercising everything in his arsenal of lifetime experiences, trying to be at peace with his brother Esau.

As I began to prepare this week’s Thoughts, I came across another possible answer for Jacob’s actions. Professor Daniel Statman of Bar Ilan University cites Rabbi Yannai:

A person should never put himself in a position of danger and trust that a miracle will be wrought for him, lest a miracle not be done for him… Rabbi Hanin said: What verse substantiates this? “I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant” (Genesis 32.11). (B.T. Shabbat 32a)[ii]

He concludes this thought

…that a person must conduct himself in this world in accord with reality and in light of his assessment of its dangers and uncertainties, and not assume miraculous intervention by God. … The concept of miracles and the idea of Divine intervention in general do not override the use of human discretion in steering our way through the perils of life.[iii]

Looking back to Jacob, he had a promise of divine protection and guidance before he left (Genesis 28.15) and apparently a command with protective promise to return (Genesis 31.13). Still, he was not completely at peace with his return home, and his eventual encounter with Esau. Was this a lack of faith? While some might see it as so, I choose to see it as Jacob’s actions, not a matter of hedging his bets, rather he was simply doing all he could do and then trusting the LORD for the rest. John Wesley is attributed with saying

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”[iv]

It may be that Jacob’s preparations to meet Esau, even though he had the divine command from Hashem to return home, give us a true example of walking by faith. We do what we can do and trust the LORD to do the rest, or maybe even redirect our program.

The Haftarah is the book of Obadiah, all twenty-one verses. The main thrust of the book is the LORD’s judgment on Edom (Esau) because of Edom’s treatment of Israel when she was being disciplined by the LORD.

“Because of your violence to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will be cut off forever. … You should not look down on your brother on the day of his disaster, nor should you rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction.” (Obadiah .10 & .12)

It was not so much what Edom did, but the attitude in which it was performed. At the start of Obadiah’s vision, the LORD charges Edom, “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you…” (.3). Commenting on this, Abarbanel notes that thinking they were mighty and protected, Edom allowed themselves to be “seduced by the haughty feeling of your heart”[v] resulting in speaking proudly or arrogantly in the day of their (Israel’s) distress (.12) gloating over their misery (.13). The end result would be devastating for Edom, “there will be no survivors of the house of Esau – for ADONAI has spoken” (.18). If for no other reason, this should give us cause to guard not only our actions but the attitudes of our hearts.

The need to watch our attitudes as well as our actions is reinforced in the reading from the Apostolic Writings as suggested by the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible), 1 Corinthians 5.1-13. There was obvious sexual sin in the community of Yeshua-believers in Corinth, and instead of dealing with the situation, there were individuals who were actually, beyond common sense, proud of the situation and even boasting about it (5.2 & .6). Rav Shaul was understandably not pleased with the situation. “Don’t you know that a little hametz leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old hametz…” (5.6b & 7a). I suggest it was not only the moral sin that Rav Shaul was speaking about, but it was the attitude that allowed its continuance as well. In Mishlei we read, “Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4.23) which Yeshua may have had in mind when He told the Pharisees and Torah scholars, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander” (Matthew 15.19). Yes, we must watch our actions, our behavior, and equally we must guard our hearts and attitudes so that we, like the Edomites, do not fall into temptation.

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] Frimer, Aryeh A., Editor-in-Chief. A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume II. Ramat Gan, Bar-Ilan University, 2002-5763, p 121.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/12757-do-all-the-good-you-can-by-all-the-means

[v] Menachem Davis, ed., The Later Prophets: The Twelve Prophets, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2014, p 213.

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Thoughts on Vayeitzei

canstockphoto12820422This week’s parasha, Vayeitzei, Genesis 28.10 – 32.3,[i] covers the time from Jacob’s angelic dream and traveling to Paddan-aram to Uncle Laban’s household to find a wife, to his extended sojourn with Laban. For just a moment, however, I would like to return to the end of Toldot and see two different views of how Jacob started his journey. First, there are Rebekah’s words to Jacob

“So now my son, listen to my voice. Get up—flee to Laban my brother in Haran! Then stay with him a few days, until your brother’s rage subsides, until your brother’s rage turns away from you and he forgets what you’ve done to him. Then I’ll send for you and get you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” (Genesis 27.43-45)

It appears that Rebekah is fearful for Jacob’s life and entreats him to flee to her brother Laban. But, she bemoans to Isaac that she does not want Jacob to choose a wife from the local Canaanite stock. Thus Isaac’s charge to his son,

…Isaac called for Jacob, blessed him, commanded him and said to him, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Get up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. (Genesis 28.1-2)

While there is little doubt that a component of fear lurked in Jacob’s heart as he left home, he left in obedience to his father Isaac, who was echoing the words of his father Abraham not to take a bride from among the Canaanites (recorded in Chayei Sarah Genesis 24.2-4).

In the JPS Commentary, Rabbi Sarna notes that with the words “he (Isaac) blessed him (Jacob)” in Genesis 28.1, “… Isaac confirms Jacob’s title to the birthright independently of the deception. Jacob is recognized to be the true heir to the Abrahamic Covenant, which is why he must not marry outside of the family.”[ii]

Later, just as Isaac told Jacob to leave and go to Laban’s house, in the proper time Hashem told Jacob to return home. “Then Adonai said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you’” (Genesis 31.3; cf. 31.13). The last phrase of this verse, “I will be with you” would have reminded Jacob of Hashem’s promise some twenty years earlier,

Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 28.15)

This shows that the LORD’s protective, guiding presence was with Jacob, wherever he was—in his parent’s tents, the rocky mountaintop of Hamakom, (traditionally Mt. Moriah) and even the years of servitude with Laban in the Diaspora. It does not matter where we go, like Jacob, we cannot outrun or out-distance ourselves from the care of ADONAI, even in the midst of discipline that we may incur, which is where Israel found itself in the Haftarah for this week.

Whether one follows the Sephardic tradition, Hosea 11.7 – 12.14 or the Ashkenazic tradition, Hosea 12.13 – 14.10, the result is the same. Israel is in the very midst of being disciplined by Hashem for idolatry.

So My people are bent on turning from Me. Although they are being called upwards, none will rise up. (11.7) … Now Ephraim has said: “How rich I have become! I found wealth by myself. I won’t be guilty of any sin with any of my property.” (12.9) … While they were fed, they were satisfied. Filled, their hearts became haughty. Therefore they forgot Me. (13.6)

Sadly, some of the LORD’s lament against Israel could well be said to the Yeshua-believers today. Israel is described as being full and satisfied, being called by the Ruach but not hearing or if hearing not heeding. They were self-dependent, thinking their own self-worth was a sign of their righteousness and Hashem’s blessing. Worse of all, even with the blessings of ADONAI, they became prideful and conceited, and forgot the One who delivered and carried them.

But this is not the end of the story. Hashem never planned punishment without restoration. Discipline is not to destroy but to provide the wherewithal to rebuild. And ADONAI said to Israel

Return O Israel, to Adonai your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. (14.2) … “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger will turn away from him.” (14.5)

It is always the LORD’s desire to restore His people, to lift them back on the proper path. The prophet ends with these words of promise

Who is wise? Let him discern these things. Who is intelligent? Let him know them. For the ways of Adonai are straight, and the just walk in them, but the wicked stumble in them. (14.10)

His desire for Israel and for us, is to walk in His ways, following His precepts and staying on the straight path that leads to life everlasting. Rashi suggests that Hosea is asking, “Who will be wise enough to contemplate my words and thereby be moved to return to Hashem.”[iii] Let’s not only listen, but also hear the words of the LORD and then act upon them to walk in the straight paths.

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] Sarna, Nahum M., translator and commentator The JPS Torah Commentary, Genesis, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989, p 195.

[iii] Menachem Davis, ed., The Later Prophets: The Twelve Prophets, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2014, p 113.

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Weekly Thoughts – Toldot

Erev Shabbat

This week’s parasha, Toldot, or “Generations”, Genesis 25:19–28:9,[i] begins with the birth of Jacob, Bnei Yisrael’s immediate patriarch. As with life in Israel, even to this day, nothing is ever easy. From the onset, Jacob was struggling with Esau, so much so that Rebekah had to ask, “If it’s like this, why is this happening to me?” (25.22). One needs to remember that she was barren for almost twenty years, before Isaac’s prayers on her behalf were answered. Rashi interprets Rebekah’s questioning as “Why did I desire and pray to conceive?”[ii] We need to realize, and remember, that all blessings from the hand of the LORD may not seem pleasurable. One blogger that I read on occasion describes Rebekah’s, and often our, situation thusly,

Blessings not only come through good health, good wealth, good jobs, etc. They also come in unexpected, ugly packages like trials and problems. And when we go through these ugly times of our lives, know that God will never leave us alone. He will sustain us with His love and grace as we go through difficult times.[iii]

I realize I said the following in last week’s Thoughts, but I believe it bears repeating. In the second paragraph of the Barachu, which is drawn from Isaiah, we recite,

Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all.

The biblical text states

…that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45.6-7)

We may not always like it, but we have to accept the fact that all things are in the hand of ADONAI. Rav Shual may well have had this in mind when he wrote to the believers in Colossae, “All was created through Him and for Him. He exists before everything, and in Him all holds together” (Colossians 1.16b-17).

Rebekah was told, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from within you. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25.23). It is most enlightening to realize that though not “children of the promise” both Ishmael and Esau became fathers of many nations. The blessing of Abraham, though not the lineage of Messiah, was applicable to all of his descendants. Rav Shual wrote to the believers in Rome, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11.29). In Lech Lecha we read, “The LORD took him (Abram) outside and said, ‘Gaze into the sky and count the stars–if you are able to count them!’ Then he said to him, ‘So will your descendants be’.” (Genesis 15.5). In Ishmael, we see a problem that can occur when we attempt to do the will of the LORD in our own strength. Isaac was the child of promise. Abram and Sara could not wait on Hashem, after all He might not fully realize all the issues of childbirth and child rearing. Hence, Ishmael was born. Then, concerning Esau and Jacob, Rebekah had the word from the LORD that Jacob would be the leader, thus the continuer of the Abrahamic promise to bring about the people of God. From both Ishmael and Esau, mighty nations arose, and sadly both have remained thorns in Israel’s side throughout the centuries to this day.

Rosh Chodesh Kislev begins on Motzei Shabbat, which means that this week’s Haftarah is a special reading for Rosh Chodesh (New Moon or New Month), 1 Samuel 20:18–42. This passage begins with Jonathan using the upcoming New Moon celebrations to gauge his father’s state of mind and heart concerning David, his good friend and brother in every way except blood, and to notify David of Saul’s intent toward him. Saul did notice David’s absence the first day, but overlooked it. However, on the second day, Saul became enraged with David and even struck out at his son for defending David.  On the third day, Jonathan met David as pre-arranged and told him to flee Saul’s presence. Jonathan sent David on his way in peace, reminding him of the oath they had sworn together, saying, “May ADONAI be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever” (20.42).

This week we are reminded once again that not all of the “blessings” of the LORD work out for what appears to us to be for our good. Nevertheless, if we remain faithful to ADONAI, trusting in His plans and purposes for our lives, we will eventually understand the words He spoke to Jeremiah in the midst of the fall of Jerusalem, “‘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).

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.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading.asp?tdate=11/18/2017&p=1#showrashi=true , Rashi on Genesis 25:22.

[iii] http://mymightyking.blogspot.co.il/2015/03/the-blessings-of-trials.html

 

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Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23.1 – 25.18,[i] which deals with the death of Sarah, and the death of Abraham as well. It was after the death of Sarah that Abraham sent his servant back to his father’s household to get a wife for Isaac. Some would ask, if the LORD separated Abraham from his country and family (Genesis 12.1), why did he send back there to get a wife for Isaac, and why would Jacob in the future go back for a wife as well. The answer is simple, Abraham, as well as Isaac in the future, were adamant that their descendants were not to intermarry with the Canaanites (Genesis 24.3; 28.1). The Canaanite pantheon was largely a hybrid blending of local agricultural and fertility gods as well as those of Mesopotamia and Egypt. As a follower of what he understood as the true God and Creator of the Universe, Abraham did not want to assimilate with the local inhabitants and their gods. He probably thought it would be easier to bring someone from his family into his way of understanding than to try and convince a Canaanite to give up their family and ancestral gods. John Walton notes,

In Mesopotamian language, Abraham would have been described as having “acquired a god.” That he was led to a new land and separated from his father’s household would have effectively cut any ties with previous deities (located in city and family), and opened the way for Yahweh to be understood as the only deity to which Abraham had any obligation. By making a break with his land, his family, and his inheritance, Abraham was also breaking all of his religious ties. In his new land Abraham would have no territorial gods; as a new people, he would have brought no family gods; having left his country he would have no national or city gods; and it was Yahweh who filled this void, becoming the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the “God of the Fathers.”[ii]

In Canaan, Abraham considers himself as an outsider (or foreigner) and a sojourner (ger v’toshav, when he speaks to the sons of Heth and to Ephron the Hittite. The NET bible translates ger v’toshav as “I am a temporary settler or resident alien among you.” Why is this important? Because, even though Abraham lived among the Canaanites and Hittites, he was in fact separate from them. He had a promise from the LORD that the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants (Genesis 12.7), but it wasn’t happening yet. Even though we may have promises from the LORD, it does not mean that we choose the time of their fulfillment. Abraham could have received a burial plot for Sarah for free, as a gift from sons of Heth or Ephron, but he did not want something that would potentially revert to the original giver. Like David when he wanted to buy the threshing floor from Araunah the Jebusite in order to follow the LORD’s command and build an altar (cf. 2 Samuel 24.18-25). Araunah wanted to give the property to David, but David replied, “I will not offer burnt offerings to Adonai my God that cost me nothing” (24.24). Returning to Abraham, he was adamant that he needed to purchase the land, so it was that a gravesite became to first legitimate possession of Abraham in the promised land.

Much has been said about Abraham’s death, “So Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25.8). Though a bit morbid, wouldn’t that be a great epitaph for one’s grave marker. He (or she) “died at a good old age, old and satisfied.” If we look back at the last three weeks, Abraham’s life was anything but easy, stress and worry free. But he had a position that few if any can claim,

“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend…” (Isaiah 41.8)

It was Abraham’s obedience, faith, and trust that merited his being called a friend of Hashem. We began to see this relationship when Hashem stated in Vayera, “Should I keep secret from Abraham what I am about to do…” (Genesis 18.17). Regardless of the circumstance, Abraham trusted Hashem so that it was said that he “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”[a]—and he was called God’s friend” (James 2.23). Though not explicitly like Abraham, Rashi notes that Sarah too died well; commenting on the phrase, “the years of the life of Sarah” he notes “that all of them were equally good.”[iii]

In the Haftarah, 1Kings 1.1-31, the last days of King David are contrasted to Abraham’s. King David couldn’t stay warm, he needed a new, young concubine just to sleep. Worse than that, his family and kingdom were still wracked by chaos and internal disputes. For one who once danced ecstatically before the LORD and wrote numerous psalms of praise, in the end he was anything but of “a good old age, old and satisfied.” May it be that our last days are like those of Abraham and not David.

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] Walton, John H., Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2006, p 151.

[iii] Comment on Genesis 23.1 – http://www.chabad.org/parshah/torahreading_cdo/aid/2492499/jewish/Chayei-Sarah-Torah-Reading.htm#showrashi=true

 

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