Thoughts on Ki Teitse

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

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 22:4, TLV

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

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

Luke 14:1-6

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

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

B. Yoma 84b

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

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

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

Matthew 5:43-44

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

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

Exodus 23:5

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

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

Romans 12:20

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

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Thoughts on Re’eh

This Shabbat is a very special Shabbat on the Jewish calendar. It is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the last month of the liturgical year and serves as a preparation time before we enter the month of Tishrei and the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Beginning on Sunday, the 2nd day of Elul, in synagogues around the world the shofar will be blown each morning after shacharit, serving as it were to awaken each of us to the coming time of celebration and judgment. Elul is a time for introspection and contemplation, sort of a self-testing or evaluation to determine if our walk with Hashem and with our fellow man lines up with the exhortation from Moshe that we read in this week’s parasha, (Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17)

For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI has chosen you to be His treasured people.

Deuteronomy 14:2, TLV

The very name of Elul draws our attention to this divinely chosen relationship. The Sages suggest that the word Elul is an acrostic of four words found in the Song of Solomon 6:3. Elul (אלול in Hebrew) אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” As the chosen treasure of Hashem, Israel has the responsibility to walk according to His commandments, even though this is not always done. During the month of Elul, each of us has the opportunity to determine what needs to be accomplished to reset the counter and to truly walk whole heartedly with our beloved. The following is a tale that describes how we often find ourselves.

There was a king who gave his servant a huge sum of money with which to buy carpets for the palace. The servant traveled to a distant country and examined many carpets in order to choose the most suitable one. He also chose a few for himself. As the days passed and he saw more and more materials, he put more aside for himself. Soon he had a nice selection and started selling them at a profit. Business was good, and he forgot about his mission.

One day a messenger arrived with a letter from the king to remind him of the pattern for the guest room. He trembled and cried as he read the king’s words. What have I done?” he moaned. “I have forsaken my real mission for the king’s sake and instead thought only of my own desires.” He quickly quit his business and spent all his time from then on in the king’s service.

Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days, Jason Aronson Inc., 1996, p 7.

Every year, the month of Elul serves as a message from our King, reminding us of how we ought to live, being holy as He is holy not only in relation to Him but to our fellow man. As we examine ourselves, there are times that desperation and anguish set in much like the servant in the story above. In desperation he could have ignored the messenger and continued in his current lifestyle, remaining far separated from the king. His other option, and the one he chose was to repent and return to the original mission in obedience to his king. The servant chose to humble himself, acknowledging his improper actions and then strove to make things right. 

In the haftarah for Rosh Chodesh we read these words of comfort from the King of the Universe, 

But on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word.

Isaiah 66:2b

Earlier He stated,

I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15b

In the story, it is said that the servant traveled to a distant country seemingly far from the king’s presence. But the king knew the location of the servant and was able to send his messenger to his servant. How much more it is with Hashem. He dwells in the high and holy place, but He is in our midst as well. He knows our situations and life choices. He knows the pain and consequences of some of those choices. He also knows of the distances we’ve traveled, doing our own thing while forgetting to do His.

Whether we are part of natural born Israel or of those from the nations grafted into the commonwealth, during the month of Elul, we have the opportunity to examine ourselves as did King David in Psalm 51. David recognized his sin and shortcoming and after repenting pleaded,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:12-14

David did what he knew to do, then he trusted Hashem’s mercy and grace to complete the work. David’s heart’s desire was to be restored to his beloved. Occasionally, as believers in Yeshua, we think that this type of introspection and repentance is not as important because Yeshua’s sacrifice covers us completely. On one hand, this is correct. What the blood of goats and lambs could not do, Yeshua’s sacrifice accomplished—completely. However, consider these words from Rav Shaul (Paul) to the believers in Colossae

But now He has reconciled you in Messiah’s physical body through death, in order to present you holy, spotless and blameless in His eyes—if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, not budging from the hope of the Good News that you have heard.

Colossians 1:22-23

It would appear that even though Yeshua’s sacrifice was complete and efficacious for all, as believers in Yeshua we still need to continue walking in the commandments, according to the dictates of the Good News. This also means, in my opinion, that we need to continually examine ourselves to ensure that we have not strayed from the faith or the teachings of Messiah. Only then can we say with Israel, אֲנִי לְדוֹדִיוְדוֹדִי לִי,Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

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Thoughts on Eikev

Driving home from shul one morning, I was looking forward to a small morning repast on the balcony with my wife, when the car in front of me decided to interrupt my musings by not going through the incredibly short light. I started to lean on the horn to express my displeasure, but my hand was stayed. I noticed a beggar moving away from the driver’s window, with a large grin on his face as he attempted to stuff a closed hand into his pocket. I have seen this beggar numerous times before, occasionally dropping a couple of coins in his hand, if I had small change, but I’ve never seen such joy upon his face as that day.

What was he given? I can only imagine. Maybe it was enough money to feed himself for the day, or maybe more – I’ll never know. What was it that caused his countenance to shine so bright? That too I’ll probably never know, as I have not seen the beggar these last few weeks, though I think of him occasionally as I pass his corner.

As I read this week’s Torah portion (Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, TLV), the beggar’s face was in my mind’s eye once again. “Therefore love the outsider or stranger, for you were outsiders, strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Suddenly, I realized the number of times I had lost the possibility of obeying this command. Then with horror, I realized what more I could have lost. In the closing words of this week’s Besorah (Matthew 25:34-45), the righteous judge proclaimed, “I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

Earlier in Deuteronomy 10, Moshe described an aspect of what it means to love the outsider or stranger, 

He (HaShem) enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, giving him food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 10:18

While it is true that the giving of tzedakah or charity should be motivated by our love for others as well as for HaShem as John reminds us

But if someone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth!

1 John 3:17-18

Barry Holtz, in his book Finding Our Way: Jewish Texts and the Lives We Lead Today (The Jewish Publication Society, 2005) makes the following observation

The Christian notion of “charity,” for example, is very different from the Jewish concept of tzedakah. Charity evolves from the Latin caritas, meaning an act of love (as in the English “caring”); tzedakah (usually translated as “charity,” thereby missing the point) evolves from the Hebrew word for ”justice.” When we feed the hungry, we do not do it (only) because we want to, (or only) because we feel like it, according to classical Judaism, but because God demands justice. God demands that we do right, even if we don’t feel like it. (p. 147)

Just as HaShem enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, so should we. In Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 there are two ideas juxtaposed with each another. The first idea  includes things that have no definite quality or fixed measure – the corners of a field (left unharvested for the poor to glean), the first-fruit offerings brought to the Temple on  Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים; the three pilgrimage festivals), the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity. The second includes things that while producing fruit in this world, find their full reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. These are honoring one’s parents, the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity, and making peace between people. The common thread in both is the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity.

From the Torah, throughout the Prophets and the Writings, and in the Apostolic Writings, there are both direct commands to care for the needy and the afflicted, and for widows and orphans as well as examples of such. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua wrote to his community,

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that?

James 2:15-16

In other words, if we truly love HaShem and desire to follow our Messiah, then we are responsible for meeting the needs that we are able to meet. Even if it means having to wait at a stoplight a little longer or to dig a little deeper into our pockets or wallets. 

In the closing verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3 we read Isaiah’s prophetic utterance to each of us, 

Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, you who seek ADONAI. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. For when I called him, he was but one, then I blessed him and multiplied him.

Isaiah 51:1-2

The pursuance of justice, among other things, shows care and compassion for others, for those close to us as well as the strangers or outsiders who are brought across our paths. In Pirkei Avot it is written

He (Rabbi Tarfon) would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.

Pirkei Avot 2:16

This means that we do not have to meet each and every need of each and every individual or each and every problem. However, we are responsible to meet the needs that we can, whether it be by providing for the needs themselves or being a facilitator to assist in seeing that the need is met. Sometimes being a facilitator requires tangible action on our part, at other times it requires prayer and intercession. 

ADONAI Tzav’ot, allow each of us another opportunity to show tangible love for the outsider, the stranger, and in doing so, let us show our love and devotion to You.

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Thoughts on Shabbat Nachamu

Last week (Saturday evening through Sunday evening) was Tisha b’Av, one of the saddest times on the Jewish calendar. This is the day that traditionally both Temples were destroyed, and historically numerous other atrocities have befallen the Jews throughout the centuries.

Less than a week later, we are celebrating Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, which takes its name from the opening verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26. Shabbat Nachamu is the first in a series of seven haftaroth leading up to Rosh Hashanah that speak of Hashem’s consolation for His people.

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. “Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from ADONAI’s hand double for all her sins.”

Isaiah 40:1-2, (TLV)

How is it possible to move from intense mourning to joyous comfort and consolation in less than a week? The atrocities have not gone away, they still sit on the display cases of our collective memory. Occasionally new items are added to the display as anti-Semitism rises its ugly head as in Charlottesville or the Squirrel Hillneighborhood of Pittsburgh. Plus there are other atrocities that, while not anti-Semitic, still crash like a tsunami on the beaches of our hearts, such as the double shooting in El Paso and Dayton last Shabbat. The world is literally going crazy, mourning is not limited to an annual memorial but often a part of daily life. Where is the comfort?

Traditionally Tisha b’Av is a time sadness and mourning, remembering what has been lost. There is fasting, sitting on low stools or the floor while reading the plaintive cry of the book of Lamentations. The continual discomfort is a reminder of exile and persecution. Then there is a subtle shift in focus. During Mincha (afternoon prayer), while still in mourning and fasting continues, instead of looking backwards considering what has been lost, we get up off the floor as if hearing the faint calling of Shabbat Nachamu. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, there is a quiet pull to a future hope, a coming consolation that the author briefly touched upon in the middle of Lamentations when he proclaimed 

This I recall to my heart—therefore I have hope: Because of the mercies of ADONAI we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

The past hasn’t changed, echoes of the heartache and pain remain on the shelves, but now we begin to turn looking toward a desired future. 

Look, ADONAI Elohim comes with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd, He tends His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms carries them in His bosom, and gently guides nursing ewes.

Isaiah 40:10-11

There was discipline, judgement and desolation, but future redemption and hope are promised. There is a Talmudic story that suggests this change of focus. Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva look south over the valley from Mt. Scopus and seeing the rubble that remained of the 2nd Temple, they tear their garments in mourning. When they arrive at the Temple Mount, a fox scampers out of the rubble where the Holy of Holies used to stand. Three of the sages break down in tears while Rabbi Akiva laughs. The three rabbis are shocked to say the least, “why are you laughing” they demand. Akiva questions them, “why are you crying?” The three speak of the destruction and loss. Akiva agrees, but then goes on to explain,

In the prophecy of Uriah, it is written: “Therefore, for your sake Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12), where foxes are found. There is a rabbinic tradition that this was prophesied by Uriah. In the prophecy of Zechariah, it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled, as the two prophecies are linked. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid.

b. Makkot 24b

Today, some us live in the restored, rebuilt sovereign nation of Israel. While we continue to remember what was lost and the many centuries of exile, at the same time we celebrate in the consolation and restoration that began in 1948 and continues to this day. It is not yet perfect; we are not yet in the Messianic Age. However, we do see the reward and recompense of Hashem as He continues to shepherd His flock. As per the prophecy, elderly men and women are sitting in the streets of Jerusalem; a simple walk down Ben Yehuda or Jaffa street and a glance at the coffee shops and cafés bears this out. Children play in the parks and the sounds of joy and laughter can be heard through the land.

However, there remains another prophecy, another source of consolation for which we continue to wait. Yeshua spoke these words over Jerusalem,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

Matthew 23:37-39

Israel has been restored and, in many ways, comforted, but there is still a further, more complete consolation coming. On Shabbat Nachamu when we proclaim, “Prepare the way ofAdonai,make straight in the deserta highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3), we recognize that part of that preparation is assisting all of Israel to say “Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” At that time, Messiah Yeshua will be able to fulfill his words to Jerusalem bringing true comfort and consolation to his people.

In a later passage of consolation, Isaiah proclaims,

It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So, I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6

The ultimate consolation and restoration of all things will be realized when both Israel and the nations proclaim together, Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Tisha b’Av

Almost three weeks ago, on the 17th of Tammuz, many Jews in Israel and around the world began the countdown to the most devastating time in Jewish history, Tisha b’Av. Traditionally, on the 17th of Tammuz 587 BCE, the armies of Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Fourteen days later, on the Rosh Chodesh Av, Nebuchadnezzar’s siege engines breached the walls of Jerusalem and the invaders worked their way to Solomon’s Temple. On Tisha b’Av they razed the Temple to the ground. 

Through the centuries, Tisha b’Av has become a time of mournful remembrance not only of the destruction of the 1st Temple in Jerusalem but also the 2nd at the hands of the Roman war machinery in 70 CE. Along with these two destructions, various other atrocities are recalled, including Crusades from the Medieval Period and the “final solution” of the Holocaust. 

Aside from special prayers and piyyutim (medieval Jewish poetry) and the reading of Eicah (Lamentations), Tisha b’Av is also commemorated by a complete 25-hour fast similar to that of Yom Kippur. The primary difference in the two fasts is that there is no celebratory festive meal before the fast of Tisha b’Av, as we are already in a time of contemplative mourning. Do all Jews, everywhere, fast on Tisha b’Av? Unfortunately, no, and for many, though the day is noted on the calendar, life goes on as normal with little thought to the history and the reason for the observance. I see this as another unraveling tether to our past, that serves as an identity marker to who we are and from whence we’ve come. I recently quoted a line from Fiddler on the Roof, a bit of wisdom from Tevye the milkman, “Because of our traditions, we have kept our balance for many, many years. … And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.” Our traditions, our practices, serve to identify the people of Israel as the “am segula,” the chosen people of Hashem – those who were set apart to be holy as He is holy (Deuteronomy 14:2). The atrocities that have befallen Israel have not eradicated that chosenness, rather they have reinforced it. HaShem expressed this concept to the prophet Jeremiah while Judah was anticipating Nebuchadnezzar’s arrival and Jerusalem’s destruction,

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

Jeremiah 31:34-36, TLV

One more thought to ponder as we approach Tisha b’Av is the loving-kindness and compassion of HaShem. This morning, during Shacharit, I was overwhelmed by one of the preparatory prayers that are said before Pesukei d’Zimra (Verses of Praise).

לעולם A person should always be God-fearing, privately and publicly, acknowledging the truth and speaking it in his heart. He should say:

Master of all worlds, not because of our righteousness do we lay our pleas before You, but because of Your great compassion.

Koren Siddur, Nusah Askenaz, p 34

Later in the service, the prayer Avinu Malkenu ends with the following,

אבינו מלכנו Our Father, our King, be gracious to us and answer us, though we have no worthy deeds; act with us in charity and loving-kindness and save us.

Koren Siddur, Nusah Askenaz, p 42

These two prayers, as well as many others in the Siddur, teach us that we do not depend upon our own righteousness or good works, because in comparison to His, ours are nothing. So what is it that we do depend upon? In good times and bad times, in times of discipline and even in heart-wrenching times of atrocity, we depend on the loving-kindness and compassion of the One who has called us to Himself.

Some would ask, “This is all fine and good, but now that I am a follower of Messiah Yeshua, why should all this history affect me today? Doesn’t Paul say that the ‘old things have passed away and all things have become new’?” Besides taking Paul’s statement out of context, this train of thought ignores HaShem’s words expressed in Jeremiah 31 as quoted above. If Hashem is never going to cast off or forsake His chosen people, then His chosen people have a responsibility to remain faithful to Him as His covenant people. Jewish believers in Yeshua each have a responsibility to stand with all of Israel as they are part and parcel of Israel. Jewish Yeshua believers have a communal responsibility to the traditions and practices of Israel, even if others let those traditions and practices fall by the wayside either by choice or by a lack of understanding.  

Zechariah says, that one day this time of fasting will be turned into a time of joy, but that time has not yet arrived (cf. Zechariah 8:19). I adjure you, whether you choose to fast on Tisha b’Av or not, to set some time aside to mourn with those who mourn (cf. Romans 12:15) and to intercede on their behalf and on behalf of all Israel that the Messianic Age would come upon us all soon and all of our mourning turned to rejoicing.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Masei

The journey or its conclusion, which is most important? There is not an either-or answer but, as with many other questions in life, it is gam v’gam, this and also this– as both the journey and the destination (or goal) are important, both are necessary, and to overly focus on one or the other leads to potential harm. 

A number of years ago, I remember my wife being told that she should say she was younger that she actually was, as if growing older were something one could avoid with mere words. Her response, however, was quite thought provoking. She asked the person, which year or years of her life she should deny? In reality she could not deny any year, as each year was a part of the journey that brought her to the place she was and who she was at that time. To deny even a day, or a month, or a year because it wasn’t the most enjoyable or because it was most undesirable, would put a tear in the tapestry of her life. Each step of the journey, the high points and the low points, the times of obedience and the times of disobedience and its consequences, work together making us the individuals we are today. 

We see this concept of recognizing and including each step of the journey in this week’s Torah portion, Masei or Journeys, Numbers 31:1 – 36:13, * Rashi conveys to us a comment by Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan: 

Of the forty-two journeys recorded in this register, fourteen – from Rameses to Ritmah – precede the sending of the spies, and eight from Mount Hor to the wastelands of Mo’av – were [undertaken] during the fortieth year, after the death of Aharon. This means that there were only twenty journeys during the thirty-eight years of wandering. Thus, God in His mercy mitigated the decree of wandering in the wilderness. They were not forced to wander interminably, without resting, for the average duration of their stay at each stopover was nearly two years.

Hirsch, Samson Raphael. The Hirsch Chumash, The Five Books of the Torah: Sefer Bemidbar. Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 2007, p. 657

The thirty-eight years of wandering were a consequence of Israel’s unfaithfulness in regard to the spies’ bad report, (Numbers 14:20-23), but even in the wandering, Hashem took care of His people, (Deuteronomy 29:4). And in the wandering, a time of divine discipline, there were times of rest and of respite. Hashem never ceased to care and provide for His chosen ones, even when He had to correct them.

It is said that another reason for marking the journey and the individual stops is that each stop was to serve as mnemonic device, reminding Israel both of their victories as well as the times when their disobedience or unfaithfulness brought about disciplinary actions. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, 

Now these things happened as examples for us, so we wouldn’t crave evil things, just as they did.Do not be idolaters, as some of them were. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”And let’s not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day 23,000 fell.And let’s not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were destroyed by serpents.And let’s not grumble, as some of them did—and were destroyed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:6-10)

George Santayana, philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In looking for Santayana’s quotation, I discovered another gem, this one by Vironika Tugaleva, from The Art of Talking to Yourself

“One thing is for sure—you will make mistakes. Learn to learn from them. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn to laugh when everything falls apart because, sometimes, it will.”

In this, I am not sure which is the more difficult, to learn from our mistakes, to learn to laugh at our mistakes or to learn to forgive ourselves for making the mistake in the first place. 

Finally, think about the need to remember the past and learn from it. Abraham J. Twerski, Hasidic rabbi and psychiatrist, commented on Masei, 

Many tzaddikim did an accounting every night to see what they had accomplished during that day, and to correct wherever deficiencies they discovered. 

So it was with Moses at the end of the forty years in the desert. The Israelites were about to enter the Holy Land, and he was about to turn over leadership to Joshua. The period of his stewardship had come to a close. It was time to see what he and the Israelites had achieved during the past forty years, hence the meticulous review of the journeys and encampments and what had transpired in each.

If we are serious about achieving a goal in our lives, we must periodically take inventory. Each night, each week, at the beginning of a new year, and perhaps on our birthdays as well. A segment of time has passed. What do we have to show for it? How can we make the next segment more productive?

Twerski, Abraham J. Twerski on Chumash. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2003, p. 349.

As Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, we too are on a journey to a promised goal. Like Israel we need to keep our eyes not only on where we are going but also on where we have been and how we got to where we are today, remembering that each victory as well as each detour has been used by the Creator to bring us to where we are today and to lead us on to our eventual goal in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. 

As we journey together, Shabbat Shalom!

* 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 Pinchas

Have you ever looked back on some of your prayers and then immediately went into ecstatic praise because Hashem chose not to answer them? Do you remember Moshe’s prayer during one of the numerous episodes of Bnei Yisrael’s grumbling over their perceived lot in life?

“…I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me!If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!”

Numbers 11:14-15

In this week’s haftarah, it appears that Elijah took a page out of Moshe’s prayer book after he fled from Jezebel’s ranting against him.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom bush. He prayed that he might die. “It’s too much!” he said. “Now, ADONAI, take my life! For I’m no better than my fathers.”

1 Kings 19:4

Interesting enough, to this day Moshe Rabbeinu, is still considered by many, the greatest prophet and teacher, second only to Yeshua. What’s more, Elijah is prophesized to be the forerunner of the Messiah and the Messianic Age to come. Had the prayers of these two men been answered according to their words, the story today would be quite different.

There are other prayers or vows before Hashem that were made in haste and had unexpected and unwanted repercussions by the one who spoke them. Two immediately come to mind. First is Yiftach’s (Jephthah’s) vow to ADONAI before he went out to battle the Ammonites.

“If You will indeed give the children of Ammon into my hand,then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the children of Ammon, it will be ADONAI’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

In and of itself this vow, at least in Yiftach’s mind, was a safe vow, seeking protection and deliverance from Hashem over his enemies. Unfortunately, the first thing out of Yiftach’s dwelling was not a lamb, goat, or even a chicken but his only child, his unwed daughter. Human sacrifice was an anathema in ancient Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31), but Yiftach was in a dilemma due to the words of his mouth. One can imagine that Yiftach felt even more convicted by his rash vow due to his daughter’s response,

“My father, you have opened your mouth toAdonai,” she said to him. “Do to me what proceeded from your mouth… .”

Judges 11:36

Did Yiftach sacrifice his daughter? In reality, we do not know as she disappears from the story. However, it is safe to assume that Yiftach’s family was never the same again. 

There was another man whose family was almost destroyed by a rash vow. During his reign, King Saul had many border disputes with the Philistines. At one point, the situation wasn’t going well for Israel’s first king and it appears that some of his people, possibly even his army, switched sides and joined the Philistines. In response, King Saul called for a daytime fast with repercussions for disobedience.

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed that day, for Saul put the people under oath saying, “Cursed be the man that eats any food before evening, until I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the people tasted food.

1 Samuel 14:24

Jonathan, King Saul’s son did not hear of his father’s decree and on the way to battle ate some honey and even denounced his father’s words claiming that Israel, energized by the honey, would be assured of victory (cf. 1 Samuel 14:29-30). Israel won the battle and Jonathan was brought before his father for judgment. King Saul declared that his son would have to die. Unlike Yiftach’s daughter, the people rose up against the king’s decision because Jonathan was the hero of the day. King Saul relented and Jonathan lived, but one has to wonder if the relationship was ever the same again.

The rashness of both men caused irreparable damage to their families. It would have been good had they heard and internalized the words the writer of Kohelet penned years later,

Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin,and don’t say before the messenger,“It was a mistake!”Why should God be angry at your voiceand destroy the work of your hands?

Ecclesiastes 5:5

In the Apostolic Writings we read another prayer that teaches us about the use of the words we speak as well as the motivation behind those words, which can cause harm, specifically to ourselves. Once, while Yeshua was teaching on various aspects of prayer, he focused on trusting in one’s own righteousness.

The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “O God, I thank You that I am not like other people—thieving, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and tithe on all that I get.”

Luke 18:11-12

Rav Shaul, after outlining his religious pedigree, made the following affirmation,

But whatever things were gain to me, these I have considered as loss for the sake of the Messiah. More than that, I consider all things to be loss in comparison to the surpassing value of the knowledge of Messiah Yeshua my Lord.

Philippians 3:7-8

The Pharisee in Yeshua’s parable trusted in his own righteousness, his obedience to the Torah, Rav Shaul did not discount what he had done but instead focused upon his faith in Yeshua his Messiah. This is not an either/or situation, obedience and good works or faith in Yeshua, rather it is a gam v’gam, this and also this, situation. Remember Yeshua’s words 

“Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:23

In closing, I believe what we, myself most of all, need to take from this week’s thoughts is that we need to watch tenaciously over the words of our mouths and also the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. Let’s remember the words from Kohelet, “Don’t let your mouth lead your flesh to sin….” Abba, may our thoughts and our words this week be pleasing to You and uplifting to all those around us. 

The readings for this week are
Parashat Pinchas ~ Numbers 25:10 – 30:1
Haftarah ~ I Kings 18:46 – 19:21
Apostolic Writings ~ John 17:1–26

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