This week’s parasha, Shelach lecha, Numbers 13:1 – 15:41, takes its name from the first words of the second verse, “send for yourself,” which concerns the meraglim (spies) that were to go into the land of Canaan to check out the place before Bnei Israel would enter in and take possession. Sending the spies into Canaan to ascertain the lay of the land, the people, the produce, and the defenses can be considered as counting the cost (see Luke 14:31-32) before taking action. Counting the cost is a valid principle, but it needs to be balanced with the expressed word of HaShem. In Exodus, even before HaShem delivered Bnei Israel, he made this promise,

“I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Exodus 3:17

There should not have been any doubt in the minds of Bnei Israel that he would fulfill his promises. To this point in the narrative, HaShem had fulfilled everything he had promised Israel. He had delivered them from slavery and oppression, provided for their needs, and even quite visibly entered into covenant with them at Sinai, making them his am segula(treasured people). But Israel still doubted his word and promises. Recounting this episode, Moses wrote in Deuteronomy,

All of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring back a report to us regarding the route by which we should go up and the cities we will come to.” The plan seemed good to me, and I selected twelve of you, one from each tribe.

Deuteronomy 1:22-23

It must be noted that the first part of the spies’ report upon returning from Canaan was great, 

“We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. … They brought back a report to us, and said, “It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.”

Numbers 13:27 & Deuteronomy 1:25

However, then there was a “but,”

Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. … But you were unwilling to go up. You rebelled against the command of the LORD your God; you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the LORD hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us.”

Numbers 1:28 & Deuteronomy 1:26-27

Rav Pam (Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam ז״ל) in his commentary on Shelach lecha wisely stated, 

A person should always try to avoid putting himself into a situation of nisayon (temptation), where he will be confronted with the opportunity to sin.

(Rav Pam on Chumash, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2004, p 169.)

Going into the Land and checking out the situation was not the problem. Israel’s doubting the word and the character of HaShem to fulfill his promise was. Unfortunately, this lack to trust in HaShem’s promises would cause a generation to fall in the Wilderness without entering into the Promised Land. This should remind us that we need to guard our own walk with HaShem to prevent doubt from growing as we follow his leading. James addresses this concern to followers of Yeshua who seemed to be operating in doubt when he wrote the following warning, “…ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).

As many of you know, one of my favorite Scriptures is from Rav Shual’s letter to the Corinthians, 

No testing (trial or temptation) has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

Sometimes his provision leads in a circuitous direction, just as he took newly delivered Bnei Israel the long way around to Canaan so they would not run into the Philistines (Exodus 13:17). Other times, he allows us to draw on our inner strength, as he did Joseph when Potiphar’s wife confronted him. HaShem did not need to intervene, because Joseph fled the situation. Unfortunately, not all the examples in Scripture turn out positive. The spies not only doubted HaShem but convinced the people to doubt as well, which led to a generation dying in the wilderness. King David also succumbed to temptation when, instead of fleeing from Bat Sheba, he submitted to lust of his eyes and committed both adultery with her and then murdered her husband, which resulted in the death of his new-born son.

We, like Bnei Israel, always have a choice. We can trust in the word and promises of God and the leading of the Ruach (Spirit), or we can trust in our own strength and follow the distractions of our heart and eyes. First Corinthians 10:12 warns each of us “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall,” and the letter ends with these words of encouragement,

Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

Let this short phrase become a daily mantra as we walk out our journey together; all the time trusting that when we are weak, he will intervene—if we allow him to do so. 

* All Scripture readings are from New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  

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Trusting and understanding HaShem’s plans for us can be challenging and misunderstood by us and others. A quick look back toward the end of last week’s parasha demonstrates what I am talking about. In Genesis 31:3 we read that HaShem commanded Ya’acov, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” With such a direct command, one might think that Ya’acov would have been at least comforted knowing that if he obeyed, HaShem would be with him. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead of packing for the homeward journey, saying good-bye to Laban—the father of his wives Leah and Rivka and the grandfather to Ya’acov’s children—Ya’acov stole away in secret, fearing the negative reprisal of Laban and his sons. Ya’acov seemingly forgot the promise he received 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

If it had just been this promise of care and restoration, Ya’acov could possibly have forgotten these words over time. However, there was more; Ya’acov actually negotiated with HaShem for a little better insurance coverage,

Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAI will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21

It would be safe to say that HaShem not only honored his promise recorded in verse 15, but equally honored Ya’acov’s vow in verses 20 and 21. Ya’acov had left his father’s house with little, worked 14 years for his wives and then work another six years taking care of Laban’s flocks at Laban’s request because he (Laban) saw that HaShem blessed all that he (Ya’acov) did, (see Genesis 30:27). In the end it’s written,

And the man grew exceedingly prosperous and had numerous flocks, along with female and male servants, camels and donkeys.

Genesis 30:43

But even with the blessing and care of HaShem, Ya’acov still was afraid of reprisal from Laban, a reprisal which may have come had HaShem not intervened,

But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Watch yourself—lest you say anything to Jacob, good or bad.”

Genesis 31:18

Laban apparently paid attention to the word of HaShem and after rather tense encounter, Ya’acov and Laban eventually separated amicably. 

This brings us to this week’s parasha, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 where Ya’acov is preparing to meet his brother Esav. Instead of trusting in HaShem to continue honoring his promise and Ya’acov’s vow—returning him to his father’s house in shalom — instead of rejoicing in the upcoming family reunion, Ya’acov was overcome by the fear that Esav still intended to kill him. Ya’acov began making plans to survive the imminent encounter with his brother Esav and tried to arrange things on his own to pacify his brother. Instead of trusting in God, Ya’acov became “extremely afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8). The future words of the palmist would have helped Ya’acov, 

In God—I keep praising His word—in God I trust, I will not fear. What can mere flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:5

Or these words from the complier of Mishlei,

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but one who trusts in ADONAI will be kept safe.

Proverbs 29:25

I am not, by any means, suggesting that preparing for future situations or encounters is a bad thing or a lack of trust or faith. People buy insurance—home, car, and health—to cover situations they hope never happen. Without a doubt, this is good and proper practice. Ya’acov’s plan for a potential future attack by his brother was not wrong as he was counting the cost of a potentially dangerous encounter. Ya’acov’s error was not in the planning and preparation but in the motivation. Instead of trusting in HaShem and his promises, Ya’acov was “extremely afraid and distressed.” 

In 1 John we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). It is said that the perfect love John spoke of implies a faith and trust in HaShem, that he has both the desire and the ability to provide care and for those who love him. This perfect love does not necessarily change the situation one finds themselves in, nor does it change the potential severity of the situation. What this perfect love does do, is change our focus from the situation to the One who has the power to get us through the situation. The classic passage which exemplifies this is from the psalmist,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

“Even though,” גם כי (gam ki), in Hebrew can also mean “even when.” So, one could say “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” indicating not if but when. Yeshua followed this line of thought when he told his talmidim (disciples) 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

While we may not transverse the same situations as Ya’acov, it would behoove us to put our trust in Yeshua who is “the initiator and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Trusting in Yeshua does not mean we will never have problems, never be depressed, or plagued with anxiety. What it means is that Yeshua desires to assist us making it through the trials and challenges that plague our lives.

Life and occasionally life choices ensure that fearful, troublesome situations will come upon us. Therefore, we, with the assistance of the Ruach haKodesh, need to keep our hearts and minds focused on the Word of God, trusting that he will do what he has promised in our lives. Finally, we need to remember that whatever comes he will be there with us, seeing us through, to fulfill His Word in our lives.

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

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This week’s Parsha is Toldot, is Genesis 25.19 – 28.9, which begins, “Now these are the genealogies or toldot of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham fathered Isaac.” The word genealogies immediately suggest the account of family lineage, traced continuously from an ancestor, in this case Isaac. Though genealogies or lineage is the most common English translation of the word toldot, I believe that interpretation in the Jewish Study Bible, “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac” has merit as well considering that the text continues the narrative of the calling out of a people, chosen by HaShem 

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

Deut. 7:6

So, as the narrative continues, we see a number of similarities between the father Abraham and the son Isaac. Like Abraham’s wife, Isaac’s wife was barren until the LORD answered Isaac’s prayers on her behalf (Genesis 25.21). Again, like Abraham, Isaac had two sons, one through whom the promises would continue, Jacob; and one who would venture out on his own, Esau. Similarly, just as with Ishmael, at times Esau and his descendants would be at peace with Isaac’s progeny, but more often than not, there was anything but peace.

In his commentary, The Rational Bible: Genesis, Dennis Prager observes that “Isaac was overshadowed by his father Abraham and his son Jacob.” Then he goes on to list various reasons for this observation,

1) Unlike both his father and son, whose names were changed—Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel—Isaac’s name was never changed (perhaps because it was uniquely bestowed before his birth by God—Genesis 17:19).

2) Unlike other males of the period, Isaac remained monogamous throughout his life.

3) He was the only patriarch to engage in agriculture, a profession at which he was successful (Genesis 26:12).

4) And finally, he was the only patriarch never to set foot outside the Promised Land.”

Gleaned from The Rational Bible: Genesis by Dennis Prager. Regnery Faith, 2019. Apple Books.

It is often taught that Isaac was rather a lackluster individual, compared to his father as well as his son (Jacob), even to the point that his story was more of a bridge connecting the stories two greater individuals. Maybe Isaac was not as exciting or boisterous as his father or his son, but whenever we speak of the patriarchs, it is always Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses confirmed this to Bnei Israel,

 This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So, He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.

Deut. 29:12

Today, we frequently, measure our own self-worth by comparing our own accomplishments, acquisitions, even our spiritual growth or development to that of others. Sadly, we usually fall short of our own expectations when we do this because we naturally compare ourselves to those we respect or look up to, those who we hold in high regard. Although such comparisons may at times motivate, they should not define us. In the letter to the Hebrews it is written,

Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith.

Heb. 12:1-2

In other words, instead of comparing ourselves to others, we need to focus on Yeshua, who as Rav Shaul affirmed would accomplish in us his good work.

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.

Phil. 1:6

Consider for just a moment, the second “great commandment” Yeshua taught his followers “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31) It is said that when you love God with all that your is (heart, soul, mind, and strength) and that you care for others as you care for yourself, then you have fulfilled the intent of the Torah. However, in order to love others as yourself, you must have a healthy, proper attitude about oneself, an attitude that sees oneself as special and beloved in Messiah, recognizing that we are all works in progress, on a journey.

Some of us may perform great deeds, as the world or even the Church considers great, while most of us just seem to day-to-day, just trying to “fight the good fight of faith.” But consider this, in 2 Samuel 23:8-39 there is a listing of David’s “mighty men.” This list of great importance, as it lists strong and courageous warriors and their exploits. However, early in the list we read

Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. Now the Philistines were assembled in formation where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines—so ADONAI brought about a great victory.

2 Sam.23:11

Shammah, for whatever reason, found himself in lentil patch, and while everyone else fled the oncoming Philistine horde, Shammah stood strong and defended the lentil patch and was victorious, and in doing so made the list of David’s mighty men. It does not matter if our place in on the city walls or in a garden, so long as we are where HaShem has placed us. Equally, it doesn’t matter if we are might warriors or simple cup bearers to those in need; if we are trailblazers in the faith or the maintainers who assist others in keeping the faith. Our goal should not try and be exactly like others rather to imitate Yeshua, then in the final judgement we will be able to hear these words from Yeshua, 

“Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.… I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.

Matt. 25:34 & 40

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

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It always amazes me, as I am sure it does some of you who are reading these Thoughts, that every time I pick up the Scriptures to study or simply read, something new seems to appear. This week’s parasha, Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1-25:18, has proven this reality to me one again. 

The narrative is well known, beginning with Sarah’s death (23:1) and Abraham’s negotiation and purchase of cave of Machpelah and surrounding field (23:3-20). Next comes the lengthy account of Abraham charging his servant, to secure a wife from his (Abraham’s) kinsmen (24:3). Though the servant is never named in the passage, traditionally he was Eliezer of Damascus whom Abraham (then Abram) wanted HaShem to name as his (Abram’s) heir (Genesis 15:2-3). The narrative in Genesis 24 continues for sixty-four more verses describing the servant’s quest to fulfil his master’s charge to find a wife for Isaac. For those interested in numbers, this is a little more than twice the number of verses in the creation narrative (31 verses in Genesis 31) as well as the 28 verses concerning HaShem’s covenantal promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3 & 7; 13:2 & 14-17; 15:4-6 & 18; 17:1-8 & 15-16; 18:17-18; 21:1-3). There is no doubt that both the creation and the promises to Abraham are important. But it’s possible that the account of the search and acquisition of a wife for Isaac, amplifies the practical truth that “It is not good for the man (or humankind) to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). The continuance of the family line was obviously important to Abraham and considering the guidance and direction that servant received, it was and remains important to HaShem as well.

Finally, the narrative ends this week with Abraham’s passing “at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25:8), then buried with Sarah in Machpelah. Lastly is a brief recap of Ishmael’s life and genealogy.

All of the above is just a flashback, reminding us of the highlights of Chayei Sarah, but what about the “something new” that I saw this time through. Consider this introduction to Abraham’s charge to his servant to find a wife for Isaac.

Now Abraham was old, advanced in years, and ADONAI blessed Abraham in everything.

Genesis 24:1

At first glance, this seems like a just a transitional phrase between the burial of Sarah and the sending out of the servant. However, Victor Hamilton made an observation that I had never considered before. 

“Abraham’s life is lived out between the promise of divine blessing (12:2) and the actualization of that promise (24:1). The future “I will bless” is now completed with Yahweh had blessed. Prospect has become reality.”

Excerpt From: Hamilton, Victor P. “The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament).” Apple Books.

Hamilton suggests that Abraham had now almost come full circle, from a promise hoped for to said promise fulfilled. The time between “My (HaShem’s) heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing,” (Genesis 12:2) and “Now Abraham was old, advanced in years, and ADONAI blessed Abraham in everything,” (Genesis 24:1) was conservatively forty to fifty years depending on how one figures the years. Abraham had more than his fair share of trials along the way as he waited for the fulfillment of HaShem’s promise. There were times when Abraham sought to assist HaShem in fulfilling his promise, following Sarah’s suggestion with her handmaiden resulting in Ishmael, then later suggesting the promise be realized through his faithful servant Eliezer of Damascus. Both attempts to assist were rejected. It’s a shame that Abraham couldn’t look into the future to latch onto the assurance the prophet Jeremiah shared with Israel,

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

Or even further into the future to hear these words from Peter to the Yeshua-believers in the Diaspora,

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness.

2 Peter 3:9

HaShem “blessed Abraham in everything”, long-life, wealth, victory in battle, and protection even when he seemed to step outside of HaShem’s covering. He gave Abraham and Sarah a son of their own, and then gave that son back to them on the mountain by providing a ram. HaShem continued to bless Abraham, even in times when he seemed to faulter. In this we can find encouragement. When we we veer from the path or plan HaShem has for us, or when we try and come up with our own ways to help him accomplish his plans, he remains faithful. He may allow us our schemes, with the occasional resulting consequences as he did with Hagar and Ishmael. But if we remain open and faithful to his leading, even after going astray, we can take heart in the assurance shared by Rav Shaul,

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

We may not always “see” the “all things working together” but we can hold onto this promise blended from the author of the letter to the Hebrews and from Rav Shaul’s second letter to the Corinthians,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. … For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Hebrews 11:1 & 2 Corinthians 5:7

Like Abraham, we may not know exactly where we are going on this life’s journey, nor how long it will take us to see the fulfillment of HaShem’s promises to us. But we can rest assured that he will be with us and that he does know each and every plan he has for us. May these words from the prophet Micah be our guidance now and until the end of our journey,

But I—I will watch for ADONAI. I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.

Micah 7:7

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

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This week’s parasha, Vayera, Genesis 18:1-22:24, begins as Abram was sitting in the entrance to his tent in the shade of terebinth trees in the area of Hebron, recovering from his recent brit milah (circumcision). Then there was the appearance of three “men” to whom Abram offered hospitality. Soon, after caring for the “men’s” needs, Abram received a promise, part of which he had heard before,

Then He (HaShem) said, “I will most surely return to you in about a year’s time, surprisingly, Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Genesis 18:10

This promise was not new as HaShem had already promised Abram, though currently childless, that he would be the patriarch of a great nation.

My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing.

Genesis 12:2

The difference in the promise is that there was a specific time set for its fulfillment. Traditionally, Abram was 75 years old when HaShem called him to leave Haran and go to Canaan. In Genesis 16:16, it is recorded that Abram was 86 when Ishmael, son of Sarai’s handmaiden was born. Genesis 17:1 begins “When Abram was 99 years old, ADONAI appeared to Abram…” and eventually reiterated the promise of becoming a great nation once again, as well as restating the fact that it would be through Abram and Sarai’s offspring (now Abraham and Sarah) whom the promise would be realized.

…Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you must name him Isaac. So, I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.

Genesis 17:19

Now to return to this week’s parasha and the promise with the timestamp that would be finally realized.

Then ADONAI visited Sarah just as He had said, and ADONAI did for Sarah just as He had spoken. So, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time that God had told him. Abraham named his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore for him—Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised Isaac, his eight-day-old son, just as God had commanded him. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac his son was born to him.

Genesis 21:1-5

Twenty-five years have now passed from the original calling and promise to the fulfillment of Abram now Abraham becoming the father of the one through whom a great nation would be established. During the twenty-five years, Abraham was understandably concerned about the promise being fulfilled and how it would be even possible with such an old couple as he and Sarah. So, when Sarah offered a perfectly legitimate option of line continuance through her handmaiden, Abraham agreed (Genesis 16). As we know, this solution was not only not sanctioned by HaShem, the repercussions and consequences have plagued Isaac’s progeny as strife remains to this day with Ismael’s progeny.

In Peter’s second letter to his community, while referencing the prophet Habakkuk, we are given an insight to HaShem’s time schedule concerning his promises.

But don’t forget this one thing, loved ones, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness…

2 Peter 3:8-9

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

In other words, our sense of timing and HaShem’s sense of timing are not necessarily the same, especially today when we usually want instant gratification and quick responses to our requests whether they be to others or to HaShem. We simply do not want to wait. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “For in Him all the promises of God are ‘Yes’” (2 Corinthians 1:20a), but he did not write that all the promises are immediately fulfilled.

Too often, when we get into situations of need or concern, we, like Abraham, try to figure out how to help HaShem since he seems to be having trouble taking care of things in a timely manner, at least what we consider to be timely. Then on occasion, we might find ourselves with our own Ishmael’s that need to be dealt with. Then again like Abraham, we discover that it would have been much better to simply wait on the LORD and trust in his timing. Thus, the psalmist encourages us with these words,

Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let Your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI.

Psalm 27:14

Followed by these words of assurance by Rav Shaul,

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

In this world rife with chaos and concern, let’s commit to take these words to heart as we continue our life’s journey each day. We will “wait on ADONAI” and trust that he will finish the good work that “He begin” in each of us.

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

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

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

Genesis 3:6

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 10:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:13-15

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

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

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

2 Timothy 2:15

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

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

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

Then ADONAI saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time. So, ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained. 

Genesis 6:5-6

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

Now the earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and behold it was ruined because all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Genesis 6:11-12

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

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

Genesis 6:8-9

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

Now consider the comparison in Hebrews between Enoch and Noach.

By faith Enoch was taken so as not to see death, and he was not found because God took him. For before he was taken, he was commended as pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to please God. For the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

By faith Noah, when warned about events not yet seen, in holy fear prepared an ark for the safety of his household. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:5-7

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:8-9

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

Jeremiah 29:11

At this point, I will add two more scriptures,

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

Proverbs 3:5-6

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

Philippians 4:6-7

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

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

Deuteronomy 31:8

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

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

Readings for Parashat Noach

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

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In a recent Family Circus cartoon strip, concerning the month of August, Billy, the seven-year-old eldest child explains to three-year-old Jeffery that “This is the best month for a vacation ‘cause August doesn’t come with and holidays. You hafta make your own.” (https://www.arcamax.com/thefunnies/familycircus/s-2547043) 

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

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

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation.

Leviticus 23:24

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

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

https://www.jewishspirituality.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Week-1-Video-Transcript-Questions.pdf   

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

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

Ephesians 5:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good?

Deuteronomy 10:12-13

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

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

Micah 6:8

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

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