Thoughts on Shoftim

canstockphoto0885276When we pick up a book, glancing through it to determine whether we would like to spend the time reading it, we may look over the table of contents as well as the chapter headings or introductions. However, it is the text itself that we must read and delve into in order to truly understand the heart of the book and the author(s) goal. Therefore, it is worthy to note that the chapter and verse designations in the Bible are not in the original texts but are a much later addition. A cursory online search shows an agreement that the current chapter and verse designations in the Christian translations of the Bible originated with Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury around 1227, and were first used in the Wycliffe English Bible in 1382. The Tanakh has a few deviations from this pattern, possibly due to the work of Rabbi Nathan in 1448.

Why this history lesson you might ask? Often when we read the Scriptures, we subconsciously accept the stop-and-go pattern of the chapter breaks, verses and even sub-headings. While these are useful tools in locating and remembering sections of Scripture, they were not part of the original inspired work of the Ruach set down by men of old, and therefore sometimes misleading.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the fourth of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, which follow the remembrances of Tisha b’Av and culminate on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading, Isaiah 51:12 through 52:12, continues the unbroken flow of HaShem’s encouragement through the prophet Isaiah that began four weeks ago with Shabbat Nachamu, (Isaiah 40:1–26). This week’s passage opens with the repeated emphasis by the Lord that He alone comforts Israel. “I, I am the One who comforts you. Who are you that you should fear man?” (Isaiah 51:12). These words may well have inspired Rav Shaul’s words of comfort to the believers in Rome as he wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).

Exterior circumstances should not be our main focus, no matter how difficult they are, or whether they be problems of our own making or the simple reality of living in world groaning for the realisation of tikkun olam. Our main focus should be on Him who provides the comfort, as He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrew 12:2), especially as He promised through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘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).

Later in the Haftarah, Israel, as well as we ourselves, are encouraged, possibly even commanded, to awaken ourselves to the necessity of focusing on the Lord and not the circumstances. First the Lord says,

Awake, awake! Stand up, Jerusalem! From ADONAI’s hand you have drunk the cup of His fury, the chalice of reeling that you have drained to the dregs. (Isa 51:17)

Yes, it was Israel’s fault that the discipline had come, and she was chastised like an errant child. By not choosing life (Deuteronomy 30:19), Israel received the promised consequence. But the consequence was not the final state of things. Discipline is performed not to bring death and destruction, but to bring change, growth, repentance and redemption. Isaiah’s encouragement continues,

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in your strength, Zion! Clothe yourself in beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city, for the uncircumcised and the unclean will never invade you again. (Isaiah 52:1)

It is important to realize that along with words of consolation, Israel is encouraged, maybe even commanded, to wake up, to stand up, and even to strengthen themselves. The Lord comforts and restores after He disciplines, but it is Israel’s responsibility to get up, to stop wallowing in the mud of depression and self-pity, and to walk in the comfort and provision of her LORD. Remember, the LORD delivered Israel from Egyptian oppression and slavery, but they had to get up and walk out on their own. Had they sat in their homes instead of following Moshe out of Egypt, who knows how the story might have ended? Rav Shaul exhorted the believers at Philippi to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For the One working in you is God—both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). It would appear that both in the Tanakh and in the Apostolic Writings, we have a responsibility to work with HaShem for our betterment, for tikkun olam; we are not expected nor even allowed just to sit on our tuchuses waiting for things to happen.

The 16th century kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, possibly summarized this Haftarah in his poem, Lecha Dodi, which is sung on Friday evening welcoming the entrance of the Shabbat.

Wake up, wake up,
Your light has come, rise and shine.
Awaken, awaken; sing a melody,
The glory of God to be revealed upon thee.

As we read this Haftarah of Consolation, could there be any greater consolation than being encouraged to enter into the rest provided by our God?

In closing, I want to share just a little about the month of Elul which we entered last Shabbat. Within Judaism, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays in the month of Tishrei. Beginning in Elul, we prepare our hearts to acknowledge Creation and ADONAI‘s sovereignty over it at Rosh Hashanah. Ten days later, we will stand, together as a people, recognizing our frailty and short-comings, acknowledging our need for forgiveness and restoration both to ADONAI as well as to our fellow man. Remember the words of Yeshua when He taught,

 Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24)

It has been suggested that Elul (אלול, alef lamed, vav lamed) is an acronym of Song of Songs 6:3 “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” As we spend time in introspection this month, we can rest assured that we are loved by ADONAI, and that His desire for us is for our good.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Eikev

canstockphoto0885276This week’s Parasha is Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25.[i] The Haftarah, being the Second Shabbat of Consolation, is from Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3. The reading from the Apostolic Writings, according to the Chayai Yeshua schedule, is Luke 24:13–32. I encourage you to read through these Scriptures to see how the Ruach would speak to you this Shabbat.

In the world, it is often said that “seeing is believing.” According to the Apostolic Writings, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). In the Apostolic Writings this week we read about Yeshua’s post-resurrection encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmas,

Now behold, two of them on that very day were traveling to a village named Emmaus, a distance of about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were speaking with one another about all the things that had been happening. While they were talking and discussing, Yeshua Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. (Luke 24:13-16)

At first read, it seems a little odd that these disciples, these followers of Yeshua, did not recognize Him. But for some reason, their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. More amazing is that when we read the entire passage, we realize that these were not merely individuals who were somewhat familiar with the events of Yeshua’s life, but they actually seemed to have a relation with Him. It wasn’t until after Yeshua explained the Scriptures to them that their eyes were opened, and they knew who He was (Luke 24:32).

In the Haftarah we find a similar situation. The prophet Isaiah, in the midst of offering consolation and hope asks,

Who among you fears ADONAI? Who hears the voice of His servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the Name of ADONAI and lean on his God. (Isaiah 50:10)

Isaiah is not speaking to the nations of the world who do not know the God of Israel, but he is talking plainly to the disciplined ones of the remnant of Israel & Judah. Sight is not possible as the people walk in darkness. The very presence of ADONAI, which once dwelt in the midst of Israel, was no longer present. He seems to have removed Himself in the process of disciplining them for their iniquities. In his commentary on Isaiah, Rabbi Scherman notes,

Trust…and rely upon (trust and lean on) One trusts in something that may not seem logical. One relies upon something tangible and understandable. Righteous people should seek natural means to rely upon, without expecting miracles, but they must always trust that ultimately their salvation will come from God, even if the rules of nature, economics, and war do not give them hope. (Tzidkas HaTzaddik)[ii]

Furthermore, Rashi comments, concerning the ones …who went in darkness, “Even if trouble comes upon him, let him trust in the name of the LORD, for He shall save him.”[iii]

These notes from our sages sound a lot like the encouragement from Hebrews 11. Even when the hand of HaShem is not seen or His comforting grace not felt, He is still there waiting to be revealing once again. However, He desires for us to seek Him and not attempt to deal with life in the darkness on our own. A note from the Life Application Bible expands on the problem in which we often find ourselves, when we do not “feel” God’s presence, or we actively walk away on our own,

If we walk by our own light and reject God’s, we become self-sufficient, and the result of self-sufficiency is torment. When we place confidence in our own intelligence, appearance, or accomplishments instead of in God, we risk torment later when these strengths fade.[iv]

But the compiler of Mishlei provides us with this simple, well-known instruction, “Trust in Adonai with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5).

Considering “light” in the bracha Sim Shalom, the last in the Shacharit Amidah, we recite, “Bless us our Father, all as one, with the light of Your face, for by the light of Your face You have given us, LORD our God, the Torah of life, and love of kindness, righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace.”[v] As those on the road to Emmas had their eyes opened and enlightened, so too each of us needs to have our eyes kept open continually to the “light of His face.”

Open the eyes of my heart LORD,
Open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see You, I want to see You…[vi]

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] Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Prophets, The Later Prophets, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications, 2013, p 387.

[iii] https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15981/jewish/Chapter-50.htm#showrashi=true

[iv] Life Application Bible, NIV, Wheaton, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991, p. 1256.

[v] Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Koren Siddur, Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, Ltd, 2009, p 132.

[vi] Open the Eyes of My Heart, written by Paul Baloche, 2000.

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Thoughts on Vaetchanan

canstockphoto3712801This week’s portion is Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11.[i] More than Vaetchanan however, this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu or Shabbat of Comforting. This is the first Shabbat after Tisha b’Av and the remembrance of the destruction of both Temples and the resulting exiles, among other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on this date throughout the centuries. The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah 40:1-26 which begins a new aspect of the book of Isaiah. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book have dealt largely with Israel’s chastisements due to her disobedience to the Torah as well as well as the prophesized punishments that would befall Israel’s enemies. The final twenty-seven chapters will concentrate primary with words of consolation and the future Messianic redemption, not only of Israel but also for those nations and individuals that align themselves with the God of Israel and His Messiah. Therefore, Shabbat Nachamu begins the seven weeks of consolation leading to Rosh HaShanah, the two-day moed that commemorates the creation of the world and the coronation of HaShem as King and Ruler of all creation. Rosh HaShanah also marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, which is the ten-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur.

In the opening verses of Deuteronomy 4 we hear Moshe’s admonition to those awaiting entry into the Promised Land.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to do, so that you may live and go in and possess the land that Adonai the God of your fathers is giving you. …  Only be watchful and watch over your soul closely, so you do not forget the things your eyes have seen and they slip from your heart all the days of your life. You are to make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (4:1 & 9)

Sadly, as Moshe knew would happen, and the last three weeks woefully reminded us, Israel did not observe the statutes and ordinances of Adonai Tzavot, they did not remain faithful to the covenant nor teach their children to do so. They, in fact, chose to follow the ways of the world around them incurring the judgement of the Lord. However, the purpose of judgment and discipline is to train the wayward child to walk in the ways that he (or she) should go. As the author of the Book of Hebrews encourages his readers,

Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble!
(Hebrews 12:11-12)

Knowing that discipline, when properly received, leads to righteousness and restoration, we can more fully understand the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Haftarah,

“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)

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי, Nachamu, nachamu ami, comfort, comfort My people… HaShem is not the one comforting His people here, rather He is telling His prophets, those who had been bringing words of gloom and despair to an errant people, that they were now to turn from words of condemnation to words of comfort, peace, and healing. Israel had suffered enough, “she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins.” The times of discipline and suffering were to come to an end and the hope of redemption was to begin.

However, we know more of Israel’s story than Isaiah. Israel returned to her land and for a season walked after her God in truth and faithfulness, but this did not continue. A few verses outside our Haftarah we read HaShem’s lament,

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from Adonai, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’”? (Isaiah 40:27)

Though the time of redemption and restoration was proclaimed, it wouldn’t yet be fully recognized or received. History is clear that Israel once again went into exile after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Seventy years ago we once again saw the beginning of Israel’s redemption with the rebirth of the State, seemingly in a day. As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that forty years before the Destruction of the Temple the Messianic Age went through birth pains with the death and resurrection of Messiah, Yeshua. It is interesting to me that in Sanhedrin 98a we read

And it is written: “Behold, your king will come to you; he is just and victorious; lowly and riding upon a donkey and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Rabbi Alexandri explains: If the Jewish people merit redemption, the Messiah will come in a miraculous manner with the clouds of heaven. If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey.[ii]

The last line, “If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey,” seems to have come to fruition. Remember Yeshua words,

“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! (Matthew 23:37-38)

However, desolation was not the end of Yeshua’s words to Jerusalem. Redemption will in fact come one day as He assuredly spoke to Jerusalem, “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!’” May these weeks of consolation truly bring about redemption and restoration for all Israel, as well as all the nations of the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] https://www.sefaria.org.il/Sanhedrin.98a.13?lang=bi

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Thoughts on D’varim

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat we begin reading the final book of the Torah, D’varim (Deuteronomy) 1:1 – 3:22.[i] While some consider the book of Deuteronomy to be simply a recapitulation of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, the Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary sees it as much more.

The book of Deuteronomy contains not so much “a recapitulation of the things commanded and done, as related in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers” as “a compendium and summary of the whole law and wisdom of the people of Israel, wherein those things which related to the priests and Levites are omitted, and only such things included as the people generally required to know”.[ii]

In other words, Moshe is not only reiterating the Torah but emphasizing those things that are most important for Bnei Yisrael to know and understand. All the while he recognizes that the people to whom he is speaking are not those who came out of Egypt and received the first giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, but their children who were born during their wandering in the wilderness.

How many of us have lived through a most memorable situation and when we recounted that situation or episode decades later, the telling seemed to be a little off or maybe our perception of the situation or episode changed over time. It would appear that such is the case early in Deuteronomy. While addressing those who are now on the banks of the Jordan, awaiting to go into the Land, Moshe remembers a time, more than three decades before, when he spoke to the fathers of those currently standing before him. First affirming HaShem’s promise,

See, ADONAI your God has set the land before you—go up, take possession, as ADONAI God of your fathers has promised you. Do not be afraid or discouraged. (Deuteronomy 1:21)

Then explaining the first entry into the land by the original twelve spies.

Then all of you came near to me and said: ‘Let’s send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring us back word about the way we should go up and the cities we will enter.’ The idea seemed good to me, so I took twelve men from among you—one man for each tribe. (Deuteronomy 1:22-23)

But there is a problem with Moshe’s recap. He charges Bnei Yisrael with approaching him with the desire to spy out the land and determine if it is actually as HaShem had promised and that they would indeed be able to conquer and subdue it and its people. However, in Parasha Shelach we read what appears to be a different story.

ADONAI spoke to Moses saying, “Send some (sh’lach l’kha) men on your behalf to investigate the land of Canaan, which I am giving to Bnei-Yisrael. Each man you are to send will be a prince of the tribe of his fathers, a man from each tribe.” (Numbers 13:1-2)

Here it would appear that the idea to send the spies into the land was not that of the people but of HaShem Himself. Is this an error of memory or a contradiction in Scripture? The rabbis found the answer to this seeming contradiction in the understanding of the Hebrew phrase שְׁלַח-לְךָ, (sh’lach l’kha; English “Send some …).” The phrase literally means “send for yourself” implying that the sending of the men it is not HaShem’s purpose but that of Moshe or the people. Numbers Rabbah 26:8 explains that God seems to be saying,

“I have told you already that the land is good and that I will give it to you. If you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send the scouts.”[iii]

Here, I believe, is a lesson for us today. Many times in our lives we know what we are to do; the Scripture is quite plain and the rules or guidelines of our chosen life style are also fairly clear cut. However, we experience times when we don’t want to follow the pattern or keep the system of observance. Then, though knowing what we ought to do, we attempt to find other ways to live out or to get around what we know we ought to be doing. Sometimes, things do not go far array. Other times, as with the scouts, there are dire, possibly long-lasting consequences. Maybe this is why Moshe is clearly stating to the people before him that it was their fathers’ desire and decision to go “spy out the land” and not HaShem’s prompting. Subtly he was forewarning them as Yaacov (James) would warn his readers,

Therefore whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it—for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

This week is also Shabbat Chazon, the last Shabbat before the remembrance of the atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha b’Av. It is called Shabbat Chazon because the reading is from Isaiah’s first vision of accusation and discipline (Isaiah 1:1-27). It begins with HaShem’s charge, “Sons I have raised and brought up, but they have rebelled against Me.” (Isaiah 1:2)

However, as a loving Father, who disciplines His children, He also provides the opportunity for restoration and recovery.

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your deeds from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

As Jan Uhrbach notes in her commentary on this passage, “The prophet warns that society can be healed, and his terrifying vision of complete destruction avoided, only by care and concern for the most vulnerable members of society.”[iv] In other words, it is not ritual observance or piety that is the fruit of returning to the LORD but rather the concern and care for those who are most needy in the society that needs restoration—the oppressed, the orphan, the widow. Again we turn to Yaacov’s words of encouragement to his community,

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

It is said about Tisha b’Av, with its sorrowful contemplation and mournful time of fasting, that two things can come out of mourning and fasting. First is a state of depression as we remember all of the horrors of the past. However, the second option is that in light of the past atrocities we can make the decision to make our part of the world a better place in hope that the past will not repeat itself. Making the decision to assist in the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter is a good way to care for the physically oppressed. Another opportunity is provided by Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman who is the Executive Director of Chevra USA,[v] which is a humanitarian organization that feeds elderly Jews, particularly holocaust survivors, in the former Soviet Union and Israel, as well as mentoring Messianic Leaders in Eastern Europe. However we choose to exercise “pure and undefiled religion before our God,” it is one step closer to ensuring that the atrocities of the past are not repeated in the present or the future.

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] Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary, Introduction to the Fifth Book of Moses (Deuteronomy), Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1966. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.5.

[iii] Information drawn from Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary,’ David L. Lieber, Senior Editor, New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001, p 840.

[iv] http://www.jtsa.edu/third-hafarah-of-rebuke.

[v] http://www.chevrahumanitarian.org.

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Thoughts on Matot-Massei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

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

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Thoughts on Pinchas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

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

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Thoughts on Balak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

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