Thoughts on Terumah

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Terumah, Exodus 25.1 – 27.19[i] which begins, Tell Bnei-Yisrael to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him you are to take My offering (25.1). Last week, Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30.11-16) Israel was commanded to present the offering of Adonai (30.15) for the service of the Tent of Meeting (30.16). The difference here is “have to” verses “get to” as one’s heart compels them. Another correlation is that the offering collected in Exodus 30 was to be for the service of the Tent of Meeting, whereas this collection was to actually build the Tent of Meeting as it is written,

Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. You are to make it all precisely according to everything that I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings within—just so you must make it. (Exodus 25.8-9)

The next ninety-six verses describe in intricate detail the design and function of items and instruments to be made for the dwelling place of HaShem. But there are a couple of intermissions in the form of divine reminders,

See that you make them according to their pattern being shown to you on the mountain. (Exodus 25.40; cf. 26.30 and 27.8)

Do we see the pattern here? (No pun intended.) The Terumah was free will; one was to give as compelled in their heart. However, the work itself was to be done according to specific design, paying attention to each and every detail according to God’s plan not man’s. Here is another question, in light of the words of HaShem recorded by Isaiah, why build the Mishkan at all?

Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is the House you would build for Me? Where is the place of My rest? (Isaiah 66.1)

King Solomon, as he dedicated the First Temple, expresses a similar sentiment to the Lord when he states,

So will God really dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You! How much less this House that I have built! (1 Kings 8.27)

The 15th century Jewish philosopher, statesman, and Bible commentator Abravanel noted that “The Divine intention behind the construction of the Tabernacle was to combat the idea that God had forsaken the earth, and that His throne was in heaven, remote from humankind. To disabuse them of this erroneous belief, He commanded them to make a Tabernacle, as if to imply that He dwelt in their midst…”[ii]

Toward the end of the desert wandering, Israel was told, you are to seek only the place Adonai your God chooses from all your tribes to put His Name to dwell—there you will come (Deuteronomy 12.5). This week’s Haftarah, I Kings 5.26 – 6.13, records the realization of the culmination of that word in the completion of the building the first Temple. This time, the pattern was King Solomon’s choosing, and the cost and labor was conscripted. In the end however, HaShem made a promise to Solomon.

“As for this House which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes, execute My ordinances and keep all My mitzvot by walking in them, then I will establish My word with you, which I spoke to your father David,  I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.” (I Kings 6.12-13)

In this caution, HaShem warns Solomon that this Temple was only a reflection of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel. When they walked after Him, He would dwell in their midst. If, however, they choose not to walk in the way of Adonai, then judgment would soon come.

Both in the wilderness and well as in the land, the Lord’s intention was to dwell with His people. While Adam and Chava may have forfeited that opportunity in the Garden, HaShem already had a plan for restoring all of humankind to Himself. Part of the fulfillment of this plan occurred when HaShem took up residence among His people Israel. But as we saw in Parashat Yithro, this people were called and set apart to be “a kingdom of kohanim” (Exodus 19.6) or as Rashi noted, a kingdom of ministers,[iii] those who would shine a light in a dark world, bringing the revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to a people who had lost their way. At times they were successful, at others they failed miserably like we all do. Finally, the Messiah, ben David became the ultimate visible expression of HaShem’s indwelling presence among His people, and by faith in Messiah Yeshua, among the nations of the world as well.

In this week’s Besorah reading, Luke 8:22–39, we read the account of Yeshua ministering light and life to the non-Jewish world as He casts the demons out of man living in the region of the Gerasenes on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Yeshua ministered the presence of Shekinah as He fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah,

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Adonai’s favor… (Isaiah 61.1-2)

Today, you and I are His ministers; His hands reaching out to those in need and His feet going to those who have lost their way and need assistance to come back to the Way.

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] Leibowitz, Nehama, New Studies in Shemot/Exodus II, Jerusalem, WZO, Dept. of Torah Education in the Diaspora, 2000, p 472.

[iii] Herczeg, Rabbi Yisrael Isser Zvi, The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary, Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publishers, Ltd., 1995, p 223.

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Thoughts on Mishpatim

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha is Mishpatim (Rules), Exodus 21.1–24.18.[i] There are two extra readings this Shabbat as it is Shabbat Sheqalim, Exodus 30.11-16, as well as the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh, Numbers 28.9-15. (Rosh Chodesh Adar is next Thursday and Friday.) As one might imagine, there will be quite a bit of reading this Shabbat in synagogues around the world. As I am using the Triennial Reading Cycle, we will be looking at Exodus 22.4–23.19 while looking briefly as the reading for Shabbat Sheqalim.

There is command which appears not once but twice in this passage,

You must not exploit or oppress an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt. ‏וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה‏ וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ‏ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם   (Exodus 22.20  23.9)

Not only are neighbors, friends and family to be protected but also outsiders, those who are not a part of the community. The word here for outsiders is גֵרִים often translated or understood as converts. However this is not usually the case in biblical Hebrew, and especially not in passages where Israel is said to have been גֵרִים בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם strangers or outsiders in the land of Egypt, as the children of Jacob certainly did not convert to the religion of the Egyptians. In his commentary on this passage, Professor Sarna notes that there are four distinct groups of disadvantaged or underprivileged individuals whom HaShem takes special note and care of; the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. He states emphatically that HaShem’s concern “arises out of His essential nature, His intolerance of injustice, and His compassionate qualities” (22.22-23, 26).[ii] Then he goes on to speak about why the treatment of the stranger/outsider is so important. He states, “Because he (the stranger) could not fall back upon local family and clan ties, he lacked the social and legal protection that these ordinarily afforded. Being dependent on the goodwill of others, he could easily fall victim to discrimination and exploitation.”[iii] This understanding makes Yeshua’s exhortation even more pertinent,

So in all things, do to others what you would want them to do to you—for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7.12)

HaShem’s intense concern for justice and equity is also seen in the Exodus 30 passage which is read for Shabbat Sheqalim. This passage gives an account of the census that HaShem required Moshe to take of all the people of Israel. Everyone, over the age of twenty, was to be counted, and everyone was to be assessed a ransom payment, expiation money (Exodus 30.16). Both HaShem’s justice and equity are seen in this action; justice because it was a reminder of the redemptive act of the LORD and equity because it was the same tax, one-half shekel, for each individual. It did not matter the person’s age, social station, or financial standing in the community–everyone paid the same because everyone stands the same before HaShem. This state of equality may be a way of understanding Rav Shaul’s statement to the believers in Galatia, when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua,” (Galatians 3.28). It is not the individual distinctions that were done away with, rather it was and remains affirming the fact that before HaShem, we all stand the same and require the same payment – the sacrifice provided by Messiah Yeshua.

The regular Haftarah for this parasha is Jeremiah 34.8-32 and 33.25-26. Saying that Jeremiah was not one of the more popular prophets is an understatement. In this reading, he proclaims HaShem’s coming discipline on Judah and Jerusalem for being disobedient to the jubilee process recorded in Mishpatim.

…thus says Adonai, the God of Israel: “I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying: ‘At the end of seven years you are to set free every man his brother that is a Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you are let him go free from you.’ But your fathers did not obey Me, nor inclined their ear. Now you had repented and had done that which is right in My eyes, by proclaiming liberty everyone to his neighbor. You even had made a covenant before Me in the House where My Name is called. But you turned around and profaned My Name, and made everyone his servant and his handmaid, whom you had let go free at their will, return, and you brought them back into subjection, to be your servants and handmaids.” (Jeremiah 34.13-16)

This prophecy shows the great importance of ethical treatment of others, especially those who cannot care from themselves. In this one prophetic utterance, Jeremiah describes three breaches of covenantal stimulations. First is the disobedience of Exodus 21.2, which is the beginning of the mispatim for the Year of Jubilee and the freeing of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year. Second is the breach of the covenant that King Zedekiah made and that the people accepted, to release said slaves, which they did and then immediately reneged on the decision (Jeremiah 34.8-11). Finally, to emphasize the intensity of HaShem’s feelings on this matter, He tells the people that they have performed hillul ha-shem, they have desecrated the Name of the LORD (34.16),

“So you are to keep My mitzvot and do them. I am AdonaiYou must not profane My Holy Name, for I will be made holy among Bnei-Yisrael. I am Adonai who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. I am Adonai.” (Leviticus 22.31-32)

Fortunately, even though Israel broke their side of the covenant, HaShem, though He would discipline Israel as an errant child, never broke and never will break covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Thus says Adonai: “If I have not made My covenant of day and night firm, and the fixed patterns ordering the heavens and earth, only then would I reject the offspring of Jacob, and of My servant David so that I would not take from his offspring rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore them from their exile and have compassion on them.” (Jeremiah 33.25-26)

The reading from the Besorah is Luke 8.1-21 contains the parable and explanation of the sown seed and the different types of ground in which the seed is sown, as well as the resulting return. Each of us should make it our goal to be categorized as good seed, who are “those with a praiseworthy and good heart, who have heard the word and hold it fast and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Luke 8.15).

SS-RC

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

[ii] Sarna, Nahum M., The JPS Commentary Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991, p 137.

[iii] Ibid. p 137-138.

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Thoughts on Yithro

Erev ShabbatThis week’s Torah portion is Yithro. Since this study is following the triennial cycle, year2, we will be looking at Exodus 19.1 – 20.23. For those wishing to read the full Torah portion see Exodus 18.1 – 20.23.[i] Our reading begins with Israel arriving in the Wilderness of Sinai three months after they left Egypt. HaShem’s first message to the people is

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you will be My own treasure from among all people, for all the earth is Mine. So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation. Exodus 19.4-6)

Here I really like the TLV version as it translates אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ as “if you listen closely”, instead of the normal English “if you obey”. In his commentary on various Torah portions, Rabbi Sacks points out that there is no single verb in biblical Hebrew for the English word obey. In above verse alone, there are two words which often carry that English definition – שׁמע, as I just mentioned, is properly to hear or better to heed, and שׁמר is to keep or to guard. While obey works for a simple understanding of these words, it does not carry the nuance that the Hebrew suggests. To hear, internalizing the revealed voice of the LORD, potentially brings about a transformation in one’s life, in the very being of the hearer causing him or her to want to guard and to protect that revelation and the newness of life it cultivates. With this in mind, consider the verse again as HaShem tells Israel, if you listen and internalize My voice, My words, allowing them to take root in your very being, and if you watch over and guard this new thing within you, then you will be My own treasured people (סְגֻלָּה֙ עַם) as well as a kingdom of priests (מְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים). This is not obedience simply for obedience sake, but rather it is interaction with the One who called a people out of Egypt to reach a desired goal, that of being a treasured people and priesthood. Thinking about the phrase a kingdom of priests, Rashi notes that instead of reading priests in this context, a kingdom of ministers should be read.[ii] One of the simplest definitions of a minister is one who attends to the needs of others. Therefore, it can be said that Israel is to be a people who are specially treasured by HaShem with the purpose, and even the charge, to minister to the needs of others. This is an awesome responsibility to which the Jewish people have answered the call in multiple areas of human need and development.

The Haftarah is found in Isaiah 6.1-13 with Isaiah’s vision of one, probably Isaiah, standing before ADONAI seated upon heavenly throne and thereby recognizing his own inadequacy to be in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He. Though Isaiah experienced an exalted vision, as well as a divine calling (or sending), the promised reception of his message seems most discouraging.

“Go! Tell this people: ‘Hear without understanding and see without perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes blind. Else they would see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return, and be healed.” (Isaiah 6.9-10)

Rashi recognizes this to mean that even though the people have heard the prophets’ reproofs, and that they have seen and experienced the miracles of HaShem, as well as and the numerous wonders that have been accomplished on their behalf, they continued not to recognize that it was the LORD who was attempting to draw then back to Himself.[iii] Equally, just as Pharaoh hardened his heart and stood against the invitation of the Almighty, so the people to whom Isaiah was speaking allowed their hearts to become fat, insulating them against the wooing of the LORD. Their ears had become heavy as if filled with wax, so that they were unable to hear the calling of their God. Interestingly, this is the exact passage that Yeshua used in answering His disciples as to why He taught in parables to the majority of the people of His day, hiding from them the secrets of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 13.14-15).

“ADONAI how long?” Isaiah lamented. The answer was not until they are disciplined in the devastations and consequences of exile. But remember, Israel was and remains to this day (Romans 11.29) a treasure from among all people … a kingdom of priests (or ministers). Even though Israel is a nation, between 55% to 60% of the worlds Jews are still in galut, outside of Israel. “Why should this be so?” one might ask. Rabbi Dovie Schochet in an article entitled, Discover the Four Exiles of the Jewish People may have a possible explanation,

We can deduce from here that exile serves a dual function: Firstly, to serve as a punishment for our sins. Secondly, so we can be a light unto the nations and inspire the world for the better.[iv]

Therefore, even in exile the Jewish people are a kingdom of ministers.

The reading from the Besorah is Luke 7.36-50, which is the account of the woman washing Yeshua’s feet with her tears and then anointing them with an expensive perfume. The Pharisee who was hosting Yeshua took exception that He would even allow this woman to touch Him seeing that she was a sinner. Yeshua immediately compared the actions of the Pharisee to the actions of the woman, and the heart attitude of each. Yeshua then left the Pharisee, as well as the rest of the attendees, standing there in shock when He told the woman, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

In closing I’d like to leave you with a noteworthy thought, why did the woman come to Yeshua in the first place. It is simply written, “when she discovered that Yeshua was reclining at the Pharisee’s home…” (7.37). The word translated from Greek into English as “discovered” or often “learned”, is translated into modern Hebrew, at least in the Delitzsch, as שָׁמְעָהּ. In other words, she not only “heard” Yeshua was there, but she internalized the fact and acted upon it. As a result, Yeshua met her in her deepest need. May we all truly שׁמע the voice of the LORD each day, throughout the days our lives.

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] Herczeg, Rabbi Yisrael Isser Zvi, The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary, Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publishers, Ltd., 1995, p 223.

[iii] Scherman, Rabbi Nosson, The Later Prophets with Commentary Anthologized from Rabbinic Writings: Isaiah, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publishers, Ltd., 2013, p 55.

[iv] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3671017/jewish/Discover-the-Four-Exiles-of-the-Jewish-People.htm

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Thoughts on Beshalach

Just so you all know where I am going, I am changing from following the Full Kriyah (Torah reading cycle in one year) to the Triennial Cycle,[i] which reads the Torah in a three-year period providing shorter weekly portions. Interestingly, the Haftarah remains the same in both cycles. There is a difference, however, in some of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic choices. I will normally follow the Sephardic reading, but not always. I am also following the Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besorah reading cycle.[ii] With that introduction, the Parasha this week is Beshalach (when he [Pharaoh] released), taken from Exodus 13.17[iii] where the Full Kriyah begins. Rabbi Sarna comments,

The Hebrew word שַׁלַּח shillah is richly allusive. First, it reconnects with 12.33. Second, it carries the double judicial sense of divorce and of emancipation of a slave and is highly evocative. Finally, because shillah is the key term in each of the three divine promises of redemption given to Moses (cf. Exodus 3.20; 6.1; and 11.1), its presence here intimates their fulfillment.[iv]

Not only was Bnei Yisrael “sent out” but they were in essence emancipated from the slavery imposed upon them. This week’s reading is from Exodus 14.15 though 16.10. The narrative begins as Bnei Yisrael is in the process of leaving Egypt, “encamped by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth opposite Baal-zephon.” (14.9) Pharaoh, realizing that he is in the process of losing his cheap labor force, is rapidly approaching. They are seemingly stuck between an impassable barrier on one side and a rather angry former master on the other. Bnei Yisrael understandably cries out. Moshe in turn, attempts to comfort and console the concerned people, reminding them of what the LORD had already done on their behalf. Our portion begins with the words, “Then Adonai said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying to Me? Tell Bnei-Yisrael to go forward’” (14.15). Rashi notes, “There is no mention that he prayed to God concerning this, but it teaches us that Moses stood in prayer (as a mediator between Israel and external situations). Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘it is not time now to pray at length, when Israel is placed in trouble.”[v] There surely are times in our lives when intense prayer is necessary, when we battle the enemy, “fight the good fight of faith!” (1 Timothy 6.12a), in the strength of HaShem, “Through You we push back our foes. Through Your Name we trample those rising up against us” (Psalm 44.6). There are other times when we just need to “…stand still, and see the salvation of Adonai,” (Exodus 14.13a) or “…take your positions, stand and see the salvation of Adonai with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or be dismayed. Tomorrow go out to face them, for Adonai is with you,” (2 Chronicles 20.17). As Bnei At the SeaYisrael stood there on the shore of the sea, the time for prayer was over. HaShem told Moshe that it was time for action! He was to stand up, stretch out his staff, and then wait on the salvation of the LORD. The sea split with the sides standing up as walls. The ground dried and Bnei Yisrael walked across unhindered as the Angel of the LORD stood behind them as a barrier between them and Pharaoh’s forces. The end of the story is well known; it did not turn out well for Pharaoh and his men. Bnei Yisrael on the other hand, as one rejoiced greatly in their deliverance and salvation and in the very real revelation of HaShem, their God.

The Haftarah (Judges 4.4 though 5.31) is the scene of another deliverance. This time, however, instead of Moshe the primary players in the narrative are two women, Devorah, the prophetess and judge of Israel (4.4), and Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (4.17) who killed Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Just as HaShem told Moshe to lift up his staff and Bnei Yisrael would be delivered at the sea shore, Devorah, by the word of the LORD, summoned Barak and told him what he must do in order to be the one who would bring about Israel’s deliverance from their current oppressors (4.6-7). Sadly, Barak did not have the faith or fortitude that Moshe exhibited and told Devorah that he would be obedient only if she went with him. While acquiescing to his reluctant obedience, Devorah informed Barak that he had forfeited his place in history with the proclamation “no honor will be yours on the way that you are about to go—for Adonai will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4.9). Barak did lead the men of Zebulun and Naphtali against Sisera, but is was Yael who delivered the death blow with a hammer and a tent peg. Israel was delivered and shalom was restored, but Barak fades into obscurity, and Yael and Devorah are remembered as the heroines of the day. In the providence of the LORD, His plans will be accomplished. Our choice, as with Moshe and Barak, is either to be obedient and to be His vessel, or to be disobedient and cause the blessing to pass to another.

Finally, the reading from the Besorah is Luke 7.18-35 which is the account of John’s questioning Yeshua if he was the awaited Messiah, and Yeshua’s response. Some people believe that John may have at one time either been a member of the Qumran community or at least prepared to be a member. One reason for such understanding seems to come from this interaction between John and Yeshua through his disciples. John asked Yeshua, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (7.20). Yeshua responded to John’s disciples,

“Go report to John what you saw and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, those with tzara’at are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (7.22).

A similar description is found among the scroll fragments at Qumran. Craig Evans explains,

According to 4Q521, when the Messiah appears, whom heaven and earth will obey, the wounded will be healed, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the dead will be made alive, and the poor will have the good news proclaimed to them (frgs. 2 -t 4 ii 1-12).[vi]

While this is not positive proof a relationship existed between John and Qumran, it does show that the type of activity the Messiah would be expected to perform. Also interesting are Yeshua’s last words to John, “Blessed is he who is not led to stumble because of Me” (7.23). It appears that Yeshua was offering encouragement to John not to doubt or loss faith – even though John’s situation would soon go from bad to worse. It would be safe to say that Yeshua’s words to John reverberate down to each of use today. We should not allow ourselves to stumble on account of our faith in Yeshua. Even though life circumstances and social or cultural norms may attempt to cause us to fall, stand strong and tall, like Moshe, as he held out his staff and waited for the deliverance and salvation of the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] https://www.ohebshalom.org/_media/trichart.pdf year 2

[ii] http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle year 2

[iii] 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.

[iv] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991, p 68.

[v] Rabbi Silbermann, A. M., Chumash and Rashi’s Commentary: Shemoth, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers Ltd., 1934, p 71

[vi] Evans, Craig A. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005, p 151.

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Thoughts on Bo

canstockphoto12820422This week’s parasha is Bo, Exodus 10.1 – 13:16.[i] The Haftarah is found in Jeremiah 46.13-28 and the reading from the Besorah is from Luke 7.1-17, which records the accounts of the centurion’s faith and then the exercise of Yeshua’s authority over death as He raised the widow’s son.

This week’s narrative begins with Aaron and Moshe coming before Pharaoh another time, setting the stage for the eighth plague, that of locust. Once again, it is recorded that HaShem “hardened Pharaoh’s heart and those of his servants as it is written,

Then Adonai said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, so that I might show these My signs in their midst, and so you may tell your son and your grandchildren what I have done in Egypt, as well as My signs that I did among them, so you may know that I am Adonai.” (Exodus 10.1-2)

This is not the first “hardening,” as suggested by Exodus 7.2-5, with the purpose that “The Egyptians will know that I am Adonai…” (7.5). Then in 8.15 & 32, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In this week’s portion we see as John Sailhamer suggests, “…God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he might perform the signs; but this time the sign is not for Egypt and Pharaoh. It is rather for Israel and their children, “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians … that you may know that I am the LORD” (10:2).[ii]

It has been suggested that we may see the beginning of the importance of education in this parasha. At least three times, Exodus 10.2, 12.25, 13.8, Israel is told to tell their children when they ask, or even when they don’t, about what HaShem did as He prepared to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt to their promised inheritance with the ultimate purpose of that they may know and remember that “I am the LORD.” The need for “knowing” the identity and power of HaShem was apparently not limited to the Exodus narrative. In John’s Besorah we read,

As Yeshua was passing by, He saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Yeshua answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that the works of God might be brought to light in him. We must do the work of the One who sent Me, so long as it is day! Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9.1-5)

In this week’s Besorah the centurion was well aware of Yeshua’s authority as evidenced in his response, “…say the word and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Luke 7.7b-8). The centurion had no doubt as to Yeshua’s identity or His power. Perhaps, had Pharaoh such faith, the Exodus story might have been a bit different.

In the Haftarah, we once again see Egypt coming under divine discipline and judgment. In Jeremiah 46.13-24, we read about “the coming of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt” (v 13). And while it appears that Jeremiah is simply foretelling what Nebuchadnezzar is about to do, in reality he is showing once again HaShem’s hand in the activity.

“Behold, I will punish Amon of No, Pharaoh, Egypt, with her gods and her kings—even Pharaoh, and them that trust in him. I will hand them over to those seeking their lives, into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his servants. Yet afterwards it will be inhabited, as in the days of old” (Jeremiah 46.25-26).

Not only will Egypt be disciplined, but HaShem has promised that Egypt will once again “be inhabited, as in the days of old” affirming once again that one of the purposes of the discipline of the LORD is to bring about restoration. This fact is further affirmed in the last two verses of this Haftarah as HaShem encourages Jacob (Israel) not to fear or be dismayed because He is with them and will bring them back to their land as well and cause them to dwell in safety and shalom.

The second half of this week’s Besorah deals with the healing of the widow’s son. Whereas the centurion sought out Yeshua on behalf of his servant, in the case of the widow, in her grief, Yeshua was simply passing through the area. I am not going to enter into a discussion on the providence of the LORD at this point, I do believe that Yeshua was right where the Father wanted Him to be. However, the woman, unlike the centurion, did not seek out Yeshua – nor seemingly did her friends as when Yeshua healed the paralyzed man in Luke 5.17ff. She was at the end of hope and could only mourn her loss. Yeshua passed by, unannounced, and met her deepest need beyond her or her friends’ wildest expectations. The end result was the same as mentioned above, “fear took hold of them all, and they glorified God,” (Luke 7.16).

There are times, when we seek answers from the LORD, there are times when things are so bad that we don’t even know what or how to pray. But He who promised never to leave us or forsake us, (Deuteronomy 31.6 and Hebrews 13.5) will always be right beside us, in whatever condition or situation we find ourselves in.

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] Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995 p 256.

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Thoughts on Va’eira

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha is Va’eira, (“I appeared…”) Exodus 6.2 – 9.35.[i] The purpose of this “appearance” was not only to verify who was speaking, the One who had appeared to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also to take His revelation to the next step. He appeared to the patriarchs as אֵל שַׁדָּי (El Shaddai; 6.3), which is usually translated God Almighty or God All Powerful. The translation of El Shaddai as the “Almighty” is rooted in the LXX and Jerome. A better translation is Sovereign, as almighty denotes power while sovereign implies not only power, but authority, ability and intent. However His revelatory name was understood by the patriarchs, Moshe and the rest of Bnei Yisrael knew him by the new revelation of YHWH, pronounced by circumlocutions such as ADONAI, HaShem, the LORD or Havaya,[ii] meaning the ever present One. This is not a change of name or character rather Bnei Yisrael’s further understanding of their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only is He Israel’s Sovereign, but He is a Sovereign who is always present with them to assist, support, deliver, heal and save, as well as to direct and even discipline when needed.

After affirming that Bnei Yisrael would be the recipients of the inheritance promised to the patriarchs, HaShem goes on to tell the people exactly what He is going to do

“…I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God.” (6.6-7)

HaShem’s plan of redemption for Israel is expressed in four stages, using four different verbs (“bring out,” “deliver,” “redeem,” and “take you”). The Jerusalem Talmud (Pesahim 10.1) cites these four verbs as the reason for drinking four cups of wine during the Pesach Seder, the time in which the story of the Exodus is remembered and re-enacted.[iii]  Yeshua’s last command to His disciples as recorded in Matthew also includes four steps or stages.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (28.19-20)

First, Yeshua affirms His sovereignty, (all authority … has been given to Me). Then He commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations – not to convert them but to train them, bringing them out of their enslavement to the world and their natural inclinations and into a submission to Him. Next, the new disciples were to be immersed. Just as Israel’s passing through the Dead Sea was seen as a mikveh (ritual immersion; Ezekiel 16:8-9), the first step the new disciples were to take was to be washed with water (mikveh=immersion; baptism) and set apart as redeemed individuals. And finally, the teaching – educating the new Yeshua-followers in the ways they should live. In closing He affirms not only His sovereignty but the fact that He will be ever-present with them and us today as we journey to our promised destination.

The Haftarah is found in Ezekiel 28.25 – 29.21 and begins with the promise of another future redemption,

Thus says Adonai Elohim: “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered and show my holiness through them in the eyes of the nations, then they will live in their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob. They will live safely there, and they will build houses and plant vineyards. They will live securely when I have executed judgments on all those around them that treated them with contempt. So they will know that I am ADONAI their God.” (28.25-26)

There was early fulfillment of this with the return from Babylonian captivity in c. 538 BCE. There was a more modern fulfillment with the restoration of the State of Israel in 1948 CE. In neither of these past returns has this passage been fully realized. Furthermore, the “living in safety” has always been an issue. So as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews suggests, “…there remains a Shabbat rest for the people of God” (4.9). Both Israel and we as Yeshua believers are on a journey to that rest, and one day we all will enter in to that rest.

The reading from the Besorah[iv] this week is found in Luke 6.17-38, often described as Yeshua’s Sermon on the Plain. This passage is similar to the “Beatitudes” and additional teaching in Matthew 5 and 6. I end this study with a challenge from Yeshua to all of us from the final verses of this passage.

Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate to you. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. … For whatever measure you measure out will be measured back to you.” (6.36-37, & 38b).

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] Bick, Ezra. In His Mercy: Understanding the Thirteen Midot, Koren Publishers Jerusalem. English Edition, 2011. Kindle Edition. Kindle Location 410.

[iii] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 61.

[iv] According to Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besora Reading Cycle, http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle

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Thoughts on Vayechi

Erev ShabbatParasha Vayechi (Genesis 47.28 – 50.26)[i] ends the first book of the Torah, Bereishit (Genesis), as Jacob comes to the end of his one hundred and forty-seven years. First and foremost, he is concerned about his final resting place (Genesis 47.29-30 & 49.29-32). Jacob knew the importance of his burial with his fathers in the land of Canaan. He knew the prophetic word spoken to his grandfather Abraham,

Then He said to Abram, “Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. But I am going to judge the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will go out with many possessions. (Genesis 15.13-14)

He was equally sure that his progeny would be the ones to return to take possession of the land where the patriarchs and matriarchs rested. “Then Israel said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die. But God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 48.21). Rabbi Sarna notes that in both Genesis 15 and 48, “future redemption is assured because God wills it.”[ii]

After Jacob’s blessing of his sons in chapter 49, he quietly “breathes his last and is gathered to his people” (49.33). While he does not share his grandfather’s epitaph that he “died at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25.8) Jacob did leave his family in a somewhat restored condition with at least their immediate future secure. Sadly, Josephs brothers were not quite so sure of their future. Even though Joseph had assured them that he held no ill will against them, the brothers were not at peace. “Maybe Joseph will be hostile towards us and pay us back in full for all the evil we showed him” (50.15). Rabbi Dena Weiss draws on the Malbim for understanding the brothers concern.

They said, “Perhaps Yosef will bear animosity towards us… Regarding that which the wise one said (King Shlomo in Mishlei 25:21),7 If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread, that the greatest revenge one can take upon his enemy is to repay his hatred by placing him among those who sit at [the aggrieved]’s table and to do only goodness and kindness to him. For then he will constantly remember what he had done wrong, and that is [why the next verse, 25:22] says, for you are stoking coals on his head. And Yosef’s brothers sensed this, and the goodness of Yosef was like he was stoking coals on their heads. So they said, “If only Yosef would clearly bear animosity towards us! And if so, he will return to us all of the evil that we have done to him. Let him be actively bad to us, and not kind, which is like being stabbed with a sword.”[iii]

Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome (cf. Romans 12.20), a direct quote of Mishlei 25.21, reiterates the kingdom principle of divine reversal, “Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse” (Romans 12.18). Joseph chose to forgive his brothers and not hold animosity in his heart towards them. The problem is that they, either had not or could not forgive themselves. A search for scriptures on self-forgiveness returned zero hits. However, if we are to forgive others how much more should we forgive ourselves for the errors we’ve made. In the Besorah we read,

 “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6.13-14)

Earlier, Yeshua 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). Yeshua also taught, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11.25). Therefore, is it possible to be truly reconciled with your brother or sister, if you are not first reconciled with yourself? Returning to Joseph and his brothers, Joseph reassured his brothers once again that he did not hold their actions against them but that it was the overall plan of Hashem for their salvation (Genesis 50.19-21; cf. 45.5-8). He could have equally said to them, “Stop holding on to past mistakes, so that you may truly receive the forgiveness of Hashem and be at peace.”

This week’s Haftarah, 1 Kings 2.1-12, records King David’s final exhortations to his son Solomon. David begins with “I am going the way of all the earth. So be strong, and be a man” (1 Kings 2:2). “Be strong” is a common charge throughout scripture. In Deuteronomy 11.18 the children of Israel are commanded to be strong and to possess the land the LORD is giving them, and in Deuteronomy 31.6 He encourages Israel to be strong and courageous because He is going with them and will never leave or forsake them. Moshe tells Joshua to be strong as he passes on the mantle (Deuteronomy 31.23 and Joshua 1.6). In the Haftarah David is encouraging his chosen heir not only to “be strong,” and to “be a man.” Rav Shaul encouraged the believers in Corinth to “Be on the alert! Stand firm in the faith! Be men of courage! Be strong” (1 Corinthians 16.13). David also tells Solomon how to be strong and to be a man, “Keep the charge of Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His decrees, according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn…” (1 Kings 2.3). David was repeating what Moshe told all of 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)

These are the same words I leave with you as we prepare to enter into this last Shabbat of 2017. Be strong and be a man (or woman) dedicated to the LORD. Make peace with those you need to and most of all be at peace with yourself.

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] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 330.

[iii]  https://mechonhadar.s3.amazonaws.com/mh_torah_source_sheets/CJLVParashatVaYechi5778.pdf , p 3.

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