Thoughts on Korach

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Korach, Numbers 16:1 – 18:32,[i] the haftarah is 1 Samuel 11:14 – 12:22. Most of the parasha’s deals with the rebellion of Korach, HaShem’s judgement on Korach and his party, the rebellion of the people against Moshe and HaShem’s judgement on them, and Moshe’s intercessory action on behalf of those who spoke out against him.

Korach and the party he gathered around him made the following claim against Moshe and Aaron, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI,” (Numbers 16:3)?

Moses responded,

By this you will know that Adonai has sent me to do all these works, that they are not from my own heart. If every one of these men die a common death and experience what happens to all people, then Adonai has not sent me. But if Adonai brings about a new thing, and the earth opens her mouth and swallows them and everything that is theirs, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will know that these men have despised Adonai. (Numbers 16:28-30)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks, “What was wrong with Korach and his fellow rebels? On the face of it, what they said was both true and principled. ‘You have gone too far,’ they said to Moses and Aaron. ‘The whole community is holy, every one of them, and God is with them. Why then are you setting yourselves above God’s congregation?’”[ii] When one remembers HaShem’s words to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, it would seem that Korach was correct.

“So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.” These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael.” (Exodus 19:6)

Moshe hoped that all of Israel would have the same relationship with HaShem as he did. This is seen in his response to Joshua concerning those in the camp manifesting the ministry of the Ruach Hakodesh.

“(Joshua) are you jealous on my behalf? If only ADONAI would make all the people prophets! If only ADONAI would put the Spirit on all of them!” (Numbers 11:29)

But, while Korach and company vocalized their complaint against Moshe and Aaron, Moshe recognized correctly that Korach stood against HaShem himself. Recently, Vered noted that when Moshe received an attack against him personally, against his character, he said nothing, leading to the Torah proclaiming him the meekness, most humble man (Numbers 12:3). However, when Moshe felt that the character of HaShem was in question, he spoke out, forcibly – both when he felt the attack was from without as with Korach or when he felt that HaShem Himself was doing something that might impugn His name or character,

I prayed to ADONAI and said, “O Lord, ADONAI, do not destroy Your people—Your inheritance that You have redeemed through Your greatness and brought out from Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people or to their wickedness or their sin. Otherwise the land from which You brought us out may say, ‘Because ADONAI was not able to bring them into the land that He spoke of to them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.’ Yet they are Your people—Your inheritance that You brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:26-29)

What we learn from this parasha is that Moshe was intensely concerned about both the people with which he was charged, as well as with the God he served. We too, at times, may find ourselves in the position of defending our faith and/or practice before those who feel we are in error. Peter’s words ring true at that point,

Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with humility and reverence—keeping a clear conscience so that, whatever you are accused of, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Messiah may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

There is another important point to learn from this week’s parasha. Just because someone quotes Scripture or paraphrases Scripture in such a way to make it sound like the truth, the reality is that while true it may be, the motivation or intention may be anything but good and proper. While Korach spoke the right words, his motivation was to displace the LORD’s choice. On a blog entitled, Life of a Steward the author notes,

As Christians, our motivation is crucial. The difference between righteousness and evil is often not what we do but why we do it. Furthermore, we have a tremendous ability to deceive ourselves. It takes a lot of honesty to look deep within and see that your motivations are off.[iii]

There was a time, when I was a young believer, I learned to argue well against those who had differing views than those I held to be right and true. Looking back on that time, I wish I could take back some of the communication, because while I was using Scripture to prove my position, my attitude was one of self-righteousness – I was right, and they were wrong. I now realize that while I still believe I was right, I know that they were not necessarily wrong, but simple interpreted Scriptures differently.

In this week’s reading from the Besorah, Luke 19:1-28, we read about Yeshua and Zacchaeus’ encounter with one another. Zacchaeus, a tax-collector, was socially considered a sinner, which brought about the charge from the crowd, “Yeshua has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (19:7)! Their words were technically correct, as they were motivated by common perceptions – but the motivation was misinformed. Zacchaeus the tax-collector had a change of heart due to the fact that “Today salvation has come to this home, because he also is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Korach operated under a wrong motivation, the crowds around Zacchaeus operated under a misinformed motivation. We must follow the admonition of the compiler of the Proverbs

Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

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://rabbisacks.org/when-truth-is-sacrificed-to-power-korach-5775/

[iii] http://www.lifeofasteward.com/six-signs-your-motivation-is-incorrect/

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Thoughts on Sh’lach lecha

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Sh’lach lecha (you send), Numbers 13:1 – 15:41,[i] which is the well-known, though tragic episode, of the twelve spies being sent to check-out the land before entering as a nation (Numbers 13-14). Tragic, because of the twelve men chosen, all of whom were leaders of their individual tribes, ten decided to stand against the word of HaShem, sowing fear and discontent in the people. In spite of all the miracles and despite the delivering power of HaShem they had already witnessed; the people chose to listen to the bad report and even suggested replacing Moshe and returning to the bondage of Egypt. Then, after being chastised and disciplined by the LORD, they presumed to obey the original command to enter the land, even though the grace and authority had been removed. The end result was a resounding defeat at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites and a further thirty plus years of wandering until the entire generation that had left Egypt passed away – except Joshua and Caleb.

There is a lesson to be learned for us today. When we know the direction of the LORD, we need to do it in the proper time. If we choose not to do so, there may well be consequences, even if we try to do what we should have done originally. We know of people who over the years have had a strong desire to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel). After much prayer, they knew they should make the move and that the LORD would be with them, going before them to pave the way. However, perceived family issues, work issues, or simply fear of the unknown of Israel life and society caused them to delay, and in doing so missed the timing of the LORD. When they tried later when everything was right and in order, they were unable to make Aliyah. They missed their window of opportunity. As with the children of Israel, the missed opportunity was not a permanent situation, but there were for them and often are for us, consequences that could have been avoided with a little faithful obedience.

As this week’s parasha concludes, HaShem gives a command that in many ways becomes an aspect of self-definition of the Jewish people.

ADONAI spoke to Moses saying “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael. Say to them that they are to make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each tzitzit. It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of Adonai and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God. I am ADONAI your God. I brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am ADONAI your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41; c.f. Deuteronomy 22:12)

The exact understanding of this command has been a matter of debate throughout the centuries. Was the command for all of Israel, male and female, or just the males? What about the garment – if one wore a robe that had no corners, was the command obligatory? In Matthew’s Besorah, some of the Pharisees are chided for the length of their tzitzit (23:5) while in Luke 8:44 as in Mark 6:56, it appears that healing was realized just by toughing Yeshua’s tzitzit. While the mitzva of wearing the tzitzit is important – what is more important is HaShem’s stated reason for the mitzva, that “you will remember all the mitzvot of ADONAI and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves.”

Traditionally, the fulfillment of this mitzva is accomplished in two ways. First, is the wrapping of one within their tallit, a four corned garment worn at specific times of prayer and other life cycle events. As one wraps their tallit around them, it is almost as if they are putting on a uniform (think whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18) or we are like Mordechai when the king had him wrapped in his own robe to honor him (Esther 8:15). When we wrap ourselves in the tallit, with the intension of focusing our thoughts, praises, and prayers upon the LORD, it is as if we transcend our mundane reality and enter into His very presence. But there is another way of observing this mitzva, that is the wearing of a tallit katan (a small tallit) which is worn under your shirt with the tzitzit tucked in, unseen by others. Rabbi Sacks describes this as

…the most inward, intimate, intensely personal aspect of faith whereby in our innermost soul we dedicate ourselves to G-d and His commands. There is nothing public about this. It is not for outer show. It is who we are when we are alone, not trying to impress anyone, not wishing to seem what we are not. [ii]

The tallit katan is not for the world to see; it is an intimate reminder of not only the LORD’s commands but also of His awesome power and His intense care and concern for each of us. In the same article mentioned above, Rabbi Sacks notes that customs and styles have changed, the observance of the tzitzit is no longer obligatory but in wearing the tallit katan, as well as the regular tallit when we pray, we are by an act of our will, freely accepting the covenantal duties of Jewish life – to be holy as He, HaShem, is holy.

This week’s haftarah is Joshua 2:1-24, which deals with the second incursion of spies into the land promised as an inheritance to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Interestingly the report of the two unidentified spies was quite similar to that of Caleb, (Joshua 2:23-24 & Numbers 13:30).

The reading from the Besorah, Luke 18:31–43 records the beginning of Yeshua’s final journey up to Jerusalem. Along the way, He encounters a blind beggar, who when he realizes Yeshua’s presence, loudly intercedes on his own behalf. Earlier in the narrative (Luke 18:15-16) those with Yeshua tried to quiet the beggar, so he wouldn’t bother the Master, but as with the little children, Yeshua called the beggar to Him, then granted the beggar’s request for healing. Yeshua was not burdened by the people but for the people. Isaiah said that one of the signs of the Messiah would be,

…to proclaim Good News to the poor. …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… (Isaiah 61:1)

Yeshua did these things and more, as He did the work of His Father who sent Him, (John 5:19). Yeshua expects His followers to emulate His actions.  He proclaimed

…he who puts his trust in Me, the works that I do he will do; and greater than these he will do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

Doing the works of Yeshua, is in essence doing the works of His Father, (John 5:19), and in doing this we obey His commands thereby we walk out the command to be holy as He is holy.

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://rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-shelach-lecha-beyond-the-fringe/

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Thoughts on Beha’alotkha

This week’s parasha, Beha’alotekha (when you set up) Numbers 8:1 – 12:16,[i] specifically refers to the lamps which constitute the Menorah in the Mishkan. The haftarah is Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, and the Besorah reading is Luke 18:1-17. It may well be that the seven lamps of Numbers 8:2 connects this week’s parasha to the haftarah as once again HaShem commands the use of seven lamps (Zechariah 4:2). Allegorically, we understand with the Psalmist that the Word of HaShem is the light that guides (or should guide) our paths, (Psalm 119:105). As believers in Yeshua, we understand that Yeshua is the light (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16) that illuminates the world, bringing those in darkness into His light.

Usually when one looks at this week’s haftarah, they focus upon the high priest Joshua in chapter three, where the angel of the LORD cleanses and restores him (Zechariah 3:3-5) and charges him to the service of the LORD (Zechariah 3:6-7). But this week, we’ll look at the beginning of the reading in Zechariah 2:14-17.

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming, and I will live among you”—it is a declaration of ADONAI. “In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.” Then you will know that ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me to you.ADONAI will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. Be silent before ADONAI, all flesh, for He has aroused Himself from His holy dwelling.”

Not only is Israel and Jerusalem restored to their covenantal place before HaShem, but the nations, in fulfillment of HaShem’s promise to Abraham, are brought to ADONAI as well. The angel of the LORD told Abraham, in response to his obedience concerning the Akedah,

“I will richly bless you and bountifully multiply your seed like the stars of heaven, and like the sand that is on the seashore, and your seed will possess the gate of his enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed—because you obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:17-18)

The pairing in this announcement is of utmost importance. Almost in the same breath HaShem is confirming His covenantal relationship with Israel, His chosen people, while acknowledging that many nations will join themselves to Adonai as well. Rav Shaul, recognizing this action, proclaimed to the believers in Ephesus, “…now in Messiah Yeshua, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah” (Ephesians 2:13) as well as to the believers in Colossae, that HaShem, though Yeshua, “reconciled to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20). The restoration of creation and HaShem’s indwelling presence with His creation remains in the heart of God. If there were ever any doubt of HaShem’s love for Israel, Jerusalem and Zion, the words of the Psalmist puts such confusion to rest,

For ADONAI has chosen Zion, He has desired it for His dwelling: “This is My resting place forever. Here I dwell, for I have desired it. (Psalm 132:13-14)

And it is this desire to dwell among Bnei Yisrael that brought about HaShem’s command to Moshe concerning the building of the Mishkan

 “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:5)

Most commentators follow Abarbanel’s understanding that Zachariah’s proclamation looks to a future redemption in the Messianic Age, when “ADONAI will then be King over all the earth. In that day ADONAI will be Echad and His Name Echad,” (Zechariah 14:9). Others feel that the return from Babylonian exile satisfied this prophecy, however the second exile as well as present political instability would suggest that the future redemption idea is more accurate. It is unlikely that in today’s climate “many nations” or “all flesh” would come up to Jerusalem – least ways in an attitude of peace. However, just because a promise isn’t immediately realized, does not negate its validity. The prophet Habakkuk affirmed this fact

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)

Or as Peter wrote the Messianic believers in the Diaspora,

The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This call to patiently wait on the promise of the LORD is the underlying focus of the first of Yeshua’s parables in this week’s Besorah. The situation of the woman in need and the unrighteous judge ends with said judge answering the woman because of her incessant pleading. Interestingly, the parable ends with Yeshua’s words, “but when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8). While this seems to be a simple exhortation to exercise constant faith in our lives, the key is in the introduction to the parable, “Then Yeshua told them a parable to show that they should always pray and not be discouraged” (18:1). It takes faith, to pray and not be discouraged, especially if the answer does not immediately come or even worse if the answer that comes is not the one for which we are hoping. In seeking to try and understand why bad things sometimes happen to good people, Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote,

God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal. living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part. Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes. We can turn to Him for help in overcoming it, precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are.[ii]

Rabbi Kushner’s words have brought comfort to multitudes of people who have come to realize that while HaShem is not the author of our problems or situations, He is the author of our strength and comfort through whatever the situation and its conclusion are. In the roll call of faith, Hebrews 11, we read of situations that seemed to have accomplished their desired end and others that would seem to end as failures. But in the middle of the chapter we read these words of comfort,

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised—but they saw them and welcomed them from afar, and they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

The immediate context was the promises to Abraham and Sarah, which they did not fully realize. We are each living proof of the faith for which they were credited. Today, may each of us stand in faith, without losing hope, so that in each and every situation in which we find ourselves, HaShem, though Messiah Yeshua, may provide the comfort and strength to transverse the situation. Then regardless of the eventual outcome, our faith in God and His goodness will remain firm, and in every situation, we can say yes, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth.”

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] Harold S Kushner (2011). “When Bad Things Happen to Good People: 20th Anniversary Edition”, p.159, Pan Macmillanhttp://www.azquotes.com/quote/898800

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Thoughts on Naso

canstockphoto0885276This week’s Parashat is Naso, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89. The Haftarah is Judges 13:2-25 and the reading from the Besorah is Luke 17:11–25.

The Nazir:

And the LORDspoke to Moses, saying,“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the LORD… (Numbers 6:1-2)

  • Abstain from wine and strong drink, as well as produce or by-products of the vine. (6:3-4)
  • No razor shall touch his head (think Dusty Hill or Billy Gibbons) – He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long. (6:5)
  • During the duration of his vow, he is not to become tameh, טמא, (ritually unclean) due to proximity of dead bodies, even close family members. (6:6-7)
  • “And this is the law for the Nazirite, when the time of his separation has been completed… (it is for a specific time or duration, the rabbis suggest 30-day minimum without a maximum). (6:13)

In an article by Rabbi Menachem Posner posted on Facebook, we are reminded that “the nazir (nazirite) is a person who decided to take upon him or herself a vow to live a strict and holy lifestyle.” In other words, the person who makes the choice to do this mitzva is choosing to separate himself or herself from the commonness of daily life and live consecrated, devoted to the work of HaShem in some capacity or other. This would seem to be a worthy ambition. However, in the Haftarah we read about what appears to be an adjustment to this mitzva as the angel of the LORD speaking to the barren wife of Manoah, the Danite, makes the following proclamation

Behold now, you are barren and have not borne children, but you will conceive and bear a son.Now therefore be careful not to drink wine or strong drink or eat any unclean thing.For behold, you will conceive and bear a son. Let no razor come upon his head, for the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb. (Judges 13:3-5)

First, note that there are a few differences in the two accounts. Numbers 6 is the choice of the individual entering the vow, whereas it appears that in Judges 13 both the mother and child are Nazirites by divine choice. Second, unlike Judges 13, Numbers 6 says nothing about the consumption of unclean food. Lastly the avoidance of ritual impurity due to contact with dead bodies is excluded from Judges 13. This may possibly be because the child will grow up to become the cause of many deaths and therefore in proximity of dead bodies. Later, we will read of another child who seemed to have no choice of being a Nazir due to a vow made by his mother Hannah

And she made a vow, saying, “LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life,and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11)

Depending upon one’s theological inclination, the question then arises as to whether man has free will or if everything is determined by HaShem? Judaism would say a resounding yes to both. Humankind was created with the ability to make their own choices within the framework of the order established by the Sovereign Creator. The words of the author of Mishlei states it clearly, “The heart of man plans his course, but ADONAI directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9). Or as stated in the oft quoted passage from Rav Shaul,

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)

So again, I ask do we, men and women, have free will to do as we wish, or are our steps completely directed by HaShem? Maybe it is this tension between man’s free will to make choices and ADONAI’s sovereign determination that defines our relationship with Him. It is good that we draw away from the mundane to be separated to the LORD, BUT, then again, the LORD is equally interested in how we deal with the mundane in light of already being a peculiar, set apart people. As Rabbi Posner concludes,

Thus it seems that the nazirite is a holy calling—rising above the mundane by observing a meticulous lifestyle—but it is not right for everybody. For if G-d willed it, He would have created a world with no wine and no temptations. Rather, He wants us to live within His world and uncover the wonder and meaning that He embedded within it.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Bechukotai

canstockphoto0885276This week’s Parasha is Bechukotai, (in My statutes) Leviticus 26:3–27:34.[i] The Haftarah is from Jeremiah 16:19–17:14 and the reading from the Besorah is Luke 16:10–17.

In this week’s Haftarah there is an abundance of information that beckons our attention. “The biblical prophet Jeremiah is perhaps best remembered for his doomsday prophecies. He criticised his generation for their wayward behaviour, and then watched them fall at the hands of their geopolitical enemies. Needless to say, Jeremiah lived through a tumultuous time in world history.” [ii] However, with all of the turmoil that Jeremiah experienced, this week’s reading begins with Jeremiah’s proclamation,

ADONAI, my strength, my stronghold, my refuge in the day of affliction… (16:19a)

This is reminiscent of the Psalmist’s words,

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)

Interestingly, it is the rod and the staff that brings comfort for the Psalmist. The rod carries the understanding of a scepter, which is a symbol of political authority. As a symbol of authority it denotes the possibility of discipline or chastisement. The staff, on the other hand, likewise carries the idea of political authority, but additionally the item used by a shepherd to guide, direct and protect the flock. Discipline and protection, two-sides of the same coin exhibiting the care of HaShem for His people.

In the second part of the verse we read the lament that the nations will confess,

 “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, futility and useless things.” (16:19b)

At some point in the future, the nations of the world will realise that the idols of their fathers are in fact not gods at all, but merely the work of human hands without the power or authority to care for or guide them. At that time, they will turn to the God of Israel knowing that He alone is ADONAI. Rav Shaul eludes to this yearning in his letter to the Yeshua-believers in Rome,

For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:18-19)

Israel, according to Scripture, is the sons (and daughters) of God, (Hosea 1:10; 2:1 in Christian Bibles). I am not discounting here that the people from the nations who come to the LORD are children of Abraham, the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) as affirmed by Rav Shaul, “And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed—heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). However, the nations being heir to the promises to Abraham does not nullify or negate HaShem’s promises to His covenant people Israel. It is not only the Apostolic Writings that foresee the nations coming to the God of Israel. In the Aleinu, the closing prayer of Judaism’s three daily prayer services, we read,

Therefore, we place our hope in You, Lord our God, that we may soon see the glory of Your power, when You will remove abominations from the earth and idols will be utterly destroyed, when the world will be perfected under the sovereignty of the Almighty when all humanity will call upon Your name, to turn all the earth’s wicked toward You. All the world’s inhabitants will realise and know that to You every knew must bow and every tongue swear loyalty.[iii] (cf. Philippians 2:10-11)

In chapter 17, Jeremiah turns his attention to Judah’s transgressions that are inscribed on the altar with a diamond tipped pen and engraved on their hearts with an iron chisel. This illustrates the use of a rod or staff for discipline. Rashi notes that this is an allegorious illusion indicating that Judah’s sins were so “deeply engraved and could not be erased.”[iv] Here we have one of the ambiguities found in Scripture. He who so indelibly engraved Israel’s sins also has the power and authority to deal with those transgressions.  ADONAI proclaims,

I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake and will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

However Israel, as we ourselves, have a part to play in the “blotting out of our transgressions.” We must actively seek ADONAI with the attitude Jeremiah expresses, for himself as well as all Israel

Heal me, ADONAI, and I will be healed.  Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)

Perhaps it is in memorial of Jeremiah’s plea that we recite the 6th brachot of the daily Amidah, רפואה,[v] “Heal us, Lord, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise.” There is an expectation in the hearts and minds Jews that ADONAI is the source, not only of physical healing but of all that is encompassed by the concept of being saved. As believers in Yeshua, we expand this understanding in agreement with the author of the book of Hebrews, so that we are “looking to Yeshua, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2). It is often easy for Yeshua believers to think of being “saved” as merely a spiritual condition that allows us entrance to the World to Come. But in the Judaic mindset being “saved” is more of a daily, physical reality in which HaShem works on our behalf so that we might experience true shalom – not the absence of adversity but the strength and assistance to move through the situation.

I close with the words from the Haftara and the Book of Hebrews, “Heal me, ADONAI, and I will be healed.  Save me, and I will be saved” “… for Yeshua our Messiah is the Initiator and Completer[vi] of our faith.” (Jeremiah 17:14 & Hebrews 12:2)

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] http://cojs.org/the_prophet_jeremiah_and_the_exile_to_babylonia-_bryna_jochebed_levy-_cojs/

[iii] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Jerusalm, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 180.

[iv] https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16014#showrashi=true

[v] The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Jerusalm, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 118.

[vi] Initiator and Completer is from the Complete Jewish Bible, Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.

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Thoughts on Behar

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Behar, Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2.[i] The Haftarah is Jeremiah 32:6-22 and the reading from the Besorah is found in Luke 16:1-9.

Starting with the Besorah this week, we read the parable of the unfaithful manager and his attempts to insure his future before his master sacks him completely. While we don’t know the actions for which he was being fired, we do see that his actions further defrauded his master by manipulating the bills owed to his master. Then suddenly, the story seems to turn upside down. Instead of the master being angry with his manager, he actually praises him for his shrewdness,

“Now the master praised the crooked manager because he had acted shrewdly, for the sons of this age are smarter when dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. I say to you, make friends for yourselves from the wealth of the world, so when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal shelters.” (16:8-9)

Then to really confuse things, Yeshua seems to praise the shrewdness as well. Amy-Jill Levine observes that “Jesus [Yeshua] told parables because they serve, as Song of Songs Rabbah notes, as keys that can unlock the mysteries we face by helping us ask the right questions: how to live in community; how to determine what ultimately matters; how to live the life that God wants us to live.”[ii] With this in mind, what is it that we should be asking of the text? What is meant by “make friends for yourselves from the wealth of the world.” The Life Application Bible suggests that “We are to make use of the financial opportunities we have, not to earn heaven but so that heaven (eternal dwellings) will be a welcome experience for those we help. If we use our money to help those in need or to help other find Christ (Messiah), our earthly investment will bring eternal benefit.”[iii] The first half of the LAB commentary proposes that we are to use the wealth of the world to spread the Gospel, but that is not the end of the story. LAB also insinuates that helping others has eternal benefit as it is written in the Talmud,

These are the things whose fruits we eat in this world but whose full reward awaits us in the World to Come:

  • honoring parents; acts of kindness;
  • arriving early in the house of study morning and evening;
  • hospitality to strangers; visiting the sick;
  • helping the needy bride; attending the dead;
  • devotion in prayer;
  • and bringing peace between people –
    but the study of Torah is equal to them all.[iv]

Notice that seven of the items in the above list address interacting with and helping others. In doing these acts of kindness or charity, we are in essences storing up treasures in heaven–even if we are using worldly means to do so.

Parashat Bahar also touches on our treatment of others. After speaking about the Shabbat Year and the Jubilee Year the parasha spends twenty-nine verses (23-43; 46-54) setting forth the regulations for dealing with or better yet assisting those in the community that have fallen on hard times. While we no longer have slavery or indentured servitude, the importance of caring for those in need remain just as essential as ever. Moshe reiterated this when he reminded Bnei Yisrael,

If there is a poor man among you—any of your brothers within any of your gates in your land that Adonai your God is giving you—you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Rav Shaul agrees with this principle. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, “So let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good toward all—especially those who belong to the household of faith,” (Galatians 6:9-10). Note that Moshe and Rav Shaul are not just speaking about caring for members of our own community­; Exodus 22:20 states, “You must not exploit or oppress an outsider…” and Leviticus 19:34 commands, “The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You should love him as yourself…”. All humankind is created in the image of HaShem, and when one person is in need, we all suffer. Again from Rav Shaul, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer together. If one part is honoured, all the parts rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the immediate context is the body of Messiah, the larger context is true as well. We are to be involved with HaShem in the repair of the world, tikkun olam. One aspect of tikkun olam is making the reality Yeshua available to those around us. However, another equally important aspect of tikkun olam is meeting the needs we can of those around us, thereby not merely professing our faith but living our faith as well.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Amy-Jill Levine. “Short Stories by Jesus.” Harper Collins Publishers, 2014, iBooks p. 466.

[iii] Life Application Bible, NIV, Wheaton, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991, p. 1839.

[iv] b. Shabbat 127a

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Thoughts on Emor

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Torah portion in Israel is Emor, Leviticus 21:1 to 24:23. The Haftarah reading is Ezekiel 44:15-31 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 14:25-33. The first two chapters of Emor give credence to the alternate name of Leviticus, that being Torat Kohanim or the Law of the Priests, as they deal with various restrictions and limitations imposed upon the men who would stand before HaShem representing the people of Israel. Then in chapter 23, HaShem commands Moshe to speak to Israel, letting them know of the fixed times, the Divine appointments that He set throughout the year to meet specifically with Israel – beginning with the most frequent appointment, the weekly Shabbat. So important is it that Israel pays attention to HaShem’s Day-Timer that He basically repeats Himself twice at the beginning of the chapter.

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The LORD’s appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days]: (23:2)

These are the LORD’s appointed [holy days], holy occasions, which you shall designate in their appointed time: (23:4)

It would appear that HaShem wanted to get and hold Israel’s attention, ensuring that not only would He dwell in their midst (Exodus 29:45), but that they would periodically meet with Him at times of His own choosing.

Some have noticed, that I normally address the God of Israel as HaShem. The simplest reason for this is that back at Mt. Sinai, Israel was told You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain, for the LORD will not hold blameless anyone who takes His name in vain, (Exodus 20:7). In this week’s parasha, this commandment is further elaborated upon.

And the son of the Israelite woman (and an Egyptian father) pronounced the [Divine] Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. They placed him in the guardhouse, [until his sentence would] be specified to them by the word of the LORD. (24:11-12)

The commandment in Exodus 20 had obviously been broken, but the people did not know what to do about it. The judgment was, as it would be for the desecration of the Sabbath in Numbers 15:32-36, death by stoning through the hands of those who had witnessed the infraction. The narrative goes on to apply this for all generations

And one who blasphemously pronounces the Name of the LORD, shall be put to death; the entire community shall stone him; convert and resident alike if he pronounces the [Divine] Name, he shall be put to death. (24:16)

This is why, to this day, many, if not most Jews, do not speak the Name of HaShem that was revealed to Moshe at the burning bush. Or why many hyphenate any personal reference to HaShem, so as not to inadvertently transgress this commandment.

Psalm 19, which is recited at least three times a day at the end of the Amidah, addresses the importance of our words,

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי-פִי, וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ:ה׳, צוּרִי וְגֹאֲלִי

May the sayings of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable before You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:15

We are responsible for every word that comes out of our mouth – whether in anger or in jest, whether planned or in the heat of the moment. Yeshua affirmed this truth when He reminded the crowd, “Out of the good treasure of his heart the good man brings forth good, and out of evil the evil man brings forth evil. For from the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45), a lesson that Ananias and Saphira apparently forgot (Acts 5:1-11).

The Haftarah continues with the various restrictions and limitations required of the priests, this time specifically of the priestly line of Zadok who stood firm with HaShem while the people of Israel went astray. There are a number of important aspects that HaShem charged this priestly line to accomplish

And My people shall they teach the difference between holy and profane and cause them to discern between the impure and the pure. And in dispute they shall stand in judgment, according to My ordinances shall they decide it; and My teachings and My statutes shall they keep in all My appointed times, and My Sabbaths they shall sanctify. (Ezekiel 44:23-24)

The priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok were responsible to ensure that the people learned how to be holy as He, ADONAI is holy, and to guide them from their wandering and straying back to their LORD and King. As believers in Yeshua, we have been placed in that same role to assist in leading and guiding others – those whom He brings into our spheres of influence. Peter, in his letter to the sojourners of the Diaspora proclaimed,

…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9)

However, we cannot teach what we do not know, so we have the responsibility to continue learning and obeying so that we can be the conduit of the HaShem’s grace and mercy to a people desperately in need of His provision.

Shabbat Shalom

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