Some Thoughts on Toldot

In this week’s parasha, Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9, we see Isaac setting the stage for the next two decades.

Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. “Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”

Genesis 27:1-4

The story is well known, Jacob, with Rebekah’s prompting and assistance, deceives Isaac and receives the blessing of the firstborn, which was Esau, who had already sold his birthright to his brother Jacob. Esau was less than happy, and Jacob was understandably afraid for his life.

In the end, at Rebecca’s planning and Isaac’s direction, Jacob flees his home and family to his uncle Laban and his hospitality. Jacob spends 20 years working for Laban acquiring 2 wives, 2 concubines and eleven sons, as well as quite a bit of wealth before he returned home.

Now, flashback to the beginning of the story. Esau and Jacob were conceived after Rebekah had been barren for 20 years. According to Scripture it was not an easy pregnancy or birth, so much so that Rebekah cried out to HaShem and received a prophecy about her sons,

Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.

Genesis 25:23

The struggle that plagued the boys in the womb continued as they grew, albeit fostered by parental favoritism.

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Genesis 25:27-28

We are not told whether Rebekah ever told Isaac about the prophecy she heard from HaShem. However, with Jacob being her favorite, Rebekah instilled in him the intent of the prophecy that despite being the second born, he would eventually be the one in charge, that he would, in essence, be in the place of the firstborn. 

With this in mind, it is quite feasible that Jacob would attempt to help the plans of HaShem when Esau came in from the fields, famished, and demanding to be fed. 

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Genesis 25:31-33

Whatever Jacob’s motives, he did in fact take advantage of his brother’s situation. Esau, however, was far from innocent in the interchange. After satisfying his physical appetite, Scripture says that Esau despised his birthright. His position as firstborn was sold for a single meal.

Now, we come to the passage where we started. Isaac calls Esau to him, and in verbiage much like Esau to Jacob, pleads with Esau to quickly prepare him a meal to gratify his stomach. Then similar to Esau’s interchange with Jacob over the need for food, he says, “Behold, I am about to die…”  Isaac predicates his desire for a meal prepared by Esau because Isaac did not know the day of his death and wanted to eat and then bless Esau before he (Isaac) died.

Two points of clarification; 1) Isaac did not die for another twenty years, as it is written in Genesis 35:28, Isaac “died an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him, and 2) with the prompting of Rebekah, Isaac agreed to help the plans of HaShem once again. This time, Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac into believing that Jacob was Esau. Then, after providing the meal Isaac desired, Jacob receives the blessing of the firstborn, fulfilling his prophetic position of preeminence over his elder brother.

Would the prophecy have been fulfilled if Jacob and Rebekah hadn’t helped matters along?  Yes, but the narrative would have developed differently, possibly even without the animosity that divided Esau and Jacob for years and served as a wedge dividing their future descendants. Jacob still would have left to his uncle Laban, as he received the same charge from Isaac that Abraham had given to his servant concerning Isaac’s future wife, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,” (Genesis 28:1). However, in their attempt to ensure the fulfillment of HaShem’s prophetic word, a family was split apart and even after 20 years of separation, the closeness of the family bond was never really restored. Also notice that after Rebekah pleaded with Isaac to send Jacob to her brother’s family to find a wife, Rebekah is not mentioned again except for a passing note that she was buried in the same cave as Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 49:31).

In conclusion, there is a very fine line between using common sense and wisdom in following the Ruach and using manipulation, even well meaning, to accomplish that which HaShem has set before us. We need to be cautious about rationalizing our actions and/or our motives, always ensuring that our desire is to bring honor and glory to HaShem and not bring about self-glorification. With the psalmist David, let our mantra be,


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be [always] acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:14

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Vayera

In the Babylonian Talmud it is written,

Rav Yehuda bar Sheila said that Rabbi Asi said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: There are six matters a person enjoys the profits of in this world, and nevertheless the principal exists for him for the World-to-Come, and they are: Hospitality toward guests, and visiting the sick, and consideration during prayer, and rising early to the study hall, and one who raises his sons to engage in Torah study, and one who judges another favorably, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Shabbat 127a

This week’s parasha, Vayera, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24* provides the seedbed for the first two matters, hospitality and visiting the sick.

Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.

Genesis 18:1-3

Hospitality is easy to see. Abraham, it would appear, was sitting in the door of his tent looking for travellers upon whom to share or bestow hospitality. The three approaching “men” provided Abraham with such an opportunity. In the process, Abraham went well beyond the dictates to traditional norm. 

Visiting the sick, on the other hand, is not so obvious, unless we take into account the explanation of the sages.

Rabbi Hama the son of Hanina, speaking of these visitors coming to Abraham, said: it was the third day after his circumcision and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and enquired after the state of his health.

Bava Metzia 86b

Remember that at the end of Genesis 17, at the command of HaShem, Abraham, Ishmael, and all the men in Abraham’s household, whether natural born or bought, were circumcised. Then chapter 18 begins “now”, or some translations say “then” or “and” followed by “the LORD appeared to him…”. The rabbis understand the immediacy of this phrase as connecting the circumcision of chapter 17 to HaShem visiting Abraham to see how he and obviously the rest of his household was doing after the circumcisions had been performed. We know from the episode of Simeon and Levi and the men of Shechem, that the days following adult circumcision are not the most comfortable of times (see Genesis 34:25). If Rabbi Hama’s observation is correct, it reenforces the understanding of the importance of hospitality to strangers. To Abraham, hospitality was more important than his own pain or inconvenience.

Another lesson on hospitality in Vayera is often overlooked, that of Lot toward the two visitors.

Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them,he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.” Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.

Genesis 19:1-3

Lot, while a herdsman by upbringing and trade, had moved from living in tents to become a city dweller. But the traditional need to extend hospitality to strangers remained etched in his DNA. It is suggested that the same desire to extend hospitality to strangers that placed Abraham in the “door of his tent” prompted Lot to be sitting in the gate of Sodom as evening was approaching. And just like Abraham, Lot prepared a feast for the visitors. 

While the Torah places importance on hospitality, what about the Apostolic Writings? Two verses immediately come to mind, though neither specifically mention hospitality. The first is the second great commandment, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:39). Note that in another place, Yeshua affirms that our neighbor is not only defined by proximity, but also, and possibly more importantly, by need (see Luke 10:29-37). The second emphasizes the importance of caring for others, especially for those in need. In Yeshua’s discourse in Matthew on the final judgment, when the nations assemble before him and he separates people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats, the measure used by the Son of Man to determine who would inherit the kingdom is summed up by these words,

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Matthew 25:40

But those who were granted entrance were confused. What was it that we did they asked? He told them, that as they gave sustenance to the hungry, as they made welcome the stranger, as they provided the needs of others, as they visited the sick and those in prison, it was as if they were doing it for him. Interestingly it appears that those who did these things, did not consider doing such things as something out of the ordinary. Just as Abraham and Lot sought the opportunity to extend hospitality as a natural thing to do, so do those who will inherit the kingdom. 

Extending hospitality, meeting the needs of others, even when it is not so convenient for us, is a true expression of walking out “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Lech Lecha

In 1987 Jerry Collins, a 79-year-old millionaire racetrack owner in Florida, decided to donate $1.3 million to the Rev. Oral Roberts to help the evangelist meet his goal of raising $8 million by March 31 of that year. Mr. Collins decided to make this donation after reading about Oral Roberts’ crusade to raise the money to fund medical scholarships at Oral Roberts University. The funds were thankfully received by Rev. Roberts’ ministry.

https://www.nytimes.com/1987/03/22/us/track-owner-pledges-1.3-million-to-roberts.html

In January 2019, Wind Creek Casinos gave over $100,000 to three different organizations in the Wetumpka, Alabama area after a tornado ravaged the community. Employees of Wind Creek Casinos helped in the cleanup, but the organization wanted to do more, so it gave $50,000 to the First Presbyterian Church, $25,000 to the police department and $25,000 to the First Baptist Church. The church donations totaled $75,000, a mighty sum for the small town of 8,000 people.

The First Baptist Church returned the donation. A vote was taken by the members in February to determine the course of action. Almost 300 congregants attended the vote, and voted to reject the donation. The churchgoers believe that accepting the check would be a conflict of interest and hypocritical, given that they believe gambling is a sin. (When they returned the donation, they stated that they hoped that the money could go to helping somewhere else in the relief effort.)

https://getordained.org/blog/churches-accepting-money-from-sinful-sources

BTW, just as a side note, the First Presbyterian Church contacted the casino and explained that their insurance would cover the damages to their church and property and asked if it would be okay if they could channel the donation into other community repair needs – the casino agreed wholeheartedly.

These two examples of the use of funds obtained by questionable means came to mind as I read the following account from this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.*

The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ “I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”

Genesis 14:21-24

At this point in the narrative, it’s important to recognize what we know about Sodom. First, after the ruckus between Lot’s herdsmen and Abram’s which caused the two to part ways, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere … like the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10). The second thing that we know is that “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13.13).

According to the Scriptures, Abram was the son of Terach, who was an idol merchant. According to tradition, in Abram’s early childhood “he questioned the faith of his father and sought the truth. He came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single Creator, and he began to teach this belief to others.” (https://www.jewfaq.org/origins.htm

Whether Abram was an idol worshipper or not, the stigma of his father’s profession probably remained in the background of many people’s minds. Commenting on this Joshua stated, 

“Thus, says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. ‘Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants…”

Joshua 24:2-3

With the stigma of idol worship already on people’s minds, it makes sense that Abram would not want to have his wealth and prosperity linked to that of Sodom. Hence his strong declaration, “…I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Later the complier of Mishlei (Proverbs) would write these words, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth…” (Proverbs 22:1).

So, contrary to the way this paper began, my point is not whether or not we should receive financial assistance or contributions from questionable moral or ethical sources. That topic has been discussed and debated from both sides of the coin (no pun intended). In fact, one common argument is based upon another passage from Mishlei, “And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverb 13:22). My point is that a good name is the more important issue.

We, like Abram, need to be aware that our name and our reputation can be tainted by those with whom we choose to associate, whether through direct relationships or remote acquaintances. Peter offered this exhortation to his communities in the Diaspora,

Keep your conduct honorable among the Gentiles (other people). Then while they speak against you as evildoers, they may—from noticing your good deeds—glorify God in the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:12, TLV

This does not mean that we should isolate ourselves in “sanctified bubbles,” cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Such action would not be following Yeshua’s example, as he intermingled with the masses; he reached out and touched, delivered and healed them. As Yeshua prayed in John 17, we are to be in the world but not of the world. So, at all times we should be cautious, always on guard to ensure that our actions, our words and even our motives are beyond reproach, thereby keeping our conduct honorable and in all things, bringing glory and honor to HaShem.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible Update (NAS95S), copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Accordance Digital Edition, Ver 4.2

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Noach

How often have you parents given your children a set of directions on what to do or how to behave, only to have them pick and choose what they will obey. I have heard it called selective hearing, a problem I understand that many husbands have as well. I mention both selective hearing and selective obedience because they seem to be a malady that affected the descendants of Noach in this week’s parasha, Genesis 6:9 – 11:32. 

After the flood had receded and the earth had dried and was inhabitable once again, God spoke to Noah, 

… saying, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”

Genesis 8:15-17 *

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.

Genesis 9:1

HaShem’s command to Noach and his family appears to be a reiteration of His original command to Adam and Chava,

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:28

Even though the command was to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, the descendants of Noach for some reason, decided that two out of three wouldn’t be a bad idea. So, according to the narrative, instead of “filling the earth” they decided to “be fruitful, multiply” and then stay in one place. They chose to settle in the land of Shinar (what would become Babylon) and there they decided not to “fill the earth.”

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:4

Later, the first king of Israel would also learn the consequences of only following a portion of HaShem’s commands. In 1 Samuel 15, we read the account of Samuel giving HaShem’s instructions to King Saul on how to decisively deal with King Agag and the Amalekites. 

Now go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction—so have no pity on him; but kill both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.

1 Samuel 15:3

Unfortunately, just like the descendants of Noach in Shinar, King Saul did not follow HaShem’s commands completely. Instead the narrative recounts that

Saul and the people spared Agag as well as the best of the sheep, the cattle, even the fatlings and the lambs, and all that was good, since they were not willing to utterly destroy them; everything that was worthless and feeble, they destroyed completely.

1 Samuel 15:9

Then, to make matters worse, King Saul tried to backtrack a bit, claiming that he disobeyed so he could sacrifice the best of the spoils to HaShem.

“They brought them from the Amalekites,” Saul replied, “for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to ADONAI your God—but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

1 Samuel 15:15

This led to Samuel’s proclamation, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…”. In other words, sacrifice that stems from disobedience is not a holy sacrifice but an act of rebellion. In the end, Saul’s disobedience and his refusal to accept responsibility for his disobedience eventually cost King Saul his kingdom, as well as what could have been his dynasty. Possibly more than that; it cost him his advisor Samuel, “Samuel never did see Saul again until the day of his death” (I Samuel 15:35). 

There is a lesson for each of us today in the actions of the descendants of Noach at Shinar as well as King Saul and the Amalekites. When we find ourselves in a situation where Scripture is quite clear about what to do or where we know beyond a doubt what we should do and choose not to do what we know is right, it is an act of disobedience. It often seems so easy to explain why we don’t do what we know we ought to do or is right to do. Even if we find some “good” in the midst of the disobedience, such as Saul being willing to sacrifice the best of the ill-gotten spoils, we would do well to remember Samuel’s words to Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…”.

* 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.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Shemini Atzeret

It has been said that there are numerous ways of defining who or what Jews are. There are definitions based upon culture, religion, ethnicity, geological location and biblical history. One further definition is that Jews are people of the calendar or maybe better yet, people of an appointment book. Remember how the quintessential chapter on the festivals, Leviticus 23, begins, 

Then ADONAI spoke to Moses saying: “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael and tell them: These are the appointed moadim of ADONAI, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations—My moadim.

Leviticus 23:1-2 *

Often the word the Hebrew word moadim (plural of moed) is translated festivals or feasts. But they are so much more than that! They are specific times that HaShem, the Creator of the Universe and the One who called Israel out to be his am segula, his “treasured” chosen people, has set apart to spend with his am segula. A moed is literally a divine appointment.

In reading Leviticus 23, one recognizes that the first moed is Shabbat, which is a weekly time to come apart and spend time with HaShem, in remembrance of both creation and his deliverance from Egypt. After that the moedim are held at specific times throughout the year. Pesach, Unleavened Bread, and Shavuot are in the Spring, while Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, times of introspection and restoration, as well as Sukkot, a time of rejoicing in the remembrance of HaShem’s care for Bnei-Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, are in the Fall.

Sukkot, like Pesach and Unleavened Bread, is a seven day moed in which a solemn assembly is held on the first and last days. Both of these days are a Yom Tov, which is similar to Shabbat but a little more flexible. These days are specific times to be with HaShem. However, there are also differences between Pesach and Sukkot. The seven days of Sukkot end with Hoshana Rabba and are followed immediately by Shemini Atzeret (Numbers 29:35), Technically Sukkot is over, the lulav is no longer waved and the sukkah is almost ready to go back into storage for another year on Hoshana Rabba (7th day of Sukkot). Yet the festival celebrations are not quite over; it continues for an eight day. 

Another interesting conundrum is that the Scripture does not tell us the purpose, significance or reason for Shemini Atzeret. The two primary verses on the “eighth day” do not provide much information,

On the eighth day there shall be for you an assembly. You are to do no regular work.

Numbers 29:35

The eighth day will be a holy convocation to you, and you are to bring an offering by fire to ADONAI. It is a solemn assembly—you should do no laborious work.

Leviticus 23:36

Aside from the required offering, the command to do no regular work, and to hold a solemn assembly, no further information is given. The sages discussed these issues. In a discussion on the numerous Sukkot sacrifices in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 55b, the Gemara questions why only a single bull is offered as a sacrifice on Shemini Atzeret. In response the Gemara recites a parable,

A mashal about a king of flesh and blood who said to his servants: Prepare me a great feast that will last for several days. When the feast concluded, on the last day, he said to his beloved servant: Prepare me a small feast so that I can derive pleasure from you alone.

Quote from Sefaria

Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, explains the parable, suggesting that like the king, HaShem was not quite ready to end the moed; he wanted to spend a little more time with his chosen ones. His desire is to take pleasure in those who made the decision to come apart and spend time with him.

Think back to the Garden of Eden, after Adam’s and Eve’s encounter with the serpent and subsequent eye-opening, 

They heard the voice of ADONAI, God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, so the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of ADONAI, God, among the trees in the garden. ADONAIGod, called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-9

There is a familiarity inferred in verse 8. Adam and Eve recognized the “voice of ADONAI, God, walking in the garden.” Apparently, this was not a new occurrence. Rather it was not only a normal meeting, but something expected. On this particular evening things were different. The intimacy that HaShem had Adam and Eve was broken due to disobedience.

HaShem desired intimacy with his creation from the very beginning. This desire is one of the reasons he chose and set apart Avram (Abraham), who, along with his son (Isaac) and grandson (Jacob), gave birth to Bnei Yisrael, HaShem’s chosen people and am segula. It was through his am segula that HaShem brought forth the one who would restore the intimate relationship that was torn asunder in the Garden, Yeshua, the Son of God and Messiah. 

Now consider for a moment that Shemini Atzeret is paired with Simchat Torah, rejoicing in the Torah. Note that in Israel Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the same day and in the Diaspora, they are two separate days. Simchat Torah is not a biblical holiday but seems to have been birthed as a grassroots movement in Babylon sometime in the fifth or sixth century CE (AD). It primarily celebrates the end of the Torah reading cycle and the beginning again. One of the most distinctive features of Simchat Torah is the joyous dancing and singing with the Torah scrolls and includes everyone, much like all the people were gathered together to hear the reading of the Torah in the shmetah year (7th year) during the Feast of Tabernacles ( Deut. 31:12). 

In conclusion, it can be understood that Shemini Atzeret is symbolic of HaShem wanting to spend a little more time with his am segula. Equally, it can be understood that Simchat Torah is a time for the people of God to celebrate the Word of God. As Yeshua-believers, we understand that Yeshua is the Word (John 1:14) and that as the Word restores both Israel’s and the rest of mankind’s ability to spend more time with HaShem.

Let’s rejoice this weekend in the Sabbath and in the extra time that HaShem has provided to spend with us on Shemini Atzeret, an extra day that is not measured by a timepiece but by eternity.

Shabbat Shalom and mo’adim l’simcha!

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Ha’azinu

Remember two weeks ago, at the end of the double parashat, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses had publicly commissioned Joshua to take over in his stead and had just finished writing the words of the Torah scroll that would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan. Then Moshe set the stage for the recitation of Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52, stating,

Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.”

Deuteronomy 31:28-29*

Moses then begins his song with a proclamation of HaShem’s greatness and righteousness, which is immediately followed with a recitation of Israel’s covenantal disobedience and divinely inspired discipline. Another Scripture comes to mind at this point; HaShem’s promise of hope through Jeremiah when Jerusalem was under siege. 

“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

On the one hand, Ha’azinu seems to be anything but hopeful. Israel is pronounced blemished (32:5), foolish and unwise (32:6), ones who turned their backs on God (32:15), and even sacrificing to demons and non-gods (32:17). In response HaShem proclaimed, 

“I will hide My face from them, I want to see their hereafter. For they are an upside down generation,children with no faithfulness in them.”

Deuteronomy 32:20

I find it interesting that the TLV translated תַּהְפֻּכֹת (tahpuḵoṯ), which is normally translated as a “perverse” generation, with a modern Hebrew concept of being upside down. The slang for a cappuccino or latte in Hebrew, when we are not in lockdown, is café hafuk. Literally this means upside down coffee because the lower portion of the cup is expresso coffee and the upper is steamed milk. For the purists among us, such a coffee is unthinkable. But for those who choose to follow an obviously unnatural way with added milk, this cup of coffee is truly upside down. 😊 Indecently, the Message translates this passage about errant Israel as, “Oh, they’re a turned-around, upside-down generation! Who knows what they’ll do from one moment to the next?” **

On the other hand, after completing his recitation of everything of Israel’s disobedience and subsequent punishment, Moses offers Israel hope, 

Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

The words, “It is not an empty thing for you, it is your life!” are reminiscent of Moses early admonition,

I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Time and time again we hear Moses encouraging, even pleading with Israel to make the right choice. The prophet Ezekiel declares a similar plea from HaShem,

“As I live”—it is a declaration of ADONAI— “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Return, return from your evil ways. Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11

We are currently in the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we examine ourselves to ensure that we are in right standing with our God and with our fellow man. Like Israel of old, we have a choice to make—to do right and live or not to do right and suffer the consequences. Rav Shaul, reminds us that even today HaShem is waiting for us to make the right choice. He first reminds us that we should learn from Israel’s experiences and then assures us of HaShem’s assistance if we choose to look to him.

These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. 

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 **

The choice, as always, remains with us – to choose life and follow the ways of HaShem or to choose our own way which ultimately leads to discipline, and sometimes to destruction. Let’s follow Moses’ admonition and “…choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.”

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

** The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Weekly Thoughts – Nitzavim-Vayelech

This week’s reading, which is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Deut. 29:9(10)–31:30, includes numerous idealized situations that, though seldom realized, should be strived for as a goal to be obtained. As we look at these various situations, we need to bear in mind that these goals are not just what Israel needed, and still needs, to realize but that all of us as followers of Yeshua also need to realize them.

The first situation is described in the opening verses of the parasha,

You are standing today, all of you, before ADONAI your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. 

Deuteronomy 29:9-11(10-12)

Note that all of Israel was standing there before HaShem—men, women, children, and the outsider or sojourner that attached themselves to Israel. Everyone was standing together as one to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI. No one was left out, no one was left behind, and no one was elevated above another – all stood united before HaShem. Rav Shaul suggests the same concept to the body of Messiah when he urged the Ephesians to:

…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called—with complete humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Ruach in the bond of shalom. There is one body and one Ruach, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one immersion; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Sadly, neither Israel then or now, any more than the body of Messiah then or now, has yet to walk out this unity. There have been and still remain divisions over doctrines and interpretations that separate us, sometimes even separating family members from one another. However, the fact that there are separations and divisions does not detract from the fact that we should still strive for unity with one another. 

A second idealized situation is that according to Moses, the Torah is both practical and doable.

“For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and get it for us, and have us hear it so we may do it?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross over for us to the other side of the sea and get it for us, and have us hear it so we may do it?’ No, the word is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Granted, with all the fences and protections that have been placed around the Torah, the keeping of the mitzvot have become burdensome at times. But this is not what was planned nor what Moses envisioned. Notice the beginning and ending of this passage, “this mitzvah … is not too difficult for you … is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” So, either Moses was like the farmer who dangled a carrot in front of the donkey to get him to work while knowing that the donkey would never reach the carrot. Unlike the carrot, the commandments, statutes and mitzvot are in fact within our reach; we can observe and do them. Rav Shaul must have agreed with this assessment as he equated the simplicity of accepting the claims of Yeshua with acceptance of the Torah. He wrote to the believers in Rome,

But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faiththat we are proclaiming: For if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Romans 10:8-9

A third situation is related to the “doability” of the Torah as well as the word of faith spoken of by Paul. Moses said to Israel, “See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). In other words, there is always a choice, and ideally, like Israel, we should choose to follow the commandments of HaShem. Practically this is often not the case. We have each been given a choice whether it follow the guidelines of the Creator or to walk according to our own choosing. Whenever Israel was disciplined, the cause could be traced back to their disobedience of the commands of HaShem. Their discipline, as well as ours, was and is always a result of choice. Interestingly, HaShem knows the choices we will make, but he has never removed our ability to choose.

“For when I bring them to the land flowing with milk and honey that I swore to their fathers, and they eat and are satisfied and grow fat—then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and they will spurn Me and break My covenant. Now when many evils and troubles have come on them, this song will confront them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten from the mouth of their descendants. For I know the intention they are devising this day, even before I bring them into the land that I swore.”

Deuteronomy 31:20-21

There is a fourth situation is dependent upon our actions and choices but at the same time empowered by HaShem—the promise of redemption.

“…return to ADONAI your God and listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today—you and your children—with all your heart and with all your soul, then ADONAI your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion on you, and He will return and gather you from all the peoples where ADONAI your God has scattered you.”

Deuteronomy 30:2-3

Even with the foreknowledge of Israel’s choosing, or of our own choosing, to disobey and walk in their/our own way, the promise of redemption and restoration was/is there. Peter reminds us all of this assurance with these words, “Rather, He [HaShem] is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Peter echoed HaShem’s words though the prophet Ezekiel 

“Do I delight at all in the death of the wicked?” It is a declaration of Adonai. “Rather, should he not return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

Ezekiel 18:23

Ideally, HaShem desires, and it is in our best interests, us to live in unity with one another, recognizing that Torah obedience is not an unattainable activity but is quite doable, if we choose to do so. Sadly, we must acknowledge that there will be times when we will choose to act contrary to the will of HaShem. But though we stray, he is waiting to welcome and receive us back into his presence, restoring the relationship that we chose to break. He is waiting for us to make the right choice.

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment