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

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

Exodus 3:17

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

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

Deuteronomy 1:22-23

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

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

Numbers 13:27 & Deuteronomy 1:25

However, then there was a “but,”

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

Numbers 1:28 & Deuteronomy 1:26-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 10:13

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 16:13

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

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

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Rabbi Stuart Dauermann in Shulhan Shelanu, Vol 3, Issue 45, November 6, 2021, made a couple of observations as he considered this week’s parashah, Toldot, Genesis 25.19 – 28.91.

First, he noted that Isaac repeated a sin his father Abraham committed at least twice. In Genesis 12:10-13 and 20:1-2, Abraham presented Sarah as his sister, not his wife. Then in Genesis 26:6-7, Isaac presented Rebekah as his sister, not his wife. All three times, the motivation was fear of man, specifically the Gentile rulers who did not know the God of Abraham and Isaac.

Second, in all three of these accounts, these Gentile rulers did the right thing, while the servants of HaShem did the wrong thing. One then needs to ask, why was it that those who made no claim to following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did what was morally and ethically correct when Abraham and Isaac did not?” 

In light of the second observation, consider these words from Sha’ul to the Yeshua followers in Rome

But there will be glory, honor, and shalom to everyone who does good—to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned outside of Torah will also perish outside of Torah, and all who have sinned according to Torah will be judged by Torah. For it is not the hearers of Torah who are righteous before God; rather, it is the doers of Torah who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the Torah, do by nature the things of the Torah, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the Torah. They show that the work of the Torah is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts switching between accusing or defending them on the day when God judges the secrets of men according to my Good News through Messiah Yeshua. (Romans 2:10-16)

What really struck me when reading these words of Sha’ul was the statement, “For it is not the hearers of Torah who are righteous before God; rather, it is the doers of Torah who will be justified.” This took me immediately to Matthew 25:31-46 and the judgment between the sheep and the goats. In his song, The Sheep and The Goats, Keith Green summed up Yeshua’s teaching by stating, “the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!”2

I am not inferring that these scriptures suggest a sort of salvation by works. What I am very sure of is that our relationship with HaShem, founded upon the finished work of Yeshua’s sacrifice, should produce good works, ones that please HaShem. Remember these words of James, 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that? So also, faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. (James 2:12-18)

Now let’s return to the earlier question, “why was it that those who made no claim to following the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did what was morally and ethically correct when Abraham and Isaac did not?” Sha’ul answered that question as he stated, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the Torah, do by nature the things of the Torah, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the Torah. They show that the work of the Torah is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness…” All humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike, have one thing in common. In Genesis 2:7, while summarizing HaShem’s act of creation it is written,

Then ADONAI Elohim formed the man out of the dust from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life—so the man became a living being.

All humankind has been created in the image of HaShem and in the process has received HaShem’s breath of life. And while those who do not recognize HaShem as their Lord and Creator, when they perform righteous works, they prove Sha’ul’s claims that “the work of the Torah is written in their hearts.” (Romans 2:15).

Years ago, when I was in the Marine Corps. I was assigned to attend Recruiting School, an opportunity I did not want to do. I tried to have the orders changed to no avail and eventually told my Sargent Major, if sent to the school, I will flunk out of it and hopefully be returned to my unit. For some reason, my Sargent Major conveyed these words to the commanding officer of the recruiting school in San Diego. During my interview, the CO asked me if I was a Christian (a follower of Yeshua). I said, “yes sir.” Then referencing Colossians 3:23 he asked, “Doesn’t your Bible say that you have to do everything as unto your Lord?” Again, I responded, “yes sir.” This led to his final question, “then tell me, why are you planning of flunking out of my school!!?” His words cut me to the heart, and I knew I could not do as I planned. Though not a Christian himself, he knew how one was supposed to act. In the end, I finished near the top of my class.

So remember these two truths, just because someone is not a follower of Yeshua, does not mean that they cannot act righteously. And just because one is a follower of Yeshua, does not necessarily mean that they are always going to act in a righteous manner. This is one of the reasons that Sha’u encouraged the Yeshua followers in Philippi, as well as each of us today to “work out your (our) salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), knowing it is not that one’s salvation is earned by his or her works, rather it is learning “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

Footnotes:

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

2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix8ddosjg-k

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This week’s parsha is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1 – 25:18.1 It is not the happiest of passages, as it records the deaths of Sarah, Abraham, and Ishmael. Nevertheless, it is worth noticing the different ways these three deaths are recorded. First, “Sarah died… Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her” (Genesis 23:2). It wasn’t until after Isaac and Rebekah bonded that Isaac was “comforted after the loss of his mother” (Genesis 24:67). Her family mourned her passing. Second, of Abraham it is written, “So Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied. Then he was gathered to his peoples” (Genesis 25:8). An excellent epitaph for one who had traveled so far and seen so much; “he was old and satisfied.” This is reminiscent of the words of the Psalmist,

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous one forsaken, nor his children begging for bread. All day long he is gracious and lends. So, his offspring will be a blessing. (Psalms 37:25-26)

Then there is Ishmael, of whom it was written, “He breathed his last, died and was gathered to his peoples. … Over against all his brothers he fell,” (Genesis 25:17-18). In another translation, it indicates that all of Ishmael’s relatives settled apart or away from each other. Compared to Sarah and Abraham, it appears that Ishmael died alone affirming the prophetic word that had been spoke over him, “He will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, and away from all his brothers will he dwell,” (Genesis 16:12).

The one bright point in the parsha is Isaac’s obtaining a wife, Rebekah. According to the narrative, Abraham commanded his servant not to “take a wife for my son from among the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I am dwelling. On the contrary, to my land and to my relatives you must go and get a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:3b-4). This action had our sages in a quandary. Hashem had taken Abraham and his close family out of Mesopotamia and sent him to Israel (then Canaan). Granted, the Canaanites were idol worshippers, but then so were the people back “home.” Nehama Leibowitz suggests that the primary reason for not allowing Isaac to marry a Canaanite woman was to protect Isaac and his lineage from assimilation. She quotes Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, as he thinks aloud about Abraham’s view, “The influence of a Canaanite girl on my son will be infinitely more potent since I dwell amongst them. Not only the girl, but her family, her relatives and friends will all together exert a cumulatively deleterious influence on my son.”2 In other words, by bringing Isaac a wife from afar, separated from her family, friends and even social norms, she would probably be more likely bond to Isaac and the nascent faith of his father Abraham, thus continuing the journey and calling that HaShem had given Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).

The Haftarah, I Kings 1:1-31, speaks of the closing days of another biblical great, King David. But where Abraham was “old and satisfied”, David was old, advanced in years, and could not get warm (I Kings 1:1). This is a far cry from his confession in Psalms 37. Not only could David not stay warm, but he still didn’t have control of his own house. Before David was out of the picture, “Adonijah son of Haggith exalted himself, saying: ‘I’ll be king’” (1 Kings 1:5). Even worse, David wasn’t even aware of what was going on until advised by Nathan and Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:11-27). Eventually, David made good on his promise to Bathsheba and Solomon became the next king of Israel (1 Kings 1:29-30). 

So why are these to passages linked together in Chayei Sarah? Michael Fishbane suggests that “Abraham and David represent two distinct models of aging. …The “Abrahamic type” enters old age with all the religious and moral integrity of his life intact. …The “Davidic type” enters old age more catastrophically.”3 During their lives, both men experienced the heights of closeness to HaShem because of their obedience and faithfulness. Likewise, both men experienced the depths of depression due to disobedience or lack of faith. In the end, Abraham seems to have recovered while David continued to struggle. At the end, it was said of David, “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David” (I Kings 2:10). Nothing about being “satisfied” as said about Abraham. In fact, the last recorded comments of David to Solomon dealt with David charging Solomon to exact justice or maybe revenge on those who had wronged him (David) at various times during his life. One has to wonder if David would have found peace and satisfaction in death had he heard Moses’ admonition, expanded by Sha’ul to the Yeshua followers in Rome,

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people. Never take your own revenge, loved ones, but give room for God’s wrath—for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,” says Adonai. (Romans 12:18-19; cf. Deuteronomy 32:35)

How much better is it, if we allow HaShem to be God, and to leave things in his control, allowing him to work things out on our behalf (Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11). This does not mean that we sit back and do nothing – in fact we do what we know to do by the guidance of the Ruach and the gifting the HaShem has invested within us. What we do not want to do is step over into his territory and act in his stead. May it be said of each of us, that we have grown old and satisfied in the LORD – and even more so, that he is satisfied with us.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

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

2 Nehama Leibowitz. New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis). The World Zionist Organization Department of Torah Education in the Diaspora, 2010. p 219

3 Michael Fishbane. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2002. p 23

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Typically, when one thinks about this week’s parasha, Vayera, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24, one remembers Abraham meeting the three visitors while recovering from his recent circumcision. Then Abraham, while paying little attention to his pain, became the paradigm of hospitality as he provided food and comfort for his three guests. Later, when he discovers who the guests were and their mission, he immediately began to intercede on behalf of the depraved cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sadly, his intercession on behalf of the two cities did not avert HaShem’s judgment, and in the end, only Lot, his wife, and two daughters were delivered. Then we come to this short verse concerning Lot’s wife,

But his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26)1

Skeptics often disavow this verse as mere rhetoric. The point that one should not look back on the past but move forward, specifically when it comes to obeying HaShem, is valid, but a person turning into a pillar of salt is just a fanciful embellishment. But did the event actually happen? Consider these three affirmations of the occurrence. The first is from the Wisdom of Solomon, which is a Jewish work written in Greek and most likely composed in Alexandria, Egypt, usually dated to the mid-first century BCE.

Evidence of their (Sodom and Gomorrah) wickedness still remains a continually smoking wasteland, plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul.2

Then, from the Besorah of Luke as he strove to record the life and teachings of Yeshua, specifically on the coming kingdom he wrote, 

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to make his life secure will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32-33)

Then finally, in Antiquities of the Jews 1:203, dated around 93 or 94 CE, Josephus wrote, 

But Lot’s wife continually turning back to view the city as she went from it and being too nicely inquisitive about what would become of it, although God had forbidden her so to do, was changed into a pillar of salt; for I have seen it, and it remains at this day.3

So why did this seemingly isolated and somewhat fanciful event happen, and more importantly, why was it remembered? Possibly Sha’ul gives us the clearest reason

Now, these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. (1 Corinthians 10:11-12)

While Yeshua referenced Lot’s wife in Luke 17, possibly he had her in mind when he affirmed 

But Yeshua said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Commenting on Luke 9:62 and becoming a follower of Yeshua, the Life Application Bible asks, “What does Yeshua want from us?” and then answers succinctly what it is that he wants.

Total dedication, not halfhearted commitment. We can’t pick and choose among Yeshua’s ideas and follow him selectively; we have to accept the cross along with the crown. We must count the cost and be willing to abandon everything else that has given us security—without looking back. With our focus on Yeshua, we should allow nothing to distract us from following him.4

This week’s Gleanings, continue the thread begun last week in Lech Lecha. One of the takeaways last week was that there are times when as followers of Yeshua, our choices to follow him will lead us contrary to the wishes, plans, at times even lifestyles of our families and friends. It is at times like these that one has to make the hard choice of Yeshua over family and friends. So maybe it was not the grandeur of house and home that caused Lot’s wife to look back, rather it was the yearning for family and friends left behind. Or maybe, it was not so much the looking back that was Lot’s wife’s error, but the desire to hold onto what she was leaving behind. 

Passages like Luke 9:62 (above) and Luke 14:26 or Matthew 10:37-38 (from last week) are hard words to hear because of the commitment they entail and the life path they set forth. But Yeshua offered these words of comfort,

All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

As we read last week, Abraham and Sarah left everything to follow HaShem, with only HaShem’s promise to sustain them along the way. According to scripture, Yeshua too left all to obediently follow the leading of his Father. Neither path was easy, neither was without certain pitfalls and even potential detours. But just as HaShem was with Abraham and Sarah, every step of the way, so he was with Yeshua throughout his life, and ministry and so he will be with each of us as we walk out the path he has set before us. 

In closing, may these words from Mishlei serve to guide our paths each and every day.

Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established. Don’t turn to the right or to the left (or look back); keep your feet away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

Footnotes:
1 Scripture passages are from Holman Christian Standard Bible® with Key Numbers (HCSBS) Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers.

2 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Wisdom 10:7.

3 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston (transl.), The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 41.

Life Application Study Bible Copyright ©1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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One often thinks that Yeshua’s teachings on the cost of following him are rather harsh. Consider these verses,

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37-38)

But as we see in this week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27, the idea of counting the cost of following HaShem, did not start with Yeshua and the disciples, rather it started back with Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) when Hashem told Abraham,

“Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing, and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

In the JPS Torah Commentary, Nahum M. Sarna notes,

The enormity of God’s demand and the agonizing nature of the decision to be made are effectively conveyed through the cluster of terms arranged in ascending order according to the severity of the sacrifice involved: country, extended family, nuclear family. … The nature of the promise—that it could not be realized in the lifetime of the recipient because of Sarai’s childlessness and the couple’s advanced age—should all have combined to strain credulity to the breaking point.1

However, they say that hindsight is often 20/20 and with our ability to look back at history, we realize that Abraham would eventually become the father of not one, but of eight families, the progenies of Ishmael, Isaac, and according to Genesis 25:1-6, his six sons by Keturah – although at the time it was given, the command, lech lecha, “you go forth,” Abraham and Sarah had no children nor in the natural, hope of children – they truly had to step out in faith, trusting in the promises of HaShem.

So they, like all of us today, needed to follow Shaul’s admonitions to the Yeshua followers in Corinth, 

… while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. … for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 4:18 and 5:7)

It was only by stepping out in faith that the promise of a blessing, both particular to Abraham and his family, and universal, to all who would bless Abraham in the future would be realized.

The example of Abraham, exercising his faith, contrary to what his eyes saw, and his family status, should serve to fortify our own faith. Then our faith and trust can grow more and more as we see the workings of HaShem not only in the past but in our daily lives as well.

Two well-known passages from the Ketuvim, (the Writings) may well serve to fortify our faith when things look bleak. First from Mishlei (Proverbs)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Then from the psalmist,

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands. (Psalm 119:89-90)

In the opening verses of Genesis 12, HaShem called Abraham and Sarah out to follow him, forsaking all that they knew. In the passages from Luke and Matthew that I shared at the beginning, Yeshua required and to this day requires the same of those who would follow him. Abraham and Sarah left their homes, their families, and all that they knew and held dear to follow HaShem. The terms in Luke and Matthew above, “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” or “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” are positional terms, not relational terms. By that I mean that relationally they will always be one’s parents of spouses, however positionally, Yeshua requires, in fact, demands first place in the life of the would-be disciple.

Think about Abraham and Sarah’s relationship with their family. Even though they left to follow the direction of HaShem, their family relationships remained. If it were not so, Abraham would not have been able to send Eliezer back to his family to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4), nor would Isaac have sent Jacob back to find a wife (Genesis 28:1-4). It is important to note, however, neither Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca nor Jacob and Rachel or Leah returned to their ancestorial homeland to dwell – they stayed where HaShem led them. 

There are times, when as followers of Yeshua, our choices to follow him will lead us contrary to the wishes, plans, at times even lifestyles of our families and friends. It is at times like these that one has to make the hard choice of Yeshua over family and friends. It is at times like these when one has to trust in Yeshua’s leading, standing in the assurance that he desires the best for our family members and friends. And when the choice is made, and division comes then can pray in faith that the relationships will one day be restored to the glory of our God and Father. 

I am closing with a passage from Hebrews which is normally is used to encourage Yeshua followers to gather together but I want to suggest reading the verses in light of family members and friends being restored in the household of faith.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!


Footnotes:
1 Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 89.
* Scripture readings are from the New American Standard Bible — NASB 1995. Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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This week’s Parasha is Noach (Noah), Genesis 6:9-11:32. Some of the key points in chapter 6 are (1) Noach was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noach walked with God (Gen. 6:9). (2) The earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11). And (3) HaShem decided to rectify the situation by bringing judgment on the corruption and violence, destroying all the earth in a flood but saving a remnant – Noach, his family and a pre-determined number of animals (Gen. 6:13-22).

Based on the phrase “blameless in his time” it has been said that Noach, while he was righteous and walked with HaShem, he might not have been considered righteous if compared to Abraham. In a Sefaria worksheet on this week’s parasha, David Schlusselberg notes 

No doubt about it—Noah was a good person. In fact, the Torah tells us that he was the most righteous person in his generation. But, perhaps that’s like praising someone for being the best player on a losing team!1

Might there be other reasons to compare the righteousness of Noach to that of Abraham? 

One reason may be found in the phrase, “Noach walked with God.” Rashi, commenting on Genesis 6:9 points out the difference between walking with HaShem and walking before Hashem. Rashi suggested that Noach walked “with” HaShem because he (Noach) needed HaShem’s support to keep walking on the right path whereas Abraham fortified himself with his righteousness and was able to walk before HaShem, (see Gem 15:7 and Rom 4:3). Basing the difference on the use of difference prepositions may be nitpicking, but then again maybe not.

There is another comparison between Noach and Abraham, that I found most intriguing. Consider the time it took to build the ark. Depending on which commentator one looks at, it could be anywhere from fifty-five years to one hundred and twenty years. In any event, it was not a short time. In the so-called roll call of faith in Hebrews, it is written

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)2

In another place, Peter would write, concerning the judgment of HaShem on the unrighteous

(HaShem) did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)

Noach was forewarned of the soon-coming judgment and was considered a “preacher of righteousness,” so it should be assumed that he must have warned his friends and neighbors. But comparing the coming of the flood to the second coming of Yeshua, Matthew wrote,

“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:38-39)

How is it possible that after all the time it took to build the ark, no one seemed to know what was going on or what would soon happen? Now consider Abraham, when he discovered that judgment would soon fall upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham immediately began to intercede for the population of the two cities, though knowing that HaShem’s judgment was warranted. Also, note that Abraham was not just interceding for Lot and his family but for the cities.

I am not trying to disparage Noach, his righteousness, nor his obedience to HaShem. Noach seemed to do exactly what HaShem told him to do. However, it appears that Abraham went beyond what was required by interceding for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. As I write this closing, I think back to Yeshua’s comments to the scribes and Pharisees when he declared,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

The key in his declaration is in the phrase “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” in other words, we must go beyond what is required to the spirit behind the requirement. We cannot, must not, be concerned with only ourselves and those we know, rather there is a wide world outside our dwellings and places of work that is wandering around in darkness and despair, waiting for someone to show them the light.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

Footnotes:
1 https://www.sefaria.org.il/sheets/82921?lang=he  

2 Scripture readings are from the New American Standard Bible — NASB 1995. Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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This Shabbat is a special one as it is the Shabbat during Chol Hamoed Sukkot (the intermediary days of the moed). As such, there is a special Torah reading, Exodus 33:12 – 34:261, which is part of Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35). Just as a reminder, Ki Tisa deals with Moses spending time on the mountaintop with HaShem, receiving the original tablets with the Ten Words escribed. This special time is tragically interrupted as HaShem sent Moses back down the mountain to deal with the Bnei Israel and their sin with the molten calf. 

There is much more in Ki Tisa portion, and we will look at it later at its time. However, as I read through the special portion for this Shabbat, an aspect of HaShem’s interaction with Moses and well as all Bnei Israel seemed to jump out at me. In Exodus 34:1 it is written

ADONAI said to Moses, “Carve for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write upon them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

Now read the verse about the the first tablets in Ex. 31:18.

When He (ADONAI), had finished speaking with him (Moses) on Mount Sinai, He gave the two tablets of the Testimony to Moses—tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

Do you see it? On both sets of tablets, the same Torah was written, both by the finger of HaShem. The difference is that HaShem prepared the first tablets, he required Moses to prepare the second.

Remember these two tablets and let’s now consider Sukkot. In Leviticus 23, we read the instructions for the various moadim established by HaShem. In verses 42 & 43 we read these words dealing with Sukkot.   

You are to celebrate it as a festival to ADONAI for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations—you are to celebrate it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days. All the native-born in Israel are to live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkotwhen I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God.”

Turning to the Talmud, we find a thought-provoking connection with the special Torah reading.

As it is taught in a baraita that the verse states: “I made the children of Israel to reside in sukkot”; these booths were clouds of glory, this is the statement of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Akiva says: They established for themselves actual sukkot. This works out well according to Rabbi Eliezer; however, according to Rabbi Akiva what can be said?

Sukka 11b2

Do you see the connection? Typically, we understand the phrase, “I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt,” to mean that throughout their wilderness wandering, Bnei Israel lived in tents, or temporary dwellings. Interestingly, Rabbi Eliezer notes that while Bnei Israel did dwell in tents as they traveled, the true sukkot was the cloud of glory that covered them. In Exodus 13, we see that Bnei Israel was guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and these two never departed throughout their travels, (verses 20 & 21). In Exodus 40, upon completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the cloud covered the Mishkan as the glory of HaShem established his dwelling, in the midst of his people (verse 34). 

In the Talmudic reading, Rabbi Akiva did not disagree with Rabbi Eliezer’s affirmation that it was the cloud of HaShem’s glory that was the sukkot during the wandering. What Rabbi Akiva was stressing was that now, it was Israel’s responsibility to build and dwell in sukkot that they made, in remembrance of what HaShem had done.

During Sukkot, we are to remember the many ways that HaShem has blessed us, whether those blessings are through the works of our own hands, the assistance of others, or by HaShem’s grace alone. What is important to remember this Sukkot, is that we work with HaShem in our life’s journey. Sometimes he does the work, and sometimes he expects us to do the work, with the tools and abilities he has given us. There will be times, when we are doing the work, that we will get tired and weary. When those times occur, we can be encouraged by Yeshua’s words as he celebrated Sukkot, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). Equally, we are not expected to act in our own strength alone, as Yeshua continued,

“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” Now He said this about the Ruach, whom those who trusted in Him were going to receive; for the Ruach was not yet given, since Yeshua was not yet glorified.

John 7:38-39

Therefore, remember we, like Bnei Israel in the wilderness, can trust in the care and protection of HaShem. Likewise, he expects us to do what we can do as we travel through life – utilizing the talents and skills he has given each of us, while being empowered by the Ruach as was promised. 

Shabbat Shalom & Sukkot Sameach!

Footnotes:
1All Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
2Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Editor-in-Chief. The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli, Volume 10: Tractate Sukka, with commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2013, p 56.
* The readings for this Shabbat are, Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26 & Numbers 29:29-34; Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18-39:16; and from the Apostolic Writings John 7:37-39.

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While preparing to enter Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32), I am reminded of the article I just wrote for the UMJC Torah Commentary series on the Days of Awe; the days that conclude with Yom Kippur, Tuesday evening and Wednesday. In the article, I tied together passages from Mishnah Yoma 8:9 and Matthew 5:23–24 to point out the importance of our relationship with God and people.

For transgressions between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones; however, for transgressions between a person and another, Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases the other person.

So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.

So, as we enter Yom Kippur, we need to remember that while we are fasting, while we are considering our relationship with HaShem, we need to also consider our relationship with others. Yeshua affirms this fact when his talmidim asked that he teach them how they should pray,

…and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Immediately afterward, Yeshua followed with these words,

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

The above quote by Noami Wolf seems to agree with both the passage from Mishnah Yoma as well as the teachings of Yeshua. We are not only to be introspective, seeking what needs to be changed, we actually need to make the changes both in our relationship with HaShem as well as our relationships with others.

May you have a meaningful Yom Kippur and may your relationships and interactions with others in the coming year be full of grace and shalom.

* Scripture passages are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. 

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