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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There are a number of distinctive aspects of this week’s parasha, Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:231. The first is that Yitro is one of only three parashot named for non-Jews. The other two are Noach (Noah) and Balak. Interestingly, as a numeric balance, there are three parashot named for Jews, Sarah (Chayei Sarah), Korach, and Pinchas. 

A second distinction is the voluminous amount of discussion/debate among the sages surrounding the timing of Yitro’s visit. What was it that he “heard about everything God had done for Moses and for His people Israel,” (Exodus 18:1)? Some say it was after the exodus from Egypt and the deliverance at Yam-Suf while others suggest it was after the miraculous defeat of Amalek and his armies (Exodus 17:8-16). Still, others insist that it was after Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) that he decided to make his journey to visit his son-in-law. Equally debated is whether or not Yitro’s visit not only reunited Moses with his family (wife and children) but it was actually the point in time that Yitro became a follower of the God of Bnei-Israel, technically making Yitro the first convert.

In my studies this week, I came across a third aspect, prompted by an observation made by Dennis Prager in his commentary, The Rational Bible: Exodus.

“The Torah mentions Jethro is a Midianite priest completely matter-of-factly. He is not only a non-Jew but a priest who serves what the Torah regards as false gods. But the Torah mentions him without even a hint of opprobrium. What matters is he is a good man, he is Moses’s father-in-law, and he does not deny the God of the Jews (he even believes, as we shall see, in the supremacy of God while still serving Midianite gods).”2

After further prospecting in the digital mines, I found that Rabbi Sacks z”l had made a similar observation as he wrote,

The Torah teaches us to see value in everybody, not only in members of the Jewish people. Judaism does not require or even encourage non-Jews to convert. Judaism is also open to learning from non-Jews, and Yitro is an example of this. Many Talmudic Sages argue that Yitro did convert to Judaism, thereby becoming our first convert at Sinai. Whether he did or not, he was first a Midianite Priest, and yet showed honour to God, and is thus honoured by the Torah, teaching us that we must not judge people as lesser because they have a different background, ethnicity or religion.3

So, the third aspect is the fact tripart as Rabbi Sacks pointed out.

  • Everyone, Jew, and non-Jew, has value, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Judaism does not require or even encourage non-Jews to convert.
  • Judaism is open to learning from non-Jews.

The Torah is not clear as to whether or not Yitro converted or not. What is clear is his concern for Moses. First is his parental concern demonstrated by bringing his daughter and grandsons to Moses, restoring his (Moses’ family unit). Second, Yitro showed concern for Moses’ well-being as it related to his communal responsibilities. After watching Moses’ sit as an arbitrator before the entire community, Yitro remarked, probably in a somewhat strong tone of voice,

“What you’re doing is no good. You will surely wear yourself out, as well as these people who are with you because the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone, by yourself. Now listen to my voice—I will give you advice, and may God be with you!”

Exodus 18:17-19

Moses listened to his father-in-law, took his words to heart, and implemented them. It has even been suggested that the roots of Great Sanhedrin are traced back to the advice of a non-Jewish, Midianite priest. Before one think such a thing odd, consider the impact of some other non-Jews in Israel’s history. For one, there is the great-grandmother of King David, Ruth a former Midianite. Then there is the song that begins a great many Shabbat services, traditional as well as those of Yeshua followers, taken from an oracle spoken by a non-Jewish diviner, Balaam, who eventually found a way to curse Bnei-Israel for his employer, Balak, king of Moab.

Whether Yitro converted to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a question that remains both debatable and a matter of interpretation. However, as both Prager and Rabbi Sacks noted, Yitro was (or had been) not only an idolator but he was, at least at one time, the priest of an idolatress religion. The prohibition of idolatry, the making of and worshiping other gods, was very soon to become one of the cornerstone tenets of the covenantal agreement forged between Bnei-Israel and her god, ADONAI-Tzva’ot. The first two of the so-called Ten Commandments deal with this…

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

Exodus 20:3-5a

…and the last verse of the parasha states emphatically, 

Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves. 

Exodus 20:23

In concluding this week’s Thoughts, I want to emphasize two of the three points highlighted by Rabbi Sacks. First is that everyone, Jew, and non-Jew, has value, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion. We all come from the same stock, each of us created in the image of God, each with the God-breathed breath of life within us (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). Then second, each individual has gifts, talents, and abilities that others can learn from, regardless of whether one agrees, religiously, ideologically or any other point of contention that separates us. Remember Yeshua’s words concerning the faith of the centurion in Matthew, “I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!” (8:10). Whether this centurion was a God-fearer or not is as debatable as to whether Yitro converted or not. The fact is that he was a Roman officer, part of the occupying forces, and Yeshua not only honored his faith by healing his servant, but Yeshua also used his faith as an object lesson that has remained throughout time. In Pirkei Avot it is written, 

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: “From all who taught me have, I gained understanding” (Psalms 119:99).4

If we disregard those who are different or whom we disagree and refuse to learn from them simply because of ideological differences (or any other differences for that matter), then we remove ourselves from a well-spring of knowledge and experience that just may have an answer to a situation we are dealing with. Had Moses not listened to Yitro, instead of leading Bnei-Israel for 38 plus years Moses would have succumbed to the first recorded case of administrative burnout.

Endnotes:

  1. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
  2. Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Exodus, Washington DC: Regnery Faith., 2018. Apple Books.
  3. https://rabbisacks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CandC-Family-Yitro-5780-3.pdf
  4. https://www.sefaria.org.il/Pirkei_Avot.4.1?lang=bi
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This week’s parasha, Bo, Exodus 10:1 – 13:10,1 picks up in the middle of the story of the ten plagues sent upon Egypt by HaShem’s mighty, outstretched arm because of Pharoah’s hard-heartedness. Seven plagues have passed, and Pharoah continues his pattern of disregarding Moses’ requests to allow Bnei Israel to depart. Pharoah’s decision resulted in three more plagues—locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. Pharoah’s comment to Moses before the final plague is intriguing.

“Go away from me! Take heed never to see my face again, because on the day you do, you will die!”

Exodus 10 28

Moses responded very simply, “As you wish.” Within a few hours after this interaction, Pharoah may have wished he could take back his words spoken in anger. If only he could have moved the sands of time backward so he could change his response to Moses. Little did Pharoah know that death would visit Egypt that evening, killing all of Egypt’s firstborn, while sparing everyone and everything among Bnei-Israel. Every firstborn in Egypt, from Pharoah’s house to the lowest servant’s hovel to the livestock pens throughout the land, died that night.

It was not the plague that intrigued me; rather it was Pharoah’s words and attitude. As a supreme ruler, he was used to having his words accepted, unquestioned, and final. It all changed that night. 

Then Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was loud wailing in Egypt. For there was not a house where someone was not dead. So he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, go out from my people, both you and Bnei-Yisrael, go, serve ADONAI as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone! But bless me, too.”

Exodus 12:30-32

Nahum Sarna comments,

The king (Pharoah) himself has to rise during the night, thereby compounding his humiliation at having to surrender unconditionally to Moses’ demands. By summoning Moses and Aaron, he must retract the arrogant threat made at their last meeting (10:28). For him to seek their blessing is thus the ultimate humbling of the despot.2

That night Pharoah learned that his word was not final. He also realized the incredible folly of his first response to Moses and Aaron,

“Who is ADONAI, that I should listen to His voice and let Israel go? I do not know ADONAI, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

As I thought about Pharoah and his words and attitudes, I was reminded of the numerous times Yeshua and other authors of the Apostolic Writings addressed the issue of the words we speak. In Besorat (Gospel of) Matthew, Yeshua concluded his teaching with these words,

“For from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man from his good treasury brings forth good, and the evil man from his evil treasury brings forth evil. But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34b-37

The important thing in Yeshua’s comments is that we all “will give account for every careless word” we speak. Rev. J. Martin in his book, The Power of Words: Words are Free, It’s How You Use Them That May Cost You, comments,

There is simply no value put on words. We can all speak them. They don’t cost any money. As they are free to all, they are simply not appreciated.3

Continuing with the idea of the little value many put on their words, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, stated,

Unlike armaments, which can hurt only those within their immediate vicinity, verbal “shots” can inflict ruinous injuries from a distance. (In the modern world, the telephone makes it particularly easy to do so.)4

As we enter 2022, it is safe to say that the internet, digital news services and social media have far surpassed the verbal damage that Rabbi Telushkin felt could have been inflicted by telephone.

Remember Yeshua’s words, concerning one’s careless words; their source is the heart of man. Luke also emphasis the heart as the source, 

“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

The Psalmist wrote these words about the need for divine assistance to guard our mouths as well as our hearts,

Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart turn to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men that work iniquity, nor let me eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 141:3-4

A further emphasis on the need for divine assistance to guard the words of our mouths, and by extension our hearts, is expressed in the meditation at the end of the Amidah (Standing Prayer),

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. To those who curse me, let my life remain silent and my life be like dust to all, open my heart to Your Torah, then I will pursue Your commandments. … May the words of my mouth and the musings of my heart be acceptable before You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

Every day we are presented with opportunities to speak words of encouragement and comfort or to speak careless words that harm and tear others down. Often, like Pharoah, we find out too late that our words were reckless. We should remember the subtitle to Rev. J. Martin’s book, The Power of Words, and place them as a neon sign that flashes before eyes every time we open our mouths to speak,

“Words are free. It’s how you use them, that may cost.”

Or maybe these words attributed to Carl Sandburg,

“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.”

Let’s purpose in our hearts, since the heart is the source of our words, to consider the words we speak before we vocalize them. And as we remind ourselves of the words of Rev. Martin and Carl Sandburg, let’s also hold on to these two exhortations from Mishlei (Proverbs),

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

And 

“Whosoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself (or herself) out of trouble.” 

Proverbs 21:23

Endnotes:

  1. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
  2. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus the Traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS Translation /Commentary, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991, p. 61.
  3. Rev. J. Martin, The Power of Words: Words are Free, It’s How You Use Them That May Cost You, Scotts Valley, CA: Create Space Publishing Co., 2016. Apple Audio Book.
  4. Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1994, p 66-67.
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l in his Applbaum edition of the haggada, comments, 

At the very moment that we gather together to remember the past, we speak about the future. The seder brings together the three dimensions of time. Before the meal we tell the story of redemption in the past. During the meal we experience it in the present. After the meal, as we conclude the Hallel and say, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt,” we look forward to redemption in the future.1

Redemption, in other words, is not something that happens once, at a single point in time. Rather redemption is a continual process, beginning with one’s first encounter with HaShem and continuing throughout life until welcomed home into the Olam Haba (World to Come) in the presence of HaShem. If this were not so, Rav Shaul would not have encouraged the Yeshua-followers in Philippi as he did, 

Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence—work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For the One working in you is God—both to will and to work for His good pleasure.2

Philippians 2:12-13

Why start this week’s commentary on Va’era, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35, with a comment on redemption from the Pesach/Passover seder? The primary reason is that the beginning of this week’s parasha contains the foundation of the redemption that Pesach celebrations commemorate.  

So, I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to Bnei-Yisrael: I am ADONAI, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. So, I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and give it to you as an inheritance. I am ADONAI.”

Exodus 6:5b-8

According to the “Ask the Rabbi” respondent at aish.com, “The four cups of wine are a rabbinical mitzvah, in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption that appear in Exodus 6:6-7: ‘I will take (or bring) you out… I shall save (deliver) you… I shall redeem you… I shall take you.’”3

We also see in this passage, as in the seder, the past, present, and future intertwined. HaShem affirms that the reason for Bnei-Israel’s redemption is because he remembered his past covenantal commitment to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of that past commitment, he will now bring Bnei-Israel out of Egypt, deliver them from Egyptian bondage, and redeem them – paying Egypt back multiple times for the oppression of Jacob’s descendants. Then the future action will be bringing of Bnei-Israel into the land sworn to the patriarchs. Another important point is mentioned in this passage. Because of the present actions of bringing out, delivering and redeeming Bnei-Israel, HaShem becomes not only the God of their forefathers, he becomes their God,

I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God…

Exodus 6:7

The original covenantal commitment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is now expanded in a physical expression of deliverance and redemption not only for folks four or five hundred years in the past, but in a real tangible way for Bnei-Israel in the present. The phrase, “You will know that I am ADONAI your God,” is important as it is not merely a mental ascent but an experiential reality. In Exodus 1:8 the word “know” makes its first appearance in Exodus. Concerning the word “know” Dr. Nahum Sarna comments, 

The usual rendering, “to know,” hardly does justice to the richness of its semantic range. In the biblical conception, knowledge is not essentially or even primarily rooted in the intellect and mental activity. Rather, it is more experiential and is embedded in the emotions, so that it may encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness, and mutuality.4

So, what about us today? Do we just sit around the table once a year, and remember what happened in the ancient past? Not at all. Remember Rabbi Sacks’ words that the past, present, and future are intertwined in the seder. Rabban Gamliel used to say:

In every generation a person must regard himself (or herself) as though he (or she) personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said, “And you shall tell your son (and/or daughter) in that day, saying ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’”5

Mishnah Pesachim 10:5

Though our redemption is based upon a past action, we should live as if it were happening each and every day. Many are familiar with the Modei Ani prayer said each morning, thanking HaShem for restoring our soul to our bodies (that we did not die in our sleep). Jeremiah may have had this idea in mind when he wrote, 

Because of the mercies of ADONAI, we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

May it be that each day of our lives we remember the redemptive work of HaShem, through the work of his son Yeshua. We have been brought out of the slavery and oppression of this present age and brought into the Kingdom of God, both Jew and non-Jew alike. But our journey is not yet over, we still have the wilderness of this present life to traverse as we make our way to the promised new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17-19 and Revelation 21:1-5) in the Olam Haba.

Endnotes:

  1. Gila Fine, Editor in Chief. The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, 2nd edition, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2016, p. 24.
  2. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society
  3. https://www.aish.com/atr/Four_Cups_Verses.html
  4. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation /commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991 p. 5.
  5. https://www.sefaria.org.il/sheets/32014?lang=bi
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Last week, (December 16, 2021) the NYTimes online edition published an article entitled, Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Now. The article began, 

As Americans head into a third year of pandemic living, therapists around the country are finding themselves on the front lines of a mental health crisis. Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.  

While it is true that Jacob’s descendants in Egypt had not suffered from COVID-19 and its variants, for much of their last 380 years they did suffer under Egyptian oppression. In this week’s parasha, Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1, we read about the stage being set for the eventual deliverance of Bnei Israel from Egyptian bondage and oppression, beginning with the early life of Moses the second son of Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). 

We all know the story; the current Pharoah wanted to control the Israelite population and failed. Moses, who instead of being thrown into the Nile and drowned according to executive order, was safely placed on the Nile, rescued by Pharoah’s daughter and cared for by her in Pharoah’s own house. According to Rabbinic tradition, this daughter’s name was Bithiah or Bitya (בִּתְיָה). The literal meaning of her name is “daughter of God,” meaning daughter of HaShem, not Pharoah, because of her devotion in raising and caring for Moses. It is suggested that she named him Moses not only because she had “drawn” him out of the water but also because she knew that one day, he would “draw” Bnei Israel out of Egypt. While the rest of Bnei Israel suffered under Egyptian oppression, Moses grew up as a prince in Pharoah’s house. This would have been the end of the story had Moses not been “drawn” to see how his birth kinsmen were doing. Then after a strike for justice and a murder accusation Moses found himself fleeing Pharoah’s house and starting a new life with his Midianite wife Zipporah and becoming a sheep herder for his father-in-law Reuel.

Then in due time…

… the king of Egypt died. Bnei-Yisrael groaned because of their slavery. They cried out and their cry from slavery went up to God. God heard their sobbing and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw Bnei-Yisrael, and He was concerned about them.

Exodus 2:23-24

While busy shepherding the sheep, Moses saw a bush on fire that wasn’t being consumed. He heard a voice from the fire and his discussion or argument with HaShem began. Eventually Moses agreed, to return to Egypt on HaShem’s behalf and to let the elders of Bnei Israel know that their time of oppression would be coming to an end. They were excited and worshiped HaShem, relieved that their deliverance was at hand.

Moses then went to the new Pharoah and delivered HaShem’s demand to let his people go so they could worship him. Pharoah magnanimously agreed…NOT!

“Who is ADONAI, that I should listen to His voice and let Israel go? I do not know ADONAI, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

Not only did Pharoah ignore Moses’ request, but he also decided that if Bnei Israel had enough time to even consider going out into the dessert for a worship retreat, then their overlords and taskmasters were not pressing them hard enough. So, Pharoah decreased their material supply but demanded they maintain their production quota, which meant punishment if they didn’t make their quota of bricks. Very soon their worshipping of HaShem for his promised deliverance morphed into deriding Moses and Aaron.

So they said to them, “May ADONAI look on you and judge, because you have made us a stench in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!”

Exodus 5:21

From joy to despair, from deliverance to harsher oppression, the people were motivated and driven not by a future hope but by their current calamity. Here, if you haven’t guessed, is the connection I saw with the NY Times article. A number of months ago, it began to look like America, as well as much of the rest of the world, had crested the top of the hill of the COVID-19 pandemic. It appeared that vaccines were beginning to make a dent in the numbers of severe illness and death, and there was a hope that a degree of normalcy was just around the corner. Like Bnei Israel when they heard Moses’ and Aaron’s words of hope and deliverance, a sigh of relief and praise for better times were on the hearts and minds of many, religious and non-religious alike. People began to have hope. Then the Delta variant and now Omicron have given rebirth to lockdowns and hospital overcrowdings, not to mention closed borders and airways. Hopelessness and despair are driving many to the breaking point as the article pointed out. Economies which were barely beginning on the road to recovery, are now wondering if there will ever be an end in sight. 

The hopelessness is real, as real today as it was in Egypt when Pharoah turned up the flames of persecution. However, as followers of Yeshua we do not have to live in that state of hopelessness. Rav Shaul offers a number of words of encouragement in his letter to the Yeshua-followers in Rome. Note that he does not discount or deny their sufferings, but rather acknowledges their reality. He encourages them and us to do what Bnei Israel didn’t do and that is to hold on to the guarantee of a future hope.

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. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of the One who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains until now—and not only creation, but even ourselves.

Romans 8:18-23

Then he continues to outline the two sources of power that work together to preserve that future hope.

For in hope, we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. In the same way, the Ruach helps in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Ruach Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Ruach, because He intercedes for the kedoshim according to the will of God.

Romans 8:24-27

The second source is clear, the power of the Ruach (the Holy Spirit) who not only guides and empowers our prayers but, at times when we feel we can go no further, prays through and for us. The first source, which is a little more difficult to visualize, is our own decision to hold tenaciously on to hope, even when everything around us says to let go. We choose to hold on to hope – then, in our weakness, the Ruach aids us. 

Finally, Rav Shaul ends his letter with these words of encouragement,

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and shalom in trusting, so you may overflow with hope in the power of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

Romans 15:13

Without denying the reality of the cares and concerns of the world, we serve the God of hope, who desires to fill each of us with joy and shalom, thereby causing our hope to overflow and splash on others like a fountain, empowered by the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

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In this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 – 47:27, after a rather tense situation over Benjamin’s possible imprisonment, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. His first question is not about their well-being, but whether his father Jacob was still alive. The whole time his brothers just stood there in shock and fear; they were terrified, probably sure that retribution for their past deeds was about to be swift and decisive (Genesis 45:1-3). In the natural, how could they think otherwise? Joseph, however, was not operating in the natural, he was apparently in tune with the heart and mind of HaShem as seen in his explanation to them.

So now, don’t be grieved and don’t be angry in your own eyes that you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you. For there has been two years of famine in the land, and there will be five more years yet with no plowing or harvesting. But God sent me ahead of you to ensure a remnant in the land and to keep you alive for a great escape. So now, it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God! And He made me as a father to Pharaoh, lord over his whole house and ruler over the entire land of Egypt.

Genesis 45:5-8

“So now, it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God!” Note, if you will, Joseph did not absolve his brothers of their actions. He chose to focus where it needed to be. The brothers were focused on immediate answers to THEIR situation, while Joseph was focused on HaShem and his plans. Two years of the prophesied seven-year famine had passed. Pharaoh’s appointment of Joseph as overseer of Egypt ensured that Egypt would survive the famine, but HaShem’s positioning of Joseph in Egypt guaranteed that his family would survive as well. 

Joseph’s words remind me once again of one of my favorite passages from the Nevi’im (the Prophets) in which Jeremiah shared this powerful prophetic word with those still in captivity and exile, 

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

HaShem did not say things would be easy and stress free. He did say that he had plans for shalom for the captives. He did not say that there would be no struggles along the way or no consequences as a result of their disobedience. HaShem affirmed that they would have a future because it was in his plans for it to be so. For me, the flipside of the coin to Jeremiah’s passage is Rav Shaul’s words to the Yeshua-followers in Rome,

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

Try to imagine Joseph holding on to “all things work together for good for those who love God” while he forcibly joined the Ishmaelite caravan as a slave (Genesis 37:23-27) or while he was sitting in prison for honoring his Egyptian master and not having relations with his master’s wife. It is important to note that Rav Shaul, like Jeremiah, did not say that everything was going to be easy or stress free. He may have had in mind Yeshua’s words to his talmidim (disciples),

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

In this verse Yeshua expresses the desire that his talmidim, then as well as us today, have shalom. Remember that shalom is not the absence of conflict, pain, sickness, or suffering. Rather it carries the connotation of completeness, soundness, well-being, security… in the midst of all these seemingly negative aspects that can and often do infect our lives. 

I believe there is an important aspect of shalom that is brought to light in Yeshua’s words in John 16, an aspect that it appears Joseph fully embraced. Yeshua said, “so that in Me you may have shalom.” This is the phraseology in virtually every English translation I checked. Two things jumped forth, first the shalom is rooted in Yeshua, in Me and second is the qualifier, you may have shalom or peace. It does not say you will have shalom, but that you may have shalom. Just as Joseph made a choice to accept that his brothers’ actions were actually HaShem’s plan, “you didn’t send me here, but God,” we must also choose to accept the shalom provided by Yeshua. As we will see next week in the continuation of Joseph’s story, his brothers never quite got to the point where they were at peace with Joseph. Even though Joseph held no ill will toward them, they continued to fear a coming retaliation. This is evident in their lying to Joseph about their father Jacob’s last wishes (Genesis 50:15ff). 

Joseph set a three-fold example for each of us to follow. First, he chose to trust the ability of HaShem to work out his plans and purposes in Joseph’s life, wherever and however they might lead him. Second, as Joseph trusted in HaShem, he knew that eventually all things would in fact work for the good and according to HaShem’s purposes. And third, Joseph chose to live in the shalom of HaShem, secure in the knowledge that whatever happened, HaShem was in control. 

Bottom line, we live in a fallen, sin-sick world, and quite often bad things happen to good people – regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. As Yeshua-believers we have a choice to make; either to live in the shalom provided by Yeshua – regardless of what this life throws at us— or to allow ourselves to be beaten down by the situations and circumstances of this world. I encourage all of us to decide to make the choice, or maybe to reaffirm the choice, to live in the shalom that Yeshua offers and trust that HaShem has a future and a hope for us. This choice will enable us to we walk out the rest of our life’s journey in hope.

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

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Trusting and understanding HaShem’s plans for us can be challenging and misunderstood by us and others. A quick look back toward the end of last week’s parasha demonstrates what I am talking about. In Genesis 31:3 we read that HaShem commanded Ya’acov, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” With such a direct command, one might think that Ya’acov would have been at least comforted knowing that if he obeyed, HaShem would be with him. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead of packing for the homeward journey, saying good-bye to Laban—the father of his wives Leah and Rivka and the grandfather to Ya’acov’s children—Ya’acov stole away in secret, fearing the negative reprisal of Laban and his sons. Ya’acov seemingly forgot the promise he received some twenty years earlier,

“Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.”

Genesis 28:15

If it had just been this promise of care and restoration, Ya’acov could possibly have forgotten these words over time. However, there was more; Ya’acov actually negotiated with HaShem for a little better insurance coverage,

Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAI will be my God.”

Genesis 28:20-21

It would be safe to say that HaShem not only honored his promise recorded in verse 15, but equally honored Ya’acov’s vow in verses 20 and 21. Ya’acov had left his father’s house with little, worked 14 years for his wives and then work another six years taking care of Laban’s flocks at Laban’s request because he (Laban) saw that HaShem blessed all that he (Ya’acov) did, (see Genesis 30:27). In the end it’s written,

And the man grew exceedingly prosperous and had numerous flocks, along with female and male servants, camels and donkeys.

Genesis 30:43

But even with the blessing and care of HaShem, Ya’acov still was afraid of reprisal from Laban, a reprisal which may have come had HaShem not intervened,

But God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Watch yourself—lest you say anything to Jacob, good or bad.”

Genesis 31:18

Laban apparently paid attention to the word of HaShem and after rather tense encounter, Ya’acov and Laban eventually separated amicably. 

This brings us to this week’s parasha, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 where Ya’acov is preparing to meet his brother Esav. Instead of trusting in HaShem to continue honoring his promise and Ya’acov’s vow—returning him to his father’s house in shalom — instead of rejoicing in the upcoming family reunion, Ya’acov was overcome by the fear that Esav still intended to kill him. Ya’acov began making plans to survive the imminent encounter with his brother Esav and tried to arrange things on his own to pacify his brother. Instead of trusting in God, Ya’acov became “extremely afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:8). The future words of the palmist would have helped Ya’acov, 

In God—I keep praising His word—in God I trust, I will not fear. What can mere flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:5

Or these words from the complier of Mishlei,

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but one who trusts in ADONAI will be kept safe.

Proverbs 29:25

I am not, by any means, suggesting that preparing for future situations or encounters is a bad thing or a lack of trust or faith. People buy insurance—home, car, and health—to cover situations they hope never happen. Without a doubt, this is good and proper practice. Ya’acov’s plan for a potential future attack by his brother was not wrong as he was counting the cost of a potentially dangerous encounter. Ya’acov’s error was not in the planning and preparation but in the motivation. Instead of trusting in HaShem and his promises, Ya’acov was “extremely afraid and distressed.” 

In 1 John we read, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and the one who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). It is said that the perfect love John spoke of implies a faith and trust in HaShem, that he has both the desire and the ability to provide care and for those who love him. This perfect love does not necessarily change the situation one finds themselves in, nor does it change the potential severity of the situation. What this perfect love does do, is change our focus from the situation to the One who has the power to get us through the situation. The classic passage which exemplifies this is from the psalmist,

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

“Even though,” גם כי (gam ki), in Hebrew can also mean “even when.” So, one could say “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…” indicating not if but when. Yeshua followed this line of thought when he told his talmidim (disciples) 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

While we may not transverse the same situations as Ya’acov, it would behoove us to put our trust in Yeshua who is “the initiator and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Trusting in Yeshua does not mean we will never have problems, never be depressed, or plagued with anxiety. What it means is that Yeshua desires to assist us making it through the trials and challenges that plague our lives.

Life and occasionally life choices ensure that fearful, troublesome situations will come upon us. Therefore, we, with the assistance of the Ruach haKodesh, need to keep our hearts and minds focused on the Word of God, trusting that he will do what he has promised in our lives. Finally, we need to remember that whatever comes he will be there with us, seeing us through, to fulfill His Word in our lives.

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

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This week’s Parsha is Toldot, is Genesis 25.19 – 28.9, which begins, “Now these are the genealogies or toldot of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham fathered Isaac.” The word genealogies immediately suggest the account of family lineage, traced continuously from an ancestor, in this case Isaac. Though genealogies or lineage is the most common English translation of the word toldot, I believe that interpretation in the Jewish Study Bible, “This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac” has merit as well considering that the text continues the narrative of the calling out of a people, chosen by HaShem 

For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI your God has chosen you to be His treasured people. 

Deut. 7:6

So, as the narrative continues, we see a number of similarities between the father Abraham and the son Isaac. Like Abraham’s wife, Isaac’s wife was barren until the LORD answered Isaac’s prayers on her behalf (Genesis 25.21). Again, like Abraham, Isaac had two sons, one through whom the promises would continue, Jacob; and one who would venture out on his own, Esau. Similarly, just as with Ishmael, at times Esau and his descendants would be at peace with Isaac’s progeny, but more often than not, there was anything but peace.

In his commentary, The Rational Bible: Genesis, Dennis Prager observes that “Isaac was overshadowed by his father Abraham and his son Jacob.” Then he goes on to list various reasons for this observation,

1) Unlike both his father and son, whose names were changed—Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel—Isaac’s name was never changed (perhaps because it was uniquely bestowed before his birth by God—Genesis 17:19).

2) Unlike other males of the period, Isaac remained monogamous throughout his life.

3) He was the only patriarch to engage in agriculture, a profession at which he was successful (Genesis 26:12).

4) And finally, he was the only patriarch never to set foot outside the Promised Land.”

Gleaned from The Rational Bible: Genesis by Dennis Prager. Regnery Faith, 2019. Apple Books.

It is often taught that Isaac was rather a lackluster individual, compared to his father as well as his son (Jacob), even to the point that his story was more of a bridge connecting the stories two greater individuals. Maybe Isaac was not as exciting or boisterous as his father or his son, but whenever we speak of the patriarchs, it is always Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses confirmed this to Bnei Israel,

 This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So, He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.

Deut. 29:12

Today, we frequently, measure our own self-worth by comparing our own accomplishments, acquisitions, even our spiritual growth or development to that of others. Sadly, we usually fall short of our own expectations when we do this because we naturally compare ourselves to those we respect or look up to, those who we hold in high regard. Although such comparisons may at times motivate, they should not define us. In the letter to the Hebrews it is written,

Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith.

Heb. 12:1-2

In other words, instead of comparing ourselves to others, we need to focus on Yeshua, who as Rav Shaul affirmed would accomplish in us his good work.

I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua.

Phil. 1:6

Consider for just a moment, the second “great commandment” Yeshua taught his followers “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31) It is said that when you love God with all that your is (heart, soul, mind, and strength) and that you care for others as you care for yourself, then you have fulfilled the intent of the Torah. However, in order to love others as yourself, you must have a healthy, proper attitude about oneself, an attitude that sees oneself as special and beloved in Messiah, recognizing that we are all works in progress, on a journey.

Some of us may perform great deeds, as the world or even the Church considers great, while most of us just seem to day-to-day, just trying to “fight the good fight of faith.” But consider this, in 2 Samuel 23:8-39 there is a listing of David’s “mighty men.” This list of great importance, as it lists strong and courageous warriors and their exploits. However, early in the list we read

Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. Now the Philistines were assembled in formation where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines—so ADONAI brought about a great victory.

2 Sam.23:11

Shammah, for whatever reason, found himself in lentil patch, and while everyone else fled the oncoming Philistine horde, Shammah stood strong and defended the lentil patch and was victorious, and in doing so made the list of David’s mighty men. It does not matter if our place in on the city walls or in a garden, so long as we are where HaShem has placed us. Equally, it doesn’t matter if we are might warriors or simple cup bearers to those in need; if we are trailblazers in the faith or the maintainers who assist others in keeping the faith. Our goal should not try and be exactly like others rather to imitate Yeshua, then in the final judgement we will be able to hear these words from Yeshua, 

“Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.… I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.

Matt. 25:34 & 40

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

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