Thoughts on Balak

In Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9), we see that contrary to Balak’s desire to have Bnei Israel cursed, Balaam not only blesses Israel but foretells the eventual destruction of numerous neighboring nations. Interestingly, in the rest of scripture, Balaam’s reputation is in the cesspool. Why? Numbers 31:16 tells us the answer. In relating Moses’ anger about Midianite spoils of war we are told, “…they are the ones—because of Balaam’s advice—who caused Bnei-Yisrael to be unfaithful to ADONAI in the matter of Peor, so that the plague was on the community of ADONAI!” So, while Balaam is presented in this week’s portion as the one who blessed and did not curse Israel, he is remembered as eventually satisfying Balak’s desires, thereby causing Israel to stumble and incurring the wrath of HaShem.

It is said that Balaam’s behavior is a result of his desire for honor and financial remuneration. While this is probably true, we should recognize that Balaam does not profess this himself. He was a prophet of some repute, which is seen in Balak’s plea, “Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed,” (Numbers 22:6). It appears that in the process of “doing his job” Balaam ran a fowl of HaShem, which resulted, aside from his death, in his actions becoming an example of the error of desiring gain, at least gain requires actions contrary to the expressed Word of God.

Kefa (Peter) describes people who are diametrically opposed to the plans of HaShem and teaches others to do likewise, as those who have “abandoned the straight way. They have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness,” (2 Peter 2:15). Concerning the damage individuals might do, Jude notes, “Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain; they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error; and in Korah’s rebellion they have been destroyed,” (Jude 11). But, note an important distinction between Kefa and Jude. Where Jude agrees with the Torah account that Balaam’s desire for gain caused his downfall, Peter qualifies the desire for gain as “from wrongdoing.” Not being successful in one’s profession is not the problem; the aspect of wrongdoing is. Balaam knew that Israel was blessed and protected by HaShem and that he could not personally curse Israel. However, Balaam apparently suggested to Balak that HaShem’s favor would be removed from Israel by enticing them to engage in idolatry and sexual immorality– and it worked. Thus, we read in the Ruach’s charge against the church at Pergamum, “But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality,” (Revelation 2:14).

Yeshua’s words bring to mind Balaam’s actions when he stated, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick by one and look down on the other. You cannot serve God and money,” (Matthew 6:24). Again, it is not the money that is problematic but the kavanah or motivation behind the acquisition. HaShem commanded man (and woman) to “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the land, and conquer it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the flying creatures of the sky, and over every animal that crawls on the land,” (Genesis 1:28). We should be successful in our endeavors as we seek to fulfill this charge with proper kavanah, all the time remembering the words of Rav Shaul, “…whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God the Father through Him,” (Colossians 3:17). Gain should not be sought for gain’s sake or even for our own sake, but rather it should be sought to bring honor and glory to HaShem.

Before leaving the Apostolic Writings, perhaps one other individual should be considered. In Acts 8 there is the story of Simon the Sorcerer. “Now a man named Simon had been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, saying he was someone great,” (Acts 8:9). Then under the preaching of Philip “…Simon himself believed; and after being immersed, he continued with Philip. And when he saw signs and great miracles happening, he was continually amazed,” (Acts 8:13). Things seemed to be going well until the Apostles came from Jerusalem and conferred the gift of the Ruach upon the new believers. We have no idea why Simon did not receive the Ruach initially. But whatever the reason, Simon thought he could acquire the Ruach by his own means, by offering Kefa money. Kefa was less than impressed, to say the least, and immediately corrected Simon offering him the way of returning to proper faith. The last we hear of Simon the magician is his request to Kefa to pray for him. “Pray for me, so that none of what you have said may come upon me,” (Acts 8:24). Since there was no judgment recorded, I assume (and this is only an assumption) that Simon was restored. This assumption should give us hope; if we falter or stray, the opportunity to return is always available. Maybe even Balaam could have been restored had he not been so determined to continue loving the wages of wickedness.

So, each of us should continually seek to follow Joshua’s command to Bnei Israel, “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.” And then with Joshua, affirm that “as for me and my household, we will worship Adonai!” (Joshua 24:15). The choice remains ever before us, to choose the way of Balaam or that of Joshua.

Shabbat Shalom

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

How many of us doubt our ability to be of service to God and others? Sometimes such doubts are because of our age, like Jeremiah who tried to reason with HaShem,

Then I said, “Alas, ADONAI Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak! For I’m still a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)

Or maybe like Moses, who despite his really good upbringing didn’t see himself as a good orator, we too don’t see ourselves as any type of an adequate orator,

But Moses said to ADONAI, “ADONAI, I am not a man of words—not yesterday, nor the day before, nor since You have spoken to Your servant—because I have a slow mouth and a heavy tongue.” (Exodus 4:10)

Or maybe still, like Isaiah we are painfully aware not only of our own failings but the failings of all those with whom we are associated,

Oy to me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Then there is Abraham who is remembered as the father of the Jewish people but was an idolater for at least seventy-five years before HaShem called him and Sarah and set them on their journey to the land of promise.

Notice that I began this roll call with Jeremiah as a youth and ended with Abraham and Sarah in their advanced years, the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeremiah. Age should never be a distraction or a qualification that limits us from serving ADONAI.

This week’s haftarah is Judges 11:1-33, which records the accounts of Jephthah’s beginnings through his defeat of the Ammonites. Often when speaking about Jephthah (Yiftach in Hebrew), his rash vow immediately comes to mind causing us to ponder the mystery concerning his only daughter. This week, however, we will instead look at Jephthah himself. Our passage begins,

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a prostitute, while Gilead was Jephthah’s father. But Gilead’s wife bore him sons, and when the wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You won’t inherit in our father’s house, for you are a son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Some worthless fellows joined with Jephthah and went out with him. (Judges 11:1-3, TLV)

If you think you have problems in your life that keeps you from serving HaShem, consider Jephthah. He seems to have been the eldest son of his father through an illicit relationship with a prostitute. The lineage was apparently well-known as his half-brothers as well as the elders of Gilead (Judges 11:7) eventually drove him away. He seems to have become a freebooter. (I just learned that word this week. It is how Michael Fishbane in the JPS Haftarot Commentary described him.) A freebooter is one who goes about in search of plunder; a pirate; a buccaneer (

In a past teaching in Shulhan Shelanu (Our Table), Rabbi Dauermann wrote the following,

Jephthah was a man whom God used mightily to rescue Israel from their enemies, but he could easily have thought, “Oh, God could never use me!!” He was the son of a prostitute, which meant that everyone in his culture thought of him as permanently dirty; his half-brothers, who were influential men, despised him and threw him out of town; he ended up being a leader among other outcasts but away from his home city. But he didn’t let any of those excuses keep him from being available to be God’s special leader when the opportunity arose. (Bold emphasis is mine.)

In other words, Jephthah, with all his past and present baggage, stepped up to the plate and in the process served as a judge in Israel for six years (Judges 12:7). Jephthah could have let his past dictate his response and not help those in need – but he didn’t. He did what had to be done, trusting that HaShem would see him through it all. Without a doubt, he made some mistakes along the way—who of us does not make mistakes along the way? The key is not to let our mistakes, our past, or our age define us as we seek to serve HaShem.

Thinking about reasons for not serving the HaShem, I am reminded of another individual, this time from the Besorah (the New Covenant Scriptures). While the context is different, the sentiment remains the same. In Matthew 8, a Roman centurion met Yeshua on the road and asked him to heal his servant who lay paralyzed and tormented at home. Then Yeshua responded,

“I’ll come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Master, I’m not worthy to have You come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:7-8)

I realize that the centurion’s words were a recognition of authority. But his qualifying statement, “Master, I’m not worthy to have You come under my roof,” echoes Isaiah’s proclamation mentioned above. How often do we feel unworthy to come into HaShem’s presence, or even to attempt to serve him with all the baggage that we have collected on our life’s journey? Looking at the lives mentioned above we see that HaShem is just waiting for us to be willing to step up and to do or be whatever he needs us to do or be. It doesn’t matter whether we are to defeat the invading Ammonites or to be the conduit for someone in the need of healing, it is his power, compassion, and grace operating through our willingness that has the potential to touch, heal and deliver those around us.

Remember, we are his hands and feet in this world. May we all be willing to do as he calls.


The Torah reading for Chukat is Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 and the reading from the Besorah is 1 Corinthians 10:6-11.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.


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Some Thoughts on Korach

This week’s parasha, Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32, is a continuation of times of trouble for Moses. Here is a brief recap of his problems in the last two parashot,

  • Chapter 11 – grumbling crowd wanting a better menu.
  • Chapter 12 – trouble in the leadership team with Aaron and Miriam questioning his choice of wives.
  • Chapter 13 – the episode with the spies and the popular rebellion caused by the ten with the “bad report”.
  • And Chapter 16, Uncle Korach’s rebellion against Moses’ and Aaron’s authority as leaders of the community.

With all this happening is it any wonder Moses prayed “I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15)

Before we delve into this week’s parasha, remember that the Kohathites, the clan to which Korach belonged (Numbers 16:1), enjoyed a favored position among the three clans of Levi in the assignment of responsibilities, a divine calling as it were.

The Kohathite families were to camp along the side of the Tabernacle on the south. … They were responsible for the Ark, the table, the menorah, the altars, and the implements of the Sanctuary used in service with them, the curtain, and all involved with its use. (Numbers 3:29-31)

When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the Sanctuary and all its holy implements, and when the camp is ready to move out, after this the sons of Kohath may come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy items, or they will die. These are the task of the sons of Kohath with regard to the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 4:15)

“You are not to let the families of the tribe of the Kohathites be cut off from among the Levites. Do this for them so that they may live and not die whenever they approach the most holy items—Aaron and his sons are to go into the Sanctuary and assign each man his job and his responsibility. But the Kohathites are not to go in to look at what is holy, not even momentarily, or they will die.” (Numbers 4:10-12)

But Korach apparently was not happy with his position. Our parasha begins,

Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and sons of Reuben—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—rose up against Moses and took 250 men from Bnei-Yisrael, men of renown who had been appointed to the council. They assembled against Moses and Aaron. They said to them, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI?”

Apparently, Korach’s discontent centered on the allegation that Moses and Aaron were unjustified in setting themselves over all the people. After all, everyone in Israel, by virtue of Israel being the covenant community of HaShem, was equally holy and capable of being leaders (cf. Exodus 19:6). However, Korach and his crew neglected to realize that HaShem had appointed Moses and Aaron to their offices.

According to Jewish tradition, Korach didn’t really believe the allegation that the whole community was holy. He didn’t believe that God resided within all of the community. Rather, Korach only cared about power. He was jealous of Moses’ and Aaron’s and wanted that power for himself. In his pursuit of that power, Korach drew 250 other men of renown, “chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men” (ESV). It seems that Moses saw through their words to their true motivation, but instead of retaliating, he fell on his face before HaShem (Numbers 16:4).

Like Korach, at times we too look at others and desire the abilities or positions HaShem has given them. Korach had significant, worthwhile abilities and responsibilities of his own. In the end, however, his ambition for more caused him to lose everything. Inappropriate ambition is greed in disguise. Unlike Korach, we should concentrate on finding the special purpose God has for our lives and then walk in that purpose instead of wishing we were in someone else’s shoes.

Also, note that Korach made it on the list of infamy or disrepute in Jude 11. We often speak of the roll call of the faithful in Hebrews 11, but Jude verse 11 records a less popular roll call,

Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain (the first murderer); they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error (circumventing the word of HaShem), and in Korach’s rebellion (seeking that which was not his own) they have been destroyed.

We need to be aware of what is motivating us to action. The power of one to do either good or bad is often determined by personal ambition. We also need to be aware, or at least cautious, of what may be motivating the words of others. Korach’s allegation was based in HaShem’s words spoken at Mt. Sinai, “you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation…,” but his motivation was for personal gain and prestige and not for the betterment of the community. Korach made a choice to rebel against the plan and the appointments of HaShem. Moses, instead of retaliating, chose to respond in humility and prayer.

Without a doubt, there is much wrong in our world today. There is a cacophony of voices crying out from all sides demanding change, demanding justice, and personal rights. At a time such as this, we need to hear the voice of HaShem above all others. We all need to fall on our faces before HaShem and to seek His voice and His guidance through these troubled times.


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


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Thoughts on Tzav

This week’s parasha, Tzav, “Command” (Leviticus 6:1-8:36) begins,

ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: “Command (tzav) Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah (or law) of the burnt offering. The burnt offering should remain on the hearth atop the altar all night until the morning, while the fire of the altar is kept burning on it. … Fire is to be kept burning on the altar continually—it must not go out.”

Leviticus 6:1-2 & 6

Later in Ki Tavo as Bnei Israel prepared to enter into the promised land, Moshe proclaimed,

“This day ADONAI your God is commanding you to do these statutes and ordinances—so you are to take care and do them with all your heart and with all your soul. 

Deuteronomy 26:16)

It has been said that the Torah is our handbook for daily life. However, learning to apply its rules to a constantly changing world takes quite a bit of effort and at times originality. New discoveries in science and medicine, new political realities, and even differing economic systems require new insights from our Torah. The ability to adjust or to adapt has always existed. Contrary to what we see in some communities, innovation is inherent to our tradition. Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern-day Israel, stressed that we must “renew the old and sanctify the new”. 

In the Friday, April 3rd digital edition of The Times of Israel, correspondent Ben Harris writes, 

The coronavirus pandemic has upended so many parts of life that it’s perhaps little surprise that it’s also having a significant impact in the field of Jewish law, or halacha. The sudden impossibility of once routine facets of observant Jewish life has generated a surge in questions never considered before — and modern technology means that Jews the world over are more able than ever to ask those questions and share their answers.

We are in an unprecedented time for religious observance and routine. As one browses the news, faith communities all over the world are trying to find ways to keep their communities together. Some are going against local health ministry regulations and continuing to meet as normal and in doing so, take the chance of infecting or being infected with COVID-19.  Others have found creative ways to maintain their communal existence. Some are using various internet video-conferencing methods, others have set up drive-in type parking lots where everyone stays sequestered in their car while worship services are broadcast over loudspeakers. At least one Catholic community I read about offers drive-up confessionals as well as communion. 

As Mr. Harris noted above, within Judaism, “The sudden impossibility of once routine facets of observant Jewish life has generated a surge in questions never considered before….” The sense of community remains at the very heart of Judaism and isolation and quarantine has the potential of eroding that heart. In response, there are live-streaming and video-conferencing prayer services going on daily, including Shabbat. There are numerous rabbis in Israel and around the world who have either encouraged or at least hesitantly allowed for both Shabbat evening meals as well as Passover to be shared with family over the Internet. This is not a complete change of halakhic norms, rather it is adjusting the ancient traditions to meet the specific needs that face us today. As Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo stated, “For too long, Halakha has been jailed in compartmentalized and awkward boxes. It is time to liberate it.” (Nathan Lopes Cardozo. Jewish Law as Rebellion. Jerusalem, Urim Publications, 2018, p35)

Remember the occurrence in Mark 2 when Yeshua interacted with the P’rushim (Pharisees) over allowed Sabbath activities. The end of the matter was Yeshua’s statement that “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat.” In no way was he speaking against keeping or honoring the Sabbath, rather he was trying to get the P’rushim as well as his talmidim, to understand that the Sabbath was Hashem’s gift to man – a time to fellowship and enjoy His presence as well as fellowship and enjoy the presence of others. That is why, at this juncture in time, we “break the Sabbath” by using our computers to meet together as communities, to encourage one another, to pray for one another, to open a window in a isolated room so others do not have to be alone during this pandemic. 

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

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Thoughts from the Haftarah – Vayikra

This week we begin a new section of the Torah, Vayikra/Leviticus; the reading is Leviticus 1:1 through 5:26. The portion deals with various offerings and how they are to be brought before the LORD. While much could be said concerning the sacrifices, their meaning then, and how we should understand them today, I would like to offer two words of encouragement from this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23.

In the haftarah, the prophet Isaiah rebukes Judah for neglecting the required sacrifices as well as abandoning the Temple rituals. And it appears that this neglect and abandonment is rooted in Israel’s abandonment of Hashem in favor of idol worship. The two scriptures that jumped out to me as I read Isaiah’s words were specifically words of encouragement for Israel to return to Hashem, putting aside her idolatress ways. I believe these words can also be a source of encouragement for us today as across the globe we all have fallen prey to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The first word of encouragement is, “Thus says ADONAI who made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Do not fear, Jacob My servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen,’” (Isaiah 44:2). While this verse contextually speaks directly to Israel, we can all take comfort in this promise. According to Genesis 1:27, Hashem created all of us in His image and the psalmist echoes this when he proclaimed, “Your hands have made me and formed me,” (Psalms 119:73). Earlier in Psalms it is written, “For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are but dust,” (Psalm 103:14). I do not know why we have fallen plague to this pandemic, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that as our Creator, Hashem knows our condition and situation, and just as He cared for Judah in her wayfaring condition, He cares for each one of us.

The second word is really a reiteration of the first, “Remember these things, Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant. I formed you, you are My servant. Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me,” (Isaiah 44:21)! In the repetition, Hashem stresses that he formed Israel and because of that Israel will not be forgotten. And just as He will not forget Israel, He will not forget us as well. Returning to the psalmist we read these words,

If I say: “My foot has slipped,” Your mercy, ADONAI, will hold me up. When my troubling thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations comfort my soul. 

Psalm 94:18-19

He will not forget us. Remember Yeshua’s words at the end of the ‘Great Commission,’ “And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). When the news of the pandemic situation threatens to overwhelm us, when isolation and confinement separates us from family and friends, especially those who have been inflicted with the virus – remember that (1) we will not be forgotten by Hashem and (2) His consolations will bring comfort to our souls.

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

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Weekly Thoughts Vayakhel-Pekudei – Shabbat HaChodesh

Tomorrow is Shabbat HaChodesh (“Sabbath [of the] month”), which is the Shabbat that precedes the month of Nisan during which Pesach (Passover) is celebrated (Exodus 12:1-20). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is the first month of the Jewish year according to the schedule of the mo’edim (festivals; Lev. 23). Pesach is probably one of the most Judaically defining of all the mo’edim. Without the Exodus, and therefore without Pesach which commemorates the Exodus, the Jewish people would not exist today. 

It is also important to note that Pesach is not just a commemoration of a historical event that happened centuries ago; it is re-lived every year. Rabban Gamaliel instructs the Jewish people, 

In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt, because it is said, “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: ‘It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise, laud, glorify, raise up, beautify, bless, extol, and adore Him who made all these miracles for our fathers and ourselves; He brought us forth from slavery into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into great light, and from servitude into redemption. Let us say before him, Hallelujah!

M. Pesachim 10.5

Each one of us is to personally consider that we ourselves have come out of Egypt. Notice that Rabban Gamaliel commended each person “in every generation” to recognize that Hashem has brought the individual out of Egypt. But in light of this understanding, Rabban Gamaliel also states that “ it is our duty…,” the duty of the entire community, “to thank, praise, laud, glorify, etc.,” Hashem for His actions on behalf the Children of Israel way back then as well as for His actions on behalf of us today.  

It is often said that a sense of community is at the very heart of the Jewish people. I can remember going camping on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, arriving in the early Thursday afternoon so that we could get the tent up before the afternoon winds came. Often, because of our arrival time, we would be the only one in the campground, which was usually rather large and spread out. By evening time, the campground had filled with other week-end campers. What surprised me, at least the first couple of times, is that when others came into the campground, they seldom chose a separate or more isolated section–they usually set up their tent either near ours or near the folks that were already next to us. In the end, though we did not know one another, we were all close proximity to one another, almost like a mini community. Once a friend described it as an Israeli herd instinct. Looking back on it though, I think it affirms the fact that community is at the heart of the Jewish people. 

On this Shabbat HaChodesh, as we begin thinking about Pesach and our traditional gatherings as a community with family and friends to commemorate the festival, the traditional gatherings may well be minimalized or forbidden all together due to the COVID-19 pandemic that we are currently experiencing. Jewish lifecycle events all over the world have been curtailed or postponed indefinitely due to the social distancing that the pandemic has necessitated. So how do we as a community celebrate a festival when we cannot gather together in our customary fashion due to health concerns and numeric restrictions? The answer is simple, we create new customs. We do what we can do with what we have. We focus on Him who is the reason for the festival, and we remember not only the Exodus, but we remember those times when we celebrated with family and friends. Aside from just remembering past celebrations, one person suggested to link family members together via the internet possibly setting up laptops, iPads/tablets, or even cell phones at individual place settings where family members or friends would normally sit. No, it is not ideal, but is a way to maintain a degree of community. 

Closer to the present, however, this Shabbat (and Sunday for some) most of us will be subject to local health ministry and governmental restrictions. Meetings in Israel are now restricted to 10 (some events 5) individuals or less with a 2-meter social distance between them. For chavurot (house groups) like ours, the number is not a problem, but the social distancing is. Some congregations are attempting to live stream their services while others are using applications like FaceTime and Zoom to stay connected and to support one another during these “interesting” times. 

During these “interesting times, let’s remember these words from the writer of Hebrews, 

And let us keep paying attention to one another, in order to spur each other on to love and good deeds, not neglecting our own congregational meetings, as some have made a practice of doing, but, rather, encouraging each other.

Hebrews 10:24-25, CJB

Even though we cannot meet together physically, today’s technology allows for, even encourages, us to stay connected and to meet together for support, edification, and encouragement. I encourage everyone to find ways that work for you and your community to stay connected and to stay safe. 

The readings for this Shabbat are:
Torah: Exodus 35:1 – 40:38
Special Maftir: Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18
Besorah: Matthew 15:32-39

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Thoughts on Tetzaveh

One of the most poignant mitzvot in Torah is the command to remember. Aside from the number of times that Hashem says that He will remember, there are numerous times when Israel was told to remember, e.g. Exodus 13:3 “Remember this day, on which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage. …”; Numbers 15:39-40, It will be your own tzitzit—so whenever you look at them, you will remember all the mitzvot of ADONAI and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves. This way you will remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God.” 

The reason for this brief introduction about memory and remembrance is that this Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor or Sabbath (of) remembrance. Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat before Purim. As the book of Esther comes to a close, these words are recorded…

The Jews established and took upon themselves, upon their descendants, and upon all who joined with them, that they would commemorate these two days in the way prescribed and at the appointed time every year. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family and in every province and every city. These days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor their remembrance perish from their descendants.

Esther 9:27-28

Interestingly, though not specified in Esther, there is a tradition that says that Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people, was in fact descended from Amalek. And the Amalek connection explains this week’s Haftarah, 1 Samuel 15:1-34, which begins

Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot: “I remember what Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction.”

1 Samuel 15:2-3

Returning to Esther 3:1, it states that Haman was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. Three times in 1 Samuel 15:8, :20, and :32), Agag was acknowledged as the king of the Amalekites. So, could Haman have been a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites? I do not believe it can be proven without a doubt one way or the other. It can be said that Haman fit the modus operandi of Amalek, and that in his generation, he was the enemy of all the Jews and had schemed to destroy them completely,” (Esther 9:24). One has to wonder if King Saul had been obedient to the word of the LORD through Samuel, if he had totally destroyed Amalek, would the history of the Jews and the world been altered? 

There is another point to remember this Shabbat Zachor. When Hashem reveals His will, we need to obey it, otherwise disobedience can at times have dire consequences. As noted in 1 Samuel 15:3, King Saul was to “go and strike down Amalek and put all he has under the ban of destruction—so have no pity on him; but kill both men and women, children and nursing infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.” However harsh that may seem to us today, that was Hashem’s command to King Saul. Sadly, King Saul disobeyed, resulting in Samuel proclaiming, “ADONAI has torn the kingship over Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you,” (1 Samuel 15:28). King Saul had tried to excuse his disobedience by saying,“for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to ADONAI your God—but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

There were at least two problems with this statement, possibly three. First, King Saul brought back Agag instead of killing him. If he survived, quite possibly others did as well. Second, all the livestock were to be killed as well. Third and maybe the most damning for King Saul, was that he said the livestock, that had been slated for destruction, were to be sacrificed to Samuel’s God; he did not say “to be sacrificed to my God,” thus separating himself from Samuel’s and Israel’s God.

This week’s parasha Tetzaveh, (you shall command), Exodus 27:20 – 30:10, begins with the command concerning the pure olive oil that is to be set apart for the ner tamid, the lamp that was to burn continually, day and night before the veil blocking the Ark of the Covenant.

At the end of the parasha, there are the instructions concerning the altar of incense which ends with

You must not offer up unauthorized incense on it. Nor should any burnt offering or grain offering be there, nor should you pour any drink offering there.

Exodus 30:9

Later in Parashat Shemini, we will read about the outcome of being disobedient to this command.

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before ADONAI—which He had not commanded them. So fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and consumed them. So they died before ADONAI.

Leviticus 10:1-2

Nadab and Abihu were with their dad and uncle in preparing the Mishkan and the articles and rituals. They knew that they were not to “offer up unauthorized incense” or anything else on the altar – but for some reason they did and paid the ultimate price for their disobedience. Acts 5 records the account of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, lying to Hashem. The compiler of Proverbs wrote, “Lying lips are detestable to ADONAI…” (Proverbs 12:22).

Fortunately, more often than not, punishment and discipline are not immediately metered out as with King Saul, Nadab and Abihu, and Ananias and Sapphira. That is not because our disobedience is of a lesser measure, rather it is because Hashem is gracious and patient. We see this affirmed by Hashem after the incident of the Molten Calf, when He proclaimed to Moshe,

“ADONAI, ADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7

Then through the prophet Ezekiel He told Israel,

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

Ezekiel 33:11

Just because punishment or discipline is not immediate does not mean that there will not be consequences for our disobedience. In any event, the ideal practice is to walk in obedience to the Word of God, and to trust in His grace when we stumble from the way. But, as Rav Shaul warned, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be,” (Romans 6:15)! Also, let us remember what King Saul seemed to have forgotten, “…to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams,” (1 Samuel 15:22).

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

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