Thoughts on Naso

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

The Nazir:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Bechukotai

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

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

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

This is reminiscent of the Psalmist’s words,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me: Your rod and Your staff comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Behar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

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

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

[iv] b. Shabbat 127a

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Emor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 19:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Acharei Mot/Kedoshim*

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha in Israel is Acharei Mot/Kedoshim, Vayikra (Lev. 16:1-20:27). Chapter 16 addresses Yom Kippur and chapters 17-20 are part of what is known as the holiness code (17:1-26:46).

The central idea of the holiness code is found in 19:1

“Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them:
‘You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy’.”

From this verse we see that the people of Israel bear a collective responsibility to achieve holiness, to be holy as ADONAI is holy. Itis a collectivecalling. The laws and commandments in this section are usually addressed to all of Israel, not just to Moshe, Aaron or the priesthood. In fact, virtually all the sections of the holiness code open with HaShem commanding Moshe to speak to the people of Israel (chapter 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25). The holiness code emphasizes the interdependence of all Israelites in every aspect of life, including their history, and shared destiny. It resembles two other major collections in the Torah, the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 20:19-23:33) and the Deuteronic laws, specifically Deut. 12-28.

This week’s parasha only includes the first four chapters of the holiness code 17-20. There is a progression in these four chapters, from “This is what the LORD commanded to “You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy.”

17:2  “This is what the LORD has commanded…” The chapter details the requirement that all sacrifice be offered at the one, legitimate altar near the entrance to the tent of meeting, the requirements concerning the blood of animals for both sacrificial animals and those used for food, the prohibition against the consumption of blood, and the prohibition against eating the flesh from carcasses of animals that died or were torn by beasts.

18:2  “I the LORD am your God you shall…” What follows is the most systematic and complete collection of laws in the Torah dealing with the subject of incest and forbidden sexual unions. It defines which unions among relatives are forbidden on grounds of incest, adultery, etc. In the process the limits of the immediate family are defined.

19:2-20:26  “You shall be holy for I, the LORD your God am holy”. It is interesting that the command for Israel to be holy as HaShem is holy is found in this chapter. Vayikra is the center of the Torah, and chapter 19 is the center of Vayikra. Thus the very center of Torah focuses on holiness. Chapter 20 continues the idea of holiness and concludes in vv. 24 and 26, with the declaration, “I the LORD am your God who has set you apart from different peoples…You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples. Sandwiched between the two commands to be holy for I the LORD your God am holy in 19:2 and 20:26 are commands on what it means to be a people set apart to be holy.

These two chapters contain moral imperatives and seemingly irrational commands, like the prohibition against wearing clothes of mixed wool and linen, that seem to be far removed from that of our culture. Yet all the laws contained in them are applicable to our day.

To be holy means:

  • not planting your field with different kinds of seed, not cross breeding your livestock or wearing clothes made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen.Today we could interpret this as respecting the integrity of and caring for the environment;
  • Not conforming with the idolatry of our time. Every age has it gods and idols. These can vary from region to region, but due to globalization and social media there is less variation than in times past. When we read chapters 19 and 20 we need to ask what gods or idols are preventing us from being holy as HaShem is holy;
  • being honest in business;
  • doing justice;
  • and sharing our blessings with others and treating the poor with dignity and honor. This is drawn from the command to not harvest the corners of your fields.

To be holy also includes loving your neighbor and the stranger as yourself (19:18, 34), which means:

  • not stealing, lying, or deceiving others;
  • not standing idly by when someone else’s life is in danger;
  • not insulting or taking advantage of others even when they are completely unaware of it. This is drawn from the commands not to curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind;
  • not hating people, bearing a grudge or taking revenge. Instead, when someone has done something wrong to you, and hurt your talk with them. Let them know what they have done and how it has hurt you, give them a chance to apologize and make amends, and then forgive them. Yeshua commands us in such situations to go to a brother (sister) and be reconciled (Matt. 5:24)

Being holy means having the courage to make mistakes and admit those mistakes. Being holy requires us to have the courage to be different. Above all “Be holy” means having the courage to be different, to be distinctive and set apart. On the surface, the command to “Be holy for I the LORD your God am holy” is counter-intuitive because it calls on us to be like God. But, how can we be like God? He is infinite, we are finite. He is eternal, we are mortal. Yet, Torah tells us that in certain respects we can be like God. We are created in His image, and we can act in the same ways as He acts.

When we act holy as He is holy, we bear witness to the presence of God on earth. Being holy means to live in the conscious presence of God. All of the laws, rules and regulations in this week’s Torah portion and in the entire Tanakh, remind us of the presence of God, and our responsibility to emulate Him. We are also reminded that no man is an island, we are all interrelated, even or especially in holiness. The holiness code addresses all the people of Israel, native born or grafted in. I challenge all of us to be courageous, to be different by choosing to live a holy life as defined in the Scripture, particularly the holiness code, and in the process to bring the living presence of HaShem into the world.

Shabbat Shalom

* This week’s portion was prepared by my Eshet Chayil, Dr. Vered Hillel.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Tazria-Metzora

canstockphoto3712801This week’s reading is one of the various double readings, Tazria-Metzora, Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33; the haftarah reading is from Ezekiel 20:2-20.[i]The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Luke 13:1–17,[ii]according to the MJRC – Chayyei Yeshua Cycle.[iii]

Reading through Tazria-Metzoraa couple of times, a few things become noticeable. Most prominent is that all of the situations in this week’s portion deal with ritual impurity. Ritual impurity is so important that this week’s passage closes with a warning

וְהִזַּרְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִטֻּמְאָתָ֑ם וְלֹ֤א יָמֻ֙תוּ֙ בְּטֻמְאָתָ֔ם בְּטַמְּאָ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁכָּנִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּתוֹכָֽם – ויקרא טו,31

You shall put the Israelites on guard against their uncleanness, lest they die through their uncleanness by defiling My Tabernacle which is among them. (Leviticus 15:31)

The first notable situation that causes defilement is the various conditions that are described as natural occurrences in life—things that happen to all humankind: childbirth, hair loss due to skin conditions, seminal discharges and, menstrual discharges. These are natural processes of life, yet they cause the individuals in each and every case to become tamei(טָמֵא; ritually impure, ritually defiled).

The second situation is the disease, tzara’atצָרָעַת)), which is often translated as some type of leprous skin condition. It applies to conditions that separate people from the community so as not to contaminate others or to bring defilement to the Mishkan. But nowhere in these four chapters, one hundred and fifty-seven verses, do we read that the people separated become unholy. There is no exhortation in this parasha to be holy as there is in Lev. 11

For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. … For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44-45)

There are situations, such as the food laws in Leviticus 11, that cause one to be tamei(טָמֵא). These are things/situations that we are to avoid–you might even say with extreme prejudice– because they separate us from HaShem, by our own actions. But in this week’s portion, the things that separate us are natural bodily occurrences over which we have little or no control.

Interestingly, the Sages asked a question similar to the one the disciples asked of Yeshua concerning illness,

As Yeshua was passing by, He saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi (or Teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?”

Generally speaking, all disease was regarded as punishment from God for some wrong doing. In the case of tzara’atspecifically, Jewish tradition understands it as a punishment from God for acts of malice such as Miriam’s malicious criticism of Moses, reported in Numbers 12:1-3.[iv]I do not doubt this understanding and if malice is one of the causes of tzara’atthen for sure we are responsible for dealing with it, just as we are responsible for watching what we eat (Leviticus 11). In fact, remember one of Rav Shaul’s admonitions during Passover, “…let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread – the matzah of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). In other words, malice, as well as wickedness or disobedience, are things with which we can and should deal; by our choice and through the enabling power of Ruach HaKodesh. However, in situations where natural occurrences separate us not only from the LORD but from the community, we can only trust in the mercies of ADONAI. Just as the blind man did nothing wrong, there are times and situations in which we too are error-free but still stand in need of a touch from the Master.

In this week’s Apostolic Writings, we read of a woman “with a disabling spirit for eighteen years, bent over and completely unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11), who was attending the same synagogue that Yeshua chose to visit. We are told nothing about the source of her condition, only that she was in need of a touch from Yeshua. As with the man in John 9, Yeshua reached out and touched her, healed her. Even though there were some in the synagogue who tried to chastise Yeshua for healing on the Sabbath, He fulfilled the words of the Psalmist,

The LORD supports all who stumble and makes all who are bent to stand straight.
(Psalm 145:14)

The LORD cares for His people. His word reveals those things we should do to walk in His care and grace. For those situations that are beyond our control, He remains the one who heals, who straightens, and who restores to fellowship – with Him, with families, and with our communities.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Tanakh readings are from https://www.sefaria.org.il

[ii] Readings from the Apostolic Writings are from Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015 – https://www.biblegateway.com

[iii]  http://ourrabbis.org/main/resources/chayyei-yeshua-reading-cycle

[iv] Sarna, Nahum M. (gen. ed.), The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus, Commentary by Baruch A. Levine, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 1989, p 75.

 

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Shmini

canstockphoto0885276This Shabbat Israel and the Diaspora begin to deviate on the Torah reading schedule, because in the Diaspora Shabbat is the last day of Unleavened Bread while in Israel Unleavened Bread ends on Friday. This means that technically the mo’ed is over for us in Israel while practically we still will not have chametz until Sunday morning. As I said this influences the Torah reading schedule that Israel reads Parashat Shmini, Leviticus 9:1–11:47[i]while the Diaspora reading is for the Second Sabbath of Pesach, Exodus 33:12–34:26 & Numbers 28:19­–28:25. The Haftarah for Shminiis II Samuel 6:1-19 (Sephardic tradition).

Parashat Shminibegins, And it was on the eighth day, that Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. That Moses summoned them on the eighth day is appropriate for this Shabbat. Rashi suggests that it was on the first of Nissan that the Mishkan was erected and that Aaron and his sons entered into it to be consecrated for the service of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 8:1-36). The act of consecration was to take seven days. On the eighth day, after Aaron and his sons were consecrated and set apart for service, their first act of service was to offer the assorted sacrifices on behalf of the rest of Israel. When Aaron finished the preparations for this first intermediary act,

Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them, (Numbers 6:22-27). He then descended from preparing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering.And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces. (Leviticus 9:22-24)

Rashi suggests that the blessing that Moshe and Aaron pronounced over the people would be echoed by the words of the Psalmist,

And may the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us, and the work of our hands establish it. (Psalms 90:17)

One of the reasons for this was to assure Bnei Yisrael that they had been both forgiven by HaShem for the sin of the molten calf and that their work and building His dwelling place among them had been accepted. The author of 1stJohn wrote,[ii] If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, (I John 1:9).

Dr. Alex Pattakos, suggests that,

…forgiveness can be one of the most powerful things we do. Like any muscle, however, it has to be exercised to work well. Forgiveness can be very complicated. Sometimes we think that it equates forgetting, diminishing, or condoning the misdeed, but it really doesn’t. It has much more to do with freeing ourselves from its hold. Our ability to live our lives with love, understanding, and generosityis impeded when we don’t forgive.[iii]

It has been suggested, however, that not only do we need to forgive others but at times we must either forgive ourselves and more importantly accept that HaShem has forgiven us. When asked about the greatestcommandment Yeshua quickly responded with Shema Yisrael, and then followed with you shall love your neighbor as yourself, (Mark 12:29-31). According to Yeshua, loving HaShem and loving our neighbor there is no other commandment greater than these. But at least in reference to our neighbor, the love is as yourself. Loving one’s self is not to be a narcissistic type of love that is self-centered and self-focused, but one that is exemplified in the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan, (cf. Luke 10:25-37). Hence as Dr. Pattakos concluded, “Our ability to live our lives with love, understanding, and generosityis impeded when we don’t forgive,” forgive not only others but ourselves as well. The idolatry of the molten calf episode could well have spelled the end of Bnei Yisrael (Exodus 32:10), but HaShem relented and forgave Bnei Yisrael and had moved from the mountaintop, separated from the people, to the Mishkan in their midst. He forgave Israel and now Israel needed to accept that forgiveness so that they can move on in their journey with ADONAI.

In the Haftarah, it would appear that this issue of self-forgiveness is one that King David would have to learn as well. II Samuel 6:1-19 records the first attempt of David to move the Ark from Baale-judah, the modern site ofKiriath-Jearim, to the Jerusalem, the City of David. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Avinadav were tasked with transporting the Ark. We are not told whether they were Levites, specifically the Kohathites, those who were tasked with the transportation of the Ark in the Torah (Numbers 7:9). What we do know is that Uzzah saw the cart make a precarious move and the Ark about to fall – he reached out to steady it and died as sure as did Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2). But where Nadab and Abihu did something that was asur,prohibited or banned, Uzzah seemingly did not. Commentators both Jewish and Christian have sought the reason for Uzzah’s death for years – unsuccessfully.

…some scholars argued, may himself be innocent, but he died because of King David’s decision to transport the ark atop a cart rather than have it carried on the shoulders of Levites as he’d done before. No matter what the theological justification, however, the simple explanation remains unchanged: God did what God wanted to do because God is above morality and beyond explanation. We may require reasons, but He does not.[iv]

Sometimes, life is simply unfair, and we cannot find rhyme nor reason. In times like that we can get angry with HaShem, just as David did (II Samuel 6:8), and we can become terrified of the LORD, (II Samuel 6:9). But eventually, we have to get over the issue, deal with it, and decide that the LORD is God and that there are some things we just don’t understand. Earlier I mentioned that King David had to learn to forgive himself because I subscribe to the explanation that David was responsible for Uzzah’s death because he arranged for improper transportation of the Ark. David had to come to the point where he forgave God, as well as himself for his actions. We must do likewise in our walk with the LORD. If we want to live and walk in the joy of the LORD, regardless of whether things are fair, we must learn and be willing to walk in forgiveness toward all involved.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Tanakh references are from The Complete Tanach with Rashi Commentary, https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

[ii] Readings from the Apostolic Writings are from Tree of Life(TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015 – https://www.biblegateway.com

[iii] PsychologyToday, October 19, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-meaningful-life/201710/forgive-or-not-forgive

[iv] Life is Unfair by Liel Leibovitz, http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/29806/life-is-unfair

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment