Thoughts on Lech Lecha

canstockphoto0885276The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.[i] The haftarah is from Isaiah 40:27-41:16, and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:35-51.

I find the beginning of this week’s haftarah very interesting. If we back up and read all of Isaiah 40, we see ADONAI comforting Israel as she begins to return from Babylonian captivity. The chapter begins with comfort and encouragement,

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. (40:1-2)

When we continue reading, we see that the chapter ends with the assurance that ADONIA would be Israel’s source of strength as they return to Him and to the land of Israel,

…but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength. They will soar up with wings as eagles. They will run, and not grow weary. They will walk, and not be faint. (40:31)

However, our haftarah begins a few verses prior to the above assurance, on a cautionary note. First, HaShem brings to mind Israel’s questioning of His care for His people,

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from ADONAI, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (40:27)

I have heard it taught that the phrases “my way is hidden” and “the justice due escapes me” indicate that Israel assumes she has “gotten away” with her transgressions, that somehow Israel has hidden her sin and transgression from ADONAI. However, this does not fit the context. The Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary points out that Israel assumes that HaShem has turned away from them in His anger and is wearied of them because of their actions. This coincides with what we read in the end of Parashat B’reshit, “So ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained” (Genesis 6:6). While it is true that HaShem was not pleased with Israel’s behavior, which resulted in the Babylonian Exile, He did not turn His back on Israel, even in their disciplined state. In fact, the prophet Isaiah proclaims HaShem’s sovereignty and long suffering,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? ADONAI is the eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding is unsearchable. (40:28)

In this verse we read that ADONAI is the Creator of the ends of the earth. This means that the same God who “in the beginning…created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), is still active in the lives of His creation. ADONAI is the one who created the earth from one end to the other, indicating the extremities and everything in between. This means that even though Israel is in Babylon, there are not beyond His reach. They are not beyond the scope of His vision or the domain of His power. HaShem is eternally that same, therefore He still possesses the power He possessed and manifested displayed at creation. He is continually active in the lives of His creation, and nothing and no one are outside of His continual sovereignty. If this is the way HaShem looks after His creation as a whole, how much more does He watch over and care for His chosen am segula.

Nevertheless, there is a conundrum in verse 28. While it is true that HaShem does not grow weary with His creation, the verse says, “His understanding is unsearchable,” or as the CJB[ii] renders it, “His understanding cannot be fathomed.” Many of the actions of HaShem are simply beyond our understanding. Rav Shaul challenged the believers in Rome with these questions,

For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?” (11:34, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16)

When we realize and accept that there are things we may never know or understand, simply because HaShem has not revealed them to us, we can rest, not in our ignorance or lack of knowledge, but in the assurance that HaShem knows what He is doing. Resting in this assurance may will be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). Equally, it is resting in this assurance that prompted the prophet to write “but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength.” It is not the knowledge of the future or the understanding of the plans of ADONAI that gives us the courage and strength to continue on. It is the assurance that He knows what He is doing, even when we do not. Two of my favorite verses on this topic are found in the writings of Jeremiah and Rav Shaul. Jeremiah’s words were written while awaiting the soon coming fall and exile of Jerusalem and Judah, and Rav Shaul’s were written to the believers in Rome.

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)

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)

Whenever we think the HaShem does not see or does not care for our situation or condition, remember and consider this week’s readings. In the Torah portion, Avram was told, “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1). He did not know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, but he trusted in Him who would become known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then when Abraham got close to the land of Canaan, ADONAI appeared again and said, “I will give this land to your seed,” (12:7) which was a great promise to an elderly, childless married couple. But we all know the end of the story, Avram (who became Abraham) became the founding patriarch of Bnei Yisrael and thereby brought blessing to all of creation. We may not know our next step. We for sure do not know the end of our story or our children’s stories, but we can and should rest in the fact that HaShem most assuredly does.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

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Thoughts on Noach

canstockphoto0885276This week’s portion is Parasha Noach, Genesis 6:9-11:32. The Haftarah is Isaiah 54:1-55:5 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:19-34. The study below was prepared for the UMJC Weekly online study.

Is the God of the Old Testament an angry God, as is sometimes claimed? Isaiah 54:9,[i] which connects this week’s haftarah to the parasha, links Hashem’s oath concerning the waters of Noah to his affirmation that he would not be angry with the children of Israel:

This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.

There is a paradox in this statement because there were times, more often than not, when Hashem was angry with Israel and did in fact rebuke them. In his introduction to the haftarah for Noach, Dr. Meir Tamari makes this observation concerning the idea of the angry God:

There is a common misconception of the Jewish God as a zealous and angry deity of justice. There are many references, primarily in non-Jewish and in Jewish secular writings, to the “angry God” of the Old Testament. This is one of the many myths that are perpetuated, either to enable other religions to drape themselves in the rhetorical mantle of a “loving and caring God,” or to substitute for the Biblical moral system a humanist value structure, free from either Divine instruction or punishment. Any examination, even a casual one, of the Biblical texts or of Rabbinic literature, will show that these are nothing more than myths, and that while there is a Divine judge and ruler, there is also a Divine provider and father.[ii]

After Moshe persuaded Hashem to forgive Israel for worshiping the molten calf, he asked God to show him his glory. Hashem responded to this request by proclaiming,

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)

This proclamation is included in many of the prayers said during Selichot (the service of repentance) and the High Holidays, especially on Yom Kippur. From this proclamation we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of Hashem’s character. It is not just what he does, but who he is. Hashem disciplines and judges sin to the third or fourth generation, but is forgiving, gracious, and merciful for a thousand generations. The ratio between three to four generations and one thousand generations shows us that Hashem’s forgiveness, graciousness, and mercy are far greater than his judgment or discipline.

This week’s haftarah is replete with examples of the love and care of Hashem for his chosen people Israel, even as he responded in anger.

“For a brief moment I deserted you, but I will regather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger, I hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says ADONAI your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:7–8)

Similarly, King David affirms, “For His anger lasts for only a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:6). Herein, however, lies a problem for both Israel and all humankind—time. Hashem stated that he only deserted Israel for a brief moment, and David affirms that Hashem’s anger lasts only a moment. Was seventy years of the first exile and almost two millennia of the second “a brief moment”? Dr. J. H. Hertz notes “Although the years of Exile seemed interminably long, they will prove but a brief space in the vast sweep of Israel’s history.”[iii] Also commenting on “a brief moment,” the medieval rabbi and biblical commentator David Kimhi (Radak) contrasts the time of exile with Hashem’s abundant mercy. “Even though the millennia of exile are much more than ‘but a brief moment’ they are insignificant compared to the abundant mercy (compassion) with which He will gather you in, with all its attendant good.”[iv]

Israel throughout the centuries marked time much differently than Hashem, and so do we today. As finite creatures we live in time and tend to want, even demand, answers and divine intervention immediately. We do not want to wait for deliverance from our problems. We want action and we want it now. Peter, leaning on the words of the Psalmist, reminded his community that Hashem lives outside of time in eternity and “that with the LORD one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4). We would do well to apply the words of the author to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). We need to have faith in the very character of ADONAI who shows mercy to a thousand generations and who has compassion on us with everlasting kindness.

Just because we do not see these realities, God’s promises are not negated. It simply means that we have to wait and trust in his character and his Word. Even though we do not see the provision of ADONAI it doesn’t mean that he does not love and care for us. We trust in his love and provision, not because of what we have but because of who he is. The examples of Hashem’s love and care for Israel in this week’s haftarah confirm that he is loving and caring, and faithful to fulfil his promises.

May we all heed and be encouraged by the words of the psalmist, “Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI” (Psalm 27:14).

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Meir Tamari, Truths Desired by God, An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2011), 9.

[iii] J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, second ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1988), 42.

[iv] Nosson Scherman, The Later Prophets: Isaiah (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2013), 411.

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Thoughts on B’reshit

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat the yearly reading cycle begins again with Parashat B’reshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8.[i] In this parasha we read the general creation account (chapter 1), the specific creation account of humankind (chapter 2), the apparent fall of humankind (chapter 3), the first incidence of fratricide (chapter 4), the genealogical records of humankind from Adam to Noah (chapter 5), and finally the most horrific words possible,

ADONAI said, “I will wipe out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the ground, from humankind to livestock, crawling things and the flying creatures of the sky, because I regret that I made them.” (Genesis 6:7)

These first six chapters of the book of Genesis are familiar to almost everyone, whether Jewish, Christian or non-affiliated with any kind of religion. Many other religions around the world have creation stories that ultimately end in a judgement account such as the flood (next week’s parasha). As I started to read this week’s parasha, I was asking HaShem to show me something different than the traditional teaching that accompanies this well-known passage. Then something caught my eye as it were.

Genesis 1:4 – God saw that the light was good. So God distinguished the light from the darkness.

Genesis 1:6-7 – Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water! Let it be for separating water from water.” So God made the expanse and it separated the water that was below the expanse from the water that was over the expanse.

Genesis 1:9 – Then God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered to one place. Let the dry ground appear.” (Seas were separated from dry land.)

Genesis 1:14 – “Let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. (This is not the divine light of Genesis 1:4, but the created luminaries, sun, moon and stars.)

Genesis 1:20-24 – all living creatures, animal, sea, insects, etc. were created “according to their species…”

Genesis 1:26 – “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness!” (Whatever this is, it is unique and distinct from the rest of creation.)

In all of the above verses of creative activity, two things specifically stand out, singularity and totality. Individually everything was considered good, cumulatively they were very good. Throughout the creative activity, there is a cumulative whole in that each part is part of “creation” as a whole, but each part inside of that cumulative whole is separate, distinct, and unique. Each good in their own right, but all working together to be very good.

A number of years ago, while visiting Switzerland, we stayed with a Swiss family who quite happily held to no religious persuasion and were in fact proudly considered themselves secular Swiss. During one of our discussions, we compared the concept of unity as it related to the United States and to the European Union. Our hosts felt that the EU was a much better example of true unity than was the USA. One of the primary reasons for this was the fact that the original rally cry of the EU was Unity in Diversity.

According to Wikipedia, “Unity in diversity is a concept of ‘unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation’ that shifts focus from unity based on a mere tolerance of physical, cultural, linguistic, social, religious, political, ideological and/or psychological differences towards a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” [ii] It is not my intension at this point to argue the correctness of this definition or the potential problems that extreme diversities can cause, or the problems that could arise from blending diverse ideas or ideologies into a homogenous, uniform bucket of goop. However, I do believe that there is an important key in the above definition, which is the reality of “a more complex unity based on an understanding that difference enriches human interactions.” Looking back at creation, if there were no differences, can we even begin imagine what type of existence there would be?

Before leaving the thought of diversity within a cumulative whole, think of Rav Shaul’s discourse to the believers in Corinth concerning the diversity within the physical body – as it compares to the diversity in the spiritual body.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body—though many—are one body, so also is Messiah. For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body—whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free—and all were made to drink of one Ruach. For the body is not one part, but many. If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” is it therefore not part of the body? And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” is it for this reason any less part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the parts—each one of them—in the body just as He desired. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts, yet one body. (I Corinthians 12:12-20)

Did Rav Shaul change his mind or adjust his doctrine when he wrote to the believers in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua,” (Galatians 3:28), thereby removing the distinctions he seems to be affirming in 1st Corinthians? Not in the least. In Corinthians, as exemplified in creation, Rav Shaul is affirming the distinctness of the parts of the body as they work together in a cumulative whole. In Galatians, he did not remove the distinction, rather he affirmed that regardless of, maybe even within, our distinctions we are all one in Messiah.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Last accessed Oct. 3, 2018.

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Shabbat during Sukkot

canstockphoto3712801There is an interesting commentary on חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, “an everlasting law” in the last verse of the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning (Leviticus 16:1-34).

Even when there is no Temple, if we repent on Yom Kippur, the day itself atones (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3). The word hok or hukka, often translated as “statute” and understood as a law that surpasses human understanding, is derived from a root meaning “indelibly inscribed,” and is to be understood as part of the created order of the universe. The implication is that forgiveness is written into the human situation under the sovereignty of God.[i]

While some may question the efficaciousness of Yom Kippur, the fact remains that the passage from Leviticus states, “This will be an everlasting statute (law) for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins,” (16:34).[ii] I bring this up because of a passage from the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Sukkot, Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 & Numbers 29:26-31.

Remember the setting, Moshe had gone up to meet with HaShem, while there the people required a god, and the molten calf was the result. HaShem sent Moshe back down to deal with the situation. He was less than pleased and, in the process, broke the tablets upon which HaShem had written. After handling the situation on the ground, Moshe returned to the mountain top and interceded with HaShem on behalf of the people, asking Him to continue with them.

If now I have found grace in Your eyes, my LORD, let my LORD please go within our midst, even though this is a stiff-necked people. Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own inheritance. (Exodus 34:9)

This follows immediately upon the Almighty’s proclamation to Moshe of His defining characteristics are

Then ADONAI passed before him, and proclaimed, “ADONAIADONAI, 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.” (34:6-7)

From both the Yom Kippur prayers as well as in this week’s Parasha, we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of HaShem’s character. It is not just what He does, but who He is. It is important, even paramount, to note that while He disciplines and judges sin, He is 300 to 330 percent more forgiving, gracious and merciful. Thus His forgiveness is far greater than His punishment. Remember the words of the prophet Zechariah as he declares HaShem’s admonition, and similarly the affirmation through the prophet Isaiah,

Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’—it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot—‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot. (Zechariah 1:3)

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

It is important to remember that forgiveness is not simply something we receive, reciprocally it is something we must also give. Yeshua’s seventy times seven teaching in Matthew 18:21-22 lends credence to this fact. Rav Shaul is equally clear as he wrote to the believers in Ephesus

Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger and quarreling and slander, along with all malice. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

And also to the believers in Colossae

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves in tender compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a grievance against another. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Just as we were reminded during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, forgiveness is both horizontal and vertical. We are to emulate Rav Shaul’s position as he presented in Acts 24:16, “… I do my best always to have a clear conscience before both God and men.” One  final word from Rav Shaul to provide a guide for our actions and interactions with one another, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people,” (Romans 12:18) His qualifier “if possible” indicates that there may well be times when pursuing shalom will not be possible because others will not agree or allow this to happen. But we should live in the mindset that as our Father in heaven forgives us and restores us to Himself, we should make every effort to be restored to one another – not just during this time of the year when the need is ever before us, but each and every day of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

[i]The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor, Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, Ltd. 2014, p 735.

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

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

(The following was prepared by my wife, Rabbi Vered Hillel, for submission to the UMJC weekly Torah/Haftarah portion.)

canstockphoto0885276The haftarah for Parashat Ha’azinu is David’s great hymn of thanksgiving, praising Hashem for providing protection and deliverance from all the dangers of his life and all the conflicts with his enemies. This lengthy song opens and closes with praise and thanksgiving. Sandwiched in between are vibrant expressions of both the circumstances of his low moments and of his triumph over the enemies. This hymn has various parallels in the Tanakh and plays an important role in Jewish worship. First, David’s song shares many things in common with the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Parashat Ha’azinu. It also appears almost word-for-word in Psalm 18. Furthermore, the hymn parallels both the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15, which is read on the seventh day of Pesach, and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:1–2:10, which is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

What is so amazing about David’s song that it would be made into a psalm and added to the psalter, or included three times in the liturgical calendar? To answer this question, let’s look at two terms used by David in the hymn—tzur (rock) and tamim (blameless, innocent, perfect).

David opens the hymn with the proclamation “ADONAI is my rock (sela), my fortress and my deliverer.” The two epithets, rock and fortress, are drawn from the natural character of the landscape in Israel where steep and almost inaccessible rocks provided protection to David as a fugitive. Although David took refuge in physical rocks, he did not place his hope for safety in the rocky formations in Israel. He placed his hope in ADONAI himself, who was David’s rock (tzur).Tzur is a rock that represents God’s immoveable firmness and His invincible protection. David calls God, my Rock” (tzuri) in 2 Samuel 22:3 and 47a, depicting God as a sheltering rock (v. 3) and a source of personal safety (v. 47a). David also uses the term as an epithet equated with God himself. In 22:32 David asks, “Who is a rock besides our God…?” and later in v. 47b he praises ADONAI saying, “Exalted be God, the Rock of my salvation!”

David uses the second term, tamim, to present the theology of reward and punishment, applied both personally and generally. David says of himself, “I also was blameless (tamim) before Him and kept myself from iniquity” (22:24). David is not stating that he is perfectly righteous or holy before ADONAI, because he wasn’t. He is making a comparison between the righteousness of his own deeds and endeavors and the unrighteousness and wickedness of his adversaries. David says he is blameless because he strove earnestly and sincerely to walk in the way of Hashem and to keep the commandments (22:21–25). The general theology of reward and punishment is expressed in the impersonal remarks, “with the loyal You show Yourself loyal; with the blameless (tamim) hero, You show Yourself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, but with the crooked You show Yourself shrewd. You deliver a humble people, but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down (22:26–28). David was blameless/innocent because ADONAI, who is perfect (tamim) in his way, is David’s strong fortress, which keeps David’s way perfect (tamim; 22:33).

A comparison with the song of Moses in this week’s parashah also establishes this theological point. Both the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 and the song of David in 2 Samuel 22 use the terms tamimto emphasize integrity, blamelessness and perfection and tzur to emphasize stability, power and protection. After stating that he will proclaim the name of ADONAI, Moshe declares, “The Rock, His work in perfect (tamim), and all His ways are just,” while Israel is “a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:4-5) that “scoffed at the Rock of [their] salvation” (32:15) and had “forgotten the Rock that fathered [them]” (32:18). As a result, ADONAI, their Rock, gave them over to their enemies, “because their rock is not like our Rock” (32:30–31).

In our haftarah, David also glorifies ADONAI as a rock whose way is blameless or perfect (tamim; 2 Sam 22:31) and juxtaposes this “Rock” with all other gods (22:32). However, David, unlike Israel, remains steadfast and blameless. Instead of scoffing or forgetting the Rock, David takes shelter in the Rock (22:3). David also proclaims ADONAI as acting blameless with the blameless hero but acting shrewd with the crooked (22:26–27). David is rewarded by ADONAIwho kept David’s way perfect or secure (tamim; 22:33).

The similarities between the two songs are remarkable. However, the contrast between the reactions to the Rock of David and Israel is also remarkable. Both songs portray ADONAI as a mighty and sustaining Rock, whose way is tamim. However, David remains faithful and does not forget the Rock of his strength. He does not rebel against Him even through his trials and adversities, or through his success. By contrast, the people of Israel are a rebellious generation that has forgotten ADONAI, the faithful and immovable Rock whose work is perfect. The song of Moses and the song of David show us two different paths, as one commentator puts it: “a God-centered way of remembrance and humility, and a self-centered way of forgetfulness and pride.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to the Rock in various situations in our lives. We can be like David and choose to remember that ADONAI, whose way is perfect, is our Rock and strong fortress, or we can be like Israel in the wilderness and forget the Rock the fathered us. Each day we must decide which path we will walk.

My prayer is that we will all be like David and seek to walk in the way of Hashem and to keep His commandments. Then we will remember that Hashem is our Rock and strong fortress and will keep our way blameless.

Chag Semach

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Thoughts on Vayelech

Shabbat ShuvahThis week’s Torah portion is Vayelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30.[i] For the encouragement of many of us, this portion begins, וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר, Moshe walked and talked with Bnei-Yisrael. Why is this encouragement? Quite simply because the next verse states that Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old. Often we look at this and see Moshe coming to the end of his journey, unable to continue leading the people he and his brother Aaron had led out of Egyptian bondage some thirty-eight years earlier. Additionally, Moshe and Aaron were not the ones who would lead the people into the Promised Land (e.g. Numbers 20:10-11 & Deuteronomy 32:51-52). But, let’s look at the situation another way. Thirty-eight years earlier, at a time when neither where young men, Moshe and Aaron did in fact stand up to the Egyptian Pharaoh and with the strength of ADONAI undergirding them brought Jacob’s children out of the greatest nation of the era, plus a large number of others who wanted freedom from Egyptian bondage and influence joined them as well, (e.g. Exodus 12:37-38). So, what is the purpose of this rambling? One is never too old to be of service or in the service of ADONAI. Samson, Samuel, and Jeremiah were set apart for ministry before they were born, as were John and Yeshua. On the other hand, Abraham, as well as Moshe and Aaron, seem to have come into their own much later in life. The key, it would seem, is to be willing to be led by the Ruach and “whatever your hand finds to do, do with your all strength…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Rav Shaul reaffirmed the writer of Ecclesiastes’ sentiments with these words to the believers in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at it from the soul…” (Colossians 3:23). The word translated soul is ψυχῆ, meaning psyche, soul, or inner self. In other words we are to work with our very being. We hear this exhortation in the Ahavta, which continues the cornerstone statement of Jewish faith and commitment,

Hear O Israel, the Lordour God, the Lordis one. Love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Matthew 22:37)

Remember, Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were one hundred and ninety years old respectively, while Moshe and Aaron were eighty and eighty-three when they began their leadership trek from Egypt to Canaan. Therefore, the only real obstacle to accomplishing things in the Kingdom of God rests upon our own unwillingness to step forth and do what our heart is telling us to do.

Later in this week’s reading we hear Moshe encouraging all of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land “Chazak! (Be strong!) Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you,” (31:6). ADONAI is promising to go before the people and to deal with their enemies just as He did the Egyptians. Then, almost tongue-in-cheek, Moshe says the same thing to Joshua as he (Moshe) turns over the leadership reigns, “Chazak! Be courageous! For you will bring Bnei-Yisrael into the land I swore to them—and I will be with you,” (31:23). I say tongue-in-cheek because Moshe knew what he was turning over to Joshua, and as Moshe’s second in command, Joshua knew what he was getting into. The community Joshua was inheriting was stubborn and stiff-necked, often rebellious, complaining at the smallest perceived inconvenience. Hashem’s affirmation that He would be with Joshua, assures Joshua just as Moshe’s words had assured the community, “For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.” Hashem would be with Joshua as he (Joshua) would face the struggles of conquering the Promised Land just as assuredly as He would be with Joshua as he faced the internal struggles of leading Bnei-Yisrael in this next stage of their journey.

The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20. The Micah passage forms the cornerstone for the Tashlich service that many Jews world-wide perform sometime between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabba (the last day of Sukkot). The prophet wrote

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

To perform the Tashlich ritual, we travel to a stream, lake or other living body of water, (such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Kinneret if in Israel) then, along with various readings and prayers, we cast bread crumbs onto the water symbolizing the removal of our sins and transgressions to the depths of the sea. The ritual is a reminder of the grace, mercy and forgiveness that ADONAI desires to bestow upon each of us, thus fulfilling the promise stated in the Book of Hebrews, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more,” (Hebrews 8:12).

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

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

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Thoughts on Nitzavim

canstockphoto3712801We are soon coming to the close of yearly reading cycle on Simchat Torah. This week’s Parasha is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20.[i] It is normally read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. The Haftarah is Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, the last of the seven Haftarot of Consolation which are read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. The reading this week from the Apostolic Writings is Hebrews 12:11-15.

The Parasha begins with a foundational characteristic of HaShem’s covenant with Bnei Israel: the covenant is for every Jew and every Jew should keep it. It is not just the leaders, religious (priesthood) or secular (tribal leaders) who are responsible for keeping the covenant; every single person, every man, woman, child, and even the outsider that has chosen to associate themselves with Israel and the God of Israel is to keep it.

You are standing today, all of you, before ADONAI your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)

This all-inclusiveness assures each individual of their intrinsic worth, both in the community and before HaShem Himself. Remember the half-shekel ransom that was to be paid to the Sanctuary mentioned in Exodus 30:11-16. It was for everyone. No one could pay more, nor could anyone pay less. Before the Presence of ADONAI we all stand the same, whether we are the High Priest or the wood cutter. This is the meaning behind Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Galicia,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Galatians 3:28)

Added to this is the fact that at the very core of Parashat Nitzavim is the notion of choice: obedience versus disobedience, blessing versus curse, life versus death. Daily we make choices on how to use our time and money, how to interact with family, friends, neighbors. We have to make choices on how we respond to other drivers on the road or to others in the stores and restaurants that we frequent. How we respond is our choice. We can be either a blessing or a curse to those with whom we interact. Therefore, the aspect of “choosing life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) not only affects us and our descendants, it affects all those around us. John Donne’s words ring true,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

As we move into the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is important to remember that we are to take note of and attempt to make restitution not only for our transgressions and short comings as they relate to HaShem, but equally maybe even more importantly as they relate to our friends, family or others that we may have wronged. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews incapsulates this idea when he wrote,

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble! And make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame will not be pulled out of joint but rather be healed. Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God; and see to it that no bitter root springs up and causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:12-15)

If the author’s admonition is correct, “Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” then it is safe to assume that our relationship with HaShem is to a degree dependent upon our relationship with one another. We cannot walk in righteousness and peace with our God if we are not walking in righteousness and peace with our brother and sister.

Finally, as we make final preparations to enter into the Days of Awe, remember the words of HaShem through the prophet Zechariah, “Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’, it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot,” (Zechariah 1:3). The LORD desires to return to His children, He is waiting on our movement toward Him.

Shabbat Shalom

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

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