Thoughts on Ha’azinu

Remember two weeks ago, at the end of the double parashat, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses had publicly commissioned Joshua to take over in his stead and had just finished writing the words of the Torah scroll that would be placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Mishkan. Then Moshe set the stage for the recitation of Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52, stating,

Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.”

Deuteronomy 31:28-29*

Moses then begins his song with a proclamation of HaShem’s greatness and righteousness, which is immediately followed with a recitation of Israel’s covenantal disobedience and divinely inspired discipline. Another Scripture comes to mind at this point; HaShem’s promise of hope through Jeremiah when Jerusalem was under siege. 

“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

On the one hand, Ha’azinu seems to be anything but hopeful. Israel is pronounced blemished (32:5), foolish and unwise (32:6), ones who turned their backs on God (32:15), and even sacrificing to demons and non-gods (32:17). In response HaShem proclaimed, 

“I will hide My face from them, I want to see their hereafter. For they are an upside down generation,children with no faithfulness in them.”

Deuteronomy 32:20

I find it interesting that the TLV translated תַּהְפֻּכֹת (tahpuḵoṯ), which is normally translated as a “perverse” generation, with a modern Hebrew concept of being upside down. The slang for a cappuccino or latte in Hebrew, when we are not in lockdown, is café hafuk. Literally this means upside down coffee because the lower portion of the cup is expresso coffee and the upper is steamed milk. For the purists among us, such a coffee is unthinkable. But for those who choose to follow an obviously unnatural way with added milk, this cup of coffee is truly upside down. 😊 Indecently, the Message translates this passage about errant Israel as, “Oh, they’re a turned-around, upside-down generation! Who knows what they’ll do from one moment to the next?” **

On the other hand, after completing his recitation of everything of Israel’s disobedience and subsequent punishment, Moses offers Israel hope, 

Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

The words, “It is not an empty thing for you, it is your life!” are reminiscent of Moses early admonition,

I call the heavens and the earth to witness about you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

Time and time again we hear Moses encouraging, even pleading with Israel to make the right choice. The prophet Ezekiel declares a similar plea from HaShem,

“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. Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11

We are currently in the Days of Awe, that period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when we examine ourselves to ensure that we are in right standing with our God and with our fellow man. Like Israel of old, we have a choice to make—to do right and live or not to do right and suffer the consequences. Rav Shaul, reminds us that even today HaShem is waiting for us to make the right choice. He first reminds us that we should learn from Israel’s experiences and then assures us of HaShem’s assistance if we choose to look to him.

These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. 

1 Corinthians 10:11-13 **

The choice, as always, remains with us – to choose life and follow the ways of HaShem or to choose our own way which ultimately leads to discipline, and sometimes to destruction. Let’s follow Moses’ admonition and “…choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving ADONAI your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him.”

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

** The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson.

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Weekly Thoughts – Nitzavim-Vayelech

This week’s reading, which is a double portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Deut. 29:9(10)–31:30, includes numerous idealized situations that, though seldom realized, should be strived for as a goal to be obtained. As we look at these various situations, we need to bear in mind that these goals are not just what Israel needed, and still needs, to realize but that all of us as followers of Yeshua also need to realize them.

The first situation is described in the opening verses of the parasha,

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(10-12)

Note that all of Israel was standing there before HaShem—men, women, children, and the outsider or sojourner that attached themselves to Israel. Everyone was standing together as one to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI. No one was left out, no one was left behind, and no one was elevated above another – all stood united before HaShem. Rav Shaul suggests the same concept to the body of Messiah when he urged the Ephesians to:

…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called—with complete humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Ruach in the bond of shalom. There is one body and one Ruach, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one immersion; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Sadly, neither Israel then or now, any more than the body of Messiah then or now, has yet to walk out this unity. There have been and still remain divisions over doctrines and interpretations that separate us, sometimes even separating family members from one another. However, the fact that there are separations and divisions does not detract from the fact that we should still strive for unity with one another. 

A second idealized situation is that according to Moses, the Torah is both practical and doable.

“For this mitzvah that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and get it for us, and have us hear it so we may do it?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross over for us to the other side of the sea and get it for us, and have us hear it so we may do it?’ No, the word is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Granted, with all the fences and protections that have been placed around the Torah, the keeping of the mitzvot have become burdensome at times. But this is not what was planned nor what Moses envisioned. Notice the beginning and ending of this passage, “this mitzvah … is not too difficult for you … is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” So, either Moses was like the farmer who dangled a carrot in front of the donkey to get him to work while knowing that the donkey would never reach the carrot. Unlike the carrot, the commandments, statutes and mitzvot are in fact within our reach; we can observe and do them. Rav Shaul must have agreed with this assessment as he equated the simplicity of accepting the claims of Yeshua with acceptance of the Torah. He wrote to the believers in Rome,

But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faiththat we are proclaiming: For if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Romans 10:8-9

A third situation is related to the “doability” of the Torah as well as the word of faith spoken of by Paul. Moses said to Israel, “See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30:15). In other words, there is always a choice, and ideally, like Israel, we should choose to follow the commandments of HaShem. Practically this is often not the case. We have each been given a choice whether it follow the guidelines of the Creator or to walk according to our own choosing. Whenever Israel was disciplined, the cause could be traced back to their disobedience of the commands of HaShem. Their discipline, as well as ours, was and is always a result of choice. Interestingly, HaShem knows the choices we will make, but he has never removed our ability to choose.

“For when I bring them to the land flowing with milk and honey that I swore to their fathers, and they eat and are satisfied and grow fat—then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and they will spurn Me and break My covenant. Now when many evils and troubles have come on them, this song will confront them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten from the mouth of their descendants. For I know the intention they are devising this day, even before I bring them into the land that I swore.”

Deuteronomy 31:20-21

There is a fourth situation is dependent upon our actions and choices but at the same time empowered by HaShem—the promise of redemption.

“…return to ADONAI your God and listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today—you and your children—with all your heart and with all your soul, then ADONAI your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion on you, and He will return and gather you from all the peoples where ADONAI your God has scattered you.”

Deuteronomy 30:2-3

Even with the foreknowledge of Israel’s choosing, or of our own choosing, to disobey and walk in their/our own way, the promise of redemption and restoration was/is there. Peter reminds us all of this assurance with these words, “Rather, He [HaShem] is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Peter echoed HaShem’s words though the prophet Ezekiel 

“Do I delight at all in the death of the wicked?” It is a declaration of Adonai. “Rather, should he not return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)

Ezekiel 18:23

Ideally, HaShem desires, and it is in our best interests, us to live in unity with one another, recognizing that Torah obedience is not an unattainable activity but is quite doable, if we choose to do so. Sadly, we must acknowledge that there will be times when we will choose to act contrary to the will of HaShem. But though we stray, he is waiting to welcome and receive us back into his presence, restoring the relationship that we chose to break. He is waiting for us to make the right choice.

* 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 – Ki Teitzei

Often Yeshua-believers are so concerned about soteriology, the doctrine and process of eternal salvation, and spiritual realities that daily needs and concerns are minimalized or disregarded all together. This week’s parasha, Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10 – 21:19, pretty much shows that if Yeshua-believers were following dictates of all Scripture, this accusation would not be so.

Drawing from Chabad’s summary of this week’s reading, we see that Ki Teitzei contains seventy-four commandments, statutes, and mitzvot, more than any other single Torah portion. This collection contains the law of a rebellious son, the obligation to bury the dead without undue delay, the requirement to return a found object, the prohibitions against causing pain to any living creature and against prostitution, the laws of marriage and divorce, the procedure of the Levirate marriage, and the obligation to eradicate the memory of Amalek. While this summary is by no means a complete list of all seventy-four mitzvot recorded, it captures the important point that HaShem is concerned about the everyday relationships and actions of humanity. Note, however, that some of the mitzvot pertain specifically to the Jewish people and more specifically to the land of Israel.

The passage that really got me thinking about HaShem’s concern for everyday life is found in Deuteronomy 25:15-16.

You must have a full and honest weight and a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long on the land that ADONAI your God is giving you. For all who do these things, all who do injustice, are detestable to ADONAI your God.

The obvious reason for the importance of honest weights and scales is found in earlier passages from the Torah. Dishonest scales constitute theft as it is written, “Do not steal” (Exodus 20:15) and constitute fraud as it is written, “Do not cheat one another…” (Leviticus 25:17). However, another aspect of dishonest weights and scales is more intriguing; the purchaser, the one receiving the result of such dishonesty, often never realizes that they have been defrauded, or by the time they do realize it, it is too late to do anything about it. In Mishlei (Proverbs), there are numerous citations that warn against dishonest weights and measures. One of the most straightforward is Proverbs 20:23, “Unbalanced weights are detestable to ADONAI, and dishonest scales are wicked,” which repeats the warning of Deuteronomy 25:16.

Interestingly, Deuteronomy 25 is not the first time dishonest weight and measures are mentioned in Scripture. In the Holiness Code in the book of Leviticus it’s written,

You must not be dishonest in judgment—in measurements of length, weight or of quantity. You are to have honest balances, honest weights, honest bushel-measure and an honest gallon.

Leviticus 19:35-36

Therefore, it is clear that HaShem is concerned about honesty and integrity in the marketplace. These verses in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, reminded me of the beginning of last week’s parasha, Shoftim, where the word justice is emphasized.

Judges and officers you are to appoint within all your gates that ADONAI your God is giving you, according to your tribes; and they are to judge the people with righteous judgment. You are not to twist justice—you must not show partiality or take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous. Justice, justice you must pursue, so that you may live and possess the land that ADONAI your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

Not only does HaShem expect honesty and integrity in the marketplace, he expects it, in fact he demands it, in the halls of justice as well. Now for a stern warning, just because both Deuteronomy 16 and 25 link proper behavior and actions with longevity in the land of Israel, do not suppose that the mitzvot only apply to Bnei Israel or the land of Israel. To do so would suggest that the ideas of honoring parents and not committing adultery or murder are only enforceable on the Jewish people because they were given to them at Sinai. The principles are universal. Perverted justice is wrong anywhere it exists, and improper scales or in more modern lingo, false advertising, is equally wrong. So, as Peter C. Craigie wrote in his commentary on Deuteronomy,

Just as the administration of justice was to conform to the highest moral standards (16:18-20), so too commercial activities were to be conducted in accord with rigid ethical principles; in both cases the result would be long life in the promised land.

Peter C. Craigie. The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT). Wm. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1976. Apple Books.

In the Apostolic Writings (NT), Peter also addresses the idea of longevity and a good life stating,

For the one who loves life, wanting to see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek shalom and pursue it. For the eyes of ADONAI are on the righteous and His ears open to their prayer, but the face of ADONAI is against those who do evil.

1 Peter 3:10-12 (see Psalm 34:13-15)

Not only does he hear the prayer of the righteous, but the psalmist writes that he hears the cry of those who have little to no voice.

You hear, ADONAI, the desire of the meek. You encourage them and incline Your ear. You vindicate the orphan and oppressed…

Psalm 10:17-18

When Yeshua quoted the prophet Isaiah in Luke 4, he affirmed his concern and care for those oppressed and in need. However, in doing so, Yeshua affirmed not only a concern for their spiritual condition, but that he was and remains concerned about their physical condition as well. Hence as he traversed the land from the Galilee to Judea, he physically healed the sick, restored sight and hearing and even brought the dead back to life, returning a son to his mother and a brother to his sisters.

Rav Shaul (Paul), approached proper behavior from a different direction, that of judges, lawyers and merchants which can be extended to police and politicians, 

Serve with a positive attitude, as to the LORD and not to men—knowing that whatever good each one does, this he will receive back from the LORD, whether slave or free.

Ephesians 6:7-8

In other words, regardless of one’s position, we should serve properly, interacting with others righteously and truthfully, because it is the right thing to do. And then, as we practice righteousness, honesty and integrity in our dealings with others, the affirmation of HaShem through the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled, “The result of righteousness will be shalom and the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

* 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 Re’eh

There are times, when the plain words of Scripture are, shall we say, less than comfortable. Many of these “uncomfortable” verses revolve around the commands for Israel to drive out the inhabitants of the land ADONAI is giving them. A couple of weeks ago in Parashat Matot/Massai we read,

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, whoever you allow to remain will become to you barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land in which you will be living. 

Numbers 33:55

While this warning is pretty straight forward, it is still uncomfortable. HaShem is warning Bnei Israel to “drive out the inhabitants of the land” if not “they will give you trouble.”

In last week’s parasha, Eikev, we read similarly troubling words, 

You will devour all the peoples ADONAI your God gives over to you. Your eye is not to pity them. You are not to serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. 

Deuteronomy 7:16

Other modern translations are more blunt, stating, “you shall consume all the peoples…” (NASB) or “you’ll make mincemeat of all the peoples…” (The Message). The passage in Numbers 33 commands Bnei Israel to drive out the people of the land and warns them what will happen if they don’t drive the inhabitants out from among them. The Deuteronomy 7 passage goes beyond the command and warning in Numbers, charging Bnei Israel to totally annihilate the Canaanites after they have crossed the Jordan and taken possession of the land. At least seven times we are told in the books of Joshua and Judges, that various tribes could not or did not drive the people out and they remain to this day.

In this week’s parasha, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17), we are once again confronted with the command to possess and dispossess the land, 

These are the statutes and ordinances that you are to make sure to do in the land that ADONAI, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess—all the days that you live on the earth. You must utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you will dispossess served their gods—on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You are to tear down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their Asherah poles in the fire and cut down the carved images of their gods, and you are to obliterate their name from that place.

Deuteronomy 12:1-3

A few verses later in the same chapter, we read the reason Bnei Israel is to eradicate the Canaanite gods and places of worship,

…be careful not to be trapped into imitating them after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? I will do the same.” You are not to act like this toward ADONAI your God! For every abomination of ADONAI, which He hates, they have done to their gods—they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

Deuteronomy 12:30-31

HaShem is not only a jealous god, who will not share allegiance with other deities, he is also a holy and righteous God, who will not tolerate the defiling, abhorrent and abominable worship practices of the Canaanites (cf. Exodus 34:14). Hence, Bnei Israel was to completely remove the idolatress inhabitants of the land and to destroy all of their places of worship, so Bnei Israel would not be tempted to follow in their footsteps.

In the past, I justified the harshness of these commands in light of the numerous warnings in the Torah and Prophets against idolatry. However, recently I came across a book edited by Stan Gundry (Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide, Zondervan, 2003) that gave me pause, prompting me to consider these passages in a different light. Never in all the times I have read about Israel’s entry and conquest of the land promised to the patriarchs, had I considered the action an act of genocide. The word genocide is not in Scripture. A Jewish-Polish lawyer, Raphel Lemkin, first coined the word in 1943 from two Greek words “genos” – race or tribe and “cide” – to kill. Therefore, genocide is the attempt at the complete extermination of a group of people because of their race, religion, nationality, or ethnicity. So, while the action appears to follow the classic definition, it would be anachronistic to claim that Bnei Israel, at HaShem’s command, performed an act of genocide on the Canaanite people. Nevertheless, the fact remains that HaShem’s commands and Bnei Israel’s actions, however incomplete they were, are highly offensive to the “social justice” minded sensibilities in our modern society. 

So how do we deal with these “less than comfortable” words of Scripture? How does one answer questions or accusations concerning HaShem’s character and Bnei Israel’s subsequent actions? I must admit that I do not have a definitive answer, nor do I think that there is one. But here are a couple of thoughts.

First, in the Scriptures, HaShem does not justify or even defend his actions, rather he states plainly that “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” It is a declaration of ADONAI” (Isaiah 55:8). This is not meant as a copout, rather as a simple statement of fact. HaShem created the universe; He sets the rules and parameters. Our responsibility is to choose whether we will follow his direction or not. 

Second, returning to last week’s parasha, Eikev, Bnei Israel is told exactly why the Canaanites are being handed over to them.

After ADONAI your God has driven them out from before you, do not say in your heart, ‘It is because of my righteousness that ADONAI has brought me in to possess this land.’ It is because of the wickedness of these nations that ADONAI is driving them out from before you. It is not by your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to possess their land. Rather, because of the wickedness of these nations, ADONAI your God is driving them out from before you, and in order to keep the wordAdonai swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. So you should understand that it is not because of your righteousness that Adonai your God is giving you this good land to possess—for you are a stiff-necked people.

Deuteronomy 9:4-6

This proclamation is actually pretty humbling. Three important take-aways from this passage are: 

First, it is not Bnei Israel’s righteousness that caused HaShem to drive out the inhabitants of the land, but the wickedness of the Canaanites and the other nations in the land—granted He used Bnei Israel to accomplish his plan, but it was still his plan and activity.

Second, Bnei Israel possessed the land solely because of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and not due to their own merit.

Third, HaShem clearly states that Bnei Israel was being given the land to possess because of ADONAI’s righteousness, not their own—after all, Bnei Israel is called a stiff-necked people. 

So, just as HaShem used the nations of the world to exercise his judgment on Bnei Israel later in history, He used Bnei Israel to bring judgment on the inhabitants of Canaan.

Third, the Scriptures I shared above are not to be used to justify bringing judgment, justice, or jihad on those who are steeped in wickedness and sin. All of these passages clearly show that it is HaShem’s choice to execute judgment and justice, and to do so in his timing. In light of this, it is good to remember Yeshua’s words to his talmidim, “the times or seasons which the Father has placed under his own control” Acts 1:7 are in fact in his control not ours. It is also important to remember that just because HaShem commanded something once, does not mean that the same command is to be applied in all situations. Bnei Israel discovered that doing the right thing at the wrong time can have dire consequences (see Numbers 14:39-45).

Lastly, the compiler of Proverbs offers words of shalom in situations where HaShem’s words are uncomfortable, “Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). We do well to trust in the plans and purposes of HaShem, whether we understand them or not. 

* 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 Eikev

This is the 2nd Shabbat of Consolation between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. On Tisha b’Av we read the plaintive cry, “Why (Hashem) do You always forget us and forsake us for so long?” (Lamentations 5.20). In this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, we hear Hashem’s promise through the prophet Isaiah

For ADONAI will comfort Zion. He will comfort all her waste places. He will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of ADONAI. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving, and a sound of melody. (Isaiah 51.3)

Even though discipline and judgment will most certainly come, Israel will never be left alone or abandoned, she is and always will be the chosen, am segula of ADONAI.

In this week’s parasha, Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, Israel is once again warned about the idols and other abominable items of those whom they would conqueror,

The carved images of their gods you are to burn with fire. You are not to covet the silver or gold on them or take it for yourself—or you could be snared by it, for it is an abomination to ADONAI your God. You are not to bring an abomination into your house—for you, like it, will be a banned thing. You must utterly detest and utterly abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction. (Deuteronomy 7.25-26)

Israel, as well as all of us today, were and are supposed to not only separate ourselves from the repugnant things of the world, but to “utterly detest and utterly abhor” them. These are anything that draws us away from Hashem, anything that has the power to ensnare us, separating us from Hashem. Possibly this is what the psalmist when he wrote that if we trust in Hashem, our fortress and refuge, “…He will rescue you from the hunter’s trap (snare) and from the deadly pestilence.” (Psalm 91.3)

Thinking of that which has the power to ensnare and separate us from Hashem, Rav Shaul rhetorically asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8.35). He answers his own question,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. (Romans 8.38-39)

According to Rav Shaul, nothing external has the power to separate us from the love of the LORD. Yeshua, likewise taught concerning His followers, “I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10.28). However, neither Shaul nor Yeshua said, however, that we can not willingly walk away by choosing to follow the ways of the world. Yeshua stated, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (John 8.31). There are two keywords in this passage. The first is “abide,” meaning that a person dwells with/in the Living Word, Yeshua. The second, qualifying word, is “if,” signifying the conditional aspect of abiding. This is not conditional on Yeshua, but conditional upon the individual dwelling or abiding in Him. Yeshua will not share his dwelling place with anything that is an abomination or is detestable.

Israel was told what it would take to remain in proper relation to Hashem,

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10.12-13)

Yeshua echoes the same sentiment when he told his talmidim,

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him. (John 14:21)

As Yeshua urged his talmidim to abide in him (John 8:15 above) so Rav Shaul encouraged the Yeshua believers in Colossae to continue abiding in Messiah.

Once you were alienated from God and hostile in your attitude by wicked deeds (abominable or detestable things). But now He has reconciled you in Messiah’s physical body through death, in order to present you holy, spotless and blameless in His eyes —  if indeed you continue in the faith, established and firm, not budging from the hope of the Good News that you have heard. (Colossians 1.21-23)

Here again, as in John, is that keyword, “if.” Hashem, the Creator of the Universe, desires to be in relationship with His creation, with His chosen people, with those who have entered into covenant with His though His Son and Messiah, Yeshua. He is committed to remaining in fellowship with us. However, He requires that we continue in Him and “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27)

Shabbat Shalom

* Unless otherwise noted, 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 Va’etchanan

This week it would have been easy to look back and reflect on Tisha b’Av, but Rabbi David Friedman beat me to the punch with his Torah commentary for the UMJC (https://www.umjc.org/commentary/2020/7/30/the-groan-of-redemption). So, I began to think about the cornerstone of Jewish life and which Yeshua, with the agreement of the scholars of his day, considered the most important commandment,

Shema Israel, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad. Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4; cf. Matthew 22:37-38)

But this too has been done and will probably be the focus of many teachings and devotionals this Shabbat. However, this Shabbat is also Shabbat Nachamu, the first of the seven haftaroth of consolations that take us from Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashana on the first of Tishri. The haftarah for Shabbat Nachamu is Isaiah 40:1-26, which begins Nachamu, nachamu ami, amar Eloeichem, Comfort, comfort My people says your God. That this reading follows on the heels of Tisha b’Av speaks volumes about the grace, mercy, and compassion of Hashem for His people.

While Hashem’s grace, mercy, and compassion for Israel are worth elaborating, I have chosen to focus on Moses entreaty to ADONAI to allow him to enter the Promised Land, found in the first five verses of Ve’etchanan (Deut. 3:23-7:11).

“I pleaded with ADONAI at that time, saying, ‘O Lord ADONAI, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand—for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do deeds and mighty acts like Yours? Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon.’ But ADONAI was angry with me because of you, so He would not listen to me. ‘Enough!’ ADONAI said to me, ‘Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 3:23-27)

Moses’ plea sounds remarkably like Rav Shaul’s comments when he wrote to the believers in Corinth,

…a thorn in the flesh was given to me—a messenger of satan to torment me, so I would not exalt myself. I pleaded with the Lord three times about this, that it might leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Like Moses, Rav Shaul appealed to ADONAI for a positive answer to his request. And just like Moses, the answer was “no.” From this, we see that hearing the word “no” from Hashem is not just an “Old Testament” issue. Some people may see a “no” answer as a contradiction to Yeshua’s words to his talmidim, “…whatever you pray and ask, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24; cf. Matthew 21:24). The problem is, we have all prayed for things with as much faith as we could muster, and the answer was either a resounding “no” or a “wait” for which you may still be waiting.

I suggest that this is not a conflict, but a paradox. First, doctrine should not be built on one or two Scriptures, but rather on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Sometimes the answer will simply be “no”, with no apparent explanation or blame. This leads to the reason for seeing a paradox instead of a conflict; Hashem is sovereign and in control of all things. Our prayers, even our heartfelt concerns cannot and will not supersede Hashem’s sovereignty or plan for our lives or the lives of others.

Consider briefly King David, who received a few “nos” to his requests from Hashem. Two that immediately come to mind are the death of his first-born son with Bathsheba and the denial of the right to build the House for ADONAI. David prayed, repented, and was forgiven for his illicit affair with Bathsheva, but his son from that union still died. David dreamed of building a House for ADONAI, yet he was denied this right. Although it was a noble desire, David again received a “no” answer. This time, however, it was not a consequence of sin, but because he was a man of war (1 Chronicles 17:4 & 22:8). Hashem, in His sovereignty, determined that a man of peace was to construct the Temple, not a man of war. After all, His house was to be “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).

While David never saw the House he desired to build for Hashem, Moses was at least able to see the Promised Land. Rabbi Elazar (b. Berachot 32b) explains that Hashem granted Moses’ plea in a limited manner; though he could not enter the Promised Land, he was able to go up on the mountain and to look into it. Furthermore, some say that Moses did finally enter the Promised Land when he appeared with Elijah and Yeshua on the Mt of Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17).

So, where does this leave us today? Should we keep praying for our heart’s desire, expecting Hashem to answer? Absolutely! We must. However, at the same time, we must remember that Hashem sees the broader picture, not just the part we see. He knows the whole story. A “no,” a “wait” or even at times silence does not necessarily mean that we are to stop praying for about something – unless, of course, we hear a resounding “no” like Moses and Rav Shaul. We also need to remember the double exhortation, first from Jeremiah and then from Rav Shaul.

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)

With these two affirmations, I encourage you to stand strong in faith as you pray, trusting in the care and sovereignty of our God.

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.

Erev Shabbat

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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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