Thoughts on Beshalach

This week’s parasha is Beshalach, Exodus 13:17 – 17:16.The haftarah is Judges 4:4 – 5:31 which covers the rule of the prophetess and judge, Deborah. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 6:52-71 that concludes this session of Yeshua’s teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum as well as the rift his teaching caused among his disciples causing some to leave his company.

The following is a story which happened to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya. He recounts, “One time I was walking along the path, and I saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him: On which path shall we walk in order to get to the city? He said to me: This path is short and long, and that path is long and short. I walked on the path that was short and long. When I approached the city I found that gardens and orchards surrounded it, and I did not know the trails leading through them to the city. I went back and met the young boy again and said to him: My son, didn’t you tell me that this way is short? He said to me: And didn’t I tell you that it is also long? I kissed him on his head and said to him: Happy are you, O Israel, for you are all exceedingly wise, from your old to your young,” (b. Eruvin 53b).

The above story is reminiscent of where Bnei Yisrael find themselves in this week’s parasha.

After Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, although that was nearby, for God said, “The people might change their minds if they see war and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds, and Bnei-Yisrael went up out of the land of Egypt armed. (Exodus 13:17-18)

There are a number of interesting points in the first two verses of this week’s reading. First, it has been noted that had HaShem though Moshe led Bnei Yisrael to the coast then along the coast to Canaan, it would have been much shorter – though those who had just escaped Egyptian bondage may well have lost heart and fled back to Egypt if they had to fight their way through the Philistine lands. It is true that HaShem could well have fought for them but even he recognized the frailty of their faith and resolute. Sometimes, it is better to go around a bad situation than to plow right through it but note that it clearly was HaShem who “led the people by a roundabout route.” Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth,

No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13)

Rav Shual’s words here have provided strength and courage for many as they struggled with temptation. However, it is important to recognize that while the word peirasmos (Greek) does have the connotation of temptation which we often see as a negative aspect, it can also have the understanding of being a trial, or a calamity, or affliction.2 Bnei Yisrael were not potentially entering into temptation but after all the years of Egyptian bondage having to fight the Philistines, even with the help of HaShem, was just too large a trial to overcome, so ADONAI provided them a way of escape.

A second aspect of the leading of HaShem will become clear after Bnei Yisrael crosses the Sea of Reeds. Remember, it was HaShem that led Bnei Yisrael to the Sea of Reeds. Suddenly there is water before them and a not so happy Pharaoh replete with army coming up from behind. Also remember that the pursuing Egyptians probably were not in the best of moods. Not only were they losing a source of cheap (slave) labor, but the Egyptians had been looted by Bnei Yisrael as they fled the country, after of course, all the first-born of Egypt died. It is said, you don’t want to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but that is exactly with Jacob’s children now found themselves, trapped, unable to go forward or back – having been led there by HaShem. You know the story, Moshe raises his staff, the waters stand up as walls and instead of being trapped, Bnei Yisrael crosses over on dry land.

The waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen and the entire army of Pharaoh that went after them into the sea. Not one of them remained. But Bnei-Yisrael had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were like walls to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:28-29)

This was a great miracle, a deliverance that is still remembered everyday as the Song of Moshe is sung or recited daily in synagogues around the world. But think about what else the leading of HaShem has now accomplished. Instead of the Egyptians behind them, there is now water. Regardless of their grumbling and complaining over the next years of their journey, they cannot go back. HaShem moved them from standing between the water and the Egyptians so that they are now standing between the water and Mt. Sinai.

One last observation on HaShem’s leading of Bnei Yisrael to the longer path instead of the shorter one. Ibn Ezra comments,

God did not want them to arrive too soon. Having been slaves all of their lives, they would not have been prepared to conquer Canaan until they had the lengthy experience of freedom.3

There are no short-cuts in our journey with the ADONAI. There may be detours of our own making or there may even be times when ADONAI’s leading seems to be contrary to common sense. I suggest that the bottom line is, since HaShem has our best in mind, we can trust his leading of our lives, even if we don’t totally understand the how’s or why’s. Sometimes the shorter is longer, sometimes not – but all the time we are in good hands when we walk with the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

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

Gleaned from Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testamentedited by William D. Mounce with Rick D. Bennett, Jr. Copyright © 2011 by William D. Mounce. All rights reserved.

3 David I. Lieber, Senior Editor. Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary. New York, The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001, p 399

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Thoughts on Bo – 5779

This week’s reading from the Torah is Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:6. * The Haftarah is Jeremiah 46:13-28 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 6:30–51.

In this week’s portion the main events are the completion of the plagues, number eight – locust (10:12-19), number nine – darkness (10:21-23), and finally number ten – the death of the first born (12:29-30). These are followed by the exodus itself (12:31-39). Between plagues eight and nine and the tenth plague and the exodus we read of the institution of the religious calendar beginning in the month of Abib or Nisan (12:2) and the rules and regulations concerning the celebration or observance of the Passover (12:3-28).

The portion begins with HaShem reiterating the situation to Moshe,

Then ADONAI said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, because I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, so that I might show these My signs in their midst, and so you may tell your son and your grandchildren what I have done in Egypt, as well as My signs that I did among them, so you may know that I am ADONAI.” (Exodus 10:1-2)

ADONAI basically said, “Moshe, go,” or as some have suggested, “come to Pharaoh,” and guess what, after an initial request and seven plagues, Pharaoh is still not going to listen to you or to Me. However, he soon will listen and obey, as I do signs in the midst of Pharaoh and his servants, which will be irrefutable to dismiss. Not only that, but when your children and grandchildren ask, you will tell them all that I have done, and they too will know that I am ADONAI.” Moshe truly deserves a round of applause here. He did not want to go back to Egypt in the first place, he did not want to go before Pharaoh or for that matter Bnei Yisrael after they rejected his first message from HaShem. But none-the-less, he continued steadfastly going back before Pharaoh time and time again. If the narrative stopped here, we could learn much from Moshe’s example. He was tenacious in the face of adversary because he knew he had heard from ADONAI, even if he did not really feel qualified to do what he was called to do. It was this tenacity that carried him most of the way through the years of wandering as he led Bnei Yisrael to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

I believe that Moshe’s experience would give a hardy amen to Rav Shaul’s closing words to the Ephesians as he described the armor of God, “…after you have done everything, to stand firm,” (Ephesians 6:13). In this instance, I believe the CJB paraphrase missed the mark as it says, “…when the battle is won, you will still be standing.” Moshe did not have the guarantee that he would win the battle as it were. In fact, instead of a happy ending, after their long journey, neither he, Aaron, or their sister Miriam entered the Promised Land with the rest of Bnei Yisrael. In the Hall of the Faithful (Hebrews 11), along with those who were victorious in battle or miraculously delivered, we read about those who

…were tortured, after not accepting release, so they might obtain a better resurrection. Others experienced the trial of mocking and scourging—yes, and even chains and prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were murdered with the sword. They went around in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, mistreated. The world was not worthy of them! They wandered around in deserts and mountains, caves and holes in the ground. And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised – because God had provided something better for us, so that only with us would they reach perfection. (Hebrews 11:35-40)

Following the leading and direction of ADONAI does not always lead to the paths of victory or success as the world defines them, but it does lead us along a path that we do not have to walk alone. Again, Rav Shaul encourages the believers at Corinth as well as us today when he wrote,

We are hard pressed in every way, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not in despair; persecuted, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed… Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our trouble, light and momentary, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison… (2 Corinthians 4:8 & 16-18)

The very fact that there are bumps and detours on our journey through life, even when we are attempting to follow the plans and purposes of ADONAI as we understand them, does not mean that He is not in control of our situations or not with us. A few years ago, Rabbi David Hoffman, Vice Chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, gave a drash on this parasha. He concluded, “…God is ultimately unknowable. We will never be able to understand how God works in the world. Now with the great humility this knowledge must engender we are asked to commit ourselves to God none the less.” **

In the late 60s, composer Joe South wrote a song, which was made famous by country singer Lynn Anderson, entitled Rose Garden. The words of the chorus could well be spoken by the Almighty to each of us.

I beg your pardon I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine there’s got to be a little rain sometimes
When you take you got to give so live and let live or let go
I beg your pardon I never promised you a rose garden. ***

We do have the promise from our Messiah, Yeshua, that if we “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matthew 6:33-34).

Shabbat Shalom

  • 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.

** last accessed on 10 January 2019

*** last accessed on 11 January 2019

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Thoughts on Va’eira


The readings for this week are, Parashat Va’eira, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35* & for Rosh Chodesh (Shevat which is Monday) Numbers 28:9-15; Haftarah, Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21; Apostolic Writings, John 6:16–29.

Throughout our lives we all make many journeys, some more memorable than others and some that we even wish we had never taken. Looking back over my childhood, growing up on the Mississippi gulf coast, I remember summer trips to southeast Texas to visit my grandparents. I vaguely remember the trips on Highway 90, before Interstate 10 was complete, when we went through every little town in southern Louisianaand skirted the AtchafalayaSwamp. Years later, traveling on the interstate, I marveled at the AtchafalayaBasin Bridge that spanned 18.2 miles of swamp and spillway. In my mind’s eye I can see the swamp, but I can’t remember much else of the almost 600-mile trip. In late summer of 1972, I vividly remember another trip, this time by Greyhound to Savanah Georgia and then by military transport from Savanah to Paris Island, SC. This almost 600-mile trip was only the beginning of this journey, which in the end lasted 12 plus years, as a United States Marine. To this day, I remember getting off the bus at Paris Island and after about half an hour wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into? Three months later, after completing Basis Training, I had no doubt that I was traveling the right direction, toward an attainable goal that would change my life forever.

In this week’s parasha, we continue reading about Moshe’s journey. As we read in Shemot, his early journey began in a reed basket in the Nile, then to Pharaoh’s palace in the care one of Pharaoh’s daughters. After growing up in the lap of luxury, circumstances detoured his journey to Midian, where instead of the lap of luxury Moshe became a shepherd of sheep for his father-in-law. It could be said that Moshe’s time in Midian was his Basis Training for leading Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This week Moshe has already spoken to Pharaoh once (Exodus 5:1) and it was not well received by Pharaoh nor were the resulting consequences well received by Bnei Yisrael (Exodus 5:21). Moshe probably felt even worse than I did when I first got off the bus at Paris Island; instead of feeling good about the possibility of becoming a Marine, I was rather sacred due to a drill instructor standing nose-to-nose with me, berating me for the clothing I was wearing. Well, Moshe continued to argue with HaShem as He directed Moshe to go to Pharaoh once more,

Bnei-Yisrael have not listened to me. So how would Pharaoh listen to me—I, who have uncircumcised lips? (Exodus 6:12)

One can imagine that by this time Moshe is probably wondering why he ever left Pharaoh’s palace in the first place some 40-years earlier. Everything had been going so well and his future position in the palace was pretty well secure, so long as he didn’t make waves. But HaShem had different plans for Moshe and his life journey, one that would eventually see him standing on“the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho,” (Deuteronomy 34:1) overlooking the promised land that Bnei Yisrael would soon enter without him. But even here, Moshe did not see the end of his journey. Centuries later, Moshe would stand on the other side of the Jordan in Israel, as he and Elijah bore witness to the transfiguration of Yeshua, signifying His Sonship and deity (cf. Matthew 17:1-5).

So it is with us, though maybe not the mountain top visitation. We all are on a journey with ADONAI. Sometimes there are seeming detours, either caused by our own actions or by circumstances of life. But as with Moshe, each detour and each life event goes into the narrative of our lives, making us who we are and usually preparing us for some future activity or need. Imagine Moshe trying to lead Bnei Yisrael through the years in the wilderness with only his training in Pharaoh’s court. Every step along the way, HaShem is with us, whether we realize His presence or not. As a means of comfort, I often quote HaShem’s words through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon,

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)

However, there is another word I want to leave with each of you reading this week’s Thoughts. In Deuteronomy just as Moshe is finishing his time as the journey director for Bnei Yisrael, he states assuredly,

Chazak! 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 (forsake) you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

In the Letter to the Hebrews, who some suggest was written in the latter part of the 1stcentury CE, the author uses the same phrase in his closing exhortation,

Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

If these words were written toward the end of the 1st century, they are especially important as not only had Yeshua been crucified, but the Temple itself had been destroyed, and the third exile was beginning. It is possible that these words of exhortation and comfort brought to mind earlier words of comfort from HaShem as Jacob was embarking on his 20-year exile,

Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you. (Genesis 28:15)

Remember, where ever you are in your journey and no matter how you reached the place where you are, ADONAI is with you, watching over you, desiring to enter into your story and to lead you into shalom, which is His perfect peace.

Shabbat Shalom

  • 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 Shemot

This week’s parasha is Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1.[i] The haftarah, following the Ashkenazic traditin, is Isaiah 27:6-28:13 and 29:22-23. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 6:1–15.

As we begin this week, consider that Aaron was three years old when Moshe was born, (cf. Exodus 7:7), which means that either he was born before Pharaoh commanded the midwives to begin killing the male babies (Exodus 1:15-16) or he was miraculously delivered as the midwives chose to trust HaShem instead of obeying Pharaoh. Regardless, it would appear that the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus1:8), was greatly concerned about the propagation of the children of Jacob. Likewise, this new Pharaoh was not pleased with the apparent blessing of the Almighty which rested on Jacob’s descendants. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz observes

Even though the children of Israel had resided peacefully in Egypt for many years, the king viewed them as a threat and sought to restrain them, simply because of their numerical strength. This suspicion and distrust toward the children of Israel even before they became an actual nation may be seen as the first historical account of anti-Semitism. [ii]

In other words, Jacob’s descendants had done nothing to incur Pharaoh’s animosity, nothing to cause the irrational fear that Jacob’s descendants would align themselves against him or his kingdom. But irrational fear and animosity never seems to need a valid reason to exist. Remember, in last week’s parasha, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that with Jacob’s death, Joseph would seek revenge for their actions thirty-seven years earlier (cf. Genesis 50:15). This was irrational as Joseph had explicitly released them, forgiven them, seventeen years earlier (cf. Genesis 45:4-8). Many years in the future, another king would irrationally fear the coming of another child.

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became furious. And he sent and killed all boys in Bethlehem and in all its surrounding area, from two years old and under, according to the time he had determined from the magi.

Matthew 2:16

Like Moshe, Yeshua too was miraculously delivered from death. Moshe went into the household of Pharaoh, who by-the-way had wanted him dead. Yeshua’s parents took him by night and escaped Herod’s irrational actions by fleeing to Egypt, (Matthew 2:14). It is interesting that according to Matthew this is the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy in Hosea, 

“When Israel was a youth, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1) This was to fulfill what was spoken by ADONAI through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My son.” (Matthew 2:15)

Yet Hosea is saying so much more. “Israel as a youth” speaks about the descendants of Jacob as they grew from a family of seventy to a population that caused Pharaoh to tremble. When the narrative of Moshe and the Exodus begins, Israel is but a youth. They are not the fully established national entity they would one day become. How can Israel’s grumbling, complaining, and temper tantrums be explained any better than that of a petulant child? The fact that Hosea’s words look both back in history and forward to a future event does not detract from the significance of both events in the scripture. Scripture, like an onion, has many layers and nuances. Those who see only one meaning in the words, or who demand that only their definition is correct, do a disservice to the scriptures, as well as demean Him who caused the writers to pen the words. We need to look at the Word of God as the writer of the book of Hebrews described it,

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The very fact that the word of God is alive infers that it is to be interpreted and applied afresh in each generation. Were Hosea’s words a history lesson or a promised future event? Yes and yes, and just maybe even something more as we continue on this plane of existence. As we read scripture, we need to understand not only what is being said, but why it is being said, to whom it is being said, and the context of what is being said. 

The haftarah is largely one of judgement upon the northern kingdom, though it begins with a future hope for all of Israel,

In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit.

Isaiah 27:6

The prophet says that there will come a time when Israel will “fill the face of the world with fruit.” The “fruit” for which the descendants of Jacob have been responsible is quite interesting. A cursory scan of the internet reveals that as of 2017, 203 of the 902 Nobel Prizes have gone to Jews. Aside from the numerous medical discoveries of the past, including penicillin, polio vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus antitoxin, mammogram technology, and the Heimlich maneuver, the nation of Israel today remains on the cutting edge of breakthroughs in mathematics, chemistry, computing, agriculture, biotechnology, medicine and more.[iii] Joseph, with the direction of HaShem, saved not only his family but Egypt and the known world at the time. Then came a pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Consider for a moment, what a different world we would live in today if this pharaoh was the dreamer in Genesis 41. 

One never knows what might blossom and grow from a single act of kindness or respect, nor does one know what potential harm might come from hatred, disrespect or irrational fear. Each of us needs to follow Rav Shaul’s admonition to the believers in Colossae to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

[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] Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, The Steinsaltz Humash,Jerusalem; Koren Publishers Jerusalem, LTD, 2018, p 286.

[iii]  lasted accessed on 27 December 2018.

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Thoughts on Vayechi

This week’s parasha is Vayechi, (he, Jacob, lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26,[i] which is an interesting title considering that in this parasha both Jacob and Joseph die. However, before Jacob dies, he adopts and blesses Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim and then has words to say over each of his natural born sons. The haftarah is 1 Kings 2:1-12, in which King David gives Solomon a blessing and a charge to take care of some unfinished business. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 5:30-47 where Yeshua continues to address the issue of His authority to heal on the Sabbath, as well as claims intimate relationship with ADONAI His Father.

The parasha begins with the statement, “Now Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years” (Genesis 47:28). This statement is not especially important by itself, unless one looks at the larger narrative of Joseph’s life. Ten chapters earlier in Genesis we read, “When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth), he was shepherding the flocks with his brothers…” (37:2). Robert Alter in his commentary notes that in the Middle Ages David Kimhi observed, “Just as Joseph was in the lap of Jacob seventeen years, Jacob was in the lap of Joseph seventeen years.”[ii] An interesting correlation to say the least.

Another connection with the beginning and the end of Joseph’s journey is that Jacob sent Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers and the herds, though they were eventually found in Dothan. Much later, at the end of the book of Joshua, we see Joseph once again traveling to Shechem

Joseph’s bones, which Bnei-Yisrael had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem, in the parcel of ground that Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for 100 pieces of silver.

Joshua 24:32

Was this just a coincidence like the seventeen years mentioned above? Or is it that the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is a God of order and One who completes what He begins?

One last thought for this week is Joseph’s brothers’ reaction when they returned to Mitzrayim after burying their father Jacob in the Cave of Machpelah. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father had died, they said, “Maybe Joseph will be hostile towards us and pay us back in full for all the evil we showed him.” (Genesis 50:15)

Even with all the assurances that Joseph had given that he held no ill will against them, (cf. Genesis 45:4-8) it appears that they had not moved past their former feelings and deeds against him (Joseph). Rav Shaul notes in his letter to the believers in Rome,

They show that the work of the Torah is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts switching between accusing or defending them…

Romans 2:15

I realize that Rav Shaul was speaking about Gentiles who did not know the Torah but still behaved as if they did (cf. Romans 2:14). How much more would the Torah convict the hearts and minds of those specifically chosen by Adonai—even before Sinai. Joseph’s brothers knew they had acted wrong and had even felt hatred in their hearts toward their brother. For years they lied to their father. Nowhere in the narrative do we see Jacob holding ill will against his sons in spite of their deceit. Equally Joseph showed no ill will toward his brothers, though in the natural he had every right to do so. It is possible that the actions of both Jacob and Joseph extended something to the brothers that they could not appropriate for themselves, forgiveness.

Let’s look at similar situations in our own lives and consider the words that ADONAI spoke to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, “I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins,” (Isaiah 45:25). If HaShem is going to forgive us our transgressions, can we afford to be so arrogant as to not receive His forgiveness. From the website of “All About God” comes this bit of encouragement.

Life is full of choices and every choice we make will either take us in a positive, life-giving direction or rob us of the opportunity to be a life-giving individual. Forgiving ourselves does not let us off the hook, it does not justify what we have done, and it is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a choice that takes courage and strength, and it gives us the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of our own scorn. [iii]

Forgiving ourselves means that we appropriate and accept HaShem’s forgiveness that has already been given extended to us. Just like Joseph’s brothers only had to receive what Joseph was extending to them. Joseph’s brothers had nothing to fear from him, but they did have everything to fear from their own imaginations. Though they lived in the choicest area of Mitzrayim and were recognized as the close relations of the man Pharaoh considered family, they still lived under the guilt of what they had done and thus could not accept Joseph’s forgiveness.

Between the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world perform the service known as Tashlich, that symbolizes the casting of one’s sins away, based upon the words from the prophet Micah

You will once again have mercy on us; You will conquer our evil deeds; You will hurl our sins into the depths of the sea. [iv]

Micah 7:19

Included in the prayers is the recitation of Psalm 130 where the psalmist’s cry is both bittersweet and yet hopeful.

If You, ADONAI, kept a record of iniquities—my LORD, who could stand?For with You there is forgiveness,so You may be revered. 

Psalm 130:3-4

I share this to encourage all of us to forgive and let go of past mistakes and transgressions. If HaShem is not holding on to them, keeping a record after He has forgiven us, then there is no reason for us to hold on to them. Last week I closed with Yeshua’s teaching on forgiveness in the prayer that He taught His disciples, “Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12, CJB). [v] We are included in this forgiveness. May we all accept HaShem’s forgiveness and cast our iniquities, evil deeds and sins far from us so that the past does not control our future ability to accept others’ forgiveness extended to us.

[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] Robert Alter. The Five Books of Moses, A Translation with Commentary, New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2004, (iBook edition), p 826.

[iii] last accessed 18 December 2018

[iv] New English Translation (NET), NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

[v] Paraphrased by David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament, Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989, p. 8.

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Thoughts on Vayigash

This week’s parasha is Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 – 47:27.[i] The Haftarah is Ezekiel 37:15-28 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings isJohn 5:16-29.

It is a bit sad that for so many years, Jacob’s sons continued with the lie that Joseph had been torn apart by wild beasts. Even now in our parasha when Joseph requires that his brother Benjamin be brought to him, Judah guarantees Benjamin’s safety but does not tell his father the truth but allows his father’s grief to continue. How many families, friendships, even congregations today are split apart because of past actions that have never really had a chance to heal because they were never fully addressed or confronted? Rav Shaul was correct when he admonished the believers in Ephesus

So lay aside lying and “each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another (or we are one body). “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down on your anger, nor give the devil (or adversary) a foothold. 

Ephesians 4:25-27

All the years that Joseph’s supposed death grieved Jacob could have been avoided. Though we are not told, the relationship between the ten sons and their father must have been strained due to their actions and the lie they perpetrated. Fortunately, Joseph did not focus on the past, nor did he allow the actions of his brothers to define him. When he could stand it no longer, Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers.

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

Genesis 45:3-8

It was well within Joseph’s power to imprison or even execute his brothers for their actions. He could have sent them away, keeping Benjamin and thus turning his back completely on his past life. But the narrative does not even hint that either course of action was in Joseph’s mind. He did not excuse his brothers’ actions, but he did enforce the idea that it was God who sent him to prepare the way to preserve the Jewish people and the Egyptians. Look at the progression of Joseph’s words to his brothers

First: “…the one you sold to Egypt…,” (vs.4), this is a reminder of how things started.

Second: “you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you…,” (vs 5), yes you had a hand in the process but HaShem sent me to prepare for you.

And finally: “…you didn’t send me here, but God…,” (vs 8), it was not you but HaShem that orchestrated the events. Rabbi Sarna notes that with the progression, Joseph was “…thereby substituting the beneficial result for their evil purpose.”[ii] It is possible that Joseph as well as his brothers might relate with Douglas Adams as one of his many characters proclaimed, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”[iii] Joseph was exactly where he needed to be to bring about HaShem’s providential care not only for the children of Israel but for Egypt and the rest of the surrounding world as well.

I believe we would all do well to step back at times, taking our eyes off of our own situation(s) however good or bad they might be, and try to look at the bigger picture and to attempt to get a glimpse of what ADONAI is doing. For sure, this lesson is not an easy one to learn. But I believe it is doable if we trust in the leadership and the care of ADONAI, realizing that we are to “walk by faith not by sight,” (2 Corinthians 5:7). There is a second lesson to be learned from Joseph’s encounter with his brothers. Though acknowledging their part in the beginning of his journey, he did not continue to blame them for his circumstances. Playing the blame game does nothing to restore relationships. Past circumstances cannot be changed but our perspectives on the outcome can lessen or remove the power the past circumstance holds over our present life. Maybe this is one of the reasons for Yeshua including the following phrase about forgiveness when He taught His disciples to pray

Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too haveforgiven those who have wronged us. 

Matthew 6:12, CJB[iv]

[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] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation and Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p. 309.

[iii] Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988 (ePub formatted 2011), p. 216.

[iv] Paraphrased by David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament, Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989, p. 8.

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Thoughts on Miketz

This week’s parasha is Miketz, מִקֵּץ, Genesis 41:1 –44:17.[i] While on a normal Shabbat there would be two other readings, one from the Haftarah and one from the Apostolic Writings, this Shabbat stands out because of its multiple readings. This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Tevet which has additional readings from the Torah, Numbers 28:9-15, and two special Haftarah readings, 1Samuel 20:18 and 20, and Isaiah 66:1; 66:23-24 with verse 23 being repeated.But we are still not finished, this Shabbat is also Day 6 of Chanukah with its special Torah reading, Numbers 7:42-47 as well as a special Haftarah reading for the 6th day, Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (2:10 – 4:7 in most English editions). Finally, there is the reading from the Apostolic Writings, John 10:22–42. As you can see there is quite a bit of reading this Shabbat. May the Ruach guide your reading and speak to you in the areas of your greatest need.

Over the last couple of weeks, it seems that the Ruach has been directing along the common theme of His sovereignty and guidance in our daily lives. It would appear that this week will follow that thread as well. This week’s parasha begins, “Now at the end of two whole years, Pharaoh was dreaming,” (41:1). We are all familiar with Pharaoh’s dreams and how Joseph, with the interpretation from HaShem, was elevated to a position second only to Pharaoh. But remember the episode at the end of last week’s parasha, Joseph had just interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and his chief baker. The baker was executed, the cupbearer restored to his position in the palace, and Joseph was forgotten in jail because the cupbearer forgot him. But Joseph wasn’t simply forgotten. The verse reads וְלֹא-זָכַרשַׂר-הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיִּשְׁכָּחֵהוּ, “Yet the chief of the cupbearers did not remember Joseph—indeed, he forgot him,” (Genesis 40:23). Why the negative-positive verbiage, “he did not remember” and “he forgot”? In English they seem to be redundant. However, in Hebrew the sages see a different story. A footnote to Rashi’s commentary suggests that instead of redundancy, “‘did not remember’ applied to that which is on the tip of one’s consciousness but is not recalled, in this case, the cupbearer’s short-term memory …. ‘Forgot’ refers to the submergence of information into the deep recesses of memory.”[ii] Could it be that the cupbearer simply got too busy returning to his life and position to remember the one who foretold his release. Or could it be that the cupbearer truly believed his innocence and paid little mind to Joseph in hindsight. There is a third option that we should consider, and that is the perfect timing of ADONAI. Could it be that just asGabriel may have been the one to direct Joseph to his brothers (Genesis37:15-17), he could have just as easily suppressed the cupbearer’s memory to forget Joseph until the time of HaShem’s choosing. If Joseph had been released two years earlier, would he have remained in Egypt, where he would be in the position to orchestrate the salvation of both Bnei Yisrael as well as Egypt? Speaking to ADONAI, the Psalmist acknowledged

My times are in Your hands. Deliver me from the hands of my foes and from those who pursue me.

Psalms 31:16

We have noted it the past couple of weeks that HaShem knows the plans He has for us and in those plans He desires our good not harm (see Jeremiah 29:11). And we have seen, as Rav Shaul affirms, “that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). If these statements are true, then His timing in our lives is equally important. As it is written in Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season and a time for every activity under heaven”(3:1), but those times, as Yeshua’s disciples discovered, are not in our hands but in the hands of the Almighty. When asked about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, Yeshua stated plainly

It is not your place to know the times or seasons which the Father has placed under His own control.

Acts 1:7

When the Hasmoneans first took a stand against the forces of Antiochus IV, they had no idea of their eventual outcome, but they knew their time to take action had come. It would appear that HaShem orchestrated the situation, giving the Hasmonean forces victories over insurmountable odds leading to the outcome that He desired. The celebration of that victorious outcome remains to this day, remembered each night as we light the Chanukah candles.

It would be safe to say that in all of our lives, in all of our situations, we do not know the exact timing that ADONAI has determined for us but like Joseph, if we can learn to wait on ADONAI, and trust in His timing, then we will have confidence in knowing that what He determines for us will come to pass.

[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] Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, Bereishis/Genesis: The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary, Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1995, 446, fn 4.

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