Thoughts on Ha’azinu

In a Huffpost blog which appeared on March 9th, 2016, psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra wrote,

Never underestimate the impact a single decision can have: one wrong move can ruin a relationship, a career, a life, etc. We must choose wisely to generate joy in our lives. But when the road forks, confusion suddenly sets in. It’s normal to feel bewildered when different options present different pros and cons. As we advance down the path of life, sudden shifts require our attention and quick thinking: Should I give this person another chance? Should I take this job opportunity? Should I invest in a new home? And under the pressure of making the correct choice, all or none of our choices may even seem right. Where, then, do we turn for guidance?

In order to help us answer Dr. Harra’s closing question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” Let’s take a look at the second to last reading in this year’s Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52 (TLV). 

First, here is a bit of background. Ha’azinu is a poem, Shirat Ha’azinu, attributed to Moshe that details Hashem’s relational history with Israel, past, present and future. There is no question that there are segments of the poem that are direct from Hashem, however the beginning of the piece seems to find its impetus in Moshe’s closing words from last week’s parasha, 

…I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. Indeed, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against ADONAI—how much more then after my death? 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 31:27-29

Much of the poem deals with Israel’s straying from the dictates of the Torah and the consequences of their disobedience; at times it would seem as if Hashem completely turned His back on His chosen ahm segula (treasured people), (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18).

As the poem ends, Hashem assures Israel that they will not suffer under the chastising hand of Hashem forever nor will the physical vessels of that chastisement (the nations) forever rule over errant Israel. Israel will ultimately be restored, and a reckoning will be required of the nations.

Make His people rejoice, O nations, for He will avenge the blood of His servants. He will return vengeance on His foes and atone for the land of His people.

Deuteronomy 32:43

This affirmation is reiterated by Hashem through the prophet Malachi, probably around the time that Ezra and Nehemiah were resettling Jerusalem. 

“…they shall be Mine,”—says ADONAI-Tzva’ot—in the day I make My own special possession (segula). So, I will spare them, as one spares his son serving him.

Malachi 3:17

Remember the purpose of the discipline of Hashem is like that of a father to his children, correction, education, and restoration of relationship. 

After ending his poem, Moshe charges all of Bnei Yisrael with these words, 

…he said to them, “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

This charge is somewhat redundant as Moshe already said this two parashot ago,

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. Then you will live and multiply, and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are going in to possess.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16

So here, occurring twice toward the end of Moshe’s tenure as Bnei Yisrael’s leader and teacher, do we find the answer to Dr. Harra’s question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” We find guidance for all of life’s situations in the Torah. It would seem that Yeshua agreed with this sentiment as he responded to the Pharisees when they questioned about the greatest commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Love Hashem and love your neighbor as yourself – for all the Torah and the Prophets hang on these. In other words, guidance and instruction on how we relate to Hashem, how we relate to others, even how we deal with our own personal issues, are found in the Torah.  

One final thought on guidance. Dr Tigay, in the JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy makes an interesting observation concerning Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, who reigned from c. 1792 BCE to c. 1750 BCE some 300 years before Moshe. Concerning his laws and achievements, Hammurabi is credited as stating, “My words are choice, my deeds have no equal; it is only to the fool that they are empty; to the wise they stand forth as an object of wonder.” (Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia, JPS, 1996. p 316, fn. 47.) Dr. Tigay noted that the word רֵק or “empty” appears in both proclamations – Moshe stating that the Torah “is not an empty thing for you” while Hammurabi, “it is only to the fool that they are empty.” It would seem that both Hammurabi and Moshe felt that not to choose to follow the guidance they provided would be a vain, foolish thing. With this in mind consider these words from Proverbs:

A fool despises his father’s discipline, but one who accepts reproof is smart.

Proverbs 15:5

The fear of Adonai is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

A fool finds no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2

Even as the fool walks along the way, his heart lacks sense and tells everyone what a fool he is.

Ecclesiastes 10:3

It would seem that the choice is simple. If we want true guidance and direction, we need to look to the Word of God. If, on the other hand we prefer to wander aimlessly, this way and that, we can by choice walk like a fool. King David gives us his recommendation on which choice to make, though like us he occasionally chose not to follow his own admonition,

The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of ADONAI is trustworthy, making the simple wise. The precepts of ADONAI are right, giving joy to the heart. The mitzvot of ADONAI are pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of ADONAI are true and altogether righteous.

Psalm 19:8-10

May we all choose to walk in the ways of ADONAI as written in his Word.

This week’s readings are as follows; Torah: Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52,
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51, and from the Apostolic Writings: Luke 17:1-4.

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Thoughts on Vayelech and Shabbat Shuvah

We are in the midst of the Days of Awe, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when introspection is the order of the day and each of us is attempting to ensure that all is right between ourselves and Hashem and even more importantly between ourselves and others. Consider these two passages from the Apostolic Writings as we contemplate our relationships and our desire to ensure rightness, both vertically and horizontally. 

First this admonition from Yeshua,

Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Matthew 5:23-24, TLV

It would appear that the validity of our gifts to Hashem are contingent upon our relation to our brothers and sisters. 

The second admonition, in my opinion, is even stronger and is one that we often read over due to its familiarity. This admonistion is part of Yeshua’s instructions to his talmidim regarding the proper attitude and way to pray.

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

Matthew 6:12, CJB

This is immediately followed by an even stronger statement by Yeshua,

For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:14-15; cf. Mark 11:25-26, TLV

I realize that I am sounding redundant, but it is necessary to walk in a state of mutual forgiveness with our brothers and sisters, horizontally as it were, if we want to walk in the forgiveness of our heavenly Father. 

But what about vertically, can we, as sinful, flawed individuals hope to be in a right relationship with our God? A cornerstone passage in the Selichot prayers, prayers for divine forgiveness, that is offered up during the Days of Awe is found in the book of Exodus. Multiple times in our prayers we affirm these thirteen attributes of Hashem. 

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)

Exodus 34:6-7

King David reworks these attributes, personalizing them due to his many experiences with both Hashem’s discipline in his life for his shortcomings as well as Hashem’s restorative actions according to His abundant forgiveness and grace.

ADONAI is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and plentiful in mercy. He will not always accuse, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not treated us according to our sins or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:8-12

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah, is one of the special Shabbatot of the year. Shabbat Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and draws its name from the beginning of the special haftarah reading for this Shabbat.

Shuvah Yisrael, Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.

Hosea 14:2

There is no question, that we, like Israel and King David, have struggled with life and fallen short of the righteous standard that Hashem requires of us. But we need to recall the words of the prophet Micah from the second haftarah reading for Shabbat Shuvah,

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

Throughout the Selichot prayers and the prayers for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we acknowledge our faults, our disobedience to the laws of Hashem, our continual missing of the mark. Along with this acknowledgement, is the recognition that it is only God’s grace and mercy that will restore us, and not any actions or good deeds of our own. Each of us is totally and solely dependent upon the pardoning grace of God as we return to Him in t’shuvah (repentance). It is His desire for us to be restored to fellowship with Him. 

As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that the finished work of Yeshua’s sacrifice—his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension— is the application of Hashem’s restorative grace in our lives. For all those who are not yet followers of Yeshua, it is our hope and prayer that eyes will be opened, ears will be unstopped and hearts softened during these Days of Awe and that the reality of Messiah’s love and his gift of grace will be received by all who seek the LORD and who cry out like David,

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy. According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. … Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach haKodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:3-4; 12-14

The Torah reading for Vayelech is Deuteronomy 31:1-30. The special haftarah reading Is Hosea 14:2-10 and Micah 7:18-20. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Matthew 18:21–35.

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Rosh Hashana – 5780

In the list of the mo’adim (festivals) that Hashem told Moshe to proclaim to
Bnei Yisrael in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23,

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation.”

Leviticus 23:24

Vered and I wish you a sweet New Year, abounding in blessings, both physical & spiritual, and may this coming year be a time of renewal and restoration
in the Ruach HaKodesh. 

Ketiva v’chatima tova &
Shana tova u’metukah to  all.

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Thoughts on Ki Teitse

Last year, while introducing this week’s parasha, Rabbi Sacks related the following story:

Many years ago, Elaine and I were being driven to the Catskills, a long-time favourite summer getaway for Jews in New York, and our driver told us the following story: One Friday afternoon, he was making his way to join his family in the Catskills for Shabbat when he saw a man wearing a yarmulke, bending over his car at the side of the road. One of the tires was flat, and he was about to change the wheel.

Our driver told us that he pulled over to the roadside, went over to the man, helped him change the wheel, and wished him “Good Shabbos.” The man thanked him, took his yarmulke off and put it in his pocket. Our driver must have given him a quizzical look, because the man turned and explained: “Oh, I’m not Jewish. It’s just that I know that if I’m wearing one of these” – he gestured to the yarmulke – “someone Jewish will stop and come to help me.

One of the reasons for assisting a fellow Jew is given in this week’s parasha, Ki Teitse Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19,

You must not watch your brother’s donkey or ox fall down on the road and ignore it—you must certainly help him lift it up again.

Deuteronomy 22:4, TLV

Those familiar with Yeshua’s teachings in the Apostolic Writings will immediately recognize this verse, as Yeshua uses it to justify his healing on the Sabbath.

Now when Yeshua went into the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to eat a meal on Shabbat, they were watching Him closely. And there before Him was a man swollen with fluid. So Yeshua said to the Torah lawyers and the Pharisees, “Is it permitted to heal on Shabbat, or not?” But they kept silent. So Yeshua took hold of him and healed him, and He sent him away. Then He said to them, “Which of you, with a son or an ox falling into a well on Yom Shabbat, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Luke 14:1-6

The Pharisees could not reply to Yeshua because they knew he was correct. Later the Sages would write,

Thus also it was taught [in a Baraita]: One heats water for an ill person on Shabbat, whether to give him to drink or to wash him, [since it might help him recover]. And they did not say [it is permitted to desecrate] only the current Shabbat for him, but even a different, future Shabbat. And one must not say: Let us wait [and perform this labor] for him [after Shabbat], perhaps he will get well [in the meantime]. Rather, one heats it for him immediately because any case of uncertainty concerning a life-threatening situation overrides Shabbat. And this is so not only with regard to uncertainty [whether his life is in danger] on the current Shabbat, but even in a case of uncertainty [with regard to danger] on a different Shabbat.

B. Yoma 84b

In Judaism, every individual’s life is important and essential because we all are created in the image of God and given life through the breath of the Ruach (cf. Genesis 1:27 & 2:7). Showing the gravity of this importance, pikuach nefesh, the obligation to save a life in jeopardy, takes precedence over almost any other command. Interestingly, this obligation applies not only to an immediate threat but a future one and also to a less grievous threat that may have the potential of becoming serious threat in the future. Yeshua’s healing of the man on Shabbat falls into the realm of uncertainty; he did not know whether the man’s condition would remain the same or increase in severity before the end of the Shabbat, thus he healed the man.

Notice, if you would, that I said in Judaism every individual’s life is important, that even includes our enemies. Yeshua taught,

You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighborand hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, …

Matthew 5:43-44

Often this verse is understood to indicate that the Tanakh taught hate of one’s enemies and that Yeshua replaced this with a higher ethical principle to love one’s enemies. Nowhere in the Tanakh are we commanded or told to “hate our enemies.” In fact, the Tanakh teaches to treat with dignity and compassion our enemies and those who hate us. The first thing to notice is that Yeshua says, “You have heard it said,” not “it is written.” We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Qumran community juxtaposed love of the sons of light with hate of the sons of darkness (the enemies; 1QS 1.10). It is also safe to assume that the Zealots hated and taught other to hate the Romans. Both of these are examples of traditions alive during the time of Yeshua, not Scripture. Yeshua’s command to “love your enemy” is a reflection of the teaching in the Tanakh. Consider Exodus 23:5, which by the way, is very similar to Deuteronomy 22:4:

If you see the donkey of the one that hates you lying down under its burden, do not leave it. Rather, you are to release it with him.

Exodus 23:5

Also consider Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Rome, who had suffered intervals of persecution. Quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Rav Shaul says:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For by doing so you will heap coals of fire upon his head.”

Romans 12:20

Rabbi Sacks, in the same article mentioned at the beginning, defines such treatment as the ethic of “help your enemy.” Putting love into action and helping meet the needs of those with whom we are not on the best of terms, has the potential of removing the dividing lines and building relationships—sometimes creating friendships where there were none, and  occasionally simply constructing bridges of understanding where there was mistrust and suspicion. A cup of water or a helping hand can go a long way in building and/or restoring relationships. It is my prayer and hope that we can all set as a goal from the day forth to put the ethic of helping one another into practice, not just for those whom we love and care for, but also for our enemies.

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Thoughts on Re’eh

This Shabbat is a very special Shabbat on the Jewish calendar. It is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Elul. Elul is the last month of the liturgical year and serves as a preparation time before we enter the month of Tishrei and the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Beginning on Sunday, the 2nd day of Elul, in synagogues around the world the shofar will be blown each morning after shacharit, serving as it were to awaken each of us to the coming time of celebration and judgment. Elul is a time for introspection and contemplation, sort of a self-testing or evaluation to determine if our walk with Hashem and with our fellow man lines up with the exhortation from Moshe that we read in this week’s parasha, (Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17)

For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI has chosen you to be His treasured people.

Deuteronomy 14:2, TLV

The very name of Elul draws our attention to this divinely chosen relationship. The Sages suggest that the word Elul is an acrostic of four words found in the Song of Solomon 6:3. Elul (אלול in Hebrew) אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” As the chosen treasure of Hashem, Israel has the responsibility to walk according to His commandments, even though this is not always done. During the month of Elul, each of us has the opportunity to determine what needs to be accomplished to reset the counter and to truly walk whole heartedly with our beloved. The following is a tale that describes how we often find ourselves.

There was a king who gave his servant a huge sum of money with which to buy carpets for the palace. The servant traveled to a distant country and examined many carpets in order to choose the most suitable one. He also chose a few for himself. As the days passed and he saw more and more materials, he put more aside for himself. Soon he had a nice selection and started selling them at a profit. Business was good, and he forgot about his mission.

One day a messenger arrived with a letter from the king to remind him of the pattern for the guest room. He trembled and cried as he read the king’s words. What have I done?” he moaned. “I have forsaken my real mission for the king’s sake and instead thought only of my own desires.” He quickly quit his business and spent all his time from then on in the king’s service.

Moshe A. Braun, The Jewish Holy Days, Jason Aronson Inc., 1996, p 7.

Every year, the month of Elul serves as a message from our King, reminding us of how we ought to live, being holy as He is holy not only in relation to Him but to our fellow man. As we examine ourselves, there are times that desperation and anguish set in much like the servant in the story above. In desperation he could have ignored the messenger and continued in his current lifestyle, remaining far separated from the king. His other option, and the one he chose was to repent and return to the original mission in obedience to his king. The servant chose to humble himself, acknowledging his improper actions and then strove to make things right. 

In the haftarah for Rosh Chodesh we read these words of comfort from the King of the Universe, 

But on this one will I look, one humble and of a contrite spirit, who trembles at My word.

Isaiah 66:2b

Earlier He stated,

I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57:15b

In the story, it is said that the servant traveled to a distant country seemingly far from the king’s presence. But the king knew the location of the servant and was able to send his messenger to his servant. How much more it is with Hashem. He dwells in the high and holy place, but He is in our midst as well. He knows our situations and life choices. He knows the pain and consequences of some of those choices. He also knows of the distances we’ve traveled, doing our own thing while forgetting to do His.

Whether we are part of natural born Israel or of those from the nations grafted into the commonwealth, during the month of Elul, we have the opportunity to examine ourselves as did King David in Psalm 51. David recognized his sin and shortcoming and after repenting pleaded,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:12-14

David did what he knew to do, then he trusted Hashem’s mercy and grace to complete the work. David’s heart’s desire was to be restored to his beloved. Occasionally, as believers in Yeshua, we think that this type of introspection and repentance is not as important because Yeshua’s sacrifice covers us completely. On one hand, this is correct. What the blood of goats and lambs could not do, Yeshua’s sacrifice accomplished—completely. However, consider these words from Rav Shaul (Paul) to the believers in Colossae

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 1:22-23

It would appear that even though Yeshua’s sacrifice was complete and efficacious for all, as believers in Yeshua we still need to continue walking in the commandments, according to the dictates of the Good News. This also means, in my opinion, that we need to continually examine ourselves to ensure that we have not strayed from the faith or the teachings of Messiah. Only then can we say with Israel, אֲנִי לְדוֹדִיוְדוֹדִי לִי,Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”

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Thoughts on Eikev

Driving home from shul one morning, I was looking forward to a small morning repast on the balcony with my wife, when the car in front of me decided to interrupt my musings by not going through the incredibly short light. I started to lean on the horn to express my displeasure, but my hand was stayed. I noticed a beggar moving away from the driver’s window, with a large grin on his face as he attempted to stuff a closed hand into his pocket. I have seen this beggar numerous times before, occasionally dropping a couple of coins in his hand, if I had small change, but I’ve never seen such joy upon his face as that day.

What was he given? I can only imagine. Maybe it was enough money to feed himself for the day, or maybe more – I’ll never know. What was it that caused his countenance to shine so bright? That too I’ll probably never know, as I have not seen the beggar these last few weeks, though I think of him occasionally as I pass his corner.

As I read this week’s Torah portion (Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, TLV), the beggar’s face was in my mind’s eye once again. “Therefore love the outsider or stranger, for you were outsiders, strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Suddenly, I realized the number of times I had lost the possibility of obeying this command. Then with horror, I realized what more I could have lost. In the closing words of this week’s Besorah (Matthew 25:34-45), the righteous judge proclaimed, “I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”

Earlier in Deuteronomy 10, Moshe described an aspect of what it means to love the outsider or stranger, 

He (HaShem) enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, giving him food and clothing.

Deuteronomy 10:18

While it is true that the giving of tzedakah or charity should be motivated by our love for others as well as for HaShem as John reminds us

But if someone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth!

1 John 3:17-18

Barry Holtz, in his book Finding Our Way: Jewish Texts and the Lives We Lead Today (The Jewish Publication Society, 2005) makes the following observation

The Christian notion of “charity,” for example, is very different from the Jewish concept of tzedakah. Charity evolves from the Latin caritas, meaning an act of love (as in the English “caring”); tzedakah (usually translated as “charity,” thereby missing the point) evolves from the Hebrew word for ”justice.” When we feed the hungry, we do not do it (only) because we want to, (or only) because we feel like it, according to classical Judaism, but because God demands justice. God demands that we do right, even if we don’t feel like it. (p. 147)

Just as HaShem enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, so should we. In Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 there are two ideas juxtaposed with each another. The first idea  includes things that have no definite quality or fixed measure – the corners of a field (left unharvested for the poor to glean), the first-fruit offerings brought to the Temple on  Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים; the three pilgrimage festivals), the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity. The second includes things that while producing fruit in this world, find their full reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. These are honoring one’s parents, the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity, and making peace between people. The common thread in both is the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity.

From the Torah, throughout the Prophets and the Writings, and in the Apostolic Writings, there are both direct commands to care for the needy and the afflicted, and for widows and orphans as well as examples of such. Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua wrote to his community,

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that?

James 2:15-16

In other words, if we truly love HaShem and desire to follow our Messiah, then we are responsible for meeting the needs that we are able to meet. Even if it means having to wait at a stoplight a little longer or to dig a little deeper into our pockets or wallets. 

In the closing verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3 we read Isaiah’s prophetic utterance to each of us, 

Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, you who seek ADONAI. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. For when I called him, he was but one, then I blessed him and multiplied him.

Isaiah 51:1-2

The pursuance of justice, among other things, shows care and compassion for others, for those close to us as well as the strangers or outsiders who are brought across our paths. In Pirkei Avot it is written

He (Rabbi Tarfon) would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.

Pirkei Avot 2:16

This means that we do not have to meet each and every need of each and every individual or each and every problem. However, we are responsible to meet the needs that we can, whether it be by providing for the needs themselves or being a facilitator to assist in seeing that the need is met. Sometimes being a facilitator requires tangible action on our part, at other times it requires prayer and intercession. 

ADONAI Tzav’ot, allow each of us another opportunity to show tangible love for the outsider, the stranger, and in doing so, let us show our love and devotion to You.

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Thoughts on Shabbat Nachamu

Last week (Saturday evening through Sunday evening) was Tisha b’Av, one of the saddest times on the Jewish calendar. This is the day that traditionally both Temples were destroyed, and historically numerous other atrocities have befallen the Jews throughout the centuries.

Less than a week later, we are celebrating Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort, which takes its name from the opening verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 40:1-26. Shabbat Nachamu is the first in a series of seven haftaroth leading up to Rosh Hashanah that speak of Hashem’s consolation for His people.

“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. For she has received from ADONAI’s hand double for all her sins.”

Isaiah 40:1-2, (TLV)

How is it possible to move from intense mourning to joyous comfort and consolation in less than a week? The atrocities have not gone away, they still sit on the display cases of our collective memory. Occasionally new items are added to the display as anti-Semitism rises its ugly head as in Charlottesville or the Squirrel Hillneighborhood of Pittsburgh. Plus there are other atrocities that, while not anti-Semitic, still crash like a tsunami on the beaches of our hearts, such as the double shooting in El Paso and Dayton last Shabbat. The world is literally going crazy, mourning is not limited to an annual memorial but often a part of daily life. Where is the comfort?

Traditionally Tisha b’Av is a time sadness and mourning, remembering what has been lost. There is fasting, sitting on low stools or the floor while reading the plaintive cry of the book of Lamentations. The continual discomfort is a reminder of exile and persecution. Then there is a subtle shift in focus. During Mincha (afternoon prayer), while still in mourning and fasting continues, instead of looking backwards considering what has been lost, we get up off the floor as if hearing the faint calling of Shabbat Nachamu. Instead of focusing on what has been lost, there is a quiet pull to a future hope, a coming consolation that the author briefly touched upon in the middle of Lamentations when he proclaimed 

This I recall to my heart—therefore I have hope: Because of the mercies of ADONAI we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

The past hasn’t changed, echoes of the heartache and pain remain on the shelves, but now we begin to turn looking toward a desired future. 

Look, ADONAI Elohim comes with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd, He tends His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms carries them in His bosom, and gently guides nursing ewes.

Isaiah 40:10-11

There was discipline, judgement and desolation, but future redemption and hope are promised. There is a Talmudic story that suggests this change of focus. Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva look south over the valley from Mt. Scopus and seeing the rubble that remained of the 2nd Temple, they tear their garments in mourning. When they arrive at the Temple Mount, a fox scampers out of the rubble where the Holy of Holies used to stand. Three of the sages break down in tears while Rabbi Akiva laughs. The three rabbis are shocked to say the least, “why are you laughing” they demand. Akiva questions them, “why are you crying?” The three speak of the destruction and loss. Akiva agrees, but then goes on to explain,

In the prophecy of Uriah, it is written: “Therefore, for your sake Zion shall be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount as the high places of a forest” (Micah 3:12), where foxes are found. There is a rabbinic tradition that this was prophesied by Uriah. In the prophecy of Zechariah, it is written: “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city was fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zechariah would not be fulfilled, as the two prophecies are linked. Now that the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident that the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid.

b. Makkot 24b

Today, some us live in the restored, rebuilt sovereign nation of Israel. While we continue to remember what was lost and the many centuries of exile, at the same time we celebrate in the consolation and restoration that began in 1948 and continues to this day. It is not yet perfect; we are not yet in the Messianic Age. However, we do see the reward and recompense of Hashem as He continues to shepherd His flock. As per the prophecy, elderly men and women are sitting in the streets of Jerusalem; a simple walk down Ben Yehuda or Jaffa street and a glance at the coffee shops and cafés bears this out. Children play in the parks and the sounds of joy and laughter can be heard through the land.

However, there remains another prophecy, another source of consolation for which we continue to wait. Yeshua spoke these words over Jerusalem,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate! For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

Matthew 23:37-39

Israel has been restored and, in many ways, comforted, but there is still a further, more complete consolation coming. On Shabbat Nachamu when we proclaim, “Prepare the way ofAdonai,make straight in the deserta highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3), we recognize that part of that preparation is assisting all of Israel to say “Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” At that time, Messiah Yeshua will be able to fulfill his words to Jerusalem bringing true comfort and consolation to his people.

In a later passage of consolation, Isaiah proclaims,

It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So, I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6

The ultimate consolation and restoration of all things will be realized when both Israel and the nations proclaim together, Baruch ha-ba b’shem ADONAI

Shabbat Shalom

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