Thoughts on Beshalach

Just so you all know where I am going, I am changing from following the Full Kriyah (Torah reading cycle in one year) to the Triennial Cycle,[i] which reads the Torah in a three-year period providing shorter weekly portions. Interestingly, the Haftarah remains the same in both cycles. There is a difference, however, in some of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic choices. I will normally follow the Sephardic reading, but not always. I am also following the Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besorah reading cycle.[ii] With that introduction, the Parasha this week is Beshalach (when he [Pharaoh] released), taken from Exodus 13.17[iii] where the Full Kriyah begins. Rabbi Sarna comments,

The Hebrew word שַׁלַּח shillah is richly allusive. First, it reconnects with 12.33. Second, it carries the double judicial sense of divorce and of emancipation of a slave and is highly evocative. Finally, because shillah is the key term in each of the three divine promises of redemption given to Moses (cf. Exodus 3.20; 6.1; and 11.1), its presence here intimates their fulfillment.[iv]

Not only was Bnei Yisrael “sent out” but they were in essence emancipated from the slavery imposed upon them. This week’s reading is from Exodus 14.15 though 16.10. The narrative begins as Bnei Yisrael is in the process of leaving Egypt, “encamped by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth opposite Baal-zephon.” (14.9) Pharaoh, realizing that he is in the process of losing his cheap labor force, is rapidly approaching. They are seemingly stuck between an impassable barrier on one side and a rather angry former master on the other. Bnei Yisrael understandably cries out. Moshe in turn, attempts to comfort and console the concerned people, reminding them of what the LORD had already done on their behalf. Our portion begins with the words, “Then Adonai said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying to Me? Tell Bnei-Yisrael to go forward’” (14.15). Rashi notes, “There is no mention that he prayed to God concerning this, but it teaches us that Moses stood in prayer (as a mediator between Israel and external situations). Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘it is not time now to pray at length, when Israel is placed in trouble.”[v] There surely are times in our lives when intense prayer is necessary, when we battle the enemy, “fight the good fight of faith!” (1 Timothy 6.12a), in the strength of HaShem, “Through You we push back our foes. Through Your Name we trample those rising up against us” (Psalm 44.6). There are other times when we just need to “…stand still, and see the salvation of Adonai,” (Exodus 14.13a) or “…take your positions, stand and see the salvation of Adonai with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or be dismayed. Tomorrow go out to face them, for Adonai is with you,” (2 Chronicles 20.17). As Bnei At the SeaYisrael stood there on the shore of the sea, the time for prayer was over. HaShem told Moshe that it was time for action! He was to stand up, stretch out his staff, and then wait on the salvation of the LORD. The sea split with the sides standing up as walls. The ground dried and Bnei Yisrael walked across unhindered as the Angel of the LORD stood behind them as a barrier between them and Pharaoh’s forces. The end of the story is well known; it did not turn out well for Pharaoh and his men. Bnei Yisrael on the other hand, as one rejoiced greatly in their deliverance and salvation and in the very real revelation of HaShem, their God.

The Haftarah (Judges 4.4 though 5.31) is the scene of another deliverance. This time, however, instead of Moshe the primary players in the narrative are two women, Devorah, the prophetess and judge of Israel (4.4), and Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (4.17) who killed Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Just as HaShem told Moshe to lift up his staff and Bnei Yisrael would be delivered at the sea shore, Devorah, by the word of the LORD, summoned Barak and told him what he must do in order to be the one who would bring about Israel’s deliverance from their current oppressors (4.6-7). Sadly, Barak did not have the faith or fortitude that Moshe exhibited and told Devorah that he would be obedient only if she went with him. While acquiescing to his reluctant obedience, Devorah informed Barak that he had forfeited his place in history with the proclamation “no honor will be yours on the way that you are about to go—for Adonai will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4.9). Barak did lead the men of Zebulun and Naphtali against Sisera, but is was Yael who delivered the death blow with a hammer and a tent peg. Israel was delivered and shalom was restored, but Barak fades into obscurity, and Yael and Devorah are remembered as the heroines of the day. In the providence of the LORD, His plans will be accomplished. Our choice, as with Moshe and Barak, is either to be obedient and to be His vessel, or to be disobedient and cause the blessing to pass to another.

Finally, the reading from the Besorah is Luke 7.18-35 which is the account of John’s questioning Yeshua if he was the awaited Messiah, and Yeshua’s response. Some people believe that John may have at one time either been a member of the Qumran community or at least prepared to be a member. One reason for such understanding seems to come from this interaction between John and Yeshua through his disciples. John asked Yeshua, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (7.20). Yeshua responded to John’s disciples,

“Go report to John what you saw and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, those with tzara’at are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (7.22).

A similar description is found among the scroll fragments at Qumran. Craig Evans explains,

According to 4Q521, when the Messiah appears, whom heaven and earth will obey, the wounded will be healed, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the dead will be made alive, and the poor will have the good news proclaimed to them (frgs. 2 -t 4 ii 1-12).[vi]

While this is not positive proof a relationship existed between John and Qumran, it does show that the type of activity the Messiah would be expected to perform. Also interesting are Yeshua’s last words to John, “Blessed is he who is not led to stumble because of Me” (7.23). It appears that Yeshua was offering encouragement to John not to doubt or loss faith – even though John’s situation would soon go from bad to worse. It would be safe to say that Yeshua’s words to John reverberate down to each of use today. We should not allow ourselves to stumble on account of our faith in Yeshua. Even though life circumstances and social or cultural norms may attempt to cause us to fall, stand strong and tall, like Moshe, as he held out his staff and waited for the deliverance and salvation of the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] year 2

[ii] year 2

[iii] 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.

[iv] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991, p 68.

[v] Rabbi Silbermann, A. M., Chumash and Rashi’s Commentary: Shemoth, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers Ltd., 1934, p 71

[vi] Evans, Craig A. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005, p 151.

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Thoughts on Bo

canstockphoto12820422This week’s parasha is Bo, Exodus 10.1 – 13:16.[i] The Haftarah is found in Jeremiah 46.13-28 and the reading from the Besorah is from Luke 7.1-17, which records the accounts of the centurion’s faith and then the exercise of Yeshua’s authority over death as He raised the widow’s son.

This week’s narrative begins with Aaron and Moshe coming before Pharaoh another time, setting the stage for the eighth plague, that of locust. Once again, it is recorded that HaShem “hardened Pharaoh’s heart and those of his servants as it is written,

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)

This is not the first “hardening,” as suggested by Exodus 7.2-5, with the purpose that “The Egyptians will know that I am Adonai…” (7.5). Then in 8.15 & 32, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In this week’s portion we see as John Sailhamer suggests, “…God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he might perform the signs; but this time the sign is not for Egypt and Pharaoh. It is rather for Israel and their children, “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians … that you may know that I am the LORD” (10:2).[ii]

It has been suggested that we may see the beginning of the importance of education in this parasha. At least three times, Exodus 10.2, 12.25, 13.8, Israel is told to tell their children when they ask, or even when they don’t, about what HaShem did as He prepared to lead Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt to their promised inheritance with the ultimate purpose of that they may know and remember that “I am the LORD.” The need for “knowing” the identity and power of HaShem was apparently not limited to the Exodus narrative. In John’s Besorah we read,

As Yeshua was passing by, He saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Yeshua answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that the works of God might be brought to light in him. We must do the work of the One who sent Me, so long as it is day! Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9.1-5)

In this week’s Besorah the centurion was well aware of Yeshua’s authority as evidenced in his response, “…say the word and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Luke 7.7b-8). The centurion had no doubt as to Yeshua’s identity or His power. Perhaps, had Pharaoh such faith, the Exodus story might have been a bit different.

In the Haftarah, we once again see Egypt coming under divine discipline and judgment. In Jeremiah 46.13-24, we read about “the coming of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt” (v 13). And while it appears that Jeremiah is simply foretelling what Nebuchadnezzar is about to do, in reality he is showing once again HaShem’s hand in the activity.

“Behold, I will punish Amon of No, Pharaoh, Egypt, with her gods and her kings—even Pharaoh, and them that trust in him. I will hand them over to those seeking their lives, into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his servants. Yet afterwards it will be inhabited, as in the days of old” (Jeremiah 46.25-26).

Not only will Egypt be disciplined, but HaShem has promised that Egypt will once again “be inhabited, as in the days of old” affirming once again that one of the purposes of the discipline of the LORD is to bring about restoration. This fact is further affirmed in the last two verses of this Haftarah as HaShem encourages Jacob (Israel) not to fear or be dismayed because He is with them and will bring them back to their land as well and cause them to dwell in safety and shalom.

The second half of this week’s Besorah deals with the healing of the widow’s son. Whereas the centurion sought out Yeshua on behalf of his servant, in the case of the widow, in her grief, Yeshua was simply passing through the area. I am not going to enter into a discussion on the providence of the LORD at this point, I do believe that Yeshua was right where the Father wanted Him to be. However, the woman, unlike the centurion, did not seek out Yeshua – nor seemingly did her friends as when Yeshua healed the paralyzed man in Luke 5.17ff. She was at the end of hope and could only mourn her loss. Yeshua passed by, unannounced, and met her deepest need beyond her or her friends’ wildest expectations. The end result was the same as mentioned above, “fear took hold of them all, and they glorified God,” (Luke 7.16).

There are times, when we seek answers from the LORD, there are times when things are so bad that we don’t even know what or how to pray. But He who promised never to leave us or forsake us, (Deuteronomy 31.6 and Hebrews 13.5) will always be right beside us, in whatever condition or situation we find ourselves in.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995 p 256.

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Thoughts on Va’eira

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha is Va’eira, (“I appeared…”) Exodus 6.2 – 9.35.[i] The purpose of this “appearance” was not only to verify who was speaking, the One who had appeared to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also to take His revelation to the next step. He appeared to the patriarchs as אֵל שַׁדָּי (El Shaddai; 6.3), which is usually translated God Almighty or God All Powerful. The translation of El Shaddai as the “Almighty” is rooted in the LXX and Jerome. A better translation is Sovereign, as almighty denotes power while sovereign implies not only power, but authority, ability and intent. However His revelatory name was understood by the patriarchs, Moshe and the rest of Bnei Yisrael knew him by the new revelation of YHWH, pronounced by circumlocutions such as ADONAI, HaShem, the LORD or Havaya,[ii] meaning the ever present One. This is not a change of name or character rather Bnei Yisrael’s further understanding of their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not only is He Israel’s Sovereign, but He is a Sovereign who is always present with them to assist, support, deliver, heal and save, as well as to direct and even discipline when needed.

After affirming that Bnei Yisrael would be the recipients of the inheritance promised to the patriarchs, HaShem goes on to tell the people exactly what He is going to do

“…I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God.” (6.6-7)

HaShem’s plan of redemption for Israel is expressed in four stages, using four different verbs (“bring out,” “deliver,” “redeem,” and “take you”). The Jerusalem Talmud (Pesahim 10.1) cites these four verbs as the reason for drinking four cups of wine during the Pesach Seder, the time in which the story of the Exodus is remembered and re-enacted.[iii]  Yeshua’s last command to His disciples as recorded in Matthew also includes four steps or stages.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (28.19-20)

First, Yeshua affirms His sovereignty, (all authority … has been given to Me). Then He commands the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations – not to convert them but to train them, bringing them out of their enslavement to the world and their natural inclinations and into a submission to Him. Next, the new disciples were to be immersed. Just as Israel’s passing through the Dead Sea was seen as a mikveh (ritual immersion; Ezekiel 16:8-9), the first step the new disciples were to take was to be washed with water (mikveh=immersion; baptism) and set apart as redeemed individuals. And finally, the teaching – educating the new Yeshua-followers in the ways they should live. In closing He affirms not only His sovereignty but the fact that He will be ever-present with them and us today as we journey to our promised destination.

The Haftarah is found in Ezekiel 28.25 – 29.21 and begins with the promise of another future redemption,

Thus says Adonai Elohim: “When I have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered and show my holiness through them in the eyes of the nations, then they will live in their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob. They will live safely there, and they will build houses and plant vineyards. They will live securely when I have executed judgments on all those around them that treated them with contempt. So they will know that I am ADONAI their God.” (28.25-26)

There was early fulfillment of this with the return from Babylonian captivity in c. 538 BCE. There was a more modern fulfillment with the restoration of the State of Israel in 1948 CE. In neither of these past returns has this passage been fully realized. Furthermore, the “living in safety” has always been an issue. So as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews suggests, “…there remains a Shabbat rest for the people of God” (4.9). Both Israel and we as Yeshua believers are on a journey to that rest, and one day we all will enter in to that rest.

The reading from the Besorah[iv] this week is found in Luke 6.17-38, often described as Yeshua’s Sermon on the Plain. This passage is similar to the “Beatitudes” and additional teaching in Matthew 5 and 6. I end this study with a challenge from Yeshua to all of us from the final verses of this passage.

Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate to you. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. … For whatever measure you measure out will be measured back to you.” (6.36-37, & 38b).

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Bick, Ezra. In His Mercy: Understanding the Thirteen Midot, Koren Publishers Jerusalem. English Edition, 2011. Kindle Edition. Kindle Location 410.

[iii] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 61.

[iv] According to Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besora Reading Cycle,

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Thoughts on Vayechi

Erev ShabbatParasha Vayechi (Genesis 47.28 – 50.26)[i] ends the first book of the Torah, Bereishit (Genesis), as Jacob comes to the end of his one hundred and forty-seven years. First and foremost, he is concerned about his final resting place (Genesis 47.29-30 & 49.29-32). Jacob knew the importance of his burial with his fathers in the land of Canaan. He knew the prophetic word spoken to his grandfather Abraham,

Then He said to Abram, “Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. But I am going to judge the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will go out with many possessions. (Genesis 15.13-14)

He was equally sure that his progeny would be the ones to return to take possession of the land where the patriarchs and matriarchs rested. “Then Israel said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die. But God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers” (Genesis 48.21). Rabbi Sarna notes that in both Genesis 15 and 48, “future redemption is assured because God wills it.”[ii]

After Jacob’s blessing of his sons in chapter 49, he quietly “breathes his last and is gathered to his people” (49.33). While he does not share his grandfather’s epitaph that he “died at a good old age, old and satisfied” (Genesis 25.8) Jacob did leave his family in a somewhat restored condition with at least their immediate future secure. Sadly, Josephs brothers were not quite so sure of their future. Even though Joseph had assured them that he held no ill will against them, the brothers were not at peace. “Maybe Joseph will be hostile towards us and pay us back in full for all the evil we showed him” (50.15). Rabbi Dena Weiss draws on the Malbim for understanding the brothers concern.

They said, “Perhaps Yosef will bear animosity towards us… Regarding that which the wise one said (King Shlomo in Mishlei 25:21),7 If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread, that the greatest revenge one can take upon his enemy is to repay his hatred by placing him among those who sit at [the aggrieved]’s table and to do only goodness and kindness to him. For then he will constantly remember what he had done wrong, and that is [why the next verse, 25:22] says, for you are stoking coals on his head. And Yosef’s brothers sensed this, and the goodness of Yosef was like he was stoking coals on their heads. So they said, “If only Yosef would clearly bear animosity towards us! And if so, he will return to us all of the evil that we have done to him. Let him be actively bad to us, and not kind, which is like being stabbed with a sword.”[iii]

Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome (cf. Romans 12.20), a direct quote of Mishlei 25.21, reiterates the kingdom principle of divine reversal, “Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse” (Romans 12.18). Joseph chose to forgive his brothers and not hold animosity in his heart towards them. The problem is that they, either had not or could not forgive themselves. A search for scriptures on self-forgiveness returned zero hits. However, if we are to forgive others how much more should we forgive ourselves for the errors we’ve made. In the Besorah we read,

 “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 6.13-14)

Earlier, Yeshua taught, “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). Yeshua also taught, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11.25). Therefore, is it possible to be truly reconciled with your brother or sister, if you are not first reconciled with yourself? Returning to Joseph and his brothers, Joseph reassured his brothers once again that he did not hold their actions against them but that it was the overall plan of Hashem for their salvation (Genesis 50.19-21; cf. 45.5-8). He could have equally said to them, “Stop holding on to past mistakes, so that you may truly receive the forgiveness of Hashem and be at peace.”

This week’s Haftarah, 1 Kings 2.1-12, records King David’s final exhortations to his son Solomon. David begins with “I am going the way of all the earth. So be strong, and be a man” (1 Kings 2:2). “Be strong” is a common charge throughout scripture. In Deuteronomy 11.18 the children of Israel are commanded to be strong and to possess the land the LORD is giving them, and in Deuteronomy 31.6 He encourages Israel to be strong and courageous because He is going with them and will never leave or forsake them. Moshe tells Joshua to be strong as he passes on the mantle (Deuteronomy 31.23 and Joshua 1.6). In the Haftarah David is encouraging his chosen heir not only to “be strong,” and to “be a man.” Rav Shaul encouraged the believers in Corinth to “Be on the alert! Stand firm in the faith! Be men of courage! Be strong” (1 Corinthians 16.13). David also tells Solomon how to be strong and to be a man, “Keep the charge of Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His decrees, according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, so that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn…” (1 Kings 2.3). David was repeating what Moshe told all of Israel

“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)

These are the same words I leave with you as we prepare to enter into this last Shabbat of 2017. Be strong and be a man (or woman) dedicated to the LORD. Make peace with those you need to and most of all be at peace with yourself.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 330.

[iii] , p 3.

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Thoughts on Miketz

Erev ShabbatParashat Miketz, Genesis 41.1 – 44.17,[i] is part two of the three-part narrative of Joseph’s life. There have been six dreams so far – two Hashem sent to Joseph when he was but a teen, with no immediate fulfilment. Then there were two in prison, one to the cup bearer and one to the baker. This time however, Joseph had matured a bit, and offered to assist the two bewildered men, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Please tell me.” (Gen. 40:8) They do! Hashem gave Joseph the interpretation, and it happened as he said. This week’s sidra begins with the final two dreams given to Pharaoh by Hashem (Genesis 41.16 & 25). Because of the fulfilment of the two dreams in prison, Joseph could with confidence, interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Little did he know however, that soon, most aspects of his original dreams would be fulfilled in a manner his seventeen-year-old self could never have imagined.

After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was elevated well beyond his station – from prisoner to vizier, second only to Pharaoh in importance and power. Apparently, Joseph liked his new status, so much so that he accepted his new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah (God speaks, and He lives) and an Egyptian wife – Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (not a god but a geographic area in lower Egypt near to the border of Goshen). So much at home was Joseph that his first son was named Manasseh, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,” and his second son, Ephraim, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my oppression” (Genesis 41.51-52). According to Rabbi Pinchas Peli, “Joseph does not think, indeed does not want to think, of the past, of the old country and the folks back home. His assimilation into Egyptian society is complete, flawless. He has no qualms about it.”[ii] Then suddenly his past caught up with him, in the form of his brothers seeking deliverance and salvation (Genesis 42.5-7). There are numerous ideas of why Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. Perhaps it was that they could not imagine the brother they sold into slavery could be the prince who now stood before them. Or perhaps, Joseph’s assimilation was so complete that he lost all family resemblance. Rashi comments that “he behaved toward them like a stranger verbally, by speaking harshly.”[iii] Whatever the reason, they did not recognize him, but he did recognize them. Suddenly, the years melted away and though he was not ready to reveal himself yet, he was going to take care of his family – more than that, he was going to test his brothers to see if they had changed from the ones who through jealousy and hatred sold him into slavery.

The story is very familiar. Joseph not only provided the required grain but returns the brothers silver as well. When they discovered the silver in their sacks, they understandably freaked out, knowing for sure that Hashem was bringing their past back upon them (42.21 & 28), especially since Simeon had to remain in Egypt as guarantor that they would return with their youngest brother Benjamin. The famine continued, and the sons of Jacob had to return to Egypt if they were to survive. First Reuven then Judah gave oaths to their father concerning Benjamin’s safety, and Jacob finally relented.

Second trip, and Joseph was no more forthcoming. After providing a feast for his brothers, which he did not join (43.32), he sent them on their way with their provisions and once again their silver, as well as his divining cup in Benjamin’s bags. Caught, and returned to Joseph, Judah speaks for the brothers, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we justify ourselves? [Or how can we be cleared of our guilt since…] God has exposed your servants’ guilt. …” (44.6). This speaks of Judah’s relationship with Hashem, quite like Jonah who, when he knew he was wrong, responded to his frightened shipmates in the storm, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, … then the sea will become calm for you. For I know it is because of me that this great storm is upon you” (Jonah 1.12). Judah, as well as Jonah, knew Hashem and knew that He was just, holding men accountable for their actions. In Jonah’s case, he knew if he was thrown into the sea, it would appease ADONAI and the ship would be saved. Whether the LORD saved him or not was up to Hashem. We won’t see it until next week, but as Judah pled for Benjamin’s life, Joseph’s façade finally breaks, and restoration can finally begin.

Looking back on this narrative, Stephen recounts, “The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him. He rescued him out of all his troubles and granted him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and all his household” (Acts 7.9-10). It is amazing how hindsight is often 20/20 but when going through life’s tough situations we often are wearing blinders that allow us to only see the situation in from of us.

The Haftarah, Zachariah 2.14 – 4.7 is particularly apropos considering the recent proclamation by President Trump concerning Jerusalem. Hashem, through the prophet states plainly,

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you”— it is a declaration of Adonai. “In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that ADONAI-Tzva’ot has sent me to you. ADONAI will inherit Judah as His portion in the holy land and will once again choose Jerusalem. Be silent before Adonai, all flesh, for He has aroused Himself from His holy dwelling.” (Zachariah 2.14-17)

The reading then ends with an affirmation of who will do the work of reestablishing Israel and Jerusalem, “This is the word of ADONAI to Zerubbabel saying: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach!’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot” (4.6). The nations may rage, and there may be “days of rage” but the power and presence of the Ruach of Hashem will ultimately be victorious.

Chag Semach

This blog is now posted on Twitter ~ michael hillel @HillelMichael

[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] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 44.

[iii] (on 42.7)

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Chanukah – 5778


First night.jpg

The celebration of Chanukah has begun throughout the Jewish world. Last night Vered and I were entertained by a parade sponsored by the local Community Center that included bright lights, Chanukah songs and a multitude of children in tow with multi-colored flashlights.

Just to clear a bit of muddied water, let me say that (1) Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas” even though Christmas and Chanukah share a common thread of deliverance and salvation. Another shared trait is that neither are festivals with biblical commands, though unlike Christmas, Chanukah is mentioned in Scripture; John 10.22, notes that Yeshua was in the Temple, in winter, during the Feast of Dedication, which is Chanukah.

A continual question about Chanukah is why eight days. The Sages of the Babylonian
Talmud explain that a single jar of purified oil, enough for one day, was found unopened, but a miracle occurred in that that one jar of oil kept the menorah burning for eight days  (BT Shabbat 21b). However, neither 1st or 2nd Maccabees, Josephus, or the Jerusalem Chanukah lightsTalmud record this story. First Maccabees states that after the Temple was purified and restored, and a new altar built, the altar and Temple were dedicated, and the celebration lasted for eight days. From this is derived the idea that the first commemoration of eight days was to celebrate Sukkot, which they could not do earlier in the year because of its defilement by the Greco-Syrians.  For whatever reason we observe Chanukah for eight days, our celebration focuses on the deliverance and salvation of Hashem. The additional prayer during Chanukah, said in the Thanksgiving section of the Amidah during, expresses this nicely.

על הנסים We thank you also for the miracles, the redemption, the mighty deeds, and the victories in battle which You performed for our ancestors in those days, at this time.

בימי מתתיהו In the days of Mattiyahu, son of Yohanan, the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and to force them to transgress the statues of Your will. It was then that You in Your great compassion stood by them in the time of their distress. You championed their cause, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous,and the arrogant into the hands of those who were engaged in the study of Your Torah. You made for Yourself great and holy renown in Your world, and for Your people Israel You performed a great salvation and redemption as of this very day. Your children then entered the holiest part of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and designated these eight days of Hanukkah for giving thanks and praise to Your great name.

Regardless of the reason we celebrate for eight days, let’s remember  that Hashem is not only our God, but He is our Deliverer, our Shield, our ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46.1) and the Father of our Messiah, Yeshua.



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Thoughts on Vayeishev

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha, Vayeishev, Genesis 37.1 – 40.23,[i] begins a narrative that will span the next three weeks, as we watch Jacob returning home, hoping to find rest as he “dwelled in the land where his father had sojourned” (37.1). Rabbi Pinchas H. Peli notes,

Jacob, at last, after years of wandering, hardships and conflicts, comes back to Canaan, the land of his fathers. He is now dominated by a desire to settle down and live peaceably surrounded by his family, children and grandchildren. He is well-to-do and respected. Even Esau is convinced that is better to have Jacob as a good neighbor, than as an enemy: they work out an arrangement for co-existence in the area.[ii]

But Jacob’s life was anything but settled. In 37.14, Jacob sends Joseph to his brothers in Hebron which begins Joseph’s journey from lowly shepherd, favored son and hated brother to prince of Egypt and family deliverer. In the narrative we see some of the hints about Joseph and his relationship in the family. First there is the statement, “These are the genealogies of Jacob. When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth) …” (37.2) and the eleventh son in birth order. Immediately, those reading the narrative realize that there is a special relationship between Jacob and Joseph. Instead of listing the full genealogy as with Esau in the previous chapter, only Joseph is mentioned. Then, there is the side note “he was a youth,” which Rashi, drawing on Genesis Rabbah 84.7 says, “he behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so he would appear handsome.”[iii] Possibly a little vain in his youth, maybe even narcissistic. Jacob did not help matters in that he gifted his son with “a long-sleeved tunic,” possibly richly embroidered that served to set Joseph further apart from his brothers. Joseph did not help his relationship with his siblings from Bilhah and Zilphah, as he took it upon himself to “tattle to dad” about them (cf. 37.2), even if what he was saying was true. Finally, the dreams were just too much – even to the point of shaking his father’s resolve

Then his father rebuked him and said to him, “What’s this dream you dreamed? Will we really come—your mother and I with your brothers—to bow down to the ground to you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the speech in mind. (37.10-11)

Let’s return now to 37.14, Joseph was sent by his father to check on his older brothers. Jacob’s charge was to check on their welfare, but Joseph’s track record as a tale-barer and “daddy’s favorite” was just too much for his brothers to handle. You know the rest of the story, Joseph’s sundry trials, his brothers’ deception and Jacob’s heartache. All of this could have been avoided had Jacob not played favorites – possibly a trait he inherited from his parents – Isaac loved Esau, Rebekah loved Jacob. Perhaps as the Proverb says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but a rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22.15). Malbim suggests that the “rod of discipline” is “corrective education.”[iv] This admonishing follows on an earlier charge, “Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it” (22.6). It was Jacob’s responsibility to train Joseph as well as his other sons and daughters. By apparently not doing so, he was robbed of the peace and tranquility that he could have had. On the other hand, the LORD provided Joseph with “corrective education” though his years of servitude and imprisonment.

The beginning of the Haftarah, Amos 2:6 – 3:8, ties mnemonically to Vayeishev as one of the three or four things that will bring about the judgement and discipline of the LORD – “For they sell the righteous for silver” (2.6, TLV and closest to the Hebrew). The Chabad translation, however, reads, “For selling an innocent man for money.” Either way, Joseph did not deserve the treatment he received from his brothers any more than the LORD deserved the treatment He received from Israel in turning their back upon His mitzvot. The passage ends with another connection to Joseph

For the Lord ADONAI, will do nothing, unless He has revealed His counsel to His servants the prophets. (3.7)

Even before Pharaoh’s dreams, Hashem showed Joseph his future position. In his youthful mindset he did not fully understand the dreams, but years later the reality of those dreams came to fruition. There have probably been times in all of our lives when we felt the LORD speak and we had a vision or a calling that we felt was from the Ruach. Sometimes the fruition or realization of that vision or calling comes quickly. However, more often than not, there is a time of preparation – sometimes years with seemingly no results. Our responsibility, like Joseph’s is to hold on to what we know was from the LORD and wait for it’s coming. In his short commentary, Solomon Colodner notes three attributes of which Joseph never let go,

Bitahon (trust) Throughout the trials of slavery and imprisonment, Joseph never lost his trust in God and a better future. The Hebrew word Emunah, (faith) is related to Emet, (truth). Trust a is vital prerequisite in any close relationship.[v]

Trust, faith, and truth must be the cornerstones of our lives as well. Rav Shaul told the believers at Philippi, “I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 1.6). The writer of the discourse to the Hebrews continues with “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (Hebrews 11.1). Faith in the Word of the LORD, whether we “see” its outworking or not. And in one of His last prayers to the Father, Yeshua praying for His followers requested, “Make them holy in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17.17). We do not stand on our word or the word of the world – we stand on the truth of word of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Peli, Pinchas H., Torah Today: A Renewed Encounter with Scripture, Washington DC: B’nai B’rith Books, 1987, p 37.

[iii] (on 37.2)

[iv] Wengrov, Charles., Malbim on Mishley: The Commentary of Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim in the Book of Proverbs, New York: Feldheim, 1982, p 232

[v] Colodner, Solomon., Concepts and Values, New York: Shengold Publishers, Inc. 1968, p 29.

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