Thoughts on Mishpatim

This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim, (rules or judgments) Exodus 21:1 – 24:18.The Haftarah is from Jeremiah 34:8-22 and 33:25-26 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:14–24.

I am a southern boy from Biloxi, Mississippi. As far as I can remember, I was eighteen years old before I traveled any further north than a couple dozen miles from the Gulf Coast. At the time, I was a grits, fried chicken and watermelon eating boy who liked Conway Twitty, Lorette Lynne, and Bobbie Gentry, as well as a bit of rock and roll to my parent’s dismay. I was elated when I heard that my first duty station in the Marine Corps was in Southern California. It did not long for me to discover that there was nothing southern about Southern California except maybe its geography. But I adapted, met some really nice people, one of whom became my wife. Vered was born and raised in southern California and very few people could understand what the two of us had in common. During one pre-marital counseling sessions, our counselor said that we also needed cross-cultural counseling, because though we were both English-speakers, we were from two different worlds. He was right, and after forty-five years of marriage, at times we are still from different worlds. But one thing piece of advice that has stuck with us is to avoid hyperbole, especially when arguing. “Never say never and never say always” has been a constant theme throughout our marriage.

I propose that hyperbole is being used in this week’s Torah portion. The phrase eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. עין תחת עין, (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:21, and Deuteronomy 19:21) has been the source of much disparagement against the God of Israel, the One who suggests acts of vengeance upon those who perpetrate harm and even death. But is this actually what HaShem was commanding? Tevye’s answer in the 1971 movie, Fiddler on the Roof, to the desire of some of the villagers to respond in kind after a mini-pogrom in their shtetl of Anatevka is enlightening:

Villager: We should defend ourselves! An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!

Tevye: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

As Tevye implied, HaShem is not demanding that we maim one another to “even the score.” Instead, as the Sages understood these passages call for making compensation for wrongs committed.

[However,] Scripture says here, “… for” (Exod. 21:36), and Scripture says above,
“… for” (Exod. 21:24). Just as “for” stated above means one may only make damage payments with money, so too does “for” stated here mean that one may only make damage payments with money.2

It has been said that no Jewish court has ever blinded or otherwise maimed an individual as restitution for crimes against another person – corporal punishment yes, lashes, even death but never maiming. The Rambam argued against maiming by questioning where the compensation is for the injured party if the one who committed the act lost his eye – what benefit is his loss to the injured individual.

One of the nuances of tachath תחת, refers to “things mutually interchanged, in place of, in exchange or return for,” which includes monetary compensation. We see this plainly expressed earlier in chapter 21,

When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. (21:18-19; italics are mine)

If compensation was HaShem’s intention, why did He use words that could be misconstrued negatively? The Rambam suggests “that in Heavenly Scales, the perpetrator deserves to lose his own eye – and for this reason cannot find atonement for his sin merely by making the required monetary payments; he must also beg his victim’s forgiveness – but human courts have no authority to do more than require the responsible party to make monetary restitution.”3 Another possible explanation is that He was using hyperbole the point across that people are responsible for their actions and their consequences.

In the Apostolic Writings, Yeshua uses the same words but seemingly with a different intention.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (Matthew 5:38-41)

Remember, just a little earlier Yeshua had said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). So, the plain text of Exodus 21:24 seems to adjure the maiming of the perpetrator in retaliation of the crime against the victim, while the rabbis understood this as monetary compensation.  Then Yeshua adds a new twist, “Do not resist an evildoer.” As extreme as the acts of vengeance in Exodus may be, Yeshua’s words seem to remove all recourse for the victim. I suggest that this too is a hyperbolic statement, causing the crowd, as well as the rest of us, to sit up and take note.

When we read something shocking in the Scriptures, we are challenged to pay attention and to discover exactly what HaShem is trying to tell us. Sometimes, a prayerful study will bring us to a satisfactory understanding, sometimes not. But as Amy-Jill Levine observes concerning Yeshua’s use of parables, his teaching challenges our stereotypes, and helps “us to locate both our eccentric traits and our excellent talents; they can inspire and humble, challenge and comfort.”4 I would go a step further and suggest that all his of teachings challenge our stereotypes and inspires us to live godly, responsible lives in a world that has far too many blind and toothless individuals in need of assistance.

Shabbat Shalom


1 Unless otherwise noted the Scripture readings are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

2 W. David Nelson, Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, 69:2, 8B., Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006, 316.

3 Nosson Scherman & Meir Zlotowitz, gen. eds., The Chumash, The Stone Edition, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 9th edition, 1998, 423.

4 Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, New York: HarperCollins, 2014, Apple Books ePub, 534.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Yitro

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:23.The Haftarah, according to Sephardic tradition is Isaiah 6:1-13. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:1-13.

Can you imagine how much of a difference three short months can make in a person’s life? A couple of weeks ago I shared about some of my experiences in the Marine Corps. From the drill instructor shouting in my face early one August morning to leaving the Corps some twelve years later. Thinking back, it was those first three months, August to October 1972, that really changed the course of my life. I got off the bus at Paris Island, SC, a recent high school graduate away from home for the first time, thinking how easy it was going to be for me to be a Marine, after all I had grown up in a military family. At the same time, to be honest, I was scared because I knew there was no going back. To quote Yoda, “Do or don’t do, there is no try,” and don’t do wasn’t an option any more than try was. Over the next three months I hurt in places I didn’t know existed. I learned to move or jump or fall when commanded, before asking or even thinking why. In three months, I changed from a somewhat self-centered high school graduate to being part of a group of eighty-seven men who thought, moved and responded as a single unit. I was and forever will be a United States Marine.

This week’s portion begins, “In the third month after Bnei-Yisrael had gone out of the land of Egypt, that same day they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai” (19:1). The goal of my three-month journey had been to become a United States Marine. Bnei-Yisrael was now finishing a three-month journey for which HaShem had a specific goal in mind. HaShem’s goal in bringing Bnei-Yisrael out of Egypt was to lead then into covenant relationship with Himself, thus creating a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Their journey, like mine, was not an ending point but merely a transition to another journey. I went from Boot Camp to Tech School to learn a trade. Bnei-Yisrael was about to discover that they too had much more to learn in order to truly meet the goal that HaShem had set out for them.

Moses went up to God, and ADONAI called to him from the mountain saying, “Say this to the house of Jacob, and tell Bnei-Yisrael, ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself.Now then, if you listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you will be My own treasure from among all people, for all the earth is Mine. So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim (priests) and a holy nation.’” (19:3-6)

Moshe goes down the mountain and reports to the elders of the people, apparently within the hearing of all the people, all that HaShem had told him to say. The people’s response was immediate, כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר ה׳ נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה, “all that ADONAI says, we will do” (19:8).

This was a monumental event. In essence, the Creator of the Universe first delivered a people from bondage and then He told them why He did it, leaving the choice up to them as to whether they were going to accept His offer or not. The fellowship and relationship that HaShem had planned in the Garden with Adam and Chava (Eve) was offered to a people who were only beginning to shake of their oppression and bondage.

Not only did the Creator make this offer, but it was to “all the people.” Rashi, referencing Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, notes that both men and women were included in this offer. He states,

TO THE HOUSE OF JACOB — This denotes the women — to them you shall speak in gentle language, and AND TELL THE CHILDREN (lit., the sons) OF ISRAEL — explain to the men the punishments and the details of the commandments in words that are as hard (distasteful) as wormwood.3

This may not seem important, especially considering the warning that the men were not to go near their wives on the third day (19:15). But when one considers Moses’ words as his time as leader was coming to an end, we see things a little differently,

You are standing today, all of you, before ADONAI your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So, He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.(29:9-12, cf. Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Joshua 8:35, and Nehemiah 8:2-3)

So, in this week’s reading Israel travels for three months, moving from bondage and oppression to the dawning of a new existence. They have finished one school and are about to embark on a new curriculum. Along the way they have discovered that HaShem’s actions are not motivated simply by the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also by His desire for Bnei-Yisrael to be a treasured people unto Himself. But that is not all, they also discovered the people that HaShem was drawing to Himself were not just the elite, or the males, but all the people, the elders and the wood cutters, men and women alike, etc., were called into His presence. Every year when we celebrate Passover, we acknowledge that we too have come out of Egypt (Exodus 13:8). If this is true, then just as we too took part in the Exodus, we too stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai hearing HaShem’s call to be a treasured people—how will we respond to the call to “…listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant”? HaShem’s words cannot simply be relegated to the “Old Covenant” because Yeshua said something similar to his followers, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Later John would write to his community, “Now this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the commandment—just as you heard from the beginning—that you walk in love” (2 John 1:6). If we are going to be His special treasured people today, then we too must respond with Bnei-Yisrael, “of all ADONAI says, we will do.”

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.

2 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael is the classic anthology of early rabbinic interpretations of the Book of Exodus. It is one the earliest sources for midrash, considered to be the work of the Tannaim during the first two century CE., before the codification of the Mishnah in 220 CE. last accessed on 24 January 2019

4 I use the term Old Covenant simply as a matter of contrast, not inferring that it is archaic or out-of-date.



Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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.
Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

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.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment