Torah Thoughts – Terumah

Many of us have a heart to serve Hashem, but often our hearts are divided. On one side is the desire to follow His commands or His leading completely. On the other side is the desire to set our own terms of service. We set up all sorts of conditions and limits on what we will do, where we will go, and how we will serve; all under the guise of following the Lord and doing His bidding. We want to remain in control of what we do and how we do it. In doing so, we forget Yeshua’s word of caution to his talmidim (including us),

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

I suggest that the works of lawlessness were not the actions or ministry done in the name of the Lord, rather they were the fact that these actions were being done outside of the plans and directions of Hashem, seemingly of their own volition. 

In this week’s parasha, Terumah, Exodus 25:1 through 27:19, Bnei Israel is taught this lesson. 

“Tell Bnei-Yisrael to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him you are to take My offering. These are the contributions which you are to receive from them…”

Exodus 25:2-3

The word translated “offering” is terumah, a special gift, a contribution, something that is dedicated or set apart for sacred use. Notice first that the terumah or offering was to be given as each individual’s “heart compels” him/her, meaning that the individual had a degree of control over whether he or she gave, what he or she gave, and how much he or she gave. Second, the terumah was NOT just anything the heart compels. Hashem continued to give Moshe specific instructions as to what type of offerings were to be received from the people, and the list is long enough that everyone would have been able to participate in the terumah in some way or another. There were fifteen categories of items and there was no set amount, minimum or maximum stipulated.

After the command to give the terumah, Hashem gives the reason for the terumah, “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them,” (Exodus 25:8) But then, as with defining the acceptable terumah, He gives exact instructions on how to build the Sanctuary, 

You are to make it all precisely according to everything that I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings within—just so you must make it.” As with the offering, the Sanctuary had to follow a set, certain pattern.

Exodus 25:9

So, while Hashem did want willing or heart motivated offerings, He was very specific in what offerings would be acceptable, as well as in exactly how the offerings were to be used. Remember that earlier Hashem had told Bnei Israel, “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,” (Exodus 19:5); and the people responded, “Everything that ADONAI has spoken, we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Just as one cannot play baseball with golf clubs, Bnei Israel, if they were going to follow Hashem, had to do so by His rules, and that included the offerings brought as well as their use.

Concerning the Tabernacle Hashem told Moshe, You are to make it all precisely according to everything that I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings within—just so you must make it.” It should be noted that in the Ancient Near East, (ANE), this would not be a surprising command. According to Nahum Sarna,

A prominent characteristic of the narrative in both its parts is the repeated reference to divinely given instructions and the celestial patterns for the terrestrial edifice and for its contents. Such a conception of a sanctuary is not unknown elsewhere in the ancient world. It is attested as early as about 2200 BCE in the narration of a building project by the Sumerian King Gudea of Lagash. It also occurs in Egyptian texts that treat similar enterprises. The idea of divine inspiration, initiation, and specification of a religious institution generally communicates the deity’s sanction and acceptance of the sacred structure, which is thereby endowed with legitimacy.

Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991, 156.

In other words, receiving instructions from Hashem was not unexpected. If their God truly cared for them and desired their allegiance, they anticipated that He would tell them what He wanted and how He wanted it used. In fact, Hashem’s giving of rules and directions actually validated or as Sarna intimated, legitimized His and Bnei Israel’s mutual covenantal relationship.

Returning to the beginning, I said that “Many of us have a heart to serve Hashem, but our often our hearts are divided.” Better yet, maybe we want to serve Hashem according to Frank Sinatra’s classic affirmation, “I did it my way.” Unfortunately, Yeshua told those who did it their way what he thought about their claim of service – “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!” On the other hand, Yeshua told his followers, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” (John 14:15). For those who choose to keep his commandments and not to do things our way, I believe we will more likely hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a little, so I’ll put you in charge of much. Enter into your master’s joy,” (Matthew 25:23)! 

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

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Torah Thoughts – Mishpatim

I grew up in a “military” home; my father was career US Air Force. I kind of knew that I would also be going into the military. So, at eighteen I enlisted in the US Marine Corps and for the next twelve plus years lived by a relatively strict code of behavior and dress. It was not always easy, there were occasionally life and family pressures that came with being in the Marines. But the one thing that came to mind time and time again was, “I volunteered for this, I wasn’t drafted or forced into the Marine Corps.” I may not have understood the full implications of life in military service, but I willingly signed on the dotted line, committing myself to said life – three times in fact. 

In last week’s parsha, Israel was introduced to the basic framework of the Covenant that Hashem was offering them (Exodus 20:1-17). This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18, begins to flesh out that Covenant. The word mishpatim literally means “judgements” but can also be translated as rules or ordinances.According to the sages, mishpatim refers to the category of rules (mitzvot) that we can logically understand. Among other things, these mitzvot establish the guidelines for proper, ethical care for slaves and for livestock, as well as responsibility for damages caused by said livestock to others. They also cover the dealing with theft and restitution of lost property, whether by the hand of the thief or by the action or inaction of a borrower. The prophets repeatedly chided Israel for their failure to heed the mitzvot given in parashat Mishpatim, specifically oppression of those on the fringes of society

You must not exploit or oppress an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt. You must not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you mistreat them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry.

Exodus 22:20-23

In Isaiah’s first vision, Hashem, in correcting wayward Judah and Jerusalem, pleaded with the people to “learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, [and] plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). The prophet Micah gives a practical understanding and application of the regulations in Mishpatim to care for others whether they be family or outsiders and to deal caringly for those who cannot care for themselves in his admonition, “He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what ADONAI is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

There are other mitzvot in the Torah that Israel, both then and now, may or may not understand their reason or purpose. Mitzvot such as those dealing with ritual purity and impurity, food and clothing requirements, are not easy to understand logically. Nevertheless, Israel was and is just as responsible for these mitzvot as for those we can easily understand.  In fact, Israel has never been asked or required to understand the rationale behind the mitzvot but only to accept and to do them. Before the Covenant was given, Moshe explained that if they would keep the Covenant Israel would be Hashem’s Am Segula (His special people). Israel responded, “Everything that ADONAI has spoken, we will do,” וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה va’yomru, “kol asher diber ADONAI na’aseh” (Exodus 19:8). Then after the Covenant has been presented to them, the people respond once again “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey (literally ‘hear’)” וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע va’yomru, kol asher diber ADONAI na’aseh v’nishmah (Exodus 24:7).

I included the Hebrew in both of the proclamations because I want to emphasize what the two verses have in common and the one difference. First all the people answered (וַיֹּאמְרוּ) and they said, “we will do” (נַעֲשֶׂה). The Covenant was not forced upon Bnei Israel, they accepted it voluntarily. They could have walked away from the mountain, saying “man, this is more than I bargained for, I’m out of here.” For that matter, after the mitzvot in Mishpatim were given and they learned more of what was required, they could have turned around and left; but instead, they reiterated their acceptance. They made the choice to accept the Covenant, binding it upon themselves and their descendants for all time. After hearing the parameters of the Covenant they committed their willingness to do what was written therein even before understanding the regulations, etc. The commitment in Exodus 24:7 states that Israel will do and hear (shema), which carries with it the idea of heeding, paying attention, understanding. So, the people of Israel committed to keeping and doing both logically understandable commands and not so understandable commands.

In the Apostolic Writings we read Yeshua’s words to his talmidim, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I selected you…” (John 15:16) and “No one can come to Me unless My Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44). The choosing and drawing Yeshua spoke about is comparable to the leading of Bnei Israel out of Egypt, first to Sinai and eventually to the promised land. There was always a choice to be made – to do or not to do (a bit Shakespearian, huh?). Hashem never desired robots who followed commands without thought or choice. Rav Shaul recognized this when he wrote 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 was never about obedience alone; there was and always is a component of choice. I joined the Marines voluntarily, because I wanted to do so. When I enlisted the first time, I thought I knew what was going to happen and accepted what would come. After being in for a while, I discovered that there was much more to the life of a Marine than what my limited understanding had thought. However, in spite of the newer or more complete understanding, I still reenlisted a couple more times, again voluntarily. When the time came that I left the Corps to pursue another course, that too was voluntary. 

Our lives are a series of choices made each and every day; choices to walk in the manner we know is right and godly or choices to walk in a manner contrary to what Scriptures tell us is the way to go. Either way, the choice is ours to make. We are faced with the same choice that Joshua challenged Bnei Israel after they entered the promised land,

Now therefore, fear ADONAI and worship Him in sincerity and in truth. Get rid of the gods that your fathers had worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and worship ADONAI. If it seems bad to you to worship ADONAI, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will worship ADONAI!

Joshua 24:14-15

May we all choose to worship Adonai in sincerity and truth.

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

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Torah Thoughts – Yithro

What is the importance of the number 3? Some common “threes” are the sun, moon, and stars, the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Kohanim, Levites and am ha’aretz, and the triune nature of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And speaking of Hashem, His three primary attributes are omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. There are three primary colors, red, blue, and green and there are three spatial dimensions, height, width, and length. Biblically, the number three represents divine wholeness, completeness and perfection. Finally, to bring this listing to an end, time is measured as past, present, and future. While not on purpose, I have listed nine common “threes” which amusingly is 3 x 3.

So why have I noted the importance of “three” in light of this week’s parasha, Yithro, Exodus 18:1-20:23? As we will see later, there are at least two significate “threes” in this week’s reading. 

Parashat Yithro does not begin with the Mt. Sinai experience and the giving of the Torah. Rather it begins with Yithro, a non-Jewish priest of Midian, who also happened to be Moshe’s father-in-law, coming to visit Moshe and bringing with him Moshe’s wife and two sons. After greeting one another, Moshe relates the account of Hashem’s deliverance of Bnei Israel from the oppression of Egyptian tyranny and the ultimate demise of Pharaoh and his army in the Sea of Reeds. After expressing praise to Hashem, Yithro observed Moshe’s day-to-day actions with the people which led Yithro to give Moshe some sage advice on how to govern and administer the people.

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you’re doing is no good. You will surely wear yourself out, as well as these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone, by yourself. Now listen to my voice—I will give you advice, and may God be with you! You, represent the people before God, and bring their cases to God. Enlighten them as to the statutes and the laws, and show them the way by which they must walk and the work they must do. But you should seek out capable men out of all the people—men who fear God, men of truth, who hate bribery. Appoint them to be rulers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them judge the people all the time. Then let every major case be brought to you, but every minor case they can judge for themselves. Make it easier for yourself, as they bear the burden with you.

Exodus 18:17-22, TLV

It is obvious that Yithro was concerned both for Moshe as well as for Bnei Israel. By putting Yithro’s advice into practice, it became the pattern for the Israelite administrative and judicial system. An 18th Moroccan mystic and Torah commentator, suggests that the purpose Yithro’s visit “was to teach us that although Torah is the all-encompassing repository of wisdom, there are things in which other people, gentiles, excel more than Jews. For instance, the skill of proper bureaucratic administration” (Pinchas Peli, Torah Today, 1987, p 73). The fact that Moshe immediately implemented Yitro’s advice instead of simply filing it away and continuing on his own, is a sign of Moshe’s greatness.

I find the phraseology of Yithro’s closing words to Moshe most remarkable. “If you do this – and God so commands you – you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied,” (Exodus 18:23, JPS). Yithro did not automatically assume that his advice would be unilaterally accepted by Moshe – but he encouraged Moshe to follow it, if it was acceptable to Hashem as well. Then as noted in vs 18, Yithro reiterated a show of compassion and pronounced the expected outcome – Moshe would be able to handle the load and the people would “go home unwearied.” 

Now for the promised “threes”. First, Yithro is one of three parashiot that carry the name of a non-Jew. There is Noach, who became the father of all mankind after the Flood; then Yithro, the priest of Midian; and finally, Balak, the less than righteous king of Moab. Noach was considered righteous, Yithro’s praise of Hashem and much needed advice to Moshe set him apart as a man of wisdom and compassion, and Balak was the bad apple of the three. It has been suggested that this set of three goes to show that all non-Jews are not necessarily bad or evil and that even those who do not specifically serve or follow the God of Israel can be righteous, moral individuals – affirming the fact that we all, Jews and non-Jews alike are created in the image of Hashem.

Then there is another “three” in this parasha. After Moshe told Yithro about the exploits of Hashem, Yitro immediate responds בָּרוּךְ ה׳, Baruch Hashem. Two times before in the Torah, this phrase was specifically proclaimed – and like this time, both were by non-Jews: Noach (Genesis 9:26) when he blessed Shem, and Eliezer (Genesis 24:27) when he realized that Hashem had indeed led him to Abraham’s kin and potentially Isaac’s future wife. Interestingly, the phrase Baruch Hashem, which has become one of the most common responses of religious Jews worldwide, did in fact originate from the lips of non-Jews.

Now for a final observation from Yithro, we need to return to last week’s parasha, Beshalach. After the Song at the Sea in Exodus 15, we read about the reaction of the surrounding nations at the deliverance of Bnei Israel by Hashem, “Then the chiefs of Edom are terrified. Trembling grips Moab’s mighty men. All of Canaan’s inhabitants will melt away. Terror and dread will fall on them,” (Exodus 15:15-16). Later we read that “the Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim,” (Exodus 17:8). Apparently, Amalek also heard of Hashem’s exploits and concluded that the best defense was good offence and decided to immediately go on the attack. Then we come to Yithro, who also heard of Hashem’s exploits (Exodus 18:1) but instead of fear and trembling or becoming angry and attacking, he chose to go see his son-in-law. He wanted to hear the story firsthand, after which he immediately offered praise to Hashem.

Often, we hear news or a report about and individual, or a group of individuals that invokes an immediately reaction. Sometimes the response is fear, sometimes anger, sometimes it is doubt and confusion. At times, these feelings are justified, sometimes they are not. Ideally, we should, like Yithro, go to the source and check-out the news or report to see if it is accurate. After doing so, then we can determine our next course of action, if any is needed. Afterwards, remember Yithro’s response when he heard Moshe’s account—Baruch Hashem—and remember that Hashem is deserving of blessing and praise regardless of the situation or circumstance. 

The Haftarah for Yithro is Isaiah 6:1-13 & the reading from the Apostolic Writings
is Matthew 5:13-20.

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Torah Thoughts – Shemot

Back when I was on active duty in the US Marine Corps, I was a statistician for a couple of years. While I did not ever want to be a bean counter, I did enjoy discovering trends and factors related to why certain maintenance practices were more successful than others and how lines of supply effected the operational dependability of the aircraft I worked with.

As I began to read and study this week’s parasha, Shemot, Exodus 1:1 – 6:1, I made a “statistical” discovery that is only immediately noticeable in Hebrew. In Genesis 32:33 (32 in most English translations), the phrase בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, b’nei Israel appears and is usually translated son, children, descendants, or people of Israel, though literally it means sons of or children of Israel. This passage in Genesis is a brief explanation of why Jews traditionally do not eat the sinew of the thigh. But I digress. After Genesis 32, the phrase בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, b’nei Israel appears seven more times, including twice in this week’s parasha, Exodus 1:1 with the naming of the eleven sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob and again in 1:7 which proclaims that though in Egypt, 

Bnei-Yisrael (בְנֵייִשְׂרָאֵל) were fruitful, increased abundantly, multiplied and grew extremely numerous—so the land was filled with them.

Exodus 1:7

This has distinct overtones of modern anti-Semitic proclamations that the Jews are everywhere and are trying to take over everything. But, when we read the next two verses, we discover that it is not simply overtones of anti-Semitism, it is rather blatant.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Bnei-Yisrael are too numerous and too powerful for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them, or else they will grow even more numerous, so that if war breaks out, they may join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.”  

Exodus 1:8-9

In an article entitled “From Egypt to Israel,” Yosef Eisen points out a number of parallels between the “new king of Egypt” and Adolph Hitler, the most relevant here is, “Hitler claims the Jews are a threat to Germany and strong measures must be taken against them.

Hitler’s attitude and subsequent actions simply prove that the words of the Kohelet are true, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), as well as the words writer and philosopher George Santayana who coined the phrase, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Springing from Santayana’s words is an oft quoted phrase “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Anti-Semitism is on the rise in our world today. Violent and deadly attacks are being perpetrated upon Jews around the world. Jewish communities are advocating beefing up armed security at synagogues and other Jewish establishments, as well as personally arming oneself. Some are encouraging the need for action. We must prepare ourselves, but that first step should be to heed the words of the Psalmist, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we praise the name of ADONAI our God,” (Psalm 20:8, CJB). We must first arm ourselves by trusting in HaShem and not being motivated by fear, then choose to live daily following Nehemiah’s plan when he and other returnees were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, they always had a weapon by their side, even when getting water (Nehemiah 4:17).

I am not advocating armed resistance, nor am I speaking against it. All I am trying to say is that we need to be prepared. Yeshua’s words to his talmidim, “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take up the sword shall perish by the sword,” (Matthew 26:52) must be weighed against the Kohelet’s words, “For everythingthere is a season and a time for every activity under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Granted there may be times when we are to lay down our lives for others or the Gospel, or Kiddush HaShem, but being shot in a Jewish deli or in a synagogue, accosted on the street or on a bus for appearing to be Jewish, or being hacked by a machete during a Hanukkah gathering in your rabbi’s home, does not qualify, because the victims had no choice. They were attacked and/or murdered simply for being or  looking like Jews. In taking a stand against anti-Semitism we stand against the evil that would destroy the Jewish people simply because they are chosen by the Holy One, blessed be He. By doing that we indirectly standing up for the Gospel and Kiddush HaShem.

Returning to the statistical aspect with which I started, it is in Exodus that the Jewish people were first defined. In Exodus 1:9, the phrase עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, Am B’nei Israel first appears. Pharaoh, the king who didn’t know Joseph, recognized the children of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, not merely as a nomadic clan but an actual genealogical people group on the world stage. Pharaoh recognized that Jacob’s descendants were to be feared because they were obviously blessed by the God who was bigger and more powerful than Pharaoh. 

Israel remains the chosen people of God, heirs of the covenants and the venue through which Messiah Yeshua entered this world to provide all creation the way back into full relationship with HaShem. Anti-Semitism is not only against Israel and the Jews, anti-Semitism is a true spirit of the anti-Christ. We would do well to heed the words that Joshua spoke to Israel after they had entered the land,

If it seems bad to you to worship ADONAI, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will worship ADONAI.

Joshua 24:15

We each have to make the choice; will we follow and serve the God of Israel and Messiah Yeshua, or contrary to the Scriptural encouragement, choose to follow the ways (gods) of the world?

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

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Torah Thoughts – Vayigash

This week we read the third part of the narrative of the life and times of Joseph as he continues his epic journey from favorite son to viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. This week’s portion is Vayigash, “and he approached” (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27). Judah approaches Zaphnath-Pa’aneah (Gen. 41:45), who unbeknownst to Judah is really Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt who holds in his hand not only the life of Judah’s sibling Benjamin but also of his father Jacob. Judah approaches and pleads for Benjamin’s life and freedom. Zaphnath-Pa’aneah remains cold and stoic until the end of Judah’s impassioned plea. Then he breaks down, empties his chambers of everyone except his brothers and emotionally reveals his identity to his brothers.

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

Genesis 45:3-8

In his book, Journey to Consciousness: Who Am I?, author and motivational speaker, A. S. Murdock recounts a story of a mother comforting her daughter after the daughter’s traumatic encounter with a rude beggar on the street. The mother gave her daughter a piece of advice that we should all have embroidered on our consciences, “Life is about choices baby and you are responsible for the choices you make. It is those choices that will determine whether your life turns out good or bad,” (p 42).

Joseph, or Zaphnath-Paaneah as the eleven brothers knew him, had every reason to be angry, even vengeful toward his siblings. They hadn’t liked him all those years ago and their hatred and jealousy caused them to sell him into slavery. Joseph’s journey as a slave took him from being a trusted house steward to a forgotten prisoner and finally to the highest position in Pharaoh’s court. Joseph had been separated from his father for more than two decades, and it was the fault of ten of these eleven brothers. But contrary to the brothers’ expectation, Joseph did not hold a grudge against them. He didn’t hold them at fault for all that he had suffered and all that he had endured. Instead he chose to interpret the story differently; he saw everything as part of God’s plan, “…it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you. … it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God!” Life is about choices, and Joseph made a choice to focus upon the act of salvation HaShem brought about through Joseph’s less than favorable circumstances.

Joseph did not mention how his brothers had mistreated him, rather he focused on the positive results that eventually came from their actions. By focusing on the positive, Joseph chose to forgive the wrong that was perpetrated against him. He recognized that if his brothers had not done what they did, there would be no grain in Egypt and Jacob’s family may well have come to an end.

In a teaching by Institute in Basic Life Principles founded by Bill Gothard, we read these words,

A key to forgiving your offender is realizing that God can work through your suffering to accomplish His purposes in your life. Ultimately, God is in control. He allows the good and bad things in life, and we can trust Him to work all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him. (See Romans 8:28.)

This understanding enabled many people in Scripture to forgive their offenders. Their response freed them from the destructive consequences of bitterness and allows them to receive the blessings that eventually came about because of their suffering.  

Do not misunderstand me – the ability to forgive those who wrong you and to see the good that can potentially come from bad situations, are not easy, but they are necessary. The Psalmist wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened,” (Psalm 66:18). This is often interpreted as the Psalmist saying that if he hid secret sin in his heart, HaShem wouldn’t listen to his prayers. I have no doubt about this interpretation, though I do not believe it is limited to this understanding. I think it also could be understood as the Psalmist saying, “if I hold on to those things that have been done against me, if I hide them in my heart and allow them to take root, then HaShem will not hear me when I pray.” Rav Shaul might have agreed with me as he wrote to the believers in Ephesus,

Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

Another bit of wisdom from the Psalmist, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is pardoned,” (Psalm 32:1). If the person who is forgiven is blessed, how much more so the person who forgives. The forgiven is free from guilt and condemnation; the one who forgives is free from the root of bitterness and anger. Most of all, as with Joseph and his brothers and eventually his father, reconciliation is possible and what was broken has the opportunity to be restored. 

Let me close with these words from Rav Shaul to the believers at Colossae, 

…bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a grievance against another.

Colossians 3:13

The word translated ‘bearing,’ anechō, carries the connotation of “to put up with,” “to bear with,” or “to endure”. We are to bear with, put up with and endure one another and to forgive each other. As stated earlier, forgiveness is a choice. The choice to forgive is often not an easy one, but the rewards of living in forgiveness nurtures and promotes an atmosphere of reconciliation and restoration. Let’s commit to choose to walk in forgiveness, looking to see how all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

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

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Torah Thoughts – Vayeshev

This week’s Torah portion is Vayeshev, וַיֵּשֶׁב v’yeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23, 

Now Jacob dwelled (v’yeshev) in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan.

Genesis 37:1

From the onset we see an interesting comparison between Jacob and his father: Jacob dwelled where his father sojourned. The inference is that unlike Isaac who sojourned, גּוּר, in the land of Canaan, living there as a newcomer and not really settling in, Jacob יֵּשֶׁב yeshev, he sat down, he settled in with the intention of staying. Rashi seems to think that Jacob not only settle in but that he was settled, he was at peace. The conflict with Esau that he had been dreading was past, and the future looked pretty good, well for a short season anyway. The seeds of discontent that began back in Padan-aran while with Uncle Laban, would soon become a full-blown storm that would separate Jacob’s family for years to come. The coming storm is centered around Joseph, the first born of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel and the one on whom most of remaining chapters of Genesis focus. 

Genesis 37:2 sets the tone of the upcoming chapters, “These are the genealogies of Jacob. When Joseph was 17 years old (he was a youth) ….” Why was it important to acknowledge that Joseph was a youth? Without a doubt, Joseph was not the only notable youth mentioned in Scripture. Samuel was called by HaShem when he was but a lad (1 Samuel 3) and David was probably 17 or 18 years of age when he fought Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Likewise, Jeremiah was thought to be 17 when he was called to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1) and it was a boy who donated his lunch from which Yeshua fed 5000 (John 6). It should never be said that youth cannot love or serve God because of their age. It was not necessarily Joseph’s age that got him into trouble, but the way in which he handled situations while he was a youth.

As his father’s favorite son, Joseph received special treatment (Genesis 37:3) that did nothing to bolster his relationship with his brothers. Additionally, Joseph often brought Jacob bad reports about the actions of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (Genesis 37:2) which lowered his popularity figures even more. Finally, Joseph had a couple of dreams, in both of which he was center stage with his family apparently subservient to him. Had Joseph done as Mariam when she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), instead of sharing them with those who already had much against him, the story may have played out a little differently.

Sforno, an Italian rabbi, Biblical commentator, philosopher and physician observes that,

…the Torah mentions Joseph’s youthfulness to illustrate that it was precisely because he was youngand did not foresee the consequences, that he sinned by telling tales about his brothers. Thought Joseph was brilliant, the Sages observed that in general, לֹא בְּדַרְדְּקֵי עֵצָה, there is no wise counsel in children (Shabbos 89b).

Meir Zlotowitz. ArtScroll Tanakh Series, Bereishis Vol 1(b). Brooklyn, Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1986, p. 1612.

Robert Alter, an American professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley suggests that

…this whole speech shows us a young Joseph who is self-absorbed, blithely assuming everyone will be fascinated by the details of his dreams.”

Robert Alter. “The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary” on Genesis 37:6. Apple Books.

There is no question that as Joseph would later tell his brothers “…you yourselves planned evil against me. God planned it for good, in order to bring about what it is this day—to preserve the lives of many people,” (Genesis 50:20). And there is no question that in Mizraim (Egypt), Joseph’s dreams were realized; his brothers and his father bowed down to him, but as the Prime Minister of Egypt and not as their brother and son. But if Joseph’s youthful zeal had been tempered slightly, and if he had a better reign on the words of his mouth, the end may have been the same but the journey radically different. As it were, the life experiences that Joseph endured from the pit to the righthand side of the throne, changed the impetuous young man to one who considered situations and how to deal with them while trusting in the God of his fathers. One lesson to be learned from this is that parents should not play favorites with their children, especially in blended family situations. In other words, if one child gets a special tunic, all should get something special as well. 

In closing, here are a few words of caution from Rav Shaul, first concerning the raising up of leaders, “He (or she) must not be a new believer, or he (or she) may become puffed up and fall into the same judgment as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). Joseph was given a lot of responsibility as well as favor, seemingly without much oversight. Whether youth or middle aged, one should not be elevated to a position beyond that for which they are trained and qualified, lest they be set up for a fall. And secondly, combining a word to Timothy and another to the believers in Rome, Rav Shaul instructs all of us to “…do nothing out of favoritism … for there is no partiality with God” (1 Timothy 5:21 & Romans 2:11).

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

This week’s Haftarah reading is from Amos 2:6 – 3:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is Matthew 5:1-16.

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Torah Thoughts – Vayishlach

This week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 continues with Jacob making his trek homeward. However, instead of rejoicing in the soon to be family reunion, this week’s reading begins with Jacob making plans to survive his imminent encounter with his brother Esau. Jacob, instead of trusting the promise HaShem had given him, “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), tried to arrange or maybe pacify things on his own. His first attempt at greeting his brother seemed to be less than favorably received, “Jacob became extremely afraid and distressed,” (Genesis 32:8). A potential war party of four hundred men led by Esau may well have been the cause of Jacob’s fear, especially as he did not have Rav Shaul’s words of comfort, “for we walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

I want to stop here and acknowledge that making preparations for future situations is not a bad thing. As I write this, we have gas masks in storage in the bomb shelter in our apartment against the possibility of a future attack. There are other things that should be in there as well, but the lack of constant treat has led to the food stuffs and water being used over time and not replaced. People buy insurance—home, car, and health—to cover situations they hope never happens. Without a doubt, this is good and proper practice. Jacob’s planning for a potential future attack by his brother was not wrong, he was counting the cost of a potentially dangerous encounter with his brother. Jacob’s reasoning for dividing his camp could even be considered wise, “If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it, the camp that’s left will escape” (Genesis 32:9). What I want to emphasize here is not Jacob’s actions but the motivation that drove those actions.

In verse 8 Jacob was extremely afraid and destressed. In verse 12, we hear his prayer,

Deliver me, please, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him that he’ll come and strike me—the mothers with the children.

Genesis 32:12

Jacob could have rested in the promise of HaShem to which he at least mentally gave assent,

You Yourself said, “I will most certainly do good with you, and will make your seed like the sand of the sea that cannot be counted because of its abundance.”

Genesis 32:13

But instead he allowed fear of reprisal of his past actions to darken the clouds surrounding his approaching encounter with his brother. Fear as a motivator for one’s actions is by no means unique to Jacob. In a September 23, 2009 online article from Psychology Today, author Robert Evans Wilson Jr. notes,

Fear is a primal instinct that … serves us today. It keeps us alive, because if we survive a bad experience, we never forget how to avoid it in the future. Our most vivid memories are born in fear. Adrenaline etches them into our brains.

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear. And we have so many fears: fear of pain, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, missing an opportunity, and being scammed, to name a few. Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone. If we don’t know the way back, we are likely to follow whoever shows us a path.

Fear is a reality of life. How we handle that fear is the most important issue. Continuing in the article above Mr. Wilson suggests that removing doubt is the key to overcoming fear: doubt that you will be delivered, you will overcome, you will succeed, etc. But, where is one supposed to find or to generate the power or the ability to overcome doubt? I suggest the power and ability comes from trusting the same thing that Jacob should have depended upon, the Word of God. As Moshe told Israel, that word is not far away but is near to us if we seek it, “the word is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it,” (Deuteronomy 30:14). Consider these verses and hold them as words that are near,

ADONAI—He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you. Do not fear or be discouraged.

Deuteronomy 31:8

But now, thus says ADONAI—the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are Mine.”

Isaiah 43:1

ADONAI is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. My God is my rock, in Him I take refuge, my shield, my horn of salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:3

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

The situation in which you find yourself may seem the same. Like Jacob, your Esau, with four hundred men, may be just around the corner and your heart and brain may be doing gyrations motivated by fear trying to figure a way out of the situation. Trust in the Word that is near, believe that it is HaShem’s desire to see you through the situation to the best outcome possible. Most of all, remember that fear is the antithesis to love, and we are told that “perfect love drives out fear,” (1 John 4:18). 

Life and occasionally life choices ensure that fearful situations will continually come and go. We need to keep our hearts and minds focused on the Word of God, and on our relationship with Him, knowing that whatever comes He will be there with us, seeing us through to fulfill His Word in our lives.

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

This week’s Haftarah reading is from Obadiah 1:1-21 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is Matthew 8:23-27.

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