This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Sivan. For some, you have just read the previous italicized words and thought “huh, what did he say?” It is not hard to understand if you know the lingo. Shabbat Mevarchim is the Shabbat before the upcoming Rosh Chodesh (new month) on the Jewish calendar. The upcoming Rosh Chodesh is Sivan, which begins on Wednesday, May 12th. Thus the month of Sivan spans from mid-May to mid-June on the Gregorian calendar.

As always on Shabbat Mevarchim after the Torah and the Haftarah (Prophets) readings, a special segment for the upcoming Rosh Chodesh is read. The chazzan or Torah reader takes the Torah Scroll in his arms and recites, 

May He who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, redeem us soon, and gather our dispersed people from the four quarters of the earth, so that all Israel may be united in friendship, and let us say: Amen

Rosh Chodesh Sivan will occur in Yom Revi’i. May it come to us and all Israel for good.

(Then in Israel the following is said.)

May the Holy One, blessed be He, renew for us and for all His people the house of Israel, wherever they are, for good and blessing, gladness and joy, for salvation and consolation, livelihood and sustenance, for life and peace, good tidings, and good news, (during the winter, for rain in its due season), for complete healing and imminent redemption, and let us say: Amen.
(The Koren Siddur, with Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks ז״ל, Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, 2009, p 526)

Rosh Chodesh Sivan holds a special place within Judaism; in truth, it should also hold a special place for all Yeshua-believers, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. During the month of Sivan we finish the counting of the omer, culminating with the festival of Shavuot (Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:15-21; Deuteronomy 16:9-11). Tradition holds that the Torah was given to Bnei Israel on Shavuot. The Babylonian Talmud teaches that both the New Moon and Shavuot are linked together with the Exodus from Egypt.

The Sages taught: On the sixth day of the month of Sivan, the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish people. Rabbi Yosei says: On the seventh day of the month. Rava said: Everyone agrees that the Jews came to the Sinai desert on the New Moon, as it is written here: “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai” (Exodus 19:1), without elaborating what day it was. And it is written there: “This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2). Just as there, the term “this” is referring to the New Moon, so too, here the term is referring to the New Moon.

Shabbat 86a, Sefaria

At this time, we are reminded of the miracles that led to the redemption of Bnei Israel from Egyptian oppression and the giving and reception of the Torah at Sinai. 

A hope for an ultimate restoration and redemption both with HaShem and with one another is expressed in the final recitation of the Shabbat Mevarchim bracha. But another miracle is linked to Shavuot. This miracle provides the power to truly work toward and experience the desired restoration and redemption, the miracle of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh)

When the day of Shavuot had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And tongues like fire spreading out appeared to them and settled on each one of them. They were all filled with the Ruach ha-Kodesh and began to speak in other tongues as the Ruach enabled them to speak out.

Acts 2:1-4

This outpouring of the Ruach haKodesh is a fulfillment of Yeshua’s words to his talmidim as he prepared to return to his Father.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever… But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you. … you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

John 14:16, 26 & Acts 1:8

If I may be allowed a little license, Shavuot links the Torah given to Bnei Israel at Sinai to the Ruach haKodesh given to the Yeshua-believers in Jerusalem. John in the beginning of his Besorah (Gospel) states, “Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah” (John 1:17). This affirmation typically serves to contrast “law” and “grace.” I suggest that instead of contrast, the occurrence of both on Shavuot indelibly links the guidance of the law (Torah) to the enabling grace and truth of the Ruach haKodesh. Without law, there is anarchy, without grace the law becomes a ridged, unbending behavioral code. But when, like strands of DNA, law and grace are intertwined, held together by the truth revealed by the Creator along with Yeshua, who is the author and perfector of our common faith (see Hebrews 12:2) then we have the ability and the power to live life and that more abundantly (se John 10:10).

* 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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“Holiness, Leviticus tells from chapter 19 onward, is not only the special preserve of an elite, the priests. It belongs to the people as a whole, for they are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ז״ל, Covenant a & Conversation: Leviticus: The Book of Holiness, New Milford: Maggid Press, 2015, p 355).

Leviticus 19 begins with HaShem’s command to Moses, “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2). This saying is the heart of what is known as the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26), while Leviticus itself has been described as a handbook for the Kohanim (priests) and Levites, summarizing their duties in service to HaShem and as mediators between Bnei Israel and HaShem. While this seems to be the main focus of the book, it also serves as a guidebook, defining the parameters of what it means to be a holy, set-apart people. Interestingly, the word holiness appears more than one hundred and fifty times in Leviticus, more than in any other book in the Tanakh or Apostolic Writings. 

This week’s parasha, Emor, Leviticus 21:1-24:23, first continues its ongoing discourse to the Kohanim by addressing additional situations that could call their holiness into question into question, then discusses the acceptable conditions of various offerings that can be presented to HaShem and then in chapters 23 and 24 returns to addressing all the congregation of Israel to be holy as the LORD our God is holy. In chapter 23, Bnei Israel is given a glance at HaShem’s yearly Day-Timer in which he sets forth weekly as well as seasonal moadim or specific times which he has purposefully set aside to meet with his covenantal people.

This Day-Timer is especially important as the designated times are not set apart just for the kohanim and Levites, not for the elders and leaders of the community, rather they set apart for all of Bnei Israel. At the very outset, HaShem defines the purpose of these special times; they are to be his holy convocations—”My moadim” (Leviticus 23:2). Four times in the chapter’s forty-four verses, Moses is commanded to speak to Bnei Israel (Leviticus 23:2, 10, 24, & 34), describing the individual meeting times that HaShem determined to meet with all of his people. Likewise, four times HaShem reiterates that these moadim are statutes forever, throughout all of Israel’s generations in all of Israel’s dwelling (Leviticus 23:14, 21, 31, & 41). 

In meeting with Hashem during his designated moadim, we “keep the mitzvot and do them” (Leviticus 22:32). In keeping the moadim, we not only proclaim but exemplify the holiness of HaShem as one experiences his presence within the holy community. As Rabbi Sacks noted, holiness is not just a state or condition of the kohanim and Levites but a condition that we all should strive to attain. 

In the Second Temple Period, one of the goals of the Pharisees was to bring the holiness of the Temple down to the common person. According to Jacob Neusner ז״ל, the Pharisees held that “the commandment, ‘You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy people,’ was taken literally: Everyone is a priest, everyone stands in the same relationship to God, and everyone must keep the priestly laws.” (Jacob Neusner, From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972, p 83) In other words, the Pharisees felt that when HaShem told Moses to, “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2), HaShem meant every one of the children of Israel, in every place and aspect of their lives. While the Pharisees’ methods may have left much to be desired, their goal was admirable. If this were not accurate, then Yeshua’s words to his followers would be meaningless, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and Torah scholars, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisees have often been accused of being more concerned with outward appearances, not giving proper attention to the heart, and doing the letter of the Law without cultivating a change of heart. It may be said that in their zeal to “do holy” actions”, they lost sight of “being holy.”

In closing, I suggest that both the holiness code as set forth in Leviticus and the fundamental teaching of the Pharisees sought to establish the same purpose: All the people of God should take the responsibility to be holy as HaShem is holy. Holiness has never been simply doing or not doing something; it has always included the proper heart relationship with HaShem in our doing or not doing. Peter, in writing to his communities, affirmed this when he wrote,

So, brace your minds for action. Keep your balance. And set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. Like obedient children, do not be shaped by the cravings you had formerly in your ignorance. Instead, just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim you shall be, for I am kadosh.” 

1 Peter 1:13-16

So, to put Peter’s final statement, from Leviticus 19:2, in more of the vernacular, “All of you, from the least to the greatest, shall be holy, because I, your God, am holy.”

* 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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There are two things that I want to focus on this week as we consider the double portion of Tazria -Metzora, (Leviticus 12:1-15:33). First briefly of what tzara’at (13:2) is and probably is not. Then second, is the rabbinic understanding of what causes tzara’at. I consider this second aspect which is most important for us today. 

First, to definitions. Most English editions of the Scriptures translate tzara’at as leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, which is a long-term bacterial infection. It is translated thus not because of the Hebrew but because of the Greek of the Septuagint lepra which moved into English as leprosy. However, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh suggested that because tzara’at was treated by priests, rather than doctors, it shouldn’t be interpreted as a medical problem at all, but rather as an exclusively spiritual ailment. (   

The idea that tzara’at is the sign of a spiritual condition rather than exclusively a physical one is suggested in Dr. Abigail Uhrman’s introduction to this week’s parasha. 

This week’s parashah discusses tzara’at, a skin disease understood in rabbinic tradition as punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The public castigation that the metzora (the individual plagued by tzara’at) suffers is a powerful warning for us to “guard our tongues.” It was with words that God created the world, and our words have potential to build, create, and sustain life and human dignity, or to be a source of pain and destruction.

While there is nothing in this week’s parasha which clearly states that tzara’at is a result of lashon hara, there is a hint of this correlation in the treatment of the individual so inflicted. 

All the days during which the plague is on him he will be unclean. He is unclean. He is to dwell alone. Outside of the camp will be his dwelling.

Leviticus 13:46

This hint is reenforced by the apparent linkage of the two in Deuteronomy as Moses reminds the Children of Israel of Miriam’s lashon hara against Moses in connection with his Cushite wife resulting in Miriam be placed outside the camp (see Numbers 12:1ff).

“Take care in the plague of tzara’at—be very careful to do all that the Levitical kohanim instruct you, just as I commanded them, so you are to take care to do. Remember what ADONAI your God did to Miriam, along the way when you were coming out from Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:8-9

Although lashon hara is a common term in Judaism it may be foreign to many non-Jews. Simply put, 

Lashon Hara is any derogatory or damaging statement against an individual. In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t Lashon Hara: “Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara.”

The Chofetz Chaim takes this definition a bit further when he taught that,

“Lashon hara is forbidden not only when one’s intention is to condemn another or out of one’s hatred for another, but even when said in jest.”

This warning from the Chofetz Chaim hit me between the eyes when I read it and then went straight to my heart. I have often used humor as a defense in tense situations and occasionally as a weapon when I wanted to strike back at someone who hurt or offended me. In such cases humor, most often sarcasm, was lashon hara. At one time, the sign “Sarcasm Spoken Here” would have been at home on my wall. Now I am consciously attempting to avoid such speech most vigorously. 

Recall the words that Ya’acov wrote to his community, “From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be. A spring doesn’t pour out fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it” (James 3:10-11)? Therefore, the choice is ours; with the words we speak we can build up or tear down, bring comfort and healing or death and destruction. Rav Shaul reminded the Yeshua-believers in Corinth, Your boasting is no good. Don’t you know that a little hametz leavens the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6) Continuing with the idea that little things can cause big problems, Ya’acov wrote that while the tongue is such a small thing it can cause great trouble, (James 3:5, my paraphrase). 

The Psalmist wrote

Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me of hidden faults. Also keep Your servant from willful sins. May they not have dominion over me. Then I will be blameless, free from great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, ADONAI, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:13-14, (12-13)

I think it is important to note that errors, hidden faults, and willful sins are all interconnected to “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.” Maybe this is why later he would say “Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth.Keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

Returning to Dr. Uhrman whom I referenced at the beginning, she closed her teaching with these words of warning from psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, “Even when we have good intentions, we need to be wary of our linguistic choices. Our words can be limiting and damaging; they can reinforce our beliefs in fixed abilities and hinder our creative, intellectual, and human potential. Or, instead, our words can affirm our capacity to change, improve, and meet life’s challenges with honesty, ingenuity, and strength.” With these words in mind, I will close with the Peter’s words to his community,

“The one who loves life, wanting to see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.”

1 Peter 3:10

May we all see “good days” this week and keep lashon hara far from our thoughts and lips.

* 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 article has been reworked from one which I wrote in April 2019.

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There are three deaths spoken of in this week’s parasha, Shemini, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47. The first two are Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who had just been anointed with their father for service in the Mishkan. 

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before ADONAI—which He had not commanded them. So, fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and consumed them. So they died before ADONAI.

Leviticus 10:1-2

We are not told what caused the fire offered by Nadab and Abihu to be unauthorized. It would appear the major difference between what Aaron had already offered and what Nadab and Abihu did is captured by the phrase “which He had not commanded them.” As we have seen so far, every aspect of the Mishkan was accompanied by detailed instructions. From its design and construction to the numerous items as well as requirements for various rituals, all were minutely detailed according to HaShem’s command. The the priestly duties were also set out in meticulous detail. Nadab and Abihu had been trained in their duties as priests, first to assist their father Aaron and then eventually to step into the role of High Priest when it was time for Aaron to step down. They not only saw the manifestation of the glory of HaShem, more than likely, they too fell on their faces before his glory.

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came back out and blessed the people, the glory of ADONAI appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of ADONAI, and devoured the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.

Leviticus 9:23-24

Nevertheless, instead of following the pattern and instructions they had learned, they were apparently caught up in the moment. Instead of following HaShem’s instructions, their zeal motivated them to an action that he had not commanded. I need to stress, at this point, that personally, I do not believe that Nadab and Abihu were bad priests, that they evil or malicious intent, nor do I believe they even considered that they were doing something that HaShem had not required of them. I firmly believe that they allowed their zeal to outrun their knowledge of how things were to be done and in doing so they abused the office of priest in which they had just been sanctified to perform. Their zeal caused them to display a flagrant act of disrespect not only to HaShem but to his commands as well. The, considering their position s anointed priests, their disobedience no matter how well intended it might have been, brought immediate and decisive consequences – their deaths. And it was those consequences that should serve as a warning to others not to follow in their footsteps, whether they be in positions of leadership or the common rank and file individuals.

I said there were two deaths in this week’s parasha. The second was in the Haftarah, 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17. This time however, the person did not die solely because of his disobedience. King David following the word of HaShem had just soundly defeated the Philistines and was returning to Jerusalem. He then decided to bring the Ark of God up to Jerusalem from Baale-judah (possibly modern day Kiryat Yearim), a journey of some 18 to 20 kilometers (or 11-12.5 miles). Unfortunately, though well intentioned, David did not take the time to plan the move following the requirements set forth in the Torah, specifically that it must be carried by the Levitical clan of Kohath (Numbers 4:15) in a specific manner (Exodus 25:13-14). 

Meanwhile David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating before ADONAI with all kinds of instruments made of cypress wood, with harps, lyres, tambourines, three-stringed instruments and cymbals. But when they reached the threshing floor of Nahon, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and grasped it, for the oxen had stumbled. Then the anger of ADONAI was kindled against Uzzah. God struck him down there for his irreverence, so that he died there beside the ark of God. David was upset because of ADONAI’s outburst against Uzzah. That place is called Perez-uzzah to this day.

2 Samuel 6:5-8

Due to his haste and inattention to detail, Uzzah, one of the attendants accompanying the Ark, died. It appears that Uzzah was well intentioned as well, not wanting the Ark to fall. But he was not a Levitical clan of Kohath, it was not his place even to be involved in the transportation of the Ark. Ultimately, while it was HaShem who struck him down, it was David who had orchestrated the situation placing Uzzah in the position he found himself. I am not denying the statement that his death was due to “his irreverence” however I have walked the hills in Kiryat Yearim, they are uneven often step at times, and it is not hard to imagine that the oxen might stumble. Uzzah’s irreverence may well have been the very fact that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Therefore, I suggest that David, instead of being angry with HaShem for Uzzah’s punishment, should have been angry with himself for putting Uzzah in that position to begin with. 

As these thoughts come to an end, there are a couple of conclusions I believe we can draw. First, whether we be leaders or not, we must never allow our zeal to serve HaShem to cause us to do things that either HaShem has not commanded or more specifically to do things he has specifically forbidden. Second, and this is for those of us who may be in some type or position of authority, we have an even greater responsibility not to do things that would inadvertently cause those whom we are responsible for to stumble. Remember Ya’acov’s words when he wrote,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, since you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.

James 3:1

Whether teachers or leaders, we have people listening to what we say and more importantly watching what we do. We have the responsibility not to lead them astray rather to help them walk in the paths of righteousness.

All Scripture passages are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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One of the preparatory prayers preceding the recitation of the Shema in the Shabbat morning service, begins,

To God who rested from all works, and on the seventh day ascended and sat on His throne of glory. He robed the day of rest in glory and call the Sabbath day a delight. This is the praise of the seventh day, that on it God rested from all His work.*

The prayer flows naturally onto Psalm 92, the “song for the Sabbath day.” However, as it happens on occasion, one day my eyes drifted down to a commentary on the Sabbath at the bottom of the page. Rabbi Sacks ז״ל, noted,

Shabbat is a unique institution. The year is determined by the sun, the month by the phases of the moon, but there is no Shabbat in nature: nothing that corresponds to the seven-day cycle of work and rest, creation and cessation, doing and being.**

In this week’s reading Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:25,*** HaShem affirms the importance and everlasting quality of the Sabbath when He had Moses proclaim to the children of Israel

“Surely you must keep My Shabbatot, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so you may know that I am ADONAI who sanctifies you. Therefore, you are to keep the Shabbat, because it is holy for you. … It is a sign between Me and Bnei-Yisrael forever, for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.”

Exodus 31:13-14 & 17

Two times in these three verses the Sabbath is called a sign between HaShem and the people of Israel. In other words, Shabbat is a unique institution that has become a sign for all time for a unique people, Israel.  

While it would be easy at this point to take off on a side trail trying to determine what it means to “keep the Shabbat,” I will avoid that side trail and stick to the command itself. Consider these words of HaShem through prophet Isaiah, 

“If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways,  not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI, and I will let you ride over the heights of the earth, I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.

Isaiah 58.13-14

There are two important aspects in Isaiah’s words. First, the focus during Shabbat is to be upon the Lord and not one’s ownself-interests. Second, the result of following this admonition is the exultation and care of HaShem— “I will let you ride over the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.” Why is “riding over the heights” significant? The psalmist states, “ADONAI is high above all nations, His glory is above the heavens” (Psalms 113:14). So, riding the heights is synonymous with being in the presence of HaShem, and while in his presence, we are sanctified by him (Exodus 31:13).

Even though the keeping, observing or honoring, the Sabbath has become burdensome with an exorbitant number rules and regulations, it was never meant to be a chore; the “keeping” is intended to provide a doorway into the presence of the Almighty, much like the time in the Garden when HaShem walked with Adam and Chavah (Eve). Continuing with Rabbi Sack’s commentary I mentioned at the beginning, He states, 

The Sages say that the creation of the first man and woman, their sin, and their sentence to exile from the Garden of Eden all took place on the sixth day. Out of compassion, God allowed them to stay one full day in the Garden: the seventh day. Thus, the Shabbat is as close as we come to Paradise regained.

With this in mind, Yeshua’s words, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat” (Mark 2.27) makes much more sense. Yeshua was not doing away with Sabbath observance, rather, He was placing it back in its proper order. Sabbath observance serves to bring one from the normal six days of the workweek, into the presence and thereby rest of the Almighty. 

Yeshua told his talmidim, and by inference each of us, to “Come away by yourselves to an isolated place and rest awhile” (Mark 6.31). Sometimes, as with the talmidim, our hectic daily schedules beg for a brief time of rest apart with HaShem to be refreshed and rejuvenated. They, and we, can come into a place of rest any time there is a need. However, this does not detract from the actual 7th day Sabbath rest, that weekly time refreshing and renewal that is ours as we make a habit to “keep the Sabbath.”

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. The Koren Siddur. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009. p 462.
** Ibid. p 462.
*** Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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In Hebrews 13 the anonymous author writes,

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17*

It would be easy, in today’s political climate, to take off on a treatise about obedience to those in government who have been placed in authority over us. It really does not matter whether speaking of the United States or Israel, as I hold citizenship in both countries and vote for our leaders in both places. If I were to follow this stream of thought, I could also lean on Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the Yeshua-believers in Rome to whom he wrote,

Let every person submit himself to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are put in place by God. 

Romans 13:1

However, this week’s thoughts do not have a political bent. Instead, I hope to encourage each of us to consider those who are in leadership over us in areas of the spirit, as well as moral and ethical conduct. The second phrase in Hebrews 13:17 states concerning those in leadership over us, “for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account.” 

For many in the west, with our tenacious leaning toward independence and personal rights, considering our rabbi, pastor, or priest as having “authority” over us is somewhat of an anathema. I mean, let’s face it, we are free in the Ruach (Spirit) (John 8:36), and we need no man to teach us, as it is written,

But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you.

John 14:26

As for you, the anointing you received from Him (Ruach ha-Kodesh) remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things—and it is true and not a lie—and just as it has taught you, abide in Him.

1 John 2:27

While I agree with the concept of being “free in the Spirit” as well as being taught by the Ruach, this does not negate the fact that there are leaders over us. In Acts 2, after Peter and the remaining talmidim (disciples) addressed the crowd, explaining what was happening, the crowd looked to Peter and the others to tell them what to do (Acts 2:37), accepting Peter and the disciples’ authority and leadership. In the next couple of chapters of Acts, the nascent kehilah (congregation) continued to grow under the leadership of Peter. By chapter 6, the kehilah had grown to the point that men had to be chosen to divide the responsibilities (spiritual and physical). Those who became responsible for the physical needs of the kehilah, did so, enabling those in spiritual authority to continue their work on behalf of the kehilah unhindered and to “keep watch … as ones who must give an account.”

Before one thinks that this responsibility to “keep watch” was merely an issue needing to be dealt with post-Shavuot (Pentecost) in the growing Yeshua-believing communities, consider this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10).In this reading, the clothing and vestments of the high priest, his sons and future progeny are described. Twice the high priest was commanded to bear the names of Jacob’s sons as a memorial before HaShem (Ex. 28:12, 29).

Fasten the two stones upon the shoulder pieces of the ephod, to be memorial stones for Bnei-Yisrael. So Aaron is to bear their names before ADONAI on his two shoulders as a reminder.

Exodus 28:12

Aaron will bear the names of Bnei-Yisrael in the breastplate of judgment on his heart, whenever he enters the holy place, as a continual memorial before ADONAI.

Exodus 28:19

Commenting on this, Rabbi Sarna states that concerning for remembrance (memorial & reminder in our text) – This twice repeated word (זכרן) points to the dual function of the engraved stones: as a reminder to the High Priest as noted (that he was to carry the children of Israel before HaShem) and as an invocation to God to be mindful of His people Israel, with whom He enacted a covenant.**

The high priest’s clothing set him apart from everyone else for two primary reasons. The first was to designate him as an intermediary between HaShem and the children of Israel (offering of sacrifices). The second was to physically keep the people of Israel always on his heart and mind (breast plate and ephod) in recognition of his responsibility for them, or as the writer of Hebrews explained, he was to keep a watch over their souls. In other words, the primary work of the priests were to serve HaShem and serve the people – not to serve themselves.

While most rabbis and pastors today do not wear special clothing as the high priest did, the primary work remains the same; they are to serve HaShem and the people for whom HaShem has made them responsible. At different times they may inspire or motivate, instruct or even discipline. With this in mind, let’s remember the last part of Hebrews 13:17. If we approach obedience to our leaders with the proper kavanah (heart attitude), then they will be able to exercise their authority with joy and not with groaning. In the following verse, the writer of Hebrews describes his desire to lead with “a clear conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18) 

Aside from having the right kavanah or attitude toward those in authority over us, Rav Shaul gave Timothy another piece of advice,

Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

Here Rav Shaul seems to bring the political leadership (kings) into the same concern as the spiritual leadership (all who are in authority). If we want quiet, peaceful lives we, need to lift all of our leaders up in prayer before HaShem, trusting that he will provide the leaders that he alone allows. 

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

** Nahum M. Sarna. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society, 1991. Verse 12, footnote, p 179.

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Recently while monitoring a class for MJTI’s Panim el Panim program, Great Medieval Jewish Thinkers,i the instructor Rabbi Elliot Klayman gave a synopsis on the life and accomplishments of Moses ben Maimon, better known as either Maimonides or by the acronym Rambam. For those of you unfamiliar with Maimonides, here is a little background. Maimonides, originally from Cordoba Spain, was a medieval Sephardic philosopher and rationalist who is remembered as one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars from that time. He was also a distinguished physician and astronomer. Now, back to the topic, as the class was coming to a close Rabbi Elliot asked, “Can we as Yeshua-believers learn from non-Yeshua believers?” 

A relevant comment made by Ben Zoma is recorded in Pirkei Avot 4:1, “…Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: ‘From all who taught me have I gained understanding’ (Psalms 119:99).ii Rashi —Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the French Ashkenazi commentator on the Bible and Talmud whom Rabbi Elliot spoke about the following week— commenting on Ben Zoma’s opinion of “who is wise,” explained, “A wise person will learn even from those who are not as great as he, for he is not ashamed to seek knowledge from any source.” iii Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz, a 19th century rabbi, also commented in his commentary Tiferes Yisroel on Ben Zoma’s assertation, “One who wants to be considered wise and yet refuses to learn from everyone— and certainly not from an inferior person, will remain ignorant forever.” iv

Now, let’s look back at Rabbi Elliot’s question, “Can we as Yeshua-believers learn from non-Yeshua believers?” Often the answer to this question is two-fold. The first answer is yes; we can learn some things from non-Yeshua believers, specifically secular subjects such as math, literature, philosophy, and the sciences, as long as we ensure that what is being taught does not contradict or deviate from our own understanding of Scripture. The second answer to the question is usually no; we cannot learn biblical principles from non-Yeshua believers because they are not guided by the Ruach HaKodesh, who is the teacher of all truth. v

This week’s parasha, Yithro, Exodus 18:1-20:23 vi seems to agree with the first answer but not the second. The parasha begins by reintroducing Yithro (Jethro) as the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law. Yithro knew of the God that Moses served because he was a Midianite, descended from the fourth son of Abraham’s wife Keturah, whom he married after the death of Sarah (see Genesis 25:1). While there is no indication that Yithro was a follower of HaShem, who identified himself to Moses while he was shepherding sheep in Midian, as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, though Yithro did acknowledge the God of Israel and his mighty works when he proclaimed,

And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that the LORD had shown Israel when He delivered them from the Egyptians. “Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods…”

Exodus 18:9-10

However, even though Yithro acknowledged that HaShem was greater than all other gods, there is no indication that Yitro became a ger tzadek or convert to the religion of the children of Israel. The narrative continues to the next day, where Yithro watched Moses as he “sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening” (Exodus 18:13). After questioning Moses about his actions, Yitro firmly states, 

“The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”

Exodus 18:17-18

We do not know how long Yithro had been the priest of Midian (Exodus 2:16), but it is safe to assume that he had been at it a while. With that tenure came the experience and wisdom to know how to care for himself and for the people for whom he was responsible. Yithro proceeded to advise Moses on how to train others and then to delegate the judicial responsibilities, thus making it easier for himself (Moses) as well as all for those delegated to assist him (see Exodus 18:22). Yithro did not stop with the delegation of authority and responsibility, he went one step further by encouraging Moses,

“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

Not only did Yithro give Moses advise on how to deal with the people, but he also encouraged Moses to check it out with HaShem and determine if the advice was valid and workable. The end result, Moses “heeded (listened to and learned from) his father-in-law and did just as he had said” (Exodus 18:24). In learning from his father-in-law, Moses followed the wisdom that would eventually be written in Mishlei (Proverbs) “…let the wise listen and increase learning and the discerning obtain wise counsel…” (Proverbs 1:5, TLV). Rav Shaul’s admonition to the believers in Thessalonica echoes Yitro’s advice to Moses “…but test all things, hold fast to what is good…” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).vii

In conclusion, let’s answer to Rabbi Elliot’s question, “Can we as Yeshua-believers learn from non-Yeshua believers?” The answer is an absolute yes, and even a must. Whether it be Maimonides or the aged gentleman sweeping the streets, every person has gifts and talents that the Creator of the Universe has placed within them, each person has life experiences that they have collected over the years. Therefore, each individual has something that we can learn, even if it is in the negative, such as what not to do. If we learn that negative point, then we have added to our own collected wisdom. Once again, from the compiler of Mishlei, ““Lazybones, go to the ant. Study its ways and learn.”(Proverbs 6:6)!

ii Avrohom Davis. Pirkei Avos, The Wisdom of the Fathers. New York, Metzudah Publications, 1978, p 115.
iii Ibid., p 116.
iv Ibid., p 116.
v John 14:26.
vi Unless otherwise noted, all readings from the Tanakh are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
vii Unless otherwise noted, all readings from the Brit Chadashah are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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