Thoughts on Shoftim

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha is Shoftim, and is found in Deuteronomy 16.18 – 21.9.[i] The very beginning of this parasha links justice with the avoidance of idolatry (16.18-22). Later in the Parasha, there is a passage that is most troubling for modern sensibilities – “from the cities of these peoples, which ADONAI your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes live. You must utterly destroy them—the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as ADONAI your God has commanded you” (20.16-17). Left by itself, this would seem quite harsh at best, and downright barbaric at worst. How could a gracious, loving God (cf. Exodus 34.6-7) possibly call for the total annihilation of not one, but six indigenous people groups, especially since Bnei Yisrael was not any more righteous, or numerous, or particularly special than any other nation. However, Bnei Yisrael was chosen and set apart by the Holy One because of a promise to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning the land of Israel. Furthermore, the judgment on these six nations was for their sins against the Creator. Rav Shaul, commented on Hashem’s judgment when he wrote

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In unrighteousness they suppress the truth, because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them. His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made. So, people are without excuse — for even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. Instead, their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were made dark. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image in the form of mortal man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. (Romans 1.18-23)

But there was also a third reason for the destruction of these six nations, the protection of Israel from learning the idolatrous practices of these nations, and walking after them instead of walking after the LORD and His commandments.

You are to do this so they will not teach you to do all the abominations as they have done for their gods, and so you would sin against ADONAI your God. (20.18)

It has always been the LORD’s desire for His people to walk in holiness before and with Him. Cephas reminded us of this as he wrote to his community, “…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, ‘Kedoshim (holy) you shall be, for I am kadosh (holy)’” (I Peter 1.15-16; cf. Leviticus 19.2). If we associate ourselves with the idols and practices of those which the LORD calls abominations, we de facto become abominations ourselves, not holy as He desires.

Israel did not always walk in the holiness required by Hashem and the result has been numerous exiles and judgment. However, due to His promises to the patriarchs and to Bnei Yisrael herself, Israel was not to be totally destroyed as the six mentioned nations. In this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 51.12 – 52.12, which represents the fourth Shabbat of Consolation, the LORD reminds Israel that even though He is the one who brought the instruments of judgment upon Israel. It is He alone that restores and comforts her as well. He states emphatically, “I, I am the One who comforts you” (Isaiah 51.12). Just as the LORD led Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders” (Deuteronomy 26.8) so He “has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52.10).

There are a number of passages from the Apostolic Writings which tie directly into Shoftim. In Deuteronomy 19.15 we read, “A single witness shall not rise up against a person for any offense or sin that he commits. By the word of two or three witnesses is a case to be established.” First, Yeshua echoes these words when He taught,

Now if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault while you’re with him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen, take with you one or two more, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand.’ But if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to Messiah’s community. And if he refuses to listen even to Messiah’s community, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector. (Matthew 18.15-17)

The principle is sound. First attempt to be reconciled with a brother (or sister) one-on-one; this is the most optimum solution. If that doesn’t work, go with one or two others in obedience to the injunction in Deuteronomy. While not as good as one-on-one, it is still beneficial if it works. If this doesn’t work, then bring the issue before the community. It he or she still will not be reconciled, then separate them from the community. But such separation, like the discipline Israel had to endure, is for the purpose of restoration.

There is a second passage that bares looking at as well. In 1 Timothy, Rav Shaul exhorts Timothy

Do not accept an accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. Correct those who continue sinning in the presence of everyone, so that the rest also may fear. (5.19-20)

Remember Miriam and Aaron’s offence against Moshe (Numbers 12.1-15). This was a public offence and the punishment was public – nothing was swept under the rug. For Timothy, as well as us today, when an elder or another in authority transgresses, they must be held responsible but only if there are two or three that can give proper evidence. Then, according to Yeshua’s direction, if the individual repents he or she should be restored. If not, they are to be corrected, by the proper authorities, as Miriam was, so that others will not repeat the infraction. Therefore, the optimum purpose of discipline, whether upon Israel or the Body of Messiah, is to bring about correction and restoration. Sadly, there are times, when discipline, instead of restoration brings about destruction.

Every day, as we pray the Aleinu,[ii] we ask that idolatry will be brought to an end, the kingship of Hashem be recognized and established in all the earth. According to Rav Shaul, that kingdom has already been established and will continue through Yeshua, our Messiah and Lord,

For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord — to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11)

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] The Aleinu is a relatively short prayer that marks the end of all three daily prayer services that acknowledges Hashem’s rule and authority not only upon Israel but eventually upon all humankind





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Thoughts on Re’eh

canstockphoto3712801This week is the third Sabbath of Consolation between Tisha b’Av and Rosh HaShanah. The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah 54.11 though 55.5,[i] and begins with the LORD addressing Israel as “afflicted one, storm-tossed, unconsoled…” which is more than an apt description of Israel under the discipline of ADONAI. However, this is immediately followed with the comforting words of promise, “All your children will be taught by Adonai. Your children will have great shalom” (Isaiah 54.13). The sentiment of this promise echoes the words of the of Eikev’s Haftarah,

But Zion said: “Adonai has forsaken me, Adonai has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing baby or lack compassion for a child of her womb? Even if these forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49.14-15)

Regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves, we have the promise from HaShem that He will never forget us, and that in the end our children with have His shalom as a legacy. Then, in this week’s Haftarah, there is a connection to the last two parashot when the LORD tells Israel once again to הַטּ֤וּ אָזְנְכֶם֙ וּלְכ֣וּ אֵלַ֔י שִׁמְע֖וּ וּתְחִ֣י נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם, “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, so that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55.3). Incline your ear and listen to the LORD your God, echoes Moshe’s command שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone,” (Deuteronomy 6.4; cf. 9.1 and 11.13). Listen, to the LORD, pay attention and take heed to His words and live.

The Parasha, Re’eh, found in Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17, begins with Moshe’s reiteration of the blessings and curses which come from hearing and then either doing or not doing the mitzvot of ADONAI. The reading ends with a discussion on the Shmittah, the cancelling of debts at the end of seven-years (15.1-3). Along with the command concerning the shmittah there is a longer treatise concerning the obligation for caring for the poor.

However, there should be no poor among you, for ADONAI will surely bless you in the land Adonai your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess. (15.4)

If there is a poor man among you—any of your brothers within any of your gates in your land that ADONAI your God is giving you—you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother. (15.7)

For there will never cease to be poor people in the land. Therefore, I am commanding you, saying, ‘You must surely open your hand to your brother—to your needy and poor in your land.’” (15.11)

It was not just in the prophets that HaShem was concerned about the poor and needy. Three times in this parasha alone, it is emphasized that we are to care for and to open our hands to those in need. Rashi comments on verse four concerning, However, there will be (or there should be) no needy among you, stating “When you perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among others but not among you. If, however, you do not perform the will of the Omnipresent, there will be needy among you.”[ii] This understanding coincides with HaShem’s promises to bless Bnei Yisrael as they enter the land of promise walking in obedience to His mitzvot, (Deuteronomy 11.8-17).

Looking briefly at ““For there will never cease to be poor people in the land” (Deuteronomy 15.11), we find that Yeshua seems to have quoted this phrase as it is recorded in both Besorot, Matthew 26.11 and John 12.8, but He adds the phrase “but you do not always have Me,” possibly inferring as the Kohelet suggests “For everything there is a season and a time for every activity under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3.1). But did Yeshua really mean that attention to Him was more important than attention and care for the poor and needy? The Besorah of Mark adds, what I believe, is a qualifying remark.

For you always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want; but you won’t always have Me. (Mark 14.7)

The phrase “and you can do good for them whenever you want” seems to indicate that one is able and permitted to continue to assist those in need, without neglecting service or avodah to Yeshua, much like Yeshua indicated to the Pharisees and scribes in Besorat Matthew when He told them

Woe to you, Torah scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of Torah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others.” (23.23)

The letter of the law, the mitzvot is only the beginning, the spirit of the mitzvot is what Yeshua encouraged the Pharisees, as well as us today, to recognize and observe. Service to Him includes service to others. And in a very real way, meeting the needs of others is service to Yeshua Himself, so exampled by the parable of the Righteous Judge:

Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger and invite You in? Or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And answering, the King will say to them, “Amen, I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25.37-40)

Yes, the poor and needy will always be with us, but as we minister to and meet their needs, we honor and minister to the Lord Himself.

Shabbat Shalom

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



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Thoughts on Eikev

canstockphoto3712801This is the 2nd Shabbat of Consolation between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. Whereas Jeremiah asked Hashem, “Why do You always forget us and forsake us for so long?” (Eicha / Lamentations 5.20),[i] in this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3, we hear Hashem’s promise through the prophet Isaiah

For ADONAI will comfort Zion. He will comfort all her waste places. He will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of Adonai. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and a sound of melody. (Isaiah 51.3)

While discipline and judgement of sin and iniquity will surly come, Israel will not be left alone or abandoned, she is and always will be the chosen, am segula of ADONAI.

Continuing in the same vein as last week’s parasha, in this week’s parasha, Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25, Israel is once again warned about the idols and other abominable items of those whom they would conqueror,

The carved images of their gods you are to burn with fire. You are not to covet the silver or gold on them or take it for yourself—or you could be snared by it, for it is an abomination to ADONAI your God. You are not to bring an abomination into your house—for you, like it, will be a banned thing. You must utterly detest and utterly abhor it, for it is set apart for destruction. (Deuteronomy 7.25-26)

Israel, as well as all of us today, are supposed to not only separate ourselves from the repugnant things of the world, but we are to “utterly detest and utterly abhor” them. Anything that comes between us and the LORD, anything that draws us away from Hashem, are has the power to ensnare us. Possibly this is what the Psalmist had in mind when he wrote he will rescue us, if we trust in God, our fortress and refuge, “For He will rescue you from the hunter’s trap (snare) and from the deadly pestilence.” (Psalm 91.3)

Rav Shaul rhetorically asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8.35). He then answered his own question

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. (Romans 8.38-39)

According to Rav Shaul, nothing external has the power to separate us from the love of the LORD. Yeshua, likewise taught concerning His followers, “I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10.28). Neither Shaul nor Yeshua said, however, that we can willing walk away or through our choice follow the ways of the world. Yeshua stated, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly My disciples” (John 8.31). There are two key words in this passage. The first is “abide,” meaning that a person dwells with the Living Word, Yeshua. The qualifying word is “if,” signifying the conditional aspect of abiding. This is not conditional on Yeshua, but conditional upon the individual dwelling or abiding in Him.

Hashem told Israel to choose life not death (Deuteronomy 30.15 & 19). In the Apostolic Writings, believers in Yeshua are assured that no one can snatch us out of Yeshua’s strong, loving hands. However, just as Israel had to remain in relation to Hashem so do Yeshua believers,

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvot of ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10.12-13)

Rashi’s comments on the words, “And now, O Israel,” expound the relationship between ADONAI and Israel and us. “Even though you did all this, (the sin of the golden calf as well as the stubbornness and grumbling in the Wilderness) His mercy and His affection are still upon you, and with all that you have sinned against Him, He demands nothing of you, except only to fear [the Lord, your God,…].”[ii] Rav Shual confirms this reality when he wrote to the believers at Colossae,

Once you were alienated from God and hostile in your attitude by wicked deeds. 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 1.21-23)

The LORD, the Creator of the Universe, desires to be in relationship with His creation, with His chosen people, with those who have entered into covenant with His though His Son and Messiah, Yeshua. He is committed to remaining in fellowship with us. He requires that we continue in Him as well.

Shabbat Shalom

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



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Thoughts on Va’etchanan ~ Shabbat Nahamu 

canstockphoto3712801The parasha for this Shabbat is Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3.23 through 7.11.[i] It is the first of seven special Shabbats of Consolation following Tisha b’Av – this one being Shabbat Nahamu, (Consolation) based upon the first words of the Haftarah in Isaiah 40.1-26.

There is much in this week’s parasha, including the creedal cornerstone of Judaism, the Shema: Deuteronomy 6.4,שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone.” As many times as we read or recite the Shema, we often overlook the verse immediately preceding it, which in English, begins with the same words “Hear therefore O Israel”

Hear, therefore, O Israel, and take care to do this, so that it may go well with you and you may increase mightily, as Adonai the God of your fathers has promised you… (6.3)

There are at least two interesting things to note in these two verses. First, while they both begin the same, the first contains the promise, that if one obeys the mitzvot, life will go well with/for us while the second is simply an affirmation of fact – Adonai is our God and it is He alone who is our God. The second thing is less noticeable in English as both say “hear,” but in Hebrew, the verbs in verses three and four are in different tenses. Verse three uses the form שָׁמַעְתָּ, which is a qal perfect, 2nd person masculine singular verb that expresses a completed action or state of being, and can be translated in the past, present, or future. In other words, Moshe implores Israel to live in a state of hearing and obeying the mitzvoth, huqim and mishpatim. In verse four, however, the word שְׁמַ֖ע is a qal imperative masculine singular, which expresses a direct command. Also, in verse four, the emphasis is not on the mitzvot or the obedience thereof, but on the existence of Hashem Himself and the uniqueness of His relationship to His chosen people, Israel. Where verse three carried an expectation of action, verse four leaves no doubt – it is a direct command – Israel and all those who would align themselves with Israel, must acknowledge

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד

This parasha brings one further aspect to consider. Twice in chapter four Israel is warned,

But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart… (4.9)

Beware, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which He made with you… (4.23)

It is Hashem’s desire that His people remember from whence they came and the deliverance and salvation that was brought about by their God, not necessarily for His sake, though He is a zealous/jealous God (4.24; 5.9; 6.15), but because in remembering from where they came it is a motivation not to return to the slavery and bondage from which they were delivered. However, Hashem knew/knows that as humans, we tend to be forgetful and are easily led astray. Thus, Moshe affirmed,

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon you (לֹא יַרפְּךָ) or destroy you; neither will He forget the covenant of your fathers, that He swore to them. (4.31)

Rashi commenting on this verse notes that He will not abandon you means that HaShem will not let go of you with His hands. Rashi continues stating that the expression לֹא יַרפְּךָ means that HaShem will not cause you to be forsaken, He will not separate you from being near Him. He will not cause you to be forsaken. He will not separate you from [being] near Him.[ii] Following this line of thought, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote concerning our LORD, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13.5; cf. Deuteronomy 31.6 and Joshua 1.5).) As well as the Father’s promise, we have this assurance from Yeshua,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10.23-29)

This week’s Haftarah is especially relevant after the intensity of Tisha b’Av and the commemoration of the destructions of both the 1st and 2nd Temples, as well as the exile of the Jewish people from their land. The passage begins נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י, “comfort, comfort My people…” As with the Shema, this is also an imperative, a command for Israel to be comforted. Then the prophet states the reason for the need of comfort,

Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins. (40.2)

Jerusalem and all of Israel was disciplined for their iniquity but they were not left in a state of desolation. The LORD promised that though disciplined, they would be restored. Again, looking to the letter to the Hebrews we read,

Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (12.11)

The discipline was for Israel’s good; when we are disciplined it is for our good. And in that discipline, Israel, as well as believers in Yeshua, are secure in the loving care of our LORD (Hebrews 12.6). If we remember the mitzvot of the LORD, it will go well with us (Deuteronomy 6.3). But even when we “forget,” the LORD will not “forsake us,” but will guide us back to Himself.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Adapted from

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Thoughts on Devarim ~ Shabbat Chazon

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat is Shabbat Chazon (“Sabbath [of] vision” שבת חזון). It derives its name from Isaiah’s words of rebuke and doom in the Haftarah (Isaiah 1:1-27) that is read on the Shabbat immediately prior to the mournful fast of Tisha b’Av. Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av) commemorates a number of the great catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries, primarily remembering the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples and subsequent expulsions from the land of Israel.

This week’s parasha is Devarim, Deuteronomy 1.1 – 3.22.[i] Deuteronomy is a collection of Moshe’s final discourses to Bnei Yisrael as they prepare a second time to enter into Canaan, the Land of Promise. The parasha is largely a historical overview, beginning at Mt. Horeb with the charge, “‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” (1.6). Jeffrey H. Tiguy, in his commentary on the passage states that, “God’s first words in Deuteronomy express impatience, indicating the He was eager for Israel to enter the land immediately. The nearly forty-year delay was not God’s intention but the result of Israel’s failure to trust and obey Him.”[ii] Then most emphatically, verse seven begins, “turn, journey on…” or maybe better said, “start out, move it already.” Bnei Yisrael needed to be at Mt. Horeb, to receive Hashem’s covenant, the revelation of His care and concern for the people. Also, the people needed to know how to respond to their God as well as to one another – not as strangers living in a strange land but as a newly formed community. But enough was enough, it was time to get moving, time to live out the reality of being Bnei Yisrael. The first step on that journey led them to the hill country of the Amorites and their neighbors. Moshe immediately told the people,

“You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which Adonai our God is giving to us. See, Adonai your God has set the land before you—go up, take possession, as Adonai God of your fathers has promised you. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” (1.20-21)

“Go up and take possession” in Hebrew is simply עלה רש (aleh, resh). The Hebrew does not have the conjunction “and”. Thus, the brevity of the phrase expresses “the intended ease of the conquest”[iii] from the LORD’s point of view; it was a done deal. Often, we face the same situation. When we first come to the LORD, we have a lot to learn about His character, His expectations for us, and how we are to respond to Him. This is expressed in Yeshua’s final command recorded in Matthew, He stated,

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

The first step, as with Bnei Yisrael, is the command to “go.” The disciples had had enough training now it was time to move on and out. The next is to make disciples, to teach others to know Yeshua, His teachings and methodology, before sending these new disciples out to do the same. Neither Bnei Yisrael nor Yeshua’s disciples were sent out to “conqueror” before they were trained and equipped. At the same time, they were not allowed to remain in “school” forever. The purpose of training is to go out into the world and conqueror – and in that going out, we are to walk in faith and trust, not being dismayed or discouraged by the enemies or opposition we might face. As Moshe reminded Bnei Yisrael “our God is giving to us (the promised land),” so Yeshua reminded His disciples, “I am with you always.” None of Israel’s battles and none of our battles were ever meant to be faced alone, we always have divine assistance.

Unfortunately, as Tiguy notes, things did not go according to the original plan. The lack of faith and trust in Hashem caused the original plan to be detoured, and Bnei Yisrael wandered in the Wilderness for almost forty-years. Later in this week’s parasha we read, “You have gone around this hill country long enough—turn to the north” (2.3). In other words, let’s get back on track and prepare to return to Canaan and enter in as was originally purposed. The enemies and giants who caused your fathers to fear and doubt remain, but “You must not fear them, for it is Adonai your God who fights for you” (3.22).

The LORD has a plan for each one of us. He has “sent us to school” as it were, to learn how to walk in faith and trust. As believers in Messiah, Yeshua, we even have the extra advantage as He taught His disciples,

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14.15-17)

But just as Bnei Yisrael had to exercise their faith and trust in Hashem as they walked out their journey, so we too must remain in a position of faith and trust. In one of this week’s readings from the Apostolic Writings, (Hebrews 3.7 – 4.11), the writer of the Book of Hebrews reminds us to “Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil heart of unbelief that falls away from the living God” (Hebrews 3.12). Notice please that the writer is addressing brothers and sisters, those who already know and are in relationship with the Messiah and walk in His ways. He continues, “For we have become partners of Messiah, if we hold our original conviction firm until the end” (3.14). I am not suggesting that it is easy to fall away or to abandon “our original conviction” but the potentiality must exist or else the writers would not make the point yet again,

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through the same pattern of disobedience. (4.11)

As noted in the beginning, the Haftarah is Isaiah 1.1-27 and for the most part, Isaiah’s vision is quite bleak. Judgement is coming upon the whole house of Israel as they were “a people weighed down with iniquity” (Isaiah 1.4). However, in the midst of coming desolation, Isaiah portrays a glimpse of the heart of Hashem and His desire for His people.

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your deeds from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us reason together,” says Adonai. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they will become like wool.” (Isaiah 1.16-18)

Even knowing that judgement and devastation would come, His desire was for His people, His am segula, was to return to Him. Times would be the blackest, Jerusalem would fall and the people would be scattered to the four corners of the earth, but even in this darkness, all was not lost. He promised Israel that one day

I will restore your judges as at first, your counselors as at the start. Afterward you will be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. Zion will be redeemed with justice, her repentant with righteousness.” (1.26-27)

Plans may be detoured and seem lost, but the plans and purposes of the LORD never fail. Later, the prophet recorded this assurance from the LORD, “Adonai Tzva’ot has sworn, saying: ‘Surely, as I thought it, so it will be. As I have purposed, so it will stand’” (Isaiah 14.24). Therefore, let us make every effort to enter the rest, the shalom, that the LORD has prepared for us, even as we remember the devastation that will be commemorated Tisha b’Av next Tuesday.[iv]

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Jeffrey H. Tiguy. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy: דבררים: The traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. p 8.

[iii] Ibid. p 14

[iv] As with all Jewish commemorations, the day begins the evening before, thus in this case on Monday evening.

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Thoughts on Matot-Massei

(This blog post is a week early as Vered and I are traveling to Zimbabwe – July 14th – 24th – to join a JVMI Outreach to the Lemba tribe. During this time we will be out of phone and internet contact.)

canstockphoto3712801Parashat Matot-Massei, Numbers 30.2 – 36.13 (29.40-36.13 Eng.),[i] begins with ADONAI’s commands to Bnei-Yisrael concerning oaths made by individuals. First, “Whenever a man makes a vow to Adonai or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth” (30.3 [30.2 Eng.]). This command is not new to Bnei-Yisrael as HaShem both reminded and commanded Ya’acov (Jacob) to fulfill the vow he made as he fled from his brother Esau (Genesis 35.1-7). The rest of chapter deals with HaShem’s provisions for oaths/vows made by persons who were not eligible to make binding oaths for themselves. In my opinion, however, the beginning exhortation is the most important for all individuals, regardless of their status. Yeshua once taught,

“But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12.36-37)

“Men” in this verse carries the connotation of generic personhood, all people “will give account for every careless word they speak.” While on one hand, this covers oaths or vows, on the other I believe Yeshua was telling the crowds that “every word they speak” is subject of judgment. As Ya’acov (James) wrote,

For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. … So also, the tongue is a small member—yet it boasts of great things. See how so small a fire sets a blaze so great a forest! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is a world of evil placed among our body parts. It pollutes the whole body and sets on fire the course of life—and is set on fire by Gehenna. (James 3.2 & 5-6).

The words we speak have the power to bring life, or to bring death – not only to ourselves but to others. Rav Shaul while encouraging the believes in Ephesus to live holy, righteous lives, stated the following,

But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed—don’t even let these be mentioned among you, as is proper for kedoshim. Obscene, coarse, and stupid talk are also out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesus 5.3-4)

It is imperative that we guard the words of our mouth, as they reflect the thoughts of our hearts. With this in mind, listen to the words of the palmist as he seeks help from the LORD.

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 19.14-15)

One final thought, at least for now, on our words is derived from Mishnah Pirkei Avot. “A wise man does not speak in front of someone who is greater than him in wisdom or in number (age); and he does not interrupt the words of his fellow; and is not impulsive in answering…” (5.7).[ii] What I find important in this passage is the need for what is called “deep listening” instead of much or shallow speaking. The wise man (or woman) “does not interrupt the words of his fellow; and is not impulsive in answering.” The wise one listens intently before speaking, not only to the words spoken but to the heart and attitude behind the words. Then he or she is able to respond with words that potentially bring life and hope to the other person. Thus the words from Mishlei ring true, “The tongue has power over life and death; those who indulge it must eat its fruit” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 18.21, CJB).[iii]

Besorat Matthew records some pretty harsh words that Yeshua spoke to the crowds who followed Him.

“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)

For as dreadful as these words sounded, hear the words of the LORD in this week’s Haftarah recorded in Jeremiah 2.4-28 and 4.1-2; “Thus says Adonai: ‘What fault did your fathers find in Me that they strayed so far from Me? They walked after worthless things, becoming worthless themselves?’” (Jeremiah 2.5). They did not slip or slide into worthlessness. They did not trip or stumble into worthlessness. They walked, (יֲּלְכוּ) went under their own power, purposefully so. They, for whatever reason, chose to abandon the ways of HaShem. Later in the Haftarah, the LORD proclaims two grievous errors that the “house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel” (2.4) committed, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me — the spring of living water — and they dug their own cisterns — cracked cisterns that hold no water.”

By forsaking HaShem, they turned away from the “living water.” Jeremiah repeats this back to the LORD, “Adonai, You are the hope of Israel! All who forsake You will be ashamed. Those who depart from You will be written in the dirt, for they have forsaken Adonai, the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 17.13). In Jewish tradition, “living water not only cleanses and purifies defilement, it is a symbol for the Torah itself. When Bnei Yisrael (Judah and Israel) turned their backs on the Torah and then dug “cracked cisterns that hold no water” they effectively became dry and “worthless.” The remainder of the Haftarah speaks of HaShem’s actions on Israel’s behalf, and of Israel’s folly in going after her own ways. But the passage does not end negatively. Those who set the readings, knowing Israel’s shortcoming and judgement, left a ray of hope within the decree of judgement and discipline. Returning to the words of Jeremiah 17.14, we read, “Heal me, Adonai, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise.” In this statement Israel recognized that her salvation is only from HaShem. Then in the closing words of this week’s readings, we read

‘If you will return, O Israel, return to Me,’ declares Adonai. ‘If you will put your detestable things out of My sight. Then you will not waver.’ You will swear, ‘As Adonai lives!’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness. The nations will bless themselves in Him and in Him they will glory. (Jeremiah 4.1-2)

Thus, the truth of Rav Shaul’s words to the believers at Rome ring true

For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, (in context, Gentile believers) to be ignorant of this mystery — lest you be wise in your own eyes — that a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’ (Romans 11.25-27)

The salvation and redemption of the world is linked together in Israel and the Nations, like strands of DNA, each unique and distinct, but united in the Kingdom of God, under Messiah Yeshua.

Shabbat Shalom

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


[iii] Complete Jewish Bible, Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

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Thoughts on Pinchas

This week’s parasha, Pinchas, Numbers 25.10 though 30.1,[i] continues with last week’s episode where Bnei Yisrael linked themselves with Baal Peor in an idolatress relationship that apparently included adulteress relationships with foreign women, specifically Moabites and Midianites.  This week begins with HaShem’s statement concerning Pinchas, who’s the actions brought about an end to the plague (25:7-9),

“See, I am making with him a covenant of shalom! It will be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood—because he was zealous for his God and atoned for Bnei-Yisrael.” (25.12-13)

Aside from the everlasting priesthood of Pinchas and his line, there were other consequences of this Balaam inspired episode. First, twenty-four thousand individuals died due to a disciplinary plague from HaShem (25.9). Aside from that, was the prohibition of an Ammonite or Moabite joining the congregation of Israel.

No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the community of Adonai—even to the tenth generation none belonging to them is to enter the community of Adonai forever –  because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way when you came out from Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor from Petor of Aram-naharaim to curse you. But Adonai your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Adonai your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. (Deuteronomy 23.3-6)

So intense was the idolatress situation, that according to Deuteronomy the children were punished for the sins of the fathers to the tenth generation, not just the third or fourth. According to Rashi, An Ammonite [or Moabite] shall not enter [the assembly of the Lord]: [i.e.,] he shall not marry an Israelite woman. [Yev. 77b][ii] That being the case, how is it that Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David, married a Moabitess? Looking at Ruth 4.18-22, we see that in the genealogical list from Perez (Numbers 26.20-21) to Boaz, Boaz is seventh in line, not tenth. However, the sages noted that the seventh place was potentially unique. The 7th generation from Adam was Enoch, “who walked with God” (Genesis 5.24). Then there was Eber, the 14th generation from Adam, who according to rabbinic tradition, was the teacher of Jacob (Megillah 16b, 17a). He was also a great prophet (Genesis Rabbah 37:7) and moral authority (Genesis Rabbah 52:11). This type of 7th generation history may apply to Boaz because he was a man of high moral and ethical character who saw something equally special in the Moabitess Ruth (Ruth 3.10).  But not only did Boaz recognize something special in Ruth, so did the elders and townspeople,

All the people at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May Adonai make the woman who has come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, who both built up the house of Israel. May you prosper in Ephrath and be renowned in Bethlehem. (Ruth 4.11)

Not only did Ruth enter into the community of Israel, but it was prophesied that she would become a matriarch like “Rachel and like Leah.”

Personally, I find something else here in the last verses of Ruth. It is often acknowledged that Ruth is the classic example of a convert to Judaism, based upon Ruth’s declaration to Naomi,

For where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. (Ruth 1.16-17)

But even having said this, throughout the book of Ruth, she is called Ruth the Moabitess. That is until Boaz “acquired” Ruth the Moabitess (4.10), after which the community blessed her union with Boaz (4.11). The next time Ruth is mentioned, she is simply Ruth, Boaz’s wife and mother of his child, Obed (4.13). No longer were Ruth or Naomi outcasts or destitute. They were now fully restored to the community.

In this week’s Haftarah, Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3, we read of the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. First HaShem claims that even before He formed Jeremiah, in his mother’s womb, HaShem knew Jeremiah (1.5). ידע or know, carries with it more than just a mental ascent, the nuance indicates that even before his was formed, HaShem considered them in relationship to one another. Then, out of the knowing and the forming, HaShem called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry – before his was born. This is not a new occurrence in the Tanakh; both Samson and Samuel were set apart from before their birth to the service of ADONAI. Also in this narrative, like Moshe at the bush that burned but wasn’t consumed (Exodus 3.2), Jeremiah tried to convince HaShem that he was not qualified to do whatever it was that the LORD wanted him to do. And like Moshe, Jeremiah cited his inability to speak properly, “Then I said, “Alas, Adonai Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak! For I’m still a boy!” (Jeremiah 1.6; cf. Exodus 4.10). HaShem’s response was just as quick to Jeremiah as it had been to Moshe,

“For to everyone I send you, you will go, and all I command you, you will speak. Do not be afraid of them! For I am with you to deliver you.” It is a declaration of Adonai. Then Adonai stretched out His hand and touched my mouth and Adonai said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, today I have appointed you over nations and over kingdoms: to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1.7-10; cf. Exodus 4.11-12)

It would appear that Rav Shaul may have taken these two episodes (Moshe’s and Jeremiah’s fears) to heart when he encouraged Titus, “But as for you, speak things that are fitting for sound instruction. … So, communicate these things, and encourage and correct with complete authority. Let no one look down on you” (Titus 1 & 15). When the LORD calls or designates someone for His service, He also equips and empowers that one. Both Pinchas’ zeal and Ruth’s love and devotion, seemed to be beyond the norm, even possibly divinely inspired. In Moshe and Jeremiah’s cases, they had the assurance from HaShem of their calling and empowerment – they just needed to accept it and then walk in it, which is what Rav Shaul seems to have encouraged Titus to do. It would be safe to assume that each of us have heard from the LORD as to specific things we have been called to do. Is there any excuse we are using that is keeping us for accomplishing the calling of the LORD on our lives?

Shabbat Shalom

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


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