Thoughts on Vayeshev

This week’s parasha is Vayeshev, (Jacob dwelled in the land of his fathers), Genesis 37:1- 40:23.[i] The Haftarah is found in Amos 2:6 – 3:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John4:43–54.

The last couple of weeks we have noted that HaShem “works in all things for the good,” (from Romans 8:28).[ii] This week’s parasha continues this thread. We read in 37:12-17 of an unidentified man telling Joseph where he might find his brothers, like his father Israel had sent him to do. In his Torah commentary, Dr. Eliezer Diamond notes that on one hand the anonymous man might simply be present to affirm Joseph’s fidelity to his father even when the journey seems complicated.[iii] However, on the other hand a midrash suggests that the anonymous man was in fact the angel Gabriel,[iv] who by divine direction ensured that Joseph not only found his brothers, but set the events in motion for Joseph and ultimately for all of the sons of Jacob to sojourn in the land of Egypt. Returning to Rav Shaul’s writing to the Roman believers in Yeshua, immediately after the statement “all things for the good,” he states,

For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of HisSon, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified. 

Romans 8:29-30

Joseph was foreknown by ADONAI and was foretold his future (Genesis 37:5-10). What he was not told were the challenges and speed bumps along the way. ADONAI never tells the whole story, not ours, not our loved ones, not anyone’s. If He did, there would be no need for faith or trust. There would be no need to hope in His character or His promises. Joseph had seen the vision from ADONAI and he trusted in the vision. However, the journey to the realization of the vision led to a pit, slavery, prison, and exile before it was realized. It is possible as Rabbi Nachum Ish Gamzu proclaimed, that regardless of his circumstance, Joseph would say: this too is for the good, גם זו לטובה.[v] Because of Joseph’s attitude of faith and trust in HaShem, whether in Potiphar’s house or Pharaoh’s prison,“…ADONAI was with him, and ADONAI made whatever he did successful…” (Genesis 39:23).

Of course, this is not an easy attitude to maintain. In the natural, it is normal to complain about poor or unfavorable circumstances. It is common to attempt to circumvent the bad circumstances, hoping for a more favorable outcome. Such is the case with Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar (Genesis 38:6-26). Judah married a Canaanite woman and began a family, eventually fathering three sons. Judah arranged the marriage of his first born, Er, to Tamar. Sadly, his son “was evil in ADONAI’s eyes, so ADONAI put him to death” (38:7). Judah then requested his second born, Onan, to fulfil the rite of the levirate (38:8; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-6), in order to bear a son with Tamar as Er’s progeny. Onan refused to impregnate Tamar. His refusal “was evil in ADONAI’s eyes, so He put him to death also,” (38:10). Instead of giving his third son, Shelah, to Tamar, Jacob schemed to send Tamar, maintaining her widowhood status, back to her father’s house hoping to preserve the life of his third son (38:11). We will never know what the outcome of the marriage between Tamar and Shelah might have been, because instead of trusting in HaShem Judah enacted his own plan. In response to Judah’s scheming, Tamar also schemed. The end result was Tamar bore twin boys through Judah, her father-in-law (38:12-27). Interestingly, Perez, one of the twins, is listed in the lineage of King David in Matthew 1:3. There are a least two precepts in this narrative. The first is found in Proverbs 3 where we are encouraged to:

Trust in ADONAI with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The second precept is the realization that HaShem can take our mistakes and make something wonderful out of them. Judah and Tamar’s scheming led to the birth of a son in the lineage of King David and Messiah Yeshua. In other words, even in our own scheming or errors, we should trust in the LORD that He will eventually “work in all things for the good.”

Remember that Sunday evening begins the eight-day celebration of the Festival of Chanukah. The historic background of the festival is found in 1 Maccabees 1-4. For those who may question its existence or relevance as a biblical holiday, consider that Yeshua was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication – Chanukah (John 10:22).

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

[ii] W. Hall Harris, “NET Notes” in The NET Bible, Copyright © 1996-2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.

[iii], last accessed on 29 November 2018.

[iv] PRE 38.

[v] See BT Ta’anit 21a.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Vayishlach

This week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, is Genesis 32:4 (:3 in most English bibles) through 36:43. As is the normal pattern, the title וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח, is the first word of the passage, “and he [Jacob] sent…” speaking of the messengers that Jacob sent to his brother Esau, hoping to placate him “in order to find favor in your (Esau’s) eyes,” (32:6). In the natural Jacob’s fears were well founded as the messengers returned with the news that “We went to your brother, to Esau, and he’s also coming out to meet you—and 400 men with him,” (32:7). The Haftarah is Obadiah 1:1-21 which records Obadiah’s vision of HaShem’s judgement on Edom, Esau’s ancestral holdings, due to Edom’s treatment of Israel. Speaking for ADONAI, Obadiah states, “Because of your violence to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will be cut off forever” (1:10). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 4:31-42, which recounts Yeshua’s teaching on the soon coming harvest after His interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well.

When thinking about this week’s Torah portion, I was amazed at the difference between the two prayers of Jacob, the first when he left home and the second now as he returns. 

Then Jacob made a vow saying, “If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAI will be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-21)

Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, ADONAI, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you.’ I am unworthy of all the proofs of mercy and of all the dependability that you have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I’ve become two camps. 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. 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 32:10-13)

As discussed last week, Jacob was not bargaining with the Almighty, but acknowledging the promises and the provisions of the promises made to both Abraham and Isaac. It could be said that in his vow there was a bit of righteous bravado in the knowing that HaShem would take care of him and bless him. In contrast, the prayer this week, is one of a man who has been through the trials of life, some of which were even of his own making. While still walking in the promises of HaShem, the bravado is gone. Rearranging the order of his prayer a bit, “I left with nothing but my staff and now return with enough to make two camps … I am unworthy of all the proofs of mercy and of all the dependability that you have shown to your servant.” He has everything he asked for and more, but now instead of reveling in what he has, he acknowledges that everything he has is from HaShem. It is as if Jacob understood the words that ADONAI would speak to his descendants as they prepared to enter into the Promised Land,

He fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, in order to afflict you and test you, to do you good in the end. You may say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand has made me this wealth.’ Rather you are to remember ADONAI your God, for it is He who gives you power to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant that He swore to your fathers—as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:16-18)

As we read the story of Jacob’s actions, from the reception of his blessing from his father Isaac to his twenty-year sojourn with his uncle Laban, it is easy to see Jacob scheming, even manipulating circumstances to his benefit. We also see that some of those same circumstances cause Jacob more than a little grief and consternation. However, as Jacob looks back on his life to date he sees the actions and occurrences as proof of the Almighty’s dependability, not only to him, but to future generations as well. 

Last week we were reminded of Rav Shaul’s words, “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). One of the translator notes on this verse suggests that “God works in all things for the good” inferring that at times things may not seem to be good but all will work out in the end. This idea seems to resonate with the writer of Kohelet has he stated, “Even though a sinner might commit a hundred crimes and prolong his days, yet I know that it will be well for those who fear God, for those who revere Him” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). Regardless of what our eyes see or the situations in which we find ourselves, HaShem has our good in mind and will work things out on our behalf. With this fact in mind, the definition of faith as stated in the book of Hebrews makes even more sense, especially when linked with Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the Corinthian believers,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. (Hebrew 11:1) For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

As you “walk” though this coming week, think back as Jacob did, and see how your God has not only blessed you but carried you through the trials and situations of your life and in doing so, take comfort in the knowledge that He will continue with you throughout the rest of your life. 

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Vayetzei

This week’s parasha is Vayetzei, Genesis 28:10 – 32:3.[i]The Haftarah, according to Sephardic tradition, is Hosea 11:7 – 12:14 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 4:5-30.

This week we read the well-known narrative of Jacob’s twenty-year separation from his parents and his brother, while he works for his uncle Laban to earn his wives and his property (Genesis 31:41). Along the way, he not only built up his possessions, but he obtained two wives, Leah and Rachel, as well as two concubines Zilpah and Bilhah that eventually resulted in the birth of twelve sons.

Much could be said about Jacob and the trials he underwent. Whether his trials were of his own making or of Laban’s treachery is debatable. This much we know for sure, Jacob would return home with much more than he left with. This was according to the promise HaShem made to Jacob at the beginning of his journey.Even though Jacob was technically running away from home to escape Esau’s fury,ADONAI affirmed His blessing and His choosing of Jacob as the one who would continue his grandfatherAbraham’s heritage.

“I am ADONAI, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie,I will give it to you and to your seed. Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. 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 28:13-15)

Fo one who was fleeing for his life, this promise should have been like a“Presidential Pardon” to a convicted felon. HaShem not only confirmed Jacob as the one who would continue the promises to Abraham and Isaac, but he would also be watched over and taken care of until his return to the land he was fleeing.When he awoke, Jacob immediately recognized that he had been in the presence of the Almighty. However instead of simply acknowledging the word of the LORD, with a little bit of chutzpah he added conditions to the promises of ADONAI.

“If God will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then ADONAIwill be my God. (Genesis 28:20-21)

It would appear that Jacob was not satisfied with HaShem’s promise to watch over him, he wanted personal provision as well. Equally, he did not want to just return to the land of his father Isaac, he wanted to come back “in shalom” with everything restored and in proper working order. These two conditions were not explicit in HaShem’s earlier promise even though one could argue that His promise of being with Jacob and watching over him would infer such blessings.The real chutzpah though came in the final phrase, “…thenADONAI will be my God.” DidJacob make God’s blessing a condition of his allegiance to Him? Rabbi Sarna suggests not at all. He posits that these verses

…are not conditional but temporal. Jacob pledges himself to a certain course of action as an expression of gratitude to God after the promises will be fulfilled. According to the natural order presupposed by our story, Jacob’s vow cannot be understood as a bargaining withGod since all he has asked has already been promised. [ii]

In other words, it wasn’t “if You do this and this then I will be Your man and You will be my God,” but rather more of a clarification of what HaShem promised him and the reality of his father’s blessing(Genesis 27:28-29). With all trials and hardships that Jacob endured, he was, in the end, living proof of Rav Shaul’s words

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)

Note that Rav Shaul says all things, not just the good things or the things that happen because we are walking properly and in obedience. In his book Everyday Holiness, Alan Morinis states

Every life is peppered with these sorts of tests and trials. Why is life set up this way? Certainly not so we will inevitably fail and fall, but rather so we will keep being confronted by opportunities to grow.[iii]

Jacob, when he returned to the land of his fathers, had definitely grown and matured from the young man who fled his home twenty years earlier. Equally the trials and struggles we face throughout our lives give us the opportunity to grow and mature into the individuals that ADONAI desires each of us to be. In fact, it might be said that without the struggles we would not be the man or woman that we could be. So when life’s situations bring trials and struggles, we should make the choice to see them as opportunities to grow and mature, knowing that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians10:13).

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

[ii] Nahum M Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the NewJPS Translation, Commentary. Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 200.

[iii] Alan Morinis, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish SpiritualPath of Mussar, Kindle Edition, Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc., 2007, p.102.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Toldot

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha is Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9.[i] The Haftarah is Malachi 1:1 – 2:7. The reading from the Apostolic Writings according to the Chayyei Yeshua cycle[ii] is John 3:1-21.

Dena Weiss of Mechon Hadar in New York begins her weekly Dvar Torah study with the following observation,

Yitzhak is one of the most enigmatic figures of the Torah. It is hard to understand what motivates him and what makes him unique, as he quite literally follows in his father’s footsteps and seems to allow his life to be determined by others. He marries the wife his father’s slave picks for him, re-digs the wells that his father had dug, and appears to be tricked by his wife and youngest son. … He does not even appear to be the gibor, the hero, of his own story![iii]

I included the last line of the quote above because of Yitzhak’s imitation of his father’s actions in claiming that his wife is his sister in order to protect his own skin. Seriously not much of a gibor.

It has been said that one of the reasons for Yitzhak’s lackadaisicalness stems back to the Akedah (Genesis 22). Abraham, his dad, took him along to make a sacrifice to ADONAI, when Yitzhak suddenly found himself bound and prepared as the sacrifice. Yes, HaShem provided a ram in Yitzhak’s place, but I am sure the event left an impression on the young man. Rabbi Sacks on the other hand, sees Yitzhak in a different light,

Isaac is the least original of the three patriarchs. His life lacks the drama of Abraham or the struggles of Jacob. We see in this passage that Isaac himself did not strive to be innovative, digging the same wells and naming them with the same names as his father. Often, we try to make ourselves distinctive from our parents. We do things differently, or even if we don’t, we give them different names. Isaac was not like this. He was content to be a link in the chain of generations, faithful to what his father had started.

Isaac represents the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity.[iv]

I believe this picture of Yitzhak, exhibiting “the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity,” should give each one of us a great amount of comfort and hope. The Almighty has gifted all of us with certain gifts and skills. We have all gone through trials and tribulations, though maybe not as intense as those listed in Hebrews 11:33-38 or as the Akedah experience. However, earth-shattering encounters with ADONAI are not necessarily what we need. Remember when the Almighty wanted to get Elijah’s attention, He did not do it through the destructive wind, the earthquake or the fire, but through a still small voice, which is an everyday occurrence. We need to remain steadfast, faithful, and hopeful through the events in our daily lives. Rav Shaul admonished the believers at Colossae that through the death of Messiah they would be presented to God “…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).

Yitzhak was and remains an example of steadfast faithfulness in the midst of adversity, in the midst of his own mistakes, and even in the midst of the scheming of those closest to him. Every day, several times a day, we bless God for the Patriarchs in the first bracha of the Amidah, “Blessed are You, LORD our God and the God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob… .”[v] Yitzhak stands among these great men by whom the God of Israel is identified, because of his persistence and continuity. May we all have the faith of persistence, the courage of continuity like Yitzhak so that we will be presented “holy, spotless and blameless” when we stand before the heavenly throne one day.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] year 3, last accessed 8 November 2018.

[iii] Weiss, Dena. Tough Love, Parashat Toldot. Email, 6 November 2018.

[iv] last accessed 8 November 2018.

[v] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 108.


Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Chayei Sarah

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Chayei Sarah, Genesis 23:1 – 25:18.[i]The haftarah is 1 Kings 1:1-31 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 2:13-25.

This parsha begins and ends with death, the death of Sarah, the death of Abraham and the death of Ishmael. In the middle of these three obituaries, there is an interlude that shows the grace of HaShem as He honors Abraham’s request for the acquisition of Isaac’s wife. At the beginning of this interlude, Abraham extracts an oath from Eliezer that he will not find Isaac a wife from among the Canaanites where they are sojourning but will go back to his brethren and find a wife from within his extended family.

In his quest to fulfill Abraham’s charge, there is an aspect of Eliezer’s search for a wife for Isaac that is important for us to incorporate in our walk with HaShem. Eliezer prayed for a sign to let him know of Adonai’sprovision for Abraham’s request (Genesis 24:12-14). Then when he had an inclination of HaShem’s answer, he “ran to meet her (Rebekah)” (24:17). Eliezer did not sit and wait for HaShem to drop Isaac’s future wife into his lap. He prayed and then he put action to his prayer. I realize that there are times when we are to “wait on the LORD,” (Psalm 27:14). But there are other times that we must be like Eliezer and take action. There are times when we just that the answer is there, we just reach out for it. Just like the woman with the issue of blood, who “kept saying to herself, ‘If only I touch His garment, I will be healed,’” (Matthew 9:21).

As with Eliezer and the woman, let’s reach out to HaShem this Shabbat and receive from Him the renewing of our strength the healing that we need and the rest that He has promised.

It has been a week since the heinous anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last Shabbat. As you gather in your houses of worship this Shabbat or on Sunday, please remember to pray for the comfort and consolation of the Squirrel Hill Jewish community who are still grieving their loss,עליהם השלום.

Shabbat Shalom

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

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Vayeira

canstockphoto3712801Torah reading for this Shabbat is Vayeira, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24.[i] The haftarah is found in Second Kings 4:1-37 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 2:1–12.

This week’s Thoughts could well be retitled, A Tale of Three Women. While Vayeira begins with the visitation of the “three men” and the expression of Abraham’s great hospitality, it is Sarah hiding behind the tent flap that draws our attention. Here is a woman who apparently stood beside her man through thick and thin, whether she understood him or HaShem’s plan for him. She left her home and family and had reached the point that she had even given up on having a family of her own with Abraham. But ADONAI had promised, that ninety-year-old Sarah would have a son with her one hundred-year-old husband (Genesis 17:19). When one of the “three men” reaffirmed this promise, Sarah had to laugh, possibly because the situation was more than humorous. But more than likely it was a nervous laugh that resulted from her imagining herself as mother. Then when ADONAI caught her laughing, suddenly her laughter became one of embarrassment. In the end, she had a son, and he became the second of the three patriarchs of Bnei Yisrael upon whom the promises of ADONAI would rest. But we have to ask, in the natural, was Sarah really looking to get pregnant at ninety years of age? For sure earlier in her marriage with Abraham she desired children, even if only through a surrogate, hence the episode with Hagar and Ishmael. But at this point in the story she had “stopped having the way of women,” … and had grown decrepit,” (Genesis 18:11-12, these are her words not mine), did she really want to bear children?

The second of the three women is in the haftarah, the Shunammite woman. Apparently she was determined to meet the needs of Elisha and Gehazi when they were in her area. Elisha wanted to tangibly thank her for her kindness and hospitality. After she rejected his suggested acts of gratitude, Elisha turned to Gehazi for suggestions. Gehazi suggested that she needed a son, as she was barren and her husband elderly (2 Kings 4:15). The Shunammite’s immediate response was one of shock, excitement and hope, “No, my lord, do not lie to your handmaid, man of God,” (4:16). Whether she was recoiling from the idea of childbirth or simply of being compensated for her acts of charity and hospitality, we are not told. But she like Sarah had a child, a son in spite of her condition. According to some traditions, her son was the prophet Habakkuk who prophesied in Judah during the time of Jeremiah and King Jehoiakim.

In the concluding prayers of Shacharit, in ובא לציון גואל (a redeemer will come to Zion) we read “Blessed is my LORD for day after day He burdens us [with His blessings]; God is our salvation, Selah!”[ii] This phrase is based upon Psalm 68:20, “Blessed be my LORD!
day by day He bears our burdens—the God of our salvation! Selah.” While it is true that He does in fact bear our burdens, if we allow Him to do so, at times His blessing may well seem burdensome, as both Sarah and the Shunammite woman discovered. We need to remember that ADONAI always has our best in mind just as He did for Jeremiah,

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It was this hope that brought strength to Sarah as she raised a son in her old age. And it was this strength that motivated the Shunammite woman to turn to Elisha when her son seemed to be taken away from her. However, sometimes we have to hold on to these words of hope and shalom, even when we do not see the desired outcome, like those in Hebrews 11:35-40, who in spite of not seeing their deliverance, still stood strong in their faith in ADONAI.

But there is a third woman in our tale this week, one who, like Sarah and the Shunammite woman, had a son through a miraculous birth, Miriam. Though Miriam was much younger, she too had to face difficulties with her special son. In this week’s reading however, it was her son who had to face difficulties with her. They were at a wedding and the worst possible thing happened – the wine ran out. Miriam stepped in like a good Jewish mama and fixed the situation. Looking at the servants she said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Mom! I told you, “my hour hasn’t come yet,” (2:4), indicating that he wasn’t going to step in. Yeshua’s time in the Gospel according to John does not come until his arrest and crucifixion (John 13.1, 17:1). Whether Miriam understood the depth of her son’s comment or not, she exercised extreme faith in her son and his ability. Then she walked away, confident that Yeshua would do what she asked. Maybe this faith was the root of Yeshua’s statement to his disciples,

“Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

The common thread in the tale of these three women, like the three stranded cord of Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a unique birth experience, each had a special son, and most importantly, each had faith in ADONAI that He would accomplish His will and purpose in their lives and the lives of their children. We should be encouraged by the faith of these three women, knowing that as HaShem worked on their behalf, He is more than faithful to work on our behalf as well.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 176.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Lech Lecha

canstockphoto0885276The Torah portion for this week is Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27.[i] The haftarah is from Isaiah 40:27-41:16, and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:35-51.

I find the beginning of this week’s haftarah very interesting. If we back up and read all of Isaiah 40, we see ADONAI comforting Israel as she begins to return from Babylonian captivity. The chapter begins with comfort and encouragement,

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. (40:1-2)

When we continue reading, we see that the chapter ends with the assurance that ADONIA would be Israel’s source of strength as they return to Him and to the land of Israel,

…but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength. They will soar up with wings as eagles. They will run, and not grow weary. They will walk, and not be faint. (40:31)

However, our haftarah begins a few verses prior to the above assurance, on a cautionary note. First, HaShem brings to mind Israel’s questioning of His care for His people,

Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from ADONAI, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? (40:27)

I have heard it taught that the phrases “my way is hidden” and “the justice due escapes me” indicate that Israel assumes she has “gotten away” with her transgressions, that somehow Israel has hidden her sin and transgression from ADONAI. However, this does not fit the context. The Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary points out that Israel assumes that HaShem has turned away from them in His anger and is wearied of them because of their actions. This coincides with what we read in the end of Parashat B’reshit, “So ADONAI regretted that He made humankind on the earth, and His heart was deeply pained” (Genesis 6:6). While it is true that HaShem was not pleased with Israel’s behavior, which resulted in the Babylonian Exile, He did not turn His back on Israel, even in their disciplined state. In fact, the prophet Isaiah proclaims HaShem’s sovereignty and long suffering,

Have you not known? Have you not heard? ADONAI is the eternal God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary. His understanding is unsearchable. (40:28)

In this verse we read that ADONAI is the Creator of the ends of the earth. This means that the same God who “in the beginning…created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), is still active in the lives of His creation. ADONAI is the one who created the earth from one end to the other, indicating the extremities and everything in between. This means that even though Israel is in Babylon, there are not beyond His reach. They are not beyond the scope of His vision or the domain of His power. HaShem is eternally that same, therefore He still possesses the power He possessed and manifested displayed at creation. He is continually active in the lives of His creation, and nothing and no one are outside of His continual sovereignty. If this is the way HaShem looks after His creation as a whole, how much more does He watch over and care for His chosen am segula.

Nevertheless, there is a conundrum in verse 28. While it is true that HaShem does not grow weary with His creation, the verse says, “His understanding is unsearchable,” or as the CJB[ii] renders it, “His understanding cannot be fathomed.” Many of the actions of HaShem are simply beyond our understanding. Rav Shaul challenged the believers in Rome with these questions,

For “who has known the mind of ADONAI, or who has been His counselor?” (11:34, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:16)

When we realize and accept that there are things we may never know or understand, simply because HaShem has not revealed them to us, we can rest, not in our ignorance or lack of knowledge, but in the assurance that HaShem knows what He is doing. Resting in this assurance may will be what the author of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen” (11:1). Equally, it is resting in this assurance that prompted the prophet to write “but they who wait for ADONAI will renew their strength.” It is not the knowledge of the future or the understanding of the plans of ADONAI that gives us the courage and strength to continue on. It is the assurance that He knows what He is doing, even when we do not. Two of my favorite verses on this topic are found in the writings of Jeremiah and Rav Shaul. Jeremiah’s words were written while awaiting the soon coming fall and exile of Jerusalem and Judah, and Rav Shaul’s were written to the believers in Rome.

For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

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)

Whenever we think the HaShem does not see or does not care for our situation or condition, remember and consider this week’s readings. In the Torah portion, Avram was told, “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you,” (Genesis 12:1). He did not know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, but he trusted in Him who would become known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then when Abraham got close to the land of Canaan, ADONAI appeared again and said, “I will give this land to your seed,” (12:7) which was a great promise to an elderly, childless married couple. But we all know the end of the story, Avram (who became Abraham) became the founding patriarch of Bnei Yisrael and thereby brought blessing to all of creation. We may not know our next step. We for sure do not know the end of our story or our children’s stories, but we can and should rest in the fact that HaShem most assuredly does.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment