Shabbat during Sukkot

canstockphoto3712801There is an interesting commentary on חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, “an everlasting law” in the last verse of the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning (Leviticus 16:1-34).

Even when there is no Temple, if we repent on Yom Kippur, the day itself atones (Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3). The word hok or hukka, often translated as “statute” and understood as a law that surpasses human understanding, is derived from a root meaning “indelibly inscribed,” and is to be understood as part of the created order of the universe. The implication is that forgiveness is written into the human situation under the sovereignty of God.[i]

While some may question the efficaciousness of Yom Kippur, the fact remains that the passage from Leviticus states, “This will be an everlasting statute (law) for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins,” (16:34).[ii] I bring this up because of a passage from the Torah reading for the Shabbat during Sukkot, Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 & Numbers 29:26-31.

Remember the setting, Moshe had gone up to meet with HaShem, while there the people required a god, and the molten calf was the result. HaShem sent Moshe back down to deal with the situation. He was less than pleased and, in the process, broke the tablets upon which HaShem had written. After handling the situation on the ground, Moshe returned to the mountain top and interceded with HaShem on behalf of the people, asking Him to continue with them.

If now I have found grace in Your eyes, my LORD, let my LORD please go within our midst, even though this is a stiff-necked people. Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your own inheritance. (Exodus 34:9)

This follows immediately upon the Almighty’s proclamation to Moshe of His defining characteristics are

Then ADONAI passed before him, and proclaimed, “ADONAIADONAI, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (34:6-7)

From both the Yom Kippur prayers as well as in this week’s Parasha, we understand that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of HaShem’s character. It is not just what He does, but who He is. It is important, even paramount, to note that while He disciplines and judges sin, He is 300 to 330 percent more forgiving, gracious and merciful. Thus His forgiveness is far greater than His punishment. Remember the words of the prophet Zechariah as he declares HaShem’s admonition, and similarly the affirmation through the prophet Isaiah,

Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’—it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot—‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot. (Zechariah 1:3)

I, I am the One who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

It is important to remember that forgiveness is not simply something we receive, reciprocally it is something we must also give. Yeshua’s seventy times seven teaching in Matthew 18:21-22 lends credence to this fact. Rav Shaul is equally clear as he wrote to the believers in Ephesus

Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger and quarreling and slander, along with all malice. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

And also to the believers in Colossae

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves in tender compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience—bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a grievance against another. (Colossians 3:12-13)

Just as we were reminded during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, forgiveness is both horizontal and vertical. We are to emulate Rav Shaul’s position as he presented in Acts 24:16, “… I do my best always to have a clear conscience before both God and men.” One  final word from Rav Shaul to provide a guide for our actions and interactions with one another, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people,” (Romans 12:18) His qualifier “if possible” indicates that there may well be times when pursuing shalom will not be possible because others will not agree or allow this to happen. But we should live in the mindset that as our Father in heaven forgives us and restores us to Himself, we should make every effort to be restored to one another – not just during this time of the year when the need is ever before us, but each and every day of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

[i]The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor, Introduction, Translation and Commentary by Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, Ltd. 2014, p 735.

[ii]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.

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

(The following was prepared by my wife, Rabbi Vered Hillel, for submission to the UMJC weekly Torah/Haftarah portion.)

canstockphoto0885276The haftarah for Parashat Ha’azinu is David’s great hymn of thanksgiving, praising Hashem for providing protection and deliverance from all the dangers of his life and all the conflicts with his enemies. This lengthy song opens and closes with praise and thanksgiving. Sandwiched in between are vibrant expressions of both the circumstances of his low moments and of his triumph over the enemies. This hymn has various parallels in the Tanakh and plays an important role in Jewish worship. First, David’s song shares many things in common with the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Parashat Ha’azinu. It also appears almost word-for-word in Psalm 18. Furthermore, the hymn parallels both the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15, which is read on the seventh day of Pesach, and Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:1–2:10, which is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

What is so amazing about David’s song that it would be made into a psalm and added to the psalter, or included three times in the liturgical calendar? To answer this question, let’s look at two terms used by David in the hymn—tzur (rock) and tamim (blameless, innocent, perfect).

David opens the hymn with the proclamation “ADONAI is my rock (sela), my fortress and my deliverer.” The two epithets, rock and fortress, are drawn from the natural character of the landscape in Israel where steep and almost inaccessible rocks provided protection to David as a fugitive. Although David took refuge in physical rocks, he did not place his hope for safety in the rocky formations in Israel. He placed his hope in ADONAI himself, who was David’s rock (tzur).Tzur is a rock that represents God’s immoveable firmness and His invincible protection. David calls God, my Rock” (tzuri) in 2 Samuel 22:3 and 47a, depicting God as a sheltering rock (v. 3) and a source of personal safety (v. 47a). David also uses the term as an epithet equated with God himself. In 22:32 David asks, “Who is a rock besides our God…?” and later in v. 47b he praises ADONAI saying, “Exalted be God, the Rock of my salvation!”

David uses the second term, tamim, to present the theology of reward and punishment, applied both personally and generally. David says of himself, “I also was blameless (tamim) before Him and kept myself from iniquity” (22:24). David is not stating that he is perfectly righteous or holy before ADONAI, because he wasn’t. He is making a comparison between the righteousness of his own deeds and endeavors and the unrighteousness and wickedness of his adversaries. David says he is blameless because he strove earnestly and sincerely to walk in the way of Hashem and to keep the commandments (22:21–25). The general theology of reward and punishment is expressed in the impersonal remarks, “with the loyal You show Yourself loyal; with the blameless (tamim) hero, You show Yourself blameless; with the pure You show Yourself pure, but with the crooked You show Yourself shrewd. You deliver a humble people, but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down (22:26–28). David was blameless/innocent because ADONAI, who is perfect (tamim) in his way, is David’s strong fortress, which keeps David’s way perfect (tamim; 22:33).

A comparison with the song of Moses in this week’s parashah also establishes this theological point. Both the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 and the song of David in 2 Samuel 22 use the terms tamimto emphasize integrity, blamelessness and perfection and tzur to emphasize stability, power and protection. After stating that he will proclaim the name of ADONAI, Moshe declares, “The Rock, His work in perfect (tamim), and all His ways are just,” while Israel is “a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:4-5) that “scoffed at the Rock of [their] salvation” (32:15) and had “forgotten the Rock that fathered [them]” (32:18). As a result, ADONAI, their Rock, gave them over to their enemies, “because their rock is not like our Rock” (32:30–31).

In our haftarah, David also glorifies ADONAI as a rock whose way is blameless or perfect (tamim; 2 Sam 22:31) and juxtaposes this “Rock” with all other gods (22:32). However, David, unlike Israel, remains steadfast and blameless. Instead of scoffing or forgetting the Rock, David takes shelter in the Rock (22:3). David also proclaims ADONAI as acting blameless with the blameless hero but acting shrewd with the crooked (22:26–27). David is rewarded by ADONAIwho kept David’s way perfect or secure (tamim; 22:33).

The similarities between the two songs are remarkable. However, the contrast between the reactions to the Rock of David and Israel is also remarkable. Both songs portray ADONAI as a mighty and sustaining Rock, whose way is tamim. However, David remains faithful and does not forget the Rock of his strength. He does not rebel against Him even through his trials and adversities, or through his success. By contrast, the people of Israel are a rebellious generation that has forgotten ADONAI, the faithful and immovable Rock whose work is perfect. The song of Moses and the song of David show us two different paths, as one commentator puts it: “a God-centered way of remembrance and humility, and a self-centered way of forgetfulness and pride.” Each of us has a choice as to how we respond to the Rock in various situations in our lives. We can be like David and choose to remember that ADONAI, whose way is perfect, is our Rock and strong fortress, or we can be like Israel in the wilderness and forget the Rock the fathered us. Each day we must decide which path we will walk.

My prayer is that we will all be like David and seek to walk in the way of Hashem and to keep His commandments. Then we will remember that Hashem is our Rock and strong fortress and will keep our way blameless.

Chag Semach

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Thoughts on Vayelech

Shabbat ShuvahThis week’s Torah portion is Vayelech, Deuteronomy 31:1-30.[i] For the encouragement of many of us, this portion begins, וַיֵּלֶךְ, מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר, Moshe walked and talked with Bnei-Yisrael. Why is this encouragement? Quite simply because the next verse states that Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old. Often we look at this and see Moshe coming to the end of his journey, unable to continue leading the people he and his brother Aaron had led out of Egyptian bondage some thirty-eight years earlier. Additionally, Moshe and Aaron were not the ones who would lead the people into the Promised Land (e.g. Numbers 20:10-11 & Deuteronomy 32:51-52). But, let’s look at the situation another way. Thirty-eight years earlier, at a time when neither where young men, Moshe and Aaron did in fact stand up to the Egyptian Pharaoh and with the strength of ADONAI undergirding them brought Jacob’s children out of the greatest nation of the era, plus a large number of others who wanted freedom from Egyptian bondage and influence joined them as well, (e.g. Exodus 12:37-38). So, what is the purpose of this rambling? One is never too old to be of service or in the service of ADONAI. Samson, Samuel, and Jeremiah were set apart for ministry before they were born, as were John and Yeshua. On the other hand, Abraham, as well as Moshe and Aaron, seem to have come into their own much later in life. The key, it would seem, is to be willing to be led by the Ruach and “whatever your hand finds to do, do with your all strength…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Rav Shaul reaffirmed the writer of Ecclesiastes’ sentiments with these words to the believers in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at it from the soul…” (Colossians 3:23). The word translated soul is ψυχῆ, meaning psyche, soul, or inner self. In other words we are to work with our very being. We hear this exhortation in the Ahavta, which continues the cornerstone statement of Jewish faith and commitment,

Hear O Israel, the Lordour God, the Lordis one. Love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. Matthew 22:37)

Remember, Isaac was born when Abraham and Sarah were one hundred and ninety years old respectively, while Moshe and Aaron were eighty and eighty-three when they began their leadership trek from Egypt to Canaan. Therefore, the only real obstacle to accomplishing things in the Kingdom of God rests upon our own unwillingness to step forth and do what our heart is telling us to do.

Later in this week’s reading we hear Moshe encouraging all of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land “Chazak! (Be strong!) Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you,” (31:6). ADONAI is promising to go before the people and to deal with their enemies just as He did the Egyptians. Then, almost tongue-in-cheek, Moshe says the same thing to Joshua as he (Moshe) turns over the leadership reigns, “Chazak! Be courageous! For you will bring Bnei-Yisrael into the land I swore to them—and I will be with you,” (31:23). I say tongue-in-cheek because Moshe knew what he was turning over to Joshua, and as Moshe’s second in command, Joshua knew what he was getting into. The community Joshua was inheriting was stubborn and stiff-necked, often rebellious, complaining at the smallest perceived inconvenience. Hashem’s affirmation that He would be with Joshua, assures Joshua just as Moshe’s words had assured the community, “For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.” Hashem would be with Joshua as he (Joshua) would face the struggles of conquering the Promised Land just as assuredly as He would be with Joshua as he faced the internal struggles of leading Bnei-Yisrael in this next stage of their journey.

The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20. The Micah passage forms the cornerstone for the Tashlich service that many Jews world-wide perform sometime between Rosh Hashana and Hoshana Rabba (the last day of Sukkot). The prophet wrote

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

To perform the Tashlich ritual, we travel to a stream, lake or other living body of water, (such as the Mediterranean Sea or the Kinneret if in Israel) then, along with various readings and prayers, we cast bread crumbs onto the water symbolizing the removal of our sins and transgressions to the depths of the sea. The ritual is a reminder of the grace, mercy and forgiveness that ADONAI desires to bestow upon each of us, thus fulfilling the promise stated in the Book of Hebrews, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and their sins I will remember no more,” (Hebrews 8:12).

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

[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.

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Thoughts on Nitzavim

canstockphoto3712801We are soon coming to the close of yearly reading cycle on Simchat Torah. This week’s Parasha is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20.[i] It is normally read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. The Haftarah is Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9, the last of the seven Haftarot of Consolation which are read between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah. The reading this week from the Apostolic Writings is Hebrews 12:11-15.

The Parasha begins with a foundational characteristic of HaShem’s covenant with Bnei Israel: the covenant is for every Jew and every Jew should keep it. It is not just the leaders, religious (priesthood) or secular (tribal leaders) who are responsible for keeping the covenant; every single person, every man, woman, child, and even the outsider that has chosen to associate themselves with Israel and the God of Israel is to keep it.

You are standing today, all of you, before ADONAI your God—the heads of your tribes, your elders, your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, and the outsider within your camp (from your woodchopper to your water carrier). Each of you is to cross over into the covenant of ADONAI your God that He is cutting with you today, and into His oath. (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)

This all-inclusiveness assures each individual of their intrinsic worth, both in the community and before HaShem Himself. Remember the half-shekel ransom that was to be paid to the Sanctuary mentioned in Exodus 30:11-16. It was for everyone. No one could pay more, nor could anyone pay less. Before the Presence of ADONAI we all stand the same, whether we are the High Priest or the wood cutter. This is the meaning behind Rav Shaul’s words to the believers in Galicia,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. (Galatians 3:28)

Added to this is the fact that at the very core of Parashat Nitzavim is the notion of choice: obedience versus disobedience, blessing versus curse, life versus death. Daily we make choices on how to use our time and money, how to interact with family, friends, neighbors. We have to make choices on how we respond to other drivers on the road or to others in the stores and restaurants that we frequent. How we respond is our choice. We can be either a blessing or a curse to those with whom we interact. Therefore, the aspect of “choosing life” (Deuteronomy 30:19) not only affects us and our descendants, it affects all those around us. John Donne’s words ring true,

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

As we move into the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is important to remember that we are to take note of and attempt to make restitution not only for our transgressions and short comings as they relate to HaShem, but equally maybe even more importantly as they relate to our friends, family or others that we may have wronged. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews incapsulates this idea when he wrote,

Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble! And make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame will not be pulled out of joint but rather be healed. Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God; and see to it that no bitter root springs up and causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:12-15)

If the author’s admonition is correct, “Pursue shalom with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord,” then it is safe to assume that our relationship with HaShem is to a degree dependent upon our relationship with one another. We cannot walk in righteousness and peace with our God if we are not walking in righteousness and peace with our brother and sister.

Finally, as we make final preparations to enter into the Days of Awe, remember the words of HaShem through the prophet Zechariah, “Therefore tell them, thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’, it is a declaration of ADONAI-Tzva’ot, ‘and I will return to you,’ says ADONAI-Tzva’ot,” (Zechariah 1:3). The LORD desires to return to His children, He is waiting on our movement toward Him.

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.

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Thoughts on Ki Tavo

canstockphoto0885276In Parasha Ki Tavo, “When you come…”, Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8,[i] Moshe continues to encourage the children of Israel to observe the mitzvot ADONAI has placed before them as they prepare to enter into the land promised as an inheritance to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This day ADONAI your God is commanding you to do these statutes and ordinances—so you are to take care and do them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have affirmed ADONAI as your God, that you will walk in His ways, keep His statutes, mitzvot and ordinances, and listen to His voice. Now today ADONAI has affirmed you as His treasured people, (עַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה) as He promised you; that you are to keep all His mitzvot; that He will set you high above all the nations He has made, for praise, fame and honor; and that you are to be a holy people (עַם־קָד֛שׁ) to ADONAI your God, as He has promised.” (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)

Last week, if you remember, I mentioned that at times a healthy fear of the LORD can or should serve as motivation for obedience. This week, the parasha reinforces this motivation as more than fifty verses describe the curses and consequences that will come upon Israel for not keeping the mitzvot ofADONAI, while there are less than fifteen verses that describe the blessing that come from keeping the mitzvot. However, the choice to be blessed or to be cursed remained one of Israel’s own choosing, as it does with us today. In next week’s parasha, we will read Moshe’s exhortation,

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love ADONAI your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16)

But we know that Israel did not heed the warning and as a result, has had a roller coaster ride of blessings and curses throughout her over four-thousand-year history. In this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 60:1-22, the 6th Haftarah of Consolation between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah, we see HaShem expressing His love and concern for Israel with many of the promises in this haftarah overturning or undoing many of the curses mentioned in this week’s parasha. Aside from the connection to the parasha, the Haftarah connects further to the current month of Elul. Twice a day in synagogue we read Psalm 27, לדוד, ה׳ אורי וישעי, “By David, The LORD is my light and my salvation…”. This week’s Haftarah begins

Arise, shine, for your (Israel) light has come! The glory of ADONAI has risen on you. (Isaiah 60.1)

However, the light of ADONAI is not just for Israel. Its purpose was not only to comfort and restore Israel, but to cause Israel to become the “light of the world” so as to overcome the darkness in the world.

For behold, darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness the peoples. But ADONAI will arise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, kings to the brilliance of your rising. (Isaiah 60:3)

In Besorat John, Yeshua made the proclamation, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows Me will no longer walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) As the representative of Israel, the chosen one of the Father, He is the one who has the power and authority to bring those in darkness to the light. Rabbi Mark Kinzer, states that “N. T. Wright has argued that this view of Yeshua as the representative and individual embodiment of Israel is central to the New Testament’s theological vision.”[ii]

Sadly, regardless of Yeshua’s position as one-man Israel, much of corporal Israel rejected Yeshua’s claims and according to some church tradition forfeited their right and position as the favored, chosen ones of HaShem. Concerning this presumed rejection of the Jewish people, Rav Shual proclaims to the believers in Rome and to all throughout the subsequent centuries,

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He knew beforehand. (Romans 11:1-2) … I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! … (Romans 11:11).

Affirming this non-rejection status, the prophet Jeremiah speaks this from the LORD,

“Thus says ADONAI: ‘If I have not made My covenant of day and night firm, and the fixed patterns ordering the heavens and earth, only then would I reject the offspring of Jacob, and of My servant David so that I would not take from his offspring rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore them from their exile and have compassion on them.’” (Jeremiah 33:25-26)

In other words, Israel, the Jewish people, remain the people of God; they remain His treasured and holy people (Deuteronomy 26:18-19), waiting for the light of Messiah to fully shine upon them so that in turn, Messiah’s light might be shone throughout all humankind. As we are preparing to enter into the High Holidays, specifically Rosh Hashanah, may this year see the coronation of the true son of David and King of Israel, Yeshua our Messiah.

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] Rabbi Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005, p 220.

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Thought on Ki Teitzei

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Ki Teitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19.[i] It is the fifth of the Haftarot of Consolation, from Isaiah 54:1-55:5. In this haftarah we read an encouraging proclamation from HaShem to Israel,

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed. Nor cringe, for you will not be disgraced. For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will remember the reproach of your widowhood no more. For your Maker is your husband—ADONAI-Tzva’ot is His Name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer. He will be called God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:4-5)

Turning to the parasha, we find the last group of laws given in Deuteronomy. These laws are “primarily concerned with private matters regarding individuals, their families and their neighbors, in contrast to the preceding group, which dealt with public officials and matters concerning the nation as a whole.”[ii] This is most encouraging in that it shows once again that HaShem is not only concerned with the larger communal matters but with the individual as well.

One of the more startling matters dealt with in this parasha, is the seeming permission for a husband and wife to bring their “rebellious” son to the city elders when they are no longer able to control their son; the end result is that the elders of the town are to stone the son to death. (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21) Interestingly according to tradition, this punishment was never carried out, with the possible exception of the single account recorded in Sanhedrin 71a,

Rabbi Yonatan says: … I was once in a place where a stubborn and rebellious son was condemned to death, and I even sat on his grave after he was executed.[iii]

However, I think there is something more here than just the extreme punishment of a rebellious son, and that is the outcome of the stoning, so that “you will purge the evil from your midst—and all Israel will hear and be afraid.” Three times in Deuteronomy this is the desired outcome of extreme punishment. The first is Deuteronomy 13:11-12, after the warning against listening to those who would seduce Israel to follow after foreign gods, “You are to stone him (or her) with stones to death because he tried to entice you away from ADONAI your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and never again will they do such an evil thing as this in your midst.”. The next occurs in Deuteronomy 19 after Israel was warned against listening to a false witness. In this case, stoning is not required, instead whatever was to be done against the falsely accused is to be done to the false witness, so that “you will purge the evil from your midst,” (19:19). Idolatry, bearing false witness or lying, and rebellion, were to be purged from the midst of Israel. All three of these actions have an aspect of separation: idolatry specifically separates man from God. Lying and rebellion separate brothers and sisters from one another as well as from HaShem. We see this exemplified in the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, whose conspiracy to lie to the Ruach resulted in their subsequent deaths. Their extreme punishment caused a great fear to come “upon all who heard about it” (5:5, 11). It can be inferred, that at least for a little while, no one else attempted to do such a thing.

The psalmist wrote, “Serve ADONAI with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). It would seem that Rav Shaul had this in mind when he wrote to the believers in Philippi, “Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence—work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Remember also the warning in Hebrews,

“My son do not take lightly the discipline of ADONAI or lose heart when you are corrected by Him, because ADONAI disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He accepts.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

I can remember when I was a child, often, but not always, my behavior was mediated by the knowledge that there would be punishment if I was caught. I will grant you that corporal punishment is a thing of the past now days but the threat of it did, for the most part, keep me on the straight and narrow. I am both pleased and thankful today for the firm guidelines and boundaries that my parents set for me and my siblings. I often wonder, along with many others, if one of the reasons for the decline of many societal standards is the fact that there is no longer a firm standard of righteousness and holiness; less and less are those who deviate from the once accepted norm having to pay the consequences for their actions. Moshe’s warning to the Children of Israel recorded earlier in Deuteronomy are appropriate here:

So you must take care to do as ADONAI your God has commanded you—do not turn aside to the right or to the left. You are to walk in all the way that ADONAI your God has commanded you, so that you may live and it may be well with you and you may prolong your days in the land that you will possess. (Deuteronomy 5:30; 5:33 in Christian Bibles)

One would hope that the positive consequence “so that you may live and it may be well with you” would motivate Israel and each one of us to “take care to do as ADONAI” has commanded. Unfortunately, just like little children, sometimes it takes a little bit of fear, of reverential awe, to motivate us to do what we know is right. May we all find the motivation to fear God and obey His commandments, and to love and serve Him with all of our mind and being (Deuteronomy 10:12).

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] Dr. Jeffery H. Tigay (Commentator), The JPS Torah Commentary, Deuteronomy, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication society, 1996, p 193.

[iii] https://www.sefaria.org.il/Sanhedrin.71a.15?lang=bi

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Thoughts on Shoftim

canstockphoto0885276When we pick up a book, glancing through it to determine whether we would like to spend the time reading it, we may look over the table of contents as well as the chapter headings or introductions. However, it is the text itself that we must read and delve into in order to truly understand the heart of the book and the author(s) goal. Therefore, it is worthy to note that the chapter and verse designations in the Bible are not in the original texts but are a much later addition. A cursory online search shows an agreement that the current chapter and verse designations in the Christian translations of the Bible originated with Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury around 1227, and were first used in the Wycliffe English Bible in 1382. The Tanakh has a few deviations from this pattern, possibly due to the work of Rabbi Nathan in 1448.

Why this history lesson you might ask? Often when we read the Scriptures, we subconsciously accept the stop-and-go pattern of the chapter breaks, verses and even sub-headings. While these are useful tools in locating and remembering sections of Scripture, they were not part of the original inspired work of the Ruach set down by men of old, and therefore sometimes misleading.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the fourth of the seven Haftarot of Consolation, which follow the remembrances of Tisha b’Av and culminate on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading, Isaiah 51:12 through 52:12, continues the unbroken flow of HaShem’s encouragement through the prophet Isaiah that began four weeks ago with Shabbat Nachamu, (Isaiah 40:1–26). This week’s passage opens with the repeated emphasis by the Lord that He alone comforts Israel. “I, I am the One who comforts you. Who are you that you should fear man?” (Isaiah 51:12). These words may well have inspired Rav Shaul’s words of comfort to the believers in Rome as he wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b).

Exterior circumstances should not be our main focus, no matter how difficult they are, or whether they be problems of our own making or the simple reality of living in world groaning for the realisation of tikkun olam. Our main focus should be on Him who provides the comfort, as He is the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrew 12:2), especially as He promised through the prophet 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).

Later in the Haftarah, Israel, as well as we ourselves, are encouraged, possibly even commanded, to awaken ourselves to the necessity of focusing on the Lord and not the circumstances. First the Lord says,

Awake, awake! Stand up, Jerusalem! From ADONAI’s hand you have drunk the cup of His fury, the chalice of reeling that you have drained to the dregs. (Isa 51:17)

Yes, it was Israel’s fault that the discipline had come, and she was chastised like an errant child. By not choosing life (Deuteronomy 30:19), Israel received the promised consequence. But the consequence was not the final state of things. Discipline is performed not to bring death and destruction, but to bring change, growth, repentance and redemption. Isaiah’s encouragement continues,

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in your strength, Zion! Clothe yourself in beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city, for the uncircumcised and the unclean will never invade you again. (Isaiah 52:1)

It is important to realize that along with words of consolation, Israel is encouraged, maybe even commanded, to wake up, to stand up, and even to strengthen themselves. The Lord comforts and restores after He disciplines, but it is Israel’s responsibility to get up, to stop wallowing in the mud of depression and self-pity, and to walk in the comfort and provision of her LORD. Remember, the LORD delivered Israel from Egyptian oppression and slavery, but they had to get up and walk out on their own. Had they sat in their homes instead of following Moshe out of Egypt, who knows how the story might have ended? Rav Shaul exhorted the believers at Philippi to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  For the One working in you is God—both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). It would appear that both in the Tanakh and in the Apostolic Writings, we have a responsibility to work with HaShem for our betterment, for tikkun olam; we are not expected nor even allowed just to sit on our tuchuses waiting for things to happen.

The 16th century kabbalist, Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, possibly summarized this Haftarah in his poem, Lecha Dodi, which is sung on Friday evening welcoming the entrance of the Shabbat.

Wake up, wake up,
Your light has come, rise and shine.
Awaken, awaken; sing a melody,
The glory of God to be revealed upon thee.

As we read this Haftarah of Consolation, could there be any greater consolation than being encouraged to enter into the rest provided by our God?

In closing, I want to share just a little about the month of Elul which we entered last Shabbat. Within Judaism, the month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays in the month of Tishrei. Beginning in Elul, we prepare our hearts to acknowledge Creation and ADONAI‘s sovereignty over it at Rosh Hashanah. Ten days later, we will stand, together as a people, recognizing our frailty and short-comings, acknowledging our need for forgiveness and restoration both to ADONAI as well as to our fellow man. Remember the words of Yeshua when He taught,

 Therefore, if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24)

It has been suggested that Elul (אלול, alef lamed, vav lamed) is an acronym of Song of Songs 6:3 “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” As we spend time in introspection this month, we can rest assured that we are loved by ADONAI, and that His desire for us is for our good.

Shabbat Shalom

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