Thoughts on Shemini

In his book entitled, Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin shares the following,

Yitgadal ve-Yitkadash Shmei Rabbah, Magnified and sanctified be His great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. (The opening words of the Kaddish prayer recited for the dead.)

Along with the Sh’ma, the Kaddish probably is the best-known Jewish prayer. Yet many Jews do not know its meaning (perhaps because it is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew), and are surprised when they learn that it never alludes to death. Instead, Kaddish is a paean to God, expressing the hope that His majesty will be accepted by the entire world.

Why was the Kaddish prayer chosen as the memorial prayer for the dead? Probably because the greatest testament to the deceased is that he or she has left behind descendants who attend synagogue and pledge themselves to work toward perfecting the world under the rule of God. (Jewish Wisdom, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994, p 268-69)

A quotation concerning death and mourning is not the usual way I begin these weekly Thoughts, but I found it very appropriate for this week’s parasha. Shemini, Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47,* begins “On the eighth day….” Remember, last week’s parasha ended with the seven-day ordination of Aaron and his four sons, Abihu, Nadab, Eleazar, and Ithamar. All five of these men were consecrated, set apart for specific service, avodah, standing between the indwelling presence of HaShem and Bnei Yisrael. These men were in the presence of HaShem at the entrance to the Mishkan for seven days then on the eighth day Moshe called the five out and had Aaron offer a sin offering for himself and his sons, as well as a burnt offering and meal offering (9:3-14). Then Aaron brought the same three offerings on behalf of Bnei Yisrael (9:15-22). At the conclusion of these events

Moses and Aaron then went into the Tent of Meeting. When they came back out and blessed the people, the glory of ADONAI appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and devoured the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (9:23-24)

There was a feeling of exhilaration, of reverential fear, maybe even a feeling of finally being at home in the presence of ADONAIIt is in this attitude of exhilaration, of being in the presence of HaShem, that Abihu and Nadab “each took his own censer, put fire in it, laid incense over it, and offered unauthorized fire before ADONAI — which He had not commanded them,” (10:1). Immediately ADONAI answered the action, “so fire came out from the presence of ADONAI and consumed them. So they died before ADONAI,” (10:2). Sermons have been preached decrying the unauthorized fire, and commentators have sought intently to explain the attitude or motivation of the hearts of Abihu and Nadab, some even suggesting that they had the molten calf or some other idol in mind when making their offering. However, the passage itself explains why their offering was unauthorized; because HaShem לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם, did not command the offering, nor was it offered in the proper manner. Abihu and Nadab were in the moment, or as said in today’s vernacular, they were in the spirit of the moment and excited. They just had to do something. But what they did was wrong, it was out of order, it was unauthorized and as such, it was dealt with immediately and decisively. One might remember another episode that would happen centuries in the future. In 2 Samuel 6, we see a similar exhilaration being expressed by King David and the 30,000 plus men and women that gather to transport the Ark from Baale-Judah (modern-day Kiryat Ye’arim) upward to Jerusalem. Then, as with Abihu and Nadab, tragedy struck.

But when they reached the threshing floor of Nahon, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and grasped it, for the oxen had stumbled. Then the anger of ADONAI was kindled against Uzzah. God struck him down there for his irreverence so that he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

Once again the sermonizers and commentators have tried to explain why such an act of care for the Ark brought about such a devastating outcome. And again, I feel the answer is the same. Only certain people were supposed to touch and to transport the Ark, and Uzzah, son of Abinadab was not one of those people. In Numbers 4 it is recorded that the kohanim (Aaron, his sons, and descendants) were responsible for covering the Ark and placing the carrying poles in the rings so that the sons of Kohath could carry the Ark, though they were never to touch it directly. Again, there is a right way and an improper way to serve HaShem.

What does all of this have to do with Kaddish and mourning of the dead? Aaron, the father of Abihu and Nadab had every right to mourn the tragic death of his sons. However, Aaron, as well as his surviving sons, were in a consecrated position and as such, could not defile themselves, even for their sons and brothers (Leviticus 21:1). Moshe’s words, though hard, were for Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar’s safety.

“But let your kinsmen—the whole house of Israel—mourn over the burning that ADONAI has kindled. You must not go out from the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, or you will die, for the anointing oil of ADONAI is on you.” (Leviticus 10:6-7)

HaShem set forth specific ways for Israel to approach and relate to Him as well as specific ways to approach and relate to others. While some see these rules as harsh and unbending, are they any more so than the exclusive interpretation of Yeshua’s words, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 15:6).

In closing, the Kaddish prayer, as Rabbi Telushkin noted, has nothing to do with the dead or even grieving for the dead loved one. It is focused solely and completely on HaShem. It is a prayer that acknowledges God’s greatness and the fact that He alone is to be worshipped, honored and praised in this world and in the world to come. The only mention of the dead in this prayer is in a generic sense when we pray

In the world which He will create anew, where He will revive the dead, construct His temple, deliver life, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and uproot foreign idol worship from His land, and restore the holy service of Heaven to its place, along with His radiance, splendor and Shechinah, and may He bring forth His redemption and hasten the coming of His Moshiach (Messiah). (

With the recitation of Mourner’s Kaddish, we remember loved ones who have passed on before us while focusing on HaShem, who one day will restore us with our loved ones in the Olam Haba, the world to come.

Shabbat Shalom

  • 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 Tzav

This week’s parasha is Tzav, Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36. The haftarah is Jeremiah 7:21-28 (Chabad) or 7:21-8:3 (traditional) & Jeremiah 9:22-23 (23-24 in most Christian Bibles). The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 8:48–59.

This week’s parasha and haftarah seem to present a paradox. What exactly is a paradox? After consulting the all-knowing Google, the simplest explanation I found was,

A paradox is a statement that, despite apparently valid reasoning from true premises, leads to an apparently-self-contradictory or logically unacceptable conclusion. (

A well-known example a paradox is the Liar paradox, which offers up the simple sentence: “This statement is false.” If this is true, then the sentence is false, but if the sentence states that it is false, and it is false, then it must also be true! So, the sentence is both true and not true at the same time. (

Now to the paradox in this week’s readings. Tzav like Vayikra (last week’s parasha) deals with the various sacrifices that Bnei Yisrael was to bring before Adonai. Tzav specifically deals with the procedural activity of the priests in the handling of the various sacrifices. Thus, the first eight chapters of Leviticus deal with sacrifices and burnt offerings. Furthermore, in both parashot Vayikra and Tzav we repeatedly read that HaShem commanded Moshe to command or tell Israel how and when to perform the sacrifices,

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, and tell them: When anyone of you brings an offering to ADONAI…”(Leviticus 1:2) or ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: “Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the Torah of the burnt offering…” (6:1-2)

But, when we turn to the haftarah, HaShem states that he did not command Israel to offer sacrifices,

Thus says ADONAI-Tzva’ot, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat the meat! For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt I did not speak to them nor did I command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices,but I explicitly commanded them: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God to you and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways that I command you that it may go well with you.’” (Jeremiah 7:21-23)

In the larger context, Jeremiah seems to have been dealing with idolatrous worship of the Assyro-Babylonian Astarte (Ishtar) or Queen of Heaven, a cultic practice that was found in Jerusalem at least since the days of King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3). It appears that both Samuel – remember last week’s haftarah where Samuel told Saul that to obey is better than sacrifice – and Jeremiah seem to indicate that sacrifices are somehow contrary to the desires of HaShem. If this is so, why is there so much attention given in the Torah to the performances of sacrifices?

To answer this, let’s begin with a short discussion on the connection between keva and kavanah. An easy way to explain the differences is the example of prayer. In prayer, keva is the fixed or established form, the words that are said at specific times and in a specific manner; these are predetermined, fixed actions. On the other hand, kavanah is the attitude or motivation with which we say the words, meaning of which should come from our heart stemming from a desire to serve and please our LORD. Ideally there should be a blend of the two, keva giving the basic form and structure to kavanah and kavanah giving the heart and meaning to keva.

Let’s now apply the aspects of keva and kavanah to this week’s potential paradox. Keva is the chukim (statutes) and the mishpatim (judgements) that HaShem commanded Moshe to relay to Bnei Yisrael. These are the how tos and occasionally the whys of what is to be done in our relationships with one another and with HaShem. But as I noted in last week’s Thoughts, without love, all of the rules and regulations are merely words on a page. Love is part of kavanah, but it is only one aspect of it. Kavanah also encompasses the ability to recognize what needs to be done, as well as the ability to choose between the words on the page and the needs of the moment. Kavanah keeps things in perspective and maintains the proper attitude and motives for keeping the keva. Remember Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5, where he repeatedly said, “you have heard it said, but I say to you….” Not once did he nullify or set aside a single word of the Torah. Instead, he amplified the Torah giving a renewed or clearer understanding to the kavanah behind the obedience of the keva. After Rav Shaul asked rhetorically if the “Law” is sin, he immediately responds, “the Torah is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” (Romans 7:7 & 12). Yeshua himself said that he had not come “to abolish the Torah or the Prophets… but to fulfill them,” (Matthew 5:17).

So we see that what appeared to be a paradox is not so much a paradox but a need for clarification. The fact that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), does not nullify the validity of the sacrifice. However, the obedience must stem from kavanah, the proper intent, reasons and relationship to the whole counsel of HaShem. If fulfillment of the sacrifice is done improperly, if it takes precedence over our relationship with HaShem or negates the commands of our responsibilities and care toward one another then obedience becomes keva, a fixed form and something done by rote. I believe that Yeshua’s confrontational remarks to the Pharisees show that he was challenging them to look at their traditions and religious observance to determine if they were serving the LORD from kavanah or simply by keva.

…you have neglected the weightier matters ofTorah—justice and mercy and faithfulness. It is necessary to do these things without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

I believe that the Apostle John sums thing up quite well. First, he quotes Yeshua as saying, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,” (John 13:35). Then later John writes to his community, “Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments,” (1 John 2:3). May we all heed the words to John’s community.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Vayikra

This week’s parasha is Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26,with a special Maftir reading,2  Deuteronomy 25:17-19, as this is Shabbat Zachor (1 Samuel 15:1-34), the Shabbat before Purim. The three verses in Deuteronomy remind Jews everywhere to remember the atrocities perpetrated against Bnei Yisrael as they traversed the wilderness and that, after HaShem establish them in the land, they were to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens (Deuteronomy 25:19). Sadly, Israel apparently did not eradicate Amalek or his descendants as commanded, as the main protagonist in the Purim story is Haman (pause reading at this point to boo at his memory) of whom it is said was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. This name recalls Agag, king of the Amalekites who was conquered and taken prisoner by Saul, and then cut into pieces by Samuel, which we will read about in the haftarah. In short, as we remember the victory of the Jews over the schemes of Haman (pause reading at this point to boo at his memory), we equally remember the command to blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. The reading from the Besorah is from John 8:31-47.

This week’s reading begins, וַיּקְרָא אֶל־מֹשֶׁה, And He called to Moshe (Leviticus 1:1). But why is it said, “and He called” instead of simply “HaShem spoke to Moshe” or “HaShem commanded Moshe”? To find the answer we need to look at the end of last week’s parasha.

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of ADONAI filled the Tabernacle. Moses was unable to enter into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud resided there, and the glory of ADONAI filled the Tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)

Though Exodus ends, the narrative continues. Our parasha, Vayikra, as well as the entire book of Leviticus, carries on the narrative begun in Exodus. Thus, Vayikra begins with HaShem calling out to Moshe from the Mishkan, which Moshe could not yet enter due to the heaviness of the cloud of God’s glory, His presence, that rested upon it. Another indication of this continuation is that at the end of Exodus, chapter 40, the Mishkan was completely assembled, and Leviticus immediately begins by describing the proper way to approach HaShem through the sacrificial system.

Normally Leviticus is understood as a dry book of instructions emphasizing the legal, moral and ritual aspects of the covenant that Bnei Yisrael accepted at Mt. Sinai. Are all of these instructions really necessary? A modern novel supplies the answer.

In the novel Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding tells the story of a group of boys who get stuck on an uninhabited island. They are forced to govern themselves; however, their system quickly falls apart as the boys unleash their evil and savage sides. The result is a fight for survival. Golding’s message is that a society without rules and governments would result in a complete chaos.3

Family, as well as communal relationships and responsibilities, are defined so that individuals know the boundaries of acceptable behavior and learn what is expected as moral and ethical standards. Similarly, through the parameters and rules in Leviticus, the people of Israel know what is expected of them in their relation to the One who delivered them from Egyptian oppression to be their God and Sovereign.  Included within these parameters is the means to restore their relationship with their God and with their fellow man when they transgressed the instructions of HaShem. The idea that “all we need is love” may make a nice song, but without the parameters defining that love in relation to others it is doomed to fail and decay. Remember when the Pharisees attempted to test Yeshua asking him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Torah” (Matthew 22:35)? His answer is well known; first, he reaffirmed the Sh’ma, then he stated that one must love their neighbor as themselves (22:37-39). However, he did not stop there. His next statement supports what was said earlier about HaShem’s instructions to Bnei Yisrael.

The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (22:40)

Without the Torah and the Prophets, we would not know what it means to love God or to love our neighbor – or for that matter how to love ourselves. It could also be said that without love, all of the rules and regulations are merely words on a page. The rules and regulations show us how to love, and it is love that truly empowers the rules and regulations.

Remember Yeshua’s words, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” (John 14:15). Later John would write to his community, “Now we know that we have come to know Him by this—if we keep His commandments,” (1 John 2:3).

A final observation, according to Jewish tradition it is customary to begin teaching young children from Leviticus instead of beginning with Genesis. It is said, “The reason for this is that the little children are pure, and the sacrifices are pure. Let the pure ones deal with purity.”However, another reason is that they have already learned the patriarchal stories at home when they were very toddlers, and they start their formal education with Leviticus so that they will learn how to interact with one another as well as with their God. Thus, echoing the words of Yeshua, “I tell you, unless you turn and become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Shabbat Shalom

1Unless otherwise noted all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

2 Maftir (מפטיר) the “concluder” refers to the last person called up to the Torah on Shabbat and holiday mornings: this person also reads the haftarah portion from a related section of the Nevi’im (prophetic books). last accessed 13 March 2019.

Gleaned from Leviticus Rabbah 7:3

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Thoughts on Vayekhel

This week’s parasha is Vayekhel, Exodus 35:1 – 38:20.1 The haftarah is 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17 and the reading from the Besorah is Mark 12:41–44. This week is also Shabbat Shekalim with its special reading Exodus 30:11-16 which is the reading for the Maftir.

It’s interesting to realize that in Ki Tisa last week, just before the episode with the molten calf, Moshe was specifically told to “Speak now to Bnei-Yisrael saying, ‘Surely you must keep My Shabbatot, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so you may know that I am ADONAI who sanctifies you.’” (Exodus 31:13) Then this week, in Vayekhel, just as the construction of the Mishkan is about to begin, we read Moshe’s reiteration of that command, “These are the words which ADONAI has commanded you to do. Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI. Whoever does any work then will die. Do not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on Yom Shabbat.” (Exodus 35:1-3) In fact, four times the issue of keeping the Sabbath appears in Exodus, the first in Yitro, Exodus 20:8-11, then again in Mishpatim, Exodus 23:12, third in Ki Tisa and the fourth in Vayekhel. For those who like statistics, consider this: murder, adultery, and not coveting only appear once, but observing the Sabbath occurs four times.

One of the common threads in three of the four locations is the fact that we are to do no מְלָאכָה, (melakhah) translated as “work” in English. On one hand, this translation makes sense as the passages all state that for six days one can work but on the seventh, no work is to be done. But on the other hand, the word melakhah is obscure. What exactly does it mean? Depending on the dictionary, the word can have numerous uses, work, deed, duty, craft, service, occupation, labor, business. According to the Torah Shebaal Peh (Oral Law) melakhah is any of the thirty-nine activities that went into or is related to the building of the Mishkan. Some regulations drawn from this forbid the opening of umbrellas, tearing of toilet paper, or brushing hair and applying make-up; and we won’t even talk about turning on or off lights, answering the phone or driving the car.

In his book, The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man, Abraham Joshua Heschel states,

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.2

In other words, it is a time to be separated from the day-to-day life of the other six days and to focus not on our activities but upon HaShem alone. HaShem Himself provided an example of what it means to be separated from the day-to-day life at the first mention of Shabbat,

.וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה

 God completed—on the seventh day—His work (melakhah) that He made, and He ceased—on the seventh day—from all His work (melakhah) that He made. (Genesis 2:2)

On the seventh day, HaShem ceased His creative activity and rested. כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ, He took a Sabbath from all His melakhah. As He ceased His creative activities on the seventh day so should we put aside our day-to-day activities and focus not just on resting as HaShem did but to also focus on He who has called us to rest in Him, to come close to Him and to rest in His presence.

The magnitude of the importance of observing the Sabbath is epitomized in these words from the prophet Isaiah

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

Notice the specifics in Isaiah’s counsel, we are to refrain from doing our own pleasure, from going our own thing as it were, even speaking our usual speech should be curtailed. In other words, it is a time to focus upon HaShem, delighting ourselves in ADONAI.

Often at this point a list of do’s and don’ts, of what to do and what not to do on Shabbat, is given or the verse from the Besorah is mentioned,

Then He (Yeshua) said to them, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of Shabbat.” (Mark 2:27-28)

Yeshua’s chastisement here is not with the observance of Shabbat rather with the traditional fences that were established to protect the Shabbat to the detriment of the individual. As to the do’s and don’ts, look again at the four repetitions of the command in Exodus. All four times the command to observe the Sabbath was given, it was given to the community, to Bnei Yisrael. Keeping the Sabbath is a communal activity. Some communities are stricter while others are more lenient, less stringent. The degree of observance needs to have communally accepted boundaries. In this, the words of Rav Shaul may well come into play,

Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you in matters of food or drink, or in respect to a festival or new moon or Shabbat. (Colossians 2:16)

I propose that we all adopt  the guidelines that Isaiah advocated, “If you turn back your foot from Shabbat, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call Shabbat a delight, the holy day of ADONAI honorable, if you honor it, not going your own ways, not seeking your own pleasure, nor speaking your usual speech, then You will delight yourself in ADONAI…,” and find ways within our  communities to focus on HaShem unhampered by the other six days of normative life.

One last comment, in August 1966, Commentary Magazine surveyed a group of rabbis, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, asking them a series of questions on the topic The State of Jewish Belief. Rabbi Richard J. Israel, ז״ל, a long time Hillel rabbi made the following comment about Shabbat observance.

I cannot feel that the important issue in non-observance of the Shabbat is sin, but it certainly is a missed opportunity which can never be recovered. A Shabbat that I miss can never happen to me again. I have lost it.3

Observing the Sabbath is an opportunity to commune with HaShem, at His invitation. He desires our presence. We should make every effort not to miss such an invitation. As it is written, “it (Shabbat) is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so you may know that I am ADONAI who sanctifies you.”

Shabbat Shalom

1 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.

2Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951) p 13.


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Thoughts on Terumah

This week’s Torah reading is Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19.1 The haftarah is 1 Kings 5:26 (5:12 English) – 6:13 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:25–36.

Parashat Terumah records the freely given offering (תְּרוּמָה, terumah) that HaShem commanded Moshe to receive from the people, whose “whose hearts prompt[ed] them to give.” Many sermons have been preached about this free-will offering that Bnei Yisrael was more than willing to bring to Moshe for the construction of the Mishkan. But there is an aspect of this offering that is often overlooked.

This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze,blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats’ hair,tanned rams’ skins, fine leather, acacia wood,oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense,onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breast piece. (Exodus 25:3-7)

While the offering was, in fact, free-will, it requested very specific materials that would become part of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), the place where the people of Israel could meet with HaShem. Individuals were not required, nor were they under any compulsion to participate in this offering as they the half-shekel terumah, which they were later required to give (Exodus 30:11-16). Also, there is every indication that HaShem had already prepared the people for this collection. Moshe was told to tell the elders that HaShem would bless Bnei Yisrael through the Egyptians,

I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed… (Exodus 3:21)

This promise was fulfilled as they were preparing to leave

…and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

In other words, the slaves, who had virtually nothing, were suddenly wealthy beyond their imagination through no real effort of their own. Then these same, now freed and delivered slaves were given the opportunity to freely give away what had been given to them. Social psychologists would view this action as the law or principle of reciprocity, i.e. individuals tend to pay back what they have received from others. Each of us has been gifted in numerous ways, whether they are talents or abilities or material substances. The important thing is what we do with these gifts. In April 1972, singer, songwriter Bill Withers released his song Lean on Me.A few lines from the song clearly express the need not only to help one another be to receive help as well.

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand,
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand,
We all need somebody to lean on.

While Rav Shaul may not have been able to sing the blues, I believe he had the reciprocity principle in mind when he wrote to the believers in Corinth,

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

HaShem did not bless Bnei Yisrael with the riches of Egypt just for the sake of plundering their oppressors. The material blessings they received became not only what was needed to construct and furnish the Mishkan, but also, and possibly more importantly, the blessings allowed those who previously had little or no material possessions to share whole-heartedly out of their new-found abundance. Those in need became those who were able and willing to give for the betterment of others.

The haftarah records Solomon’s preparations for and construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which would replace the Mishkan and the place where HaShem would meet with His people. Among the major differences between the Mishkan and the Temple, one is immediately evident. The Mishkan was built with local labor, with materials obtained as hearts were prompted to give, while the Temple was built with conscripted labor and foreign. We are not told the cost of Solomon’s Temple but, we are told that Solomon conscripted more than 180,000 workers from throughout Israel and that it took just over seven years from the laying of the foundation to its competition (1 Kings 6:37-38). Also notice that these seven years begin at the laying of the foundation, not at the beginning of quarrying the stone or gathering the wood by King Hyram in Tyre, or all the other materials. Although there is no indication in the haftarah that Solomon, with all his knowledge and wisdom, received any directions from HaShem as to how to build or furnish the Temple, the Book of Chronicles (28:11-19) indicates that the plans for the Temple were given by HaShem to King David, who in turn gave them to Solomon.

The common ground for both the Mishkan and the Temple is clear, they were places where HaShem could meet with his people. If I might borrow from my wife’s haftarah portion for the UMJC this week, we all need to “remember that the Spirit of God does not dwell in buildings, but in the builders. As Yeshua believers, we are also living stones being built together into a dwelling place for the Spirit of God.”As living stones, we are connected as a body “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,” (Ephesians 4:16).

Shabbat Shalom

1 Unless otherwise noted the Scripture readings are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

2 last accessed 4 February 2019. last accessed 7 February 2019.

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Thoughts on Mishpatim

This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim, (rules or judgments) Exodus 21:1 – 24:18.The Haftarah is from Jeremiah 34:8-22 and 33:25-26 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:14–24.

I am a southern boy from Biloxi, Mississippi. As far as I can remember, I was eighteen years old before I traveled any further north than a couple dozen miles from the Gulf Coast. At the time, I was a grits, fried chicken and watermelon eating boy who liked Conway Twitty, Lorette Lynne, and Bobbie Gentry, as well as a bit of rock and roll to my parent’s dismay. I was elated when I heard that my first duty station in the Marine Corps was in Southern California. It did not long for me to discover that there was nothing southern about Southern California except maybe its geography. But I adapted, met some really nice people, one of whom became my wife. Vered was born and raised in southern California and very few people could understand what the two of us had in common. During one pre-marital counseling sessions, our counselor said that we also needed cross-cultural counseling, because though we were both English-speakers, we were from two different worlds. He was right, and after forty-five years of marriage, at times we are still from different worlds. But one thing piece of advice that has stuck with us is to avoid hyperbole, especially when arguing. “Never say never and never say always” has been a constant theme throughout our marriage.

I propose that hyperbole is being used in this week’s Torah portion. The phrase eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. עין תחת עין, (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:21, and Deuteronomy 19:21) has been the source of much disparagement against the God of Israel, the One who suggests acts of vengeance upon those who perpetrate harm and even death. But is this actually what HaShem was commanding? Tevye’s answer in the 1971 movie, Fiddler on the Roof, to the desire of some of the villagers to respond in kind after a mini-pogrom in their shtetl of Anatevka is enlightening:

Villager: We should defend ourselves! An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!

Tevye: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

As Tevye implied, HaShem is not demanding that we maim one another to “even the score.” Instead, as the Sages understood these passages call for making compensation for wrongs committed.

[However,] Scripture says here, “… for” (Exod. 21:36), and Scripture says above,
“… for” (Exod. 21:24). Just as “for” stated above means one may only make damage payments with money, so too does “for” stated here mean that one may only make damage payments with money.2

It has been said that no Jewish court has ever blinded or otherwise maimed an individual as restitution for crimes against another person – corporal punishment yes, lashes, even death but never maiming. The Rambam argued against maiming by questioning where the compensation is for the injured party if the one who committed the act lost his eye – what benefit is his loss to the injured individual.

One of the nuances of tachath תחת, refers to “things mutually interchanged, in place of, in exchange or return for,” which includes monetary compensation. We see this plainly expressed earlier in chapter 21,

When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. (21:18-19; italics are mine)

If compensation was HaShem’s intention, why did He use words that could be misconstrued negatively? The Rambam suggests “that in Heavenly Scales, the perpetrator deserves to lose his own eye – and for this reason cannot find atonement for his sin merely by making the required monetary payments; he must also beg his victim’s forgiveness – but human courts have no authority to do more than require the responsible party to make monetary restitution.”3 Another possible explanation is that He was using hyperbole the point across that people are responsible for their actions and their consequences.

In the Apostolic Writings, Yeshua uses the same words but seemingly with a different intention.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (Matthew 5:38-41)

Remember, just a little earlier Yeshua had said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). So, the plain text of Exodus 21:24 seems to adjure the maiming of the perpetrator in retaliation of the crime against the victim, while the rabbis understood this as monetary compensation.  Then Yeshua adds a new twist, “Do not resist an evildoer.” As extreme as the acts of vengeance in Exodus may be, Yeshua’s words seem to remove all recourse for the victim. I suggest that this too is a hyperbolic statement, causing the crowd, as well as the rest of us, to sit up and take note.

When we read something shocking in the Scriptures, we are challenged to pay attention and to discover exactly what HaShem is trying to tell us. Sometimes, a prayerful study will bring us to a satisfactory understanding, sometimes not. But as Amy-Jill Levine observes concerning Yeshua’s use of parables, his teaching challenges our stereotypes, and helps “us to locate both our eccentric traits and our excellent talents; they can inspire and humble, challenge and comfort.”4 I would go a step further and suggest that all his of teachings challenge our stereotypes and inspires us to live godly, responsible lives in a world that has far too many blind and toothless individuals in need of assistance.

Shabbat Shalom


1 Unless otherwise noted the Scripture readings are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

2 W. David Nelson, Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, 69:2, 8B., Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006, 316.

3 Nosson Scherman & Meir Zlotowitz, gen. eds., The Chumash, The Stone Edition, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 9th edition, 1998, 423.

4 Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, New York: HarperCollins, 2014, Apple Books ePub, 534.

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Thoughts on Yitro

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:23.The Haftarah, according to Sephardic tradition is Isaiah 6:1-13. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 7:1-13.

Can you imagine how much of a difference three short months can make in a person’s life? A couple of weeks ago I shared about some of my experiences in the Marine Corps. From the drill instructor shouting in my face early one August morning to leaving the Corps some twelve years later. Thinking back, it was those first three months, August to October 1972, that really changed the course of my life. I got off the bus at Paris Island, SC, a recent high school graduate away from home for the first time, thinking how easy it was going to be for me to be a Marine, after all I had grown up in a military family. At the same time, to be honest, I was scared because I knew there was no going back. To quote Yoda, “Do or don’t do, there is no try,” and don’t do wasn’t an option any more than try was. Over the next three months I hurt in places I didn’t know existed. I learned to move or jump or fall when commanded, before asking or even thinking why. In three months, I changed from a somewhat self-centered high school graduate to being part of a group of eighty-seven men who thought, moved and responded as a single unit. I was and forever will be a United States Marine.

This week’s portion begins, “In the third month after Bnei-Yisrael had gone out of the land of Egypt, that same day they arrived at the wilderness of Sinai” (19:1). The goal of my three-month journey had been to become a United States Marine. Bnei-Yisrael was now finishing a three-month journey for which HaShem had a specific goal in mind. HaShem’s goal in bringing Bnei-Yisrael out of Egypt was to lead then into covenant relationship with Himself, thus creating a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Their journey, like mine, was not an ending point but merely a transition to another journey. I went from Boot Camp to Tech School to learn a trade. Bnei-Yisrael was about to discover that they too had much more to learn in order to truly meet the goal that HaShem had set out for them.

Moses went up to God, and ADONAI called to him from the mountain saying, “Say this to the house of Jacob, and tell Bnei-Yisrael, ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself.Now then, if you listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you will be My own treasure from among all people, for all the earth is Mine. So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim (priests) and a holy nation.’” (19:3-6)

Moshe goes down the mountain and reports to the elders of the people, apparently within the hearing of all the people, all that HaShem had told him to say. The people’s response was immediate, כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר ה׳ נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה, “all that ADONAI says, we will do” (19:8).

This was a monumental event. In essence, the Creator of the Universe first delivered a people from bondage and then He told them why He did it, leaving the choice up to them as to whether they were going to accept His offer or not. The fellowship and relationship that HaShem had planned in the Garden with Adam and Chava (Eve) was offered to a people who were only beginning to shake of their oppression and bondage.

Not only did the Creator make this offer, but it was to “all the people.” Rashi, referencing Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, notes that both men and women were included in this offer. He states,

TO THE HOUSE OF JACOB — This denotes the women — to them you shall speak in gentle language, and AND TELL THE CHILDREN (lit., the sons) OF ISRAEL — explain to the men the punishments and the details of the commandments in words that are as hard (distasteful) as wormwood.3

This may not seem important, especially considering the warning that the men were not to go near their wives on the third day (19:15). But when one considers Moses’ words as his time as leader was coming to an end, we see things a little differently,

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. This is in order to confirm you today as His people. So, He will be your God, just as He promised you and just as He swore to your fathers—to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.(29:9-12, cf. Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Joshua 8:35, and Nehemiah 8:2-3)

So, in this week’s reading Israel travels for three months, moving from bondage and oppression to the dawning of a new existence. They have finished one school and are about to embark on a new curriculum. Along the way they have discovered that HaShem’s actions are not motivated simply by the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also by His desire for Bnei-Yisrael to be a treasured people unto Himself. But that is not all, they also discovered the people that HaShem was drawing to Himself were not just the elite, or the males, but all the people, the elders and the wood cutters, men and women alike, etc., were called into His presence. Every year when we celebrate Passover, we acknowledge that we too have come out of Egypt (Exodus 13:8). If this is true, then just as we too took part in the Exodus, we too stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai hearing HaShem’s call to be a treasured people—how will we respond to the call to “…listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant”? HaShem’s words cannot simply be relegated to the “Old Covenant” because Yeshua said something similar to his followers, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Later John would write to his community, “Now this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the commandment—just as you heard from the beginning—that you walk in love” (2 John 1:6). If we are going to be His special treasured people today, then we too must respond with Bnei-Yisrael, “of all ADONAI says, we will do.”

Shabbat Shalom

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.

2 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael is the classic anthology of early rabbinic interpretations of the Book of Exodus. It is one the earliest sources for midrash, considered to be the work of the Tannaim during the first two century CE., before the codification of the Mishnah in 220 CE. last accessed on 24 January 2019

4 I use the term Old Covenant simply as a matter of contrast, not inferring that it is archaic or out-of-date.



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