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

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

Leviticus 10:1-2

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

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

Leviticus 9:23-24

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

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

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

2 Samuel 6:5-8

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

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

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

James 3:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 31:13-14 & 17

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

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

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

Isaiah 58.13-14

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

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

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In Hebrews 13 the anonymous author writes,

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

Hebrews 13:17*

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

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

Romans 13:1

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

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

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

John 14:26

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

1 John 2:27

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

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

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

Exodus 28:12

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

Exodus 28:19

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

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

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

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

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

1 Timothy 2:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 18:9-10

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

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

Exodus 18:17-18

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

“If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”

Exodus 18:23

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

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

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

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In this week’s parasha, Beshalach, Exodus 13.17 – 17.16,i the children of Israel and a mixed multitude of peoples, were sent out of Egypt. As they went out, HaShem led them night and day, in the path they should travel, eventually leading them to Sea of Reeds in preparation for once more seeing the mighty hand of the LORD. Behind them Pharaoh and his armies, having realized that they were losing a major source of cheap labor, were swiftly approaching and in front of them was a waterway that blocked their advancement and escape. Unfortunately, the fleeing multitude did not initially see the situation through eyes of faith empowered by recent events. Instead, they began, or maybe continued, their well-honed pattern of complaining to Moses about their perceived lot and how much better things were before he arrived on the scene with his promises of deliverance. 

But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by and witness the deliverance which the LORD will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The LORD will battle for you; you hold your peace!”

Exodus 14.13-14

Notice in the beginning of Beshalach, Hashem did not lead the people out by the easy way, by the Mediterranean Sea where the Philistines lived, but by a longer route through the desert. His route choice was not because He wanted to toughen them up, but so they would not have to face yet another enemy and become discouraged. He guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and of fire at night; this way they always saw his presence with them. But to them it seemed as if he had led them to an impassable obstruction—the Sea of Reeds before them and the enemy behind them. 

Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Rome, “For whatever was written before was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15.4) ii. How many times have we heard that HaShem will not lead us into situations filled with trouble, pain or distress? The experience of the children of Israel would seem to disprove that idea. With nowhere to go and the enemy fast approaching, they seemed to have no good options. In the natural, it seemed HaShem had led them to a place of no return. There may have been times when it seems He has led you and me to a similar place. What to do, what to do? Moses boldly told the children of Israel, “The LORD will battle for you; you hold your peace!” 

The narrative did have a happy ending, at least for some. The children of Israel were delivered, and the multitude never saw the Egyptians again. This should be an encouragement for us. Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “He (HaShem) will not allow you to be tempted/tested beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10.13). Just as He provided a way of escape for the children of Israel and the multitude with them at the shoreline, so He will provide for each of us, no matter where or what our “shoreline” might be. Why, because He has affirmed it, 

For I the LORD am your God, who grasped your right hand, who say to you: have no fear; I will be your help.

Isaiah 41.13

I feel the need to add one more example of being stuck in a bad situation that appears to have no way of escape. The Book of Daniel relates the narrative of the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s god. This act enraged the Babylonian king causing him to punish the three by tossing them into a fiery furnace. Like the children of Israel before the Sea of Reeds, in the natural they had no way out. However, unlike the children of Israel, these three men did not complain against their lot, instead they boldly proclaimed to King Nebuchadnezzar, 

“Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter, for if so, it must be, our God whom we serve is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will save us from your power. But even if He does not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue of gold that you have set up.”

Daniel 3.16-18

The three young men had faith in HaShem that he was able to deliver them, possibly because their faith was bolstered by the stories of HaShem’s deliverances in the past. Then comes the “however,” “But even if He does not … we will not serve your god or worship the statue of gold that you have set up.” Their faith and trust in HaShem was NOT dependent upon his actions on their behalf but upon their covenantal relationship with him. He was their God and sovereign regardless of how he answered their prayers, and they trusted in the fact that he would always take care of them. In chapter eleven of the Letter to the Hebrews is a list of the faithful in the Tanakh. It is most noteworthy to realize that not all of those listed were delivered or healed from their situations – but they all stayed firm in their faith in the One who called them. 

Therefore the take away for each of us is this; first, we are in relationship with a God who is able to deliver us from any seashore, fiery furnace, or other obstacle that may come across our path. Yes, this includes COVID, economic distress, and even civil disorder. However, that deliverance may not always be in the manner that we desire. So, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, we can say to the obstacle “even if He does not deliver us …” we will continue to trust in HaShem, knowing that whether we understand it or not, “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8.28).

i Unless otherwise noted, all readings from the Tanakh are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
ii Unless otherwise noted, all readings from the Brit Chadashah are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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This week’s Parsha, Va’eira, Exodus 6.2-9.35,i continues with Moshe attempting to convince HaShem that he has chosen the wrong guy to be the deliverer. Moshe obviously lost the argument and the back-and-forth dialogue with Pharaoh concerning Bnei Israel ensued. After the signs did not impress Pharaoh, the plagues began; first waters turned to blood for a period of seven days, then the frogs came, getting into every nook and cranny. Next were gnats, followed by flies, then a plague that fell upon the “beast of the field” – horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks. After this came boils and the final plague recorded in this week’s portion, destructive hail accompanied by fire. Though Pharaoh requested relief from the hand of the LORD each time a plague fell upon Egypt, he continued to harden his heart against the request for Bnei Israel to go and worship the God who seemed to be the bane of Pharaoh’s existence and source of his troubles. 

Twice Moshe argued with HaShem and made the interesting claim about himself that he was “of uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6.12, 30). The translator notes of the NET translation of the Scriptures suggests that Moshe is making “a comparison between his speech and that which Bnei Israel perceived as unacceptable, unprepared, foreign, and of no use to God.”ii In other words, Moshe was attempting to convince HaShem that the wrong guy for the job was chosen. It has also been suggested that just as Moshe’ first attempt at bringing HaShem’s message to Bnei Israel and Pharaoh had been less than favorably received, he may well have had the same concerns as Jeremiah when he complained,

To whom can I speak and warn so they would hear? See, their ears are uncircumcised, unable to hear! The word of ADONAI has become scorn to them. They have no delight in it.

Jeremiah 6:10

So not only did Moshe think that he could not speak, but he may also have thought that neither Bnei Israel or Pharaoh would be able to hear and respond to the word of HaShem.

There may well have been a third issue that concerned Moshe. It may have been that he was not so much concerned about his ability to speak or the ability of others to hear, but rather he doubted his own worthiness to speak on behalf of HaShem. The prophet Isaiah had similar concerns when, after seeing HaShem high and lifted up, he proclaimed that his lips were unclean. 

Oy to me! For I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am dwelling among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, ADONAI-Tzva’ot!”

Isaiah 6.5

Having to speak for HaShem is surely an awesome responsibility and one that should never be taken lightly. But at the same time, when HaShem calls someone into a specific service, that person must not doubt the calling or the empowerment of the HaShem. Remember HaShem’s response when Moshe complained about his verbal abilities, “Who made man’s mouth? Or who makes a man mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, ADONAI?” (Exodus 4.11).

The second parable of Yeshua in Matthew 25 (vs. 14-30) concerns the actions of a certain man who was about to go on an extended journey and turned over his possessions to his servants expecting them to make use of said possessions while he was gone. While I acknowledge that the word talents in this parable is literally an amount of money (quite a bit actually) it could also be understood, considering this week’s portion, to be the talents or abilities invested in a person by HaShem to accomplish his will in our lives. Of the three servants in the parable, the first two used what the master had left with them and increased his holdings. The third was not so fortunate. Instead of using what he was given, the third servant hid the talent—possibly protecting it, more than likely afraid of losing it—and thus did absolutely nothing with it. The master was less than happy and was most severe with his judgment. The next parable, if it is one, (vs 31-46) records the Son of Man judging the actions of those who call themselves his servants. Concerning the ones who apparently did not exercise their abilities in serving HaShem, Yeshua states,

“Then they too will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not care for You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Amen, I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’”

Matthew 25.44-45

Not all of us are Moshe standing before Pharaoh, but we all have talents and abilities that HaShem has invested in us to use within our sphere of influence. To hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful with a little, so I’ll put you in charge of much. Enter into your master’s joy!” (Matthew 25.21), we need to use what we have been given. The potential reward for obedience is not our goal; the goal is hearing that the Master is pleased with our actions and that he desires us to enter into his joy.

In Isaiah 66:5 it is written “Hear the word of ADONAI, you who tremble at His word…” (TLV) and “Hear the word of the LORD, you who are concerned about His word!” (JPS)iii These two different translations demonstrate that it is not only important to respect (fear) the Word of the LORD, but one must also be concerned about being obedient to it. Eventually Moshe not only feared/revered HaShem but was also concerned about the Word, and the people to whom he was sent, and was obedient to the Word. Unfortunately, it appears that Pharaoh never attained such an attitude. Doubts about our abilities to do what HaShem desires for us to do is a common trait among us all, whether we are brand new followers of Yeshua or have walked with him for decades. Consider the conversation between the man with the epileptic son and Yeshua in regard to the healing of his son.

“But if You can do anything, have compassion and help us!” (the father pleaded). “If You can’?” Yeshua said to him. “All things are possible for one who believes!” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:22-24

I am going to step out on a limb here and suggest that it is not necessarily the doubt that troubles HaShem so much as it is allowing those doubts to stop our doing what he has called us to do. The father’s admission to Yeshua that he believed but still had seeds of doubt, was not the issue because instead allowing the doubt to germinate and blossom, he asked Yeshua to assist him in overcoming it. As we go into Shabbat and move into a new week, let’s commit together to trust HaShem, even when things appear to be beyond our abilities, knowing that when he directs us to do something he will enable and empower us to do it – just as he did for Moshe.

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 The NET Bible, Second Edition Notes (NET Notes). Nashville, Thomas Nelson, copyright ©1996, 2019 by Biblical Studies Press, electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 5.3
iii The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

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Last night (Israel time) I watched in horror as first President Trump worked up a massive crowd of his supporters, fanning the flames of misplaced righteous indignation, and then launched that crowd at the Capital Building where the Joint Houses of Congress were meeting to confirm the duly received and recorded votes of the Electoral College. Suddenly the scene erupted into chaotic insurrection and wanton destruction of government property. According to various news services, such an action has not occurred since the US Capitol was overrun by the British in August of 1814, during the War of 1812.

During the ensuing actions, a demonstrator was shot and killed in the act of attempting to break into one of the governmental chambers. It was later confirmed that three other individuals, one female and two males, suffered separate medical emergencies resulting in their deaths. This loss of life is regrettable, and I pray that their families might receive consolation from our LORD as only he can provide.

I am sure you have all seen the news, and regardless of your position on the political spectrum, you were probably shocked by both the actions and the outcomes of the insurrection. So, instead of adding to the rhetoric, I want to encourage you to follow the exhortation that Rav Shaul commanded Timothy when he wrote, 

Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people—for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. He desires all men to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

And then with these words from Peter as he wrote to his community in the Diaspora, 

For the LORD’s sake, submit yourselves to every human authority—whether to a king as supreme, or to governors sent by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good. For this is God’s will, that you silence the ignorance of foolish men by doing good.Live as free people, but not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Rather, live as God’s slaves. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

1 Peter 2:13-17

The United States and her government, both outgoing and incoming, desperately need our prayers today and in the coming weeks during the time of transition. People, on both sides of the electoral divide, need to hear and experience words of shalom and of hope for a better future. And it just so happens that we have the words from the Father of comfort that so many need,

Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Let’s agree together to be that source of hope and healing that so many of our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances are in such desperate need of today.

Shalom u’mevorach


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