This week’s haftorah, Isaiah 54:1-10 is the fifth of a series of seven “Haftarot of Consolation.” The first of the seven was read on the Shabbat following Tisha b’Av and the seventh will be read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashanah. In the prophet’s sight, Jerusalem is no longer viewed as forsaken and childless. Now is the time of rejoicing, rebuilding, and repopulating.

“Sing, barren one, who has not given birth. Burst into singing and shout, you who have not travailed. For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married one,” says ADONAI. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch out your tabernacle curtains. Do not hold back—lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. (Isa. 54:1-2)

It is important to note that Jerusalem’s disobedience and sin had not been overlooked, rather HaShem’s forgiveness and grace were greater.

“For ADONAI has called you back like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of one’s youth that is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment, I deserted you, but I will regather you with great compassion. In a surge of anger, I hid My face from you a moment, but with everlasting kindness, I will have compassion on you,” says ADONAI your Redeemer. (Isa. 54:6-8)

Isaiah’s mention of HaShem’s kindness and compassion brings to mind the affirmation spoken to Moses from Mt. Sinai,

ADONAI, ADONAI, 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.” (Exo. 34:6-7)

In both Isaiah and Exodus compassion, kindness, and grace are highlighted, as well as the potential for HaShem’s anger as the disobedience of his children. However, there is an important qualifier to HaShem’s anger that is often overlooked, that of his slowness to act upon it, and the quickness of said anger running its course. Granted HaShem’s accounting of time is different from ours as the psalmist noted.

For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day just passing by, or like a watch in the night. (Psa. 90:4)

In his second letter, Peter reaffirms the psalmist’s observation,

But don’t forget this one thing, loved ones, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Once again, the word slow appears this time not in relation to the onset of HaShem’s anger, but in relation to his keeping his promises to his people, whether they be Bnei Israel or those who have become followers of Messiah, Yeshua; especially noteworthy is the qualifier that he is NOT slow in keeping his promises. Just as sure as disobedience will be dealt with, so will be the appearance of his compassion and forgiveness for all to come to repentance

The haftarah then ends with these words of assurance and comfort,

“Though the mountains depart, and the hills be shaken, My love will not depart from you, nor will My covenant of peace be shaken, says ADONAI who has compassion on you.” (Isa. 54:10)

The prophet Jeremiah resonated with these words of Isaiah, was he wrote before Jerusalem’s judgment and exile,

Thus says ADONAI, who gives the sun as light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars as a light by night, who stirs up the sea so its waves roar, ADONAI-Tzva’ot is His Name: “Only if this fixed order departs from before Me”—it is a declaration of ADONAI—“then also might Israel’s offspring cease from being a nation before Me—for all time.” Thus says ADONAI: “Only if heaven above can be measured, the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then also I will cast off the offspring of Israel—for all they have done.” It is a declaration of ADONAI. (Jer. 31:34-36)

Not only is the assurance of HaShem’s relationship with his people confirmed in these two passages (as well as numerous others), but Jeremiah also predicated the assurance of the relationship with these words,

“For I will forgive their iniquity, their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer. 31:33b)

So, what is the takeaway from this week’s gleanings from the fifth Haftarah of Consolation? The first would be that HaShem is a loving, compassionate, forgiving God, who is slow to anger and who desires our repentance, our return to the right path, and choices. The second is that when discipline and judgment do come, there is an endpoint, HaShem’s love, and covenantal fidelity will not cease—the people of Israel will remain. And as assuredly as the people of Israel will remain, so will those who have entered the family of God through Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua affirmed this fact when he proclaimed,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

We all can rest in the assurance that our relationship with our heavenly father is assured. Even though there may be times of discipline brought on by our own disobedience, his love and compassion remain and our position in the family is secure because of his great love for us.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* 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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Driving home from shul one morning, I was looking forward to a small morning repast on the balcony with my wife when the car in front of me decided to interrupt my musings by not going through the incredibly short traffic light. I started to lean on the horn to express my displeasure, but my hand was stayed. I noticed a beggar moving away from the driver’s window, with a large grin on his face as he attempted to stuff a closed hand into his pocket. I have seen this beggar numerous times before, occasionally dropping a couple of coins in his hand, but I’ve never seen such joy upon his face as that day.

What was he given? I can only imagine. Maybe it was enough money to feed himself for the day, or maybe more – I’ll never know. What was it that caused his countenance to shine so bright? That too I’ll probably never know, as I have not seen the beggar since, though I think of him occasionally as I pass “his” corner.

As I read this week’s Torah portion Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:251, the beggar’s face was in my mind’s eye once again. “Therefore, love the outsider (or stranger), for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). I realized the number of times I had lost the possibility of obeying this command. Then with horror, I realized what more I could have lost. In the closing words of this week’s Besorah (Matthew 25:34-45), the righteous judge proclaimed, “I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.” When I missed expressing love to the stranger, I missed an opportunity to express love to Messiah, Yeshua.

A verse earlier, Moses describes an aspect of what it means to love the outsider or stranger, 

He (HaShem) enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, giving him food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18)

John further emphasizes the relationship between one’s love for HaShem and their love for others.  

But if someone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth! (1 John 3:17-18)

Interestingly, Barry Holtz, in his book Finding Our Way: Jewish Texts and the Lives We Lead Today (The Jewish Publication Society, 2005) makes the following observation

The Christian notion of “charity,” for example, is very different from the Jewish concept of tzedakah. Charity evolves from the Latin caritas, meaning an act of love (as in the English “caring”); tzedakah (usually translated as “charity,” thereby missing the point) evolves from the Hebrew word for ”justice.” When we feed the hungry, we do not do it (only) because we want to, (or only) because we feel like it, according to classical Judaism, but because God demands justice. God demands that we do right, even if we don’t feel like it. (p. 147)

Just as HaShem enacts justice for the orphan and widow, and loves the outsider, so should we. In Mishnah Pe’ah 1:1 there are two ideas juxtaposed with each other. The first idea includes things that have no definite quality or fixed measure – the corners of a field (left unharvested for the poor to glean), the first-fruit offerings brought to the Temple on Shalosh Regalim (the three pilgrimage festivals), the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity. The second includes things that while producing fruit in this world, find their full reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come. These are honoring one’s parents, the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity, and making peace between people. The common thread in both is the performance of acts of kindness, righteous deeds or charity

Throughout the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and in the Apostolic Writings, there are both direct commands to care for the needy and the afflicted, and for widows, orphans and strangers (or outsiders). Yaacov, the brother of Yeshua wrote,

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that? (James 2:15-16)

In other words, if we truly love HaShem and desire to follow our Messiah, then we are responsible for meeting the needs that we are able to meet. Even if it means having to wait at a stoplight a little longer or to dig a little deeper into our pockets or wallets. 

In the closing verses of this week’s haftarah, Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3 we read Isaiah’s prophetic utterance to each of us, 

Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, you who seek Adonai. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. For when I called him, he was but one, then I blessed him and multiplied him. (Isaiah 51:1-2)

The proper application of justice, among other things, shows care and compassion for others, for those close to us as well as the strangers or outsiders who come across our paths. In Pirkei Avot it is written

He (Rabbi Tarfon) would also say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.

Pirkei Avot 2:16

Rabbi Tarfon affirmed that we do not have to meet each and every need of each and every individual. However, we are responsible to meet the needs that we can, whether it be by providing for the needs or being a facilitator to assist in seeing that the need is met. Sometimes being a facilitator requires tangible actions on our part, at other times it requires prayer and intercession. 

Abba, allow each of us the opportunity to show tangible love for the outsider, the stranger, and in doing so, let us show our love and devotion to You.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1All Scripture references 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 parashah, Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:111, begins with what many consider one of the saddest prayers recorded in Scripture. Flashback: Moses began his life under a death sentence simply for being a Hebrew male child. He was born in slavery and oppression. Then miraculously saved by a Pharoah’s daughter and raised as a prince in pharaoh’s household. Later circumstances caused him to flee to Midian, where he became a lowly shepherd compared to his status as a prince. His life circumstances changed once again after his extraordinary encounter with HaShem, after which the slave / prince / shepherd became the instrument of HaShem to bring judgment upon Egypt and her gods and lead the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the land promised to them. During the thirty-eight-plus years the journey took, there were times of high exaltation as well as times of great depression, but through it all, HaShem empowered Moses with the ability to lead Bnei Israel. Also, throughout the years of travel, HaShem cared for his am segulah even when they grumbled, complained, and outright disobeyed. 

But then, as the journey was coming to an end, the people complained again. This time Moses seems to have “blown a fuse.” Instead of obeying the word of HaShem, Moses reacted, whether in anger or frustration or both, he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it as HaShem commanded. Even after all that had happened in his long life, in the end, Moses was forbidden entrance into the promised land. Moses pleaded with Hashem to avert the decree, which led to the prayer mentioned above.

I pleaded with ADONAI at that time, saying, O Lord ADONAI, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand—for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do deeds and mighty acts like Yours? Please! Let me cross over and see the good land across the Jordan—that good hill country and the Lebanon.” (Deut. 3:23-25)

All those years, all the trials, all the high points and the low, were blown away like chaff in the wind. The exodus and the wilderness travels, all leading toward the goal of the homeland promised to Abraham and reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob, were now brought to a halt, at least for Moses, as he received HaShem’s final answer,

“Enough!” ADONAI said to me, “Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, look around to the west and the north and the south and the east, and see with your eyes—for you will not cross over this Jordan.” (Deut. 3:26b-27)

Moses continued to lead the people under HaShem’s authority, but his disobedience, while not separating him from HaShem, had consequences. We all need to remember this lesson throughout our lives and walk with Messiah. When we err, there is forgiveness if we repent and return. Sometimes there is a restoration of life circumstances or even ministry – but sometimes there are consequences for our actions. King David, forgiven for the adulteress episode with Uriah’s wife and subsequent murder of Uriah, still lost the son from his affair with Bathsheba. 

Before one think that this is just a pre-Calvary concept or occurrence, consider these words from Sha’ul to the Galatians,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he also shall reap. For the one who sows in the flesh will reap corruption from the flesh. But the one who sows in the Ruach will reap from the Ruach eternal life. (Gal. 6-7-8)

While John’s words are true, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9), there is nothing in the Apostolic Writings that can lead one to believe that there may not be consequences to our erroneous actions, words, or even thoughts. 

We serve a gracious, loving, forgiving God. The very essence of HaShem’s nature was described when HaShem passed before Moses on the mountaintop, 

ADONAI, ADONAI, 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. (Exodus 34:6-7)

However, just as he is gracious, loving, and forgiving, or maybe better said because he is gracious, loving, and forgiving, he disciplines those he loves, those who are called by his name.

My son (or daughter) 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. … Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6 and 11)

It can be said that at least part of the discipline brought about by our actions, words, and thoughts result from the consequences of our actions. A bank robber or murderer can be forgiven, but the consequences are usually prison time, community service, or both. Even after repenting, the natural consequence of a hardened heart or an unforgiving spirit may manifest in health issues. As we learn to accept the discipline and successfully live through the consequences, hopefully, we can see the peaceful fruit of righteousness manifest in our lives.

Wherever we may be on our journey with HaShem, whether it be in the wilderness or on the bank looking over into the land of promise, may we find strength and comfort from the words of Sha’ul,

Now to Him who is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine, by means of His power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the community of believers and in Messiah Yeshua throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Eph 3:20-21)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

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

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A couple of weeks ago, in Parashat Matot, concerning vows made by an individual to HaShem, we read the following exhortations to fulfill the vow without delay.

Whenever a man makes a vow to ADONAI or swears an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he is not to violate his word but do everything coming out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)1
“When you make a vow to ADONAI your God, you are not to delay to make good on it—for ADONAI your God will certainly require it of you, and you would have sin on you. … Whatever comes out of your lips you are to take care to do since you have vowed to ADONAI your God a freewill offering that you have promised with your mouth.” (Deuteronomy 23:22 & 24)

However, in this week’s parashah, D’varim, Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22, we see quite a different situation. As an intro to D’varim Rabbi Garfinkel makes this observation,

When someone is tardy in the fulfillment of an obligation, we often forgive the oversight and say, “better late than never.” Usually, that is a noble sentiment. There are, however, times when it is better not to do something at all than to do it late.2

Remember the narrative, in Numbers 13 and 14, twelve spies were sent to reconnoiter the land HaShem promised through the patriarchs. Upon their return, ten of the spies recognized the bounty of the land but doubted their ability to take the land and in essence, doubted HaShem’s promise. This doubting by the ten caused Bnei-Israel as a community to doubt the ability of HaShem, which brought swift discipline. The ten spies were killed in a plague, and judgment was pronounced upon the community. Even though the people were forgiven through Moses’ intercession on their behalf, the consequences of their actions remained.

ADONAI answered, “I have forgiven them just as you (Moses) have spoken. But as certainly as I live and as certainly as the glory of ADONAI fills the entire earth, none of the people who saw My glory and My miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness—yet tested Me these ten times and did not obey My Voice— not one of them will see the land I promised to their forefathers. None of those who treated Me with contempt will see it! (Numbers 14:2-23)

Unfortunately, the people decided they would now advance and take possession of the land as HaShem had commanded initially. Apparently, they recognized their sin against HaShem and decided, in a turnabout of choices, to go up and fight as HaShem had commanded them. The lack of obedience was not the primary factor that brought about HaShem’s discipline, though it was certainly an aspect. The primary factor was the way most of the people “treated [ADONAI] with contempt” by doubting him and his power even though they had seen his glory and miraculous signs in Egypt. Moses tried to warn the people not to go up and fight after the fact, but they did not listen.

Then you answered and said to me, “We have sinned against ADONAI. We will go up and fight, just as ADONAIour God commanded us.” So, each of you strapped on his weapons of war, figuring it was easy to go up to the hill country. But ADONAI said to me, “Tell them, ‘Do not go up and fight—for I am not with you, and you will be defeated by your enemies.’” So, I told you, but you would not listen—you rebelled against the command of ADONAI and presumptuously went up into the hill country. …and they chased you as bees do and scattered you from Seir to Hormah. (Deuteronomy 1:41-44)

Not only did Bnei-Israel treat HaShem contemptuously, but they acted presumptuously by thinking that just because the promise was there once, they could also walk in that promise at a time of their choosing. For sure, HaShem’s promise of the land remained, but now it would be fulfilled in the next generation. 

So, what is the practical takeaway for us from this passage? First, we must never forget that just because we invoke the Name of HaShem as Bnei-Israel did it does not mean he will honor our invocation.

Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23)

Second, many of us know of individuals and groups who stand firm on the word that declares, “For in Him all the promises of God are ‘Yes.’ Therefore, also through Him is the ‘Amen’ by us, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). They feel it is their right to claim any of the promises as their own. While there is truth in this passage it needs to be balanced by these words from Sha’ul.

But who in the world are you, O man, who talks back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does the potter have no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

In other words, we are not ultimately the ones in control. For sure, we have free will and that is a paradox for another time but in the end, we are the clay, he is the potter, and our times, our lives, and our very existence are in his hands (Psalms 31:16). While we can commit all the scriptural promises to memory and proclaim them as our own, in doing so, we must be very careful and not act presumptuously as did Bnei-Israel and in so doing incur the wrath of HaShem, our LORD, and Master.

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1 Unless 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 Eli L. Garfinkel. The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press (JPS), 2021. Apple Books.

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In preparing this week’s Thoughts, I came across a couple of fairly well-known sayings, and while they appear to be in contrast, they really are not. The first one, I share will be in three forms of the same idea. 

The oldest account is by the Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who is often misquoted as having said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Then there was the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952) who was credited as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Finally, the British statesman, Winston Churchill (1874-1965) wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The common thread in each of these statements is that one must not only know ones past but actively remember it if they do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Then the contrasting quote, is attributed to the modern American actor/writer, Michael McMillian (1978-present),

You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

In other words, according to Mr. McMillian, it is difficult, maybe even impossible to move on if one is always dwelling in the past. Today, this is a particular malady for many baby-boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 as well as Generation Xers, 1964 and the early 1980s. With all the problems in the world today, we often look back nostalgically on days gone by before the internet and social media. Life was slower, more carefree, and many of the troubles that plague today’s world was not even imagined. We often forget that during this carefree time there was the Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam War, and the Cuban Missel Crisis. And although illegal abortions and substance abuse problems have long been with us, the latter part of the 1950s through the 1980s saw an explosion of these problems. 

What does this emphasis on the past have to do with this week’s parasha? Much I believe. This week’s parashah, Maasei, Numbers 33:1 – 36:13, brings the book of Numbers to a close. Bnei-Israel has wandered in the wilderness for thirty-eight plus years and are preparing to soon enter the land of Canaan which was promised to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The parashah begins,

These are the journeys of Bnei-Yisrael when they came out of Egypt by their divisions under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command. These then are their journeys by stages. (Numbers 33:1-2)1

As is often the case, the sages look at verse 2, and seem to be in a quandary over the word order. “Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command. These then are their journeys by stages.” According to Rabbi Twerski, 

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch says that when God made the Israelites break camp, the purpose was always to reach a fresh goal. Each journey was a progress toward a goal. But to the people it was the reverse. They were generally dissatisfied wherever they stayed. They just wanted to leave. It did not matter where they were going next. Hence to God it was “their goings forth according to their journeys” (or “the stages of their journeys”), whereas to the Israelites it was their “journeys according to their goings forth” (or “their journeys by stages”).2

Think back to the number of times Bnei-Israel complained to Moses about various situations they found themselves in during their time in the wilderness and the number of times they nostalgically looked back on their time in Egypt, as something to be desired, totally forgetting the oppression and slavery they had been under. In other words, in verse 2, may be showing two different perspectives, or possibly two different reasons for Bnei-Israel’s moving on. 

According to R’ Hirsch, the reason for the listing of “the stages of their journeys at ADONAI’s command” was to remind Bnei-Israel of HaShem’s guidance and care. In Deuteronomy, Moses reminded the people that even when disciplined, they were cared for.

You are to remember all the way that ADONAI your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness—in order to humble you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His mitzvot or not. He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you manna—which neither you nor your fathers had known—in order to make you understand that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of ADONAI. Neither did your clothing wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these 40 years. Now you know in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so ADONAI your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:2-5)

Much later, Sha’ul would write to the Corinthians as well as to each of us today,

Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

But, as much as learning from the past is important, it may be just as important not to live in or excessively yearn for the past. As stated earlier, many times Bnei-Israel’s solution to their complaints against Moses was to return to Egypt, which if they had done, they would have missed the eventual entrance into the land promised to the patriarchs. Vered and I have been in Israel now for over thirty years. We have seen numerous people over the years, singles and families make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) at the leading of the Ruach, only to return to their home country when things got too difficult. Often, these folks could not release the easier (or perceived easier) life they left behind when faced by the trials that life in Israel.

Remember, each of us are on a journey in our lives. There have been numerous stops along the way, some good, some not so good. Let’s remember the two perspectives R’ Hirsch brought out as we look back on our journey. We can see the steps along the ways as the guidance and provision of HaShem, in the good times and the bad. Or we can see them as our own running from one stop to another, either seeking something better or fleeing something perceived as unfavorable. It would do us all good to remember the words of the psalmist as well as the compiler of Proverbs

ADONAI directs a person’s steps, and he delights in his way. He may stumble, but he won’t fall headlong, for ADONAI holds him by the hand. (Psalms 37:23-24, CJB)3
A person may plan his path, but ADONAI directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, CJB) 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

1 Unless 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 Abraham J. Twerski, Twershi on Chumash, Brooklyn, Shaar Press, 2003, p 349.
3 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.

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The first chapter of Genesis concludes with HaShem’s final act of creation, 

God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:27)

I believe that this verse from the conclusion of Genesis is important in understanding this week’s parashah, Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9. The reason for its importance should become clear directly. As we begin to read Parashah Balak, we soon discover that the two main characters are not Israelites or even part of the myriad of non-Israelites that left Egypt in the Exodus almost forty years earlier. We are first introduced to the main supporting character of the narrative, Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab, (Num. 22:2-4), who was understandably afraid of the Israelite hoard that had recently decimated the Amorites (Num. 21:34-35). Next, we come to the main character in the narrative, Balaam, son of Beor, who was at Pethor near the Euphrates in northern Mesopotamia, probably Balaam’s native land (Num. 22:5). We all know the story; Balaam was not a military commander or even a fighter of any kind. He was a priest-diviner, interpreter of dreams and omens, and a maker of amulets and charms. Balak however was not interested this part of Balaam’s stock and trade, he had another job in mind.

He (Balak) sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, at Pethor near the River in his native land, saying to him, “Look now, a people have come out of Egypt. See now, they cover the surface of the earth and are settling beside me. Come now, curse this people for me, because they are too strong for me! Perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them away from the country. I know that whoever you bless will be blessed and whoever you curse will be accursed!” (Num. 22:5-6)

It is significant, the answer Balaam gave to Balak’s messengers, “Spend the night here. I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me” (Num. 22:8). If one reads the Hebrew of this verse, one quickly discovers that Balaam would be speaking to and expecting an answer from HaShem, the God of Israel. After dialoging with HaShem, Balaam returned to the messengers the next morning and said, “Go back to your country, for ADONAI has refused to let me go with you” (Num. 22:13).

At this point, I return to the Genesis passage, reminding us that God created (all) humankind in his image. This fact brings to mind a term I first learned in Bible school, more years ago than I want to remember, that being general revelation or the knowledge of God’s existence that is given to all humanity, his character, his moral and physical laws. To the Romans, Sha’ul wrote,

His invisible attributes—His eternal power and His divine nature—have been clearly seen ever since the creation of the world, being understood through the things that have been made… (Romans 1:20)

In an impassioned speech to the Lycaonians, Sha’ul explained,

In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without a witness—He did good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with joy and gladness. (Acts 14:16-17)

So, whether it was by studying nature and natural phenomenon, or paying attention to HaShem’s actions in or behind historic events, or simply as all humanity has been created in the image of God there remains an inner sense of HaShem’s being in every human heart – even though in many it is often pushed aside and ignored. Balaam, attuned to spiritual things as his profession and reputation required, knew of the God of Israel. This is evident by his response to the messengers when they approached a second time, “Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot cross beyond the mouth of ADONAI my God, to do anything small or great” (Num. 22:18)!

While it should be acknowledged that Balaam knew of the God of Israel, that he had general revelation of God that is available to all humankind, he did not have special revelation, that which led him to make the God of Israel his own God, forsaking all others. While Balaam knew of HaShem, even spoke with him, he did not choose to internalize that general revelation in his heart, in his very being. As it were, he kept God on the outside, much like a tool to be rented and used then discarded when no longer needed. Balaam would not have grasped the importance of Yeshua’s words,

My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me. (John 10:27)

Balaam heard the voice of HaShem, he knew what he ought to do, in fact his three oracles and then Messianic prophecy proved this to be true. But though Balaam heard the voice and knew what he should do, he did not internalize HaShem’s desires. He blessed Israel with his mouth in obedience to HaShem, but in his heart he was looking for a work around to be able to satisfy Balak’s desire to see Israel cursed. And he apparently succeeded. In the Book of Revelation, to the ecclesia in Pergamum, the angelic messenger spoke these words, 

But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before Bnei-Yisrael, to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. (Rev. 2:14, cf. Num 25:1-3)

Kefa (Peter), in describing false teachers who attempt to lead Yeshua-followers astray, stated, 

They have abandoned the straight way. They have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15)

Balaam, just as all humanity, had the option, of not just hearing the voice of HaShem, but responding to that voice with his whole heart; internalizing and accepting HaShem not just as Israel’s God but his own. Unfortunately, Balaam chose the ways of the world and its riches – which in the end led to judgement and his death. 

Before closing this week’s thoughts, let’s consider an individual, similar to Balaam, this time from the Apostolic Writings. In Acts 8 there is the story of Simon the Sorcerer. “Now a man named Simon had been practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, saying he was someone great,” (Acts 8:9). Then under the preaching of Philip “…Simon himself believed; and after being immersed, he continued with Philip. And when he saw signs and great miracles happening, he was continually amazed,” (Acts 8:13). Things seemed to be going well until the Apostles came from Jerusalem and conferred the gift of the Ruach upon the new believers. We have no idea why Simon did not receive the Ruach initially. But whatever the reason, Simon thought he could acquire the Ruach by his own means, by offering Kefa money. Kefa was less than impressed to say the least and immediately corrected Simon offering him the way of returning to proper faith. The last we hear of Simon is his request to Kefa to pray for him. “Pray for me, so that none of what you have said may come upon me,” (Acts 8:24). Since there was no judgement recorded, I choose to assume (and this is only an assumption) that Simon was restored. If this assumption is factual, it should give us hope; if we falter or stray, the opportunity to return is always available. By the way, another reason for this assumption is found in Luke’s account of the hours leading up to Yeshua’s arrest. Yeshua told Kefa, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32-33)

Kefa knew what it was like to falter, to make a serious error in judgement. He also knew what it was to receive forgiveness and restoration to fellowship upon repentance. There is such power in Yeshua’s words, “when you turn back….” Yeshua not only acknowledged Kefa’s return, in doing so he offered the option for any of us to return if we falter. There always remains the opportunity to choose life, not death so long as we have breath. 

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

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

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Toward the end of Sha’ul’s letter to the Yeshua followers in Rome, he wrote these words,

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)*

These words are particularly relevant as we look at this week’s parashah, Beha’alotcha – Numbers 8:1 through 12:16. This parashah shows HaShem providing Moses with much-needed assistance in leading Bnei-Israel.

ADONAI said to Moses, “Bring me 70 of the elders of Israel whom you know to be elders of the people and their leaders. Take them to the Tent of Meeting, so they may stand with you there. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the Ruach that is on you and will place it on them. They will carry with you the burden of the people, so you will not be carrying it alone.” (Numbers 11:16-17)

Then in verse 24, he fulfilled his word. However, I believe it is important to back up and recognize Moses’ inner turmoil which led to this action by HaShem. Remember, the people had once again been murmuring and complaining about their lot in life, specifically that they were tired of eating manna – they wanted a more varied menu. Then it is written that, “Moses heard the people wailing by their families, each man at the door to his tent. ADONAI’s anger became very hot, and Moses was troubled” (Numbers 11:10).

It was in this troubled state of mind, Moses cried out to HaShem,

“Why have You brought trouble on Your servant? Haven’t I found favor in Your eyes—that You laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people, or did I give birth to them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom just as the nurse carries an infant’—to the land You promised to their fathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? For they wail to me saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:11-15)

How often have we felt similar frustration with our family, our work, or even our ministry? “God I can’t do it anymore, just kill me and bring me home to you.” Fortunately for Moses, as well as for each of us, HaShem seldom responds to our cries of frustration and despair in the manner we express them. Instead of HaShem complying with Moses’ death wish, he gave Moses a way to deal with his situation. No longer would Moses shoulder the burden of leadership alone, but others would now assist him through the enabling power of the Ruach HaKodesh. A similar act of empowerment would, in the future, enable a group of disheartened disciples of Yeshua to begin to fulfill the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20) only after they too had received the Ruach HaKodesh.

And behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you, but you are to stay in the city (Jerusalem) until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Without a doubt, HaShem was moved by Moses’ need for more help in leading the people. I also believe that another thing that moved HaShem to assist Moses was Moses’ honesty in his approach. He openly brought his complaint to HaShem, “Why have You brought trouble on Your servant? Haven’t I found favor in Your eyes—that You laid the burden of all these people on me?” Moses did not try and hide his feelings from HaShem, but rather laid his soul unashamedly before him, “I am not able to carry all these people by myself! The load is too heavy for me!” Just as HaShem answered Moses, from the depths of his despair, we can rest in the hope, in the assurance that he will answer us as well. Hear Yeshua’s words to his disciples (as well as all of us) as he prepared for his departure, “And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). 

Many times, we try and hide our true feelings and emotions from HaShem, much the way Adam and Chava tried to hide from HaShem in the Garden. But the psalmist plainly affirmed,

Whenever I sit down or stand up, You know it. You discern my thinking from afar. You observe my journeying and my resting, and You are familiar with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, ADONAI, You know all about it. (Psalm 139:2-4)

Since we cannot hide anything from HaShem, let’s be honest with him, regardless of our situation or circumstance, secure in the knowledge that he has a plan for each of us, and that he will accomplish his work in our lives if only we allow him to do so.

Now may the God of patience and encouragement grant you to be like-minded with one another in the manner of Messiah Yeshua, so that together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. (Romans 15:5-6)

Shabbat shalom u’mevorach!

* 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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