Thoughts on Vaetchanan

canstockphoto3712801This week’s portion is Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11.[i] More than Vaetchanan however, this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu or Shabbat of Comforting. This is the first Shabbat after Tisha b’Av and the remembrance of the destruction of both Temples and the resulting exiles, among other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on this date throughout the centuries. The Haftarah for this Shabbat is Isaiah 40:1-26 which begins a new aspect of the book of Isaiah. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book have dealt largely with Israel’s chastisements due to her disobedience to the Torah as well as well as the prophesized punishments that would befall Israel’s enemies. The final twenty-seven chapters will concentrate primary with words of consolation and the future Messianic redemption, not only of Israel but also for those nations and individuals that align themselves with the God of Israel and His Messiah. Therefore, Shabbat Nachamu begins the seven weeks of consolation leading to Rosh HaShanah, the two-day moed that commemorates the creation of the world and the coronation of HaShem as King and Ruler of all creation. Rosh HaShanah also marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, which is the ten-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur.

In the opening verses of Deuteronomy 4 we hear Moshe’s admonition to those awaiting entry into the Promised Land.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to do, so that you may live and go in and possess the land that Adonai the God of your fathers is giving you. …  Only be watchful and watch over your soul closely, so you do not forget the things your eyes have seen and they slip from your heart all the days of your life. You are to make them known to your children and your children’s children.” (4:1 & 9)

Sadly, as Moshe knew would happen, and the last three weeks woefully reminded us, Israel did not observe the statutes and ordinances of Adonai Tzavot, they did not remain faithful to the covenant nor teach their children to do so. They, in fact, chose to follow the ways of the world around them incurring the judgement of the Lord. However, the purpose of judgment and discipline is to train the wayward child to walk in the ways that he (or she) should go. As the author of the Book of Hebrews encourages his readers,

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. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble!
(Hebrews 12:11-12)

Knowing that discipline, when properly received, leads to righteousness and restoration, we can more fully understand the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Haftarah,

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God. Speak kindly to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed. For she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי, Nachamu, nachamu ami, comfort, comfort My people… HaShem is not the one comforting His people here, rather He is telling His prophets, those who had been bringing words of gloom and despair to an errant people, that they were now to turn from words of condemnation to words of comfort, peace, and healing. Israel had suffered enough, “she has received from Adonai’s hand double for all her sins.” The times of discipline and suffering were to come to an end and the hope of redemption was to begin.

However, we know more of Israel’s story than Isaiah. Israel returned to her land and for a season walked after her God in truth and faithfulness, but this did not continue. A few verses outside our Haftarah we read HaShem’s lament,

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

Though the time of redemption and restoration was proclaimed, it wouldn’t yet be fully recognized or received. History is clear that Israel once again went into exile after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Seventy years ago we once again saw the beginning of Israel’s redemption with the rebirth of the State, seemingly in a day. As followers of Yeshua, we recognize that forty years before the Destruction of the Temple the Messianic Age went through birth pains with the death and resurrection of Messiah, Yeshua. It is interesting to me that in Sanhedrin 98a we read

And it is written: “Behold, your king will come to you; he is just and victorious; lowly and riding upon a donkey and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Rabbi Alexandri explains: If the Jewish people merit redemption, the Messiah will come in a miraculous manner with the clouds of heaven. If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey.[ii]

The last line, “If they do not merit redemption, the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon a donkey,” seems to have come to fruition. Remember Yeshua words,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate! (Matthew 23:37-38)

However, desolation was not the end of Yeshua’s words to Jerusalem. Redemption will in fact come one day as He assuredly spoke to Jerusalem, “For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” May these weeks of consolation truly bring about redemption and restoration for all Israel, as well as all the nations of the world.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] https://www.sefaria.org.il/Sanhedrin.98a.13?lang=bi

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Thoughts on D’varim

canstockphoto3712801This Shabbat we begin reading the final book of the Torah, D’varim (Deuteronomy) 1:1 – 3:22.[i] While some consider the book of Deuteronomy to be simply a recapitulation of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, the Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary sees it as much more.

The book of Deuteronomy contains not so much “a recapitulation of the things commanded and done, as related in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers” as “a compendium and summary of the whole law and wisdom of the people of Israel, wherein those things which related to the priests and Levites are omitted, and only such things included as the people generally required to know”.[ii]

In other words, Moshe is not only reiterating the Torah but emphasizing those things that are most important for Bnei Yisrael to know and understand. All the while he recognizes that the people to whom he is speaking are not those who came out of Egypt and received the first giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, but their children who were born during their wandering in the wilderness.

How many of us have lived through a most memorable situation and when we recounted that situation or episode decades later, the telling seemed to be a little off or maybe our perception of the situation or episode changed over time. It would appear that such is the case early in Deuteronomy. While addressing those who are now on the banks of the Jordan, awaiting to go into the Land, Moshe remembers a time, more than three decades before, when he spoke to the fathers of those currently standing before him. First affirming HaShem’s promise,

See, ADONAI your God has set the land before you—go up, take possession, as ADONAI God of your fathers has promised you. Do not be afraid or discouraged. (Deuteronomy 1:21)

Then explaining the first entry into the land by the original twelve spies.

Then all of you came near to me and said: ‘Let’s send men ahead of us to explore the land for us and bring us back word about the way we should go up and the cities we will enter.’ The idea seemed good to me, so I took twelve men from among you—one man for each tribe. (Deuteronomy 1:22-23)

But there is a problem with Moshe’s recap. He charges Bnei Yisrael with approaching him with the desire to spy out the land and determine if it is actually as HaShem had promised and that they would indeed be able to conquer and subdue it and its people. However, in Parasha Shelach we read what appears to be a different story.

ADONAI spoke to Moses saying, “Send some (sh’lach l’kha) men on your behalf to investigate the land of Canaan, which I am giving to Bnei-Yisrael. Each man you are to send will be a prince of the tribe of his fathers, a man from each tribe.” (Numbers 13:1-2)

Here it would appear that the idea to send the spies into the land was not that of the people but of HaShem Himself. Is this an error of memory or a contradiction in Scripture? The rabbis found the answer to this seeming contradiction in the understanding of the Hebrew phrase שְׁלַח-לְךָ, (sh’lach l’kha; English “Send some …).” The phrase literally means “send for yourself” implying that the sending of the men it is not HaShem’s purpose but that of Moshe or the people. Numbers Rabbah 26:8 explains that God seems to be saying,

“I have told you already that the land is good and that I will give it to you. If you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send the scouts.”[iii]

Here, I believe, is a lesson for us today. Many times in our lives we know what we are to do; the Scripture is quite plain and the rules or guidelines of our chosen life style are also fairly clear cut. However, we experience times when we don’t want to follow the pattern or keep the system of observance. Then, though knowing what we ought to do, we attempt to find other ways to live out or to get around what we know we ought to be doing. Sometimes, things do not go far array. Other times, as with the scouts, there are dire, possibly long-lasting consequences. Maybe this is why Moshe is clearly stating to the people before him that it was their fathers’ desire and decision to go “spy out the land” and not HaShem’s prompting. Subtly he was forewarning them as Yaacov (James) would warn his readers,

Therefore whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it—for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

This week is also Shabbat Chazon, the last Shabbat before the remembrance of the atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha b’Av. It is called Shabbat Chazon because the reading is from Isaiah’s first vision of accusation and discipline (Isaiah 1:1-27). It begins with HaShem’s charge, “Sons I have raised and brought up, but they have rebelled against Me.” (Isaiah 1:2)

However, as a loving Father, who disciplines His children, He also provides the opportunity for restoration and recovery.

“Wash and make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your deeds from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17)

As Jan Uhrbach notes in her commentary on this passage, “The prophet warns that society can be healed, and his terrifying vision of complete destruction avoided, only by care and concern for the most vulnerable members of society.”[iv] In other words, it is not ritual observance or piety that is the fruit of returning to the LORD but rather the concern and care for those who are most needy in the society that needs restoration—the oppressed, the orphan, the widow. Again we turn to Yaacov’s words of encouragement to his community,

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

It is said about Tisha b’Av, with its sorrowful contemplation and mournful time of fasting, that two things can come out of mourning and fasting. First is a state of depression as we remember all of the horrors of the past. However, the second option is that in light of the past atrocities we can make the decision to make our part of the world a better place in hope that the past will not repeat itself. Making the decision to assist in the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter is a good way to care for the physically oppressed. Another opportunity is provided by Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman who is the Executive Director of Chevra USA,[v] which is a humanitarian organization that feeds elderly Jews, particularly holocaust survivors, in the former Soviet Union and Israel, as well as mentoring Messianic Leaders in Eastern Europe. However we choose to exercise “pure and undefiled religion before our God,” it is one step closer to ensuring that the atrocities of the past are not repeated in the present or the future.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] Keil & Delitzsch OT Commentary, Introduction to the Fifth Book of Moses (Deuteronomy), Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1966. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc., Version 2.5.

[iii] Information drawn from Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary,’ David L. Lieber, Senior Editor, New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001, p 840.

[iv] http://www.jtsa.edu/third-hafarah-of-rebuke.

[v] http://www.chevrahumanitarian.org.

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Thoughts on Matot-Massei

canstockphoto3712801The last reading from the book of Numbers is the double portion, Matot-Massei, Numbers 30:2-36:13.[i] The haftarah, Jeremiah 2:4-28 and 4:1-2, is the second of a series of three “haftarot of affliction” leading to Tisha b’Av, the annual commemoration of the destruction of both Temples as well as other atrocities suffered by the Jews throughout the centuries. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is Acts 9:1-22 according to the Flame Foundation’s schedule prepared by Dr. Jeffrey Feinberg.

Larry Perry in his blog Ethics for Success stated, “I like one of the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary for the word “bond.” It states that “bond” is a “duty or obligation imposed by a contract, promise, etc.” I have faint memory of when a man’s word was his commitment and promise and was worthy of honor. Today, words are cheap! Men use words today in business, politics, and the biased media to manipulate the thinking of others to accomplish their agendas.”[ii]

With the idea of the importance of a man’s word, this week’s double portion begins, “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). A few weeks ago, the haftarah recorded Jephthah’s vow to ADONAI, as he attempted to secure divine covering over an upcoming battle (Judges 11:30-31). Though victorious, Jephthah’s vow came back to haunt him as the first thing out of his house was his daughter, his only child, (Judges 11:34-35).

The author of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) offers these words of advice

Do not be quick with your mouth nor hasty in your heart to utter a word in God’s presence. For God is in heaven, and you are on the earth—therefore, let your words be few. As a dream comes with excessive burdens so a fool’s voice with too many words. When you swear a vow to God, don’t delay in fulfilling it. For He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better for you not to vow than to vow and not pay. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-4)

Yeshua continued this line of thought when He taught His followers,

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall carry out your oaths to Adonai.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all—not by heaven, for it is the throne of God; or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. But let your word ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’—anything more than this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37; cf. James 5:12)

Why are the words of our mouths so important? It is said that man is the only creature that most intimately mimics HaShem in that his words have the power to build up or to tear down, to bring life or to cause death. The author of Mishlei reminds us, “Death and life are in the control of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), while James warns us,

For every species of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Adonai and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the image of God. From the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be. (James 3:7-10)

In today’s world, as Perry noted above, words are often used to manipulate people and situations according to the agenda of the speakers. As Yeshua believers, we should not allow ourselves to follow this pattern. Life and blessing are ours to dispense, if we pay attention to the words we speak, as well as the attitude of our hearts when we speak. In closing, here is a Chasidic folktale that epitomizes the power of our words.

Once there was a young fellow who went about town slandered the local rabbi. One day, for whatever the reason, he realized he was wrong and went to the rabbi’s home and asked for forgiveness. The rabbi, realizing that the young man had not realized the full extent of his transgression, told him that he would forgive him on one condition: that he go home, take a feather pillow from his house, cut it up, and scatter the feathers to the wind. After he had done so, he should then return to the rabbi’s house.

Though puzzled by this strange request, the young man was happy to be let off with so easy a reparation. He quickly cut up the pillow, scattered the feathers, and returned to the house.

“Am I now forgiven?” he asked.

“Just one more thing,” the rabbi said. “Go now and gather up all the feathers, each and every one.”

“But that’s impossible. The wind has already scattered them.”

“Precisely,” he answered. “And though you may truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers. Your words are out there in the marketplace, spreading hate, even as we speak.”

Whether speaking to the LORD or to one another remember Rav Shaul’s exhortation, Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, to know how you ought to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] http://ethicsforsuccess.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-mans-word-is-his-bond.html

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Thoughts on Pinchas

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1,[i] continues the narrative begun last week with Balaam. Only in this week’s parasha, Israel falls prey to Balaam’s suggestions on how to cause HaShem to curse Israel even though he (Balaam) had not been able to do so (Numbers 25:1-9). Also in this week’s parasha, we read about the second census of Israel. This census is to ascertain all who are of age to serve in army in preparation of entering into the Promised Land.

Another episode in this week’s parasha, which I find specifically relevant, concerns the five daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-7). In the primarily patriarchal world of the Ancient Near East, the family inheritance, especially land, was passed on to the firstborn son of the father, thus perpetuating the family name. In Deuteronomy 21:15-17 we read that even if the firstborn son is of the less favored wife (yes for a longtime polygamy was acceptable), he would receive the inheritance. In the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, they are not disputing the reality of normative practice, but the perpetuation of the family name in their particular situation, “Why should our father’s name diminish from his family just because he had no son?” (Numbers 27:4). Moshe could have said, “this is the way it has been, this is the way it is, and this is the way it will always be!”  But he didn’t. Moshe also could have ruled according to his own understanding of the HaShem’s revelation as he had explained to his father-in-law Yithro.

“When they (Bnei Yisrael) have an issue, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, so I make them understand God’s statutes and His laws.” (Exodus 18:16)

However, this being a potentially volatile situation, Moshe turns to HaShem for His direction in the situation. The response from HaShem was simple and to the point,

“The daughters of Zelophehad are right in saying you should give them property by inheritance among their father’s relatives. You are to turn over the inheritance of their father to them.” (Numbers 27:7)

The daughters operated within normal parameters of the Torah; they saw a problem that they could not solved within the direct parameters of Torah, so they took it to the leader who could. Consequently, the inheritance laws for Israel were adjusted, forever. The firstborn son still was the heir. However, HaShem clarifies the situation stating, “Furthermore, you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael saying: If a man dies without a son, you are to transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (27:8). It is important to remember that one of the primary reasons for the inheritance was to secure the family name and land allotment, so the there was a restriction place upon the daughters

This is the word that ADONAI commands for the daughters of Zelophehad saying: “They may become wives to whomever they please, as long as they marry within the family of the tribe of their father.” (Number 36:6)

Thus, the laws of inheritance were amended and clarified to cover this new situation.

Imagine for a minute the feelings of the five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They saw a problem; their father’s name and land were going to be lost as he had no male heir. Not only that, but their own standing in the community would potentially suffer without an inheritance or family protection. HaShem did not leave them in this situation but adjusted the “Law” to accommodate the need. He did not set aside the “Law;” if a daughter was the firstborn child and she had a baby brother, the brother would still be the heir, in that nothing changed. However, these five daughters pushed the envelope so to speak and, in the process, effected change.

Last month my wife, with my blessing, also pushed the envelope of normally accepted behavior when she received her smicha (Rabbinic ordination) through the laying on of hands by the rabbis of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. At that point Vered joined a line of firsts.

…Judith Eisenstein, who was the first to become a bat mitzvah in 1922, and in the first women ordained as rabbis: Regina Jonas (in 1935), Sally Priesand (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1973), Sandy Sasso (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974), and Amy Eilberg (Jewish Theological Seminary in 1985).[ii]

Vered like Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, and others, has opened the door for future women who seek to follow ADONAI in exercising the gifts and callings that the Ruach has placed within them. It is safe to say that the Zelophehad’s daughters did not receive immediate acceptance any more than the women mentioned above did, but they all persevered. Today there are women in multiple areas of ministry that were once closed to them due to gender or social status. Equally there are young women who see the potential to be much more than ever before. The desire is not to change the Scripture, but to interpret it so that it is living and applicable.

The regular haftarah for this Shabbat would be 1 Kings 18:46-19:21, however, because Parashat Pinchas comes after the 17th of Tammuz this year, we read Jeremiah 1:1-2:3, the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The 17th of Tammuz was marked by a fast in remembrance of the siege of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (First Temple) and the Romans (Second Temple) before the city fell and the Temple was twice destroyed. The 17th of Tammuz begins three weeks of mourning and somber reflection that ends on Tisha b’Av, which this year falls on July 22nd. It is on Tisha b’Av that we remember the actual destruction of both Temples as well as numerous other atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout the centuries.

The haftarah records Jeremiah’s calling and commissioning, as well as the beginning of HaShem’s discipline upon Israel. It is noteworthy that Jeremiah, like Moshe centuries earlier, tried to convince HaShem that he does not know how to speak, “Alas, ADONAI Elohim! Look, I don’t know how to speak!” (Jeremiah 1:6). This argument did not work for Moshe, neither did it work for Jeremiah.

The Besorah this week covers Luke’s account of Yeshua’s last meal with His disciples (Luke 22:7-20). Whether this was an actual Passover Seder or just the Teacher’s final meal with His disciples upon finishing their course of instruction, or a pre-Passover meal looking forward to His death as the Passover Lamb, has been discussed, debated, and argued over for centuries. The bottom line is that as Israel was standing before the Jordan and preparing to enter into the Promised Land to begin a new adventure in and with ADONAI, the disciples were standing on the edge of all they had come to know about the Kingdom of God and were preparing to enter it through the blood of the Lamb. Like Israel of old, the disciples discovered that their journey was just beginning, and ours continues.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-daughters-of-zelophehad-power-and-uniqueness (Accessed July 5, 2018).

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Thoughts on Balak

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Balak, Numbers 22:2 – 25:9.[i] The Haftarah is Micah 5:6 – 6:8 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is found in Romans 11:25-32.

Israel is moving through the Wilderness on their way to the land of Canaan. Like other rulers in the area, Balak the king of Moab is concerned with his country’s survival, as well as his own, in the face of Israel and Israel’s God. Balak turns to the prophet Balaam for help,

“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!” (22:6).

Balaam was a non-Israelite diviner, obviously famous for his effectiveness. Balaam was not a follower of the God of Israel, he was at best a polytheist – acknowledging the multiplicity of gods of the various surrounding countries and peoples. It was this acknowledgement of others’ gods that led Balaam to approach ADONAI to see if HE would allow His people to be cursed. This is what Balaam tells the first emissaries from Balak, “I will give you an answer just as ADONAI speaks to me,” (22:8). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us would so guard the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts? The Psalmist cried out, “Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart turn to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness…” (Psalms 141:3-4). We all know the story! Even though Balaam sought ADONAI’s direction and spoke His blessings over Israel, while acknowledging the God of Israel (Numbers 23:6-10; 23:17-24; 24:3-9; 24:15-24), he eventually brought curses upon Israel – not by what he said but by what he suggested Balak should do. In Numbers 25:3 we read about the sin of Israel as they “became bound to Baal of Peor”, the god of the Moabites. While Balaam is not mentioned in this narrative, we see later that he was responsible for the events occurring in Numbers 25.

Before Israel entered into the Promised Land, they had another encounter with the Moabites. Israel was told to exact vengeance upon Moab for the events described in Numbers 25. However, when Israel returned from battle, Moshe was less than happy with the plunder the army brought back.

But Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands, the commanders of hundreds, those returning from the campaign of the war. Moses said to them, “You let all the women live? Why, they are the ones—because of Balaam’s advice—who caused Bnei-Yisrael to be unfaithful to ADONAI in the matter of Peor, so that the plague was on the community of ADONAI! (Numbers 31:14-16)

The in Deuteronomy, HaShem not only reminds Israel of Balaam’s sin, but also of the judgment upon the Ammonites and Moabites.

No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the community of ADONAI—even to the tenth generation none belonging to them is to enter the community of ADONAI forever—because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way when you came out from Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor from Petor of Aram-naharaim to curse you. But Adonai your God refused to listen to Balaam, and Adonai your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because He loves you. You are never to seek their shalom or welfare all your days. (Deuteronomy 23:4-7)

This warning, about not following Balaam’s example, is not only a Torah command, is also in the Apostolic Writings. Peter reminds his community that they are not to be like Balaam, seeking rewards for wrongdoing (2 Peter 2:15-16). Also, in the short book of Jude, Yeshua believers are encouraged to avoid “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into indecency and deny our only Master and Lord, Yeshua the Messiah,” (Jude 1:4). Jude goes on to describe those whom these people are imitating,

 Woe to them! For they went the way of Cain; they were consumed for pay in Balaam’s error; and in Korah’s rebellion they have been destroyed. (Jude 1:11)

Finally, in the Revelation, the Ruach acknowledges that the believing community in Pergamum lives in the midst of demonic activity and yet continues to hold on to the Name of Yeshua and to their faith in Him. However, some correction is needed.

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. (Revelation 2:14)

Throughout the Torah and the Prophets, there is a continue plea for Israel to obey ADONAI and to stay away from idols. Balaam’s advice impacted both of these commands, thereby bringing judgment upon Israel (Numbers 25:1-7).  These are not just a historic events or issues. Ancient Israelites are not the only ones to have problems with obedience and idolatry. Today each of us potentially have idols that we have allowed in our lives. It is said that idols are anything that we allow to come between HaShem and ourselves. We need to remember and remind ourselves continually of the beginning words of the Ten Words (Decalogue)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to them, do not let anyone make you serve them.” (Exodus 20:3-5)

Following ADONAI is a choice, one which we have to make, regardless of what is going on around us. There will always be those people and situations that will seek to pull us away from serving the LORD alone, at times with seemingly good works and projects. We must learn and discipline ourselves to keep our eyes and hearts upon the LORD and His Messiah, not drifting or turning to the right or left. Rav Shaul exhorts us to “pay careful attention to how you conduct your life — live wisely, not unwisely. Use your time well, for these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but try to understand what the will of the Lord is,” (Ephesians 5:15-17, Complete Jewish Bible).

Shabbat Shalom

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

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Thoughts on Chukat

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha, Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1 is probably one of the saddest portions in the entire cycle. In 20:1, Miriam dies and was buried in the wilderness. In the same chapter, HaShem’s anger at Moshe and Aaron find them losing their right to lead the people into the land of promise.

 But Adonai said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me so as to esteem Me as holy in the eyes of Bnei-Yisrael, therefore you will not bring this assembly into the land that I have given to them.” (20:12)

Next, still in chapter 20, the Edomites, Israel’s cousins, refuses to allow Israel to pass through their land – even after Israel promises not to veer off the thoroughfare. Finally, coming to Mount Hor, the first part of HaShem’s pronounced discipline at Meribah is realized as Moses takes Aaron and his son Eleazar to the top of Mount Hor where Aaron’s garments and emblems of authority are removed and given to Eleazar, and Aaron dies. After his burial, Moses and the new High Priest Eleazar descend the mountain, and remain in a state of uncleanness for seven days (19:11).

At this point, Bnei-Yisrael have to travel back toward the Sea of Reeds, having to detour around Edom. As they retravel the original Exodus route, “the spirit of the people became impatient along the way” (21:4), and they complain and murmur against HaShem and Moses (21:5). Discipline is swift, and, once again, many people die, only this time of snake bites (21:6). The remembrance of this discipline seems to be what Rav Shaul had in mind when he wrote to the Believers in Corinth “let’s not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:9). In fact, Rav Shaul has much to say in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 10, warning the Yeshua believers, from events in Israel’s history, that the discipline of the LORD at times is swift and decisive, as we saw last week in Parashat Korach. In fact, Rav Shaul wrote

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. (10:11)

However, Shaul does not stop with Israel simply as an example. He warns the Yeshua-believers, “let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall” (10:12). Israel was and still is the chosen people of God, His am segula, treasured people, (Deuteronomy 7:6). But that chosenness, that treasuredness, was never a license to do wrong – in fact if anything it was and is just the opposite. Peter reminds his audience, as well as each of us today, that as believers in Yeshua, we are first and foremost to be

…just like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in everything you do. For it is written, “Kedoshim (holy) you shall be, for I am kadosh (holy).” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

Therefore we are all

…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were “not a people,” but now you are “God’s people.” You were shown “no mercy,” but now you have been shown “mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)

In the CJB Besorah Reading Cycle, John 4:3-30 records Yeshua’s interaction with the Smartian woman at the well. Among other things He tells her is this profound statement.

“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming—it is here now—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people as His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24).

Once again, this plays into Rav Shaul’s often misunderstood teaching that

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

I, as well as many others, have noted, there remains a very distinct difference between males and females, and there are social, cultural and ethnical differences between not only Jews and Greeks, but between all the nations and ethnicities of the world. Yeshua did not remove the difference between Samaritans and Jews. He clarified a new and living way to approach the Father, that being in spirit and in truth. That is how Rav Shaul could say to the believers in Rome,

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all—richly generous to all who call on Him. (Romans 10:12)

In a recent class on Halakhic Process we read the following from the Babylonian Talmud,

One sustains poor gentiles along with poor Jews, and one visits sick gentiles along with sick Jews, and one buries dead gentiles along with dead Jews. All this is done on account of the ways of peace, to foster peaceful relations between Jews and gentiles. (Gittin 61a)

While distinctions most assuredly remain between Jews and non-Jews, we remain responsible to care and to do good for one another, regardless of those distinctions, thus fostering דרכי שלום, the ways of peace. I suggest that while the rabbis may have seen the ways of peace as a physical reality needed between them and their non-Jewish neighbors, in light of Yeshua’s teaching the way of peace is the wholeness and completeness that comes in approaching the Father in spirit and in truth. Salvation, which is from the Jews in the person of Yeshua, is for all creation, for all humankind as we each approach the Father in spirit and in truth.

Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts on Korach

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Korach, Numbers 16:1 – 18:32,[i] the haftarah is 1 Samuel 11:14 – 12:22. Most of the parasha’s deals with the rebellion of Korach, HaShem’s judgement on Korach and his party, the rebellion of the people against Moshe and HaShem’s judgement on them, and Moshe’s intercessory action on behalf of those who spoke out against him.

Korach and the party he gathered around him made the following claim against Moshe and Aaron, “You’ve gone too far! All the community is holy—all of them—and ADONAI is with them! Then why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of ADONAI,” (Numbers 16:3)?

Moses responded,

By this you will know that Adonai has sent me to do all these works, that they are not from my own heart. If every one of these men die a common death and experience what happens to all people, then Adonai has not sent me. But if Adonai brings about a new thing, and the earth opens her mouth and swallows them and everything that is theirs, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you will know that these men have despised Adonai. (Numbers 16:28-30)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks, “What was wrong with Korach and his fellow rebels? On the face of it, what they said was both true and principled. ‘You have gone too far,’ they said to Moses and Aaron. ‘The whole community is holy, every one of them, and God is with them. Why then are you setting yourselves above God’s congregation?’”[ii] When one remembers HaShem’s words to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, it would seem that Korach was correct.

“So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation.” These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael.” (Exodus 19:6)

Moshe hoped that all of Israel would have the same relationship with HaShem as he did. This is seen in his response to Joshua concerning those in the camp manifesting the ministry of the Ruach Hakodesh.

“(Joshua) are you jealous on my behalf? If only ADONAI would make all the people prophets! If only ADONAI would put the Spirit on all of them!” (Numbers 11:29)

But, while Korach and company vocalized their complaint against Moshe and Aaron, Moshe recognized correctly that Korach stood against HaShem himself. Recently, Vered noted that when Moshe received an attack against him personally, against his character, he said nothing, leading to the Torah proclaiming him the meekness, most humble man (Numbers 12:3). However, when Moshe felt that the character of HaShem was in question, he spoke out, forcibly – both when he felt the attack was from without as with Korach or when he felt that HaShem Himself was doing something that might impugn His name or character,

I prayed to ADONAI and said, “O Lord, ADONAI, do not destroy Your people—Your inheritance that You have redeemed through Your greatness and brought out from Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people or to their wickedness or their sin. Otherwise the land from which You brought us out may say, ‘Because ADONAI was not able to bring them into the land that He spoke of to them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.’ Yet they are Your people—Your inheritance that You brought out by Your great power and Your outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 9:26-29)

What we learn from this parasha is that Moshe was intensely concerned about both the people with which he was charged, as well as with the God he served. We too, at times, may find ourselves in the position of defending our faith and/or practice before those who feel we are in error. Peter’s words ring true at that point,

Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with humility and reverence—keeping a clear conscience so that, whatever you are accused of, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Messiah may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

There is another important point to learn from this week’s parasha. Just because someone quotes Scripture or paraphrases Scripture in such a way to make it sound like the truth, the reality is that while true it may be, the motivation or intention may be anything but good and proper. While Korach spoke the right words, his motivation was to displace the LORD’s choice. On a blog entitled, Life of a Steward the author notes,

As Christians, our motivation is crucial. The difference between righteousness and evil is often not what we do but why we do it. Furthermore, we have a tremendous ability to deceive ourselves. It takes a lot of honesty to look deep within and see that your motivations are off.[iii]

There was a time, when I was a young believer, I learned to argue well against those who had differing views than those I held to be right and true. Looking back on that time, I wish I could take back some of the communication, because while I was using Scripture to prove my position, my attitude was one of self-righteousness – I was right, and they were wrong. I now realize that while I still believe I was right, I know that they were not necessarily wrong, but simple interpreted Scriptures differently.

In this week’s reading from the Besorah, Luke 19:1-28, we read about Yeshua and Zacchaeus’ encounter with one another. Zacchaeus, a tax-collector, was socially considered a sinner, which brought about the charge from the crowd, “Yeshua has gone to be the guest of a sinner” (19:7)! Their words were technically correct, as they were motivated by common perceptions – but the motivation was misinformed. Zacchaeus the tax-collector had a change of heart due to the fact that “Today salvation has come to this home, because he also is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Korach operated under a wrong motivation, the crowds around Zacchaeus operated under a misinformed motivation. We must follow the admonition of the compiler of the Proverbs

Guard your heart diligently, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] http://rabbisacks.org/when-truth-is-sacrificed-to-power-korach-5775/

[iii] http://www.lifeofasteward.com/six-signs-your-motivation-is-incorrect/

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