This week’s Thoughts have more Scripture quoted than usual because I believe the subject is well covered in the Scriptures and does not need a large amount of exegetical commentary. With that said, a few weeks ago, I came across the following quotation on Heimish Humor, a page that I follow on Facebook. 

I like how Judaism has six different guilt offerings, one of which is an “I’m not sure if I am guilty, but I’m probably guilty, so I’ll bring a sacrifice just in case I’m guilty” offering.

Some, like me, may find this as humorous, while others may be tilting their head and saying, “huh?”. Humorous or not, the condition of being guilty is mentioned at least eleven times in this week’s parasha, Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26.1 Two verses stood out as I read through the passage, 

When anyone of the common people [in other words, that’s all of us] sins unwittingly by doing one of ADONAI’s mitzvot that are not to be done, then he is guilty. (Leviticus 4:27)
Now if anyone sins and [does] one of ADONAI’s commandments that are not to be done, though he did not know it, still he is guilty and will bear his iniquity. (Leviticus 5:17)

So maybe the quotation is not as humorous as it first seems. And before one thinks that this is only a “Jewish” condition, Sha’ul (Paul) expands the scope of this situation when he wrote to the Yeshua believers in Rome, 

But now God’s righteousness apart from the Torah has been revealed, to which the Torah and the Prophets bear witness—namely, the righteousness of God through putting trust in Messiah Yeshua, to all who keep on trusting. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:21-23) 

Whether one looks at the Torah or the Apostolic Writings does not matter, both address sin. Sha’ul emphatically states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

In commenting on Leviticus 5:26, Rabbi Twerskiz”l seems to agree with Sha’ul that sin separates one from HaShem, but forgiveness brings one closer. “The guilt of sin causes a person to keep his distance from God. If sin is forgiven, one can come closer to God, and the closer one draws to God, the greater is one’s awareness that his actions were improper.”2 Furthermore, the prophet Isaiah reminds us all that it was not HaShem that moved and caused the separation, instead it was each of us,

Behold, ADONAI’s hand is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God. Your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

In the Apostolic Writings, the author of 1 John writes a further affirmation, while extending an offer of hope,

If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

And even though the psalmist penned these words in the ancient past, he agrees with 1 John,

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is pardoned. Blessed is the one whose guilt ADONAIdoes not count, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. … Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not hide my iniquity. I said: “I confess my transgressions to ADONAI,” and You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-2, and 5)

The end of the parasha explains, “The kohen shall make atonement for him before ADONAI, and he will be forgiven concerning whatever he may have done to become guilty” (Leviticus 5:26). The author of Hebrews agrees with the need for atonement but disagrees with the efficaciousness of the kohen’s activity.

And nearly everything is purified in blood according to the Torah, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22) … But in these sacrifices is a reminder of sins year after year—for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4)

But the author did not leave us in limbo,

He (Messiah, Yeshua) has been revealed once and for all at the close of the ages—to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment, so also Messiah, was offered once to bear the sins of many. (Hebrews 10:26b-28a)

The finished work of Yeshua has brought about the assurance of the forgiveness of sin and the freedom from resulting guilt. And remember, it was not the Jewish religious leaders nor even the Roman authorities that brought about Yeshua’s death; he chose to lay it down,

For this reason, the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, so that I may take it up again. No one takes it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)

The righteousness of Hashem and his requirements for humankind are clear,

So now, O Israel, what does ADONAI your God require of you, but to fear ADONAI your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul, to keep the mitzvotof ADONAI and His statutes that I am commanding you today, for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what ADONAI is seeking from you: only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Serving HaShem and walking humbly with him begins by accepting the provision he offers through the sacrifice of his Son, Yeshua, to remove our sin and guilt that causes our separation from the Father. The choice, as always, is ours to make.

Footnotes:

1 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. Twerski on Chumash. Brooklyn, Shaar Press, 2003, p 198.

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This week’s Thoughts are gleaned from Parasha Pekudei. However, before getting into the Torah portion, I want to call your attention to a particularity on this year’s calendar, at least on the Jewish calendar. This Friday, March 4, is the second day of the two-day Rosh Chodesh (New Month) celebration of Adar Bet (the second month of Adar). To understand why the Jewish calendar has an extra month, it is necessary to understand the difference between the Gregorian and the Jewish calendars. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar based upon the earth’s orbit around the sun. Every four years requires an extra day to stay in sync with astronomical seasons; hence, every fourth year is a leap year. On the other hand, the Jewish calendar is lunisolar. As such, it is approximately eleven days shorter than the solar year. This means that an additional month is added seven times during a 19-year Metonic cycle. Instead of an extra day added at the end of February, leap year on the Jewish calendars adds Adar Bet. Traditionally Adar Bet is an especially joyous month. 

The Mishna teaches that from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing. Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.

Bavli, Taanit 29a1

This means that there is a double portion of rejoicing during the Jewish leap year, and lest one forgets, Purim, the commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire as recorded in Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) is in the month of Adar. In a leap year, Purim is celebrated in Adar Bet.

Aside from getting an extra month every two to three years, there is another outcome of the Jewish leap year: six of the seven double portions in the yearly reading cycle are separated into two portions. (There is an extra cookie for those who know which one remains doubled.) And this brings us to this week’s reading, Pekudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38,2 which is usually paired with last week’s portion, Vayakhel. 

Pekudei begins, “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, as they were recorded according to the commandment of Moses, by the service of the Levites, under the hand of Ithamar son of Aaron the kohen” (Exodus 38:21). Maybe a better understanding of this would be that Pekudei is a tally, or an inventory of the donations and materials collected and used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Though we are not told why such an inventory or accounting was taken, it may well have been included so that no charge of impropriety could be brought against Moses. Remember what Moses, in his anger, declared to HaShem during the encounter with Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, 

“Do not accept their offering. I haven’t taken from them a single donkey, nor have I wronged one of them!” (Numbers 16:15)

Or later, Samuel’s questioning of the people before he anointed Saul as king,

Here I am. Witness against me before ADONAI and before His anointed. Whose ox have I taken or whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken a bribe to look the other way? I will restore it to you.” (1 Samuel 12:3)

While it is true of any leader, one who leads HaShem’s people, whether Bnei Israel or the community of Yeshua followers, must be beyond reproach. In recommending to Timothy the necessary characteristics of a leader, Shaul included things like being beyond criticism, clear-minded, respectable, able to teach (as well as being teachable), free from the love of money, and humble (see 1 Timothy 3:2-7 for a complete list). Therefore, the tally sheet recorded in Pekudei may well have been protection for Moses and Aaron as well as Bezalel and Oholiab that what they had been charged to do and what they had been given was accomplished, and everything was open for inspection.

While studying the week’s portion, I came across another thought-provoking observation from comments by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski z”l. In his commentary, Twerski of Chumash,3 he questions why Exodus 39:32 was written as follows

So, all the work of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was finished. Bnei-Yisrael did everything according to what ADONAI had commanded Moses—they did it just so.

Instead of 

The Children of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses, so did they do, and all the work of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed.

“Why does the Torah tell us the Tabernacle was completed before it says that the Israelites did as they were commanded?” Rabbi Twerski asks. In answering his own question, he suggested that “the Tabernacle was actually completed by HaShem after the Israelites did as they were commanded. The Tabernacle was indeed the result of their effort, but their effort alone could not have done it.” He then elaborated how throughout our lives, virtually everything we do or even try to do is often impacted by factors and situations beyond our control. Thus, we are responsible for what we do, not necessarily for the outcome. As I considered this explanation, I immediately thought of three passages, the first from the Mishnah and then two from the Scriptures.

He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: You are not expected to complete the work, and yet you are not free to evade it.

Pirkei Avot 2:164
Commit whatever you do to ADONAI, and your plans will succeed. ADONAI works everything out for his own purpose—even the wicked for a day of disaster. (Proverbs 16:3-4)
…and aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, just as we directed you… (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

We cannot control the outcome of our activities, but as Rabbi Tarfon reminded us, the outcome is not necessarily up to us; rather, it is the doing of what we feel or know we should do that is our responsibility. And then, in the doing, we are to trust that while we are doing the work, Hashem will see to its competition. I suggest that if we keep our focus on HaShem, then if the work of our hands needs to be adjusted or refocused, the Ruach will be sure to lead us in the way we should go. 

Footnotes:

1 Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (EIC). The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli: Volume 12: Tractate Ta’anit, Tractate Megilla. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd. 2014, p 174.

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

3 Abraham J. Twerski. Twerski on Chumash. Brooklyn, Shaar Press, 2003, p 187-188.

4 Avrohom David (Selected and Translated). Pirkei Avos: The Wisdom of the Fathers. Brooklyn, Metzudah Publications, 1978, p 76.

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“He (Moses) assembled,”  Exodus 35:1 – 38:20

In many ways, this week’s Torah portion is a repeat of Parashat Terumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19. The primary difference is that in Terumah, HaShem told Moses how to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In Vayakhel, this week’s parasha, Moses assembled all of the people and passed on the information received from HaShem about constructing the Mishkan. 

Before looking at Vayakhel, here is a quick recap of what went on in last week’s portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35). While on the mountain, HaShem told Moses of the Israelites’ sin with the molten calf and his anger against them (Exodus 32). Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites asking HaShem to forgive them and continue with them (Exodus 33:12-16). Then, after granting Moses’ request to see his glory (Exodus 33:19-23), HaShem reiterated the covenant he was making with Bnei-Israel (Exodus 34:10-27). 

Now to the assembly Moses called to pass on the words of HaShem (Vayakhel). Intriguingly, the only thing Moses repeats from that which was said at the end of Ki Tisa concerns the keeping or observing of Shabbat.

These are the words which ADONAI has commanded you to do. Work is to be done for six days, but the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI. Whoever does any work then will die. Do not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on Yom Shabbat.” (Exodus 35:1-3)

Moses might have said more than this one command. However, under the direction of the Ruach while writing the Torah, this is what was deemed most important: “…the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI.” There is no doubt that over the years, the fences or safeguards that have been placed around the observance of Shabbat have, at times, become burdensome. This is evident in Yeshua’s statement to the Pharisees who were challenging his disciples’ observance,

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

However, it is important to note that in saying this, Yeshua did NOT negate the keeping of Shabbat; he only softened the man-made safeguards. Let’s look at the command again.

It begins, “Work is to be done for six days…” (Exodus 35:2), echoing Exodus 20:9, “You are to work six days, and do all your work….” This statement indicates that man is like HaShem in that he is to work six days and rest one. Remember the creation account, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, for on it He ceased from all His work that God created for the purpose of preparing” (Genesis 2:2-3). HaShem worked six days and then rested. Without work, what is the benefit of rest? The relation of work and rest may have been in the back of Rav Shaul’s mind when he wrote,

For even when we were with you, we would give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that some among you are behaving irresponsibly—not busy, but busybodies. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11)

There is dignity in work. Without the six days of work, there would be no seventh day of rest; they need each other for distinction. At the end of Shabbat, we recite the Havdalah service that acknowledges this distinction,

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who differentiates between holy and mundane (or secular), between light and darkness, between Israel and (other) peoples, between the seventh day and the six days of work. Blessed are You, Lord, who differentiates between holy and mundane (or secular).

Both the days of work and the day of rest are blessings from and blessed by HaShem. Consider Moses’ reminder in Deuteronomy 8:18, “you are to remember ADONAI your God, for it is He who gives you power to make wealth,” or possibly the ability to work.

Then there is the phrase, “…the seventh day is a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest to ADONAI.” What does it mean, “a holy or kadosh day?” The understanding of holy is “set apart,” specifically for HaShem. Peter wrote in his letter to Yeshua-followers in the Diaspora,

But you are 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. (1 Peter 2:9)

Whether these were Jewish or non-Jewish Yeshua-followers, Peter reminded them that they were linked to Israel as HaShem had proclaimed, “So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). So, it is not simply that Israel, along with Yeshua’s followers, are holy or set apart; moreover, they are set apart, distinguished as it were for a reason – that is to be with HaShem. Every mention of keeping Shabbat is linked or related to HaShem. This relationship is articulated in these words from the Shabbat Morning Amidah,

May the people who sanctify the seventh day all find satisfaction and delight in Your goodness, for You favored the seventh day and made it holy, calling it the most cherished of days, a remembrance of the act of creation.

So, while it is true that “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat,” this does not detract from the fact that the seventh day should be distinct from the six days of work. In that distinction, we should focus on HaShem, not on ourselves. The prophet Isaiah had this to say about keeping Shabbat,

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)

If keeping Shabbat was important enough to be the only command reiterated before the construction of the Mishkan began, maybe we should reconsider our practices and traditions concerning Shabbat. Our approach to the seventh day may enable us to discover how we can call Shabbat a delight and an honorable day unto ADONAI.

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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This week’s parasha, Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11 – 34:35, is crammed full of material to think upon and internalize. Early in the parasha, we read about the appointment of Betzalel and Oholiab to oversee the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) (31:2-7). It is noteworthy that before these two men were appointed to serve, they had already been prepared for the work by HaShem. Moses was also preprepared for his role in leading the Children of Israel long before the event, first by growing up in Pharoah’s court and then on the plains of Midian, tending his father-in-law’s sheep. It was only after the training period that HaShem called out to him from the fiery bush and set him on the path that would eventually see the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fulfilled as Bnei-Israel entered into and settled the land of Canaan. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Rav Shaul wrote, “I am sure of this very thing—that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua (Philippians 1:6). When reading this verse, one often focuses on the completion aspect, but maybe the beginning is more important, “He who began a good work….” Rav Shaul recognized that not only did God empower us to finish the work, but he also began the work within us. While the typical understanding of this verse deals with salvation and the resulting life of faith, in light of HaShem’s preparation of Moses, Betzalel and Oholiab for the work they were called to do, one can see that God prepares those he calls. 

Another important aspect to note is that Betzalel and Oholiab each were working in their area of expertise, their gifts in overseeing the construction of the Mishkan according to HaShem’s design.  At the end of Exodus 31:6 is written, “Within the hearts of all who are wise-hearted I have placed skill, so that they may make everything that I have commanded you….” In the wilderness, the Mishkan and all of its parts were constructed and properly fit together because of (1) the divine plan, (2) the skilled individuals gifted and called to the work, and (3) the skills and desire to complete the work that HaShem placed in peoples’ hearts. It was a community effort led by those empowered and skilled by HaShem. 

Turning to Rav Shaul once again, listen to the analogous comparison of our physical bodies to the body of Messiah.

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body—though many—are one body, so also is Messiah. … For the body is not one part, but many. … If they were all one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts, yet one body. … Now you are the body of Messiah, and members individually. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14, 19-20, 27)

One body, many parts, and each part fulfilling its own function and purpose. 

Several years ago while visiting friends in Switzerland, I learned that in 2000, the EU adopted the official motto Unity in Diversity to describe the diverse social, cultural, and linguistic aspects of the Union. Some attribute the concept of unity in diversity to the teachings of the 12th-century Sufi philosopher Ibn al-‘Arabi. While not taking anything away from either the EU organizers or Ibn al-‘Arabi, I believe I can safely say that Rav Shaul had the idea of unity in diversity in mind when he spoke of the physical body with its many parts. A properly functioning body cannot function if it were only an eye, or a foot, or a heart, or whatever part one chooses to consider. Only when all the individual parts are working together does the body function correctly. Rav Shaul applies this analogy to the body of Messiah by stating, 

God has put into His community first emissaries, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then healings, helps, leadership, various kinds of tongues. All are not emissaries, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All do not work miracles, do they? All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak in tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)

I believe these “offices” mentioned by Rav Shaul are the Moseses, Betzalels, and Oholiabs in the body of Messiah. The rank-and-file members of the body are made up of those who are “wise-hearted” in whom HaShem places the desire and willingness to serve and be a part of the body. And it is when the Moses, Betzalel, and Oholiab and all rank-and-file work together the body of Messiah functions as a healthy body. 

It is necessary to realize that not everyone is a Moses, Betzalel, or Oholiab. Years ago, a Bible school professor described the body of Messiah as one made of porcelain and then went on to talk about fine porcelain dishes, figurines, various pieces of laboratory equipment and electrical insulators. These four items are each very important at specific times and situations. The professor then asked the class if they knew of another item made of porcelain that is used more often than any of the three mentioned. Interestingly, no one guessed the item the professor had in mind, even though they used it at least once every day and usually more often than that. Can you guess what it is? A toilet. The professor reminded the class that they could do without porcelain dinnerware, but it was much less likely that they could do without a toilet on a daily basis. He then quoted Rav Shual.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be less important are indispensable. (1 Corinthians 12:22)

The bottom line then is that there are no indispensable members in the body as each of us has a part to play. So, whether one is a Moses or a Betzalel or a seamstress sowing the curtains of the Mishkan, or the one responsible for cleaning up after the services are over, the words of Wendy and Mary’s song rings true.

We really do need each other
Like the earth needs the falling rain
We really do need one another
Cause if I didn’t have you, it just wouldn’t be the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPciXp2Q60c

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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Commenting on the parable in Luke 15:11-32, concerning a father and two brothers, one elder and one younger, Amy-Jill Levine points out,

“As all biblically literate people know, the beginning words of this parable, “There was a man who had two sons,” introduce a literary convention. As these readers also know, we do well to identify with the younger son. However, the story in Luke 15 is a parable, and parables usually do not do what we might expect.1

She then reminds her readers of other well-known siblings from the Tanakh. Adam and Havah (Eve) had two sons, Cain and Abel whose story eventually ended in fratricide, as Cain killed his younger brother because his (Abel’s) offering was acceptable to HaShem while Cain’s was not. Abraham had two sons, Ishmael was the elder, and Isaac the younger. Though Abraham loved Ishmael, his firstborn, Isaac was the child of promise, (Genesis 17:19 & Galatians 4:23). Animosity grew within the family which led to Hagar and Ishmael’s eventual exile from Abraham’s household. Probably the most well-known elder/younger sibling rivalry is Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Though it was prophesied that the elder would serve the younger, the deceit and trickery that took place constructed a barrier of hatred and distrust between the brothers that has never been fully reconciled.  Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim are the final elder/younger two-son combination to mention. Like with the other examples, the second son, Ephraim, was the chosen son. He received the patriarchal blessing from his grandfather Jacob and his progeny became synonymous with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Manasseh, the eldest son, eventually disappeared into obscurity.

So why this history lesson concerning elder and younger sons? Because this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh (“You Shall Command”), Exodus 27:20 – 30:102 calls attention another elder/younger pair; only this pair seems to break the mold. The elder son is overshadowed by the younger one in many aspects, yet there does not appear to be the animosity so prevalent in the other sibling relationships. Have you guessed yet who this week’s elder/younger sibling pair is?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ z”l Covenant & Conversation commentary on Tetzaveh brought this pair to my attention. Rabbi Sacks notes,

Tetzaveh is the only sedra (Torah portion) from the beginning of Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy, that does not contain the word “Moses”. For once Moses, the hero, the leader, the liberator, the lawgiver, is offstage. Instead, our focus is on his elder brother Aaron who, elsewhere, is often in the background. Indeed, virtually the whole sedra is devoted to the role Moses did not occupy, except briefly – that of priest in general, High Priest in particular.3

Reading the passage in context, one quickly realizes that while not mentioned by name, HaShem has been speaking about Moses since Exodus 25:1, the beginning of last week’s parasha, Terumah. But still, the name of Moses does not appear at all in Parashat Tetzaveh. Rabbi Sacks asked, “Is there any larger significance to the absence of Moses from this passage?” He proceeds to answer his musing. First, he notes Moses’ argument with HaShem about his ability to return to Egypt and perform the task HaShem has set for him. Hashem finally responds, 

“In fact, Aaron the Levite is your brother. I know that he can speak well. Moreover, he is on his way to meet you! When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.” (Exodus 4:14)

In this verse we see a couple of things, (1) Aaron was an accomplished orator, (2) he was looking for his younger brother, whom he had not seen in quite some time, and (3) he will be very happy to see Moses. Points two and three suggest that Aaron and Moses had a close relationship at one time been. This point is further verified a couple of chapters later when Aaron’s and Moses’ lineage is given.

Amram married Jochebed, his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years. … These are the same Aaron and Moses to whom ADONAI said, “Bring Bnei-Yisrael out from the land of Egypt according to their divisions.” These are the ones that spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring Bnei-Yisrael out from Egypt. These are that same Moses and Aaron. (Exodus 6:20 & 26-27)

Both Amram and his wife Jochebed were Levites; thus so were Aaron and Moses. But what is not so clear in English is the closeness of the brothers as verses 26-27 indicate. The word translated most as “these” is the Hebrew word הוּא (hu)—the third person singular, masculine pronoun “he” in English. Notice that הוּא is used in the first and the last occurrence of “these” in these two verses. The Hebrew literally reads, “he is the same (or that same), Aaron and Moses….” Before thinking this is a scribal error, consider that the third “these” the first phrase of verse 27, “These are the ones…” is the third person plural pronoun הֵם (hem), “they.” If it was simply a scribal error, all three occurrences would have been corrected. 

The sages dealt with this apparent inconsistency by redefining the meaning of “hu”. In the Bavali, Megilla 11a, it’s written,

Similarly, “This is [hu] Aaron and Moses” (Exodus 6:26); they remained in their righteousness from the beginning of their life to the end of their life.4

In other words, the “hu” represented a degree of personal righteousness that both Aaron and Moses maintained throughout their lives. While understandable looking back on their lives as portrayed in Torah, I believe that Rabbi Sacks’ suggestion may be even more rational. In the article cited above, he noted,

The unmistakable implication is that they were like a single individual. They were as one. There was no hierarchy between them: sometimes Aaron’s name appears first, sometimes Moses’. On this there is a wonderful Midrash, based on the verse in Psalms (85:11) “Loving-kindness and truth meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

Loving-kindness – this refers to Aaron.  Truth – this refers to Moses. Righteousness – this refers to Moses.  Peace – this refers to Aaron.

Shemot Rabbah 5:10

According to Rabbi Sacks, their various life situations and stations in life did not affect the respectful, familial feeling between the brothers. It is at this point I think there is a lesson for all of us. Some of us are in the position of the elder sibling, some are the younger. The first four sets of siblings had either rocky or really raunchy familial relationships, the last, Aaron and Moses, in spite of everything that had happened in each of their lives, were as one person. I believe it is safe to say that the difference between the different sibling pairs is the choices they made. Remember HaShem’s warning to Cain, 

“Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, it will lift. But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

It appears that Aaron and Moses chose not to allow anything to affect their relationship with one another. We have the choice to make with our siblings – both natural and spiritual. In this, I think that Rav Shaul’s encouragement is key.

Live in harmony with one another; do not be proud but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own eyes.Repay no one evil for evil; give thought to what is good in the eyes of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people. (Romans 12:16-18)

Endnotes:

1 Amy Jill Levine. Short Stories by Jesus, The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. New York, Harper Collins Publishers, 2014, Apple Books

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

3 https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/tetzaveh/who-is-honoured/

4 The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli Volume 12: Tractate Ta’anit, Tractate Megilla. Jerusalem, Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2014, p 258.

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The majority of this week’s parasha, Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19, deals with HaShem’s instructions to Moses concerning the design and construction of the Tabernacle. The first thing on the agenda was for Bnei-Israel to collect an offering, and it was to be a rather unique offering.

The word translated “offering” is terumah, a special gift, a contribution, something dedicated or set apart for sacred use. Notice first that the terumah or offering was to be given as each individual’s “heart compels” them, meaning that the individual had a degree of control over whether they gave, they gave, and how much they gave. Secondly, the terumah was NOT just anything the heart compelled; Hashem gave Moses specific instructions on what type of offerings or materials were to be received. The list was broad enough that everyone would have been able to participate in the terumah in one way or another. There were fifteen categories of items with no set amount stipulated, no minimum, or maximum. 

HaShem told Moses the purpose of this terumah,

“Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. You are to make it all precisely according to everything that I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all the furnishings within—just so you must make it.”

Exodus 25:8-9

In other words, HaShem told Moses exactly what to collect from Bnei-Israel but left the act of giving and the amounts given to the heart motivation of each person. Only after this did HaShem tell Moses the purpose of the contributions, which probably motivated the people to contribute even more because we read later in Vayakhel that the skilled craftsmen said to Moses, 

“The people are bringing much more than enough for the work of this construction that ADONAI has commanded to be done.”

Exodus 36:5

So, Moses had the order proclaimed throughout the camp, telling the people not to bring any more offerings, that they had all they needed to complete the work. 

Let’s turn to the haftarah, 1 Kings 5:26–6:13. This passage shows Solomon beginning to build the Temple in Jerusalem, almost five centuries after leaving Egypt. The immediate connection between the Torah and the Haftarah reading is the building of a dwelling place for HaShem. But very soon, we see noticeable differences between the two occurrences.

The Tabernacle was a labor of love and gratitude by a people recently freed from slavery and oppression. According to Scripture, the Temple was the desire of King David’s heart, though it would be King Solomon who orchestrated the actual building (I Chronicles 22:6-7). Everyone willingly took part in supplying the materials for and the construction of the Tabernacle. In contrast, the Temple was built with forced labor and materials from Israel and Israel’s allies. And finally, the blueprint for the construction and outfitting of the Tabernacle was divinely given to Moses by HaShem, and Israel was to follow the blueprint without any deviation. The Temple was David’s and Solomon’s idea, probably based upon an amalgamation of the Tabernacle and elements from other Ancient Near East temples. 

I must admit that there have been times when my thought processes led me into areas that would cause some to turn their head sideways and say, “huh?!?” If this application causes you to join with others in this action, I pray that you do not get a crick in your neck but that you stay with me to the end.

As I read the passages concerning the Tabernacle and the Temple, my thoughts went to the Letter to the Hebrews 5:11–6:1. This passage contrasts the food required by newborns and the mature, i.e., milk and solid foods. The author desires that his readers would have grown to the point that they could handle the deeper things of God and not only milk or foundational teachings of the Messianic faith. This is the picture I saw when comparing the Wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. At the foot of the mountain, Bnei-Israel was still in its infancy in understanding their new covenantal relationship with HaShem. Even though they had affirmed at least twice, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey” (Exodus 24:3 & 7), it is a safe bet that the majority did not really understand what they were getting themselves into. HaShem told Moses that he (HaShem) would dwell in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the people. His visible presence would lead and guide the people throughout their travels, and he would continue to care for them, and they, in turn, learned what it meant to be an am segula, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).

Conversely, almost five centuries later, Bnei-Israel had walked with HaShem, made numerous mistakes in their covenantal obedience, suffered the consequences of said mistakes, repented and returned, and in the process grew and matured as the people of God. Whereas in the Wilderness, exact instructions had to be given, five centuries later in Israel, Solomon was able to exercise a degree of self-expression in the design and construction of the Temple. However, perhaps the most significant difference between the two was HaShem’s dwelling presence. HaShem chose, unilaterally, to dwell in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the camp. In the Temple, there was a requirement for his presence as he told Solomon,

“As for this House which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes, execute My ordinances and keep all My mitzvot by walking in them, then I will establish My word with you, which I spoke to your father David, I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people, Israel.”

1 Kings 6:12-13

We are each on a journey with the Lord and at different levels of maturity in our journey. Sometimes the Ruach has to show or tell us exactly what to do and define the boundaries of our actions. Other times, we are allowed, maybe even encouraged to step out in faith and follow the Lord as he trusts us to walk in the knowledge and maturity we have developed over time. Wherever we are on our journey, though, I believe that HaShem’s words to Solomon are those that we need to internalize to guide our daily walk, “if you will walk in My statutes, execute My ordinances and keep all My mitzvot by walking in them, then I will establish My word with you….” If we do so, we can rest assured that HaShem’s promise in Hebrews 13:5 will be ours, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

* 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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In last year’s Shulchan Shelanu (Our Table) on this week’s Torah reading, Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, began by looking at the following passage,

Then to Moses He said, “Come up to ADONAI, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, and worship from afar. Moses alone is to approach ADONAI, but the others may not draw near, nor are the people to go up with him.”

So, Moses came and told the people all the words of ADONAI as well as all the ordinances. All the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do. So, Moses wrote down all the words of ADONAI, then rose up early in the morning, and built an altar below the mountain, along with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He then sent out young men of Bnei-Yisrael, who sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings of oxen to ADONAI. Then Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins and the other half he poured out against the altar. He took the Scroll of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. Again, they said, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey.”

Exodus 24:1-7

Then while making the following observation, he ended with a probing question.

This passage includes one of Judaism’s most pivotal concepts when we read of the people of Israel saying, “Everything that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey (na’aseh v’nishma).” The Hebrew may be read to say, “we will do, and we will hear,” or even, “we will do, and we will understand.” The question is, “What is the relationship between doing and understanding?” Must you understand something before you can do it? What do you say?

Shulhan Shelanu, Mishpatim, Vol. 3, Is. 7. 1st of Adar 5781, February 12, 2021

Continuing with this idea of doing, then understanding, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman commented concerning Bnei-Israel’s response, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do.”

We were wise to accept the Torah even before we understood, to preface “we will do” to “we will understand.” Because we knew well the One who was giving us this Torah.

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/5030255/jewish/Understanding-After-Doing.htm

So, the question under consideration as we enter into Shabbat this week is, “Is it necessary to understand the rationale behind the mitzvot (commands) of God before we do them?” The prophet Isaiah recorded these words from the Ruach,

Who among you fears ADONAI? Who hears the voice of His servant?  Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the Name of ADONAI and lean on his God.

Isaiah 50:10

In a way, Isaiah describes Bnei-Israel’s position as the foot of the mountain. Moses had come down from his meeting with HaShem and spent the next one hundred verses, laying down the basic requirements of the covenant HaShem was making with Bnei-Israel. First, after reading the requirements, “All the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which ADONAI has spoken, we will do,” (vs 3). Then Moses wrote everything down on a scroll, and the next day, read the requirements once again, and “Again, they said, “All that ADONAI has spoken, we will do and obey” (vs 7). There is no way that all the people understood what they were committing themselves to do. Their response was an act of trust in the One who had brought them out of Egypt and began them on their way to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the words were not mentioned, Bnei-Israel stepped out in faith, trusting that what HaShem had begun in Egypt, he would continue – even if they did not understand everything they had agreed to. 

This act, by Bnei-Israel at the foot of the mountain, should encourage each of us to follow these exhortations from the Apostolic Writings,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen. For by it the elders received commendation.

Hebrews 11:1-2

Could it be that the commendation the elders received was their statement of faith in accepting the covenant offered by HaShem, for themselves and their descendants to come? 

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Rav Shaul affirms that our lives should not be controlled or dictated by what we see but by our faith and trust in Yeshua, who affirmed, “And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Then the psalmist reminds us,

The fear of ADONAI is the beginning of wisdom. All who follow His precepts have good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Psalm 11:10

Remember the quote from Rabbi Freeman earlier, “we were wise to accept the Torah before we understood.” The psalmist here links wisdom and understanding with following His precepts, or in other words, walking in obedience. 

Finally, in answer to Rabbi Dauermann’s question, “Must we understand something before we can do it?” I would have to say the answer, no we do not. We simply must trust in HaShem and his Word. What do you say?

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

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