Thoughts on Vayeira

Erev ShabbatThis week’s parasha, Vayeira, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24,[i] ends with one of the most confusing narratives of the Tanakh, and at the same time, continues to give us insights into the intense faith of our first patriarch. The parasha begins with the promise of a son, Isaac, who will be the one to continue the lineage and promised blessings of Abraham (18.10-14). In chapter 21, the promised son is born and he is the joy of his aged parents (21.1-6). Then, the proverbial “other shoe” falls, and Hashem apparently tests Abraham through the Akedah, and if I might, tests Sarah’s resolve as well. Concerning this testing the Ramban writes,

Know further that G-d trieth the righteous for knowing that the righteous will do His will, He desires to make him even more upright, and so He commands him to undertake a test, but He does not try the wicked, who would not obey. Thus, all trials in the Torah are for the good of the one who is being tried.[ii]

The beginning of Psalm 11.5 is what brings the Ramban (Nachmanides) to this conclusion. In English, we read, “The LORD seeks out the righteous man” (JPS, 1985); “Adonai examines the righteous” (TLV, 2015); “The LORD tests the righteous” (ESV, 2016). Regardless of the verbiage, seeks out, examines, or tests, Abraham seems to be between a rock and a hard place. At the same time, we can hear echoes of the writing of Rav Shaul in Nachmanides comment.

No temptation (trial or test) has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10.13)

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… (Romans 8.28-29a)

It would appear, that even though we might not understand why, the LORD knows exactly what He is doing in our lives and why, and will provide whatever means necessary to see us, like Abraham, through to the other side victoriously. Yeshayahu Leibowitz in Accepting the Yoke of Heaven gives us a further explanation of Abraham’s actions – or maybe lack thereof.

Indeed, the command, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac…,” was as if God had taken Abraham’s soul – and not only in the terms of the relationship of the father to his only son whom he loved, but also in the terms of the annulling of specific Divine promises that had been made to him, something which one would have imagined should have undermined his faith in God. The Midrash points out that Abraham could have offered an extremely strong argument: “Yesterday You told me, ‘In Isaac shall your seed be called’ (Bereishit 21.12), and today You say to me, ‘offer him there for a burnt offering’ (22.2).” Even further: from the case of Sodom and Gomorra, we see that Abraham was able to argue with God, and had no fear doing so (Bereishit 18.25 – “Far be it from you…”). But just here, where this affects the depths of his spiritual existence, he remains silent. The Midrash regards this silence as the highest level of faith which Abraham attained. … Here though, when Abraham is commanded, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac…,” it is a question of the perfection of faith – and Abraham does not debate that issue. He remains silent, rises early in the morning, saddles his ass and goes on his way.[iii]

Nahum M. Sarna, in his commentary on Genesis agrees with Leibowitz as he comments,

Beyond its connection with the foregoing chapter (Genesis 21), the Akeda brings to a close Abraham’s spiritual odyssey that began with God’s call at Haran. The curtain rises and falls on the patriarch as he receives a divine word that demands agonizing decisions. The first time God bids him to take leave of his father and to cut himself off from his past; now in this last theophany that he is to receive, God asks that he sacrifice his beloved, longed-for son and thereby abandon all hope of posterity. On both occasions Abraham responds with unquestioning obedience and steadfast loyalty.[iv]

As with the Ramban’s explanation, Sarna acknowledges that Abraham exemplifies unquestioning obedience and steadfast loyalty. But it has been said that instead of this being a show of Abraham’s unwavering faith in the promises of Hashem, it was in fact his greatest failing as a father. For the cities of Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham interceded with the LORD, pleading for their deliverance. But for Isaac, not a word was uttered. In fact, in Genesis 22.3 it says, and Abraham rose early in the morning, “there is no response in words on the part of Abraham, His answer is in his deeds. He lost no time in obeying the will of God.”[v]

Could it be, and this is just my rambling now, that Abraham’s silence is in fact a challenge and encouragement for us as we walk with the LORD. There may be times, when we hear from the LORD about something (such as the coming judgment or discipline on another), and we know that without our intercession, the situation could cause great harm. Perhaps, with covering, restorative prayer, the situation might be restored with minimal damage. However, there are other times, when the LORD speaks to us, and we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the LORD has spoken and will carry out what He has said or requested, and there is no argument or discussion – just faithful obedience – even through tears. Abraham had been learning of the character and the promises of Hashem, that He could be trusted. In the Akedah that trust was tested to the infinite limit. Abraham saw the faithfulness of Hashem in the ram that was caught in the thicket. Isaac was saved. However, in the “roll call” of faith found in Hebrews 11, there are numerous who did not see their deliverance, but in faith suffered and even died (11.35-39). This is not because of unfaithfulness on Hashem’s part, but because, for whatever reason, the plan of the Almighty did not include deliverance, rather grace and strength through the situations. In the book of Job, his wife chastises him, suggesting that he should “curse God and die” (2.9). Job’s response establishes his view of theodicy and his submission to Hashem, “… Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?…” (2.10).  The same is reflected in the second paragraph of the Barachu, which is drawn from Isaiah 45.

Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all.

The biblical text states

…that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45.6-7)

We have an option. We can either deny that a good, gracious God, allows things to happen that are beyond our own ethical and moral understanding, or we can assume that Abraham was mistaken, and some other deity besides Hashem asked him to take Isaac to the mountain, or, for that matter, that a gracious loving Father allowed His only Son to be beaten and hung on a tree for the sake of the world. Do we trust in the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob in all situations or in only those which are good and beneficial for us, or that we understand? Do we fully trust in the One, who allowed His only Son to suffer and bare the shame of being hung on a tree, to care for us – even when that care leads us into situations we otherwise would flee from? It is said, that He is not Lord of all, unless He is in fact LORD of all – every situation, every occurrence. As the Southern Kingdom of Judah was preparing to go into exile, the prophet Jeremiah penned these words,

“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29.10-11)

May we, like Abraham and like Israel, even in the midst of discipline, trust in Him and the plans He has for us.

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] Charles B. Chavel, trans., Ramban (Nachmanides) Commentary on the Torah, Translated and Annotated, New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971, p 275.

[iii] Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Accepting the Yoke of Heaven: Commentary on the Weekly Torah Portion, 2nd ed., Urim Publications, Jerusalem, 2002, p 25-26.

[iv] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p 150.

[v] . J. H. Hertz, ed., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs: Hebrew Text, English Translation and Commentary, 2nd ed., London: Soncino Press, 1996, p 74.

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Thoughts on Lech Lecha

canstockphoto12820422This week’s parasha, Lech Lecha, Genesis 12.1 – 17.27,[i] is a rich narrative that begins with the calling out of Avram (Abraham) and his family, and ends with the sealing of a covenant with Abraham and his family via the rite of circumcision. In between there are episodes interactions with Lot, foreign powers and domestic harmony as well as disharmony.

An interesting aspect of this parasha is the appearance of the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, specifically to Avram, the first patriarch, – לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ “Get going out from your land, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (12.1). The previous time it is recorded that Hasehm spoke to anyone, He told Noach to build an ark, a concrete project to which Noach could set his mind and hands. Plus, there was a completion or end to the project in sight. Avram did not have such an option or opportunity – “get up and go to a place I will show you” requires faith not only on Avram’s part but also on the part of Sara, his still barren wife, and the members of his extended family, specifically Lot. Avram chose to follow the leading of Hashem, even though it was into the unknown. In recounting Israel’s history, Joshua would proclaim, “Thus says Adonai, God of Israel: ‘From ancient times your fathers—Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor—lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods’” (Joshua 24.2). So, it must have been quite a surprise to Avram for Hashem to reveal Himself both audibly and discernibly – Avram both heard the LORD and understood His message – and he acted upon it. Rav Shual may have had the life of Abraham as an example in mind when he wrote to the believers in Corinth

What agreement does God’s Temple have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God—just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from among them, and be separate, says Adonai. Touch no unclean thing. Then I will take you in. I will be a father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says Adonai-Tzva’ot.” (2 Corinthians 6.16-18)

The idolatry in Corinth was well known throughout the world of the Second Temple Period, and Rav Shual was commanding the Yeshua-believers there, just as Hashem commanded Abraham, to leave the familiar behind and to separate themselves from the idolatry of their homes and communities. לֶךְ־לְךָ, come out from among them, continues to be the admonition for both Israel and Yeshua-believers. We are to be a people separated unto our LORD. Daily, as we recite the Shema, we affirm שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד “Hear, O Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD alone” (Deuteronomy 6.4). He alone is the One to be worshipped and adored. The first of the Ten Words, (Ten Commandments) is “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20.3). Our God is a jealous God, and He will not share with any other gods or with anything else that potentially could come between Him and His people (cf. Exodus 34.14).

But, as is common to all humankind, Israel slipped, was disobedient to the mitzvot of the LORD, was disciplined and was taken into exile. In the Haftarah for Lech Lecha, Isaiah 40.27 – 41.16 we hear the prophet reminding Israel that she will not be forgotten nor cast away from the presence of the LORD forever. Written, probably while Israel was in exile sometime in the mid-sixth century BCE, the Ruach of ADONAI reminds disciplined Israel

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend – I took hold of you from the ends of the earth, and called from its uttermost parts, and said to you, “You are My servant – I have chosen you, not rejected you. Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41.8-10)

When reading in English, we often miss the subtle nuance of the word “but” in Isaiah 41.8. The inclusion of this word should draw us back to the preceding verse(s) – specifically verse 7 for the comparison between Israel the LORD’s servants and progeny of His friend Abraham, and idolaters. Rashi sees the craftsman as the one who forms the idol, the smith overlays it with gold, the one with the hammer adds the finishing touches, and then all together they agree that the idol is good.[ii] Therefore, the conjunction “but” separates the idolaters from Bnei Yisrael, even though it is well known that throughout the prophets, Israel is admonished to put away, to destroy all the foreign idols – separating themselves from them as Avram did, and as Rav Shaul encourages all Yeshua-believers to do.

It was Avram’s (Abraham’s) faith in Hashem, the God who communicated with him though unseen, that saw him through all the trails and struggles of his life. It is that same faith that continues to carry and keep Israel secure in the “righteous right hand” of Hashem, even in the midst of being disciplined. It is the same faith that caused the author of the letter to the Hebrew Yeshua-believers to proclaim

Keep your lifestyle free from the love of money, and be content with what you have. For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” so that with confidence we say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What will man do to me?” (Hebrews 13.5-6; cf. Deuteronomy 31.8)

In closing, let the reminder of the same author encourage each of us, as he did his readers centuries ago. Speaking of all those who walked in faith before us, in good times and bad, he wrote

Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also get rid of every weight and entangling sin. Let us run with endurance the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua, the initiator and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12.1-2a)

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] Rashi on Isaiah 41.7, http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15972/jewish/Chapter-41.htm#showrashi=true

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Thoughts on Noach

canstockphoto12820422This week’s parasha is Noach, Genesis 6.9 – 11.32,[i] and within this parasha there are two cataclysmic judgments upon humankind, the flood and then the disruption of unity with the confounding of humankind’s language at Babel. Granted the episode at Babel was not nearly as cataclysmic physically, but unlike the flood, the linguistic separation is still felt to this day.

There are times when we read this week’s account and wonder, how could the Creator of the Universe so judge humankind as to even regret making them (Genesis 6.6-7). Some would even go so far as to suggest that Hashem was unfair. We have no account of Him revealing to His creation what was “right” and what was “wrong,” so how could they possibly be judged? It is possible that it was this rational dilemma that caused Rav Shaul to write these words to the believers in Rome,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. In unrighteousness they suppress the truth, because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them. 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. So, people are without excuse — for even though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. Instead, their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were made dark. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image in the form of mortal man and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. (Romans 1.18-23)

“…because what can be known about God is plain to them—for God has shown it to them,” seems to be borne out by Hashem’s words to Cain, “…sin is crouching at the doorway. Its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4.7b). Could it be, that the innate knowledge of what is good and what is evil is in the very essence of humankind, since the Creator Himself “formed the man out of the dust from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life—so the man became a living being” (Genesis 2.7). We acknowledge that all humankind was made in the image of Hashem, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness!” (Genesis 1.26). Thus, it is not a far leap to assume that in creation, good and evil are self-evident, “So, people are without excuse…”. Humankind brought judgment upon themselves, just like Cain did when he killed his brother Abel. But Hashem bestowed grace upon His creation, Cain was protected from revenge (Genesis 4.15). Then, by making a covenant with Noach, He bestowed grace upon the earth, promising that He would never again destroy the whole earth with water.

Genesis chapter nine begins, “God blessed Noah and his sons, and He said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” Humankind’s response to this command brought about the episode at Babel. Instead of “filling the land,” Noah’s descendants decided they would never be forgotten, but would make a name for themselves and not be “scattered over the face of the whole land” (Genesis 11.4). Instead of obeying the command, humankind decided that they had a better idea. In Mishlei, this truism is recorded, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Adonai will stand” (Proverbs 19.21). The LORD commanded, the people had what they thought was a better idea, and Hashem arranged the situation so that they carried out His plans anyway, “Adonai confused the languages of the entire world there, and from there Adonai scattered them over the face of the entire world” (Genesis 11.9).

The Haftarah for this week is a special Rosh Chodesh (the month of Cheshvan or Marcheshvan[ii]) Haftarah, Isaiah 66.1-24 (and rereading vs 23). This special reading connects well with the beginning of Genesis. First, there is Hashem’s work of creation, “For My hand has made all these things, so all these things came to be” (66.2a). Then as we see this week, it is His right or prerogative to exercise judgment and discipline, “They have chosen their own ways, so their soul delights in their abominations. So, I will choose their punishments,” (66.3b-4a). Probably the most important aspect of this Haftarah is that which connects it to Rosh Chodesh.

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, will endure before Me” — it is a declaration of Adonai — “so your descendants and your name will endure. And it will come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Shabbat to another all flesh will come to bow down before Me,” says Adonai. (66.22-23)

Genesis 8.22 is the LORD’s promise not to destroy the earth again, so long as seasons and day and night continue. In this Haftarah, Hashem guarantees Israel that her name and her descendants will continue – so long as New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) and Shabbat remains. Our God, keeps His covenant with Israel and with all humankind.

SS-RC

[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://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3495213/jewish/Is-This-Month-Cheshvan-or-Marcheshvan.htm

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Thoughts on Bereshit – 5778

canstockphoto12820422The festival of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret for this year is now a memory, but its memories go with us through the year. A posting on FB sums this up well, “we are to bring into our home all the rich experiences we have received during the Festivals of Tishrei, and put them into use throughout home, work and lives.” As with all aspects of our journey with Hashem, we are to remember His goodness, grace, and comfort – not only because He has done it for us in the past but because He will continue to do the same in our present and in our future. It is part of His character that HE revealed to Moshe when He said,

God answered Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Then He said, “You are to say to Bnei-Yisrael, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses: “You are to say to Bnei-YisraelAdonai, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and the Name by which I should be remembered from generation to generation. (Exodus 3.14-15)[i]

The God of Israel is ever present with His people in every situation, and with those who call upon His name with all of their hearts. There may be times when His presence is difficult to see or recognize – but He is there all the same.

This week, we begin the Torah reading cycle once again with Bereshit, (Genesis 1.1 – 6.8), which records an account of creation. The Genesis creation account does not answer all the questions that scientists or rationalists would like answered. The answer lies in one of my favorite verses (if you have been following these thoughts of mine for a while, you will recognize it),

“The secret things belong to Adonai our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever—in order to do all the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 29.28, .29 in English)

Recognizing that there are some things have not been revealed to us and that we must trust the LORD to know what is best is an act of faith. That does not mean that we cannot search out the unknown and ask questions, but it does mean that we may never find the answers for which we are looking.

In reading various commentaries on this week’s parasha, I came across the following from aish.com

It is interesting that at the beginning of the Torah we are told seven times that all that God created was good. We are then told of the one thing in God’s world that wasn’t good: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). … The Torah is telling us that we can be in the perfect environment, with every conceivable pleasure in the world, but if we are missing one vital ingredient, we might still be miserable. Everyone needs someone to share things with: someone to take us out of ourselves and extend our sense of generosity, whether in terms of sharing physically, emotionally, or spiritually.[ii]

In the immediate context, we see that Hashem remedied the potential problem by making the man a “well-matched helper” (2.18, TLV). The inference here however, is not one direction but bi-directional. The man and the woman are ideally matched to help each other, to guard one another’s blind spots, and to keep one another strong in the presence of the LORD. Last Shabbat, during Sukkot, we read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) that two are better than one and three are even stronger (cf. Ecclesiastes 4.9-12).

In this week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 42.5-21, Hashem proclaims through the prophet

“I, Adonai, called You in righteousness, I will take hold of Your hand, I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, (Isaiah 42.6)

Following on the idea that two are better than one, the God of Israel desired and still desires to take Israel by the hand, keeping her strong and safe as a “light to the nations.” Israel was never meant to be a “light to the nations” in her own strength. Rather, Israel is a light to the nations as she reflects her relationship with her God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Equally, as believers in Yeshua, it is not our light that others see, but the reflected light of Yeshua shining through us.

The reading from the Apostolic Writings, John 1.1-18, is often said to be a commentary on creation account in Genesis 1. In John’s account, the enabling power of creation is the Word of God (John 1.1) reminiscent of the nine times in Genesis 1 where it is recorded “and God said…”. Likewise, from the very beginning it was the light of the Holy One which was to be reflected in the world, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpowered it” (John 1.4-5). We might not always recognize the “Light” but that does not negate the presence of the “Light.” Yeshua was with the Father in the beginning, (John 1.1) and He holds all creation together until today (Colossians 1.17).

This Shabbat, we have an opportunity to answer the call from the LORD. In Bereshit, the man hid from the LORD (Genesis 3.9). Later, in the Akedah, Hashem called to Abraham (Genesis 22.1) and instead of hiding, Abraham answered “Hineni,” “I am here.” Will we hide from the Light or run to it, the choice is always ours to make?

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://www.aish.com/tp/b/parsha-point/Not-Good-for-Man-to-be-Alone.html?s=mm

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Thoughts on Sukkot

canstockphoto11083651Last year, Rabbi Joshua, of Ahavat Zion Synagogue in California, wrote on his blog,

By dwelling in sukkot every year, we are faced with the reality of our human frailty and immortality. Just like the sukkah, our earthly bodies are but temporary dwelling places. When forced to dwell in a sukkah during the festival days, we find ourselves exposed to the elements, eating our meals without certain familiar comforts, and spending time in a shelter that at any moment could be brought down by weather.

This fragile reality was brought home last year as our sukkah fell to strong winds about an hour after I finished building it. A Google search later that evening showed that due to weather conditions around the world, numerous communities suffered wind and rain damage during Sukkot. This year, so far, the weather has been cooperating but the fragility of life is still ever before us. Sunday evening over fifty people were killed and more than five hundred wounded at an open air, country music concert in Las Vegas in a shooting attack. Earlier on Sunday, two women were brutally stabbed to death in a train station in Marseille. Last week, three young men, a border policeman and two civilian security guards were gunned down while foiling terrorist attack outside the community of Har Adar, in the Jerusalem hills. The reality is that we have no assurance of life, limb, or property in this life. While we can do our best to protect and care for ourselves, ultimately, we, like Israel in the wilderness, are totally dependent upon Hashem for everything. The psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8.4) To balance that question, we have read Psalms 27 daily since the beginning of Elul and will continue until Simchat Torah. While the entire Psalm is phenomenal, the beginning and ending verses carry particular importance

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27. 1 & 13-14)

The psalmist’s paradox, on one hand, what is man in comparison to the greatness and majesty of the Creator of the Universe – on the other hand, is his sole trust is in the character and grace of the very same LORD.

Recently, a question was posted on Facebook, “where is G-d, when innocent suffer?” Not a new question, simple people, theologians and philosophers have been dealing with this for ages. Logical, rational thought demands answers, “how can a good G-d allow such horrendous things that we see and at times experience daily.” Sadly, the Scriptures do not always answer to our rational, logical demands. There are times when “In some areas of life, leaving a question unanswered is the appropriate response.”[i] One of my favorite passages from the Torah is found in Deuteronomy,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (29.28, 29 in English).

This does not mean we should not seek answers to perceived dilemmas or to seek solutions to obvious paradoxes. What is does mean is that we can and should trust Hashem to have things under His provincial care, even if we do not understand, thus walking out the admonition of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11.1), which also brings us back to the psalmist, as he proclaims

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (42.12, 11 in English)

So, as you build your sukkah this year, or as you sit in a friend’s sukkah; enjoy the goodness and provision of the LORD and at the same time remember the paradoxes and tragedies that abound in our world (and even our lives). Let’s commit to trust in the LORD as the psalmist encourages, even when we do not understand, knowing that He loves and cares for us.

Chag Semach

[i] http://blog.webyeshiva.org/insights-in-pirkei-avot-the-suffering-of-the-righteous/

 

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Thoughts on Yom Kippur

The Torah reading for Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16.1-34)[i] ends with

“It is to be a statute to you forever, that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you are to afflict your souls, and do no kind of work—both the native-born and the outsider dwelling among you. For on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. From all your sins you will be clean before ADONAI. … “This will be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for Bnei-Yisrael once in the year because of all their sins.” It was done as ADONAI commanded Moses. (16.29-30 and 34)

Whether one reads the words a “statute to you forever” or an “everlasting statute” the meaning remains the same; Israel is to observe the fast of the seventh month, on the tenth day as a day of atonement for the nation. But some might say, “there is no Temple, no way to offer the required sacrifices,” and this would be true. However, the ending of this passage infers that the primary important thing is to “afflict your souls,” which is interpreted as fasting and introspection with accompanying repentance and restitution as required. Surely, this is not enough

Often, the Word of the LORD through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 58 is held up to show that the fast of Yom Kippur is no longer acceptable (Isaiah 58.3-5). But look again. What is not acceptable is the people’s attitude when they fast. This is similar to Yeshua’s chastisement of the Torah scholars and Pharisees in Matthew 23. He was not telling them to refrain from tithing mint, dill and cumin, but rather to tithe mint and dill and cumin without forgetting the aspects of justice and mercy and faithfulness (23.23). It is not the fast of Yom Kippur for which the Ruach of the LORD reprimanded Israel through the prophet Isaiah, but their attitude before, during, and after the fast. They neglected the aspects of justice and mercy, and faithfulness toward their fellow man (and woman), toward their neighbors, and even toward the outsider who dwelt among them. Yom Kippur is an everlasting statute for all of Israel. It is at least one day during the year when each individual, corporately with every other individual, stands before the LORD in hope and expectation that WE will be forgiven – not on our own merit but on the grace and mercy of the Creator and King of the Universe.

At the end of the daily Shacharit service, the second section of ובא לציון גואל, “A redeemer will come to Zion” we recite

LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Yisrael, our ancestors, may You keep this for ever so that it forms the thoughts in Your people’s heart, and directs their heart toward You. He is compassionate. He forgives iniquity and does not destroy. Repeatedly He suppresses His anger, not rousing His full wrath (Psalm 78.38). For You, my LORD, are good and forgiving, abundantly kind to all who call upon You (Psalm 86.5).[ii]

This prayer asks Hashem to remember His own character in dealing with His people, Israel. Then beginning the first of Elul (August 23rd this year) and continuing through Hoshana Raba (the end of Sukkot) we read Psalm 27 which begins,

ADONAI is my light and my salvation: whom should I fear? ADONAI is the stronghold of my life: whom should I dread? (27.1)

And ends,

Surely I trust that I will see the goodness of ADONAI in the land of the living. Wait for ADONAI. Be strong, let Your heart take courage, and wait for ADONAI. (27.13-14)

During the Yom Kippur prayers, all Israel acknowledges that we have sinned (Viduy) and that we have no righteousness or merit of our own to warrant the forgiveness of our trespasses. It is only the grace and mercy of ADONAI that can bring about the forgiveness that we seek. Now comes the catch. Hashem has provided the required way of atonement for Israel, the finished work of Yeshua. However, as Rav Shaul reminded the believers in Rome that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…” (Romans 11.25). Israel, for the most part, has not recognized the provision of Yeshua’s sacrifice. But Rav Shaul immediately followed the “partial hardening” statement saying,

…and in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer shall come out of Zion. He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11.26-27, cf. Jeremiah 31.32-34)

This Yom Kippur, may more of the “partial hardening” be removed and the eyes and hearts of Bnei Yisrael be opened to see and accept the Father’s love and provision for them.

Shabbat and Yom Kippur

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

[ii] The Koren Siddur with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks. Koren Publishers, Jerusalem 2009. p 176.

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

canstockphoto3712801A little over eight weeks ago we commemorated the destruction of both Temples, Israel’s exile among the nations, and various other atrocities perpetrated upon and suffered by the Jewish people over the centuries. This was followed by the Seven Weeks of Consolation which reaffirmed ADONAI’s love, care, and concern for His people, assuring them that no matter how far afield they were scattered, they remained His am segula, and He would return them to both Himself and their ancestral land. This evening (Wednesday) begins the Days of Awe, with the two-day observance of Rosh Hashana or Yom Teruah (the Day of the Blowing of the Shofar). Traditionally at this time, we remember the creation of mankind as the living soul who had the power and ability to acknowledge Hashem as Creator and King of the Universe. In that position, we also acknowledge Hashem’s right to judge the thoughts of our hearts, the words of our mouths, and the deeds of our hands – not only as they are in relation to Him, but also as they are in relation to our fellow man. Within traditional Judaism it is understood that at this time the ledgers are inscribed and read by the heavenly tribunal, and we, as subjects of Hashem, have the opportunity to repent and make restitution for the wrongs accomplished. Granted, as believers in Yeshua our iniquity has been dealt with, but we still need to deal with the results of said iniquity, especially as it relates to our fellowman (cf. Matthew 5.23-24).

Between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur lies Shabbat Shuvah, and Parashat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32.1-52).[a] It begins with what is known as the Song of Moshe (Deuteronomy 32.1-43), which encapsulates Israel’s somewhat turbulent history to date. It conveys the understanding that the turbulence is not yet over, but that eventually the LORD will be victorious and His people will truly be His am segula for all eternity.  At the end of the song, Moshe charges the people once more

“Put in your hearts all the words that I call as witness against you today—that you may command your children to keep and do all the words of this Torah. For it is not an empty thing for you, because it is your life! By this word you will prolong your days on the land, which you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” (32.45-47)

The words of the Torah are your life! He implores the people to understand and grasp this reality, knowing that they won’t for at many more centuries.

Shabbat Shuvah gets its name from the first verse of the Haftarah reading from Hosea “Return O Israel, to Adonai your God.” (14:2).  The full Haftarah reading is Hosea 14.2-10 and Micah 7.18-20.

Kohlenberger and Mounce Hebrew Lexicon translates shuvah (שובה) as to turn back, turn to, or return, and is the same root as repent.[b] During this time between Rosh Hashana where iniquity and shortcomings are recorded and judged, and Yom Kippur where forgiveness is either sealed or denied depending upon one’s attitude and actions, the Rabbis placed the reading of this impassioned plea from the prophet

Return O Israel, to ADONAI your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity. Take words with you and return to ADONAI. Say to Him: “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so we may repay with offerings of our lips… “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger will turn away from him. (Hosea 14.2-3, 5)

Just as Moshe pleaded time and time again with Israel to choose life not death, Hosea pleads with Israel once again to choose life by returning to ADONAI. The words of Hashem, “I will love them freely…” should bring both immense joy as well as deep sorrow to our hearts. Joy because He is our LORD and He desires only our good, even when He must chastise us. But then there is sorrow, because like a Father, His love for each of us knows no bounds, no limits and still we fail to follow Him with our whole heart – often choosing our own way instead of His. But then there are the words from the prophet Micah,

Who is a God like You pardoning iniquity, overlooking transgression, for the remnant of His heritage? He will not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us. He will subdue our iniquities, and You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will extend truth to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, that You swore to our ancestors from the days of old. (Micah 7.18-20)

Our restitution and redemption, while dependent in part to our returning to ADONAI, is primarily based upon His love, His grace, and His character. As we have and will continue to recite many times of the next ten days

ה׳, ה׳, אֵ֥ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן, אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת, נֹצֵ֥ר חֶ֙סֶד֙ לָאֲלָפִ֔ים, נֹשֵׂ֥א עָוֹ֛ן וָפֶ֖שַׁע וְחַטָּאָ֑ה וְנַקֵּה֙ לֹ֣א יְנַקֶּ֔ה פֹּקֵ֣ד, עֲוֹ֣ן אָב֗וֹת עַל־בָּנִים֙ וְעַל־בְּנֵ֣י בָנִ֔ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֖ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִֽים׃ – שמות לד.6-7

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)

Were it not for the grace and character of Hashem, we would have all perished in the wilderness – whether it is the desert and desolation of the world or the habitation of our own making. It was and remains His love that keeps us under the shelter of His wings. In Deuteronomy, Moshe reminded Israel that it was not because of their great number or mighty prowess that they were chosen (7.7-9). Equally Yeshua reminded His followers, as well as us today, that we did not choose Him, but He chose us, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I selected you so that you would go and produce fruit, and your fruit would remain…” (John 15.16). Our choice then, just like Israel’s, is to accept Yeshua’s choosing of us and to walk in His ways. During these Days of Awe, we should reflect on where we are in this journey and what we need to do, not to earn our place but to please Him who has called us to this place.

Chag Semach

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

[b] Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament edited by John R. Kohlenberger III and William D. Mounce, Copyright © 2012 by William D. Mounce. Accordance edition hypertexted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.7

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