Torah Thoughts – Vayetze

I guess he’s makin’ the best of a bad situation,
Don’t wanta make waves, can’t you see.
He’s just makin’ the best of a bad situation,
Reckon I’d do the same if it was me.

This chorus, from Making the Best of a Bad Situation, released by Dick Feller in 1974, could well have been Jacob’s theme song while he sojourned with his uncle Laban. 

Strolling through this weeks parasha, we see several episodes in Jacob’s life. First he is fleeing his home in fear of big brother Esau’s retaliation after Jacob and his mother Rebecca had secured the patriarchal blessing by trickery. Nevertheless, Hashem promises Jacob that everything will eventually be well for him.

Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I promised you.

Genesis 28:15

The next episode involves Jacob getting settled with Rebecca’s brother Laban (Gen 24:29). But it appears that trickery is a family tradition; only this time it is perpetrated against Jacob. The story is very familiar: Jacob meets and falls madly in love with Laban’s younger daughter Rachel, and requests her hand in marriage (Gen 29:18–20). He works for seven years for the hand of Rachel. On the wedding day, however, Jacob is tricked into marrying the elder sister, Leah, and then has to work another seven years for Rachel (Gen 29:25–26). Notice the sleight of hand going on in both stories, as the incident with Leah and Rachel is reminiscent of the ruse played on Isaac. The old adage “what goes around, comes around” may well have started with Jacob’s family.

In last week’s parasha, Rebecca’s actions and advice led to the final split in her family that caused Jacob to flee from his home. Rebecca lost twenty years of family relationships (see Gen 31:38) and missed the births of all of her grandchildren, simply because she chose to help Hashem accomplish his plans for her son. This week, Jacob is not only separated from his parents for twenty years, but he winds up with a family situation that is fraught with rivalry and competition. For sure he is blessed according to Hashem’s promise at Beth-El (Gen 28:15–16), but shalom bayit (peace in the home) seems to be missing, as there is continual struggle between the sister-wives and their children and the concubines and their children. On top of these problems, there is the never-ending struggle with Laban and his sons that culminated in Jacob fleeing Laban’s home and land (Genesis 31:1–2). Jacob’s problems were realized both individually and collectively. 

Rav Shaul has words of encouragement that are relevant to Jacob’s situation and to our lives today.

 Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

Earlier we saw that Hashem told Jacob that all would be well with him and not that all would necessarily go well with him. Rav Shaul’s words are similar. He does not say that everything we do in obedience to the will of God and love of God will work together for our good. Neither does he say that there will be no consequences for the choices we make; even though all things work together for good for those who love God, we’ll still face the consequences of our choices. What he does say is that eventually, whether we see it or not, all things will work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. The sibling rivalry that emerged during Jacob’s time with Laban has continued throughout Israel’s history. Though tribal lines are less distinct today, rivalry between different strands and streams of modern Judaism remain just as prevalent. For that matter, the same could be said for the Body of Messiah. 

Our assurance is not that we will be trouble free in our faith-walk. In fact Yeshua taught his disciples just the opposite. 

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have shalom. In the world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

John 16:33

I realize that in context Yeshua was speaking of troubles that his followers would endure from a world that would not follow him. However, the reality is that we will have trouble, even in our own communities. Jacob’s family struggles, though unique in many ways, are not isolated to Jacob alone. We all have issues with which we deal within our families, personal and congregational. Life tends to throw us curve balls at the most inopportune times, and sometimes handling those curve balls may seem impossible. That is the time we must remember that (1) Yeshua has overcome all of these situations and (2) with hearts of faith we can live in the assurance that all things will work together for the good . . . whether we see it or not. 

Later in his letter to the Romans, Rav Shaul gives an invaluable piece of advice: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people” (Rom 12:18).

It is easy to focus on the last half of this phrase, “live in shalom with all people.” However, the first part of the verse, “If possible, so far as it depends on you,” sets the guidelines for the second part. While we have the responsibility to live in shalom “so far as it depends on you”, living in shalom does not depend only upon us; it depends on others as well. 

Since I began with a musical notation, I’ll end with one as well—the chorus from The Gambler, a country song written by Don Schlitz and made famous by Kenny Rogers in 1978.

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.
You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table,
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

In other words, we do what we can do, and sometimes that involves walking away or, as in Jacob’s case, running away. And in the end, we may not see “all things work together for good,” but whether or not we personally see it, we know that the promises of God are sure, as he cannot lie (Num 23:19). As Rav Shaul reminds us, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).

The Torah reading for Parashat Vayatze is Genesis 28:10 – 32:2 (1 in English). From the Prophets the reading is Hosea 11:7 – 12:14 (Sephardic tradition) and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is from John 1:19-51.

* This week’s Torah Thoughts also appears on the UMJC’s website,

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Torah Thoughts – Toldot

This week in Parashat Toldot, meaning generations or history, we once again have a tale of two brothers, an elder and younger. It is almost as if HaShem was setting forth the pattern for the making of Hollywood sequels. First, Cain and Abel, then Ishmael and Isaac, and now Esau and Jacob. One must acknowledge, however, that in the sequels, both Ishmael and Esau fared better than Cain, just as Isaac and Jacob fared better than Abel.

In this week’s sequel, we read the continuing story of Abraham’s progeny. Like his parents, Isaac and Rebecca had problems conceiving, though Rebecca was not barren for as long as Sarah. Like Abraham, Isaac eventually had two sons, unlike Abraham both from the same mother. Isaac also mirrored his father’s actions by having Rebecca introduced as his sister to the Philistine king Abimelech, which, when discovered, was not well received.

There is another comparison that caught my attention while reading the parasha, which is the recording of their last days. About Abraham we are told, “So Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied. Then he was gathered to his peoples” (Genesis 25:8). I have long thought that this would be an ideal epitaph for gravestone, XXX was a good old age, old and satisfied. It appears that Isaac had a bumpier journey. 

Now it was when Isaac grew old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he said to him. “Look, I’m old,” he said. “I don’t know the day of my death.

Genesis 27:1-2

While Abraham was “old and satisfied,” Isaac seemed to be worried about his death; so much so that he desired his eldest son to prepare him a last meal—just in case. Interestingly, this was not to be Isaac’s last meal. In fact, he lived twenty plus more years. 

Now Isaac’s days were 180 years. Then Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his peoples, old and full of days. So his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Genesis 35:28-29

Somewhere along the line, it would appear that Isaac got over his fear of death. Between Genesis 27:1 and 35:29 Jacob went off to Uncle Laban’s acquired a couple of wives, concubines and a whole slew of children, while Esau stayed close to home with his three wives. Eventually Jacob returned and was somewhat reconciled with his brother Esau. Eventually, Isaac, like Abraham died old and full of days, satisfied with the life he lived. 

I realize that it is dangerous to play the “what if” game, but one has to wonder how the story would have played out if Isaac hadn’t been gripped with fear of death and Rebecca hadn’t chosen to help matters along in securing the patriarchal blessing for Jacob. Rebecca had the prophetic word that the elder would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23), but she, like her mother-in-law, who also had a prophetic word (Genesis 15:4), decided to help HaShem with the fulfillment of the prophecy. Both Ishmael and Esau, the sons born from their help, became the patriarchs of mighty nations and have been “a thorn in the flesh” of the sons of promise through Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants throughout history. 

I recently read that God does not need our help; just our cooperation. Throughout the Scriptures we have examples of folks trying to assist HaShem (Sarah and Rebecca for instance). Others tried to negotiate a favorable outcome (consider Jephthah in Judges 11). And then there are those like Moshe, who though he had a direct encounter with HaShem, thought he knew himself and his abilities better than HaShem. Instead of accepting the commission of HaShem to be the one to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moshe negotiated or possibly argued with HaShem until He agreed to allow Aaron to join him. As with Sarah and Rebecca, we don’t know how things would have worked out for Jephthah or for Moshe had they simply trusted HaShem.

Fortunately, we have Rav Shaul’s words of assurance—words that have encouraged Yeshua-believers ever since the community in Rome read his letter.

Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

I suggest that “all things” includes those things that HaShem brings into our lives as well as those things that HaShem allows into our lives whether as a result of our doing or just because we live in a fallen creation. Remember the words spoken to Israel as they prepared to enter the land,

Chazak! Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

And Yeshua’s words to his disciples,

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you.

John 14:16-17

Whatever condition we find ourselves in, whether it be from HaShem, of our own making or thrown upon us by the world, know for sure that the ADONAI is with us.

The readings for Parashat Toldot are Genesis 25:19 – 28:9 from the Torah; Malachi 1:1 – 2:7 from the Prophets and from the Apostolic Writings, Romans 9:6-13.

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Torah Thoughts – Chayei Sarah

The law of first mention may be said to be the principle that requires one to go to that portion of the Scriptures where a doctrine is mentioned for the first time and to study the first occurrence of the same in order to get the fundamental inherent meaning of that doctrine. When we thus see the first appearance, which is usually in the simplest form, we can then examine the doctrine in other portions of the Word that were given later. We shall see that the fundamental concept in the first occurrence remains dominant as a rule, and colors all later additions to that doctrine.

Why in the world would I start this week’s study with a quote on the law of first mention? Simply put, because Abraham, in seeking a place to bury his wife Sarah, predicated his request with “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you…” or as the JPS translates, “I am a resident alien among you…” (Genesis 23:4). He called himself a גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב, (ger v’toshav), a sojourner and foreigner or resident alien. In other words, he is different from the people with whom he is speaking regardless of the fact that he lived among them and interacted congenially with them. A quick word search in Genesis shows that the term “ger” or a derivative of it appears at least twelve times. While “ger” may simply refer to living in a specific place, it often carries the connotation of dwelling in the midst of another people but separate; i.e., living together but not assimilating the culture, customs or religion of the indigenous dwellers. The importance of the aspect of not assimilating can be seen in Abraham’s insistence that Eliezer seek a bride for Isaac from among his (Abraham’s) kin.

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:1-4

Though the word ger has evolved through time to indicate a convert to Judaism, in antiquity it was not so. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, as well as the children of Israel, were foreigners and strangers when they dwelt among the Canaanites, the Philistines, and the Egyptians. Later King David would make the following declaration during Solomon’s commissioning speech,

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.

1 Chronicles 29:14-15

Again, we see the terms strangers and sojourners, indicating resident aliens, those separate from the peoples among whom they dwelt. This separateness, not wanting to be like those around them, is not simply a “Jewish thing”. It is a divine commandment. Speaking to Bnei Yisrael HaShem commanded,

You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

Leviticus 20:26

Rav Shaul took this idea of separation even further when he declared the word of HaShem to the believers in Corinth,

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you…

2 Corinthians 6:16-17

Followers of Yeshua, just like the children of Israel, are to be separate and distinct from the world. While at the same time they are to dwell in holiness within the world, showing forth the light and life of HaShem and Messiah Yeshua.

Kefa (Peter) continues with this thought when he wrote to his community,

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:11-12

Notice if you will, Kefa encouraged his readers to be sojourners and exiles who are in control of their fleshly passions, i.e., their carnal instincts, especially as they relate to those around them, those who are not followers of Yeshua. Notice as well, that Kefa expected his audience to be interacting with the world around them. Kefa may well have been remembering the commandment in the Torah,

You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:34

Beginning with Abraham, the Jewish people have been strangers and foreigners, gerim v’toshavim, a people set apart from the rest of the world to be holy unto the LORD and to be a light and an example to the rest of the world to God’s glory and grace. At the same time, HaShem requires Israel to treat those who are themselves strangers and foreigners with grace and care because they (Israel) have been strangers and sojourners since the time of Abraham. As followers of Yeshua, whether Jewish or from the nations, we too have the responsibility to treat non-Yeshua followers with grace and care, thereby letting our lives and our words exemplify HaShem’s care and concern for them. 

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV Text Edition of the Bible. Copyright © 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL.

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Torah Thoughts – Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1 & 4 – HaShem told Abram to go forth and he did so … almost. The command was “… from your na­tive land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” While Abram left his father’s house he didn’t do so completely – he took Lot with him which caused a lot of problems both in his lifetime and in that of his offspring.

12:10ff – there was a famine in the land that HaShem sent Abram to, and instead of seeking the direction of HaShem, Abram sought refuge and deliverance in Egypt. Then to compound the issue, he apparently feared for his life due to Sarai’s beauty, so he convinced Sarai to say that she was his sister. Pharaoh took Sarai to be his wife (15 & 19), Abram grew in wealth and prestige because of Sarai (16), and in the end Pharaoh and his household, though he operated in faulty knowledge, was afflicted with “many plagues” (17). Interestingly, Abram was sent off with his wife, increased possessions and apparently no repercussions (20).

Chapter 13 records one of the “issues” with Lot, who seemingly acquired wealth and possessions as did Abram. Again, Abram attempted to settle the issue without seeking the assistance of HaShem. In the long run, Abram was blessed in the outcome though it would eventually cost Lot everything. 

Lot’s decline begins in chapter 14 as King Chedorlaomer and his allies reasserted their rule over Sodom, Gomorrah, and their allies. Chedorlaomer’s group won the opening skirmishes but with the help of Abram and his allies, the Chedorlaomer group was defeated and Sodom and their allies were restored. In the process, Abram met a kindred spirit in King Melchizedek of Salem. Melchizedek reaffirmed HaShem’s blessings on Abram, and Abram, in turn, refused the blessing that the King of Sodom wanted to bestow on him for his assistance against the Chedorlaomer group. 

Chapter 15 begins with HaShem and Abram in dialogue, as HaShem attempts to calm Abram’s fear over his progeny or better yet the lack thereof. This brings to mind three sayings from Mishlei. 

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the tongue’s answer is from ADONAI.

Proverbs 16:1, TLV

The heart of man plans his course, but ADONAI directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9, TLV

Many designs are in a man’s mind, but it is the LORD’s plan that is accomplished.

Proverbs 19:21, JPS

Understand, there is nothing wrong with making plans and trying to reason out the issues of life. That is why the Creator, Blessed be He, gave us a mind with which to think and to plan, thus fulfilling the initial command to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it…” (Genesis 1:28). I believe Abram’s handing of the famine, the struggles with Lot and even the rescue of Lot bears this out. However, HaShem, as the creator who actually cares for His creation has plans and purposes for each of us; the key is recognizing and accepting His guiding hand. 

This brings us now to the poignant issue of his promised son in 15:2-3, where Abram is expressing both his doubts of HaShem being able to fulfill His promise as well as offering his plans to rectify the situation of an offspring, to which HaShem responds, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” Sarai, too, was concerned about her inability to provide a son for Abram. The IVP Old Testament Commentary describes problem and a possible solution.

Failure to produce an heir was a major calamity for a family in the ancient world because it meant a disruption in the generational inheritance pattern and left no one to care for the couple in their old age. Thus, legal remedies were developed which allowed a man whose wife had failed to provide him with a son to impregnate a slave girl (Code of Hammurabi; Nuzi texts) or a prostitute (Lipit-Ishtar Code). The children from this relationship could then be acknowledged by the father as his heirs (Code of Hammurabi). Abram and Sarai employ the same strategy when they use the slave girl Hagar as a legal surrogate to produce an heir for the aged couple. (Note on 11:30) … Slave women or bondswomen were considered both property and legal extensions of their mistress. As a result, it would be possible for Sarai to have Hagar perform a variety of household tasks as well as to use her as a surrogate for her own barren womb. (Note on 16:1)

John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament © 2000. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.3

In other words, according to the traditions and rules of the Ancient Near East, Sarai’s giving of Hagar as a surrogate mother to Abram was perfectly acceptable (Genesis 16:2), while also remaining within the parameters of HaShem’s statement to Abram, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir,” as having a son with Hagar would be of Abram’s “issue.” And while this might work for the normal couple on the street trying to ensure their lineage, it was not the plan that HaShem had for Abram. At the beginning of this parasha, HaShem told Abram that “I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you…” (Genesis 12:2), and there is little doubt that the twelve sons of Ishmael grew into great and mighty nations. But the sons of Ishmael were not the ones that HaShem had determined to establish as those of Abram’s seed through whom He promised, “I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:3).

What would today’s world look like had Abram chosen to fully trust HaShem and wait on the fulfillment of the promise? Closer to home, let’s imagine some choices we’ve all made in our past, stepping out trying to help the plans of HaShem when they were not going as fast or as well as we thought they should. Our God is for sure a redeeming God, and He often redeems our folly or impatience. In the end, Abram’s faith and trust in ADONAI is lifted up as an exemplar, much like the humility of Moshe. Lech Lecha is a challenge to each of us to use our knowledge and strength to accomplish the various goals and situations that come into our lives. More than that, is the challenge to rest in the knowledge that HaShem has a plan for our lives and will see it through to the end – even when we cannot see the end ourselves.

This week’s Reading is Parashat Lech Lecha
Torah: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
Apostolic Writings: Hebrews 11:8-12

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Torah Thoughts – Noach

In a blog article entitled Are Some People Better Than Others, Laura Maguire observed, 

When Thomas Jefferson said, “All men are created equal,” he didn’t mean that we’re all born with the same virtues or talents in life. He was not denying that obvious truth. But despite our natural differences, he believed our lives were of equal value. For Jefferson, all people should have the same rights and the same responsibilities as one another. In the moral sense, none could be superior or worth more than another.

In last week’s parasha we read, 

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness! Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the flying creatures of the sky, over the livestock, over the whole earth, and over every crawling creature that crawls on the land.” God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

In a manner of speaking, Mr. Jefferson was correct in his statement that all men (or all humankind) are created equal. Each individual, whoever has lived, does live, or will live, has been created in the very image of the Creator of the universe. However, one of the things that makes us different from one another is the choices we make as we travel though the life we’ve been allocated. A few verses before the beginning of this week’s parasha we hear HaShem’s indictment against His creation,

Then ADONAI saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil all the time.

Genesis 6:5

This indictment is followed by an even stronger one in this week’s parasha, 

Now the earth was ruined before God, and the earth was filled with violence. God saw the earth, and behold it was ruined because all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.

Genesis 6:11-12

But the first verse of this week’s parasha lends some hope to the narrative, 

These are the genealogies of Noah (Noach). Noah was a righteous man. He was blameless among his generation. Noah continually walked with God.

Genesis 6:9

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was in his generations a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.

Genesis 6:9 (JPS 1917 edition)

The two translations say the same thing, Noach was a righteous man, blameless and wholeheartedly focused on HaShem, who “continually walked with God.” This immediately brings to mind Enoch, as it was recorded in last week’s reading that “Enoch continually walked with God—then he was not there, because God took him.” (Genesis 5:24). 

As we have seen, Noach’s generation was not particularly praiseworthy or righteous. In fact, it is just the opposite. So how “righteous” was Noach? One answer to this question is eluded to in the following story.

A certain man possessed a wine cellar. One day he went downstairs to fetch some wine and found that his wine had turned to vinegar. “Alas,” he murmured, opening one barrel after another and finding it sour. “It’s all no good.” Finally, he hit upon on barrel that was only half sour. “This one is great,” he exclaimed. “Compared to the rest, it could be called good.”

Moshe Weissman. The Midrash Says: The Book of Beraishis. Brooklyn, Benei Yakov Publications, 1980, p 86

The phrase “in his generations” בְּדֹרֹתָיו is key to understanding Noach’s righteousness. Rashi, relying on BT Sanhedrin 108a and Midrash Tanchuma Noach 5 points out two opposing views of our sages concerning this phrase. The favorable interpretation holds that if Noach had lived in a generation of righteous people, then he would have been even more righteous. The derogatory interpretation holds that if he had lived in different generation, specifically Abraham’s generation, he would not have been considered as righteous. Thus, like the wine in the cellar, when most is bad and one is noticeably better, the better one stands out like a beacon. Do not misunderstand me, I am not downplaying Noach’s righteousness before HaShem; but as the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, Noach’s willingness to walk with God and not after the ways of the world, does not necessarily mean that he was a great tzaddik. It does mean that he made a choice, whether the motive was out of love for HaShem or holy fear for the coming judgement, we don’t know. Look at the comparison in Hebrews between Enoch and Noach.

By faith Enoch was taken so as not to see death, and he was not found because God took him. For before he was taken, he was commended as pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to please God. For the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

By faith Noach, when warned about events not yet seen, in holy fear prepared an ark for the safety of his household. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Hebrews 11:5-7

It is written that Enoch was “pleasing to God,” while Noach was obedient, out of fear and self-preservation, however, both men were considered righteous. I am suggesting that Noach’s “righteousness” was not so much what set him apart from the others in his generation, but his willingness to choose to “walk with God” instead of walking in the ways of the world.

So, what is the purpose of all of the verbiage this week? As people who have chosen to follow Messiah Yeshua and to walk in the ways of ADONAI, occasionally we compare ourselves with those around us. At times we might even pat ourselves on the back, thinking that we are doing better that those who are not walking the same path. We know our righteousness is not based upon our own works but still, there is the propensity to consider ourselves “better” than they are. Luke 18:9–14 records the now familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the Temple to pray that Yeshua taught. Except for comparing himself to the tax collector, those things that the Pharisee said he did not do, were the exact things that the majority of the population of Noach’s day actually did. By not doing such, Noach was considered blameless, wholehearted toward God, even righteous. Might it be that part of Noach’s righteousness was rooted not on what he did in walking with God, but in what he did not do by comparing himself to others. When our eyes are focused on Him who called us to be holy as He is holy, (cf. Leviticus 20:7 & 1 Peter 1:16), then we will be less likely to compare ourselves with others. While Noach was righteous in his generation, just as was Enoch in his or Abraham in his, we need to be righteous in ours and realize that we are not to compare ourselves with Enoch, Noach or Abraham. Nor are we to compare ourselves with our peers as the Pharisee seemed to do. Instead we are to keep our eyes and our hearts focused upon the one who called us to Himself. Likewise, as Thomas Jefferson noted that “all men are created equal” and as the biblical narrative and world history both affirm, all men have a choice to make that being whom and how to serve, as well as how to respond and relate to others. Some choices lead to righteous activities in life, while others lead to death and destruction. As we are encouraged in Torah, let’s choose life as we walk together with HaShem.

* 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.

Readings for Parashat Noach
Torah: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10
Apostolic Writings: Luke 18:9-14

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Thoughts on Shabbat for Chol Ha’moed Sukkot

The Shabbat during Chol Ha’moed Sukkot has a special Torah reading, Exodus 33:12 – 34:26. In it we read of Moshe’s encounter with Hashem after the incident with the molten calf. Hashem affirms that He will continue to go with the people of Israel with Moshe as their leader and mediator—at least for their immediate future. Moshe is tasked to prepare two new stone tablets to replace the ones he broke in anger upon seeing the peoples’ transgression with the molten calf. And finally, what many see as the crux of this passage and is almost as well known as the Shema, are the “Thirteen Attributes of Hashem,” that Hashem proclaims about Himself.

Then ADONAI passed before him, and proclaimed, “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 (TLV)

This affirmation of Hashem’s character remains a source of comfort for both Jews and Christians alike as He announced to Moshe and essentially to all of creation that while justice and discipline are assuredly a part of his character, compassion, grace, lovingkindness and mercy are even more so. All who are in relationship with the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob should take heart and comfort in this proclamation.

While I said that many find this affirmation to be the crux of this week’s portion, I was especially impressed with the next section of the Torah reading, that being Hashem’s specific promise to Moshe as he continues to lead a people who in the natural seem to be more trouble than they are worth. 

Then He said, “I am cutting a covenant. Before all your people I will do wonders, such as have not been done in all the earth, or in any nation. All the people you are among will see the work of ADONAI—for what I am going to do with you will be awesome! Obey what I am commanding you today.

Exodus 34:10-11

Another translation states, 

He said, Behold! I enter a covenant: Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations; and the entire people in whose midst you are will see the work of Hashem – for it is awesome – that I am about to do with you.

Exodus 34:10-11, (Artscroll)

The reason for the second translation is that while it is true that in calling Israel out to be His own, Hashem did wonders the likes of which had never been done before, but it is also true that in doing so, He made distinctions such as had never been seen before. Israel was and still is to be a people set apart, holy unto ADONAI Tzva’ot. Rashi noted that the word נִפְלָאֹת, translated ‘wonders’ in the TLV, is related to נִפְלִינוּ, which in 33:16 is translated ‘set apart’ or ‘distinct’ from all the peoples of the earth (Rashi on Exodus 34 10). The Psalmist would affirm these distinctions when he wrote,

For ADONAI has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His treasured possession.

Psalm 135:4

He declares His word to Jacob, His decrees and His rulings to Israel. He has not done so with any other nation. They have not known His judgments.

Psalm 147:19-20

Israel is unique, not because of anything intrinsically special about Israel, but because of Hashem’s own choosing. 

For you are a holy people to ADONAI your God—from all the peoples on the face of the earth, ADONAI your God has chosen you to be His treasured people. It is not because you are more numerous than all the peoples that ADONAI set His love on you and chose you—for you are the least of all peoples. Rather, because of His love for you and His keeping the oath He swore to your fathers, ADONAI brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

It is often said that the Apostle Paul, or Rav Shaul, did away with these distinctions, though his own words would seem to nullify that assumption.

Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God. So what if some did not trust? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? May it never be! Let God be true even if every man is a liar, as it is written, “that You may be righteous in Your words and prevail when You are judged.”

Romans 3:1-4

In this day and age when anti-Semitism is once more on the rise, and almost weekly there are episodes of hate crimes perpetrated against Jews and Jewish places of worship, it is often said that if the Jews would just put aside their distinctive actions and practices and become like everyone else, these so called atrocities would end. In other words, it is the Jews that is causing the “nations” to rise up against the Jews. Here is a secret, it was not the Jews who chose to be unique or distinct. It was Hashem who set the Jewish people apart, who established the distinctive lifestyle and practices that make them different from the rest of the world. And secret number two, the Jews aren’t going away.

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

Jeremiah 31:34-36

Hashem set Israel apart to Himself and established His covenant with Bnei Yisrael knowing full well what a stiff-necked disobedient people they would be. But Israel is His choice, even when we err and are disobedient. In Deuteronomy 1:31 Moshe reminded the people, “in the wilderness … you saw how ADONAI your God carried you as a man carries his son, everywhere you went.” Moshe could well have added a postscript, “even when you grumbled and complained, made a molten calf, and doubted the promises of Hashem, He carried you.” Today in remembrance of His carrying, in remember of His forbearance on our behalf, we sit in the sukkah for seven days. During this time of the year we are reminded of the transitory status of our existence and in that of Hashem’s love and care for each of us – in spite of our shortcomings and failings. Though we said the following blessing the first night as we entered the sukkah, as well as other times in the year, maybe it should be on our heart and lips daily in remembrance of His care for us each and every day.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֲינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזּמַן הַזֵּה.

Blessed are You, ADONAI our God, King of the universe, has kept us alive,
sustained us, and brought us to this season.

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Thoughts on Ha’azinu

In a Huffpost blog which appeared on March 9th, 2016, psychologist Dr. Carmen Harra wrote,

Never underestimate the impact a single decision can have: one wrong move can ruin a relationship, a career, a life, etc. We must choose wisely to generate joy in our lives. But when the road forks, confusion suddenly sets in. It’s normal to feel bewildered when different options present different pros and cons. As we advance down the path of life, sudden shifts require our attention and quick thinking: Should I give this person another chance? Should I take this job opportunity? Should I invest in a new home? And under the pressure of making the correct choice, all or none of our choices may even seem right. Where, then, do we turn for guidance?

In order to help us answer Dr. Harra’s closing question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” Let’s take a look at the second to last reading in this year’s Torah reading cycle, Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:1-52 (TLV). 

First, here is a bit of background. Ha’azinu is a poem, Shirat Ha’azinu, attributed to Moshe that details Hashem’s relational history with Israel, past, present and future. There is no question that there are segments of the poem that are direct from Hashem, however the beginning of the piece seems to find its impetus in Moshe’s closing words from last week’s parasha, 

…I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. Indeed, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against ADONAI—how much more then after my death? Gather to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will certainly act corruptly and turn aside from the way I have commanded you. So evil will fall upon you in the latter days, because you will do what is evil in the sight of ADONAI, provoking Him to anger by the work of your hands.

Deuteronomy 31:27-29

Much of the poem deals with Israel’s straying from the dictates of the Torah and the consequences of their disobedience; at times it would seem as if Hashem completely turned His back on His chosen ahm segula (treasured people), (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18).

As the poem ends, Hashem assures Israel that they will not suffer under the chastising hand of Hashem forever nor will the physical vessels of that chastisement (the nations) forever rule over errant Israel. Israel will ultimately be restored, and a reckoning will be required of the nations.

Make His people rejoice, O nations, for He will avenge the blood of His servants. He will return vengeance on His foes and atone for the land of His people.

Deuteronomy 32:43

This affirmation is reiterated by Hashem through the prophet Malachi, probably around the time that Ezra and Nehemiah were resettling Jerusalem. 

“…they shall be Mine,”—says ADONAI-Tzva’ot—in the day I make My own special possession (segula). So, I will spare them, as one spares his son serving him.

Malachi 3:17

Remember the purpose of the discipline of Hashem is like that of a father to his children, correction, education, and restoration of relationship. 

After ending his poem, Moshe charges all of Bnei Yisrael with these words, 

…he said to them, “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.”

Deuteronomy 32:46-47

This charge is somewhat redundant as Moshe already said this two parashot ago,

See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. What I am commanding you today is to love Adonai your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His mitzvot, statutes and ordinances. Then you will live and multiply, and ADONAI your God will bless you in the land you are going in to possess.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16

So here, occurring twice toward the end of Moshe’s tenure as Bnei Yisrael’s leader and teacher, do we find the answer to Dr. Harra’s question, “Where, then, do we turn for guidance?” We find guidance for all of life’s situations in the Torah. It would seem that Yeshua agreed with this sentiment as he responded to the Pharisees when they questioned about the greatest commandment (cf. Matthew 22:36-40). Love Hashem and love your neighbor as yourself – for all the Torah and the Prophets hang on these. In other words, guidance and instruction on how we relate to Hashem, how we relate to others, even how we deal with our own personal issues, are found in the Torah.  

One final thought on guidance. Dr Tigay, in the JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy makes an interesting observation concerning Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian dynasty, who reigned from c. 1792 BCE to c. 1750 BCE some 300 years before Moshe. Concerning his laws and achievements, Hammurabi is credited as stating, “My words are choice, my deeds have no equal; it is only to the fool that they are empty; to the wise they stand forth as an object of wonder.” (Jeffrey H. Tigay. The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia, JPS, 1996. p 316, fn. 47.) Dr. Tigay noted that the word רֵק or “empty” appears in both proclamations – Moshe stating that the Torah “is not an empty thing for you” while Hammurabi, “it is only to the fool that they are empty.” It would seem that both Hammurabi and Moshe felt that not to choose to follow the guidance they provided would be a vain, foolish thing. With this in mind consider these words from Proverbs:

A fool despises his father’s discipline, but one who accepts reproof is smart.

Proverbs 15:5

The fear of Adonai is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

A fool finds no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Proverbs 18:2

Even as the fool walks along the way, his heart lacks sense and tells everyone what a fool he is.

Ecclesiastes 10:3

It would seem that the choice is simple. If we want true guidance and direction, we need to look to the Word of God. If, on the other hand we prefer to wander aimlessly, this way and that, we can by choice walk like a fool. King David gives us his recommendation on which choice to make, though like us he occasionally chose not to follow his own admonition,

The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of ADONAI is trustworthy, making the simple wise. The precepts of ADONAI are right, giving joy to the heart. The mitzvot of ADONAI are pure, giving light to the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The judgments of ADONAI are true and altogether righteous.

Psalm 19:8-10

May we all choose to walk in the ways of ADONAI as written in his Word.

This week’s readings are as follows; Torah: Ha’azinu – Deuteronomy 32:1-52,
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1-51, and from the Apostolic Writings: Luke 17:1-4.

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