Thoughts on Pesach 5778

Pesach 2016The Pesach reading for this Shabbat is Exodus 12:21-51[i] and Numbers 28:19-25; the Haftarah is from Joshua 5:2 – 6:1 and 27. After weeks of preparation we are entering into the culmination of our labors as Pesach/Unleavened Bread are almost upon us. Friday evening, we celebrate the entrance of Shabbat, as well as participate in the annual celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, in which we and all of our ancestors through the epochs of history were delivered by the mighty, outstretched arm of Adonai.

It is a night of anticipation for the Lord, to take them out of the land of Egypt; this night is the Lord’s, guarding all the children of Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 12:42)

It is important to understand the last half of the verse above. The full scope of the power and authority of Adonai did not simply deliver Jacob’s descendants from Egyptian bondage, His action that night “is the Lord’s, guarding all the children of Israel throughout their generations.” The prophet Jeremiah records this declaration from HaShem,

So said the Lord, Who gives the sun to illuminate by day, the laws of the moon and the stars to illuminate at night, Who stirs up the sea and its waves roar, the Lord of Hosts is His name. If these laws depart from before Me, says the Lord, so will the seed of Israel cease being a nation before Me for all time. (Jeremiah 31:34-35)

So long as the earth and the universe remain, the Lord continues to watch over and guard Israel. In the Emet section of the Kriyat Shema, at עֶזְרַת, we read, “You (HaShem) have always been the help of our ancestors, Shield and Savior of their children after them in every generation.”[ii]

We commemorate the Exodus with the reading of the Hagaddah, which in fact tells the story of the Jewish people from their beginning with HaShem’s calling Abraham through the deliverance from Pharaoh, and the crossing of the Reed Sea. “When we tell the story of our redemption from the beginning, incorporating the suffering into our narrative, we make the telling real. … The Haggadah reminds us of the ways in which our history still marks us, how everything we’ve endured still shapes us, our feelings, and our perceptions.”[iii] Remembering the good and the bad, and HaShem’s presence with us throughout the experience, serves to remind us that just as He was with our forefathers (and foremothers of course) so He is with us today in each and every situation in which we find ourselves. And, as He cared for Israel in the past, He continues to care for Israel and each of us to this very day.

This week-end is also special for those who follow the Gregorian calendar as Friday is so called “Good Friday” the day of remembering Yeshua’s crucifixion for the propitiation or atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, (1 John 2:2).[iv] Sometime between Motzei Shabbat and Sunday on the first day of the Omer, Yeshua rose victorious from death and the grave (Mark 16:9). Therefore, as followers of Messiah Yeshua, we enter into the Moadim of Pesach/Unleavened Bread with the understanding that not only were we delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but we were also delivered from spiritual bondage. Just as we have cleaned our physical houses of the hametz (leaven), Rav Shaul declares that we should clean our inner man as well.

Get rid of the old hametz, so you may be a new batch, just as you are unleavened – for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast not with old hametz, the hametz of malice and wickedness, but with unleavened bread—the matzah of sincerity and truth. (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

It is important to realize that like Israel must decide to actively clear away all leaven (hametz) from their houses (Exodus 12:15), Rav Shaul indicates that the process of “getting rid of old hametz” is an action that we must decide to do. Just as the physical hametz does not simply disappear miraculously but requires a choice to remove it and then actually removing it, so too with the cleansing of hametz of malice and wickedness; their removal requires a choice to do it, and then doing it.  James admonishes that when we draw near to HaShem, we are to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts (James 4:8). May we all take advantage of this time of year to cleanse our lives of all hametz.

Pesach Sameach

[i] Unless otherwise noted, Tanakh references are from The Complete Tanach with Rashi Commentary, https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm

[ii] Shacharit for Weekdays, The Koren Siddur, Jerusalem, Koren Publishers, 2009, p 104

[iii] Telling the Real Story, Hadar, Pesach e-letter.

[iv] Besorah readings are from Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015.

 

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Thoughts on Tzav

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha, Tzav (Command) Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36, continues from last week’s reading with further instructions on how the various mitzvoth named are to be performed, as well as the consecration of the priests and the Tabernacle. This Shabbat is also Shabbat HaGagol, the Shabbat before Pesach, and while there is not an additional Torah reading for this Shabbat there is a special Haftarah reading, Malachi 3:4-24.[i]

Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote,

Little does religion ask of contemporary man. It is ready to offer comfort; it has no courage to challenge. It is ready of offer edification; it has no courage to break the idols, to shatter the callousness. The trouble is that religion has become “religion” – institution, dogma, ritual. It is not an event any more. Its acceptance involves neither risk nor strain.[ii]

Heschel’s words call to mind the words of the Almighty through the prophet Malachi. While the Haftarah begins on a positive note, “…the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of yore and in the years of old” (3:4), it does not stay positive,

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me: who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause of] the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts. (3:5)

Malachi seems to present the same lament against the people as is common among most of the prophets. Little attention was given to social concerns and welfare. Idolatry and adultery were common place, if not blatant, at least in the hearts and minds of the people. The covenant the people agreed to at the base of Mt. Sinai received little more than lip service if even that. The Psalmist records the lament of Adonai concerning wayward Israel,

But My people would not listen to Me, Israel would not obey Me. So, I let them go after their willful heart that they might follow their own devices. If only My people would listen to Me, if Israel would follow My paths, then I would subdue their enemies at once, strike their foes again and again. (Psalms 81:12-15)

 But as is the case, HaShem did not abandon Israel, leaving them adrift in their transgression and disobedience. Malachi continued, “I am the LORD – I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob – you have not ceased to be. From the very days of your fathers you have turned away from My laws and have not observed them. Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you says the LORD of Hosts,” (Malachi 3:6-7). As HaShem gently explained to Cain, that his anger, and jealousy did not have to rule over him, “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).[iii]

Malachi knew that Israel can do better, that the God of Israel desired to do good on their behalf. But the religious practices had become lip service and the attitude of the heart had run to disobedience and ruin. In verses seven through nineteen, the LORD brings His case against the unrighteous and disobedient, ending with the pronouncement that there will be a soon coming day when the wicked will perish but the righteous will rise victorious in the LORD’s radiance.

Rav Shaul, using the Exodus as a backdrop, warned the believers in Corinth not to follow the bad example set by Israel.

Now these things happened as examples for us, so we wouldn’t crave evil things, just as they did. … Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us—on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:6 & 11, TLV).

Rather we should look expectantly to the LORD for His assistance and strength,

Therefore, let the one who thinks that he stands watch out that he doesn’t fall. No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted 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 10:12-13, TLV).

James, in his letter to Messianic Jews in the Diaspora wrote,

If anyone thinks he is religious and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is futile. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27, TLV)

James’ concept of true religion and Heschel’s opinion of the current state of religion seem to be polar opposites. Equally, of all the aspects of true religion that James could mention, he targets that with which Malachi closed, that being care for widows and orphans – those in the community least likely to be able to care for themselves. Our religious practice should offer comfort, but it must also challenge us to change for the better while meeting the needs of others that are brought into our sphere of influence. While our religious practice offers edification and encouragement, it must have the strength and determination to stand against the wiles of the evil one.

One last note, the Haftarah ends with the announcement from HaShem, “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the LORD,” (3:23). The purpose of Elijah’s coming is for familial reconciliation – bringing families who are apart back together again. It is that reconciliation for which we pray, and as we invite Elijah to join us next Friday evening for the Seder, may true reconciliation be realized throughout our lands.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Scripture readings from https://www.sefaria.org.il .

[ii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Insecurity of Freedom, New York, Schocken Books, 1959, p 1.

[iii] Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Snellville, Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2015.

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Thoughts on Vayikra

canstockphoto0885276In traditional synagogues around the world, three Torah Scrolls will be used this coming Shabbat, if the community is fortunate enough to have three Torah Scrolls. The first scroll will be for the regular Parasha, Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26,[i] which opens with HaShem calling to Moshe, from the Tent of Meeting instead of from the mountaintop, launching into the hows and whys of various offerings for both the priests and the people. As this day is also Rosh Chodesh, the special reading from Numbers 28:9-15 will be read from the second scroll. This short reading covers the special sacrifices for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. Finally, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh because it begins the ritual year in preparation for Pesach and the Feast of Matzot (Unleavened Bread), is the third reading, Exodus 12:1-20. While sacrifices are not specially mentioned in this reading, there is the command to place the blood of the unblemished lamb on the door posts and crossbeams of everyone’s dwelling, which is followed by a meal in which the entire lamb, the Passover lamb, is roasted in the fire. There is also a special Haftarah reading for Shabbat HaChodesh, Ezekiel 45:18 – 46:15, which unsurprisingly also deals with sacrifices offered in the Sanctuary of Ezekiel’s Temple. Without sounding redundant, sacrifice is a major theme throughout this week’s readings.

One has to wonder, if the common understanding of Hebrews 10:1-18, that the sacrifices were ineffective, even futile – why did HaShem go to all the effort and verbiage to describe in minute detail how the sacrifices were to be accomplished. A couple of years ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks presented a teaching in which he made the following observation concerning the offering of sacrifices,

Among the simplest yet most profound was the comment made by R. Shneor Zalman of Ladi, the first Rebbe of Lubavitch. He noticed a grammatical oddity about the second line of today’s parsha:

Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: when one of you offers a sacrifice to the Lord, the sacrifice must be taken from the cattle, sheep or goats. (Lev. 1:2)

Or so the verse would read if it were constructed according to the normal rules of grammar. However, in Hebrew the word order of the sentence is strange and unexpected. We would expect to read: adam mikem ki yakriv, “when one of you offers a sacrifice”. Instead what it says is adam ki yakriv mikem, “when one offers a sacrifice of you”. The essence of sacrifice, said R. Shneor Zalman, is that we offer ourselves. We bring to God our faculties, our energies, our thoughts and emotions. The physical form of sacrifice –an animal offered on the altar – is only an external manifestation of an inner act. The real sacrifice is mikem, “of you”. We give God something of ourselves.[ii]

“The real sacrifice is mikem, “of you”. We give God something of ourselves” sounds a lot like Rav Shaul’s exhortation to the believers in Rome, “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service” (Romans 12:1). In other words, it is the kavanah, the attitude of the heart, that is important with any sacrifice. Interestingly, the Psalmist wrote,

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices, for your burnt offerings are continually before Me. … A sacrifice of praise honors Me, and to the one who orders his way, I will show the salvation of God,” (Psalm 50: 8 & 23).

One further note from Rabbi Sacks, specifically on the sin offerings (cf. Leviticus 4 & 5) referring to the Medieval commentator Abarbanel who

…argues that the sin offering was less a punishment for what had been done, than a solemn warning against sin in the future. The bringing of a sacrifice, involving considerable effort and expense, was a vivid reminder to the individual to be more careful in the future.[iii]

Abarbanel is not detracting from the sacrifice and its efficacy for atonement, rather he was suggesting that the sacrifice was to serve as a warning against doing the same thing again. Throughout the parasha it appears to be a given Israel, the priests, the rulers and the common people who sinned. Correct or not, Albert Einstein was credited as saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” HaShem knew Israel would sin, but to avoid insanity He expected them (as well as us today) to learn not to do wrong and to change the pattern of their activity. In a similar vein, Moshe later encouraged the people “to choose life so that you and your descendants may live, by loving Adonai your God, listening to His voice, and clinging to Him. For He is your life and the length of your days,” Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

Changing focus a bit, this week’s Besorah reading is from Luke 10:25-42. One of the Torah experts from the crowd tried to trip-up Yeshua asking “what’s the greatest commandment?”. Yeshua answered quickly v’ahavta et Adonai; v’ahavta l’reiacha – love Adonai and love your neighbor. Following this he told a parable intended to lead the scribe to understand not only who his neighbor was but also what his response to his neighbor should be. In a manner of speaking, Yeshua indicated that the answer to Cain’s question, “am I my brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9), is and always would be a resounding yes – if it is within our power and purview to do so. Therefore, becoming living sacrifices that honor our Lord as well as being available to show mercy, to give assistance when needed by our neighbor should be our goals as we v’ahavta et Adonai; v’ahavta l’reiacha.

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://rabbisacks.org/why-do-we-sacrifice-vayikra-5775/

[iii] http://rabbisacks.org/sin-offering-vayikra-5777/

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Thoughts on Vayak’hel-Pekudei

canstockphoto3712801It is said that when one repeats themselves, it is for special emphasis and the thing being repeated should really be paid attention to – this is especially relevant when it comes to the Scriptures. In last week’s portion, Ki Tisa, we read the reiteration of the Ten Words that Moshe received the second time from HaShem as the cornerstone of His covenant with Bnei Yisrael. Interestingly, one of the items specifically mentioned was to keep the Sabbath, even during times of plowing and harvest (cf. Exodus 34:21). This is interesting because this command looked forward to a time when Israel would be in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is also noteworthy that in this week’s double parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1 – 40:38,[i] the very first words that Moshe commands the assembled people are

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. (35.1-2)

Twice, in the span of seventeen verses, and on two different occasions, the importance of keeping the Sabbath is proclaimed by HaShem to Moshe, and then immediately by Moshe to the people. Later, in Parashat Emor, the first of the mo’edim (biblical feasts) that Israel is commanded to observe is the Sabbath (Leviticus 23:3). Also, the keeping of the Sabbath precedes the construction of the Mishkan. Thus it is inferred that just as the Shabbat was to be kept during seedtime and harvest, it was to be observed during the construction of the Mishkan.

In the introduction to The Sabbath Table, it’s stated that

Even more than it is a day of rest, the Shabbat is a day of holiness. If the purpose of the Sabbath were just to give us one day a week to relax, it wouldn’t matter what day of the week the Sabbath was. But resting on the Sabbath serves a specific purpose of setting it apart as holy, as the Torah says: “Protect the Sabbath to sanctify it” (Deuteronomy 5:12). The elevated sanctity of the Sabbath benefits us far more than a simple day off from work ever could. [ii]

 This idea that Shabbat is more than simply rest is an echo of the words stated by Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”[iii]

But the question arises, “how then should we keep the Sabbath?” The Torah states, “In it you shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, nor the outsider that is within your gates” (Exodus 20.10). The sages then defined “work,” מַלְאָכָה, (melakhah) as those thirty-nine activities that were necessary for the construction of the Mishkan (cf. Mishnah Shabbat 7:2). In his book on the Sabbath, Dayan Dr. Grunfeld summarizes melakhah as “an activity of a constructive nature which makes some significant change in our material environment – significant, that is, in relation to its usefulness for human purposes. … an act that shows man’s mastery over the world…”[iv] In other words, we should not do anything that asserts our own abilities, our intelligence, or our mastery over creation. If this is so, the reason should be clear, creation is not ours, it belongs to HaShem. We are just its caretakers. Our avoidance of work or melakhah once a week, at His command, acknowledges our obedience and submission to Him. Through the prophet Isaiah, ADONAI encouraged Israel

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)

We really have no choice if we are going to follow the teachings of Scripture, keeping Shabbat is not an option. In this week’s Besorah reading (Luke 9:18-36) Peter, James, and John are on the mountaintop with Yeshua. As they are about to descend HaShem declares, “This is My Son, the One I have chosen. Listen to Him” (9:35)! One of the things that Yeshua said, to which we should listen is His words to the Pharisees recorded in Mark 2:27, “Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat”. I suggest that Yeshua would have found no disagreement Abraham Heschel.

Technical civilization is the product of labor, of man’s exertion of power for the sake of gain, for the sake of producing goods. It begins when man, dissatisfied with what is available in nature, becomes engaged in a struggle with the forces of nature in order to enhance his safety and to increase his comfort. To use the language of the Bible, the task of civilization is to subdue the earth, to have dominion over the beast.[v]

Humankind’s first commandment from the Creator was “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28), and we have been doing that work continually ever sense. But that same Creator designated Shabbat as a time to come apart, cease from our work and be in His presence (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:9-10). There are many voices and opinions concerning how to keep the Sabbath as Yeshua-believers. One source I would recommend is the Standards of Observance[vi] which is a work in progress being developed by the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. A slight twist on the bard, instead of “to be or not to be,” concerning Shabbat, we should read “to do or not to do” and then the answer would be just do it!

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] First Fruits of Zion, Inc., The Shabbat Table: Prayers, Blessings, and Songs for the Sabbath, Marshfield, The Vine of David, 2014, p xi.

[iii] Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Sabbath, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951, p 14.

[iv] Grunfeld, Isador, The Sabbath, A Guide to its understanding and Observance, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., 1959, p 29.

[v] The Sabbath, p. 27.

[vi] http://ourrabbis.org/main/halakhah-mainmenu-26/shabbat-mainmenu-30

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Thoughts on Tetzaveh

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha is Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20–30:10, as well as being Shabbat Zachor, the week immediately preceding Purim. In honor of the special Shabbat, the maftir (additional reading) is taken from Deuteronomy 25:17–19, which describes the attack of Amalek. Before we consider the maftir’s connection to Purim, however, let’s turn to the parasha itself.

Tetzaveh continues the instructions for the use of the terumah offering collected in last week’s parasha, specifically the oil for the menorah whose light was to burn continually and the vestments and garments of Aaron, his sons, and his descendants. After this, Aaron, his sons, and the altar of burnt offerings are consecrated, and the regulations concerning the altar of incense are given.

A good friend writes, “Clothing is a prominent theme throughout the Bible” (Keren Hannah Pryor, A Taste of the Torah [Marshfield, MO: FFOZ, 2016] 100). From the clothes God designed for Adam and Chavah in the Garden (Genesis 3:21), to the wedding gown of the bride for her marriage to the Lamb (Revelation 19:8), clothing in Scripture is significant. At times it provides covering against the elements, and at other times it serves as a symbol of rank or status. Using the imagery of clothing, the Psalmist describes Hashem as the one who is “robed in majesty! Adonai has robed and armed Himself with strength” (Psalm 93:1). Isaiah, in his vision, saw Hashem, “sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1). This week’s parasha spends a substantial amount of time, 39 verses in total, describing in intricate detail, the garments and vestments of Aaron, his sons and their descendants (28:4–42). The next verse tells us the reason for such detailed information:

They [the garments and vestments] are to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they go into the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not become subject to guilt and die. It is to be a statute forever, to him and to his offspring after him. (Exodus 28:43)

Practically, these garments set apart Aaron, his sons, and his descendants from the people of Israel. They were protection for them as they ministered on behalf of the people. This protective aspect of the priestly garments is reminiscent of the full armor of God that Rav Shaul encouraged the believers in Ephesus, as well as us today, to wear continually (Ephesians 6:10–18).

But being set apart and protected were not the only reasons for the special priestly clothing. As the parasha begins to wind down we read the words of Hashem,

“So I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar. I will also sanctify Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as kohanim. So I will dwell among Bnei-Yisrael and be their God. Then they will know that I am Adonai their God, who brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, so that I may live among them. I am Adonai their God.” (Exodus 29:42–46)

These closing words bring us back to the beginning of last week’s parasha, “Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8), as well as to the first words of the Decalogue, “I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). The ultimate goal for the Exodus, for the Mishkan, and for the Covenant itself is restoration of Hashem’s fellowship and communion with his people, Israel.

That which was lost in the Garden is being restored first in relationship to Israel and then through Israel to the entire world. We proclaim this goal each time we recite the Aleinu at the close of every service:

All the world’s inhabitants will realize and know that to You (Adonai) every knee must bow and every tongue swear loyalty… And then it is said, Adonai will then be King over all the earth. In that day Adonai will be Echad and His Name Echad (Zechariah 14:9).

In that day, all the peoples of the earth will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Adonai-Tzva’ot. The fellowship and relationship of the Garden will be restored, and the culmination of creation will be recognized through the agency of Messiah Yeshua, as it is written, “at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord—to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

Beginning the eve of February 28 this year, we celebrate Purim as commanded by Mordecai the Jew by the permission of King Ahasuerus (Esther 9:20–22). In the special maftir this Shabbat, we read how Israel was commanded to remember the evil perpetrated against them by Amalek as they came out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17–19). King Saul was commanded to eradicate the Amalekites, but sadly, he did not do as he was told (1 Samuel 15:2–3). His actions not only affected him, his family (he forfeited his dynasty), and his generation, but they also laid the groundwork for the episode recorded in the book of Esther. Haman, who sought to destroy the Jewish people is identified as “son of Hammedatha the Agagite – enemy of the Jews” (Esther 3:10). Agag was the king of the Amalekites, whom King Saul spared.

Let us learn from this week’s parasha just as Aaron and his sons had to be properly attired to minister before Hashem (Exodus 28:1-2), we too need to be properly attired as encouraged by Rav Shaul, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you are able to stand…” (Ephesians 6:11), not only against the schemes of the evil one, but more so that we too may minister before the LORD in whatever capacity He chooses for us.

Shabbat Shalom

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

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Thoughts on Terumah

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is Terumah, Exodus 25.1 – 27.19[i] which begins, Tell Bnei-Yisrael to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him you are to take My offering (25.1). Last week, Shabbat Shekalim (Exodus 30.11-16) Israel was commanded to present the offering of Adonai (30.15) for the service of the Tent of Meeting (30.16). The difference here is “have to” verses “get to” as one’s heart compels them. Another correlation is that the offering collected in Exodus 30 was to be for the service of the Tent of Meeting, whereas this collection was to actually build the Tent of Meeting as it is written,

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)

The next ninety-six verses describe in intricate detail the design and function of items and instruments to be made for the dwelling place of HaShem. But there are a couple of intermissions in the form of divine reminders,

See that you make them according to their pattern being shown to you on the mountain. (Exodus 25.40; cf. 26.30 and 27.8)

Do we see the pattern here? (No pun intended.) The Terumah was free will; one was to give as compelled in their heart. However, the work itself was to be done according to specific design, paying attention to each and every detail according to God’s plan not man’s. Here is another question, in light of the words of HaShem recorded by Isaiah, why build the Mishkan at all?

Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is the House you would build for Me? Where is the place of My rest? (Isaiah 66.1)

King Solomon, as he dedicated the First Temple, expresses a similar sentiment to the Lord when he states,

So will God really dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You! How much less this House that I have built! (1 Kings 8.27)

The 15th century Jewish philosopher, statesman, and Bible commentator Abravanel noted that “The Divine intention behind the construction of the Tabernacle was to combat the idea that God had forsaken the earth, and that His throne was in heaven, remote from humankind. To disabuse them of this erroneous belief, He commanded them to make a Tabernacle, as if to imply that He dwelt in their midst…”[ii]

Toward the end of the desert wandering, Israel was told, you are to seek only the place Adonai your God chooses from all your tribes to put His Name to dwell—there you will come (Deuteronomy 12.5). This week’s Haftarah, I Kings 5.26 – 6.13, records the realization of the culmination of that word in the completion of the building the first Temple. This time, the pattern was King Solomon’s choosing, and the cost and labor was conscripted. In the end however, HaShem made a promise to 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.” (I Kings 6.12-13)

In this caution, HaShem warns Solomon that this Temple was only a reflection of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel. When they walked after Him, He would dwell in their midst. If, however, they choose not to walk in the way of Adonai, then judgment would soon come.

Both in the wilderness and well as in the land, the Lord’s intention was to dwell with His people. While Adam and Chava may have forfeited that opportunity in the Garden, HaShem already had a plan for restoring all of humankind to Himself. Part of the fulfillment of this plan occurred when HaShem took up residence among His people Israel. But as we saw in Parashat Yithro, this people were called and set apart to be “a kingdom of kohanim” (Exodus 19.6) or as Rashi noted, a kingdom of ministers,[iii] those who would shine a light in a dark world, bringing the revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to a people who had lost their way. At times they were successful, at others they failed miserably like we all do. Finally, the Messiah, ben David became the ultimate visible expression of HaShem’s indwelling presence among His people, and by faith in Messiah Yeshua, among the nations of the world as well.

In this week’s Besorah reading, Luke 8:22–39, we read the account of Yeshua ministering light and life to the non-Jewish world as He casts the demons out of man living in the region of the Gerasenes on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Yeshua ministered the presence of Shekinah as He fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah,

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Adonai’s favor… (Isaiah 61.1-2)

Today, you and I are His ministers; His hands reaching out to those in need and His feet going to those who have lost their way and need assistance to come back to the Way.

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] Leibowitz, Nehama, New Studies in Shemot/Exodus II, Jerusalem, WZO, Dept. of Torah Education in the Diaspora, 2000, p 472.

[iii] Herczeg, Rabbi Yisrael Isser Zvi, The Torah: with Rashi’s Commentary, Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated, Brooklyn, Mesorah Publishers, Ltd., 1995, p 223.

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Thoughts on Mishpatim

canstockphoto0885276This week’s parasha is Mishpatim (Rules), Exodus 21.1–24.18.[i] There are two extra readings this Shabbat as it is Shabbat Sheqalim, Exodus 30.11-16, as well as the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh, Numbers 28.9-15. (Rosh Chodesh Adar is next Thursday and Friday.) As one might imagine, there will be quite a bit of reading this Shabbat in synagogues around the world. As I am using the Triennial Reading Cycle, we will be looking at Exodus 22.4–23.19 while looking briefly as the reading for Shabbat Sheqalim.

There is command which appears not once but twice in this passage,

You must not exploit or oppress an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt. ‏וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה‏ וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ‏ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם   (Exodus 22.20  23.9)

Not only are neighbors, friends and family to be protected but also outsiders, those who are not a part of the community. The word here for outsiders is גֵרִים often translated or understood as converts. However this is not usually the case in biblical Hebrew, and especially not in passages where Israel is said to have been גֵרִים בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם strangers or outsiders in the land of Egypt, as the children of Jacob certainly did not convert to the religion of the Egyptians. In his commentary on this passage, Professor Sarna notes that there are four distinct groups of disadvantaged or underprivileged individuals whom HaShem takes special note and care of; the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. He states emphatically that HaShem’s concern “arises out of His essential nature, His intolerance of injustice, and His compassionate qualities” (22.22-23, 26).[ii] Then he goes on to speak about why the treatment of the stranger/outsider is so important. He states, “Because he (the stranger) could not fall back upon local family and clan ties, he lacked the social and legal protection that these ordinarily afforded. Being dependent on the goodwill of others, he could easily fall victim to discrimination and exploitation.”[iii] This understanding makes Yeshua’s exhortation even more pertinent,

So in all things, do to others what you would want them to do to you—for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7.12)

HaShem’s intense concern for justice and equity is also seen in the Exodus 30 passage which is read for Shabbat Sheqalim. This passage gives an account of the census that HaShem required Moshe to take of all the people of Israel. Everyone, over the age of twenty, was to be counted, and everyone was to be assessed a ransom payment, expiation money (Exodus 30.16). Both HaShem’s justice and equity are seen in this action; justice because it was a reminder of the redemptive act of the LORD and equity because it was the same tax, one-half shekel, for each individual. It did not matter the person’s age, social station, or financial standing in the community–everyone paid the same because everyone stands the same before HaShem. This state of equality may be a way of understanding Rav Shaul’s statement to the believers in Galatia, when he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua,” (Galatians 3.28). It is not the individual distinctions that were done away with, rather it was and remains affirming the fact that before HaShem, we all stand the same and require the same payment – the sacrifice provided by Messiah Yeshua.

The regular Haftarah for this parasha is Jeremiah 34.8-32 and 33.25-26. Saying that Jeremiah was not one of the more popular prophets is an understatement. In this reading, he proclaims HaShem’s coming discipline on Judah and Jerusalem for being disobedient to the jubilee process recorded in Mishpatim.

…thus says Adonai, the God of Israel: “I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying: ‘At the end of seven years you are to set free every man his brother that is a Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you are let him go free from you.’ But your fathers did not obey Me, nor inclined their ear. Now you had repented and had done that which is right in My eyes, by proclaiming liberty everyone to his neighbor. You even had made a covenant before Me in the House where My Name is called. But you turned around and profaned My Name, and made everyone his servant and his handmaid, whom you had let go free at their will, return, and you brought them back into subjection, to be your servants and handmaids.” (Jeremiah 34.13-16)

This prophecy shows the great importance of ethical treatment of others, especially those who cannot care from themselves. In this one prophetic utterance, Jeremiah describes three breaches of covenantal stimulations. First is the disobedience of Exodus 21.2, which is the beginning of the mispatim for the Year of Jubilee and the freeing of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year. Second is the breach of the covenant that King Zedekiah made and that the people accepted, to release said slaves, which they did and then immediately reneged on the decision (Jeremiah 34.8-11). Finally, to emphasize the intensity of HaShem’s feelings on this matter, He tells the people that they have performed hillul ha-shem, they have desecrated the Name of the LORD (34.16),

“So you are to keep My mitzvot and do them. I am AdonaiYou must not profane My Holy Name, for I will be made holy among Bnei-Yisrael. I am Adonai who makes you holy, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. I am Adonai.” (Leviticus 22.31-32)

Fortunately, even though Israel broke their side of the covenant, HaShem, though He would discipline Israel as an errant child, never broke and never will break covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Thus says Adonai: “If I have not made My covenant of day and night firm, and the fixed patterns ordering the heavens and earth, only then would I reject the offspring of Jacob, and of My servant David so that I would not take from his offspring rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore them from their exile and have compassion on them.” (Jeremiah 33.25-26)

The reading from the Besorah is Luke 8.1-21 contains the parable and explanation of the sown seed and the different types of ground in which the seed is sown, as well as the resulting return. Each of us should make it our goal to be categorized as good seed, who are “those with a praiseworthy and good heart, who have heard the word and hold it fast and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Luke 8.15).

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] Sarna, Nahum M., The JPS Commentary Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991, p 137.

[iii] Ibid. p 137-138.

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