Thoughts on Chukat

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parashat, Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1,[i] begins with one of the most mysterious statutes (chukim) in the Torah, that being the preparation and cleansing action of the ashes of the red heifer. The sages are not in agreement as to the why of this series of commandments. In fact, it appears that many of them continued to scratch their heads in wonder, quoting the Kohelet, “All this I have tested with wisdom and I said, ‘I determined to be wise’—but it was far from me” (Kohelet [Ecclesiastes] 7.23). In her commentary, Nehama Leibowitz attempts to come to grips with these statutes by relating the account of a meeting between R. Yohanan b. Zakkai and a gentile concerning this parasha.

A gentile asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, “These rituals you do, they seem like witchcraft! You bring a heifer, burn it, crush it up, and take its ashes. [If] one of you is impure by the dead [the highest type impurity], 2 or 3 drops are sprinkled on him, and you declare him pure?!” He said to him, “Has a restless spirit ever entered you?” He said to him, “No!” “Have you ever seen a man where a restless spirit entered him?” He said to him, “Yes!” [Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai] said to him, “And what did you do for him?” He said to him, “We brought roots and made them smoke beneath him, and pour water and it flees.” He said to him, “Your ears should hear what leaves from your mouth! The same thing is true for this spirit, the spirit of impurity, as it is written, (Zachariah 13:2) “Even the prophets and the spirit of impurity will I remove from the land.” They sprinkle upon him purifying waters, and it [the spirit of impurity] flees.” After he left, our rabbi’s students said, “You pushed him off with a reed. What will you say to us?” He said to them, “By your lives, a dead person doesn’t make things impure, and the water doesn’t make things pure. Rather, God said, ‘I have engraved a rule, I have decreed a decree (chukah chakakti, gezeira gazarti), and you have no permission to transgress what I decreed, as it says, “This is a chuk (statute) of the Torah.” (Bamidbar Rabba 19.8)[ii]

She then concludes, “The ashes of the heifer and the waters of the sin-offering have no intrinsic purificatory properties. It is a Divine commandment.”[iii] In other words, the act of obedience to HaShem’s command is the key issue, which in essence is a matter of the heart. We know the commandment, and, therefore, we choose to be obedient, even though we may not know the reason for the commandment. The “why,” in fact, is not important, except possibly for intellectual gymnastics. The primary reason that the LORD gives Bnei Yisrael for obeying His commandments is so that Bnei Yisrael would be holy as He is holy.

For I am Adonai who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. Therefore, you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11.45; cf. 1 Peter 1.16)

This may well be what Rav Shaul had in mind when he wrote the Corinthians that “…we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5.7). We may not always understand why we need to do what the LORD directs us to do, but we can have faith in the fact that He does have a purpose.

The next episode in the parasha epitomizes the importance of being obedient to the word of the LORD.  Once again, the people were grumbling over another perceived lack of water needed to meet their needs. I say perceived only because they had been in this position before, and HaShem had provided miraculously for them (Exodus 17.6). This time when Moshe and Aaron went to the LORD in the Mishkan, He told them

“Take the staff and gather the assembly, you and your brother Aaron. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give out its water. You will bring out water from the rock, and you will give the community something to drink, along with their livestock.” (Numbers 20.8)

Moshe, (1) take your staff, the symbol of your authority, (2) gather the people along with you and your brother Aaron, (3) speak to the rock in their sight and the rock will bring forth water, enough for the people and their livestock. Simple as one, two, three, and the people would be satisfied and all would be well again – at least until the next crisis or perceived crisis. Unfortunately, the event did not play out according to plan. (1) Moshe took his staff as commanded (20.9), and (2) Moshe and Aaron gather the people together before the rock (20.10) – so far so good. Then the plan went south! (3) Instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe berated the people, “You rebels!” But he didn’t stop there, he stepped into the place of HaShem by saying, “Must we bring you water from the rock?” Then, instead of speaking to the rock as instructed, he struck it in his own strength, not once as before but twice (20.11). Water did come forth and everyone was satisfied. Why water came forth at this point only HaShem knows because Moshe was not obedient to the word of the LORD. His disobedience came with a price – Moshe, nor Aaron for that matter, would enter into the promised land. Within this parasha, both Miriam and Aaron die (Miriam, 20.1; Aaron, 20.29), and though Moshe continued to lead the people on their journey, he would not enter into the Land.

The lesson to be learned for us today is simple, as the words of Samuel to King Saul, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15.22). Was Moshe’s righteous anger justified? Probably so. However, he let his righteous anger out run the word of the LORD to him and Aaron. When we know what we are to do, whether it is something specific from Scripture or something that we know in our kishkes[iv] is from the LORD and that we are to do it, and we do not do it, then we face the possibility of stepping out of HaShem’s commands and plans. In doing so, we may not only find ourselves not accomplishing the best that the LORD has for us, but possibly even settling for less desirable consequences, like Moshe, who lost the right to enter into the Land of Promise and like King Saul, who lost his kingdom and dynasty. May this be lesson be warning enough to keep us on the straight path.

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.sefaria.org/Bemidbar_Rabbah.19.8?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

[iii] Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar (Numbers). Eliner Library, 1993. p 235

[iv] Yiddish for one’s innermost parts, guts.

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Thoughts on Sh’lach

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha, Sh’lach, is found in Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 [i] and begins with the well-known account of Hashem, through Moshe, sending the twelve spies into the land of Canaan. Their responsibility was to “check it out” and see if it is as good as the LORD had promised. It should be noted that these men were not rabble-rousers or trouble makers, rather they were chiefs or leaders within their tribes. As with the census, this tribal grouping did not include the tribe of Levi, the guardians and caretakers of the Mishkan. Chosen and charged, the twelve went on their way. Forty days later they returned, carrying examples of the bounty. However, ten of the twelve were convinced that they would not be able to conquer the inhabitants of the land as, “All the people we saw there are men of great size! …  We seemed like grasshoppers in our eyes as well as theirs” (13.32-33)!

As the narrative continues, we hear, what will prove to be a common complaint,

“If only we had died in Egypt! If only we had died in this wilderness! Why is ADONAI bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be like plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” (14.2-3)

This carries the same tonal quality as an earlier complaint,

The grumblers among them began to have cravings, so Bnei-Yisrael began to wail repeatedly, saying, “If we could just eat some meat! We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, for free—the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic! But now we have no appetite. We never see anything but this manna.” (Numbers 11.4-6)

Recently on Facebook, I saw a graphic which read, “Remember, that sometimes, not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” Another bit of reality, this time from the realm of music, are these lines from the chorus of a song by the Rolling Stones,

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well you might find you get what you need. [ii]

In Proverbs it is stated, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but one who talks too much comes to ruin” (13.3 [iii]). Ya’acov (James) may have had this in mind when he penned these words,

For we all stumble in many ways. If someone does not stumble in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. (James 3.2)

It is miraculous that Hashem did not honor the peoples’ spoken request but instead He honored His promises to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even though there were consequences brought about due to the grumbling, complaining and disobedience, Bnei-Yisrael did in fact enter into the Land of Promise, howbeit much later than they would have liked. And it was in the interim period, the Wandering as it is called, that Hashem proved His love, care, and compassion for Bnei-Yisrael, time and time again.

The final section of this week’s parasha contains the third reading of the Kriyat Shema. This passage requires all of Bnei-Yisrael to wear tzitzit (or fringes) on the four corners of their garments, as a reminder to “remember and obey all My mitzvot and you will be holy to your God” (Numbers 15.40). This is not just another command but a mnemonic devise set in place by Hashem to help Bnei-Yisrael remember to emulate ADONAI and walk in holiness. The tzitzit were to be for Bnei-Yisrael what the Ruach ha-Kodesh is for the follower of Yeshua today.

But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you. (John 14.26)

However, neither the presence of Ruach ha-Kodesh nor the wearing of the tzitzit accomplish their purposes if the individual does not pay attention to them.

The Haftarah, Joshua 2:1-24, recounts the event of Joshua sending spies into Canaan, specifically Jericho which would be Bnei-Yisrael initial incursion point into the land. This time however, instead of a split report, the spies proclaim,

“Surely ADONAI has given all the land into our hands,” they said to Joshua. “Indeed, all the inhabitants of the land have melted in fear before us.” (2.24)

Whereas the first report the spies was riddled with fear and doubt, ““We cannot attack these people, because they are stronger than we” (13.31), this time, the statement was one of trust and faith “Surely ADONAI has given all the land into our hands.” Today, we have two choices. The first, is to walk in fear and doubt, always seeing the obstacles and giants before us that we cannot overcome. The second, is to walk in trust and faith in Hashem, knowing that He goes before us and that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8.37). This choice, as with following the leading of Ruach ha-Kodesh or taking notice of the tzitzit is for each of us to make. ADONAI will not make the choice for us, He is waiting for us to choose, preferably to choose life.

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] Written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.

[iii] Complete Jewish Bible, Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern.

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Thoughts on Beha’alotecha

canstockphoto3712801As usual, there are a number of aspects that we could look at in this week’s Parasha, Numbers 8:1 – 12:16,[i] Beha’alotecha (when you set up), beginning with the setup of the golden menorah. Continuing in the Parasha, we find the regulations concerning Pesach Sheni, which was only for those who were “unclean from [contact with] the dead, or were on a distant journey” (8.10). Not observing the Passover for any other reason caused the individual to be “cut off from his people” (8.13). In other words, provision was made for specific extenuating circumstances, but not for just any whim of the imagination.

Next, in chapter 9, the Presence of the LORD is portrayed as a cloud by day and fire by night. When the Presence moved, Bnei Yisrael packed-up and moved. When the Presence remained in one spot, so did Bnei Yisrael. Sometimes the Presence would remain in place for just a short time, sometimes for up to a year. In any event, they only moved when the Presence of the LORD led them, “At Adonai’s word they would encamp, and at the mouth of Adonai they set out. They obeyed Adonai’s order by Moses’s hand” (9.23; cf. Exodus 13.21). The lesson to be learned here is that we are not only to follow Hashem’s leading but His resting as well. The Psalmist reminds us

From Adonai a man’s steps are made firm,
when He delights in his way.
(Psalm 39.23)

Getting ahead of the LORD, or, for that matter, lagging behind, only gets us into trouble. The best place to be is, as the song says, “In Your Presence” for “that’s where I am strong … that’s where I belong.”

Finally, the Parasha infers that we (all of us) should beware of nostalgia or wishing for the “good ole days”. In chapter 10, Bnei Yisrael started out for the first time since their encounter with the LORD in the Sinai wilderness. Immediately following this, we read the record of Bnei Yisrael’s slightly skewed view of their own history which led to their wishing for the “good ole days.”

We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, for free—the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic! But now we have no appetite. We never see anything but this manna. (Numbers 11.5-6)

This is a far cry from, “Now behold, the cry of Bnei Yisrael has come to Me. Moreover, I have seen the oppression that the Egyptians have inflicted on them” (Exodus 3.9), or as recorded earlier

So, they set slave masters over them to afflict them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Raamses as storage cities for Pharaoh. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread. So, the Egyptians dreaded the presence of Bnei-Yisrael. They worked them harshly, and made their lives bitter with hard labor with mortar and brick, doing all sorts of work in the fields. In all their labors they worked them with cruelty. (Exodus 1.11-14).

At times, even in the midst of following the LORD, or maybe especially in the midst of following the LORD, life will get tough. At times, like Israel, we look back on our past situations, and they “seem” to be so much better than our present situation. And in truth, in the physical, they might even have been better than our current situation. However, in such situations, we should remember the admonition of the writer of the book of Hebrews,

Let us run the race set before us, focusing on Yeshua the initiator and perfector (or completer) of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame; and He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12.1b-2)

Yeshua did not promise us, His talmidim (disciples), a soft, easy road. In fact, He said,

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)

Not only is there no guarantee of freedom from trouble as a believer, there is, in fact, a guarantee that we will have trouble. But just as sure as the LORD spoke through Moshe to Bnei Yisrael

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)

…so the LORD speaks to us today, again through the book of Hebrews,

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 13.5b-6)

This week’s Haftarah, Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, is connected to the Parasha by the vision of the “solid gold menorah” in 4.2-3. Interestingly, when the angel asked Zerubbabel if he understood the vision of the menorah and the accompanying olive trees (the source of the oil for the lamps), Zerubbabel said he did not understand or know their meaning. The angel’s response seems cryptic, “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach!’ says Adonai-Tzva’ot” (4.5). The key is the context of the whole passage, that of the LORD’s redemption and restoration of Jerusalem as the city of the Great King; not by Judah or Israel’s hand or prowess, but by the Ruach of Hashem alone. The prophet Hosea repeats this future assurance

But on the house of Judah I will have compassion and deliver them by Adonai, their God, yet not by bow, sword or battle, nor by horses and horsemen. (Hosea 1.7)

The LORD will, in compassion, return to His people, restoring and redeeming them by His own power, by the power of the Ruach which He promised. Throughout this week’s reading, we are assured that the LORD is with us, even if things appear to be bad or troublesome, and that He will be with us through all the trials and struggles of this life. Therefore, Chazak! Be courageous!

Shabbat Shalom

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

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Thoughts on Naso

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha, Naso, Numbers 4:21 – 7:89,[i] continues the census and the assignment of the Levites that began in Bamidbar. Instead of summarizing all that happens in this Parasha, I want to look specifically at two issues. First, Hashem said to Moshe, “Any man or woman who desires to vow a Nazirite vow to be separate for Adonai…” (6.2). The rest of the chapter outlines the things that must be avoided by the individual who takes on the Nazirite vow, e.g., specific food and drink from which to abstain, no haircut restriction and association with the dead. This vow connects the Parasha to the Haftarah (Judges 13:2-25), which records the announcement and birth Samson. However, it should be noted that there is a distinct difference between the command in Numbers 6 and the Samson’s Nazirite vow. In this week’s portion it says, “any man or woman who desires to vow a Nazirite vow…” meaning it is the choice of the one who wishes to be set apart and consecrated to the LORD’s service. Samson, for whatever reason known only to Hashem Himself, had no choice. Hashem told Samson’s mother,

“For behold, you will conceive and bear a son. Let no razor come upon his head, for the boy will be a Nazirite to God from the womb.” (Judges 13.5).

Samson was apparently not unique in the workings of the LORD as Jeremiah discovered when He told Jeremiah,

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart (I consecrated you) – I appointed you prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1.5)

Rav Shaul apparently felt himself in the same situation as he wrote to the Galatians,

But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me… (Galatians 1.15-16)

But why point out the distinction between the command in Naso and the situations in which Samson, Jeremiah, and Shaul found themselves? It would appear that some people have specific callings upon their lives, so designated by the LORD, potentially even “from the womb.” However, according to the command in Naso, individuals, even without prior calling from the LORD and if they desire, can set themselves apart for His service. Neither in chapter 6 or anywhere else in Scripture, is it defined exactly what the individual is to do when they choose to “be separate for Adonai.” That decision is between them and Hashem. However, whatever the reason for the separateness, Shaul writes to the Corinthians that they should not tarry or waste time in completing what they started.

So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. (2 Corinthians 8.11)

In other words, if one desires to set himself or herself apart for service or ministry unto the LORD, they need to follow through with it, completing the work or calling that they started. We often quote Rav Shaul’s encouragement to the Philippians,

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 1.6)

And while this encouragement is true, it is also true that it is incumbent upon us to complete the work that we have stated.

Before leaving Naso, there is one other passage I would like to consider at the end of chapter 6 (6:23), but in doing so, I would like to cite a short FB teaching from Jewish House Mafia[ii]

“Speak to Aharon and his sons, saying: ‘So shall you bless the Children of Israel.’” (6:23)

QUESTION: According to halachah (Orach Chaim 128:5) when the Kohen recites the Priestly Blessing he must raise his hands and stretch them out. What is the significance of this?

ANSWER: Many people are accustomed to give blessings generously, and it is indeed a benevolent practice. For example, we bless a sick person, “May you have a speedy recovery,” and we bless a person in financial straits with hatzlachah (success) in his livelihood. With this halachah (law) our Sages are imparting a very important lesson; while giving blessings is laudable, it is extremely important that we also “raise our hands” and “stretch them out” — that we actually do something materialistic to help the person in need.

When I read this, I immediately thought of the words penned by Ya’acov,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2.14-17)

In other words, Ya’acov, as well as the Sages, realize that just words of comfort, simple platitudes are not enough in every situation. Yes, there are times when words of comfort are necessary, but there are other times when “something materialistic” is needed. If we have the ability or capability to help, we need to do so.

Shabbat Shalom

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

[ii] https://www.facebook.com/JewishHouseMafia/

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Thoughts on Bamidbar

canstockphoto3712801Bamidbar, (in the Wilderness) is the fourth book of the Torah. This week’s parasha, also called Bamidbar (Numbers 1.1 – 4.20), [i]begins with Hashem requiring Moshe to take a census of Bnei Israel by tribal lineage and father’s house of all males over the age of twenty (1.1-46). The total count of the twelve tribes was 603,550 men eligible to go to war. This was a natural occurrence, as “Censuses in the ancient world were used as a means of conscripting men for either military service or government building projects.”[ii] It has been suggested that this census was in preparation to enter into the Promised Land. However, as we will see later in the book that plan got derailed.

Yet there is something interesting in this census that included twelve tribes because two tribes were unique. First, the tribe of Levi was not included in the men who would go to war. The tribe of Levi was identified and counted (3.1-39) as those who would serve the LORD in the Tabernacle, performing duties as priests, guards, and custodians. The tribe of Levi was set apart specifically for Hashem, in remembrance of the of the death of all the firstborn in Egypt (3.11-13). The other unique tribe was that of Joseph, who seems to have received a double portion. Second, instead of counting the tribe of Joseph once, both of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh were counted (1.10 & 32-35). We find a partial answer to this in Vayechi, when before Yaacov blesses Joseph’s son’s he announces

“So now, your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, they are mine. Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just like Reuben and Simeon.” (Genesis 48.5)

What this does not explain, is why was Joseph not counted among the tribes? Any ideas?

Following on the idea that the census was to muster men for war, the parasha also includes the arrangement of the camp, the distribution of the tribes on the north, south, east and west for protection, then concluding with the setting in place of the Levite clans for the service of the Tabernacle.

The Haftarah is found in Hosea 2.1-22 which begins

Yet the number of Bnei-Yisrael will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted. Instead of “You are not My people” being said to them, they will be called “Children of the living God.” (2.1)

While this affirmation sounds wonderful, it should be understood that it is pronounced as a future event; Israel is in the midst of being judged just before going into exile for the first time. The bulk of this passage (2.4-15) speaks of Israel as an adulteress, in a backslidden condition, which they did not enter into by accident. But, as has been said before, as sure as there is discipline for transgression, there is restoration due to the everlasting covenant that Hashem made with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Ya’acov. The LORD will once more brings Israel through the wilderness and draws her back to Himself (2.16). Finally, the passage ends with one of the most graphic expressions of love in the Tanakh. The LORD speaking to Israel states

Then I will betroth you to Me forever—yes, I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, covenant loyalty and compassion. I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness, and you will know Adonai. (2.21-22)

This passage is recited daily as Jews around the world wrap their tefillin in obedience to the command in Exodus 13.9, “So it will be like a sign on your hand and a reminder between your eyes, so that the Torah of Adonai may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand Adonai has brought you out of Egypt.” According to the Sages, wrapping the tefillin, is equivalent to binding oneself to the entire Torah (Kiddushin 35a). In observing the mitzvah of tefillin, Israel individually and corporately, is reminded that they are betrothed to Hashem, by His choosing and prompting, because of His love and commitment to His people. Considering the phrase, “I will betroth you to Me with faithfulness” Malbim[iii] understands Hashem as saying, “In exchange for your faith in Me and My Torah, upon which is based your commitment to following My statutes, I will reveal My Presence to you in a manner that will allow you to actually know Me, with absolute certainty, so that you will no longer require blind faith in order to serve Me.”[iv]

As believers in Yeshua, we understand that it is Yeshua, the living Word which is the full revelation of the Father to mankind (John 1.14). With that understanding, Rav Shaul proclaims, “For Messiah is the goal of the Torah as a means to righteousness for everyone who keeps trusting.” (Romans 10.4)

The LORD has always desired a relationship with His people, one exemplified by lives filled with righteousness, justice, faithfulness and mercy. When we acknowledge His betrothal, through faith in Messiah Yeshua, we will see the reality of the Psalmist’s words,

Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, so that glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth meet together. Righteousness and shalom kiss each other. Truth will spring up from the earth, and justice will look down from heaven. (Psalm 85.10-12)

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] IVP OT Background Commentary © 2000 by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas Electronic text hyper-texted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.1

[iii] Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, better known as The Malbim, (1809-1879) was a Ukrainian rabbi, master of Hebrew grammar, and Bible commentator.

[iv] Rabbi Menachem Davis, ed., The Later Prophets: The Twelve Prophets, Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2014, 23.

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Thoughts on Behar-Bechukotai

canstockphoto3712801This week’s parasha is again a double portion, Behar-Bechukotai, Leviticus 25.1 – 2 7.34.[i] Behar means “on or at the mountain” (Sinai according to the text). It is here that the LORD specifically gives Moshe the regulations for the seventh-year Sabbatical rest for the land, as well as regulations for the Jubilee year celebration with all of its economic ramifications. There have been many studies done on these to aspects of Hashem’s covenant with Israel, so we’ll not go into it here. Bechukotai (in My statutes) opens in 26.3 and begins as discourse on the benefits of keeping or observing the LORD’s statutes (mitzvot) followed by the natural consequences of disobedience to the LORD’s mitzvot. The ultimate consequence is exile from the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, the exile was never to be a permanent situation.

“Yet for all that, (Israel’s disobedience to the covenant) when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I hate them into utter destruction, and break My covenant with them, for I am Adonai their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am Adonai.” (Leviticus 26.44-45)

Disobedience to the mitzvot of the LORD has consequences, for sure, but also has good results just as with the discipline of the LORD described in Hebrews,

“Now all discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12.11)

However, a tricky phrase appears here, “at the moment” Discipline is not permanent or forever. It addresses a specific issue. While it may seem like forever to us while we are experiencing HaShem’s discipline or the consequences of disobedience to the mitzvoth, we need to remember Simon’s (Peter) words to the Yeshua-believing communities,

“But don’t forget this one thing, loved ones, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some consider slowness. Rather, He is being patient toward you—not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3.8-9)

Just as surely as discipline will come, so too will restoration and blessings come.

This week’s Haftarah is found in Jeremiah 16.19 – 17:14. It begins with the declaration that even in exile, “Adonai, my strength, my stronghold, my refuge in the day of affliction…” (16.19) and ends with Israel’s impassioned plea, “Heal me, Adonai, and I will be healed. Save me, and I will be saved. For You are my praise” (17.14). Discipline will surely come for the chosen of the LORD, but in said discipline there is always hope, comfort, and healing – even it is difficult to see at times.

One of the suggested readings from the Apostolic Writings, John 14.15-21, stresses the positive aspects of obedience without nullifying the natural consequences that come from disobedience. Yeshua tells His disciples, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14.15). In the closing verse of this passage, we hear Yeshua repeat the obedience imperative, “the one who holds to My mitzvot, and keeps or guards them, he loves Me” (14.21a). This returns us to the beginning of Bechukotai as the LORD said, “if My statutes you walk in and My mitzvot, you guard them and do them…” (Leviticus 26.3) followed by ten verses of the resulting blessings of said obedience. It stands to reason then, if obedience brings the blessings of the LORD, then disobedience brings consequences – not abandonment but for sure consequences. Rabbi Sacks reminds us, “The choice – God is saying – is in your hands. You are free to do what you choose. But actions have consequences.”[ii] The idea of choice leads us to Deuteronomy and then a passage in Romans that indicates that the ability to obey the LORD is something that is quite doable.

“For this mitzvah (the ability to choose to obey or not) that I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. … No, the word is very near to you—in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Deuteronomy 30.11 & 14)

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks in this way … “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming” (Romans 10.6 & 8).

Obedience is not hard, it is a choice; faithfulness is a habit to be practiced, and in doing so, the blessings will flow as promised by the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] http://rabbisacks.org/the-politics-of-responsibility-bechukotai-5775/

 

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Thoughts on Emor

canstockphoto3712801This week’s Parasha, Emor, is found in Leviticus 21.1 through 24.23[i]. The most memorable section of this week’s Parasha, is chapter 23 which lists the moadim of the LORD that were and remain today Mikraei Kodesh or holy invitations for Bnei Yisrael to meet with HaShem (23.2). It is important to note that these festivals—Shabbat, Pesach, Unleavened Bread, the First Sheaf, Shavuot, Yom Teruah (the day of Blowing the Shofar – Rosh Hashanah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day of Sukkot), are in fact divine appointments given to Bnei Yisrael as a memorial throughout all their generations. Often in the believing world the emphasis is placed on the Feasts of the LORD and the fact that these Feasts are given to Bnei Israel is all but overlooked. These moadim, appointed times, have been determined by sections of the Christian world as being for them because they are designated as “Feasts of the LORD.”

While I will not attempt to deny the right of Christians to keep the appointments with the LORD, it must realized that the command that the LORD gave to Moshe was, “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, and tell them: These are the appointed moadim of ADONAI, which you are to proclaim to be holy convocations—My moadim” (23.2). Hashem continues from that point to tell Bnei-Yisrael how they are supposed to keep His moadim. In other words while the “feasts,” the moadim, are in fact the LORD’s and there is a universal application to them, the way of observance of these moadim belongs to Bnei-Yisrael as a “statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings” (23.14, 21, 41). One of the complaints that some within the Jewish community have today with Christians, even those who profess to love and support Israel, is that they assume and assimilate the moadim as their own. I realize that this may raise a couple of hackles, but the reality needs to be acknowledged. Distinctions have been within all of creation including humankind from the very beginning, and as HaShem said, everything together with its distinctions “was very good” (Genesis 1.31). Hashem told Bnei Yisrael

“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!” (Exodus 34.10)

Rashi comments on this verse, “in the presence of (before) all your people, I will make distinctions: Heb. נִפְלָאֹת אֶעֱשִֶׂה, an expression related to וְנִפְלִינוּ, “and [we] shall be distinguished” (Exod. 33:16), [meaning] that you shall be separated from all the pagan nations, that My Shechinah shall not rest upon them [these other nations].[ii]

I do not say this to indicate that non-Jews should not keep the moadim. What I would encourage, is that non-Jews find ways to make the moadim uniquely their own, incorporating their understanding and position in Messiah Yeshua. In the same vein, I would encourage our Jewish brethren to learn what it means to celebrate the moadim in a Judaic framework and then celebrate them as an act of active intercession with the rest of the Jewish community.

This week’s Haftarah is Ezekiel 44.15-31 which begins reiterating some of the holiness requirements that are to be observed by the kohanim similar to those mentioned in Leviticus 21 & 22. However, the prophet describes the work of the kohanim before the people,

“They will teach My people the difference between the holy and the common and explain to them the difference between the unclean and the clean. In a lawsuit, they will stand to judge, and judge in accordance with My ordinances. They will keep My laws and My statutes in all My moadim and keep My Shabbatot holy.” (Ezekiel 44.23-24)

The regulations and requirements are not just to set the kohanim apart, but to insure that all of Israel is holy and set apart to fulfill the LORD’s desire for Bnei Yisrael as stated at Mt. Saini, “…you will be to Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation” (Exodus 19.6) which in fact, remains His goal to this very day. Speaking to believing Jews and non-Jews, Simon proclaimed,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2.9)

Within our distinctions, “[t]here is one body and one Ruach, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one immersion; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4.4-6). But this oneness does not remove our natural distinctions. There are still men and women, employed and employers, as well as Jews and non-Jews – and all together working as one, “we are very good.”

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.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9895#showrashi=true. Last accessed 5.10.17.

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