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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shemot Rabbah 5:10

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

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

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

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

Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

HaShem told Moses the purpose of this terumah,

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

Exodus 25:8-9

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

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

Exodus 36:5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Kings 6:12-13

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 24:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 50:10

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:1-2

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

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

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

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

Psalm 11:10

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

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

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

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There are a number of distinctive aspects of this week’s parasha, Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:231. The first is that Yitro is one of only three parashot named for non-Jews. The other two are Noach (Noah) and Balak. Interestingly, as a numeric balance, there are three parashot named for Jews, Sarah (Chayei Sarah), Korach, and Pinchas. 

A second distinction is the voluminous amount of discussion/debate among the sages surrounding the timing of Yitro’s visit. What was it that he “heard about everything God had done for Moses and for His people Israel,” (Exodus 18:1)? Some say it was after the exodus from Egypt and the deliverance at Yam-Suf while others suggest it was after the miraculous defeat of Amalek and his armies (Exodus 17:8-16). Still, others insist that it was after Matan Torah (the giving of the Torah) that he decided to make his journey to visit his son-in-law. Equally debated is whether or not Yitro’s visit not only reunited Moses with his family (wife and children) but it was actually the point in time that Yitro became a follower of the God of Bnei-Israel, technically making Yitro the first convert.

In my studies this week, I came across a third aspect, prompted by an observation made by Dennis Prager in his commentary, The Rational Bible: Exodus.

“The Torah mentions Jethro is a Midianite priest completely matter-of-factly. He is not only a non-Jew but a priest who serves what the Torah regards as false gods. But the Torah mentions him without even a hint of opprobrium. What matters is he is a good man, he is Moses’s father-in-law, and he does not deny the God of the Jews (he even believes, as we shall see, in the supremacy of God while still serving Midianite gods).”2

After further prospecting in the digital mines, I found that Rabbi Sacks z”l had made a similar observation as he wrote,

The Torah teaches us to see value in everybody, not only in members of the Jewish people. Judaism does not require or even encourage non-Jews to convert. Judaism is also open to learning from non-Jews, and Yitro is an example of this. Many Talmudic Sages argue that Yitro did convert to Judaism, thereby becoming our first convert at Sinai. Whether he did or not, he was first a Midianite Priest, and yet showed honour to God, and is thus honoured by the Torah, teaching us that we must not judge people as lesser because they have a different background, ethnicity or religion.3

So, the third aspect is the fact tripart as Rabbi Sacks pointed out.

  • Everyone, Jew, and non-Jew, has value, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion.
  • Judaism does not require or even encourage non-Jews to convert.
  • Judaism is open to learning from non-Jews.

The Torah is not clear as to whether or not Yitro converted or not. What is clear is his concern for Moses. First is his parental concern demonstrated by bringing his daughter and grandsons to Moses, restoring his (Moses’ family unit). Second, Yitro showed concern for Moses’ well-being as it related to his communal responsibilities. After watching Moses’ sit as an arbitrator before the entire community, Yitro remarked, probably in a somewhat strong tone of voice,

“What you’re doing is no good. You will surely wear yourself out, as well as these people who are with you because the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone, by yourself. Now listen to my voice—I will give you advice, and may God be with you!”

Exodus 18:17-19

Moses listened to his father-in-law, took his words to heart, and implemented them. It has even been suggested that the roots of Great Sanhedrin are traced back to the advice of a non-Jewish, Midianite priest. Before one think such a thing odd, consider the impact of some other non-Jews in Israel’s history. For one, there is the great-grandmother of King David, Ruth a former Midianite. Then there is the song that begins a great many Shabbat services, traditional as well as those of Yeshua followers, taken from an oracle spoken by a non-Jewish diviner, Balaam, who eventually found a way to curse Bnei-Israel for his employer, Balak, king of Moab.

Whether Yitro converted to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a question that remains both debatable and a matter of interpretation. However, as both Prager and Rabbi Sacks noted, Yitro was (or had been) not only an idolator but he was, at least at one time, the priest of an idolatress religion. The prohibition of idolatry, the making of and worshiping other gods, was very soon to become one of the cornerstone tenets of the covenantal agreement forged between Bnei-Israel and her god, ADONAI-Tzva’ot. The first two of the so-called Ten Commandments deal with this…

You shall have no other gods before Me. Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to them, do not let anyone make you serve them.

Exodus 20:3-5a

…and the last verse of the parasha states emphatically, 

Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves. 

Exodus 20:23

In concluding this week’s Thoughts, I want to emphasize two of the three points highlighted by Rabbi Sacks. First is that everyone, Jew, and non-Jew, has value, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or religion. We all come from the same stock, each of us created in the image of God, each with the God-breathed breath of life within us (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). Then second, each individual has gifts, talents, and abilities that others can learn from, regardless of whether one agrees, religiously, ideologically or any other point of contention that separates us. Remember Yeshua’s words concerning the faith of the centurion in Matthew, “I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!” (8:10). Whether this centurion was a God-fearer or not is as debatable as to whether Yitro converted or not. The fact is that he was a Roman officer, part of the occupying forces, and Yeshua not only honored his faith by healing his servant, but Yeshua also used his faith as an object lesson that has remained throughout time. In Pirkei Avot it is written, 

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every man, as it is said: “From all who taught me have, I gained understanding” (Psalms 119:99).4

If we disregard those who are different or whom we disagree and refuse to learn from them simply because of ideological differences (or any other differences for that matter), then we remove ourselves from a well-spring of knowledge and experience that just may have an answer to a situation we are dealing with. Had Moses not listened to Yitro, instead of leading Bnei-Israel for 38 plus years Moses would have succumbed to the first recorded case of administrative burnout.

Endnotes:

  1. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
  2. Dennis Prager, The Rational Bible: Exodus, Washington DC: Regnery Faith., 2018. Apple Books.
  3. https://rabbisacks.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/CandC-Family-Yitro-5780-3.pdf
  4. https://www.sefaria.org.il/Pirkei_Avot.4.1?lang=bi
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This week’s parasha, Bo, Exodus 10:1 – 13:10,1 picks up in the middle of the story of the ten plagues sent upon Egypt by HaShem’s mighty, outstretched arm because of Pharoah’s hard-heartedness. Seven plagues have passed, and Pharoah continues his pattern of disregarding Moses’ requests to allow Bnei Israel to depart. Pharoah’s decision resulted in three more plagues—locusts, darkness and death of the firstborn. Pharoah’s comment to Moses before the final plague is intriguing.

“Go away from me! Take heed never to see my face again, because on the day you do, you will die!”

Exodus 10 28

Moses responded very simply, “As you wish.” Within a few hours after this interaction, Pharoah may have wished he could take back his words spoken in anger. If only he could have moved the sands of time backward so he could change his response to Moses. Little did Pharoah know that death would visit Egypt that evening, killing all of Egypt’s firstborn, while sparing everyone and everything among Bnei-Israel. Every firstborn in Egypt, from Pharoah’s house to the lowest servant’s hovel to the livestock pens throughout the land, died that night.

It was not the plague that intrigued me; rather it was Pharoah’s words and attitude. As a supreme ruler, he was used to having his words accepted, unquestioned, and final. It all changed that night. 

Then Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was loud wailing in Egypt. For there was not a house where someone was not dead. So he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, go out from my people, both you and Bnei-Yisrael, go, serve ADONAI as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone! But bless me, too.”

Exodus 12:30-32

Nahum Sarna comments,

The king (Pharoah) himself has to rise during the night, thereby compounding his humiliation at having to surrender unconditionally to Moses’ demands. By summoning Moses and Aaron, he must retract the arrogant threat made at their last meeting (10:28). For him to seek their blessing is thus the ultimate humbling of the despot.2

That night Pharoah learned that his word was not final. He also realized the incredible folly of his first response to Moses and Aaron,

“Who is ADONAI, that I should listen to His voice and let Israel go? I do not know ADONAI, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

As I thought about Pharoah and his words and attitudes, I was reminded of the numerous times Yeshua and other authors of the Apostolic Writings addressed the issue of the words we speak. In Besorat (Gospel of) Matthew, Yeshua concluded his teaching with these words,

“For from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man from his good treasury brings forth good, and the evil man from his evil treasury brings forth evil. But I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, men will give account for every careless word they speak. For by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34b-37

The important thing in Yeshua’s comments is that we all “will give account for every careless word” we speak. Rev. J. Martin in his book, The Power of Words: Words are Free, It’s How You Use Them That May Cost You, comments,

There is simply no value put on words. We can all speak them. They don’t cost any money. As they are free to all, they are simply not appreciated.3

Continuing with the idea of the little value many put on their words, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, stated,

Unlike armaments, which can hurt only those within their immediate vicinity, verbal “shots” can inflict ruinous injuries from a distance. (In the modern world, the telephone makes it particularly easy to do so.)4

As we enter 2022, it is safe to say that the internet, digital news services and social media have far surpassed the verbal damage that Rabbi Telushkin felt could have been inflicted by telephone.

Remember Yeshua’s words, concerning one’s careless words; their source is the heart of man. Luke also emphasis the heart as the source, 

“Out of the good treasure of his heart the good man brings forth good, and out of evil the evil man brings forth evil. For from the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:45

The Psalmist wrote these words about the need for divine assistance to guard our mouths as well as our hearts,

Set a guard, ADONAI, over my mouth. Keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart turn to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men that work iniquity, nor let me eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 141:3-4

A further emphasis on the need for divine assistance to guard the words of our mouths, and by extension our hearts, is expressed in the meditation at the end of the Amidah (Standing Prayer),

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. To those who curse me, let my life remain silent and my life be like dust to all, open my heart to Your Torah, then I will pursue Your commandments. … May the words of my mouth and the musings of my heart be acceptable before You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

Every day we are presented with opportunities to speak words of encouragement and comfort or to speak careless words that harm and tear others down. Often, like Pharoah, we find out too late that our words were reckless. We should remember the subtitle to Rev. J. Martin’s book, The Power of Words, and place them as a neon sign that flashes before eyes every time we open our mouths to speak,

“Words are free. It’s how you use them, that may cost.”

Or maybe these words attributed to Carl Sandburg,

“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.”

Let’s purpose in our hearts, since the heart is the source of our words, to consider the words we speak before we vocalize them. And as we remind ourselves of the words of Rev. Martin and Carl Sandburg, let’s also hold on to these two exhortations from Mishlei (Proverbs),

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

And 

“Whosoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself (or herself) out of trouble.” 

Proverbs 21:23

Endnotes:

  1. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
  2. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus the Traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS Translation /Commentary, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991, p. 61.
  3. Rev. J. Martin, The Power of Words: Words are Free, It’s How You Use Them That May Cost You, Scotts Valley, CA: Create Space Publishing Co., 2016. Apple Audio Book.
  4. Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom: Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1994, p 66-67.
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l in his Applbaum edition of the haggada, comments, 

At the very moment that we gather together to remember the past, we speak about the future. The seder brings together the three dimensions of time. Before the meal we tell the story of redemption in the past. During the meal we experience it in the present. After the meal, as we conclude the Hallel and say, “Next year in Jerusalem rebuilt,” we look forward to redemption in the future.1

Redemption, in other words, is not something that happens once, at a single point in time. Rather redemption is a continual process, beginning with one’s first encounter with HaShem and continuing throughout life until welcomed home into the Olam Haba (World to Come) in the presence of HaShem. If this were not so, Rav Shaul would not have encouraged the Yeshua-followers in Philippi as he did, 

Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence—work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For the One working in you is God—both to will and to work for His good pleasure.2

Philippians 2:12-13

Why start this week’s commentary on Va’era, Exodus 6:2 – 9:35, with a comment on redemption from the Pesach/Passover seder? The primary reason is that the beginning of this week’s parasha contains the foundation of the redemption that Pesach celebrations commemorate.  

So, I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to Bnei-Yisrael: I am ADONAI, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. So, I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and give it to you as an inheritance. I am ADONAI.”

Exodus 6:5b-8

According to the “Ask the Rabbi” respondent at aish.com, “The four cups of wine are a rabbinical mitzvah, in commemoration of the four expressions of redemption that appear in Exodus 6:6-7: ‘I will take (or bring) you out… I shall save (deliver) you… I shall redeem you… I shall take you.’”3

We also see in this passage, as in the seder, the past, present, and future intertwined. HaShem affirms that the reason for Bnei-Israel’s redemption is because he remembered his past covenantal commitment to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of that past commitment, he will now bring Bnei-Israel out of Egypt, deliver them from Egyptian bondage, and redeem them – paying Egypt back multiple times for the oppression of Jacob’s descendants. Then the future action will be bringing of Bnei-Israel into the land sworn to the patriarchs. Another important point is mentioned in this passage. Because of the present actions of bringing out, delivering and redeeming Bnei-Israel, HaShem becomes not only the God of their forefathers, he becomes their God,

I will take you to Myself as a people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am ADONAI your God…

Exodus 6:7

The original covenantal commitment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is now expanded in a physical expression of deliverance and redemption not only for folks four or five hundred years in the past, but in a real tangible way for Bnei-Israel in the present. The phrase, “You will know that I am ADONAI your God,” is important as it is not merely a mental ascent but an experiential reality. In Exodus 1:8 the word “know” makes its first appearance in Exodus. Concerning the word “know” Dr. Nahum Sarna comments, 

The usual rendering, “to know,” hardly does justice to the richness of its semantic range. In the biblical conception, knowledge is not essentially or even primarily rooted in the intellect and mental activity. Rather, it is more experiential and is embedded in the emotions, so that it may encompass such qualities as contact, intimacy, concern, relatedness, and mutuality.4

So, what about us today? Do we just sit around the table once a year, and remember what happened in the ancient past? Not at all. Remember Rabbi Sacks’ words that the past, present, and future are intertwined in the seder. Rabban Gamliel used to say:

In every generation a person must regard himself (or herself) as though he (or she) personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said, “And you shall tell your son (and/or daughter) in that day, saying ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’”5

Mishnah Pesachim 10:5

Though our redemption is based upon a past action, we should live as if it were happening each and every day. Many are familiar with the Modei Ani prayer said each morning, thanking HaShem for restoring our soul to our bodies (that we did not die in our sleep). Jeremiah may have had this idea in mind when he wrote, 

Because of the mercies of ADONAI, we will not be consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning! Great is Your faithfulness. “ADONAI is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

May it be that each day of our lives we remember the redemptive work of HaShem, through the work of his son Yeshua. We have been brought out of the slavery and oppression of this present age and brought into the Kingdom of God, both Jew and non-Jew alike. But our journey is not yet over, we still have the wilderness of this present life to traverse as we make our way to the promised new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17-19 and Revelation 21:1-5) in the Olam Haba.

Endnotes:

  1. Gila Fine, Editor in Chief. The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, 2nd edition, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2016, p. 24.
  2. All Scripture readings are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society
  3. https://www.aish.com/atr/Four_Cups_Verses.html
  4. Nahum M. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation /commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991 p. 5.
  5. https://www.sefaria.org.il/sheets/32014?lang=bi
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Last week, (December 16, 2021) the NYTimes online edition published an article entitled, Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Now. The article began, 

As Americans head into a third year of pandemic living, therapists around the country are finding themselves on the front lines of a mental health crisis. Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.  

While it is true that Jacob’s descendants in Egypt had not suffered from COVID-19 and its variants, for much of their last 380 years they did suffer under Egyptian oppression. In this week’s parasha, Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1, we read about the stage being set for the eventual deliverance of Bnei Israel from Egyptian bondage and oppression, beginning with the early life of Moses the second son of Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). 

We all know the story; the current Pharoah wanted to control the Israelite population and failed. Moses, who instead of being thrown into the Nile and drowned according to executive order, was safely placed on the Nile, rescued by Pharoah’s daughter and cared for by her in Pharoah’s own house. According to Rabbinic tradition, this daughter’s name was Bithiah or Bitya (בִּתְיָה). The literal meaning of her name is “daughter of God,” meaning daughter of HaShem, not Pharoah, because of her devotion in raising and caring for Moses. It is suggested that she named him Moses not only because she had “drawn” him out of the water but also because she knew that one day, he would “draw” Bnei Israel out of Egypt. While the rest of Bnei Israel suffered under Egyptian oppression, Moses grew up as a prince in Pharoah’s house. This would have been the end of the story had Moses not been “drawn” to see how his birth kinsmen were doing. Then after a strike for justice and a murder accusation Moses found himself fleeing Pharoah’s house and starting a new life with his Midianite wife Zipporah and becoming a sheep herder for his father-in-law Reuel.

Then in due time…

… the king of Egypt died. Bnei-Yisrael groaned because of their slavery. They cried out and their cry from slavery went up to God. God heard their sobbing and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw Bnei-Yisrael, and He was concerned about them.

Exodus 2:23-24

While busy shepherding the sheep, Moses saw a bush on fire that wasn’t being consumed. He heard a voice from the fire and his discussion or argument with HaShem began. Eventually Moses agreed, to return to Egypt on HaShem’s behalf and to let the elders of Bnei Israel know that their time of oppression would be coming to an end. They were excited and worshiped HaShem, relieved that their deliverance was at hand.

Moses then went to the new Pharoah and delivered HaShem’s demand to let his people go so they could worship him. Pharoah magnanimously agreed…NOT!

“Who is ADONAI, that I should listen to His voice and let Israel go? I do not know ADONAI, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

Not only did Pharoah ignore Moses’ request, but he also decided that if Bnei Israel had enough time to even consider going out into the dessert for a worship retreat, then their overlords and taskmasters were not pressing them hard enough. So, Pharoah decreased their material supply but demanded they maintain their production quota, which meant punishment if they didn’t make their quota of bricks. Very soon their worshipping of HaShem for his promised deliverance morphed into deriding Moses and Aaron.

So they said to them, “May ADONAI look on you and judge, because you have made us a stench in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!”

Exodus 5:21

From joy to despair, from deliverance to harsher oppression, the people were motivated and driven not by a future hope but by their current calamity. Here, if you haven’t guessed, is the connection I saw with the NY Times article. A number of months ago, it began to look like America, as well as much of the rest of the world, had crested the top of the hill of the COVID-19 pandemic. It appeared that vaccines were beginning to make a dent in the numbers of severe illness and death, and there was a hope that a degree of normalcy was just around the corner. Like Bnei Israel when they heard Moses’ and Aaron’s words of hope and deliverance, a sigh of relief and praise for better times were on the hearts and minds of many, religious and non-religious alike. People began to have hope. Then the Delta variant and now Omicron have given rebirth to lockdowns and hospital overcrowdings, not to mention closed borders and airways. Hopelessness and despair are driving many to the breaking point as the article pointed out. Economies which were barely beginning on the road to recovery, are now wondering if there will ever be an end in sight. 

The hopelessness is real, as real today as it was in Egypt when Pharoah turned up the flames of persecution. However, as followers of Yeshua we do not have to live in that state of hopelessness. Rav Shaul offers a number of words of encouragement in his letter to the Yeshua-followers in Rome. Note that he does not discount or deny their sufferings, but rather acknowledges their reality. He encourages them and us to do what Bnei Israel didn’t do and that is to hold on to the guarantee of a future hope.

For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of the One who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains until now—and not only creation, but even ourselves.

Romans 8:18-23

Then he continues to outline the two sources of power that work together to preserve that future hope.

For in hope, we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. In the same way, the Ruach helps in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Ruach Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Ruach, because He intercedes for the kedoshim according to the will of God.

Romans 8:24-27

The second source is clear, the power of the Ruach (the Holy Spirit) who not only guides and empowers our prayers but, at times when we feel we can go no further, prays through and for us. The first source, which is a little more difficult to visualize, is our own decision to hold tenaciously on to hope, even when everything around us says to let go. We choose to hold on to hope – then, in our weakness, the Ruach aids us. 

Finally, Rav Shaul ends his letter with these words of encouragement,

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and shalom in trusting, so you may overflow with hope in the power of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

Romans 15:13

Without denying the reality of the cares and concerns of the world, we serve the God of hope, who desires to fill each of us with joy and shalom, thereby causing our hope to overflow and splash on others like a fountain, empowered by the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

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