Parashah Vayikra 2020 (He called) Leviticus 1 – 5

I should start off wishing you all a Happy New Year for yesterday was the first day of Nisan (which used to be called Aviv) and is what God declared to be the first day of our year.

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We have come to the central book of the Torah. These first 5 chapters define the sacrificial system, starting with a description of the different types of sacrifice, followed by the specific procedures for the sins of an individual and for the sins of the community.

All that God has instructed us to do regarding sacrifice is not possible for us to do anymore, not since the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. The reason we had to do these sacrifices at the temple was because of God’s instructions, which were that we are not to sacrifice anywhere we want to, but only at the place where he puts his name (Deuteronomy 12:.13). 

Each type of sacrifice, whether for sin, for guilt, for thanksgiving or the wholly burnt sacrifice is described in minute detail. God even accounts for those who cannot afford the required animal, allowing for them to substitute a different animal, one they can afford to give. This idea of being allowed to provide a substitute is something that will eventually provide for our salvation, many years later.

Every detail of how to perform the sacrifice is given in these chapters, but what I believe to be the most important part of the entire process is not explained.

The sacrifice is more, much more than just the spilling of blood. The physical actions we do, i.e. bringing the animal, killing it, dividing it up, splashing the blood and burning it on the altar are just physical things. We read throughout the Tanakh how these were being done but were, in many cases, unacceptable to God. In fact, through the prophet Amos God said that he hated the sacrifices and songs we made unto him (Amos 5:21-23), so if God wants us to perform these sacrifices, but in some cases, he says that he hates them, what was different? What was missing?

What was missing is something that is still missing today in many churches and synagogues: genuine repentance.

Let me share with you what I believe the sacrificial system should entail:

  1. We must sin. After all, if we do not sin, there is no need for a sacrifice to gain forgiveness, so for the sacrificial system to work, we need to sin (not that I suggest you should sin, only that this system is designed for when you sin);
  2. We must recognize and confess that we sinned. In today’s reading we are told that when we sin, whether or not we know it, we are still guilty. But to be forgiven, we must recognize that we did commit a sin. Too many people are taught that what God says is sin isn’t really sin anymore because the times have changed, or because all those laws were done away with by Yeshua. That is a total lie, but that topic is not something which we will be covering today;
  3. We must repent of our sin. This is probably the most essential part of the entire process because we can recognize and even confess that we sinned, but if we aren’t sorry we did it, then there can be no forgiveness, no matter what we do. It is repentance, more than anything else, which God is looking for from us. Not just that we are sorry we sinned, but that we are sorry we failed to do as God said we should. Repentance is not just feeling sorry we did wrong, but feeling sorry that we disobeyed God because in our hearts we should want to be obedient children. And, for the record, feeling sorry because you were caught does not count as being repentant;
  4. We must present a sacrifice. This step of the process was to be done with one of the prescribed animals but has been replaced by Yeshua. This is what is meant by the term “He died for our sins”; Yeshua’s sacrifice did not remove the sacrificial system or the laws that created it, but simply replaced the need to bring an animal to the temple in Jerusalem. This is one of the most misunderstood truths about what Yeshua did as our Messiah. Nothing of the Torah was removed or done away with, only the need to bring an animal to the temple when asking for forgiveness. Every step of the process I am describing here is still valid and necessary if one is to ask God to forgive their sins. And now, the last step is;
  5. We must ask for forgiveness. I know that seems to be an obvious step, but it is the one step that everything else before it leads up to. Forgiveness is available, and not only is God willing to forgive, but he desires to forgive. God wants every sinner to turn from his sin and live (Ezekiel 18:23), but forgiveness is NOT automatic. God will not automatically forgive us, so if you have been taught that because of Yeshua all your sins are always forgiven, you will be very unpleasantly surprised when you come before the Lord on Judgment Day. There is no such thing as once forgiven, always forgiven.

The truth is that God will always forgive us when we confess our sins, are genuinely repentant and ask for forgiveness by calling on the name of Yeshua, whose sacrifice was made as an eternal substitution for the animal we must bring to the temple.

Yeshua’s blood is the substitution for the blood of the sacrifice we are supposed to supply. It was never supposed to be our own blood, but the blood of an innocent. While the temple existed, that blood was supplied by a sacrificed animal and had to be performed for each and every sin we committed. Because of Yeshua, we do not have to bring an animal to the temple in Jerusalem.

That is why God sent the Messiah.

Throughout the Bible, we are told, over and over, that God knows our hearts and our minds, and whereas in today’s reading he outlines the physical steps of the sacrificial system, what really matters to him is not what we do, but why we do it.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Missionary Work is Selling

For the first half of my life, I thought the last thing I would ever want to do is be a Salesman. I, along with almost everyone I knew who never sold anything, thought that career was slimy and dishonest.

Besides that, who would want a job where you never knew how much money you would make?

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After surviving a failed business attempt, bankruptcy, and needing cash but also needing to be close to home to help with the high-risk pregnancy my (then) wife had (that was in my previous life), I ended up taking a local sales job selling baby pictures to people in their home. I was able to set my own appointments and work whenever I wanted to, so long as I made a certain quota, and I was paid on commission, only. That means if I don’t sell, I don’t eat.

During the next two years, after having several different sales jobs with different products (all commission only), I was much better trained and experienced, and that’s when I realized selling as a career was much more challenging and fun than I ever expected it to be. And I didn’t have to be a slimeball or liar or cheat.

And more than that, you wanna know something? I was making more money, more regularly, than I ever did as a “suit” working on Wall Street!

So, what does this have to do with God or missionary work? Everything.

Whether you like it or not, or whether you think sales is a bad career choice or not, the truth of the matter is that everyone is selling something at all times. If you are in a meeting, you have to sell your ideas. If you have a business you have to sell yourself to potential clients so they use you and not someone else. If you are a parent, you (sometimes) have to sell your children on why they should do the right thing. If you are interviewing for a job, you have to sell yourself as the product the employer wants to have.

One way or another, we are all in Sales, and the one thing I know from my experience is that Sales is not about talking, it is all about listening.

Those people who major in Marketing should change their major to Psychology because that is what Sales really is. It is knowing how to get people to bond with you, to open up to you, and to be able to get them to decide that what you want them to do is what they want to do, even when they don’t know what they want to do. And as an honest salesperson, you teach them what they need to know to make a proper and qualified decision; qualified meaning based on information, and not on their feelings, alone.

The mega-churches know all about how to sell God, but they don’t sell obedience to God. They know that people are self-centered and selfish, so they tell you all about the wonderful blessings God has for you when you do what they say God wants you to do, which is usually nothing more than to be a “good” person because all those hard things to do are just for Jews.

That is the psychology behind selling: find out what the person wants and explain how your product provides that for them. People want the easy way, and telling them that God will bless them if they are a good person sounds easy enough, right? The problem is that it is not selling the truth because it may be an easy way, but it is the wrong way.

In order to be a successful missionary, you have to know how to sell. The product we have to sell is salvation, eternal joy in God’s presence and peace of mind while alive. We are trying to get people to not sell their souls to the world but to devote their lives to God. It is a hard product to sell correctly because it involves self-discipline, sacrifice, and determination.

The proper way to do this is, just as with any sales job, first and foremost you have to know your product. To tell people about God, you have to know God; and you won’t ever get to really know him listening to other people tell you who he is. God has told us everything we need to know about him in the Torah, and that is where you need to start. Whatever God wants you to know about him, he will lead you to see in his Word as you read it more and more.

Now, when I say you need to know about God I don’t mean passages in the Bible about God, but who God is, what he wants from us, and what he is willing to do for us when we obey. Don’t tell people about hell or damnation because frightening people into something never works in the long run. For someone to truly make a decision they will stick with, they have to believe whatever they do is their idea; so, once you know about God, your next step is to ask questions.

Too many people in missionary work talk and talk and talk. They tell people what they are doing wrong, what they should be doing to be right, and flood them with spiritual statements that a non-spiritual person really cannot grasp.

In other words, they talk them to death…literally, because the more they talk, the less the people want to listen, and the attempt to teach them what they need to know to be saved is wasted.

To be able to help someone find God, you first have to find out what they believe they are missing in their life. Do not assume anything about them, and to get them to open up to you, you need to relate to them. People who are not spiritual will not relate to someone who can’t talk in their language or who spiritualizes everything they say.

The best salesman in the Bible was that Jewish tentmaker from Tarsus, Shaul (Paul) because he was willing to relate to everyone on their level:

1 Corinthians 19: 19-23 (CJB) For although I am a free man, not bound to do anyone’s bidding, I have made myself a slave to all in order to win as many people as possible. That is, with Jews, what I did was put myself in the position of a Jew, in order to win Jews. With people in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah, I put myself in the position of someone under such legalism, in order to win those under this legalism, even though I myself am not in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah.  With those who live outside the framework of Torah, I put myself in the position of someone outside the Torah in order to win those outside the Torah — although I myself am not outside the framework of God’s Torah but within the framework of Torah as upheld by the Messiah.  With the “weak” I became “weak,” in order to win the “weak.” With all kinds of people I have become all kinds of things, so that in all kinds of circumstances I might save at least some of them.

Shaul knew that in order for people to listen to him, they needed to trust what he says as true, and in order to get them to trust what he says, they need to trust him. And that comes from bonding, one person to another. They can have respect for his knowledge or because he was a Pharisee, or even just because he suffered so much for his belief. All of that is helpful, but it won’t get anyone to change their mind.

If you want to help people find God, you first have to let them find you, trust you, and bond with you, and the best way to do that is to ask them about themselves, shut up and listen.

When I taught people how to sell, I told them two things:

1. People don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do; and
2. When you ask the right questions and listen to their answers, they will tell you how to close them.

With regard to missionary work, this means asking them what they feel they are missing in their life, what they want, and how they think they can get it. Then once you know what they think they want, you can begin to show them how, in YOUR life, God has supplied these things for you. And don’t worry if they want something you never did- you can always find a relatable subject because most everyone wants the same basic things: love, appreciation, and security. This is why you need to know psychology because basic wants and needs are part of Maslow’s work about Self-Actualization.

I could give extended teaching on this subject but have done enough for the moment. Maybe too much, since everyone has a limited attention span. You might have noticed that most of my messages run 6-8 minutes, which is because after 10 minutes or so people zone out.

So, if you want to be able to talk about God to anyone, start by asking them questions. You will save more souls with careful listening than you ever will with enthusiastic preaching.

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If anyone would like me to expand on this subject and make it a teaching series, let me know.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

God Denies Original Sin Exists

Before we can start this discussion, we should make sure we all know what the term “Original Sin” means.

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There are many different definitions, and I found that Wikipedia did the best job. Here is what they say:

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief in a state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Theologians have characterized this condition in many ways, seeing it as ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon first alluded to the concept of original sin in the 2nd century in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine (354-430) also shaped and developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21) and 1 Corinthians (15:21-22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalms 51:5.

That’s a mouthful, or for those watching the video, an eyeful, but it is pretty good, overall, in identifying what we all knew already, which is that “Original Sin” is a Christian doctrine.

But wait a minute! Are you saying that Jews do not believe in original sin?  How can that be, if David in Psalm 51 says we are all shaped in iniquity, and that his mother conceived him in sin?

In fact, within Judaism – Talmudic Judaism, that is – there is a condition called the Yetzer Hara, which is an evil inclination and we are all born with it. It drives us to selfishness and material desires, which will (unchecked) lead us to do evil. The Yetzer Hatov, the good inclination, comes to us when we are about 13 years of age and it controls the Yetzer Hara. In Freudian language, the Yetzer Hara is like the Id, and the Yetzer Hatov is like the Ego.

The main difference between the Jewish view and the Christian view is that Judaism says we are born with the potential to become a sinner, and Christianity says we are born sinners, already, because of the “fall”.

Well, what does God say?

It seems that God agrees that the sins which our parents perform will also fall on our children because in Exodus 20:5 God says this:

You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

So it appears, at first glance, that God is going to make the children suffer for the sins of their parents. This fits in with the Christian idea of original sin, but not really with the Jewish Yetzer Hara, so did the Rabbis get it wrong?

But (again) wait a minute!  Look at what God says in Ezekiel 18:1-4:

The Lord’s word came to me:  What do you mean by this proverb of yours about the land of Israel: “When parents eat unripe grapes, the children’s teeth suffer”?  As surely as I live, says the Lord God, no longer will you use this proverb in Israel!  All lives are mine; the life of the parent and the life of the child belong to me. Only the one who sins will die.

So the Rabbis were right when they said we are born with the desire to sin, but not already in sin. But now what happens to original sin? I mean, when God told this to Ezekiel, that was sometime between 590 and 571 BCE. That was something like 800 years before Augustine said we all are born sinners because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

And what about what God says in the Second Commandment?

The main conflict seems to be between what God tells Moses, i.e. that he will cause the children to suffer the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation, and what God tells Ezekiel, which is that the children won’t suffer for the parent’s sins.

What happened? Did God change his mind?

No, God didn’t change his mind; the conflict isn’t with God, it is within our understanding of what God meant when he gave the second commandment to Moses.

Let’s look closer at what God said about the children suffering: he said that the iniquity (sin) of the fathers will be visited on the children “…of them that hate me.” In other words, if the children follow the parent’s rejection of God, worshipping other gods and disobeying the Torah, then God will visit on them the same punishment that he visited on their parents. The rest of that verse states that God will be merciful to the thousandth generation of them that love him. The real meaning is that those who hate God and teach their children to do so will cause their children to suffer the same punishment they do for 3-4 generations, but those that worship God correctly and teach their children to do so will be rewarded for a thousand generations.

Now we can see that these two verses (Exodus and Ezekiel), which seem to contradict each other, are actually saying the same thing. If you do the bad things your parents did, you will get the same punishment they did, but if you follow righteousness, whether or not your parents were righteous won’t matter because each person will be held accountable only for what they do, themselves.

I think the Rabbis got it right in the Talmud when they say we are all born with the Yetzer Hara, which the Bible calls “iniquity”, which can overcome with the Yetzer Hatov.

As for the Christian belief in original sin, well…God says that doesn’t exist, and if God says it ain’t so, then it ain’t so.

If you have been brought up believing that you are born a sinner and that your infant child has to be baptized because it is already under sin, don’t worry about it. We are all born with the inclination to sin, but we are not born sinners, already. Really, do you think God would send an infant to eternal hell and torture?

I don’t think so.

What we are born with is the desire to sin, but we are not born as a sinner, already. We are not accountable for ourselves until we are old enough to know good from evil, and in both Judaism and Christianity that begins at about 6 years old, when parents (hopefully) start to send their kids to a religious school.

Now that you know the facts about original sin, make sure that you do what is right in God’s eyes, and even more important than that, make sure you teach your children to do what is right, as well.

Children are not held accountable for what their parents do, but if you do not teach your children the right way to live and worship, then you are setting them up to be punished by God.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

Parashot Veyakhel / Pekudey 2020 (He assembled / Accounts) Exodus 35 – 40

Because we are in a Leap Year, in order to have the annual reading cycle of the Torah comply with the Gregorian calendar, there are some Shabbat readings where we will read two parashah instead of one. This Shabbat is one of those times, and it also takes us to the end of Sefer Sh’mot, the Book of Exodus.

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In these last chapters, we are told of the generosity of the people in giving all the materials needed for constructing the Tabernacle; in fact, Moses had to order them to stop bringing materials because they had contributed too much.  We are told how the construction and materials were made, and these chapters are almost a word-for-word repetition of the instructions God gave Moses earlier. The style of the last chapters of Exodus regarding the Tabernacle is like reading “Here is what you are to do”, in minute detail, then we read “This is what they did”, in minute detail, ending with “And this is what was done”, in minute detail.

The last chapters tell us that Moses blesses the people for their work (which is likely when he wrote Psalm 90), which they did exactly as God commanded, and we end this book with God’s presence filling the Tabernacle.

And we end this book of the Torah with the statement we use at the end of each book:

Chazak! Chazak! V’nit Chazek!
(Be strong! Be strong! And let us be strengthened)

Regarding the building of the Tabernacle, we are given so many minute details of every aspect of this task. We are told how many loops, how many posts and bearings, what is made of which material, how many pomegranates, the dimensions of each section of the tent, and the weights of the materials used.

Would you like to know why there is so much detail regarding the building of the Tabernacle?

So would I. And you know what else? I don’t think we will ever know.

The same sort of minute detailing is given when Ezekiel measured the Temple, which we can read about in Ezekiel 40-43. It seems that there must be some reason, and maybe that reason is simply so that when we do rebuild the Temple, we will already know what we need to have and how to do it.

Who knows? Let’s move on…

What I found interesting in these readings is that Moses did not ask for God’s guidance or pray for success when they started to build the Tabernacle, and he did not bless the people for their work until after the entire task was completed correctly. I have always thought that when we start a project or begin a task, we should ask God for guidance and bless the people performing the task.

But the Chumash explains Moses held back his blessing until after the project was completed because it is an easy thing to start something difficult, but very hard and rare to complete it exactly as it was supposed to be done.

My take on this is that a blessing is not given but earned.

That also jibes with what we read in the Bible, as God’s blessings were given after something was done and not before.  We should ask for God’s guidance and help, but a blessing is not to be given until the task is completed.

The same holds true with obedience. God has many blessings, so many that if you put them into a bottomless pit they would spill out over the top, but we will not receive even one blessing if we do not do something worthy of one.

Yes, there are times when God will bless someone even though they don’t deserve one, and we know that he rains on the just and the unjust, alike, so there will be times a blessing is given that has not been earned, but that is God’s choice to do. After all, these are his blessings to give, and if he wants to give one for no reason that we can discern, then he can give it. And really…  who in their right mind would ever refuse a blessing?

The lesson for us from all this is that when we do as God says we should, we will receive a blessing. We will not get anything for not doing anything, and that means when you have a need and ask God to help you, he is willing and able to help but he will not do it for you.
Too many people sit around complaining about their life and asking for prayer from others. Yet, when they are given advice on how to get out of their slump or how to meet their needs, they always seem to have some excuse why that won’t work. Or they will say they have tied it and it didn’t work. I often wonder when someone says nothing works if they really tried hard enough to make it work. How many times have you tried to open a jar and found it too hard, but then you get angry at the jar and you can open it? Is it the anger, the adrenaline, or just simply that you finally put the effort needed into the task?

When you are in a slump or have a need, it is right and a good idea to ask God for help, but he won’t do anything until you walk in faith (as Abraham did) by getting off your kvetching tuchas and do what you would do as if you already had what you asked for. Yeshua tells us this is what we should do in Mark 11:24 when he said:

Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, trust that you are receiving it, and it will be yours.

Figure out what you want, determine how to get it, ask God for help and then get started. Don’t wait for the answer and don’t wait for a sign, for no sign shall be given. Just walk in faith trusting that what you asked for will be given to you. But keep your eyes open and your ears clear so that you can see where God leads you once you start walking; you never know, you may start in the wrong direction and God will have to redirect you.

God’s blessings are here for the asking, but they are not given until the work is done.

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I welcome your comments and until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom.

Too Early to Know

I was reading Dear Abby this morning and a 16-year-old girl wrote in how she and another boy, one year older than her, like each other but the boy wasn’t ready for a relationship. This, of course, is driving the girl crazy.

Here’s what drove me a little crazy about this issue: she says the boy is a transgender boy.

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He is only 17 years old!! She wasn’t female long enough to even know what being a female is all about, and yet the parents, as well as the legal system, has allowed this child to sexually mutilate herself into himself and take mind-altering, as well as physiological altering, drugs just because she “thinks” she should be a he before she or he has even finished puberty!!

Now wait a minute…before anyone who is a member of the LGBTQ community jumps down my throat, this is NOT a judgment on your lifestyle or sexual/gender identification, or your rights.  That is not the issue here.

The issue is that a child of 16 or 17, and certainly one much younger, is not mature enough, either physically, emotionally or socially, to make a life-changing decision such as changing their gender. Even with psychological counseling, they are just too damn young and (life) inexperienced to make such a drastic decision.

We don’t let them drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes until they are 21, and they can’t even vote until they are 18. So if these simple decisions that are reversible during their lifetime are considered too difficult a decision for them to make until they are of legal age, why can pre-pubescent children be allowed to alter their gender?

I believe the parents who allow this should be charged with child abuse and the doctors should have their licenses revoked and charged with malpractice. No child of 16 or 17 is able to make a sound, mature and experienced decision about which gender they identify with.

And anyone who disagrees is, in my opinion, saying that only as a defense mechanism, without a care at all for the child’s welfare. They disagree only because they want to support an agenda that is not really being questioned here.

This country allows drag queens to read to toddlers in public libraries- libraries that receive their funding from the community. These innocent children are too young to even know what morals are, let alone have enough life experience to know what a drag queen really is. To them, these men are no different than a circus clown all dressed up. But there is a BIG difference- those men dressed as women are not clowning around.

I know gay people and have family members who are gay and have never once judged them, even though I know what God says and don’t agree at all with their lifestyle. But right or wrong, sinful or not, a sex change operation is such a drastic event that it must be prohibited until such time as the person requesting it is of legal age and has shown enough life experience and emotional maturity for a panel of experts to determine that this person is making an informed decision.

God has been removed from our courts and schools and replaced with politically correct sinfulness, moral depreciation, and fear of being labeled as someone not tolerant or compassionate.  I know prayer is a powerful weapon, but even in the Bible we read how both the Northern, and later the Southern Kingdoms had committed such horrible sins, and for so long, that God was past hearing their prayers and was on his throne of judgment.

I believe that America is in the same place that Shomrom was in after King Ahab, which a few hundred years later Judea was in after King Manasseh.

We have been sinning too much and too long for prayer to wash us clean, and the only thing left to us now is judgment.

God made us the way we are and if someone wants to change what God did, then they will have to deal with God on their own. And whether or not you believe in transgender sex operations, no one should be able to do that to themselves until they are at least of legal age, as well as having shown enough maturity, experience, and understanding of the consequences of their actions to demonstrate they really know what they are doing.

And no teenager can do that.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe. I welcome your comments and until next time, L’hitraot, wash your hands,  and Baruch HaShem!