Parashah Vayetze 2019 (He went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Jacob leaves his home and travels to his uncle, Laban. On the way, he rests and dreams of a ladder to heaven with the angels going up and down on it, and he names that place Beit-El (House of God.)  When he arrives at Paddan-Aram, he first sees Rachel and helps her water her sheep. He is invited back to Laban’s house and after a month Laban offers to pay him for his work.

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They make a deal that Jacob will work 7 years in exchange for Rachel, but when the time comes to marry her Laban places Leah, her older sister, in the tent with Jacob. In the dark and veiled, Jacob can’t see he was tricked (karma?) and when he brings this to Laban’s attention, Laban says it is customary to give the older away before the younger, but if Jacob works another 7 years he can also have Rachel. This time, though, after the marriage week with Leah Jacob marries Rachel then and there, so he is now married to both as he works the second 7 years.

Jacob and Laban agree again about wages, this time Jacob offers to take the less-desirable goats and sheep, the ones with speckles and stripes, which are born in Laban’s flock. Although Laban changes the agreement several times, Jacob manages to make sure that he has the healthiest and strongest animals in his flock, leaving the weaker ones in Laban’s flock.  Laban’s sons conspire against Jacob, who hears of it, and he secretly leaves during the shearing celebration. Laban finds out about this (in the meantime, Rachel stole the household gods from her father’s tent) and chases after Jacob, but God tells Laban (in a dream) not to harm him.

After searching for the gods and not finding them because Rachel hid them under her saddle and said she couldn’t rise because she was in her time of Niddah, Laban and Jacob make a pact not to cross over a standing stone to do harm to each other, and they both go on their way. Laban goes back to his home and Jacob with his family and belongings back to the home of his father, Isaac.

During the time Jacob worked for Laban, between Leah, her handmaiden, Rachel, and her handmaiden Jacob fathered 11 sons. Benjamin was born on the way back to Canaan, but Rachel died during childbirth.

As I often say, there is just so much in here to work with. When I read the parashah before writing my message, I open my heart and mind to the Ruach hoping that something “hits” me, and today what hit me was that Leah suffered much and seemed to be more righteous than Rachel. And for that, she was rewarded (although she never saw it) with her sons being the ones that had the most influence on the children of Israel throughout the ages – Judah and Levi, the kings and priests of Israel.

Yes, Joseph (who was born from Rachel) saved the children of Jacob from starvation, as well as most of the known world, and his children were given the honor (by Jacob) of becoming the means of a blessing (“May they be like Ephraim and Manasseh…”), but that was it. They ended up being dispersed throughout the world and having no beneficial influence on the Israelites, having been centered outside of the land God promised (half of Manasseh) and the rest in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was never anything more than a cesspool of sinfulness.

Leah was not loved by Jacob, nor was she as pretty as her sister, yet she faithfully endured through this and was (in my opinion) humble and grateful before God. Leah named her sons Reuben (see! a son), Shimon (hearing, showing gratitude that God heard her), Levi (joining, thinking now that she has given Jacob three sons he will be joined to her), and Judah, which means “praise.”  Every son she bore she named in a manner that gave thanks to God.

Rachel remained infertile for a long time but after God smiled on her and gave her a son, she named him Joseph, which means “may he add”, as in add another son. In other words, give me more, which isn’t quite as humble or grateful as Leah was.

When I read through this and realized that Leah, the less loved and more humble of the two, was honored with her sons being ones given the leadership of Israel, it reminded me of Psalm 149:4, which says:

For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.

and Proverbs 3:34:

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

Leah showed faithful suffering, being unloved by her husband even after fulfilling her role as a wife better than her sister did.  It was Rachel that stole the family gods, Rachel that lied to her father (to hide what she had stolen) and Rachel who sold her own husband’s conjugal duties for some mandrakes. Yet we don’t read anything about Leah, other than about her suffering as an unloved wife, not even living in the same tent as her husband.

We all suffer some ingratitude from those we have helped; we all sometimes suffer ungratefulness for the good things we have done, and we all feel unloved by someone we love, at least once in our lifetime. And our lesson today is that we need to be like Leah, suffering faithfully and never losing trust in God that the tsouris we are going through now will yield rewards in the future. And we may not see those rewards in our lifetime, as Leah didn’t, but we can learn from Leah that they will come. The humble will be honored and the prideful will be brought low.

One last point: Rachel was loved more, but buried alone in the desert, while Leah was buried with the Patriarchs of Judaism and their wives, and while separated from Jacob during her lifetime, she is now with him throughout eternity.

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I wish you all Shabbat Shalom, and until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

Can We Have Too Much Knowledge?

I know there are probably (at least) some of you who are thinking to yourselves, “We can never have too much knowledge!”, and you may be right. I think knowledge is a weapon, and like any other weapon -knife, gun, club – it isn’t the weapon itself that is dangerous but how we use it.

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I accepted that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah Adonai (Y-H-V-H) promised to send us and that as a Jewish man I could accept him and not be a traitor to my people or to our 5,000-year-old history.  That was about 21 years ago, and since then I have constantly been learning more about God, the Bible, and the history and culture of my people.

I have also joined more than a few (and left more than a few) “Christian” or “Messianic” discussion groups on Facebook. I have done this so I can spread my ministry and also learn from others. In all this, I learned one thing that I believe is absolutely necessary for all of us to be aware of: everyone thinks that what they know is the absolute truth.

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else, except I do give myself credit for this…I know I may not always be right. I still think what I think is right, but I leave room for doubt, and that is why I believe I can say to you that you need to leave room for doubt, as well.

Too much knowledge can lead us to idolatry. Really! In our heartfelt desire to know more about God and what he wants from us, we can become so obsessed with knowing that we begin to worship learning instead of the one we are learning about. We get crazy over the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton; we get crazy over the proper calendar; we get crazy when someone disagrees with us; and we get crazy when someone else tells us it isn’t that important, which I have done many times and am doing again now.

I think the most important thing to know is what is important to know.

For example, let’s say someone learned something new about the pronunciation of God’s name, do you think that when you prayed to him before, using that “bad” name, he ignored you? Do you believe that if you had never learned what you believe now to be the correct pronunciation that despite your prayers, worship, and works you would have gone to hell because you used that “wrong” name?

I hope not! From what I have learned about God, he is not just compassionate and understanding but he desires to forgive us when we repent of something we did that was wrong. And if you are thinking about Leviticus 5:17, where he tells us that even if we are ignorant of sin we committed, we are still guilty, well…you’re right! So, what do we do then?

We ask for forgiveness of the sins we did not know we committed, and (this is what I do) pray to be guided by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to recognize sin before we do it, and to be given the strength to overcome it.

Yeshua says that unless we come to him as a child, meaning innocent and trusting, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If you believe that, then the search for knowledge is dangerous in that a child is not a scholar. Wanting to know everything will drive you crazy, just as it did Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), and may lead you down the wrong path. What I mean by that is this: what if, just IF, what you think you know is wrong? Then you would be sinning against God while trying to be obedient. People who ignore the instructions God gave because they have been taught that could be in that group, as well as those who do what God instructs only because they want to be “right” instead of doing it because they want to honor God.

The Gnostics believed in secret messages within the Scriptures, and that this special knowledge was necessary for salvation. It wasn’t, and it still isn’t.

For the record, and to make sure no one misunderstands me, I am not saying knowledge is a bad thing, or that learning should not be a life-long endeavor. What I am saying is that you need to be careful when you are learning not to become so obsessed with learning that you neglect to trust the one you are learning about; trust that he is more concerned about your desires than your pronunciation, trust that he knows your heart and what you truly want, and trust that God can lead you where you need to go, even if you don’t know the way.

And, finally, trusting God enough to not need to know why.

I have used the pronunciation of God’s holy name as an example, and I will, undoubtedly, get responses justifying a particular pronunciation of his name, which will be a shame. It will only prove that the ones responding with that are so obsessed with their desire to demonstrate their knowledge that they have completely missed my point, which is that the search for knowledge can lead to idolatry and Gnosticism, and take us away from the path of righteousness.

Continue to read, continue to study, and continue to seek out God and knowledge of him. There is nothing wrong with this. My warning is that you need to make sure that your need to know doesn’t outweigh your ability to simply trust without knowing.

As for me, I like to learn and will continue to do so, and the most important thing I have learned is what I don’t need to know.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

What God Cannot Do

“What? What are you talking about? How can you say that the creator of the Universe, the all-mighty and all-powerful God of our Fathers can’t do something? He can do anything!”

No, he can’t.

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He can’t sin. He can’t abide with sin. He can’t judge unfairly. He can’t allow the unrepentant to go unpunished. He can’t do evil, although he will allow evil to be done.

He is all-powerful, true, but he is also restricted by both his faithfulness and his holiness to do only those things that he allows himself to do.

“But what about what he says in Deuteronomy 28? He promises to curse us if we are disobedient, and his curses are terrible. That’s evil, isn’t it?”

The curses he promises to fall on the disobedient are terrible, but God doesn’t actively curse us. He actively protects us from the curses that are already in the world.

We live in a fallen and cursed place, and those who live in the world without the protection of God will be affected by the curses that already exist. The reason the world is a cursed place is that this is where HaSatan was thrown when he was ejected from heaven (Revelation 12:7) and he is the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2:2.) Satan rules the world (for the time being) and anyone living in the world is subject to his cursed realm. When we are obedient to God, God will protect us from the world.

That is why when we read the blessings and the curses in Deuteronomy 28, we see that the curses are the exact opposite of the blessings.

For the record: there is a difference between failing to follow God’s instructions and refusing to follow them, so don’t think that you will be punished every time you mess up. Yes, God tells us in Leviticus that anyone who sins, whether they know it or not, is guilty. But God is understanding of our weaknesses and is very compassionate; he isn’t just willing to forgive, he desires to forgive the repentant sinner. Therefore, when you mess up, repent and ask forgiveness (in Yeshua’s name, of course) so you will not have to suffer the curses.

When we have health problems or tsouris in our life, we shouldn’t automatically blame God, and we shouldn’t automatically assume we are under satanic attack, either. Sometimes bad things happen for no other reason than we live in a bad place, and you can’t walk through a sheep pen without getting something on your shoes, no matter how careful you are.

The great comic George Carlin once asked, “If God can do anything, can he make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” I have always thought that to be a wonderfully thoughtful and funny joke. I don’t see it as impertinent or disrespectful, but as something for us to ponder simply because it raises a legitimate point, i.e. is there something that God can’t do?

Today’s drash is all about what God can’t do. But what is even more important is to realize that those things God can’t do should be a comfort for us. Because he can’t sin, we can trust him to always be there for us in a supportive way.

Because he can’t do evil, we can always count on him to keep evil away from us (when we walk in his will.)

Because he can’t judge unfairly, we know that those who sin against others will be punished.

There are so many things that God can be counted on because there are things he can’t do.

Trust God to always be there for you, and even in the midst of your trials and tribulations, God is standing by with a towel and a refreshing drink of cool water for you when you turn to him, and that is because one other thing that God cannot do is to not love you.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Toledoth 2019 (History) Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

This parashah contains the narrative of how Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright. After doing this, he also fooled his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn Isaac had intended for Esau, so twice Jacob supplanted and “stole” Esau’s rights.

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After this was done, Esau pledged to kill Jacob as soon as their father died, so hearing of this, Rebekah had Isaac send Jacob to Paddan-Aram, where her brother Laban lived to find a wife for himself. Of course, this was also her way to get Jacob away from Esau.

My question is this: did Jacob really steal anything?

Esau was a man of immediate gratification and had no respect for his birthright. This we know simply by how easily he gave it up. He wasn’t on the verge of starvation, although he acted like he was; I mean, really? How far could he have been from his parent’s tent when he came into Jacob’s tent? Jacob made a deal- he knew that Esau had something of value (the birthright) and that he, Jacob, had something Esau wanted, so he simply performed a standard business transaction.

In today’s jargon, we might call the deal he made a “steal”, but he did not really steal anything.

Now, let’s talk about the blessing of the firstborn that he is also supposed to have stolen.

First off, Rebekah was the one who thought up the plan to deceive her husband, not Jacob. In fact, we don’t even know if Rebekah was aware of the fact that Jacob owned the birthright of the one who was to receive that blessing (we’ll come back to this point soon.)  According to my Chumash, Rebekah conceived the plan to fool Isaac after she heard him tell Esau he was going to give him a blessing because she remembered the prophecy she received (Genesis 25:23) when God told her there were two nations in her womb, and the older would serve the younger. Remembering this, she knew she had to make sure Jacob received the greater blessing. That was her motivation for the plot to fool Isaac.

Now, let’s get back to my earlier point about Jacob being the one who owned the right to that blessing. Jacob owned the rights of the firstborn, which would include the blessing for the firstborn. When Esau sold his rights as firstborn, everything that the firstborn was entitled to now belonged to Jacob. That includes the blessing the firstborn is to receive. I think we can make an argument that when Jacob fooled his father, it wasn’t so much to receive the blessing as it was to make sure that Isaac did not do something wrong, i.e. giving the blessing for the firstborn to one who was not entitled to it.

Many “Christian” Bibles have a subtle anti-Semitic tone to them. In fact, most of the Bibles written have copied, or at least maintained, these chapter titles that are phrased in such a way as to mislead the reader. One that really gets my goat is in Acts when Shaul has his revelation of Yeshua. They almost call this one “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus.” Oy, how I hate that! Paul never converted to anything! Today’s section of the Bible is sometimes titled “Jacob Steals Esau’s Blessing”. I found that in an old, Dartmouth Bible I have. A newer Bible, the NIV Study Quest Bible, gives this section the title “Jacob Gets Esau’s Blessing”, so it is a little better than saying it was stolen.  The NLT says he stole it, and most of the others I looked at (about a dozen or so) either have no chapter title or say “Jacob Tricks Isaac.” I would agree that he did trick Isaac, obviously, but I still maintain a less accusatory title would have been something like “Jacob Receives the Blessing of the Firstborn.”

As I said before, if anyone should be blamed for tricking Isaac, it should be Rebekah since it was her idea, to begin with.

After all, that blessing belonged to Jacob the moment Esau sold it to him. And this selling of non-tangible things wasn’t unusual for that culture. In Genesis 30:14, Leah’s son, Reuben found mandrakes, and when Rachel asked for them Leah offered to give them to her in exchange for the conjugal duties of Jacob. Here we see the same sort of transaction, where an intangible right is being bought and sold. So what Jacob did wasn’t as terrible, for that culture, as we would consider it if it was done today.

When we look through the Bible, we see that in order for God’s plan to come to fruition, he often “breaks the rules” that people have created so that his will is done. The firstborn not receiving what mankind mandated the firstborn should receive is one example of this, and we see it in this parashah, and also later with Manasseh and Ephraim, then David, Solomon, and throughout the kingships of the Northern Kingdom of Israel up even to the day they are destroyed by the Assyrians.

We have to live under the laws and regulations of this world, which will have an impact on our lives; however, they will not have any impact on God’s plan for us. So no matter who cheats you or steals from you, or just misleads you, remember that you can trust in God to steer you back onto the course he wants you to be on. In fact, someone’s treachery against you may actually be God’s way of getting you where he wants you to be!

Always trust God to direct and rescue you no matter what happens in your life, whether it be a blessing or tsouris.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, if you haven’t done so already. Share this out with friends and family and check out my entire website- so many people have told me that they were blessed when they saw my testimony.

I welcome your comments, and until next time, Shabbat shalom and Baruch HaShem!

Thanksgiving Day 2019 Message

Here in the United States, today is Thanksgiving Day.

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It was originally a day that our first President, George Washington, designated as a day to give thanks for the creation of our National Constitution. Today most people believe it started when the earliest settlers in this country shared their first harvest with the Native Americans who literally saved their lives by showing them how to farm the land.

I believe the most important thing people should be thankful for is the sacrifice that Yeshua (Jesus) made when he allowed himself to be crucified, becoming a substitution for the animal that was to be brought to the temple in Jerusalem.

The Torah states that we can only sacrifice to God where he has placed his name (Deut. 12:14):

Be careful not to offer your burnt offerings just anywhere you see, but do it in the place Adonai will choose in one of your tribal territories; there is where you are to offer your burnt offerings and do everything I order you to do.

When Yeshua rose from the grave, that was proof that his sacrifice was accepted by God, and from that moment on, we were able to receive forgiveness of sin through Yeshua’s sacrifice, which meant that receiving forgiveness was no longer geographically restricted. After the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, only those who have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah are able to receive forgiveness of sin.

As a Jew, I am exceptionally thankful to Yeshua for what he did for me, as well as the many people God placed in my life, both for good and for evil, who eventually helped me find and accept Yeshua. It is very hard for a Jewish person to accept Yeshua because of what Christianity has done to him. They have removed everything Jewish from him, and modern Christianity is based not on what Yeshua taught, but what Constantine (and all those who followed after him) created. Not to mention how many millions of Jews have been tortured and murdered over the past two millennia, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

We should be thankful for what we have, and not worry about what we don’t have. Sometimes we want more than we really can afford and even though we make ends meet, we find that the sacrifice we have to make to have something, just to have it, isn’t really worth it. Instead of being thankful for that thing, we begin to resent it because of all the other things we might have had.

We should also be thankful for all that we don’t have: if you’re not sure what I mean, think of everyone you know or have heard of with tsouris in their life that you don’t have in your life, and I think you will understand.

The apostle Shaul (Paul) once wrote (Philippians 4:12-13):

I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation— to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. “

He accredited this to finding his needs and strength in the Messiah. That is what we can do, as well.

Finally, just as everything else humans get their grubby little hands on, this day dedicated to thanksgiving has been polluted with sports events, parades, and marketing mania. Instead of being a day we can get together with family to give thanks for so many things, we get together with family, all right, but it’s to watch football and eat until we burst. Maybe there is a general sense of being thankful, but is it real? Are we genuinely taking the time to thank God for all we have? Even if all we have is a little, it is better than nothing, and even those with nothing still have their life and the opportunity to make it better.

As you enjoy your holiday (and yes, the turkey, too), be thankful for all that you have and all that you have yet to receive. Today is for you to appreciate what God has given you, and whether you have a lot or a little, whatever you have is more than someone else has, so be thankful.

One last thought: this holiday is just one day of the year, but we should be thankful every moment of every day, all year long.

I am thankful for you, and appreciate you being here. Please subscribe and share this ministry with others, and remember that I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!