Parashah Va-ayra 2020 (I appeared) Exodus 6:2 – 9

In the previous parashah, Moses had complained to God asking why God hasn’t freed the people but instead, now they are treated worse than ever before. God told Moses that this was all designed so that God could now show his might.

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This parashah starts with God telling Moses that he and Aaron will bring the people out, and that to Pharaoh Moses will be like God, and Aaron will be his prophet (we will come back to this later.)

From this point on we begin one of the most well-known and wonderful events in all of human history: Moses and Aaron continue to ask Pharaoh to let the people go, he refuses, and God sends his plagues on Egypt. These plagues start easily enough, meaning that Pharaoh’s magicians can mimic the miracles, but soon even the magicians cannot duplicate these events and by the 4th plague, everyone within Pharaoh’s government is asking Pharaoh to let the people go, but he refuses.

This parashah ends with the plague of hail that turns to fire when it lands.

We all know the story of the 10 Plagues. These plagues showed God’s strength as each plague overpowered one of the many Egyptian animal gods. First, they were duplicatable, then they were not, and soon enough God demonstrated not only his power to send these plagues on Egypt but his ability to keep his own people safe from them.

When I read a parashah I ask for some message, some insight that might be new, and today I think I received something. That’s what great about reading the Bible over and over – you never know when something you have read a million times will suddenly have a different meaning for you.

For me, it was when I read Chapter 7 in the book of Exodus, which begins with this:

And the Lord said unto Moses: “See, I have set thee in God’s stead to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shall speak all that I command thee; and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.”

If we imagine that Pharaoh represents the people in the world, and Moses and Aaron are God and his prophet, respectively, then this can represent more than just God giving Moses and Aaron roles to play. What is interesting is that nowhere does it even imply Aaron was considered to be the progenitor of those miracles. No, it was always Moses who got the credit for the miracle: Moses turned the water into blood, Moses brought the locusts, Moses stopped the locusts, etc.

Throughout the ages we have seen prophets and judges perform great miracles, and when you think about it, how many times have those miracles been credited to the person? Elijah and the 400 Prophets of Ba’al, Gideon and his military victory, Samson and his strength: these and other stories are about the prophets and judges who performed great deeds, but wasn’t it God who actually did it all?

Too often we ignore the “man behind the curtain” and give credit to the false wizard who demonstrates the fearsome feats.

And the best example, which could just as well be called the worst example, is how so many people worship Jesus Christ and give him all the credit for what God wrought through him.

Messiah was no different from any of the prophets or judges God sent to do his work in the world.  True, Yeshua was a miracle baby, and he was the only prophet from God who died and was resurrected to life (Samuel being called from Sheol by Saul doesn’t count), and it’s true that Yeshua was the only one of all God’s prophets who was acceptable to act as a substitutionary sacrifice for us all.

But when it comes down to it, Yeshua tells us over and over, and over again throughout the Gospels that he was only doing what he was told to do. Just the same way that Aaron did what Moses told him to do. Yeshua should NOT be worshiped any more than Aaron should have been, or Moses (for that matter) because only God is deserving of worship.

Yes, I know the Bible tells us that people at times bowed down and worshiped Yeshua, but when I looked at dozens of biblical verses regarding the worship of Yeshua, the only place that I found anything indicating that Yeshua was worshiped was in the New Covenant.

One day I shall write about how the New Covenant, which is scripture which quotes from and is based upon the Tanakh, was composed by non-Jews for Gentiles who didn’t want to be Jewish anymore, and has many questionable references, such as making it seem to be okay to worship a man instead of God.
But…that is for another time.

How many times have you heard it said by people, Pastor’s, Ministers, Priests, or Rabbis that God deserves all the credit and our worship? I know that in my experience, almost every single time we have a Shabbat or Holy Day service, somewhere in there we are told that it is all about God.

Then we hear people pray to saints or to Yeshua for help, or ask a human being to provide forgiveness, or worship the Messiah and call him our God. In some places, people actually bow down before a graven image of a human being and pray to it.

There is only one savior- God. There is only one who can help us and forgive us- God. Even when someone performs a miracle, that person is only the tool through which the real power is working, and that real power is- God.

There is one God whose power is often manifested through whomever he chooses, and the rest of the world can accept that or reject it. And, for the record, when you reject the true originator of the power behind the Messiah, you have placed a wedge between you and God and are practicing idolatry.

Moses was, in fact, the prophet through whom God worked his power, and eventually (as we get further along in Exodus) we see that Aaron’s position changes from performing God’s miracles to being the intermediary between the people and God, teaching and leading them in the proper worship of God.

We are not saved by the sacrificial death of the Messiah, but in fact by his resurrection. That resurrection was not brought about by Yeshua but by God. So, you see, even though it is true that through Yeshua we can be saved, the actual “savior” is God because God provided the Messiah.

Always give credit to God, worship God alone, and ask God for what you need. Remember: Yeshua never said pray to him to receive, but when we pray (meaning to God) we are to ask for what we need in Yeshua’s name. When God answers a prayer that is made invoking the name of his Messiah, not only does it honor the Messiah but that, in turn, will glorify God.

We can credit Yeshua for all the suffering he endured on our behalf, and we can be thankful to him; we can honor him and praise him for what he did, but we cannot worship him or put him in the place of God, who is our true rock and redeemer.

To paraphrase the famous line from the Wizard of Oz,  “Don’t ignore the man behind the curtain.”

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Until next time, Shabbat shalom and Baruch HaShem!

Beware of Spiritual Misdirection

If you have ever watched magicians, one of the basic skills they possess is to misdirect their audience. They do this with sleight of hand, lighting, mirrors, and more often than not (all the major stars use this) one or more really attractive assistants who dance seductively around.

Sometimes they are so distracting that you could walk the tiger into the cage in front of everyone and no one would notice.

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Through the Prophets in the Bible, God warns us that there will be false teachers, and these people will use a form of spiritual misdirection to turn our attention away from what is important for us to do; their goal is to make us do what we think is right but actually it will lead us away from salvation.

The way you can identify being misdirected is not difficult: you simply have to know which direction is the right one. Let’s say you know how to get to a building but someone tells you there is a short cut you can use, if you know your way around then you will be able to immediately know the path they are sending you on is a false one.

It is the same with the path to salvation. When you know what God says he wants of you from reading the Bible, and that means the entire Bible – Genesis through Revelation – then if someone tells you to take a different path, one you know is not what the Bible has mapped out, then you can avoid being misdirected.

Often times this misdirection will not be obvious but might be hidden, like a Trojan horse, within a conversation or a discussion. Numerology, Gnosticism, the argumentation over the correct way to pronounce the name of God or the Messiah, when to celebrate holy days, and many other topics that appear to be a legitimate bible study topic are often misdirection. They take one’s focus away from the worship of God to the worship of knowing things about God.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with learning about God; in fact, he tells us exactly who he is in Exodus 34:6-7. We call these The 13 Attributes of God; it is when God passed by Moses and announced himself. If you ask me, this is all we need to know about God. I believe if there was more he wanted us to know, he would have told us.

True faith is not dissecting everything about God or the Bible, it is humbly accepting what we are told as all we need to know. Once we start to get too deep into details, we lose sight of the goal; after all, you can’t find your way out of a forest if you only stare at the tree directly in front of you.

That goal, the one everyone should be seeking, is Salvation. Salvation must be the goal of everyone, even though most don’t know or even care about being saved. Atheists don’t believe God exists, so salvation means nothing to them. Most Christians have been taught that Jesus died for their sins, which are now automatically forgiven, and as long as they are a “good person” they go to heaven. Jews believe that we have no salvation without Messiah, but sadly enough, mainstream Judaism has rejected their Messiah, and only those who learn the truth about Yeshua and accept him will have a chance at being saved from the second death. Muslims are completely off-road.

Because salvation is the ultimate goal, we must know the way to get there, and the Bible tells us how in a way that is clear, understandable, and direct: the path is to do as God instructs us to do in the Torah. Yeshua never taught to ignore or avoid the Torah, but modern Christianity (if we want to be accurate, it should be called Constantinianism) teaches to ignore pretty much all the instructions God gave.

And my own people, the Jews? The Rabbis have added so much more onto the Torah through Talmudic dogma that most Jews are practicing what I would have to call Rabbinic Judaism instead of just what God said we need to do.

Anyone who teaches to divert from the Torah is a false teacher, and anyone who allows themself to be misdirected will be led off the path to salvation. That is a simple truth; if you don’t walk the roadmap God gave you then you are going somewhere else. And since we have only two pathways, an eternity in God’s presence or eternity outside of his presence, we better know which way we are going.

That’s it. That’s all I want to say to you today. But this isn’t all there is to it, because reading the Bible is a lifelong activity, and the more you read it, the better you will understand it. God has a message in there for you, and you may not realize what it is until the third or fourth reading, or maybe it will take even longer. The thing to do is to keep reading, ask for Holy Spirit guidance in understanding, and realize that there are many, many people out there who might misdirect you, even though they may think they are doing God’s work.

Satan has a lot of Three Card Monty tables set up along your walk through this life, and he wants you to play, so don’t be misdirected and stay on the pathway God made for you.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Don’t be Confused by Labels

I often see people posting, and this is exclusively by Gentile believers, asking if they can be called “Jewish”, or (most recently) if they can be a “Hebrew” if they are not Jewish by birth.

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Some people answer them with factoids, such as the word “Hebrew” means “crossed over”, so if they have crossed over to Yeshua then they are a “Hebrew.” Others say you have to be Jewish by birth because Jews and Hebrews are the same. And others answered with something in between these two extremes.

My answer was that it doesn’t matter.

There were some who took my answer as an insult to Judaism and to God since the Jews are his chosen people, but they didn’t see the deeper, spiritual meaning of my answer.

Hebrew, Jew, Christian, Believer, Protestant, Catholic…these and any other specification of one’s religious position or belief are nothing more than social connotations identifying a belief system. They are labels, and as such, they are only as accurate as what a person hearing that label understands it to mean.

In other words, getting all caught up in what people call someone is a form of legalism, concentrating on a social identifier instead of the spiritual condition of the person.

When Yeshua taught from the Torah, he didn’t teach the plain language meaning, which in the Jewish form of biblical exegesis is called the P’shat.

(If you are unfamiliar with this terminology, do a search for “PaRDeS.”)

What Yeshua taught was the Remes, the deeper, spiritual understanding of the law. You can see this best when you read the Sermon on the Mount, where he says they have heard one thing, (which is the P’shat) and then he says that he tells them this (which is the Remes); for instance, he says you have heard it said Do Not Murder (P’shat) but I tell you if you hate your brother in your heart, you have already committed murder (Remes).

My answer regarding labels is a spiritual answer because when we are with God, he doesn’t care about what people called us. He doesn’t care if we were Jewish, or Episcopalian, or Catholic or AME or Muslim, even: all God cares about is where are now, spiritually, and not where we were. And where we are doesn’t have a label, other than (if we have to have one, maybe this is the best label): “Faithful Follower of the Torah.”

That has to be the best label because if we believe in God and Yeshua, we have to follow the instructions God gave us in the Torah, which are the same instructions Yeshua taught us. Through Moses and the Pharisees, we were given a plain language understanding of God’s instructions, and when Yeshua came he took us into the next level of understanding, the spiritual one. Think of it this way: The people were going to God College and from Mt. Sinai until Yeshua, they were taking “Torah 101”, and when Yeshua came those who wanted to advance in their knowledge accepted him and were being taught the advanced class “Torah 202.”

And for those who are studying the Bible every day and striving to understand the deeper, spiritual meaning of God’s word, they are attending Torah graduate school.

There is so much importance given to things that are physical, things of the world, such as labels, pronunciations (if God knows our heart and mind, he knows who we mean when we pray), calendar dates, or anything else that is of the physical world. All of this is nothing more than social convention, something that is P’shat and useful only to identify a physical condition.

Anyone who is adopted or has adopted someone, please let me know if I am wrong about this, but I believe that when parents with their own biological children adopt other children, they do not introduce them as “Johnny is my real child and Harry is only my adopted child.” I believe they say, “These are my sons, Johnny and Harry.”  It is the same with God: when he sees us, he doesn’t care what label the world puts on us, he knows who we are he doesn’t care about what we are called.

I hope I have made myself understandable. It seems to me that there are people who are so passionate about labels, minutia, and non-salvation issues that they literally worship these things, and are so involved in the trees they can’t see the forest anymore.

Are you seeing only the trees? Do you think it is really important to God if you are able to say you are Jewish or a Hebrew, or that your calendar has the exact correct date for Yom Kippur this year, or that you know the only correct way to pronounce the Tetragrammaton?

God sees and knows the heart, which is something we are told throughout the Bible, so why would anyone think that a social convention such as a label or a name would have any importance to God?

I pray that this message gets through to someone because I really believe, and know in my heart, that God wants us to live our lives as best as we can in accordance with his instructions. What label we call ourselves by, what pronunciation we use when addressing God, or what calendar we go by is of no real importance to God- it is only important to people who have little spiritual depth and are concerned about what other people think of them. I am sorry if someone feels insulted or mistreated by that statement, but it is what I believe based on my understanding of God and what he has shown me in his Word.

Let’s finish today with you asking yourself this question: Does God know my feelings without me having to say anything?  If you answered Yes, then he doesn’t need words and therefore, all the labels, pronunciations and other things that are of social use are of no use to him, so work on seeing and learning the spiritual things of God and don’t let yourself get all wrapped up and misled by legalistic definitions or labels. They have no eternal value at all.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Sh’mot 2020 (the Names) Exodus 1 – 6:1

This second book of the Torah begins with the history of Moses. He was born at the time when the Pharaoh wanted all male children killed, but his mother hid him until he was three months old, then she sent him down the Nile trusting in God to save him. He was found by Pharaoh’s sister, who took pity on him and saved him from being drowned.

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Miriam was following her brother, who the Egyptian named “Moshe”, and offered to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the child, bringing him back to his own mother. She raised him as a Hebrew child until he was weaned (back in those days that could have been until he was a toddler), and then he was raised by the Egyptians as one of the royal family.

As an adult, one day Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and in anger, he killed the Egyptian. That became known and Moshe fled for his life, ending up in Midyan, marrying a Midianite woman and working for her father, a priest of Midyan.

When Moshe was 80 years old, he saw the burning bush and God told him to go lead the people out of Egypt. Moshe made any number of excuses, each of which God handled by giving him miraculous signs to perform, and eventually even allowing Aaron to act as the mouthpiece for Moshe. In the end, God had to order Moshe to go; yet, on the way, Moshe still did something that made God so angry he was going to kill him, but Zipporah saved him by circumcising Gershom, his oldest son.

Moshe comes to the people and shows them the signs, and they believe him. Then he and Aaron go to Pharaoh to ask to let the people go three days into the desert to worship Adonai, but Pharaoh refuses, and to make things worse, he orders that no straw be given the people but they must still make their quota of bricks, forcing them to work day and night, gathering stubble from the fields.

This parashah ends with Moshe asking God why he has made things worse, and God explains that this is so that he can now show all his wonders.

Of all the possible lessons, both historical and spiritual that can be found within this one parashah, I want to talk about something that is, essentially, social.

The reason the Israelites become enslaved was not due to riotous actions, rebellions, or anything criminal. It was that they were blessed by God and grew strong. Their numbers grew, and the absence of any reason to enslave them, other than what the Torah tells us, i.e. the fear of the Egyptian leadership that these people may one day turn against them, indicates that they were living peacefully and separate from the Egyptians. The Israelites did their thing, and the Egyptians did their thing, and neither bothered the other. In the end, it wasn’t what the Israelites did that caused them to become slaves, but what the Egyptians were afraid they might do.

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world, and since we know that God gives us blessings in order that we can share them, the blessings to the world were first found within Israel. And throughout history, every time Israel shares their blessings with others, it is turned against them.

In Egypt, they were enslaved for being prosperous. In Isaiah 39, we read that after Hezekiah shows the emissaries of the King of Babylon his riches, the king of Babylon decides to take them for himself. In Spain, the riches and business success of the Jewish population led to their persecution and exile during the Inquisition. Even the Pope at that time told Isabella not to exile the Jews because they were beneficial to the Spanish economy, but she refused to listen.

And we all know what happened in Germany.

Even today, many (if not most) of the technological and medical advancements that have benefitted the world came from Israel: did you know that Israel is the leading technological contributor to the world today? Yet, despite all the wonderful blessings Israel has given to the world, the world supports the enemies of Israel!

Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs!

God chose the descendants of Abraham, who the world knows as “the Jews” to be the way he, God, blesses the world. He has given us the gifts that have made the world better, but this blessing came with a curse: in a world that is sinful, egocentric and full of fear and jealousy, the gifts that the Jews share with the world have made them the targets of the world.

I have written before about the number of Nobel prizes given to Jews compared to the rest of the world. Currently, Jews represent .02% of the world’s population, which is 2 out of every 100 people. Yet, of all the Nobel prizes awarded, those won by Jews represent nearly 24% of all prizes, across the board.

Just as the King of Babylon wanted the riches that Hezekiah had, the world wants what God has given to the Jewish people. But, what the world doesn’t realize, is that these gifts from God are to be given to the world through the Jews. In other words, the Jewish people are the distribution means for God’s blessings; destroy the Jews, and there will be no more blessings.

God has certainly blessed us, but this blessing has also been the bane of our existence; God wants his people to bless the world, but in doing so the world has turned against his people.

Over and over we read in the Bible, and also see in human history, that the more the Jewish people bless the world, the more the world hates us. Even the greatest of all blessings, the Messiah, who came from the Jewish people, has been turned against us and under his name millions of Jews have been tortured, persecuted and murdered.

Yet, we persevere. God will never allow his people to disappear from the earth, and despite the terrible and unappreciative way the world treats us, we will continue to share our gifts and blessings with the world. Why? Because we fear God, and we want to do as God has told us to do.

When we obey God, he is on our side, and no matter what the world tries to do, we will NEVER be destroyed.

As Shaul said to the Jews in Rome (Romans 8:31): “…when God is with us, who can be against us?”

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Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!

Why Isn’t Simchat Torah in Nissan?

For those of you who may not be familiar with Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah), it is the holiday that comes on the 8th day after Sukkot.  On this day we all get together in the Synagogue and read the end portion of Deuteronomy, then as the congregation sings (and in some places will also have Davidic dancing, usually a Hora since everyone can dance the Hora) the Torah is rolled back to the very beginning, and after that is done the first portion of Genesis is read.

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I have been blessed in that many times I have helped to roll back the Torah, and believe-you-me if you want to have forearms that look like Popeye’s, you will get them when you roll back a heavy Torah. You have to be very, VERY careful because it is made of animal skin and tied with animal gut (Kosher animals, of course.) The cost of a Torah can be anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to well into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Torah is separated into 54 Parashot (portions), which are read on each Shabbat. In leap years they are read separately and in non-leap years sometimes two will be read at the same time, in order that at the end of the year, on Simchat Torah, every synagogue in the world will be reading the end of Deuteronomy and turning their Torah back to the beginning. Except for some synagogues which use a three-year cycle of reading instead of a one-year cycle: after all, we’re Jewish and it just wouldn’t be right if we all agreed on something.

BTW…I have written a book that is a commentary on each of the 54 Torah parashot, which can also be used for Bible study or even as fodder for a sermon. Here is a link to where you can buy it if you are interested (Parashot Drashim.)

In Leviticus 23:23 God says the first day of the 7th month is a day of remembrance, a day for blowing on the shofar and a day of complete rest. In Judaism, we say it is the first day of the Ten Days of Awe, during which we look, introspectively, to see how far short of the way God wants us to live we have been and thereby prepare our souls for Yom Kippur, the 10th day of this month when we come before God to ask for forgiveness of our sins over the past year.

If we consider that Rosh Hashanah is a new year celebration, it seems to make sense that the annual reading cycle of the Torah should be associated with it. But God said (Exodus 12:2) that the new year begins on the first day of Aviv (in Hebrew this means “Spring”), which has been renamed to Nissan. Therefore, if God says that is our new year, why isn’t Simchat Torah also celebrated at that time?

I don’t really know if anyone has the answer to that. From the little research I did, it seems that the three-year reading cycle was the norm in Israel until the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, taking many of the Babylonian influences with them, such as the names of the months and the annual reading cycle, which led to this holiday beginning sometime in the Second Millennia.

For me, it makes sense that Simchat Torah could be celebrated either at the beginning of the Holy Day cycle (before Passover) or at the end of the Holy Day cycle (Sh’mini Atzeret, the eighth day after Sukkot) because each is an annual cycle. The connection to Sh’mini Atzeret, though, makes more sense because that is after we have been cleansed of our sins and just finished an entire week living in Sukkot, to commemorate the way God took care of our ancestors and how they could commune with him because his presence was among them in their camp.

The Torah is more than a list of commandments; it tells us who God is. He reveals himself to Moses and, thereby, to us and that is why I think it is best celebrated after Sukkot. In Judaism, it is said that the reason God told us to have an eighth day added to Sukkot is that he so enjoyed being with his people for those 7 days that he added an additional day. And when we turn the Torah back to the beginning, it is like reliving that first kiss.

For me, that is the true joy we get from Simchat Torah -to get to know God all over again.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!