Parashah Yitro 2019 (Jethro) Exodus 18 – 20

In today’s Torah reading we come to one of the most earth-shattering and influential statements ever made throughout the history of Mankind: God gives the world his Ten Commandments.

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I am so unworthy of commenting on God’s commandments- where do I start, and even more difficult to determine than that, how do I stop?

Let me cover some basic things without going into a lot of detail.

The first two commandments are generally thought of as one: the first is only that God is our God- I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt. That is it. It is the second commandment that tells us not to have any other gods before the one and only true God.

The third commandment not to use the Lord’s name in vain to a Jew means not to use it at all, unless in a court of law. We do not use the Tetragrammaton (Y-H-V-H) at all, substituting Adonai (Lord) or HaShem (the Name) or Elohim instead of pronouncing the Name. This is done as a sign of respect for the holiness of God’s name.

As far as the Sabbath day commandment, I find it interesting that here God says to remember the Sabbath because, after creation, God rested on the 7th day. However, in Deuteronomy 5:14 God says to remember the Sabbath day because he freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This remembrance of being slaves in Egypt is repeated throughout the Tanakh. I read that this is wrongly accepted as the reason to celebrate the Sabbath is to remember freedom from Egypt, but it really refers to the 7 days a week that they had to work when in Egypt. The Sabbath is (originally and still) a remembrance of God’s rest after creating the world.

The commandments also have a definite order of priority: the first four commandments are about our relationship with and duties to God, the next commandment about our duties towards family, and the last 5 commandments about our duties towards our fellow human beings.  This shows us how we should live our lives: in obedience to God, with respect for our family and with respect for others.

Too many religions teach that these commandments are the only important ones, and if we obey these alone we will be in heaven. Yet, there are a total of 613 commandments in the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant is based entirely on the Old one. There is nothing “new” in the New Covenant: Yeshua taught from and about the Torah (he was, after all, the Torah in the Flesh) and the Disciples and Apostles also taught from and about the Torah. The only thing that is new, if anything, in the New Covenant, is the fact that Yeshua taught us the spiritual meaning of these commandments. The Pharisees taught the literal meaning (P’shat) and Yeshua went beyond that to the spiritual (Remes) through the use of Parables (Drashim) so that we could grow stronger in spirit.

Yeshua told us that the two most important commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your strength, heart and mind, and to love each other, right? Did you realize these are not in the Ten Commandments? Yes, the first commandment tells us that the Lord is our God, but Yeshua quoted the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), which is not in the Big Ten. The commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and strength is from the V’ahavta prayer, which is in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Numbers 15:40. The other commandment he quotes is in Leviticus 19:18, to love your neighbor as yourself. So does that mean Yeshua has done away with the Ten?

Of course not!

The Ten Commandments are absolute and the other 603 (from both the Torah and the Talmud) are the ways in which we obey these ten. What Yeshua gave us was (again) the spiritual understanding of what these Ten Commandments spell out in physical terms. We see this when he gives the Sermon on the Mount, saying, “You have heard it said…., but I tell you….”; he was confirming the Ten Commandments and expanding on their meaning.

I suppose this message is nothing more than just a simple reminder of what we are reading in the Torah. I don’t feel any particularly deep spiritual or revelatory statements coming from me. Perhaps something in here will spark an idea or God will use what I am saying to show you something you haven’t seen before. I hope so because I am drawing a blank as far as spiritual insight for today, so I will leave you with this last thought…. if you believe in God, accept Yeshua as your Messiah, and keep these commandments in your heart and daily activities, I think you will be alright.

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Tonight begins Shabbat, so Shabbat Shalom! May you have a restful and blessed Sabbath.

Parashah Beshallach 2019 (It came to pass) Exodus 13:17 – 17

The Israelites are now out of Egypt, and roaming in the desert. God places them against the Red Sea and Pharaoh decides he wants them back, so sends his entire army against them. God splits the sea and the Israelites walk safely across, with the army of Egypt following. God brings the waters down on the Egyptians and they are destroyed.

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After this miraculous salvation, Moses composes a song of praise to the Lord. The people continue on, and start to complain about no food or water. God sends manna and quails for them to eat, and when they come to a large pool of poisoned water God shows Moses how to make it potable. The parashah ends with the attack upon the Jews by Amalek, and through God’s help, Amalek is defeated.

Before I talk about today’s message, I would like to share a bit of interesting information regarding Amalek and the Torah. Some of you may be familiar with the stringent requirements for writing a Torah, which is done by a specially trained scribe called a Sofer. To test the ink and the quill pen used, the Sofer will write the name “Amalek” on a piece of parchment and then he crosses it out with a number of strokes in order to fulfill the commandment of blotting out the name of Amalek, in accordance with what is written in Deuteronomy 25:19.

 

What I want to point out from this Torah reading are the events just before the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-16), which is when the Israelites saw the army coming after them and cried out to Moses, asking why he brought them into the desert to die. Moses, faithfully believing God will do something, tells them not to cry to him but to wait for the salvation that God will provide. Then what does God do? He asks Moses, essentially, “What are you waiting for?  Raise your rod and part the sea, then walk across it.”

We are continually told throughout the Bible to be faithful and trust in God, which Moses unquestionable did when in the face of certain destruction he told the people to wait for God to take care of them. But God wasn’t happy with that- he chided Moses for not taking action. That is a problem I see with too many people who profess to trust in the Lord, but who really think he is a God of enablement. He is not! He is a God of action.

In Isaiah 40:31 we are told to wait upon the Lord for renewed strength, but that doesn’t mean to literally sit around on your tuchas and wait for God to do something. Yes, sometimes we are to be patient and wait, such as when waiting for an answer to prayer, but for the most part, we are to walk in faith (2 Corinthians 5:7.)

We have all heard the expression “Take a leap of faith”, but what does that really mean? Does it mean to trust someone without any reason to do so? Yes, it can. Does it mean to take a chance and hope for the best? Yes, it can mean that, too. Does it mean to blindly rush into a situation and pray to God that he will make it come out alright? Well, that might be a little further than I would take it, but I suppose you could do that as well. I wouldn’t recommend it, though.

A real leap of faith is when we trust God, as he tells us we should, but not to the point where we are foolishly taking chances and expecting him to make it turn out well- that isn’t faithfully walking, that is testing the Lord. And we all know that is not something we should do (Deuteronomy 6:16, and again in Matthew 4:7.) What we should do is to trust in God by asking for his help in what we have discerned is the right thing to do, then instead of throwing the fleece before the Lord, we should just go ahead and start doing what we ask God to bless. If we are doing what is right, he will support and help us. If what we are doing is not in his will or is wrong in his eyes, we will fail. But, either way, we should be walking in faith by taking that first step to getting the ball rolling, and trusting in God to provide as we go.

Do not be like those people who always seem to be complaining that they are cursed or the Enemy is ruining their chances to do anything: sometimes they may be right, but in my experience I believe that most of the time people are just making up their own excuses and faithlessly waiting for some sign from God that he approves. They want to do something but are, in truth, afraid and faithless, so they blame God for their inaction by saying they are waiting for his sign of approval.

They will probably be waiting a long time- God wants us to walk and he will clear the path, but not until we start walking. It is our act of faith that generates God’s provision.

Therefore, if you have something you want to do that you believe is a calling from God, don’t be like the man in Matthew 8:22 who told Yeshua he wanted to follow him but first had to bury his father; if you feel a calling from God to do something, get out there and do it! Don’t wait for confirmation from people or from God- just get started. If God is with you, you will know it. And if God is not with you, then you will know that, too. I believe that when you ask for guidance and discernment from the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), both before you start and all during your work, God will answer you.

We are to walk in faith, not sit around waiting in faith, so as the old song lyric says, “Boots- start walking!”

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Tonight begins Shabbat, so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch haShem!

Parashah Bo 2019 (Come) Exodus 10 – 13:16

We continue with the plagues God is sending on Egypt, yet sparing the Israelites in Goshen. Finally, the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn comes and God tells Moses how to protect his people living in Goshen from this plague. After such a terrible loss of life, including Pharaoh’s own son, the people are told to leave. They take many gifts (spoil) from the Egyptians, who are more than happy to give them anything to get out of Egypt, and God institutes the Passover and states this shall be the beginning of our year.

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The parashah ends with the commandment that every firstborn, whether human or animal, belongs to God as the substitution for the firstborn God took from the Egyptians.

There is a term used during the narrative of the 10 plagues that comes up very often; actually, two terms which appear no less than some 19 times. One is that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (9 times) and the other is that Pharaoh hardened his heart (10 times.) Now, for God to purposefully harden someone’s heart so that they sinned, then punish them for that sin is obviously unfair and sinful, in and of itself, so how could a sinless and perfectly holy God do that? The answer is: he didn’t.

First off, we must understand that in the biblical days, everything that happened was ascribed to God. God has a plan for the universe, and whether things happen as a direct result of Divine intervention, or just unfold as God knew they would, in the Bible it is considered a direct result of God’s will. So, even if someone does something entirely on their own, it is (in the Bible) considered to be a direct act of God.  This is not meant to blame God, it is just the cultural understanding of that time.

We all have the freedom to decide if we will obey God or not. There can be a million and one reasons why we shouldn’t, and really only one reason why we should. That one reason is simple: He is God and we are not. As for why we shouldn’t, or don’t have to (anymore), people can rationalize any desire to be justified, at least in their own mind. What happens is this: we make up our own reason for disobedience, and repeat it to ourselves. Once we succumb to sin, it gets easier and easier to continue to sin, and harder and harder to overcome it. I learned from many years as a Salesman that the more you tell someone something, even if it is ridiculous, they will eventually believe it. God knew about Pharaoh from the start, and the warning to all of us is the same warning he gave to Cain in Genesis. 4:7

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

The first response Pharaoh had to Moses was in Exodus 5:2, where he said, “Who is Adonai, that I should obey when he says to let Israel go? I don’t know Adonai, and I also will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh had the opportunity to obey God, and he chose to reject God’s command. God knew this would happen, as he told Moses in Chapter 3 (Ex. 3:19- “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you leave unless he is forced to do so.”), so the first “hardening” came from Pharaoh. And as I stated earlier, because the Bible states everything is from God, when it continues from this point on to say “God hardened his heart:” that is not an actual accusation but an expression. Pharaoh was the sole cause for the plagues coming upon the Egyptians, and Pharaoh had the opportunity to obey God every step of the way, but HE chose not to.

We have the same freedom to choose that Pharaoh had, and we have sin crouching at our door, just like Cain did. I remember the comedian Flip Wilson, and his character Geraldine always said, The Devil made me do it!” That was funny, but in truth, the Devil can’t make us do anything- we do it. Old Nick may provide opportunity and even give us a strong incentive to do evil, but in the end, it is our choice.

You have no one to blame but yourself for what you do.

God is in control of everything, but that doesn’t mean he does control everything. God allows us to make up our own minds, and to choose whether we accept or reject him. And don’t think for a moment there is a middle-of-the-road position with God- he is totally binomial. It is or it isn’t, right or wrong, black or white, you is or you isn’t. Period.

Moving forward, next time you think the Enemy is attacking you, or that God is punishing you, think again. Think about what choices you have made recently, and make sure that if you really are under a curse that you didn’t bring it on yourself. Thank God that when we do screw up, we have forgiveness available to us through Messiah Yeshua. Do Teshuva (repentance), ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name and make a better decision in the future.

If you ask me, this is the pathway we must walk. We will always sin, and as long as we continue to repent, ask God for forgiveness through Messiah and also through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) guidance and the strength to improve our ability to resist sin, working to sin less and less every day, we will be walking the path of salvation.

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Tonight begins the Sabbath, so Shabbat Shalom, and may you have a blessed weekend.

Parashah Va-Ayra 2019 (And he appeared) Exodus 6:2 – 9

In this Parashah we continue with the story of God freeing the Israelites. Previously, Moses and Aaron were unsuccessful in getting Pharaoh to free the people, and in fact, made things worse. Now God tells Moses that he certainly will redeem the people, and the rest of this Parashah goes through the plagues sent against Pharaoh and Egypt, ending with the 7th plague: the hail that fell and burned on the ground.

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The lesson I want to talk about today deals with a very sensitive topic in the “Believing” world, which is the name of God, the Holy Name which is called the Tetragrammaton. The 4 letters that God uses to identify who and what he is, and was first used when Moses saw the burning bush.

I, personally, do not believe it is necessary to use or know exactly how to pronounce God’s name- he knows who he is and when I pray to him, he knows who I mean. The arguments I constantly see in Christian and Messianic discussion groups on Facebook are always, ALWAYS, a waste of time and energy and knowledge. However, I really like what the Chumash says, based on the great Rabbi, Rashi, as to how to understand these 4-letters, and I think this might be a good, meet-in-the-middle sort of teaching for all sides of the “Holy Namers” issue.

Up to this point in the Torah, God has been identified as the Lord or Adonai. In Exodus 6:3 he tells Moses that to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he made himself known as God Almighty, but not by Y-H-V-H.  The scripture doesn’t say (I am taking this from the Soncino edition of the Chumash) ‘My name, Y-H-V-H, I did not make known to them’ but it says, ‘By my name, Y-H-V-H, I was not known to them.’

The difference here is significant. Rashi is saying that God is talking about the understanding of his nature and everlasting faithfulness to keep his promises. What they did not know was the eternal ability of God to perform what he said he would perform.

God told Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land, but Abraham never saw that happen. Abraham’s understanding of the name “Adonai” and “God, Almighty” was a finite understanding; he knew that God would do what he said he would do here and now. But to Moses, some 400 years later, God is announcing himself as not just trustworthy for the here and now, as the Patriarchs understood him to be, but forever. God is saying that his name meant God almighty, but now means God whose faithfulness and promises extend over centuries and millennia. What the Patriarchs understood was a promise to occur, but now God is telling Moses that this name, Y-H-V-H represents the fulfillment of that promise.

The Tetragrammaton is more than a name- it is an understanding, a significance and a manifestation of the promises God makes.

This is confirmed also by the many other references in the Bible to “God’s name”, which (most of the time) doesn’t mean the actual name, the letters that compose an identifying title or label, but his renown, his reputation, and the understanding of who he is.

The Tetragrammaton is not a label, it is a definition.

God is so far above us that even his name is beyond our ability to understand. The important thing is to know who God is, read and study his instructions to us so we can always please him, and accept that his Messiah is Yeshua, who sacrificed himself so that through him we can have eternal life. Those are the things that are necessary to know; how to pronounce a couple of letters is insignificant and will not affect your salvation at all. God sees the heart and has told us that numerous times through his Prophets- try to believe him on that and not believe the teaching of someone who tells you if you mispronounce God’s name you are praying to idols. They have no real understanding of what God’s name means.

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Shabbat shalom, and Baruch HaShem!

 

Parashah Vayyechi 2018 (And he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

This is the last Sedrah of the Book of Genesis. Jacob is now living in the land of Goshen along with his entire family. He calls to Joseph and tells Joseph that he will adopt Joseph’s two sons so that they will have an equal share with the other tribes of Israel. He makes Joseph swear to him that when he dies, Joseph will bury him in the cave with his fathers and not in Egypt.

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Before dying, Jacob blesses his sons; however, when we hear the blessings they don’t all come out very nice. He chides Reuben for having slept with one of his concubines and he tells Simeon and Levi they have a terrible temper and they will be split amongst the other tribes (which comes true- Simeon’s inheritance is within that of Judah and the Levites are distributed throughout the land, each of the other tribes giving them a little piece of their inheritance.) The other sons receive more favorable blessings, and Joseph receives the most compassionate and loving blessing of all. Jacob also tells his sons that these blessings are what will happen to them in the future.

Finally, Jacob dies and is carried by his sons into the land of Canaan so he can be buried in the cave at Machpelah with Isaac and Abraham. After this, when they have returned to Egypt, the brothers make up a story saying that Jacob said they should ask Joseph to forgive them. They did this because they were afraid that with their father dead, Joseph would exact revenge on them for what they did to him as a child. However, Joseph consoles them and tells them that what they meant for evil, God meant for good and they shouldn’t worry. This is the same thing he told them many years before when he first revealed himself to them in Genesis 45. Before Joseph dies (at the ripe old age of 110) he tells his brothers that God will bring them back to the land of their fathers, and when that happens they are to carry his bones there and bury him in the plot Jacob purchased for him in Shechem. Then Joseph dies and is embalmed.

This ends the Book of Genesis.

There is one line in this parashah that is considered to be Messianic, but not so much by Jews. It is part of the blessing Jacob gave to Judah and is found in Genesis 49:9-10. This is what Jacob says (NIV):

You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 

Yet, in the NKJV there is a significant difference:

Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Other versions include the word “Shiloh” in some form of the phrase, “until Shiloh come.”  Shiloh, which is the place where the Tabernacle was located until David brought it up to Jerusalem, has also been considered to represent the Messiah.

In the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, considered one of the best Tanakh translations, they don’t use the word “Shiloh” in the English translation, although it is present in the Hebrew. There is a footnote referencing the use also of “until Shiloh come” but in the translation, they say, “So that tribute should come to him and the homage of peoples be his.”

Why such a different translation? The Hebrew uses the word Shiloh, so why isn’t it used in the English? And why not the same with all translations? To me, the answer is obvious: the Jewish rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah is weakened if we recognize “Shiloh” as representing the Messiah in this verse. Jacob said he will tell his sons what will happen to them in the future, so this is not just a blessing, it is also a prophecy. Judah will be the leader of the tribes until a new leader come who will have the homage and rule over the peoples. This has to be the Messiah.

When Yeshua began his ministry, the king of Judea was Herod. He was not of the tribe of Judah. The people of Israel lived in their land but did not have a member of the tribe of Judah as king over them, so the scepter had passed from between Judah’s legs. In the past, under Babylonian rule, they still had a member of the tribe of Judah ruling over them; although he reported to Babylon, there was still a “scepter between the legs of Judah.” However, under Roman rule with Herod as king, the Sanhedrin was the high court but they were not able to pass a capital punishment sentence; that power rested with the Governor, Pontius Pilate, and the power over life and death is the ultimate form of kingship.

I believe the prophecy about the scepter passing from between the legs of Judah is a Messianic prophecy that definitely points directly to Yeshua. I understand, being a Jewish man, why the translation in the Jewish texts may not reflect this. In the Chumash, they talk about this usage of Shiloh at the end of chapter notes, under the title “Alleged Christological References in Scripture.” My, my… do you think the commentator was trying to dissuade us from accepting this as a legitimate Messianic prophecy?

Ultimately, no matter who translates what we find written in the Bible, it will be up to the individual to choose what he or she will believe. For those that have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah, asked for and received the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), trusting in the spirit will help them to see the truth of scripture. For those that are not so blessed, it will be much more difficult to discern truth from bigotry. Yes, bigotry: there are as many anti-Christian inferences in the Jewish translations as there are anti-Semitic inferences in the Christian translations.

But, we can take solace and have faith in what Joseph told his brothers in this parashah (Genesis 55:20): that which you intended for evil, God turned to good. The translations that reflect the personal and religious bias of the translator can still be overcome by God’s Spirit within us showing us the truth. And since Isaiah (55:11) told us that the word of the Lord never returns void, we can trust in God to make sure that those who are open to hearing the truth will find the truth, no matter which translation they are using.

As we say at the end of each book of the Torah: Hazak, Hazak, v’nit’chazek! (Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)

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Until then, tonight begins Shabbat so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Vayigash 2018 (And he drew near) Genesis 44:18 – 48:27)

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We left the last parashah with Benjamin being taken into slavery by Joseph for having stolen his cup. Now Judah, who had told Jacob he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety, comes before Joseph and explains how if Benjamin doesn’t return to Jacob, it will kill the old man. Judah offers himself up to be Joseph’s bondsman in exchange for Benjamin’s freedom.

With this act of self-sacrifice, as well as previously having heard the brothers blaming their rough treatment by Joseph as their rightful punishment for what they did to their brother (they didn’t know he could understand them), he is no longer able to contain himself and reveals his true identity to them. Once they get over the shock of who Joseph is, he orders them to go back to Canaan and bring the entire family down to Egypt to stay in Goshen. Pharaoh hears of this and confirms Joseph’s orders, giving them wagons to carry everything and giving them the land of Goshen to live in.

The famine continues and the Egyptian people have no more money left to buy food, so over the remaining years of the famine they end up selling their cattle, their land and even themselves, so that at the end of the famine Pharaoh is not only the ruler over all of Egypt, but he also owns all the land, the people and receives 20% of all they produce.

I have found the reference in Genesis 46:3 to be of interest for today’s message. Jacob has stopped at Beer-sheba to offer sacrifice to God, and apparently to see if this trip is OK, since God had told his father, Isaac, not to go to Egypt. God tells Jacob that it is permitted for him to go; and, not just that, but God will go there with him, and also will bring him back to the land of his fathers. God promises that while in Egypt he will make a great nation out of Jacob.

An interesting note in the Chumash is that Rashi and Kimchi commented that when God promised to bring Jacob up again, he was referring to Jacob, alone, meaning that he would be brought back to Hebron to be to be buried. This event happens in Genesis 50:13. However, I believe (with all due respect to these learned men) that God was looking more down the road, and meant that he would return the entire nation of Israel to their land, not just Jacob. In either case, both of these things did happen, so perhaps God was speaking of both the man Jacob and the nation of Israel?

Back to the main discussion…Joseph tells his brothers, when he reveals himself to them, not to be upset with themselves because it was really God who sent him to Egypt. This indicates Joseph’s faith and spiritual maturity to understand that God is behind everything, but often uses people to intervene for him. Joseph is saying that although the brothers thought they were acting on their own, God was behind it. We see this throughout the Bible: God is behind Pharaoh refusing to let the people go in order that God’s glory be made manifest throughout the world; God is working behind the scenes with Shimshon (Samson) inciting him to marry a Philistine woman, which leads to a cause for his revenge, which leads to the beginning of freeing Israel from the Philistine rule; God worked through Nebuchadnezzar to show Daniel the future; God was working through the Assyrians to punish Israel (the Northern Tribes); God was working through Babylonian rule to punish Judea; and God’s influence was behind Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin to help Yeshua in his plan to provide salvation for the world.

God is in charge and able to make happen whatever he wants to make happen. And, even though we all have Free Will to choose what we will do, he can still make things happen as he wants them to. It may mean waiting for another person to come along, it may mean intervening miraculously, and it may mean using a backup plan.

I like the imagery I once was told (supposedly a Jewish mindset) of how free will and predestination can exist together: God is the captain of a ship that is going from one port to another. As it stops along the way, people can get on or get off, according to their own desire. The ship may sail straight, it may take a detour, or it may not move at all for a while. No matter how the captain guides the ship, and no matter how many people get on or off, the ship will eventually arrive at its destination with whatever crew it has. The idea is that God’s plans will always reach fruition, but at his pace, at his command, and under his guidance.

We all find ourselves suffering Tsouris (problems) throughout our lifetime. It may be loss of job, money, property, people we care about, or our health. Everything that is important to us in this plane of existence will be taken away, sooner or later, to one extent or another. Too often we blame God for this, or at least, we ask why he allows it to happen. It is OK to wonder why things that are unpleasant happen to us, especially if we think we are doing what is correct in God’s eyes. We can look to satanic intervention, and that could be because we know that Satan will come against those doing God’s work. We could also look in the mirror because maybe we think we are doing what is right in God’s eyes, but really, it is only right in our own eyes. We could also just give it up as to what happens when you live in a cursed and fallen world.

Drek happens sometimes; it is like the ship has come up to a reef, and while the captain is thinking of the best way around it, we have to deal with our life seemingly going nowhere. Sometimes while waiting, we are ordered to clean the bilges or paint the deck. One way or the other, we need to suffer through this, trusting that the captain knows what he is doing, our suffering will be for a good purpose and he will get us on our way, again.

Joseph suffered 12 years or so and went from being a beloved favorite son to being a slave to being a prisoner. It must have seemed to him that his life was going down the toilet, things getting worse and worse. Yet, he never lost faith in God and did the best he could in each situation, always giving glory to God and trusting in him.

This is our lesson for today, something we all have been told more than once, and something most of us will forget the moment we most need to remember it: trust in God! Trust that God knows what is happening, trust that God can save you no matter how terrible things seem to you, and trust in God that he knows what he is doing. Look to yourself, stare into the mirror to make sure there isn’t something you may be doing wrong, and if you feel certain that you are living in a way that God would want you to live, then hang on for dear life and wait out the storm.

The most stable figure that exists is a triangle, and the triangle of our life should be built upon these three legs:  Faith, Trust, and Patience. Faith in God and Messiah, trust that God knows what is happening and can always save you, and patience to wait on the Lord, who in his good time will deliver you.

Remember that it is your patience which will demonstrate to everyone the strength of your faithfully trusting in God.

 

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Tonight is Shabbat, so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!

 

Parashah Mikketz 2018 (At the end of) Genesis 41 – 44:17

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The Torah reading today takes up from last Shabbat when Joseph had properly interpreted the dreams of the Baker and Cupbearer. Two years later, Pharaoh has a dream, a double-feature (so to speak) and no one in all the kingdom can interpret it. The Cupbearer remembers Joseph, and he is brought to Pharaoh. Joseph says God is the one who interprets dreams, and God gives Joseph the proper interpretation of the well-known dream: the 7 sickly cows eating up the 7 healthy cows and the seven sickly ears of corn eating up the seven full and ripe ears of corn. Joseph also consults Pharaoh on how to store the surplus from the good years to provide food during the famine to come. Pharaoh appoints Joseph ruler over all of Egypt, gives him a wife and before the famine hits Joseph has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Eventually, his brothers are sent to Egypt by Jacob in order to get food due to the famine. Joseph immediately recognizes them but they don’t know him, and he treats them as spies, locking up Simeon (Rabbinic tradition says he picked Simeon because Simeon was the one who first suggested they kill him) and demanding that they bring their youngest brother before him to prove their story, while secretly restoring their money before they leave. Of course, Jacob doesn’t want to part with Benjamin, but sooner or later he has to in order for them to get more food. Reuben offers to give his children as a sacrifice if Benjamin doesn’t come back, but Jacob won’t do that. When Judah offers to take total responsibility for Benjamin, Jacob finally relents and lets them take Benjamin to Egypt.

Once back in Egypt, Joseph has the brothers taken to his house to eat, restores Simeon to them and sets a trap for them. When they leave he has his servant hide a cup in Benjamin’s pack, along with all their money and sends them away. Soon after they leave he sends after them and they find the cup in Benjamin’s pack, bringing all the brothers back to face the charge of theft. Joseph says Benjamin will become his slave and tells the other brothers to return home, and that is where this parashah stops.

If you aren’t aware of this, every parashah is followed with a Haftorah, which is a reading from other parts of the Tanakh which is related to the message found in the Torah reading. The Haftorah for Mikketz is 1 Kings 3:15- 4:1. This is the story (also well-known) of the two prostitutes who come before King Solomon to argue who is the rightful mother of a child who they both claim is their own. When Solomon says to bring him a sword and he will divide the child, the real mother gives up the child in order to save its life, after which Solomon judges she is the true mother.

What these two stories have in common is that people recognized the wisdom that Joseph and Solomon displayed could only have come from God. Pharaoh said of Joseph (Genesis 41:38):

And Pharaoh said unto his servants: “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?”

and when Solomon revealed the true mother of the child, we are told (1 Kings 3:28):

And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king; for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do justice.

God uses people, ordinary people like you and me, to intervene in human affairs in order to bring about his plans much more often than he uses angels. And when God imbues us with his wisdom or power, it is something that even the spiritually empty can recognize as coming from some supernatural source. Joseph and Solomon are just two examples of this; throughout the Bible, there are many examples of God giving people the gifts, power, and talents they need to achieve God’s plans.

There is a problem, though- how do we know that the person doing these things, making these judgments, or teaching us God’s word are really getting it from God? We are told that there will be false prophets and false Messiahs, as there have been over the millennia, even to modern days: think of Jim Jones, Father Devine, Jim Bakker, or even ‘the Rebbe’ Menachem Schneerson! They were all charismatic, had many followers and were considered to be either prophets or, in the case of Schneerson, the Messiah, himself. Yet, they have all proved to be false.

It is a hard thing to know the fake from the genuine, especially when the fake is going to be empowered supernaturally by the Enemy of God to perform miraculous feats, just as God empowers his prophets and messengers. The Bible tells us that if a prophet says something will happen, and it does then the prophet is proven to be from God, but sometimes prophecies don’t come about for a long time: I mean, look how long after Isaiah told us about Yeshua until he actually came. Hundreds of years!  And the Enemy will make sure that what his messengers prophesize will happen.

So, again we ask, how do we know who is the true messenger of God?

My answer is that the only way to really know the difference is to know God as best as we can, and the way to do that is through his Word! God tells us in the Bible who he is, what is important to him, and how he expects us to behave. He gives us a really good idea of what is godly and what is not. It is up to us to read the Bible, daily, and to know what God has said so that we can hold up anyone that says they are from God against the biblical template God has provided for us.

Finally, for those of you who are like me, a teacher of the Word, we must be subjected to the highest level of scrutiny. This is why James warned us when he said (James 3:1):

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely.

I often have said, in my posts and when I spoke to my congregation, that everything I say must be verified by God’s word. And it is the responsibility of the one hearing my speech, as much as it is mine, to make sure that what I say is proven correct by God’s word. There is a basic model of communication that has three parts: the speaker, the hearer, and noise. The “noise’ is what is between the speaker and the hearer, and it can be anything from measurable sound to bias thinking to total ignorance. The Enemy will make a lot of noise when we try to hear God, and both the one speaking and also the one hearing must work to filter out that noise.

Let me leave you with what I always say when I am complimented on a post or a sermon: if what I do or say is received as being good and just, it is not me but the Holy Spirit working through me. When I totally screw something up, then I can take full credit.

 

Parashah Vayeshev 2018 (And he dwelt) Genesis 37-40

 

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Jacob has now settled back in the land of his father, and we are given the story of Joseph. I think most everyone knows this- Joseph, the favorite son of his father (because he is the firstborn son of Rachel) is given a coat of many colors to signify Jacob’s love for him. This special treatment doesn’t stand very well with his brothers, which should come as no surprise, but then we add to that Joseph having ratted them out to Jacob, not to mention telling them of his dreams in which they are all bowing down to him.

Joseph doesn’t show a lot of common sense here, does he?

Eventually, an opportunity arises in which the brothers can kill Joseph, but Reuben convinces them not to, so they take his coat and throw him into an empty cistern, thinking they will do the deed after they have lunch. In the meantime, the brothers see a caravan in the distance of Yishma’elim (descendants of Yishmael) and decide to sell Joseph to them, But while they are still having their lunch (you have to read the passage very carefully to see how this happens) some other Arabs (Midyanim) find Joseph, raise him out of the cistern, and THEY sell him to the Yishma’elim.

Reuben comes back to save Joseph himself but finds him gone. He reports this to the brothers, and now no one knows what happened.

Time Out: I believe that Reuben saved Joseph only so that he could get back into good standing with his father because he was still in hot water after sleeping with one of Jacob’s concubines.

Joseph gets sold to Potiphar, and God blesses all that Joseph does. However, Potiphar’s wife wants to sleep with Joseph, who refuses and she tricks him into being alone with her and tries to force him to sleep with her. He runs away but she has his robe and accuses him of trying to rape her. When she tells her husband, Potiphar throws Joseph into jail. In jail, Joseph is still blessed by Adonai and made a Trustee, eventually also serving the Pharaoh’s Cupbearer and Baker, who teed off Pharaoh somehow and were also thrown in jail. They each have a dream, which Joseph interprets, and the interpretation proves true, with the Cupbearer being returned to duty and the Baker being hung. However, the Cupbearer forgets his promise to Joseph to ask Pharaoh to have him released.

In the middle of the story of Joseph, we have one chapter devoted to Judah and how he failed to give his third son to Tamar. Tamar was married to Er, Judah’s firstborn who was killed by God because of his evil ways, then given to Onan. Onan refused to give her children to protect his own inheritance, so God had him killed, too. Shelah, Judah’s remaining son, was too young so Judah told Tamar to go back to her father until he could give her to Shelah. However, it seems Judah had no intention of doing so. Later, Judah (now a widower) was seduced by Tamar (who hid her identity) who took his seal and staff as collateral until he could send her payment. She returned to her father before Judah could recover his things, and three months later when her pregnancy was discovered, she sent Judah his seal and staff to prove he was the father. Then Judah confessed his sin of not giving her to Shelah.

Wow! There’s a whole lot of stuff in here, but we have time for only one lesson, so I am going to talk about one line, a single sentence uttered by Joseph to the wife of Potiphar. It is found in Genesis 39:9. Joseph has been asked by Potiphar’s wife to sleep with her, and he tells her that his Master has put everything in the household under Josephs’ control, everything but his wife, and in explaining why he won’t sleep with her he says:

“How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

Notice that Joseph has been talking about his Master, Potiphar, and his Master’s house and his Master’s wife, but when it came down to it he would not sin against God. God- not Potiphar, not his wife, not because he would break the trust, but because the sin would be against God!

Joseph knew what King David also knew about sin (Psalm 51:6) – any and all sin is always first and foremost against God. We may do things to other people that are sinful, but when we ask forgiveness, we must first ask God because every sin is a sin against God.

Forgiveness is something that we are commanded to do for each other, and that forgiveness is not only between us and the person who sinned against us but also between us and God.  God requires us to forgive each other, Yeshua tells us this in Matthew 6:14:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When we sin against someone else we must first ask God for forgiveness, then we go to the person we sinned against and ask them to forgive us. Once you have done that, whether they forgive you or not is between them and God and no longer between you and them. I believe we should allow people a few chances to forgive us- for their sake, not ours, and maybe even try to explain that to them. But, if someone refuses to forgive you your sin, then the sin now lies between them and God and no longer between you and them.

The best thing, of course, is to never sin (DUH!!) but being human that will not ever happen. We will always sin, one way or another, sooner or later, and God knew about us. Why do you think he created the sacrificial system? Yeshua replaced the need to bring a sin sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem, so now, through his sacrifice, we can be forgiven. That is, forgiven by God. Once we have gone to God, we must still go to the person we sinned against and ask their forgiveness.

Here’s an interesting tradition you may not know about… in Judaism, one of the things that we do at Rosh HaShanah is to go to anyone that we think we may have sinned against during the year and ask them for forgiveness. Does this sound familiar? Maybe because Yeshua said to do this in Matthew 5:24. You think, maybe, he knew of this tradition?

To finish this up, let’s remember that any sin committed by anyone is first and foremost against God; Joseph knew this, King David knew this, and now we know it, too. Try to not sin, but when you fail, go to God and then to the person you sinned against, and you will be doing what is right in God’s eyes, and doing it in the right order.

 

 

Parashah Vayyetze 2018 (and he went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

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We begin this Shabbat’s reading with Jacob on his way to his uncle Laban. He sleeps on the way and is visited by God, reconfirming God’s promise to take care of Jacob and return him to his country, which will belong to his descendants. Jacob names the place Beit-El (House of God) and when he arrives in Haran, he meets Rachael. Rachel gets her father, who comes out to meet Jacob and takes him into his home.

Jacob agrees to work 7 years for Rachel to be his wife, but after the 7 years Laban cheats Jacob and gives him Leah, the older sister as his wife, which Jacob doesn’t realize until the next morning. Upset, Jacob asks Laban why he cheated him and Laban replies this is how they do things where they live. He offers Rachel for another 7 years of work once Jacob completes the marriage week with Leah, and Jacob agrees.

Leah produces sons but Rachel is barren, so she has Jacob lie with her handmaid, which Leah then does with her handmaid, as well. Finally, Rachel produces a son (Joseph) and at that time Jacob wants to leave and return to his own home. However, after 14 years Jacob has nothing of his own so he agrees to continue watching over Laban’s flock and as his payment will be all the unwanted goats and sheep (mottled, streaked, etc.) Despite Laban’s attempts to cheat Jacob, Jacob manages to outwit Laban and ends up with the hardier flocks. Sensing the frustration in Laban and his sons, Jacob sneaks away (after Rachel steals the household gods from her father) but Laban catches up with him. However, God intervenes and tells Laban not to do anything against Jacob, so Laban and Jacob agree not to harm each other, and Laban goes back to his home.

I used to think that Jacob worked 7 years after his marriage to Leah before he was married to Rachel, but now I know better. Jacob spent his one week with Leah, then immediately married Rachel by taking her to bed (which apparently was the marriage ceremony- otherwise, how could Laban have fooled Jacob if there was a ceremony before the wedding night?) even though he hadn’t paid the full bride price.

That made me think- was this marriage to Rachel really valid? After all, in those days you paid the dowry, or bride price, before the wedding. Having relations with the intended prior to her being purchased was not “kosher”, yet this is what happened with Jacob and Rachel. Then I started to count how many sons were given to Jacob through Leah before Rachel had any, and guess what I found?

Rachel didn’t have any of her own children until after the 7th year of her marriage to Jacob, which was when the bride price was fully paid and their marriage was “legal.”

I came to this conclusion by accepting that gestation is 9 months long and (generally) a woman isn’t cycling regularly until 2-3 months after birth. As such, we can expect a woman to have one child per year. I also assumed that Leah and Rachel would have continued having sexual relations with Jacob while their handmaids were pregnant.

Leah gave birth to (1) Reuben, (2) Simeon, (3) Levi, (4) Judah, then stopped. Rachel, through her handmaid Bilhah, has Jacob produce Dan, then Naphtali. Now Leah does the same with her handmaid, and through Zilpah, Jacob gives birth to Gad and Asher. The Leah gives birth to (5) Issachar and (6) Zebulun. After these 6 sons from Leah, she bore a daughter, (7) Dinah, making it (at least) 7 years since their marriage night.

After these 7 years since Jacob first lay with Rachel, she is now “legally” his wife and only now does she conceive and give birth to Joseph (Genesis 30:24.)

The very next line in the Torah, Genesis 30:25, says that right after Joseph was born Jacob went to Laban and asked to be allowed to return to his home. This is further evidence that Jacob waited until the entire bride price for Rachel had been paid before going back to his own country.

I asked myself, “What significance does this have? Is it important to realize that Rachel did not have any children until after she was Jacobs “legal” wife?”

My answer to myself was it might be if we consider that God blesses those that do what is right in his eyes. Even though Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah, he agreed to work 7 years more for Rachel. But, he married her before the agreed bride price was paid so, in a way, he was living in sin with Rachel. And if we are in sin, we cannot expect the blessings that God will give to those who obey his commandments. Even though the Torah wasn’t written down, we can see from other references in this first book of the Torah that many of God’s instructions (the real meaning of Torah) were well known to people long before God gave them to Moses to write down for posterity.

So, while living as a married couple but not being legally married, Rachel was not blessed with children whereas Leah, legally Jacob’s wife, was being blessed.

Does this mean that those who are living in a non-marital relationship will be barren? Just a quick look at our society will answer that question with a resounding, NO! The Torah does state, in Leviticus 20:19-21, under certain conditions sexual relationships will result in childlessness. Jacob and Rachel did not fall into any of these forbidden relationships, but the point is that God will cause childlessness in a relationship that is not holy or right in his eyes.

I believe, given the future God had in store for Joseph, he wanted to make sure that Joseph wasn’t in any way a Mamzer (illegitimate) child so prevented his birth until after the marriage between Jacob and Rachel was “legitimate.”

As such, it can have some importance to us in our understanding of how God works, and that we may not know what his plans are until after they have reached fruition.

So, our lesson today is that seeing how God arranged for Rachel to be barren until her marriage was legitimately completed, we must remember that even in the midst of our Tsouris (troubles), which Jacob and Rachel suffered for 7 years, God has a plan for us. We need only trust in him and continue to be obedient and patient and eventually, we will see his plans for us come to completion.

 

Parashah Toldot 2018 (These are the generations) Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

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Today’s Torah reading is one of the better-known stories- the selling by Esau of his birthright and the “stealing” of his first-born blessing.  We start out with Isaac praying for Rebecca, who is barren. God gives her twins, Esau and Jacob, who he promises will grow into two nations, which become Edom and Israel. Jacob is the younger, and the difference between these fraternal twins couldn’t be greater: Esau is a hunter, a man of hedonistic qualities and rash, emotional decisions whereas Jacob is a quiet, studious man who is a shepherd.

To me, the spiritual difference is evident in the physical means of how they each survived: Esau made his living by the taking of life and Jacob by the fostering and caring for life.

We all know the story: Esau comes out of the field, hungry to exhaustion, and Jacob has stew cooking.  Esau asks for stew, Jacob offers it in exchange for the birthright of the firstborn, which Esau easily surrenders to him. Later, when it came time for Isaac to bless his sons, prodded by his mother, Rebecca, Jacob dresses up as Esau and fools his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Esau comes to his father directly after Jacob leaves, and they both realize what has been done. With Esau crying bitterly, Isaac finds a blessing for Esau, who lets it be known that once his father dies, he will avenge himself on Jacob.

Rebecca, in order to protect her son, tells Isaac that she can’t stand the Hittite wives Esau has taken and asks Isaac to send Jacob to get a wife from their own people, which Isaac does by sending Jacob to his uncle Bethuel’s to get a wife from Jacob’s maternal grandfather’s house, the house of Laban.

The point I make often regarding this parashah is that Jacob didn’t really steal the blessing. We have to remember that he deserved the blessing of the firstborn because Esau sold it to him.

We see throughout the life of Jacob, whose name means to supplant, a tendency to lie. He lied to his father to receive the blessing, then later Laban lies to him to receive a wife, then lies to him regarding his payment, and finally, Rachael lies to her father about the household gods she stole when they left. One lie leads to another lie, which leads to more lies.

I would really like to take a ride with Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the Way-Back Machine    to see what would have happened if Jacob had come clean with Isaac about this whole blessing and birthright thing.

What if Jacob had just gone up to his father and said, “Father, your son Esau sold me his birthright so I am here to ask for the blessing of the firstborn, which is now rightly mine.”? Would Isaac have honored that sale? Would the blessing have been different, and would Isaac have saved a little something better for Esau knowing what had happened?

These are interesting questions that we will never know the answer to, but the point remains that because Jacob owned the birthright of the firstborn, he also owned the blessing that goes with it. So, even though he received it through trickery, it was, still and all, his by right.

The Chumash comment on the selling of Esau’s birthright is that Jacob knew Esau wouldn’t die without the stew and was really only testing him to see how important his birthright was to him. In those days, the firstborn was the spiritual leader of the family, and as such should be compassionate, wise and patient. Esau was none of these, and when Jacob had the opportunity to see if Esau really was able to make sound decisions, and Esau failed to do so Jacob took up the mantle of the spiritual leader of the family by buying that right from his brother.

How many times have we let our emotional state of mind influence our decisions? If you are a leader, either in a business, family or a religious environment, do you have the qualities of leadership that are needed for that position? And if you aren’t in charge, just as with Jacob, if the opportunity comes up for you to take charge of a leadership position, are you willing to take on that obligation?

You may be asking where you can find what these leadership qualities are, and I submit to you they are in the Bible. In Exodus, Titus, 1 Timothy and many other places we can find references to what qualities a leader should possess. In general, they are patience, wisdom, a lover of justice, a person not influenced by money, compassionate, able to manage his own family (well-behaved children) and a lover of God’s word.

In the past, the firstborn was entitled (by birth) to lead the family, economically and spiritually, but today that no longer holds true. Today we are all able to take positions of responsibility in our family, as well as in our careers. Some people are placed in positions of authority by reason of their work history, some by their actions in battle, and others simply because they stayed out of trouble long enough to be promoted by the system.

I know of people who have stated they don’t know why they don’t receive more responsibility, and when I suggest they show they are capable of handling more, they say, “Why should I do more work without getting more pay?” Here they are, refusing to demonstrate their ability to do more, and complaining that they aren’t promoted! They just don’t get it- who will put someone in a position of authority without that person first showing they are able to perform in that position?

The lesson today for each of us, those who believe in God, Messiah and who honor the Torah, is that we must first demonstrate the qualities of holiness before we can expect anyone else to want to follow us by accepting God and Messiah so that through them they can attain salvation.  We cannot run a ministry, or a business, a department or our own family if we do not live up to the standards of behavior God expects of us.

Jacob demonstrated the qualities that the firstborn should have, qualities which Esau did not have, and he took it upon himself to place himself in that position. And we know that God accepted this because God shows himself to Jacob and confirms that he will bless Jacob with the same promises he made to Abraham and Isaac.

We each need to know what God expects from us by reading the Bible and shaping ourselves into the image of what God wants a leader to be. Even if we aren’t in leadership now, we won’t ever get the chance if we don’t show that we are able to do the job. I have been blessed by being asked, in both places where I have worshiped, to be on their Council of Elders. That position, as I am sure most of you know, is not one that is solicited but one that is offered because the existing Council members recognize the leadership and spiritual abilities of someone. I don’t say this to brag but as an example of why being the best we can be in how we honor God will result in our being honored by godly people, and allow us to receive a “blessing of the firstborn” in our own right.

Know what God expects of you and do what you can to live up to that image of a godly person. When we do what God wants of us, everything else in our life falls into place and we receive the blessings that God has for us.