Parashah Toldot 2020 (These are the generations) Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

In this parashah we have one of the best known stories of the Bible, the selling of the birthright.

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This parashah begins by telling us that Isaac prayed to Adonai for Rebecca to no longer be barren. God granted his wish and she gave birth to Esau and Jacob. Esau was firstborn, and became a hunter, whereas Jacob was a shepherd and more studious. Isaac loved Esau for the game he brought to him, and Rebecca loved Jacob. This doesn’t mean the parents only loved one child, but they definitely had favorites.

One day after hunting and being ravenous, Esau comes in and happens upon Jacob making a lentil stew. Now, Esau was a man who today we might call the poster boy for existentialism: he was all about himself and the moment, with no regard for what might happen later. When Esau told Jacob without some of that stew he would die of hunger, Jacob (being somewhat devious) saw the opportunity to gain the birthright, so Jacob offered Esau a trade: he would give Esau food if Esau sold Jacob the birthright of the firstborn. Esau, without hesitating, agreed.

Later, when Isaac told Esau that it was time for him to receive the blessing of the firstborn, he asked Esau to get fresh game and make it for him so he could eat of it and then give Esau the blessing. Rebecca overheard and had Jacob take Esau’s place, dressing him in Esau’s clothes and putting sheepskin on his hands and neck to fool Isaac, who by then was blind. The ruse worked and Jacob received the blessing for the firstborn; later, Esau comes in for the blessing but it is too late, and Isaac gives a second-in-line blessing to Esau.

Esau, understandably enough given his rash and hasty nature, vowed to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies, so Rebecca (hearing of this) has Isaac send Jacob to her brother, Laban, to find a wife. This was in the hope that after time Esau’s anger would subside, knowing that he was a man of immediacy and that anything long-term was not in his nature.

The parashah ends with Esau, who had wives from the local people, being told that his parents wanted him to have wives from their own people, so what did he do? He married descendants of Ishmael!

One thing we can say about Esau- he just didn’t get it!

Regarding the selling of the birthright, it is true that Jacob could have given Esau food just because he is his brother, and in many Bible’s it seems to be implied that by making Esau sell his birthright in order to get food, what Jacob did was unjust. Yet, the Torah says that Esau hated his birthright, so even though what Jacob did was questionable, what Esau did was worse in that he had no respect for the responsibilities of the position he was to inherit.

And in many Bibles I have seen, the paragraph about Isaac giving the blessing is titled something along the lines of “Jacob steals the blessing of the firstborn.”

In my opinion, even though asking Esau to sell his birthright might be somewhat underhanded, Jacob did not steal the blessing.

I would say what Jacob did might also have been for the good of the nation, for it was clear to Jacob, as to Rebecca, that Esau would not be a good patriarch and might fall short of the proper worship of God. Isaac seems to have been clueless as to Esau’s true nature, even after Esau married out of the family to women of the local, pagan community, which was further proof of his disregard for doing what was right.

So, maybe, what Jacob did when he asked to buy the birthright was not really for his own good, but for the good of the family?

As for the stealing of the blessing, well… how could he steal what was his, by right? He was now the firstborn, so he was entitled to the blessing of the firstborn. I believe it was necessary to fool Isaac because Isaac so loved Esau he may have refused to give Jacob the blessing he was legally and morally entitled to.

What we learn from this story, as we have seen before and will see throughout the Tanakh, is that the greatest heroes of Judaism were, when it comes down to it, just regular people. They lied, they cheated, they used subterfuge, and they sinned- often. They were not some holier-than-thou saintly paragon of righteousness. They were plain folk, just like you and me.

And that is great news!

It means that if God can use ordinary people to achieve such wondrous results, then there is hope that we, too, can do wonderful things for the glory of God. All we need is to be faithful and try our best to do what pleases God. We know that we will fail, often, but the Tanakh shows us that no matter how often we fail to follow God’s instructions, we can always be returned to righteousness if we repent, ask forgiveness, maintain our faith and keep trying to be better.

I will end with this, which is what I often say: We can never be sinless, but we can always sin less.

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And I always welcome your comments or questions.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Chayye Sarah 2020 (Life of Sarah) Genesis 23 – 25:18

This parashah begins with the death of Sarah, at 127 years old. Isaac would have been 36 years old at that time, Ishmael 50, and Abraham 136. He buys a burial cave and buries Sarah there, later to join her; eventually, this cave would also house the remains of Isaac, Rebecca, and Jacob. It is located in Hebron, most of which today is under Arab control.

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We read next that Abraham sends his servant, Eliezer, back to Ur to find a wife for Isaac, and after finding Rebecca he returns to his master with her, who immediately is taken as wife to Isaac.

Abraham remarries, has more children, and this reading ends with the death of Abraham and the lineage of Ishmael.

Normally, I would talk of the interaction between Laban and Eliezer, which gives us an idea of what type of person Laban is, to be confirmed later in the Torah when we read about his dealings with Jacob.

Or I might talk about Isaac, or Eliezer’s faith.

But not today.

What I felt when I read this today, even just reading the title, is that we should discuss Sarah a little bit, and her relationship to Abraham, and to God.

And let me open this discussion with a really hot question: Do you think Sarah was faithful?

I mean, the title of this parashah is “Life of Sarah”, so let’s look at her life, which we are told very little about. First off, when she is told that she will have a child in her old age, whereas Abraham accepted that right away, she didn’t believe it. And when the angels told Abraham it would happen the following year, she laughed, then denied that she laughed (if you didn’t know, Isaac, in Hebrew, is Yitzchak, which means “to laugh”.)

We really don’t know anything about Sarah’s level of faithfulness, but by all references, Sarah was an obedient wife. In fact, obedient to the point of submitting to Abraham’s request that she says she was his sister and not his wife; and, not just once, but twice, even after the first time she was taken to be another man’s wife (which happened the second time, also.)

Now, we could say that she was faithful enough to trust in God not to allow her to be defiled, but there is nothing in the Torah to substantiate that. In truth, all we know about Sarah is that she was faithful to Abraham.

We know that she was of Abrahams’s family because, in Genesis 20:12, Abraham tells Abimelech that Sarah is the daughter of his father but not from the same mother. Therefore, she was raised in Ur, but can we assume she was given the same education regarding God as Abraham was?

I believe Abraham was taught about God by Noah, who was still alive for some 58 years after Abraham was born. In Genesis 9:28, we are told Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. Counting the years since the flood using the lineage of Shem, outlined in Genesis 11:10-24, we can see that when Abraham was born, Noah was still alive, and lived for another 58 years.

In those days, the wife was in charge of the household and the husband was the spiritual leader, so what the sons were taught about God would not necessarily be taught to the daughters, even within the same family unit.

So what does that mean for us? Well, what if you are unevenly yoked within your marriage? We are not allowed to just divorce our spouse if she or he isn’t as faithful as we are. In fact, Yeshua says the only justification for divorce is adultery (Matthew 5:32), and Shaul tells us that we should stay together because the one might help the other to come into a relationship with God (1 Corinthians 7:13.)

I think the lesson for us today is that even if you are in a marriage that is unevenly yoked, as the expression goes, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be blessed by God, or both of you used by God to do his work on the earth. And when we say “unevenly yoked”, does it have to mean a Believer and a non-Believer? Can it mean two people who believe in God, and that Yeshua is the Messiah, but have different levels of spiritual understanding and faith?

I am a Jewish man from birth, raised as a Jew, who later became a Torah observant Jewish Believer but my wife was raised in a Gentile religion and, because of that, doesn’t have the same level of faithful obedience I have. Does that mean she isn’t saved? If we both believe in God and Messiah, but at different levels of faith and spiritual maturity, are we unevenly yoked?

Yes, and no: yes, we don’t have the same level of spiritual maturity, but we both believe in God and Messiah, so it’s not like she isn’t saved and I am. In truth, who am I to say if she is saved or not? Who can really say that except God, who is the only one who can see a person’s heart? If she believes being a good person is all you need because that’s the line she got from her religious upbringing, is that wrong? She doesn’t murder, she is faithful to our marriage, she does try to do what is right and good, and in many ways, she is a better person, overall, than I am!

Sarah may have been less spiritual than Abraham, and I believe she was, but yet she was blessed to become the mother of God’s chosen people! Could it be that her faithful obedience to Abraham, who was faithfully obedient to God, was seen as being faithfully obedient to God, as well?

If we do as Yeshua taught (which, for the record, has nothing to do with traditional Christian teaching) but aren’t as faithful as he was, can we still be considered righteous by God because of our relationship with Yeshua?

Of course we can! That’s the way we are saved- God sees Yeshua’s righteousness in us when we accept him as our Messiah and receive the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.

Of course, it isn’t really all that easy, and there are marriages which are totally unevenly yoked, meaning one spouse is a true faithful Believer and the other couldn’t give two hoots about God or obedience to Torah. In those cases, it is very hard for the faithful spouse, but stay he or she must, in order that they help the other to find God through their example.

This is good news for anyone in a marriage where faithfulness and spiritual maturity is different between spouses. Don’t let the traditional understanding of the term “unevenly yoked” throw you, because just as there are different levels of spiritual maturity, there are different ways of being yoked to each other. For all any of us know, there may come a time when the unevenness goes in the opposite direction!

Now, wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

So, nu: if you are in a relationship where the level of faithfulness is different, work towards coming together in that faithfulness through education, example, and patiently loving each other. If you can do that, I am sure that God will lend a hand.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Vayyera 2020 (And he appeared) Genesis 18 – 22

The major events that occur in this reading are the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the creation of the peoples of Moab and Ammon through the incest of Lot’s daughters with their father (after his wife is turned into salt), the birth of Isaac, the sending away of Ishmael, and what we call the Akedah, the story of the Binding of Isaac.

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We also read of twice how Abraham caused Sarah to be taken as someone else’s wife in order to protect his life, a weakness of faith that shows Abraham was still, after all, human.

You know what? Let’s make that today’s lesson: a truth that is simple, straight-forward, and easy to understand is that no matter how faithful we are, we are still human and still subject to human weaknesses, such as pride and fear. And it is more than probable, actually, expected, that each and every one of us will show some level of faithlessness at times.

I want to talk about this because too often when we deal with either other Believers or (especially) non-Believers if we show weakness or anger or any regular, human emotion, it will be used as a weapon against us to weaken our resolve or to denigrate God’s word.

How many times have you heard the accusation, “And you say you’re a godly person! Hah! If you’re so godly, why are you doing (whatever)?”

Those people who do not believe in God or want to prove that obedience to the Torah is wrong will use your weakness as their excuse for acting as they want to. If I curse or get angry, or do something wrong, they take that as proof that being obedient doesn’t work, because I did not do right.

The fact that I am always going to have iniquity (the innate desire to sin), no matter how “holy” I am, is no proof that being obedient is useless or wrong. It is simply proof that I am made of flesh, and no matter how spiritual I try to be, you can’t be a living, flesh-and-blood human being and not have weaknesses.

Yochannon the Immerser said of Yeshua, in John 3:31:

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth.

Therefore, since we are all of the earth, we will always belong to the earth, in one way or another. A leopard cannot change its spots or an apple tree give forth pears, so we who are born of a woman and are of the earth will always be of the earth. No matter how spirit-filled we want to be or try to be, we can never escape who we are.

Perhaps this is why Yeshua, when (in Matthew 19:24) speaking of the rich man, said that when it comes to entering heaven, it is impossible for men to do so, but with God, all things are possible. Even though Yeshua was specifically talking about rich people, the fact is that entering heaven as a spotless lamb, as Yeshua was, is impossible for humans because we are made of flesh, and heaven is of spirit.

It is not useless to try to do as God instructs, and when you backslide or slip, do not chide yourself. That is what the Enemy wants you to do- the Accuser wants you to accuse yourself of being a failure, and to give up trying to be what you can never be. It is true that we can never be sinless, but that is why Shaul told the Corinthians in his second letter to them that in our weakness, God’s strength is made manifest!

That’s the point! We are weak, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven from our own power, and only because of God’s grace given through his Messiah are we able to enter heaven. That is why we will have resurrected bodies- bodies that are not from the earth but from above, spiritual beings no longer fettered with flesh.

Don’t let your weaknesses or failures dishearten or depress you, but use them as building blocks to build up a better you. The most effective and lasting lessons are the ones we learn the hard way; when we sin and, because of the Ruach HaKodesh inside of us, feel the pain of doing so, we can better overcome what our flesh desires.

After all, why do you think security firms hire hackers? It is the ones who have been sinners and now choose not to sin who are best qualified to teach and protect others.

When I went to college and grad school, the best teachers were the ones who taught the night classes because they were working in the industry during the day- they’re the ones who had real-life experiences to share, not just book-learning.

When you go to take self-defense courses, you look for the school with the trophies in the window because they have experienced in the real world what they are teaching in the Dojo.

Let’s finish with this: if, and when, someone accuses you of being a hypocrite because you preach about sinlessness but you, yourself, sin, tell them that is the reason why you can preach about being sinless. It takes one to know one and being a sinner you are best qualified to tell others about it. Remember that Shaul called himself the number one sinner! And now, having accepted Yeshua as your Messiah, you know that you aren’t the one who will eventually overcome sin, but it will be God’s spirit within you that gives you the victory.

We can never be sinless, but we can always sin less.

Thank you for being here and please share these messages, subscribe, and check out my books. And remember: I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Lech Lecha 2020 (Get thee out) Genesis 12 – 17

This parashah introduces us to Abraham. We are told how he was called out of Ur and traveled to a place he did not know, trusting in the Lord to guide him. His travels led to Egypt during a famine, where Sarah was taken as wife to the Pharaoh but not shamed because God intervened (this happened twice during Abraham’s travels, mainly because to protect his life he had Sarah say she was his sister. )

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Having taken his nephew, Lot, with him they found their individual possessions intermixing and so, in order to maintain peace between them, Abraham asked Lot to choose which way he will go, and Abraham would go in the opposite direction. Lot chose the better land near to Sodom. Later, when Sodom and Gomorrah are attacked, Lot and his family are taken captive, but Abraham rescues them and returns them, as well as the other captives, to their homes.

God makes a covenant with Abraham, telling him that he will have a son and that his descendants will be a blessing to the world.

Sarah, still childless, tells Abraham to have a child for her through Hagar, her handmaiden, which he does and Ishmael, the father of the Arab nations, is born.

Ishmael is 13 years old, and Abraham 99 when God again comes to Abraham and says that at this time next year he will have a son through Sarah, and orders Abraham to circumcise all the men as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants, forever, which Abraham does that very day.

There is too much in this parashah to cover in a single message, and as I was thinking of what to say, what message God might give to me, I looked at the haftorah reading.

The haftorah, for those who may not be familiar with it, is a reading from the other books of the Tanakh which is related to the Torah reading. It is read after the Torah reading and before the Rabbi gives his drash.

Today’s haftorah is from Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16. In this section of Isaiah, he gives comfort to the exiled Jews, reminding them that God’s promises are forever and trustworthy, so even in the despair of their exile, they can be confident that God has not forgotten them and has plans for their return to Israel.

From this reading, I think I know what I am supposed to talk about today.

God doesn’t work on a timetable that we design: his timing is always perfect, his rescue is always just when it is needed, and he knows best what we need. We, for our part, must maintain faith and trust in God, despite the horrific events that may be occurring in the world.

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world, and that promise has been fulfilled, many times.

The Jewish population throughout the world is roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people, yet nearly 28% of all Nobel prizes ever awarded have been awarded to Jews!

Israel, today, is a world leader in all types of technology, from cyber safety to agriculture to medical advancements. In the midst of the current Coronavirus pandemic, which is causing people to wear protective facemasks, did you know that Israel has developed a mask that is guaranteed to kill the coronavirus? It is reusable and guaranteed for an entire year (if you are interested, go to sonoviatech.com.)

Did you know that Israel has developed a system for agriculture that gets water from the air? They have turned a desert into a garden, for Pete’s sake! They have also developed systems for communication, computers, mathematics, energy (a solar rooftop system for heating water), fish farming without needing to be near water, drip-irrigation system for growing in a water-less environment, military defense systems, a bionic walking assistance system that allows paraplegics to stand, walk, and even go upstairs!

Did you know that the instant messaging system now used by AOL was first developed by an Israeli?

And there are many, MANY other inventions developed by Israelis, in and out of Israel, which have been helpful to humanity.

And let’s not forget the greatest blessing ever delivered to any peoples or nations: the Messiah! That’s right- he was a descendant of Abraham, too.

When we go through tsouris (troubles), as we are going through right now with COVID, elections in the USA, and world-wide invasion of satanic influence and terrorism, we can take comfort in knowing that no matter how hard the world (meaning Satan) tries to destroy the Jews, God will not allow that to happen. And as long as there are Jews in the world, there will be blessings for the world.

For those who hate Jews and want to see Israel destroyed, not only will that be like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, but God also told Abraham that those who curse his descendants will, themselves, by cursed (Genesis 12:3), so maybe you should think twice before planning to destroy Israel.

Look at all the mighty nations throughout history that have attacked and tried to destroy God’s chosen people: the Assyrians (gone); the Babylonians (gone); Greece, during the time of Alexander the Great tried to destroy Judaism, and look at Greece now; Europe sent the Crusaders and now look at it; during the Spanish Inquisition Spain was a world power which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews who refused to convert, and now they are a poor and impotent nation; the Nazi’s tried to kill off the Jews and although they are not all gone, they are pretty much destroyed; and despite the many attempts by Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (not to mention the other Arab nations surrounding little Israel), every time they come against Israel they get their tuchas beat. The only reason, if you ask me, that these Arab nations are still around is because of God’s promise to Hagar and because they are Ishmael’s descendants and thereby, also descendants of Abraham.

Who knows? Maybe if the Arab’s would stop trying to destroy their Jewish brothers and work with them, then the Arabs would also be a blessing to the world. As it is now, they are a bane to humanity, giving birth to Hamas, ISIS, Al Quaida, and other terrorist organizations that are invading and causing trouble throughout Europe and the United States.

God’s promises are 1000% trustworthy and dependable, and when we maintain our faith in God, we will be blessed. Maybe not always in this plane of existence, but certainly throughout eternity, which (after all) is what I look forward to: don’t you?

Thank you for being here, please subscribe, share these message with others, and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Noach 2020 (Noah) Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

Who doesn’t know the story of Noah and the Ark? How Noah was the only righteous man found throughout the world, so God decided to save him and his family from the destruction of mankind, which had become evil and godless in everything they did.

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The flood comes, all life (except the fish, of course) is destroyed, and Noah and his family repopulate the earth.

Later, we are given the generations of Noah that came after him and then told the story of Babel, that evil town whose population sought to be as God by building a tower to the heavens and, in essence, placing themselves with God. Well, we all know what happened then- God created Republicans and Democrats, and since then people haven’t been able to work together, at all.

Nah, that’s not what really happened.

What did happen is that God created different races and languages which confused everyone, with the result that mankind became separated by language and race.

This parashah ends with the generations of the children of Noah specified, down to the time of Abram (who was not yet called Abraham).

I think we can all agree that one of the most terrible societal ills that exist in the world today is racism. It has resulted in nothing but war, murder, social unrest, rioting, and hatred. It is probably one of, if not the main, reason for millions upon millions of unwarranted deaths that have occurred throughout history, and to this day keeps people from being able to live and work together.

Now, have you ever considered that this horrible, evil thing called racism was created by God? Well, isn’t that what we just read in this Shabbat’s parashah?

In Genesis 11 we are told that God confused the world by giving them different languages and spreading them all over the earth, and since we have different races throughout the earth, and we know that up to Babel there was only one race (the descendants of Noah), then clearly God not only made different languages but different races, as well. Although we aren’t told this specifically in the Bible, and an important rule of biblical exegesis is that you can’t make an argument from nothing, I think it is safe to say that somewhere, somehow, different races were created and since God created everything, well…?

Racism is not so much hatred of another race, but the belief that one race is more important or better than another race. The hatred is what follows from the wrongful ideology that one race is better than another.

So, based on what we read in Genesis 11, since God separated all people into different languages and (assumedly) races, then God created racism, right?

Wrong!

God created different languages and races, but mankind created racism, the hatred of anyone who is of a different color or language. And since mankind created different religions, racism includes hating those of a different religion, as well.

God made us different, and at Babel, it was to help us not become too powerful before we were ready to be so. I don’t believe God wanted us to become separated by race and language forever but he did it to protect us from further punishment. To try to be as God is blasphemy and so, by creating the confusion that kept us from building the tower, God was actually protecting us from hurting ourselves.

In fact, in the long run, creating different races will help to strengthen us as a species. Look at animals: when we cross-breed animals we create what is called Hybrid Vigor, and that is (according to Wikipedia):

Heterosis, also called hybrid vigour, the increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of a hybrid organism over those of its parents. Plant and animal breeders exploit heterosis by mating two different pure-bred lines that have certain desirable traits.

So by creating different races, God gave us the potential for humanity to become a more vigorous and healthy species.

Now, you may be thinking that God has specified we shouldn’t mix different races. After all, throughout the Tanakh God condemns the pollution, so to speak, of allowing pagans to marry into Israelite families, and vice-versa. In truth, he doesn’t specify not allowing (what today) we call mixed marriages, but he is adamant that religious differences are forbidden in marriage and even in social or government contracts.

Do you remember in Numbers 12 when Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, who almost certainly was of African origin, i.e. black? God did not agree with them; in fact, he was quite angry that they spoke against Moses, at all, and God never even mentioned the fact that Zipporah was black.

The only intermixing that God condemns deals with worship, i.e. someone who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should never marry or be involved with someone who worships a different god. The color of their skin is not important, neither is their language or their native land. We see this in the Bible, such as with Rahab and Ruth, just to name two. And the Torah is clear, more than once, that so long as someone “sojourns with the Israelites” (meaning converts to their lifestyle and form of worship, which for Jews is one and the same thing), then they are adopted into the family of God and have the same rights (and obligations) as the Israelites do under the covenants God made with them.

To put it all together, when God created different peoples at Babel, he actually gave us the opportunity to improve ourselves through hybrid vigor, which is also the best weapon we can use against racism. Racism gets its strength from ignorance- the ignorance of not knowing the other race. Once people of different races work and worship together, they learn that we are all the same. God created different races from the same mold, only he used different colored inks, and only after we interact with different races do we realize that we are all the same under the skin and that knowledge is what will defeat racism.

God made us in his image, no matter what color we are or which language we speak, and when he confused us at Babel it was really part of a plan to make us better in the future. It’s up to us to make that plan work.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with others and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Bereshit 2020 (In the beginning) Genesis 1 – 6:8

Last week we celebrated the end of the annual cycle of High Holy Days with the rolling back of the Torah during Shemini Atzeret, so we get to start reading the Torah, all over again. That is why the holiday is also called Simchat Torah, which means Joy of Torah.

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The first parashah of the Torah takes us from the creation of heaven and earth, through the addition of life on earth, from the sea to the land, ending with the creation of humanity through Adam and Eve.

Then sin steps in. Almost from the very start the Enemy has tried to destroy the good that God creates, and after Eve sins, then causes Adam to sin, God (who must obey his own mitzvot) is forced to eject them from Paradise.

Now we see the introduction of sex into human relationships, and Eve drops her first set of rug-rats, Cain and Abel. We all know what happens then, and as the parashah continues, we are given the succeeding generations up to the time of Noah, when the world has been infected with sin and God is fed up with what has happened to his creation, except for Noah.

Have you ever considered that we don’t really know how long Adam and Eve were in the Garden before the fall? The Torah takes us from the creation of Eve and Adam’s (spiritual) joining with her right to the entrance of the serpent. The only thing in-between these two events is a reference to the condition of Adam and Eve, i.e. them being naked and feeling no shame.

This makes me wonder about sexual relations between men and women in the hereafter. We are all looking forward to heaven, and to seeing our loved ones (at least, those that make it there) and in many cases, that means our spouses who have passed on before us. But will it matter, really, who we see there?

After all, I love to be with my wife, Donna, as much as I can be, but if I have a choice between being with Donna throughout eternity or in the presence of the Lord, God, Almighty, well…sorry, Babe, but God outranks us all.

Yeshua tells us when we will be with God that we will be like the angels in heaven (Mark 12:25), there will be no marriage and without marriage, there can be no sexual relations.

Uh, gee…no sex in heaven? Does that mean when we say to our spouse after making love, “Honey- that was heavenly!” it’s actually an insult?

Here’s another thought: what if sex is the first step towards sin?

We are told in this parashah that the sons of God, meaning the angels, took quite a liking to human women and fell from heaven to mate with them, creating the species the Torah refers to as the Nephilim, giants of great strength that lived on the Earth. If we are to be like the angels in heaven, does that mean there is no marriage, no interpersonal, physical relations, but the desire is still there?

Yowsa! What a revelation! There is no sex in heaven but we might still have desire, so how is that good? It sounds more like hell!

But wait a minute! In Genesis 1:28, right after creating man and woman, God tells them to be fruitful and multiply, so how can sex be bad? There is no way that God would ever tell anyone to do anything that would lead to sin, right?

It sounds like there is a really big contradiction here, but I think I know what this means: everything we do we do for a purpose, and the purpose is what defines the act.

It is similar to the old adage “the ends justify the means”, and although there are exceptions to everything, in general, as far as sin is concerned, what we do is less important than why we do it.

For instance, if Adam and Eve hadn’t eaten from the Tree of Good and Evil, they would eventually have figured out where all the parts fit together, and I believe that would end up with sexual relations as a result of caring for each other and not just desire for physical pleasure. If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, I believe they’re being fruitful and multiplying would have been a beautiful and compassionate act.

On the other hand, there are sexual desires which are sinful in nature, such as with the angels who fell from heaven to be with the daughters of men; clearly, they were driven by lust, not love. And the result of their sin would, eventually, create a human subspecies that did not survive much past the Israelite entry and conquest of the Promised Land.

Let’s look at this idea of why we do being more important than what we do in a different light: if I say something that is hurtful to someone, is it automatically sinful? What if I did it as part of “tough love”, with the intention to help them recover from addiction or find the strength to free themselves from an abusive relationship? How can that be bad? Yet, if I did it out of anger or spite, with the intention to hurt them, well, how can that be good?

It isn’t so much what we do as why we do it. I learned a long time ago that people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do. That lesson fits right in with today’s message that it is our heart’s intention that defines sinful or godly. We may sin accidentally because we are weak and easily led astray, and we may do good without really intending to- these are the exceptions, not the rule.

Now, I want to be clear that I am not condoning or authorizing people to tell other people exactly whatever they want to, then hiding under the kippur (covering) of saying, “But I am only telling the truth” or “I am only saying it for your own good” because more often than not, their intention is not to help.

I believe there are many people who use those excuses because they are really just prideful. They want to “tell you off” and do so in order to feel that they are superior, even if they don’t always know it, and that is sinful.

Ultimately, the best example is to look at how God acts. He loves us all, even those who reject and curse him, but even though he loves us, he is straightforward and unwavering with us. He makes the rules and he sticks to them, tempering them with mercy and grace, but never allowing the guilty, especially the unrepentant ones, to go unpunished.

God will do whatever he needs to do to achieve his will on earth, and if that means destroying people who are innocent in order to mete out justice, then that is what will happen. However, his intention is always to do good and never to hurt or damage us out of spite or pride.

In this parashah, we read how Cain’s jealousy and anger caused him to sin, even though God warned him that he must master sin. In Ezekiel 18, God tells us each person is accountable for what they do, and what they did won’t count either for them or against them. When we think about both of these things, we realize that what we do is the result of what we feel, and that is what we will be judged on.

If you allow God to come into your heart, which we can do only after we let go of hatred, spite, pridefulness, and anger, then sin will be conquered; when your heart is right with God, you won’t sin.

Of course, it isn’t that easy and there will always be the ability to sin, but when your heart is right with God, you will be able to conquer sin.

All you need to do is have a heart that is right with God. Oy, if only it was that easy.

Thank you for being here, please subscribe, share these messages with others, and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Shoftim 2020 (Judges) Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

This parashah contains the instructions and guidelines God gave to Moses, to teach the Israelites so that they can teach the rest of the world, regarding how to choose the ones who will judge the people. God goes on to lay down what is, in essence, a set of rules that create a constitution. He not only instructs us how to create and run the courts, but also that when a king is desired (which, in the long run, is NOT what God wants for the people) that it shall be who God chooses the one to be king.

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There are instructions regarding prophets and soothsayers, specifically how to recognize a legitimate prophet and that soothsayers are to be killed.

The Cohanim are to be given their wages from the people, and God reiterates his rulings about the city of refuge and lays out other civil laws regarding property rights and witnessing.

Finally, God gives rules for the waging of war, from banning and destroying the sinful peoples of the land to not destroying fruit trees to make siege weapons.

So much good stuff, so little space to comment.

I usually open my mind when reading the parashah before I start to write, and pray for God to put something in that empty space that will glorify him and edify you. Today I was struck with the idea of judging: not the judges that this parashah talks about, but the judging that we do with each other, every day.

When it comes to judging others, we have both instructions for how we should do it, and admonitions against doing it.

How many times have you heard someone tell someone else that they should not judge others, for they will be judged?  The Bible says “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matthew 7:1), which many people misuse to defend themselves against someone else rebuking them. In other words, they are defending their actions not by reasoning why they take them, but simply by deflecting the accusation by turning the focus back on to the person who is making the judgment.

I say that they misuse this verse because the rest of the verse goes as follows: “For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you.”

Judging is what we must do; we are told that one day, as God’s people we will judge the world (First Corinthians 6:2), and anyone who has ever had to write an evaluation on someone will tell you that to do it correctly is very hard and takes practice. We must learn how to judge each other now when we can make mistakes that won’t have eternal consequences, mistakes that can be corrected. It is imperative that we take advantage of this time to learn how to judge others as best as we can.

And let’s not forget that we will be judged as we judge others, so to be the best judge of people we can be is not just to render justice that will be pleasing to God, but it is in our own best interest to judge as fairly, honestly, and as compassionately as we can.

If someone is accusing you of being a certain way, or of not being correct in your opinions, before you respond think about what they are saying. A good judge can discern emotional anger from legal truth, and recognize whatever value there may be in someone’s ranting. If you judge what someone is saying to you as being without merit, then you can defend yourself; but don’t do it by accusing them of being judgmental. Do it by addressing their accusation. If you believe you are being unfairly judged, then attack what the person says and not the person. And when you judge someone for what they have said, again, deal with the statement and not the one making it.

In other words, judge what is said and not who is saying it.

For example, someone says that what you have taught is wrong and you clearly have no spiritual understanding of the Bible. They accuse you of saying things that are evil and tell you that you work for the Devil!

OK, so the first reaction is to give them a knuckle sandwich. Good idea, but not really going to solve anything, so let’s judge what they are saying. If you are certain that what you taught is biblically sound, then instead of attacking them, attack their accusation by quietly asking, “What part of my teaching are you talking about?”  Allow them to cross-examine your teaching, so to speak, and as they tell you what they believe is wrong, you can then respond with the biblical verse(s) to justify your statements. And as far as their personal attack, once you show how their first accusation is wrong, the rest of what they said will fall by the wayside, and people will recognize it as nothing more than ranting.

Judging is not just of others, but of ourselves, as well. We must hold ourselves up to the standards a judge is held to, which we are shown in this parashah. And one last bit of advice to end this Shabbat Message: First learn to judge what should be ignored and what necessitates a reply, and deal with each as it deserves. As we are told in Proverbs 26:4, answer a fool as he (or she) deserves, which in many cases means to just ignore the idiot.  That is often the best judgment you can make.

Thank you for being here. Please remember to subscribe, share these messages, check out my books on my website, and I always welcome your comments.

I am taking a vacation next week and will be back in September. Until then, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Re’eh 2020 (See) Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

This parashah continues Moses’ discourse, now going into the second of Three Discourses, this one concentrating on the laws that he has given.

He tells the people when they enter the land to write a blessing on Mount Gerizim and a curse on Mount Ebal. He orders that all the pagan people and their altars be completely destroyed and that the Israelites are not to follow any of their practices.

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When the Israelites sacrifice to God, it must be done at the place where God puts his name (initially this is the Tent of Meeting at Shiloh, later King David moves it to Jerusalem; after Solomon finished the temple, that was and still is the only place where God has set his name.)

Moses warns about false prophets and those who entice others to worship the pagan, Semitic gods of the people who live there. He states that anyone, even a close family member, who tries to apostatize the people must be put to death.

He again warns the people not to do whatever they think is right, but to follow God’s instructions. This parashah ends with Moses reiterating the laws regarding Kashrut (Kosher), rules regarding the Jubilee Year, and the Moedim (Holy Days).

 

When I read the passage in Chapter 12, verse 8 I was struck by how it is exactly what I read, more than once, in the Book of Judges (Shoftim). Here is that passage, straight out of my Chumash:

 Ye shall not do after all that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes;...

When we read Judges 17:6 and 21:25, we are told this is exactly what the people did. There was no king in Israel, and every man did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. And throughout the Book of Judges, the people bob up and down like a log on a wavy ocean, going from proper worship to paganism, from subjugation to rulership, back and forth, over and over, depending on what phase of their worship they were in at that time.

When they did what God said to do they were blessed and protected; but then they got haughty and prideful, did what they wanted to do, and were cursed and conquered. After being enslaved by one of their enemies for a while, they did T’shuvah (turning from sin), pleaded for God to rescue them and he sent a Judge to do that.

Then they repeated the same pattern.

This is still happening today. Those who profess to be doing what they know to be right, which goes against God’s word, seem to be victorious for a while, but end up in trouble. There is always someone, some country, some leader, doing wrong and stating that it is what they must do because it is the right thing to do.

I learned a long time ago that people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do. When someone is doing what they “know” to be right, if they haven’t first confirmed that action as being in accordance with God’s instructions, then no matter what they say their motivation is, it is simply them doing what seems right in their own eyes.

And the Bible teaches us, undoubtedly, that when we do what is right in our own eyes, we are wrong. And we are told that, precisely, in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 (it is such an important lesson, I guess they had to tell us twice):

There can be a way which seems right to a person, but at its end are the ways of death.

Too many people say they are doing what is right, but it is really only what they want to do. They make lame excuses or create their own facts to justify their actions, but in the end, it always comes to trouble.

In this parashah, we are told to beware of false prophets and that we will know them as such when what they say doesn’t come about, or by the intent of their prophecy, i.e. if they are telling us that we should worship other gods. Maybe we should look to the people telling us what to do as being prophets, leading us today. When we are told what to do to contain the virus, yet 5 months later a two-week gestational period virus is still running rampant, is what we are being told really the right thing? When people say they are protesting against racial inequality, but do so by burning, looting, rioting and murdering people, mostly those who are the ones they are supposedly protecting the rights of, can we say that is right in God’s eyes? Or is it that they are just doing what they want to do?

People must use discernment and judge correctly- NOT based on what they feel is right, but based solely on what God says is right, and what he says is right is right here in the Torah!

Decide for yourself if you will follow what people say is right, or what God says is right because you will be held accountable for what you do, no matter who told you to do it.

Thank you for being here; please subscribe, share these messages, and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

 

 

Parashah Ekev 2020 (Because) Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

In this parashah, Moses again repeats the same warnings he has already given and will continue to repeat throughout this book.

 

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He confirms that so long as they obey God he will bless them mightily and go before them to conquer the peoples in the Land; but, if after conquering them, they adopt the worship and gods of the people they conquered, then God will come against them as he did with Dathan and Abiram.

Moses says that God will send the hornet before them to drive out the people, and reminds them of all the good God has done for them since leaving Egypt. He retells the mighty works God performed in Egypt and throughout their travels in the desert, and to have confidence that God will continue to do the same for them now, so not to fear the Canaanites or the Anakim living in Canaan.

Moses also tells them not to become proud and think their victory is from their own power, but to remember that it was God who did it for them. He tells them they should not continue to be rebellious, as they were at Horeb when they made the Golden Calf, relating how he had to plead with God to not destroy them and how God separated the Tribe of Levi to serve him.

Moses ends this parashah with the statement that so long as the people obey God, God will go before them and put the fear of them on all the nations they will face, and they will possess everywhere the soul of their foot touches.

It is a little challenging to find something new to discuss in Deuteronomy because, well, Moses says pretty much the same thing, over and over.

But today there are two things that struck me, and the first is when he tells the people that God will send the hornet ahead of them.

The hornets in Israel are pretty mean, and like to nest in caves, which is also where people under attack would hide. If there are aggressive hornets in a cave and you run in there to hide, you will be forced out back into the battle. But what is interesting, and noted in my Chumash, is that the hornet was the symbol of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thothmes III, who could have been the hornet God was referring to. If Pharaoh Thothmes III attacked and raided Canaan, as Pharaohs were wont to do, then that would weaken the armies of the Canaanites, helping Israel to more easily conquer them.

The second thing I found interesting, and when I read this passage I recognized it immediately, is Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (CJB), which says:

So now, Isra’el, all that ADONAI your God asks from you is to fear ADONAI your God, follow all his ways, love him and serve ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being;  to obey, for your own good, the mitzvot and regulations of ADONAI which I am giving you today.
Do you see why I immediately recognized this? Yes? No?
Let’s look at Micah 6:8 (CJB):
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
We are constantly told that God is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow, and here is proof of that- what he requires from us has never changed. And it isn’t blind obedience or sacrifices given exactly as we are told to do; it is an attitude of the heart, which causes us to do these three things:
1. Act justly (the result of obeying God’s instructions);
2. Be merciful (the result of treating others as God tells us we should); and
3. Walk humbly with God (which is the result of loving God with all our heart and soul).
God has never wanted automatons; he doesn’t want us to obey him only from fear of reprisal; and, he won’t ever force us to love him. He gave us free will so we could decide to do as he instructs us to do or to reject his ways. He tells us, over and over (especially in this book) that when we do as he says, we will be blessed, and if we don’t, well, then we’ll be on our own in a cursed and fallen world where everyone is against us, which is, essentially, being cursed.
Today’s message is simple: decide if you will be with God or against God. You don’t have to do every single commandment in the Torah perfectly, and you can even screw up now and then, even on purpose! God knows we are weak and easily led into sin. The one thing that you must do, though, in order to continue being blessed is repent of every single sin, ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, and try to do better each day.
As I have often said and will continue to say: we can never be sinless, but we can always sin, less.
Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with others, and comments are always welcomed.
Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Parashah V’etchanan 2020 (I besought) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Moses reminds the people of the fact that he, Moses, is not allowed to enter the land and all those who rebelled against God have died off, leaving this generation to take possession. He assigns three cities as a City of Refuge for the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh in the land east of the Jordan.

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Moses goes on to remind the people of how God chose them to be an example of a people who live according to fair and wise laws so that all the other people can learn from their example. He tells them God never appeared in any form to them, so they shouldn’t make any form of anything and worship it. If they live according to the laws God gave them, which Moses has taught them, then they and their children will live long in the land; however, if they worship any other god they will be ejected from the land and scattered throughout the earth.

Moses reviews the Ten Commandments, which he received in the presence of the people, and reminds them (there’s a lot of reminding in this book) of how they were afraid to hear God’s voice and told Moses to be their Intercessor, which God said was a good thing for them to do.

Moses gives us the Shema and V’ahafta prayers.

Moses tells the people when they are in the land to utterly destroy the pagan idol worshipers, as well as the symbols and altars of their gods, and not to intermix with the indigenous people in any way.

Well, what have we here?  We have the Shema, the watchword of the Jewish faith, which is first and foremost the definitive declaration of the one true God and of Monotheism.

We also have the V’ahavta (“and you shall love”) prayer, which is recited after the Shema at every Jewish service that is held, everywhere in the world.

Deuteronomy is a book of retelling, of reminding, and of warning. These two prayers, however, are unique to this book, alone. Just about everything else in Deuteronomy is referencing what happened previously in the Torah, but not these two prayers. Perhaps there is a reason for that?

If you ask me, and even if you don’t, I will tell you my thinking on this (after all, it is my ministry): these two prayers are the pathway to salvation. They tell us that the LORD, Y-H-V-H is our God and the only God. We must love him with everything we are- heart, mind, and soul- obeying and teaching our children to obey his commandments. And, to ensure these commandments never are forgotten, we must bind them on our hands and before our eyes so that we are reminded of them when we go to sleep and when we wake up, and also place them on the gateposts of our house and on our doors so we see them going out and coming in. By doing these things we will never forget them, and (hopefully) by being constantly reminded of them we will do them. And if we do them, we will be righteous in the eyes of the Lord.

Now, I am sure many of you are thinking, “We aren’t saved by works but by faith, so how can Steve say these prayers are the pathway to salvation?” That is a good question, and my answer is that, at that time, the only pathway to salvation was through obedience to God’s instructions, which Moses is reminding them of now. If they learn nothing else from all that Moses is saying, by remembering the Shema and the V’ahavta they will know all they need to know to stay on the proper path.

The way we have placed God’s instructions before our eyes, on our hands, and on the doorposts of our house and gates is through the use of the Tefillin and a Mezuzah.  For those who may not be familiar with these things, let me finish today’s message with a little Jewish 101 lesson about the Tefillin and the Mezuzah.

The Tefillin (also called Phylacteries) are little black boxes with prayers inside that are tied to the left arm (which is the arm closest to the heart) and on the forehead, with the box on the bicep and between the eyes on the forehead. The strap is wrapped on the arm 7 times, and around the hand in the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin (“S”), to represent Shaddai, a name for God. The Tefillin contain four chambers, each chamber containing a prayer. The prayers inside are the following:

1–2. Kadesh(Exodus 13:1–10) and Vehayah ki yeviacha (Exodus 13:11–16): These describe the duty of the Jewish people to always remember the redemption from Egyptian bondage, and the obligation of every Jew to educate his children about this and about G‑d’s commandments.
3. Shema(Deut. 6:4–9): Pronounces the unity of the one God, and commands us to love and fear Him.
4. Vehayah (Deut. 11:13–21): Focuses on God’s assurance to us of reward that will follow our observance of the Torah’s mitzvahs.

                  

The Mezuzah is nailed to the door jamb on the right side as you enter, and the top is angled towards the house. Inside the Mezuzah is a scroll with the Shema written on it.

These two articles are essential things for every Torah observant Jew to own, although you usually only find the Orthodox and Chasidic Jews using the tefillin. However, the mezuzah is often found on every Jewish home, even those who are not very observant. It seems to be a tie to our heritage that isn’t easily broken (thank God for that!)

These symbols of obedience can remind us of one of two things: they will remind us that we are obedient, or they will remind us of how we haven’t been obedient. Either way, the one good thing is that they remind us of what we should be doing, and so long as God is not out of sight, he won’t ever be that far out of mind. So even those who have the mezuzah on their doors, which to them is nothing more than a decoration, they are still, despite themselves, being reminded of God and his commandments which should be followed, And who knows? Maybe one day they will suddenly come to realize how far short they have come to what they should be doing, do T’shuvah (turning from sin), and repent of their apostasy.

From my lips to God’s ears! Amen and Amen!

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!