Parashah Sh’mot 2021 (The names) Exodus 1 – 6:1

We now come to one of the most well-known biblical tales, known even to those who aren’t of the Judeo-Christian faiths: the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, brought about by God working his miracles through Moses and Aaron against the kingdom and gods of Egypt.

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In this parashah, which is quite a long one, we start with the names of those children of Israel who went into Egypt. Joseph has died and over the next couple of hundred years (remember that in Genesis 15:13 God told Abraham his descendants would be in a foreign land for 400 years) the Israelites blossom from a large family into a nation, and the Pharaoh in power did not remember Joseph. All he saw was a mighty nation living in his land and the potential danger to his rule. So, in order to protect his rulership, he enslaved the people and worked them mercilessly. However, even under the harshness of Egyptian slavery, the population grew, so Pharaoh ordered the Israelite midwives to kill all the male children but leave the females alive. The midwives disobeyed, so Pharaoh then ordered his own people to kill any new-born male Israelite children.

During this time, Moses is born and hidden, and after three months the child couldn’t be hidden anymore, so his mother placed him in a waterproof basket and sent him down the Nile (or up the Nile, as the case may be), leaving his future in God’s hands. The daughter of Pharaoh sees the basket and knows the child is an Israelite but raises him as her own son. Miriam, Moses’s older sister, had followed the basket and was wise enough to offer to have one of the Israelite women nurse the baby, which Pharaoh’s daughter agreed to. Once weaned, which was probably at about 4 years of age, Moses was raised in the household of the Pharaoh, but he knew who he was and who his people were.

One day when Moses was a full-grown man, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, and his anger flared up within him. He killed the Egyptian and hid the body, thinking no one would ever know, but the very next day he saw two Israelites fighting and tried to stop them. One of them asked who did Moses think he was judging them, and would he kill one of them as he did the Egyptian?

Realizing that the murder was known, and knowing that sooner or later he would have to be tried and killed for the crime, he fled to Midian.

There he helped the daughters of the Chief, or Priest of Midian when they were accosted at a well, and in return, the chief gave one of his daughters to Moses in marriage. Moses stayed there, as a shepherd, until he was 80 years old, which is when he saw the burning bush.

Of course, we all know the story from here- Moses approaches the bush, God speaks to him and tells him to go to Egypt to free his people. Moses hems and haws until God pretty much says, “Enough!” God sends Aaron to help Moses by acting as his mouthpiece, and when they first approach Pharaoh and ask that he let the people go to worship their God, Pharaoh refuses; as punishment for even asking, he adds to the harshness of their slavery by requiring the same tally of bricks, but doesn’t supply the straw. That meant that the people had to glean straw all night, even though they have worked sunup to sunset.
Moses and Aaron, who were welcomed by the Israelites when they came saying God had sent them to free the people, now are hated and blamed for the additional problems. Moses asks God why he hasn’t done what he said he would do, and free the people, but God says that now Moses will see his wonders at work.

OMG!!! Where do I start? How do I stop?

Let’s do this, first: a point of interest. When we read this, God not only tells Moses he will work wonders but also tells Moses that he will kill the firstborn of the Pharaoh (Exodus 4:23), so Moses knows what the endgame play will be, before the game even starts.

What I want to do today is open a can of worms by discussing the name of God, which we are given, by God, himself, in Exodus 3:14. And I call this a can of worms because of the divisive and eternal argument within the Believing communities as to how to pronounce God’s name, the Tetragrammaton, which is יהוה, the Hebrew letters Y-H-V-H.

In the Torah, God doesn’t answer Moses’ question with the Tetragrammaton but instead says this:

And God said unto Moses: “I am that I am”; and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I am hath sent you.”

So why, if God’s name is Y-H-V-H, didn’t he tell Moses that was his name?

The answer is what I have been trying to tell people for years, which is the very crux of the problem with the “Holy Namers”: the use of the word “name” in ancient days didn’t just mean what someone was called, but who and what they were.

The Chumash explains it this way (this is from the Soncino 1965 Second Edition, and is not a quote): when Moses asked “מה שמו?” (What name?), it wasn’t an inquiry for knowing what God is called because the people must have already known what God was called. When Moses proclaimed that he was sent by the God of their fathers, it is unthinkable that this would be some unknown God. In those days, “name” meant fame or reputation. And in Exodus 9:16, it is used to indicate that God’s name represents his power.

So, from God’s view, what his name is, as in first or last name, is less important than what his reputation and fame are to those whom he wants to know about him. God is telling Moses, who wants to know what to call him, that what to call him isn’t important. What is important is that he is who he is: this is a statement not of personal identity but of eternal nature and omnipotence.

God wants not just the Israelites, but Pharaoh and the whole world to know that he IS. And you might ask, “‘What is ‘IS“?” It means he is whatever he needs to be, whenever or wherever he needs or wants to be. He is eternal, he is all-powerful, and he is able to do whatever needs to be done.

He is THE God; the only God, the one, true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, the King, the Father, the Judge, the Executioner, the Savior…you name it, and God IS.

In other words, I am that I am, which is everything to everyone, all the time, forever and ever. Amen!

So, when people argue about how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton and accuse you of praying to Ba’al if you use the word “Lord”, or that you pray to idols when you use the word “God”, you can ignore them. They are too prideful to think they could be wrong and too stubborn to hear the truth. But you never know- you could meet an exception- so I would suggest you test the waters by asking them, “Would you like to know which name God, himself, told us he wants us to know him by?” And if they answer they would, then quote them Exodus 3:14, and hopefully, they will learn something.

The traditional names for God that Jews have used for millennia are God, Lord, Adonai, and HaShem (the Name); these are what we call God and we do not ever try to pronounce the Hebrew word Y-H-V-H simply out of respect for him. Christians do not understand this and misinterpret the use of the term “call on his name” or “the name of the Lord” because they do not know the Torah, so they do not know that God, himself, doesn’t care about the Tetragrammaton. He is more concerned with our knowing who he is than what to call him.

So don’t be like the ignorant who concentrate their time and energy trying to call God by his first name, as it were, because God doesn’t care about that. The Holy Name controversy has done NOTHING to edify or help people come closer to God, but it has been a divisive and hateful point of contention within the body of Believers. It has served no useful purpose with regard to salvation but has been very helpful to the Enemy, in that it divides and separates the people of God.

God tells us what is important to him in the Torah, in Genesis 15:16 where we are told that because Abraham believed him, his faithfulness was credited as righteousness to him. Abraham was faithful and thus righteous, and there is no mention of which name Abraham called God.

We are saved by faith, not by pronunciation, so know who God is, know what God can do, and know what God wants from you: that is all you need to know. That, along with accepting that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised to send and through his sacrifice, our sins can be forgiven. If you know that, you are set.

That’s really all you need to know, but you should continue to study so you and grow in spiritual strength and maturity and can be a good example to the world of God’s peace, the joy you receive through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), God’s overwhelming love, and (of course) his salvation through Messiah Yeshua. Also, we can demonstrate God’s power to change us, for the better.

All the self-help books and seminars in the world don’t really change anyone- almost all of them eventually go back to who they were and what they were doing, which is why that drek keeps selling. It’s like fad diets- they work for a while, then people go back to what they were.

But with God, once changed by his spirit, almost everyone stays changed- that is who HE is! He has the power to make effective and lasting change; in fact, he is the only one who can make an eternal change.

He is that he is, and that is how he wants us to know him.

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

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Vayyechi 2021 (And he lived) Genesis 48:28 – 50:26

In these final chapters to the Book of Genesis, Jacob dies at a ripe old age of 147. But before dying, he blesses the children of Joseph, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two, and telling Joseph that he is doing this on purpose, because the younger will be greater than the older.

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Jacob also gives a specific blessing to each of his children, renouncing Reuben for having slept with his father’s concubine, telling Levi and Simeon that their anger and violence was a sin (when they slew all the men of Shechem), telling Judah that he would be prince among the tribes and rule over them until the coming of Shiloh, which is generally considered to mean the Messiah (not all Jewish commentators agree that this is a messianic prophecy), and establishing what will become the identifying traits of the other sons.

He makes them swear to bury him in the cave at Machpelah, where his father and grandfather are buried, along with their wives. He then dies, is embalmed, and carried to the cave along with a giant retinue, and the whole country mourns for him.

When all are back in Goshen, the brothers of Joseph are concerned that now, with his father dead, Joseph might take revenge on them and they approach him promising to be his slaves, but he tells them that what they intended for evil, God turned to good so that many lives could be saved. Joseph promises his brothers to take care of them and their little ones. He tells them that one day God will bring them all back to their homeland, the land God gave to Abraham and makes them swear that when that day comes, they will carry his bones out of Egypt.

The book ends with the death of Joseph at 110 years of age.

חזק חזק ונית חזק!

(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)

For me, one of the most meaningful messages for us from the story of Joseph is how God has a plan, for every one of us, but we never really know what it is until it happens.

I am pretty sure that when Joseph was thrown in the pit by his brothers, he wasn’t looking forward to the future, but was wondering if he would even have a future! Yet, he managed to end up as the second most powerful man in the known world and in a position to save God’s chosen people from extinction.

I find it interesting (because I don’t really believe in coincidence) that we are coming to the end of this story just as we are entering a new year. For just as Joseph didn’t know what plan God had for him until it happened, coming through this past year we all are somewhat concerned about what the future holds. Normally, we look forward to the new year, but right now I think most people aren’t looking forward to the new year as much as they are looking forward to ending the one we just came through!

So what does Joseph’s story have for us today? Simply this: we don’t know what God is planning for us, and we don’t know when it will come about, and we don’t even know if it will be easier or if we still have more fire to pass through. But, what we do know, what we can learn from Joseph, is that so long as we maintain our faith in God, which we demonstrate through obedience to his instructions, and trust that he is working all things for our good, eventually, then we will come out of this tsouris better than when we went into it.

Personally, I believe this horrible year is just the start. We have, as a country, kicked God out of nearly everything important, from our system of justice, to our schools, and even from society, in general. We are more concerned about offending sinful people and those who want to kill us than we are about offending God! And sooner or later, as we see throughout the Tanakh, when we reject God he will reject us. And for those who are still righteously faithful and God-fearing, we also see throughout the Tanakh how the innocent become collateral damage when the sinful leaders must be punished.

So, let us hope I am wrong and that we are coming out of the fire, cleansed of dross and purer than when this year started.

As we leave 2020 behind, pray that the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, the opening to a new and better place, and not actually an express train barreling down on us.

Thank you for being here and please share these messages to help this ministry grow, subscribe here and on my YouTube channel (use the link above), and remember that I always welcome your comments.

For those who celebrate the New Year, may it bring you joy and blessings.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Vayyiggsh 2020 (He came near) Genesis 44:18 – 48:27

When we left the last parashah, Benjamin had been found guilty of stealing the cup from Joseph, and the brothers followed Benjamin, under arrest by Joseph, back to Joseph’s house.

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Now, Judah comes before Joseph and relates how important Benjamin is to Israel and that if he doesn’t return, his father will likely die of a broken heart, having already lost his favorite son earlier. Judah says that he guaranteed the safety of Benjamin and begs Joseph to take himself as the bondsman, allowing the boy to return to his father. for there is no way that Judah could return to Israel without Benjamin to watch his father suffer.

At this final show of concern and self-sacrifice, Joseph is no longer able to contain himself and after having the Egyptians leave him alone with his brothers, he reveals himself to them. After a moment of complete surprise and disbelief in what they heard, they do recognize Joseph, who tells them not to be afraid or angry at themselves for what they did to him because it was really God directing their actions so that Joseph could come to the position he is in, now. He tells them to bring his father and all their belongings to Egypt because the famine will go on for another 5 years.

Pharaoh is told that Joseph’s family is coming, and after they meet with Pharaoh he gives them the best pasture land in the country, the land of Goshen.

We are now told the lineage of the 12 tribes up to that point so that we know the total number of people in Israel’s family that entered Egypt. At the end of this reading we learn how Joseph was able to make Pharaoh not just ruler, but the owner of all of Egypt- the land, the people, and all they owned by having the people trade their property, possessions, and eventually themselves to Pharaoh in exchange for grain when they were completely out of money. Thanks to Joseph, the land of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh, and all the people were sharecroppers.

To me, one lesson from this parashah is obvious: God has a plan, and whether we have a life of joy and peace or one with suffering and abandonment, it is all for a reason. Joseph went from favored son to slave, wrongfully accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned unjustly, but later raised to such a high standing in the land that he was revered and admired by all.

And why Joseph? What did he do that was so great? In truth, he was a little snitch, reporting on his brothers to their father and getting them in trouble, then being so naïve (or was it prideful?) to tell them that they will one day bow down to him? Really? These are the acts of a wonderful leader?

No, of course, they aren’t. Perhaps that is why Joseph had to suffer as he did, not as punishment but to smelt away the dross so that the pure gold could come out. The one thing that was great about Joseph, pretty much from the moment he was enslaved, was his faith in God and his honesty. He showed merit and moral strength, and later he came to understand (as he told his brothers) that what they did for evil, God turned to good.

Much of the world is celebrating a holiday today that is designed to give glory to God and thanks for sending the Messiah. There are those who feel that this holiday is sinful because of the date we celebrate it, which used to be a pagan holiday. Be that as it may, it is never wrong to give thanks to God.

This is supposed to be a happy time of the year, with all people desiring peace, goodwill towards others, and joy. However, many people are depressed and saddened because they don’t have family, or can’t afford to buy presents, and some have a diagnosable seasonal disorder that brings on feelings of depression and gloom.

Suicides are usually higher during this holiday season than at any other time of the year!

I believe the reason is a lack of faith. Even those who profess to believe in God and the Messiah feel depressed because of their worldly situation. This year, 2020, has seen the past 9 months with the world in turmoil and fear from the COVID-19 virus epidemic, and some states in the U.S. have actually outlawed Christmas, in a way, by ordering people to stay in their homes and gatherings to be limited in number.

Just like Joseph, we are enslaved unfairly and in prison, feeling alone and abandoned. That is why we need to take this other lesson from the parashah: God is in charge, and even though we can’t see why this tsouris is happening, we must maintain our faith and continue through with the moral dignity, honesty, compassion for others, and fearlessness that Joseph showed until we are released from this situation.

The bad news is that we may not find that release soon, or it might even get worse. We may be “COVID-ed” for the rest of our lives, having to wear masks everywhere and not being allowed to have a party or go to an event if there are more than 10 people there.

But I don’t think that will happen: I believe that this coming year, 2021, will see more freedom to socialize. Not because COVID will be cured (the truth is it will never go away), and not because people will get fed-up with all the drek and mismanagement of the pandemic, which they pretty much are, already, but simply because nothing of this world lasts forever. The political party that will be in charge will have to do something to bring the economy back and relieve the tension felt throughout the country, and that is when we will all sit back and say, “Remember when we had to…”

Maintain faith in the face of adversity and trust that God will bring you through it, and in the meantime, even though we are up to our mouths in muck and mire, we must keep ourselves honest in all we do.

One last lesson from Joseph is that no matter where we are, or what is happening to us, or how long we suffer tsouris in our lives, we must always strive to be who God wants us to be, which may not be visible until after the dross is washed away.

Thank you for being here, please subscribe and share these messages. For those celebrating this holiday season, may you be blessed with the peace and joy that God has for all those who glorify and honor his name and the name of Yeshua ha Maschiach.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Mikketz 2020 (It came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

Joseph is still in jail, and it has been two years since the Cupbearer to the Pharaoh was returned to his station, as Joseph had told him when he interpreted the man’s dream.

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At this time, Pharaoh has two separate dreams, and no one in the kingdom can interpret them, when suddenly (or should we say, finally?) the Cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about him. Pharaoh calls for Joseph, who properly interprets the dreams about the 7 cows and the 7 ears of corn.

Pharaoh is so impressed he promotes Joseph from prisoner to Grand Vizier and places him in charge of storing grain for the next 7 years while the crops are successful. Joseph is also given a wife who bears him two children, Manasseh and Ephraim.

As the famine comes, Jacob (also called Israel) sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph but doesn’t allow Benjamin to go. As the brothers come to Joseph they don’t recognize him, but Joseph knows them.

The rest of this parashah is about how Joseph tests the brothers to see if they are still quarreling and jealous by accusing them of being spies, releasing them with grain, so they don’t die, but keeping Simeon as a hostage until they bring Benjamin to prove their story.

The brothers tell Jacob what happened, but he refuses to allow Benjamin to go down with them to get Simeon released. Eventually, they need more food and reluctantly, only after Judah guarantees the boy’s safety, does Jacob allow Benjamin to go down with the brothers to get more food.

Joseph continues to test them, and after treating them all to lunch, sends them on their way but plants his goblet in Benjamin’s pack so that after overtaking them, he can accuse Benjamin of stealing.

The parashah ends with Joseph telling the brothers they can go home, but Benjamin must stay as his slave for life.

There are two passages in this parashah that I want to discuss with you today, and they are found in Genesis 42:21 and Genesis 44:16:

42:21They said to each other, “We are in fact guilty concerning our brother. He was in distress and pleaded with us; we saw it and wouldn’t listen. That’s why this distress has come upon us now.”

44:16: Y’hudah said, “There’s nothing we can say to my lord! How can we speak? There’s no way we can clear ourselves! God has revealed your servants’ guilt; so here we are, my lord’s slaves – both we and also the one in whose possession the cup was found.”

The first statement was between all the brothers when they were in jail during their first visit, and the second statement was after they had told Joseph (in their absolute certainty of their innocence) if anyone is found with his goblet, that one will be killed and the rest of them will be his slaves for life.

What both of these statements have in common, besides having been heard by Joseph (while the brothers didn’t know he understood them) is that they represent recognition of the sin they committed against Joseph many years ago and that the consequences of that sin have now come back to bite them in the tuchas.

The lesson today is simple: there are no free lunches. Just because through Messiah Yeshua’s sacrifice we can be freed from the eternal consequence of our sin, in the real world we can never escape those consequences. They may come immediately, or maybe (as with Joseph’s brothers) not for many years, but sooner or later, they will come.

What this means for us is that despite being a believer in Messiah Yeshua and a faithful worshiper of God, when we screw up we will pay for it here on earth. Sin is a horrible thing; like yeast, it spreads and affects much more than just what it initially touches. And in many cases, innocent loved ones are collateral damage of the sins we commit.

David sinned against Uriah and the consequences of that sin came many months later when the child conceived by that sin was killed.

Eli sinned by allowing his sons to be sinful, and after years of this not only did they die in battle, but when he heard of it, Eli fell off his stool and broke his neck. Meanwhile, the Ark of the Covenant was in enemy hands!

Look at how many times, in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the sins of the leaders caused so many innocent people to suffer and die.

We all sin, we are born into sin with the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination), and iniquity (the desire to sin) is part of our very DNA. If anyone could ever live a sinless life, then the Messiah died for no reason because if any one human being can live without ever sinning, then every human being can live without ever sinning. And if no one is sinning, we don’t need forgiveness through a Messiah.

But, of course, no one can live without sinning and that is why we DO need the Messiah.

Moving forward, the good news is that although we will sin, we can be eternally forgiven of that sin; the bad news is that we will still have to live with the consequences of it while we are alive. So, try your best not to sin. And if you are thinking:
DUH! Gee, thanks, Steve, what a revelation: try not to sin. Lot of good that will do us!”
I do have a recommended way to sin less: pray for forgiveness every day, pray that God will guide and strengthen you through his Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) every day, give thanks every day, and remember all the times people misjudged you for no good reason before you judge anyone else.

Oh, yes, and one more thing, probably the most important one: forgive those who wrong you and do not return their evil with more evil. Trust in God to dispense justice because even if someone seems to be getting away with it here on earth, they won’t escape the consequences of their actions when they come before his throne…and we all WILL come before his throne.

Thank God he has provided the Messiah so that when we come before the Throne of Judgment he will be our Defense Attorney.

And what’s really great is that he’s a Jewish lawyer!

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah V’Yishlach 2020 (And he sent) Genesis 32:4 – 36

In last week’s reading, Jacob was on his way back to his father’s land and heard that Esau was coming to meet him, with 400 men. That didn’t sound good to Jacob- not good, at all!

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So Jacob comes up with a plan: He will appease Esau by sending ahead of himself a large gift, a little at a time, and also split his camp into two, so that in case one is destroyed, the other may survive.

After his group crosses a fork in the Jordan River, with Jacob remaining behind to ensure all have gotten across safely, at night a man comes and wrestles with Jacob throughout the evening, without success in overcoming him. While Jacob has control, in a desperate attempt to get free, the man causes Jacob’s hip to be damaged, but Jacob holds tight until the man asks to be let go because the morning is coming. Jacob refuses to accept the surrender until the man, who Jacob recognizes now as an angelic being, gives him a blessing. The angel gives Jacob a new name, Israel.

Jacob, limping from his injury, crosses the Jabbok River and joins the camps.

When Esau and Jacob meet, Esau is glad to see his brother, embraces and kisses him, and says he doesn’t require the gifts, but after Jacob insists, he takes them. Jacob introduces his family, and when Esau asks Jacob to go with him, Jacob politely begs off, giving the excuse that he needs to take the animals at a slow pace, as well as the young children in the camp. Jacob then settles in what is today called Shechem.

While settled there, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, goes for a walk by herself in the countryside and is raped by the son of the leader of Shechem. The man falls in love with her and asks what bride price Jacob would want in order that the man can marry her. The sons of Jacob, Levi and Simeon (who the Chumash says were the brothers of Dinah from the same mother) state that all the men in the city must be circumcised in order for their sister to be part of that society. When the men agree to this, thinking more of being able to gain the riches of the family then doing the right thing, on the third day after the procedure, which is (supposedly) the most painful day, the brothers and their servants ransack the town and kill all the men, taking their sister back home with them. Jacob chides them for making his family a target for retribution, and after God advises him to go to Beth-El, Jacob moves his camp there. God protects them on the way so they aren’t harassed by any of the other people in that area.

Along the way to Beth-El, Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob is approached by God, who confirms his promise to Jacob to give all the land to Jacob’s descendants, who will be a nation of kings.

The parashah ends with the lineage of Esau.

The Chumash comments that the name change from Jacob, which means one who supplants through guile, to Israel, one who has wrestled with God and succeeded, really indicates that Jacob had a spiritual metamorphosis.

Maimonides says that this was a prophetic vision, and other commentators have believed this contest to be symbolic: the struggle within each of us between our baser passions and nobler ideals. It seems to me, though, this had to be more than symbolic because there was a name change and Jacob did receive physical damage.

In any event, the name change was confirmed by God, and Jacob’s actions after this do represent a change of heart.

With Esau Jacob took advantage, and while with Laban, he took advantage, but now, as Israel, he condemns his sons for their violence and anger with regard to what they did to the men of Shechem (this is especially evident in the blessings he gives before his death.) As one who supplants, Jacob would have congratulated his sons for their guile, but he does the opposite, which shows the change of heart he has undergone.

Jacob used guile and his wits before he wrestled with the angel in that he sent the gifts to Esau, but after he sent his camp across the river he was alone in the dark, fearful and concerned, and he prayed to God for help and protection. Jacob figured to get out of trouble by sending gifts, but now he is out of ideas and has no more tricks, and finally looks solely to God for help.

Here we see the change from depending on himself to depending on God.

This is the change we must all make within ourselves. When we stop depending on ourselves or others and look totally to God, we will be winners.

This doesn’t mean to sit back and wait for God to do everything for us. Jacob didn’t do that- after he prayed for protection, he demonstrated his trust in God by continuing to meet his brother. Letting God be in charge doesn’t mean becoming idle; our God is a God of action, not of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and after we look to him for help and guidance we must then get off our tuchas and do whatever it is we have to do, trusting that God will see us through it.

And he will see us through it, or he might, if we are on the wrong path, prevent us from making things worse for ourselves. Sometimes God clears the way, and other times he will place thorns and briers in your path to redirect you. It is up to us to always be aware of what we are doing and to be open to God’s guidance.

The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, is the best guide anyone can have, and when we accept Yeshua as our Messiah and ask for the gift of the Ruach, we will receive it. But, again, it is up to us to listen to it.

Jacob was scared for himself and his loved ones, and in his solitude wrestled with what to do, finally coming to the conclusion that he needed to trust God to protect him. The Torah says he wrestled with an angel, but maybe he really was wrestling with himself- the old image of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

Even though we are told that Jacob defeated the angel, in the long run Jacob (the one who supplants) surrendered to God’s will and became Israel, the Prince of God.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah V’yetze 2020 (And he went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

(Still waiting for my new webcam so no video message today)

In this reading we have the story of Jacob coming to his uncle, Laban, and of how he agreed to work 7 years to marry Rachel. Laban, on the wedding night, substituted Leah, and Jacob had to work another 7 years for Rachel, although he did marry her the week after his wedding to Leah, as the honeymoon (if we can call it that) in those days lasted 7 days.

After 14 years with Laban, and having fathered 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel between Leah, Rachel, and both of their handmaidens, Jacob now is going to earn wages, and the two men agree that Jacob will own all the spotted and mottled sheep, which were the least desirable of the flock. Laban changes the terms often, but each time Jacob manages to make sure he has the healthiest and most robust of the flock. Finally, when Jacob learns that Laban’s other sons are upset that Jacob’s flocks are so much better, accusing him of stealing their father’s best, he decides it is time to get on back home.

He secretly leaves while Laban’s sons are in the field, but Jacob doesn’t know that Rachel has stolen the household gods from her father. After learning of this, Laban catches up to him but God warns Laban in a dream not to harass or harm Jacob. When they come together, despite some rash words and Laban not finding his gods (because Rachel was hiding them), Laban and Jacob make a pact to never cross over the boundary between them to do harm to each other.

In other words, you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine.

This is where the parashah ends: there is so much to work with and so little time to do so.

The one thing I want to point out in today’s message is that it seems, from what we have read so far in the Torah, that God is willing to work with sinners once he has decided that they are worth working with.

What the heck does that mean?

It means that we hold in high esteem the Patriarchs of Judaism, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet Abraham showed faithlessness – yes, faithlessness- when he “pimped out” Sarah (which he did twice!), and Isaac did the same thing with Rebecca, and Jacob coerced, in a somewhat underhanded way, the first born rights from his brother and then he lied to his father.

I mean, really- did they leave anything out?

Next, we read about how Laban fooled Jacob into taking as wife a woman he didn’t love or desire and how Rachel stole the household gods from her father, which I believe didn’t have anything to do with regard to Rachel’s religious beliefs, but rather did it to steal what was rightfully her father’s inheritance.

In those days, the oldest son inherited the household gods, and the other children would come to that son and pay for the privilege to pray to the gods for successful crops, healthy children, etc. The household gods were more than just idols: they represented the right to have control over the family.

Yet, despite all the subterfuge, lies, and scamming that these people did, God was still with Jacob and protecting him. Why? He lied, he was disrespectful to his father, he was disrespectful to Laban (by making sure his share of the flocks were the healthiest, leaving Laban with the weakest), and Rachel stole from her father.

Again, I ask why did God stay with Jacob?

Frankly, I am not sure, but my best guess is that God was keeping his promise to Abraham, which he repeated to Isaac, and later repeated to Jacob as Jacob was on his way to Laban (Genesis 28:10-22). In fact, Jacob made a covenant with God at that time, promising to worship Adonai, alone, and to tithe a tenth of everything he has if only God will protect him, keep him supplied with food, and bring him back to his father’s house in safety.

Perhaps that is the reason God went to Laban in a dream, to protect Jacob so he returned to his homeland in safety?

If I was to title this parashah, I would call it, “What Goes Around, Comes Around.”

Jacob fooled his father (to get the blessing), and in turn was fooled by Laban (to get Leah married), who was later fooled by Jacob (making sure he had the healthiest of the flock), who was later fooled by his daughter, Rachel (who stole the symbols of his authority over the family), who was fooled, in a way, by Jacob because as she was dying after giving birth to Benjamin, she wanted him to be named Ben-Oni (the son of my sorrow) but Jacob renamed him Ben-yimin (the son of my old age.)

So, nu? What does any of this mean to us, today?

Maybe what it means is that despite the fact we profess to love and want to obey the Lord, God, we are still human, still weak, still able to sin, yet still loved by God so much that he is willing to work with us, so long as we are trying to work with him.

And that means when you do wrong, which we all do and will always do, after you repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, you can trust God to forgive you and work with you, to continue blessing and helping you so long as you continue to work at being what he wants you to be.

We, today, have something that the Patriarchs didn’t have: we have the Torah. We have written down exactly what God expects of us, and when we add the Tanakh we also have a historic narrative of what happens when we do right, and what happens when we do wrong. This is like a guarantee, showing us that for thousands of years God has been 1000% faithful to do what he has said he will do.

This doesn’t mean you can lie, cheat, and steal without worry because we, unlike Jacob, Laban, or Rachel, have a written code to go by and, therefor no basis to say, “Gee, I didn’t know that was wrong.”

Just like they say: ignorance of the law is no excuse. And if you don’t want to find this out the hard way, I suggest you start reading the law, often and continually, so you know it. Don’t take what you are told for granted as being correct, because most of the time, it isn’t.

Hey…if the religions of the world had it right, there wouldn’t be so many different religions.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

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!