Parashah Chayei Sarah 2018 (The life of Sarah) Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

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This parashah begins with the end of Sarah’s life. Abraham buys a burial cave and after the mourning period, he has Eliezer, his servant and guardian of all he owns (like Joseph was for Potipher’s household) go back to Abrahams’ old village to find a wife for Isaac from amongst Abraham’s own family. God goes ahead of Eliezer and Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s brother, Nachor, is the one God has chosen. After she is brought back and joined with Isaac, the parashah ends with a note about the other sons Abraham had through his second wife, Keturah- 6 more sons. Finally, we are told of Abraham’s death and burial. The last lines of this parashah give us the names of the sons of Ishmael, who become 12 nations.

I need to confess some pridefulness on my part in that I have always thought that the numberless amount of descendants that God promised Abraham would beget (Gen. 15:5) are the Jewish people. I never really thought of anyone else that came from Abraham’s loins as being part of that number. Oh, yes- I recognized that the Arab peoples were brothers, way, way back somewhere since they also came from Abraham, but I always thought the descendants that counted were just the Jewish people.

Lately, I have had discussions with other people who claim they are one of the tribes sent into the Diaspora and are just now tracing themselves back to their Israelite tribe. The 10 tribes that have been dispersed throughout the world have also lost their origins, having been assimilated into the culture and bloodlines of the geographical locations to which they went. And these locations are worldwide, from Asia through Africa, in Europe- all over!

We all know that Abraham had 2 sons, Ishmael and Isaac- one became the Arab nations and the other the Jewish nation. But do you recall that in this parashah we are told of 6 other sons that Abraham had? He gave them all gifts and sent them on their own way, and since his first two sons grew into nations that numbered (and still do) in the millions, it only seems reasonable to believe that God’s promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens would also be fulfilled through these other 6 sons. That means that we know of at least 24 tribes from Ishmael and Isaac, alone, and who knows how many more tribes from the other 6 sons?

Over the past 5 Millennia, that’s a heck of a lot of people! Even when we consider that some of the Semitic tribes have been destroyed, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, that still leaves plenty of descendants.

My point is that God’s promise to Abraham may not have been restricted to just the Jewish descendants. There may be more “sons and daughters of Abraham” around than I ever thought there were. My “special” condition, being a Jewish descendant of Abraham, may not really be oh-so-special, after all. And I confess I felt a little let down by that realization; on the other hand, after I thought it over a bit more, I started to think this is a good thing.

God promised Abraham his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, more than the grains of sand on the beach, and when we think about that promise as including the adopted children of Abraham, that fits in perfectly with what we are told in the Bible.

John 10:16– “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd” 

Gal. 3:29– “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” 

Isaiah 56:6-8“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 

Psalm 86:9– All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.

Hosea 2:23– “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'”

That verse in Hosea is, contextually, dealing with the regathering of Israel, but the adopted sons and daughters will be the regathered, as well.

There are many other verses throughout the Bible, Old and New Covenants, which indicate God’s plan to bring all the nations- not just those that are the direct descendants of Abraham- into his salvation.

I have met many people over the years, especially those that have seen my testimony, who have stated they wished they had been born Jewish. Others have come to me or have posted that they are just now finding out that their grandparents were Jewish (many European and Sephardic Jews hid their Jewish lineage for fear of being persecuted or killed.)

The truth I have now accepted is that being a “Jew” is not so special, after all, since I have many brothers and sisters who are all children (either directly or adopted) of Abraham, throughout the world. And they are, indeed, as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

The conclusion I have come to is this: being a Jew by birth is not what is special. What is special is to accept Yeshua as my Messiah and to live my life as my Messiah did, worshiping the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through obedience to his Torah.

Parashah Vayyera 2018 (And he appeared) Genesis 18-22)

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This parashah has so much stuff in it we could review it for months! It starts with the three angels coming to Abraham and telling him that Sarah will give birth to a son the following year and that they are there to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  The next event is how Lot protected the angels and they saved him and his family, although his wife turned back to look and turned to salt. His two daughters plied their father with wine and slept with him, each becoming pregnant and giving birth to the Ammonite and Moabite nations.

Next, we read about Abraham and King Abimelech, where Abraham (for a second time) lied about his relationship with Sarah to protect his life. After Abimelech took Sarah to wife, his entire family was cursed with infertility, and only after he returned Sarah (and Abraham prayed for them) did their fertility return.  Later Abraham and Abimelech make a pact regarding a well and form a treaty between them.

Then Sarah bore Isaac and when Ishmael, about 13 years older, began to pick on Isaac Sarah had Abraham eject Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. However, God took care of them and Ishmael grows into a mighty hunter and father of nations.

The parashah ends with one of the most important chapters in the Torah: we call it the Akedah. Abraham’s faith is tested by God, who demands Isaac be offered up as a burnt sacrifice to God. Abraham immediately obeys and only at the last second does God call out to Abraham to stop, and a ram caught in a bush is the sacrifice used instead of Isaac. This is why we use a ram’s horn for the shofar, to memorialize the ram that was substituted for Isaac. This chapter is one of the most Messianic chapters in the entire Bible.

There is one part of the Akedah that I want to talk about today, the one line that represents so much in our worship of God and our desire to know him better. That line is Genesis 22:2:

And he said, “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” 

Abraham does so immediately. He leaves not knowing exactly where he is to go, is shown Mount Moriah (I could go on and on about the importance of this mountain, but that is for another time) and builds an altar there. He binds Isaac and places him on the wood, then raises his hand to kill the boy before burning him up completely. It is only when he is about to strike that God tells him to stop.

I checked a number of different Bible versions, such as the NIV, KJV, CJB, JPS Tanakh and even an old Dartmouth bible I have, and every one of them, except the NIV, use the word “offer”. The NIV is the only one I found that uses “sacrifice” instead of the word “offer”, or “offer up.”  We all know that God is hateful of human sacrifice, especially of the child sacrifice that was practiced by the Semitic peoples at that time. The hard-to-answer question that is always posed when reading the Akedah is why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son?

An answer may be found when we really read the command God gave to Abraham: to offer up his son as a burnt sacrifice. Now, it is important to be careful when interpreting the Bible that we use proper context, not just of the words within the sentence and sentences within the paragraph, but also of the meaning of the words. We must not use current definitions, but the definition of the word(s) at the time it was written. So, when we read the word “offer”, what did it mean to Abraham? Did it mean the same as it means today? The Wikipedia definition is: “present or proffer (something) for (someone) to accept or reject as so desired.” That means we present something to someone, and then wait to see if they will accept it or not.

I would like to submit that when God said he wanted Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt sacrifice, he never intended to accept it. This was a test- we all know that. But Abraham (apparently) did not know it was just a test. If he did, I suspect that after tying up Isaac and laying him out on the wood, he would have taken the knife, raised his hand and held it there himself, praying to God to please show a sign that this offering is acceptable to him. Then if God showed it was, he would have completed that act. But Abraham did not hesitate to kill Isaac- only God’s calling out to him stopped Abraham’s hand.

So what went wrong? Did Abraham miss the point? Did God purposefully mislead Abraham into thinking he had to go through with it? The fact is nothing went wrong- God intended to test Abraham’s faith, he told Abraham that he only wanted Abraham to offer up Isaac but Abraham, in his zeal to be obedient, took it one step further than God intended it to go, which is why God had to call out to him to stop.

The question for us is: do we go too far sometimes? Do we act out our own idea of what God is telling us to do? I have had experiences with many people were insulting and accusatory, telling me that I am spiritually empty and don’t know God’s word at all simply because we disagreed on a biblical interpretation. When I pointed out they weren’t acting very “Christian” with their attacks and attitude, they told me God commands us to be truthful with each other and they were just telling the truth. In my opinion, what they are doing is going further than God wants regarding how we tell the truth to each other. They aren’t being truthful, they are being prideful- their angry and insulting remarks are not the result of knowing the truth of God’s word, but of their frustration with me because I don’t agree with them. They know they are right!- and they can’t stand someone not agreeing with them.

God told Abraham to offer up Isaac, and Abraham took it one step further because that is what he knew “to offer up” meant. It was a natural mistake and thank God that God corrected him before it was too late. We also often take things one step too far, innocently or on purpose, and like Abraham’s mistake, it is because we are overtaken by our own desire to please or obey. God looks more to our heart than he does to what we actually do. We can obey a commandment, but if we do so without the desire to please God or are just going through the motions, God will not accept that. On the other hand, if we sin by disobedience, but not on purpose or through abject rejection of God, then he is willing to forgive us, which he has proven throughout history.

We need to listen to God and to listen carefully. If something seems a little “off” like Abraham must have thought when God told him to offer up Isaac, ask God for clarification. I am not suggesting you delay or ignore what you believe God is telling you to do, simply that if it doesn’t feel “right” in your spirit you should ask God to help you understand exactly what he is asking you to do.

And remember, as Job learned, that we don’t always know why God does what he does and we are to always trust God to do the right thing. But because we all have human frailties and pridefulness within us and we are born with iniquity, even the most spiritually mature person can make a mistake or misunderstand God.  When we think God is telling us to do something, we should always make sure we know exactly what he wants of us.

God is gracious, patient and understanding; I believe that if your heart’s desire is to obey and serve the Lord, to ask for clarification will not be a problem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Lech Lecha 2018 (Get yourself out) Genesis 12-17

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Abram (he’s not yet called Abraham, but soon will be) is told to leave Haran (his father has recently died) and take everything and everyone with him. He leaves Haran and settles in the area around Shechem. He did have to go to Egypt due to a famine, where he sins by lying about Sarai, saying she is his sister so he isn’t murdered by Pharaoh to take Sarai from him. This happens twice, and each time God intervenes to protect Sarai, in the end making Abram wealthy from the gifts he received from those kings that took her to be their wife.

Eventually, he and Lot have to separate because there isn’t enough pastureland for both of their herds, so Abram gives Lot first choice. Lot goes to the Jordan Valley near Sodom and Abram goes west of the Jordan.

Sodom and Gomorrah are attacked by the surrounding kings, and Lot and all his possessions and family are also captured, but when Abram hears of it, he takes a small force of some 300 men and using guerilla tactics attacks the larger force at different areas simultaneously, making them think they are being attacked by a much larger force and defeats them. He returns the possessions and people and tithes 1/10th to Melchizedek.

The parashah ends with God renewing his covenant with Abram, renaming him Abraham and Sarai Sarah, and promising not only that he will become a great nation but that all the land he sees will belong to his descendants forever.

This message is going to be one of those that is all about the Torah and the laws and commandments within it still being valid, even to this very day and beyond. It may seem a little off-topic, but it isn’t.

At the very beginning of this parashah, God promised Abram that he will become a great nation and the whole world will be blessed by his descendants in Genesis 12:2-3:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God says that all people on the earth will be blessed through Abraham, but he doesn’t say how. We can go through the number of blessings the world has received through Jewish art, music, scientific discovery (even today Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the world in both technology and medicine), but that is not all there is. The blessings to the world through the Jewish people have been numerous- if you want to get a small sample, do a search on the Internet for “number of Nobel prizes won by Jews” to get just a taste of the ways in which God has blessed the world through his people.

And I believe these things, as wonderful as they are, are not the most wonderful blessings the world has received.

I know what you are probably thinking right now:

“He must be talking about the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) who came from the Jewish people, who came through Abraham!”

Well, you are correct about the Messiah being the greatest blessing the world has ever received, and that he did come through Abraham, but that is not the blessing I am talking about.

The blessing I am talking about came long before the Messiah: I am talking about the Torah.

The Torah was given to Moses for the Jewish people to learn so that they could become a holy people unto God. But that’s not all it was to be used for: the Jewish people are to be a nation of priests for God. God tells this to Moses in Exodus 19:6:

Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is Mine. And unto me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to speak to the Israelites.

To recap, first God promises Abraham the world will be blessed through him, and then the Torah is given to Moses so that the Jewish people (from Abraham, of course) can be a nation of priests. I say that they are a nation of priests to the world because as God’s people, when we consider that the entire earth and all that is on it belongs to God, his priests would, naturally, teach and lead what belongs to God. So, naturally, as a nation of priests, the Jewish people would teach the rest of the people on earth how to worship God and how to treat each other, which is what the Torah is all about.

Finally, the Torah promises us blessings for obedience in Deuteronomy 28:1-12. These blessings deal with nearly every aspect of our life.

God said he would bless the world through Abraham, and that was done with two things: the Torah and the Messiah. The Messiah did not overrule or do away with the Torah but confirmed and enhanced it by teaching more than just the written word (P’shat)– Yeshua taught us the spiritual meaning (Remes) behind the written word through the use of a drash, or parable. The Torah is God’s blessing to the world that preceded Messiah, and Messiah is the ultimate blessing to the world. However, Messiah did not overrule or do away with the laws in the Torah, he confirmed and demonstrated how to live them the way God intended for us to do, both physically and spiritually.

To finish today’s message I will leave you with this advice: if you want to receive the blessings that God promised to the world through Abraham, consider Deuteronomy 28.

 

Parashah Noach 2018 (Noah) Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

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Who doesn’t know the story of Noah and the Flood? That’s right- everyone knows it, so I don’t need to review it now.

I do wonder about one thing, though: do any of you also think that it seems awfully cruel of God to have killed so many innocent animals? He took only one male and one female (for each species) of the millions upon millions of animals that existed. Yes, for the animals that were known to be “clean” he took 7 of each gender, but still and all, the odds for being picked to survive were pretty enormous against you. How would you have felt if you happened to be a cow in the pasture, eating the grass and waiting to be milked, then suddenly you find yourself drowning? Sometimes what God does seems to be unfair or even cruel, as in this case, but what can we do about it? After all, he IS God, right? That is an interesting study in itself, but not the one for today.

Back to the Flood: with regard to the (possibly) millions of humans that were alive at that time, we are told that only Noah was righteous. Did any of you notice that Noah’s sons and their wives are not mentioned as being righteous?  Only Noah found grace in God’s eyes, but God saved the immediate family of Noah. Of course, if only Noah had survived and his wife, sons, and daughters had perished, that would have been the end of humanity. So, naturally, unless God intended to change the whole gender dynamic for humans he would have to also save (at least) Noah’s wife, and by also saving the sons and daughters he made it easier to repopulate the earth.

Which brings us to an interesting and (I believe) important question: was Noah “unevenly yoked,” and if so, did his righteousness save his family?

There is nothing specifically stating that Noah’s family members were as sinful as the rest of the world, but there is also nothing to denote they were as righteous as Noah. I think we are safe to assume that Noah’s righteousness “saved” his family. After all, if Noah hadn’t been righteous then they would all have been destroyed with the rest of humanity and we wouldn’t be here discussing this. And we can be sure that one son wasn’t the most righteous of people.

We read in Genesis 9:20-27 that Ham was a disrespectful son. Because of his disregard for his father’s “exposure,” he and his descendants were cursed by his father to be a slave to the other brothers and their descendants. Add to this the fact that God had stated in Genesis 8:21 that people were evil by nature. The Bible tells us that although Noah was righteous and remained so throughout his lifetime, the offspring of his children weren’t any better than the people God destroyed. In this section of the parashah, we are told the names of the descendants of the sons of Noah, in which we recognize the tribes and peoples that became sinful and idolatrous, many of which were (and still are) enemies of God’s Chosen people.

So was this whole Flood thing just one big waste of time? It seems so, doesn’t it? God rid the earth of all the evil people, yet within just a few generations they were at it, again. The end of this parashah tells us about the Tower of Babel, which was intended to reach heaven so that the people could make a name for themselves.  When referring to a “name”, they meant to create a reputation that would exalt them. In other words, they wanted to become powerful by their own actions and able to do as they wanted with no regard for God. That is why God frustrated their plans.

Let’s finish by getting back to the question: can an unevenly yoked person save an unsaved spouse or child? My answer is Yes….and No.

Yes, we can eventually save them by showing them the blessings we receive from God for having faith in him, his Messiah and being obedient to his word (Torah.) By being a good example of a faithfully obedient Believer in God and Messiah we may generate an interest or even a jealousy within them to have what we have (this is what Shaul talks about in Romans 11:11.)  In fact, this jealousy is what saved me- God placed many spiritually mature Believers in my life and I wanted to have the peace and joy that I saw they had, even in when they were having as much tzuris as I had.  On the other hand, because God has given everyone free will to choose whether we accept or reject him, even the best of all examples may not have the effect we want it to have. Just like with Noah and his children.

Here is the point of today’s message: we can help to bring others to salvation by our example, but it is always up to them to choose life. Noah was a great example to his sons and their sons and daughters after them, yet look what happened. We cannot force people to choose God, and threats of fire and brimstone and death won’t do it, just as the Flood did not really change anything.  Each of us must choose for him or herself whether to be faithfully obedient to God or not.

The best any of us can do is show the world, starting with our own family, the blessings and joy we receive from God for being faithfully obedient to his word and accepting his son, Messiah Yeshua, as our Messiah. And when the world floods us with persecution and name calling, we need only remember that God brought Noah through a much bigger flood, and he will do the same for us.

Parashah B’resheet 2018 (In the beginning) Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

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In the beginning, there was nothing anywhere except for God, who (of course) has no beginning.

We are told about how God made the earth and everything in it, finishing with man and woman. The serpent fools the woman into eating the apple, she fools the man and they are all punished. The man and the woman have children, and the brothers are at odds with each other, ending up with the first murder. Sadly, this killing of one human by another is just the beginning.

The earth becomes populated and the evil of mankind is of such a terrible stench that it rises up to the heavens and God, seeing only one righteous man in all the world, Noah. This parashah ends with God informing Noah of his plan to destroy mankind and start over.

So much to talk about and so little time to do it.  As I was reading through this, something caught my attention that I didn’t really think about before. It is right at the beginning, Genesis 1:14-20:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

I would like to sidestep for a second to add an interesting note: before the sun, moon, and stars were created to give light to the earth, the plants were created. Scientists will tell you that this couldn’t be possible since plants need sunlight to perform the photosynthesis which feeds them. But there is a greater and more powerful, nourishing light that existed before the sun- and that takes us to today’s message.

As I read this verse in Genesis, it reminded me of a verse at the far end of the Bible, in Revelation. You may know what I am thinking about…Revelation 22:5 where we are told:

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. 

I think we can all agree that the term “light” is used in different ways, identifying something that can be either a physical thing or used figuratively. It can be illumination, something that removes darkness and allows us to see with our eyes. It can also be something that we see with our minds, as “seeing the light”, like the picture of a light bulb flashing on over someone’s head.

We also know that sunlight has life-giving substances within it, as well as deathly rays that can burn us. And isn’t God sort of like that, as well? He can give us nourishment from heaven, life from death and warmth to fend off the deathly cold. At the same time, he can burn us with the light of his truth.

God was the light that provided the nourishment for the plants he created before he ever made the sun, and when all things are done and God’s plan of salvation is complete he will, again, be the only light that will be needed.

The Bible identifies a definite beginning for Mankind, but there is no end. The world and pretty much everything God created will come to an end, but Mankind (those who remain faithful to God and Messiah) will have no end. And just as life was first created with only the light from God, his Shekinah glory, so we will again bask and be nourished by the Shekinah glory of God throughout all eternity.

Here at the beginning we already know what to expect at the end- living for all eternity nourished and illuminated by the light of God. No more sun, no more moon, no more stars to guide us because we won’t need them. We will never again be in darkness, physically or spiritually.

What a great thing to look forward to!

Sukkot 2018 Intermediate Shabbat Reading

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This Shabbat is known as the Sukkot Intermediate Shabbat. The Torah has already been read to the end, but we don’t turn it back and restart until the 8th day of Sukkot, which is called Sh’mini Atzeret. It is also known by another name, Simchat Torah, which means Joy of Torah.  

This reading takes place right after the sin of the Golden Calf has occurred. God told Moses that he would no longer dwell with this people because they are stiff-necked and rebellious, but Moses intercedes (as he did all the time) and convinces God to stay with them; otherwise, says Moses, how will the rest of the world know that they have been chosen as God’s unique and select people? God relents to Moses’ request, and then Moses takes it one (big) step further and asks God to show his Glory to Moses. God, confirming that he knows Moses well, agrees but states that his face cannot be seen. He places Moses in a cleft in a rock and as he passes by he pronounces himself to Moses while covering Moses’ face with his hand allowing him to see only his back. 

This part of the Torah (Ex. 34:5-7) is known as the 13 Attributes of God, which God proclaims to Moses as he passes by him (I am paraphrasing from my Chumash):

  1. The LORD– God reveals his “name”, which the Rabbi’s state is his character;
  2. The LORD– this repetition is explained in the Talmud as meaning that God is the same merciful and forgiving God before a person sins as he is after a person sins;
  3. God– the all-mighty Lord of the Universe, ruler of nature and mankind;
  4. merciful– full of affectionate sympathy for the sufferings and misery of human frailty;
  5. and gracious– assisting and helping, consoling and raising up the oppressed;
  6. long-suffering– slow to anger, not hastening to punish the guilty but giving them time to repent;
  7. abundant in goodness– plenteous in mercy, granting gifts and blessings even when underserved; 
  8. and truth– eternally true to himself, rewarding those obedient to his will;
  9. keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation– remembering the good deeds of one’s ancestors and reserving reward to the most distant descendants;
  10. forgiving iniquity– bearing with indulgence the failings of people;
  11. transgression– evil deeds from malice and rebellion against the Divine;
  12. and sin– shortcomings due to heedlessness and error; 
  13. but will by no means clear the guilty– he will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. 

Do you realize how amazing this sentence is?  It is God telling us all exactly who he is and explicitly what he wants us to know about him so we can know how he wants us to behave. After all, how many times does he tell us to “be Thou holy, as I am holy?”  Well, right here are the instructions for how we can accomplish that goal.

And you know what I think? I think they aren’t all that difficult to do. 

Obviously, we aren’t the LORD, the Lord God and if someone was good to us we won’t be around to remember their kindness to their thousandth generation.  Other than those two things, though, I think we are all capable of emulating these other qualities of God. 

The reason this specific reading is done now is to demonstrate that God wants to be with us- the whole idea of Sukkot is to remember the way God dwelt with and cared for our ancestors in the desert. It is a way of bonding with them and God. God always wants us to be in his presence. In fact the festival of Sukkot, according to Leviticus 23: 33-36 is to be seven days long, and the 8th day is a Shabbat rest.  The Rabbi’s explain in the Talmud (somewhere) the 8th day was added by God because he so enjoyed dwelling with his people that he extended Sukkot for another day.  I know that is unsubstantiated by the actual scriptures, but it is such a nice thought and it does fit in with what we know of God and his love for his children, that whether it is absolutely the truth or not, it is not dishonoring to God and a wonderful expression of God’s love.

We can never be as God is, but we can always be closer to how he wants us to be.  He tells us in this section of the Torah exactly what we need to know about him, and as far as I am concerned, that is all I need to know. Frankly, for me (at least) just trying to emulate these attributes of God is more than enough of a challenge for me. 

Are you up to the challenge? 

May your remaining days of Sukkot be a blessing to you.

Parashah VaYelach 2018 (And he went) Deuteronomy 31

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God informs Moses that he is about to die and has him bring Joshua before all Israel to the tent of Meeting. God appears in a cloud and Moses tells Joshua (and the people) that even though he is now going to die, God will still be with them and Joshua will lead them over the Jordan into the Promised Land. God will be with them just as he has been in the past, to defeat those peoples that are now in the land, so Joshua and all the people should not be afraid but have courage because although Moses won’t be with them, God always will be.

God also tells Moses that in the future the people will disown God and break his covenant, and he will then hide his face from them. They will be ravaged by the surrounding peoples and the country will be taken over. God tells Moses to write down a song (which I believe means that God dictated this song) so that when this happens, the song will testify on God’s behalf that it was the people who caused this Tsouris to come upon themselves. 

You may ask why God, knowing all that is to happen and the terrible things that his people will have to suffer through, would allow that to come about.  After all, isn’t God all-powerful? All-knowing? Couldn’t he easily make sure the people don’t turn against him and suffer? Doesn’t he love them? 

Yes, he does love them, but he is God. He knows that loving means to allow freedom of choice. He gives us Free Will so that we can choose to love him, which is the only real way to love- by choice. He never uses his punishment for disobedience as a means to force us to love him, but rather as a means to get us to return to his protection. We are protected by God when we are in his will, which means living in obedience to his commandments. God is all about love, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t about justice, fair judgment and following the rules he establishes. 

God is as subject to his commandments as we are- when he says we must do something, if we reject his words and ignore him, he must judge us as we deserve. He told us that the commandments he gave us are to be obeyed “throughout your generations”, which means forever. Fortunately for us, God’s judgments are filtered with mercy. Still and all, they are terrible when we have forsaken him. The worst thing is that he just lets us “do our own thing”, which means we are then left to defend ourselves against the world with no divine help. That is a no-win situation. 

If you find yourself in the midst of trouble, you can blame the Enemy for attacking you. But unless you are doing something that is very godly, that probably isn’t the real reason. The devil doesn’t care about you unless you are doing something that furthers God’s kingdom. So, back to you are having troubles: what you should NOT do is look to God or to the Devil until after you have first looked in the mirror. I think that in the majority of cases when we find ourselves in a teapot full of Tsouris, the real reason is something we have done or failed to do.

God will always judge those who disobey him and do so with the intent to bring them back to his protective love and divine intervention in their life.  God judges us constantly throughout our life in order to get us to change our ways when we walk away from him. He is patient and always will try to get us to protect ourselves by obeying his Torah. However, when we come before him at the Final Judgment it will be too late to change. So make sure you get your head on straight before that time comes, which may be at any moment during your life. None of us knows how or when we are going to die, so we better be prepared to meet our Maker every moment of every day. That starts with doing Teshuvah, accepting Yeshua as your Messiah and asking forgiveness of your sins through his name. From that point on, you must try to live in accordance with the Torah God gave to all people, through the Jews to the Nations.  Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, whatever- God is the only God and we are to worship him as he said we should. 

God has no religion- he gave us his laws and commandments and statutes so that everyone would know what he expects of them. And he will judge you not according to what a clerical leader has told you to do, but what HE has told you to do!

Parashah Nitzavim 2018 (You are standing) Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30

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The previous parashah ended with the blessings and the curses, and this one continues from there. Moses advises the people that everyone listening to him is subject to this covenant and he then prophecies that when the people turn to their own desires and sin, all the curses will fall upon them and they will be a byword to the other nations, asking “Why has this happened?”, to which the answer will be because they rejected God and his commandments.  

But as with all prophecies of destruction for disobedience, Moses assures the people that once their hearts turn back to Adonai, no matter how far he has scattered them, he will bring them back to their own land and bless them. 

Moses ends with the decree that these laws are not too hard to do, and he offers them the options of live or die, blessings or curses, and the suggestion that they take the blessings.

My message today is regarding what Moses says about those that bless themselves in their heart (Deut. 29:18-20), meaning those that hear the word and purposefully disobey, thinking that because God promises to regather the people they will be selected with the others. Moses assures that person that this will not happen; indeed, the one who persists in indulging himself (or herself) in evil will certainly not be blessed or forgiven. That person will be cut off from the people and all the curses of the covenant will fall on his head. 

When I read this I thought of all those that have been taught that once they are saved, they are always saved. Shaul (Paul) refutes this in his letter to the Romans. In that letter he says (Romans 6:15-16):

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey, whether you are slaves to sin leading to death, or to obedience leading to righteousness?

The sins we commit can be forgiven through the Messiah’s sacrifice, but that is only those sins we have committed to that point, i.e. to the exact moment we confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name.  Whatever sins we commit after that are on our head until we repent of that sin and, again, ask for forgiveness. 

If we sin and continue to sin, without asking forgiveness, then we are- by definition- unrepentant. There is no doubt in my mind after reading the Bible over and over for 20 years and more that God will not forgive an unrepentant sinner, whether they know they are unrepentant or not.  We may feel sorrow in our heart for doing something wrong, but if we do not confess that wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, it is NOT automatically given. We need to have a contrite and humbled heart when we repent and ask forgiveness, but we need to do it all: heartache, repentance (T’shuvah), request for forgiveness (in Yeshua’s name.)  

I also thought of all those who have been taught that Yeshua did away with the law; all those poor souls who blindly follow the blind. Even if they think they are obeying God, they are not. And this is a form of blessing themselves in their heart and they WILL be held accountable. The covenant Moses made was not just with who was there, but those who were not there, as well (Deut. 29:13-14). In other words, this covenant is for all who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Not just the Jews, but all people: those there at that time and those who are not there. 

What this means for you is that you need to make sure you read the entire Bible- Genesis through Revelation- and accept that if you worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then you are also under this covenant. You may not like hearing that, you may want to argue (as if it will do you any good with God) that God didn’t mean Gentiles who accept Yeshua as their Messiah ( remember that Yeshua taught the Torah) or that Believers aren’t under the law but under Grace (remember what Shaul said to the Romans) or even that Yeshua did away with the law. 
Which is a total lie: Yeshua is the living Torah, the Word that became flesh so how could he have done away with himself? Duh! 

The Torah is still valid: God said these commandments were to be throughout all your generations. That means forever. And those that join themselves to God’s chosen people are not only able to enjoy all the rights of natural born Jews, but they are also subject to all the laws natural born Jews are subject to, and that means the Torah. 

What it boils down to is this: God gave the Jews the Torah to learn and teach the rest of the world, and those that obey are blessed while those that disobey are in BIG trouble. 

The Pharisees were teaching performance-based salvation, and Yeshua gave us faith-based salvation. We obey God’s commandments as a love-response to God’s goodness and because we are obedient children.

Grace is not a license to sin, it is the means by which we can avoid the eternal consequences of our sin; however, faith doesn’t overrule obedience. 

Parashah Ki Tavo 2018 (When you come) Deuteronomy 26 – 29

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As Moses finishes his Second Discourse (review of the laws) he starts the Third (and final) Discourse in Chapter 27, which is the enforcement of the laws.  This culminates in Chapter 28, the Blessings and the Curses chapter in which we are told what blessings we will receive for obedience, and the horrible litany of curses that will befall us for disobedience.

All of which happened: we were mightily blessed when we obeyed, and when we disobeyed we were even more mightily cursed. 

One interesting point of detail before we start: in 26:1 we are told to bring the first fruits of the land to the Cohen as a sacrifice to God, and in 26:12 it is referenced that this is the third year tithe. So if we are in the land for three years, why are the first fruits in the third year? In Leviticus 19:23-25 it says:

When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you for three years, not to be eaten. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord. And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.

So the first fruits given unto the Lord after possessing the land could be only done in the third year. 

I have often written how Chapter 28 in this book is one of my favorites because it shows that God’s blessings are what he actively does for us, and his curses are really not active, but passive. In other words, God gives us blessings but when he curses, it is really just the absence of his blessings.  We live in a cursed and fallen world so when God isn’t blessing us (i.e., protecting us from the real world) we are subjected to the world as it is. 

But today I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about how much obedience does God really expect from us? I mean, really- no one has ever lived the Torah perfectly, except (of course) Yeshua, and he is the son of God and was filled with the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit) from birth. I know it says that the Spirit fell upon him like a dove in the Gospels, but it is clear from what we read in the Gospels that there was something unique and special about Yeshua from his birth and throughout his youth.

So, if no one can live up to the standards of the Torah, and God knows this, why require us to do everything that is in the Torah?  On the surface it seems really unfair, doesn’t it? 

But then again, we know God is fair. He wants us to live the Torah as he gave it, which he reminds us at the end of this book (“Do not add to or take away…”), but he knows we can’t. That is why he also gave us the sacrificial system outlined way back in Leviticus 1-7 (and repeated throughout the other books.) It is through the sacrifice of innocent blood that we can be forgiven of our sin.

That is really a wild concept- sin can only be forgiven through the shedding of innocent blood (Hebrews 9:22, based on Leviticus 17:11), which means the one who is guilty cannot shed his or her own blood to atone for their own sin. It must be the blood of another, an innocent. Perhaps that is why God created the animals that are acceptable for sacrifice- just so that we have something clean and innocent to atone for our sins? Hmm…maybe? Maybe the other things we get from them– food, milk, cheese, yogurt, clothing, etc.- is all just a perk?

Why would God give us commandments we can’t follow completely and create animals that are destined to be killed so that our sins can be forgiven? My answer is… I don’t know why. Really- I have no idea why we are given commandments we can never live up to and why the guilty are not allowed to atone for their sins with their own blood.

Perhaps, just maybe, it’s because God thinks and sees things from an eternal viewpoint and these things I am asking about are finite? Perhaps it is because the real horror of sin is that the sinner must live with the memory of a poor, innocent having to suffer because of what that person did?

Again, I don’t know. This is a sort of conundrum, an unanswerable question which will forever haunt us. I don’t even think there is an answer, but there may be a solution to the problem of trying to know why and never being able to: trust that God knows what he is doing, even when you don’t.

We have been reviewing everything that happened in the prior four books of the Torah in this last book, and we have been told that pork is bad and deer is OK; fruit trees must not be used for 3 years for first fruits but we still have to wait a full five years before we can eat the fruit- it is holy after three years but not allowed to be eaten for 5. The Red Heifer ashes are used to cleanse us but everything involved in creating the ashes makes us unclean. A woman is unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a boy but for two weeks if it is a girl.

In Judaism, we have different types of “laws”-  Mishpatim and Chukkim.  The Mishpatim are laws easily understood, such as do not kill and do not lie. The Chukkim are laws for which we do not understand the reason, such as why can’t we wear clothes of different types of material and why pork is unclean. The Torah tells us that Mishpatim are to be guarded but Chukkim are to be done.  This could mean that because we can understand the reason Mishpatim have been given, we must make sure that we do not change or rationalize why we should ignore them. With regards to Chukkim, because we cannot understand why they have been decreed, we really can’t justify or rationalize changing them so they should just simply be obeyed.

As an example, a “mercy killing” violates the Mishpatim not to kill, but we can rationalize by saying we aren’t really committing murder, we are doing a form of humane Tzadakah (charity.) However, since there is no reasonable or easily understood justification for not mixing wool and linen in a shirt, how can we rationalize disobedience? We just have to accept that’s how it is and this is what we must do, period; end of story; don’t slam the door on your way out.

That, of course, is very hard to do for us prideful, curious humans who need to know “Why” for everything. We question, we analyze, we change, we reject and we adjust things to fit our own desires. But God doesn’t allow us to do that, which may be one of the reasons we can never be completely obedient.

I think this is why Yeshua told us we need to pick up our execution stake in order to follow him. We must be ready to die to self, to kill our own curiosity and desire to know “why” in order to be able to accept the Ruach HaKodesh and be led by it. Yeshua also said we need to be like little children in order to enter the Kingdom of God; in other words, accepting, trusting, and unquestioning (although I think he meant kids older than 2 or 3 who can’t say anything without asking, “Why?”)

What we should carry away with us from this parashah is that we will not ever understand why God wants us to do all the things he requires of us.  Furthermore, even when we understand the “why” of certain Mishpatim we are not to rationalize disobedience. Overall, whether we understand the reasoning for a commandment or not, we should obey all of God’s commands without question.

It’s this simple- he’s God, we’re not, so we do what he says.

Parashah Shoftim 2018 (Judges) Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

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In the previous parashah, God reminded the people of the Holy Days (the Moedim) that they are to observe when they are in the Promised Land. Now God tells them to appoint judges in all their cities who are to judge rightly:

(Deut. 16:20) “Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord, thy God giveth thee.”

God instructs the judges that no one is to be executed unless there are two or three witnesses, and if a witness gives a false testimony then what was to happen to the accused will be done to that false witness.  God also tells them when they ask for a king that the king must be an Israelite and also read and follow every commandment God has given.

God reminds the Levites of their role, and how they are to receive payment from the offerings brought to God.

God tells the people that he will raise up for them a prophet like Moses who will have God’s words in his mouth. God also confirms his commandments against worshiping any other gods, and that those living in the land now are to be totally destroyed because of all the evil they have done.

There are commandments regarding the laws of warfare, which include not destroying fruit trees, reasons some men can be excused from military service and that those people who were not to be utterly destroyed would be given a chance to make peace before the Israelites attacked them.

Finally, God gives the means by a city or town that has an unsolved murder can be absolved of the blood guilt.

How can there be justice if the Canaanites were to be totally destroyed? Women (not virgins) and young males were to be slaughtered, often along with all their animals, as well. This is justice?  On the other hand, causing the sin of a false witness to fall on his own head and requiring more than just one witness in a case of capital punishment certainly is a just and fair system. So how do we reconcile these two, apparently opposite decrees?

We do so by remembering one of the most basic and repetitious of all God’s commandments to his people- they are to be holy, as he is holy.

That means not even a trace amount of sin should be found anywhere in their camps, towns, cities or homes. Keeping animals that are unclean, or devoted to another god, would be wrong. Allowing those who God has judged to death for their sinful, unrepentant pagan religions and worship would be sinful, rebellious and would lead the people of God into sin (as we saw happen in Numbers 25.)

The regulations about keeping any form of sin out of the camp, which can be expanded to mean out of the lives of the people of God, was necessary to help maintain the holiness of God’s chosen people. Remember, these were a people that were to be priests to the world (Exodus 19:6) so everything they did, every day, must be designed to avoid sin. Although it seems cruel to us today, in those days total destruction of the conquered peoples was standard. The fact that God said people who were not on the “Holy Hit List” could be allowed to live if they surrendered is a demonstration of the compassion that God has for all people.

And the complete destruction of the sinful people is a demonstration of the awesomeness of God’s judgment.

Micah tells us (Micah 6:8) that what God wants is justice, mercy and to walk humbly with God. We cannot walk anywhere near God, let alone with him if we are sinful. Justice was the first thing God had Micah tell the people was what he wanted of them. Justice, then mercy and finally to walk humbly with God.

To the Jewish mindset, justice is an important and holy thing which encompasses more than just hearing both sides of a story. The Greek idea of justice  (under Plato’s definition) means a harmonious social arrangement which confirms separation of human rights in that slaves are subservient to their masters and should be content to be so. The Hebrew form of justice is that which requires the equality of human rights.  Even a condemned criminal that has been hanged must have his body removed before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:23) as a sign of respect for him as a human being.

Each of us must respect everyone as a separate human being with rights, even when they are sinning and unrepentant. Justice must be given fairly- no bribes, no special treatment for poor or rich, and there must be multiple witnesses whose witness has to be validated and truthful.

When we deal with the darkness in the world, we must be a light which exposes sin and also shines brightly to lead others to the truth.

Do not allow yourself to be turned one way or the other when you are in a position to judge others. This means not just in a criminal court but in your everyday life. If you are a manager and have to write an evaluation, your personal feelings towards the person, good or bad should not influence your evaluation of their value to the company or the quality of their work. If you are in a social group where people are gossiping about each other, you must separate yourselves from those who gossip and be an example of fairness. Try not to talk about someone else unless you are complimenting them; if you have nothing good to say about someone else, then say nothing.

These are hard things for us to do, as human beings, because we are so full of emotion, which is so easily affected by our iniquity. Justice is something that must be above emotion, above personal desire and above our own idea of what “should be.” Justice must be based on established law and accepted behaviors, whether or not we individually agree with those laws or behaviors, and always based on the person’s rights as a human being and a child of God.

To be holy as God is holy is not easy; when we have to judge someone else, for whatever reasons, maybe the best way to start is to “put ourselves in their shoes.” Everyone has a right to decide for themselves what they will do and how they will act, whether that be the judge or the judged. The downside of this right to decide is that God will hold each of us accountable for those decisions, whether you make it yourself or you just do what someone else told you to do.

That should be a very sobering thought.