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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shabbat shalom, and Baruch HaShem!


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

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

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

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

This ends the Book of Genesis.

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

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

Yet, in the NKJV there is a significant difference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tonight is Shabbat, so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.