Parashah Tol’dot (History) Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

This section of the Torah recounts the well-known story about how Esau sold his birthright. The first part of the parashah also shows us how much “like father, like son” is Yitzchak (Isaac). When a famine comes and Yitzchak takes his family to the land of the P’lishtim (Philistines) he said Rivkah was his sister, hiding her true relationship for fear of his life. He also became very wealthy from the Lord giving him success in everything he did, which caused the surrounding people to fear him and reject him. Just as it happened to Abraham.

There is unquestionably a Drash from this, dealing with the Jews being a hated people, and not just for the spiritual battles fought over them. God has blessed us, and through us the entire world, but that blessing is a two-edged sword in that some people see the Jews as special and become jealous of their successes. Instead of following their example and worshiping God as He wants, they take the opposite action and persecute them. If only those that hate the Jewish people understood that they are “killing the goose that lays the golden egg” because God said He would bless those that bless the Jewish people, and curse those that cursed them. In trying to “get back” at the Jews, those that hate them have only cursed themselves.

That’s not what today is about, though. I want to talk about what I see in the birthright selling story as a picture of what could happen to those who have been saved and think that their salvation is totally “in the bag.”

Reality check, Folks: it isn’t! Irrevocable gift of Grace means it won’t be revoked, i.e., taken back. However, we can lose it, we can throw it away, and we can just never use it, which will have the same effect as throwing it away. Read the chapter in my book called, “Use it or Lose it” to get a more in-depth discussion of this.

Esau had the blessings of the firstborn guaranteed as his from his very birth. Nothing could change the fact that he was first out. However, because of the temptations of the world he gave it up. I can somewhat understand how he felt that day. Next time you are really, really hungry, go into a supermarket and stand where they do all the cooking. Take a long, deep breath and smell the bakery items and the warm cooked  items, then try , just try, to go buy a single apple or bag of carrots. Of course, understanding is not condoning. He gave away the most valuable asset he had, one that was his by rights and irrevocable. But, he did give it away. He sold it for a bowl of soup.

What might we sell our “birthright” (salvation) for? Riches?  A trophy mate? A new car? A better job? These are all real temptations in the world we live in, and the Enemy knows what humans like. He can get under our skin, he can smell like fresh baked bread to a hungry person, and he can not just promise, but deliver. His power on Earth is very strong and very, very real. And it is also very hard to see. He is a sneaky little bugger, and he will have you selling your salvation before you even know what is happening.

If you are saying, “Oh, no- not me, Steve. I am too smart for that.” then you are lying to yourself. I am scared to death of being fooled, that is why I believe it will be harder for the Enemy to fool me. Not impossible, but harder. I am holding on to my salvation with both hands.

Those who have been taught, or just stubbornly want to believe, that their salvation is an irrevocable gift from God that no one can take away, they are right. It will not be taken back and it cannot be taken away;  it can, however, be given away. They don’t want to hear that part, they just want to ask God for forgiveness, say “I am saved by  the blood of Messiah” and go on with their lives as before. Happily thinking they are “in” and nothing can change that. Blind fools!

Esau had it made in the shade, but he gave away that which was guaranteed to him. The things of the world, his own selfishness and weakness of spirit caused him to lose that which could not be lost.

We are all in the same boat. Understand , please, this is a real life fact: salvation is something we can give away . We can spend eternity in Sheol for something as insignificant as a bowl of soup, so hold on to your salvation. The Enemy wants it, and he will do whatever he can (which is a lot, believe-you-me!) to get it from you.

Hold on to it with both hands, and never let go. Be aware, keep alert, stay saved.

parashah chayye sarah (the life of Sarah) Genesis 23 – 25:18

We begin this parashah with the death of Sarah. She is mourned by Abraham, and buried in the Cave of Machpelah, which Abraham buys from Ephron, a Hittite. As he is also old and close to death, Abraham makes Eleazar, his servant, swear to him not to bring Isaac back to Haran. This shows that Abraham was thoughtful enough to make sure that his son, the son of the promise, would not accidentally reverse God’s work by returning to a place they were told to leave.

Later, after the Exodus, God tells His people that they have left Egypt and they are not to return. This warning, if you will, is repeated through the different writings of the Prophets.

I see here something that I think is important: once we begin our walk with the Lord, we need to keep walking. Lot’s wife looked back, she yearned to return to her previous life, and look what happened to her. Yeshua said that anyone who plows the field but looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God, so from the beginning to the end, and throughout, once we commit to walking the way God wants us to walk we need to keep going in that direction. We can stumble, we can fall, and sometimes we get a little lost and wander about, but we need to keep going forward. Returning to Sodom, returning to Harran, returning to Egypt…all these places were where we lived separate from the Lord.  It is said that while in Egypt only the Levites remained faithful to worshiping God correctly  and the rest of the tribes took up the Egyptian religions. This makes sense, as they were totally enslaved by the Egyptians. But once they left Egypt, they were not to return. I don’t think that means just not return to that place, but more than that, do not return to that way of life.

The walk with God is hard. Although He blesses us for obedience, and (because He is who He is) He even blesses us when we aren’t obedient, it is hard to worship God and do as He tells us in a world that doesn’t want to worship Him or do as He says. To be with God means to be against the world. That’s why Yeshua said to follow Him we need to pick up our execution stake. We need to die to self, and die to the world (it’s sinfulness and its hedonistic teachings and temptations) so that we have room for the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to “move in” and take residence. We need to walk in faith and be spirit led, and not to look back at where we were and who we were. We are to move forward, and look to where we are going and to who we are becoming.

If you are new to being saved, it is easier to keep moving because you are infatuated. Your joy of salvation is fresh and new, and God will honor your decision to accept His grace. But as you keep walking you will encounter troubles, and these troubles will test your faith. And you will begin to get ‘used’ to being saved, you will start to remember how it was, and you will find yourself somewhat influenced by the world and begin to yearn, maybe a little and maybe a lot, for how it used to be when you “fit in” with everyone.

Even David asked God to renew a right spirit in him, and return to him the joy of his salvation (in Psalms.) He didn’t want to remain in the worldly place he was and wanted to return to the proper walk. He had fallen, he backslid, and he wanted to return to walking with God. We need to remember this when we feel the desire to “return to Egypt.” And don’t think, despite how enamoured you may be at this time with God and your salvation, that you are not able to succomb to “returning” because you are! You can’t fight what you don’t see, and if you aren’t willing to see that you are, and always will be, human with human weaknesses, then you are fooling yourself.

In the End Days , MOST will turn from the faith. Not some, not one or two, but most. They will “return to Egypt”, or to Harran, or to Sodom…wherever they were before they accepted Messiah, that is where they will go back to. In the letter from John he warns that those who have known Messiah, and afterwards chose to return to their previous way of life (return to Egypt), will be much worse off than if they had never known Messiah at all. There are other references in the B’rit Chadashah about people who apostatize. With regards to salvation, the Lord giveth and the Lord will not taketh away, but  we can throweth away what He gaveth. It is up to us to ask for salvation, to accept it, to keep it and work with it. To show our faith through our works, and to keep walking forward. 

Keep up the good fight, keep your eyes on the prize, pick up your execution stake and get going! It’s a hard road, it’s a long walk, and the pathway is narrow so it is easy to get off track. Pray that God provides a hedge of thorns on your right , rocks to your left and destroys the road behind you so that you stay on the straight and narrow pathway towards salvation. Don’t look back, don’t dwell on the meat and leeks of Egypt, and recognize that the plain manna and water that the Israelites complained about was miracle food and drink, provided by God. Better one day with the Lord than a thousand in the tents of sinners. God will give you what you need now, and the rewards you receive later will be more than you can imagine.

I like the movie, “Finding Nemo”; in it, there is a fish that is a little screwy. Her name is Dory, and she tells Marlin (the Dad) as they are searching for Nemo that he need to “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…just keep swimming”,  over and over and over. He complains to her that now that song is going to be stuck in his head.  We need that: we need to keep walking with God.

We need that message stuck in our head like a song that just won’t stop, reminding us ,” Just keep walking, walking , walking…”

parashah vayyera (He Appeared) Genesis 18:1-22:24

This portion starts with the telling of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and ends with one of the most well-known passages, the Akedah, also called the Binding of Isaac. This is seen by most everyone, Jewish and Gentile alike, as a precursor to the sacrificial death of the Messiah.

Those of us who are Messianic or Christian accept that the Messiah is Yeshua, Jesus. I say Messianic or Christian because being Messianic is NOT being a Christian.

This has been a problem I have faced during my walk with the Lord- that people (especially Jews) who hear that I believe Jesus is the Messiah figure I have to be Christian because, as most any Jew will confirm, any Jew who believes in Jesus can’t be a Jew anymore.

What a load of…well, let’s just say you could grow roses in that statement.

Today I want to show how “Jewish” the teachings of Yeshua are (notice I said “are”, not “were”- that’s because His teachings are still valid, and because He is still alive what He said is still current.) And to do that I am going to use the commentary from the Chumash I still have from my Bar Mitzvah (that was so long ago I got a “Mazel Tov !” from Moshe, himself!) For those that are familiar with the Chumash, this is the Soncino edition with commentary from the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Dr. Hertz.

The first commentary note is in reference to chapter 18, verse 7 when the Angels visited Abraham. He ran to get them food and wash their feet, and Dr. Hertz references Leviticus 18:7 where we are told to love the stranger, for we were once strangers in Egypt.  Later,  when Abraham made the covenant with Abimelech and told the king about his servants taking away the well Abraham had dug, there is another reference to Leviticus, this time it’s 19:17 about not hating your brother in your heart.

Both of these teachings about being kind to strangers and not hating people are constantly mentioned by Yeshua. In fact, He said the two most important commandments are to love the Lord and love each other. These are not foreign ideas that formed a new religion- these are direct from the Word of God given to Moshe at the Mountain. Yeshua never taught anything but Torah, and he taught it correctly.That is why He said, in Matthew 5:17 that He came to “fulfill the law.” In First Century Rabbi-speak that didn’t mean to complete it or finish it, but to interpret it correctly. To interpret correctly was to complete and to interpret wrongly was to trespass.

Another lesson to show how Yeshua was not teaching anything different than what is in the Torah is when Yeshua tells us that anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God. We can see this lesson clearly in this parashah when Lot’s wife looked back to Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt. She was going forward, protected and led by the Lord (or, in this case, His angel- close enough!) to a promised salvation. But she looked back. And what did she miss out on? Despite the Sodom-like actions of Lot’s daughters, they were the genesis of two of the greatest kingdoms of the times: the Ammonites and the Moabites. True, these peoples were godless and enemies of the Israelites, but they were great nations. Because Lot’s wife looked back she was not the progenitor of these kingdoms.

I see these two events, Yeshua teaching that you can’t look back and be worthy of God’s kingdom and what happened to Lot’s wife, as the same teaching. We can’t walk a straight path forward when we are looking behind us. And what are we looking at that is behind us? It’s our comfort zone. It’s what we are used to, it’s what makes us feel secure. It’s the place where we trust ourselves and others and not God. Yeshua taught to trust in God and walk in His way, leaving behind the faithlessness we had when we looked to our own devices and others for guidance. Yeshua was teaching what is in the Chumash. That’s real Jewish stuff!

Lastly, when Abraham told Abimelech about the well that Abimelech’s servants stole from Abraham, Rabbi Hertz refers again to Leviticus 19:17, where we are told to love they neighbor and also to rebuke them. This seems to be an oxymoron, to rebuke someone you are told to love, but it is meant (I believe) to demonstrate that it is for the good of the person doing wrong that we rebuke them. Not in a mean and spiteful way, but to lovingly bring to their attention their wrongdoing so that they can be aware of it, and as such, do T’Shuvah and turn from that sin. What we are being told in the Torah is not to enable wrongdoing, even by those we love, but to show “tough love” and not condone or allow wrongful actions. We are, actually, required by Torah to advise people when they are killing themselves (sin is death.) The prophets are often told by God that if they fail to warn the people, no matter what the people say or think of them, then the blood of those sinners will be on the head of the prophet. However, if the prophet does warn them and adjoin them, constantly, to do what is right, then if the people fail to pay attention their blood is on their own heads.

This is what Yeshua meant when He taught that if we are bringing a gift to the Lord but have some level of strife between us and another person, we are to leave the gift at the altar and make right our relationship. Then we can offer our gift. This is just what Abraham did- he was making a covenant of peace with Abimelech but first he settled this issue about the stolen well. After that was done, then there was the covenant of peace and the covenant of the well, with the exchange of gifts.

Yeshua did not start a new religion, and in this parashah we can see that the commentaries made by one of the most “Jewish” of Jews, the late, Great Rabbi of the British Empire, is exactly the same lessons that Yeshua taught. There is nothing new in the New Covenant writings- it is all Jewish. Yeshua taught from and about the Torah, Shaul (Paul) taught that Torah is correct, all scripture is useful (BTW…the only scripture then was the Tanakh) and the writer of Hebrews also told the Jewish Believers in the Diaspora that Torah was still valid. The New Covenant is not “new”- it is the continuation of and brings to completion God’s plan of salvation that He told Abraham about way, way back in Genesis.

If you are reading the New Covenant and ignoring the Old Covenant, it is like trying to build a house starting with the second floor. God’s plan is simple: since humans can’t save themselves He will provide the Escape Clause, the ultimate Get Out of Jail card- The Messiah. All though the Tanakh we read about His coming, what He will do so we can know Him, and what will happen when He takes charge. It never happens in the Tanakh. Messiah’s coming isn’t written for Season One of this show, it happens in Season Two. That’s also the Final Season, when the show called “God’s Plan of Salvation” is taken off the air, forever. Season Three is Eternity. If you missed Season One, you can’t possibly understand or appreciate the subtleties of the plot and characters in Season Two. Oh yeah, you can get the main point, but you miss a lot of why things are so important and the history of how things got that way.

If you are Jewish and reading this, please think about getting familiar with the New Covenant, but find a Messianic version. Read Dr. Stern’s “The Jewish New Covenant” to see the ‘Jewishness” of those writings. Allow yourself the right to make up your own mind. And if you are a Gentile Believer and reading this, talk about Yeshua’s teachings and don’t use the name “Jesus”- that will not go over well with a Jew. Use His real name, Yeshua. And relate the teachings to the Torah- stay out of the New Covenant.

Everything Yeshua taught us about the Kingdom of God, how we should live, how we should treat each other and how we should treat God was from the Tanakh: if that was good enough for Yeshua, why isn’t it good enough for you?

To reach Jewish people with the Good News, you need to show it to them in the Tanakh, and then let them know that Yeshua said the same thing. Before they can accept Yeshua as their Messiah, they need to see Him as He really was and is: a Jewish Messiah teaching Jewish lessons from the Jewish book of law, the Torah. Once Yeshua stops being a Jew-hating Gentile and is revealed as He truly is- the Jewish Messiah- then and only then can a Jewish person begin to accept Him as their Messiah.

And until the Jewish people say, “Baruch haba b’shem Adonai” (Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord), Yeshua said he would not return.

You want Messiah to return? So do I, so get started teaching your Jewish friends the truth about their Jewish Messiah!

Parashah Lech Lecha (Out of) Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

This portion of the Torah tells us of God’s covenant with Abraham; the promise that  his seed will be many, that they will be a blessing to the whole world, and that God will stand behind them, blessing those that bless them and cursing those that curse them.

There is just so much in here, most notably the verse often quoted in the B’rit Chadashah regarding true faithfulness, Gen. 15:6.

We see Abraham as a pillar of faith. Everything the Lord asked of him he did immediately, everything the Lord told him he believed, absolutely. He was a great leader (it tells us he had over 300 trained men when he went to war against the 5 kings to recover Lot) and that meant he had to be a good manager and leader to have so many servants, trained and loyal to him. He also was a man of action, going to war successfully and also a man of honor, not accepting gifts, as valuable as they were, from the wicked king of Sodom, and a man of generosity giving the tithe to Melchizedek.

In all of this we look up to Abraham as a true Patriarch and a man of unwavering faithfulness.

Well, maybe not unwavering all the time. I am not going to talk Abraham “down”, but the lesson I see here for me, and maybe for you, is that no one is perfect except Yeshua. Abraham’s faith was not so great in  Genesis 11:11 when he took his family into Egypt and asked Sarah to say she was his sister to prevent him being killed so Pharaoh could take her as his own. Abraham certainly wasn’t showing faith and trust in God’s promises that he had already received when he “pimped” his own wife to save his skin. And Sarah, although we don’t have any idea how long she was with Pharaoh or how intimate their relationship had been, went along with this. In all fairness to her, at that time and as a woman, she didn’t have a lot to say about it, but I would think she couldn’t have been very happy with the situation. However, she was a dutiful and obedient wife, submitting even to her own shame in showing obedience to her husband. Shaul wrote to more than one of the Messianic Congregations about how wives should be obedient and submissive to their husbands, but he followed that  up with how the husband should be toward his wife- he should protect as he would his own body. I don’t think Abraham was thinking of her as his own body here; he was only thinking of his own body.

Abraham was unquestionably a man of great faith. He was strong, brave, faithful, honourable…he was a real mensch! And we should all look towards him as an example of how to live regarding our relationships with the world and our relationship with God. Yet, as great as he was, he had faults, fears, and he did have moments of faith-less-ness. He was, after all, human. So are we, and as such we need to remember that we will fall.

The important lesson here is not to avoid falling, because we will. We have no choice to avoid it and no chance to escape it- it is our nature to sin. God knows that: that is why Yeshua had to die, because without His sacrifice on our behalf we had no hope. Messiah is the hope of the Jewish people, and since the Jewish people are chosen by God to be His representatives to the Goyim (the Nations, i.e. the rest of the world), we are Cohanim (Priests) to the world, set apart by God by His Torah to be an example for everyone else, and thereby lead them to salvation. Messiah is for everyone, Jew and Gentile. It has always been that way, and always will be. Be joyful, thou Gentiles, that God has included you in His plan and be not prideful, you Jews, to think that you are better than anyone else. We were chosen not because of who we are, but because of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) and his worthiness.

I got off topic a little there, but it’s good stuff, right?

Back to Abraham and the fact that he showed lack of faith and trust in God. We all will backslide, one way or another, sooner or later. We need to treat those discretions correctly- without guilt, without remorse, and with a stronger desire and commitment to do better. That’s the best we can hope for and what we should aim to achieve: just to do better. If we try to be holy and righteous, we will fail and become distressed and disappointed with ourselves. That is fuel for the Enemy. He will come into your life with trials and problems, or tempt you with the pleasures of the flesh to keep you away from returning to the correct path. When we are attacking ourselves all the Enemy has to do is stand to the side and occasionally give us another reason to feel God has rejected us. He will give us more Tsuris, or he may introduce new pleasures, hedonistic and sinful, that will make us feel better, at the same time leading us away from the proper Halacha (way to walk).

Everyday I fight myself. Just like Shaul says, I do not what I want to do, and that which I do not want to do, I do. I am as much a wretch as he said he is.  But I have the hope of Messiah, and the promise of God, and the knowledge of His forgiveness, compassion and mercy which helps me continue to get back on track. It’s not the falling that is the problem- that goes with the territory. What we need to remember is that the key element is getting back on the right track. We will fall, we will stumble, we will get skinned knees and bloody noses. It will hurt, we will also hurt others (sin always hurts more people than just the one who committed the sin) and we will feel bad about it. You better feel bad about it!  Here’s the big BUT: feel bad but don’t berate or abuse yourself. Don’t give the Enemy a foothold: use the bad feelings in a positive way that will help you get back in the race, get back on the right track, and walk more carefully. Remember the spot where you tripped and avoid it next time it comes around. Don’t worry about not having enough chances to sin- you will never run out of opportunity to sin. That’s OK- God will never run out of mercy or forgiveness to those who do T’Shuvah.

I used to think that those people who were “saved” used this Messiah thing as a crutch to simply explain away their problems.  I was right, and I was wrong. I was right in thinking we can use Yeshua as a crutch, but not in the way I thought. I thought He was a crutch people used more for an excuse, a means of avoiding the truth about themselves and the world. The truth is that He is a crutch which supports us when we are about to fall, and keeps us standing and moving , and gives us the hope that we will be better. He is not a means of avoiding our responsibilities: He doesn’t enable us, He edifies us. He holds us up in our weaknesses and supports us with His love, His truth, and the Ruach HaKodesh.

Don’t be afraid of falling; but, do be horrified at the thought of not getting off your butt and back in the race when you do.

Parashah Noach (Exodus 6:9 – 11:32)

What to say? What to say? There is so much in this Parashah.

The flood representing God’s awesome power over the Earth, the righteousness of Noach that saved not just him, but his family. The first covenant mentioned in the Bible. The fear of man upon the animals, probably representing that before the flood meat was not on the menu, not for men and not for animals. Isiah tells us the lion will lay with the lamb and we are told that in the End Days they will eat straw together. Does this mean that they originally were all herbivores? That’s part of what’s in here.

Then we have the question of was the flood really all over the entire Earth, or just locally? They have found a large layer of clay deep under the Earth in the mid-East that scientifically proves there was a great deal of water, and for a long time, in that part of the world, but  was it just the mid-East or everywhere? Does it really matter?

What about clean and unclean animals? The laws of Kashrut (Kosher) were not absolutely spelled out until God gave them to Moshe, but Noach knew clean from unclean. There were 7 pair of clean but only 1 pair of unclean. Yet, God tells Noach that all the animals are for him to eat, so did God allow Noach to have future knowledge to make sure there were 7 times more clean than unclean pairs? Is that because God knows everything in advance, and He knew He would make Kosher regulations a requirement of worshipping Him, so he had Noach save enough of the clean animals to make sure there would be enough to go around?

Oh, and the lineages. We see how Ham was cursed for his disrespectful treatment of his father?  We didn’t even have the 5th Commandment, yet here Ham was cursed for simply seeing his father naked. I wonder why nothing was done to Noach? After all, he got fall-down, lose-your-clothes drunk! What? That’s OK? In any event, Ham becomes the father of the nations that are enemies of the descendants of Shem, who is the favorite here. Japheth seems to be sort of the “middle child”- not as bad as Ham, and not as good as Shem, so Ham is slave to them both but Japheth has to live under Shem’s authority (in the tents of Shem). Does this represent the fact that there will only be a remnant of righteousness in the world? Out of the three sons only one was blessed. As the population grew, the number of righteous people remained small.

What about Babel? God, Himself, said that if men were to get together as one there is nothing they could not accomplish! That’s pretty high praise, and from the Highest of the High, too! So why did God stop that? Because He gave us different speech, from which we ended up with different cultures and different ethics, we have never been a united people, and we have always been at war. Why did God, a loving and compassionate Father to all, set us up against each other like that?

I don’t know.

There could be an entire treatise written about how, when God said , “Let us go down and see…” regarding visiting Babel, that it is impossible for Him to do that because He is everywhere all at once. If you are already there, how can you “go down” to it?

Since God promised not to destroy the Earth by flood, is that why in the Acharit HaYamim He will burn the Earth? Is that some sort of “Escape Clause” He figured into the Noahic Covenant? He can keep His covenant about not destroying the Earth with a flood but still destroy it. Actually, all He has to do is sit and watch- mankind is pretty much destroying the Earth without any help from the Lord. Will the ultimate destruction God plans to bring on the Earth be accomplished through mankind’s own self-destructiveness?

If you add up the years Noach lived after the flood, and the years between the birth of his sons leading to Avram (later to be named Abraham by God) we see that Avram was 88 years old when Noach died. There is no reference as to when Terah left Ur, but I think it is safe to say that Avram could have spent a lot of time with his ancestor Noach, and could have been influenced by Noach. Of all the children that sprung from the loins of Noach, only Avram was righteous enough for God to call upon him. Maybe, just maybe, since Noach had been the only righteous man on the Earth, he was able to teach and influence Avram so that when God was ready to begin His plan of redemption, Avram would be ready.

Who knows? You can’t make an argument from nothing. On the other hand, sometimes you do need to read between the lines, and that’s why reading God’s word with the leading of the Ruach is so necessary; it helps you  get past the P’Shat (written word) to the Drash (underlying or hidden meaning.)

Well, well, well…all these questions and not one “answer.” And you know what? That’s how I’m leaving it today. That’s right- the lesson today is for you to ask God to show you what He has for you from this parashah. If  I am to edify you, my readers, and help you come closer to God by better knowledge of His word, then I need to let you find some answers on your own. Of course, I mean on your own with God’s Ruach leading you.

I am leaving it up to you and the Lord to go through this parashah together. Find out what God has for you, and (maybe?) share it with the rest of us.

Parashah Bereshith (In the Beginning)

This Shabbat we joyfully open our Torah, and just like in this parashah , we begin at the beginning.

This first of the cycle of parashot is a little long, going all the way to Chapter 6, verse 8. It covers the beginning of everything, takes us through creation of man, Cain and Abel, and ends with God’s reluctantly regretting His creation and deciding He needs to start over. The whole Earth is full of sin and wickedness, all except Noah.

What I see in this is the entire plan of God’s salvation. I see creation, the world forming, people coming to know each other and God, then rejecting His rules and killing each other, lusting after their own desires. I see God patiently waiting for people to come back to their senses, which will eventually lead them back to God. But it doesn’t happen. Noah is the only righteous one in the world, and through him there will be a new life, a new beginning, and his descendants will live in a new Earth that will be formed from the remains of the previous one.

It’s not a perfect picture of the Messiah and the Tribulations, true, but I see the same elements in this parashah as we will see when all things come to pass. We have mankind (Adam and Eve) in union with God, but then they break their union by sinning. They are mercifully allowed to live, but no longer in perfect communion as they are ejected from God’s presence. They are fruitful and multiply (one of the more enjoyable commandments to fulfill) but sin is still here, in a cursed world, and although there are some who will form a union with God (Abel), there are those who will not (Cain). And we see that evil will hate and attack righteousness, out of jealousy and frustration. These emotions are the children of the mother of all sin, Pridefulness. Cain’s pride was hurt when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but rejected his. The Soncino version of the Chumash explains that Abel gave the best he had and his heart was right, but Cain’s heart was not right and his sacrifice was, therefore, unacceptable. Cain’s pridefulness resulted in jealousy, which led to the inevitable result: murder.

Here’s my take on the way things played out, and (if I may say so) I think it is a good template for most every sin:

1.Cain’s pride prevented him from humbling himself;

2. Unhumbled, his frustration grew each time his sacrifice, still unacceptable, was rejected;

3. His frustration grew into anger as he continually saw Abel accepted while he was continually rejected;

4. His anger grows, and without humbling himself he couldn’t direct it at the source (himself) so he projected it against God and Abel;

5. Cain couldn’t do anything against God but he could take out his anger on Abel;

6. Result: the first murder.

Maybe the ultimate sinful expression of our own situation won’t be murder (God forbid!) but it could show itself as gossip, maybe hating in our heart (which Yeshua said is murder, anyway), maybe violence, verbal abuse, adultery, who knows? I believe that pridefulness is the foundation stone upon which almost every sin rests. It is a vicious cycle.

Now the world’s population grows and sin grows with it. There is righteousness, which we see coming through Seth’s bloodlines, but (just like today) the sin is greater than the righteousness. Even in the beginning, those who are God fearing are but a remnant, and it has remained that way even until today. Ultimately, judgement comes with only one chance of survival, and that is through only one man, Noah.

I am not saying that Noah is the Messiah, or ever was supposed to be. What I am saying is just that I see the plan of salvation being shown to us, in a way, in this parashah. It is a “teaser”, like the TV commercial about a new movie shows you pretty much what the story is about, without giving away the details. Creation, sin, loss of perfect communion with God, sin vs. right throughout the world, one righteous man chosen to begin a new relationship with God, judgement and destruction, renewal and a new beginning on a new Earth.

Of course, with Noah things started going downhill almost right away. We can be thankful that with Yeshua, and the “real” final judgement, those  of us who are of the remnant (the Believers who follow God’s laws and commandments as He gave them, not as religion tells us)  will have eternal communion with God, basking in His presence. We will see the new Heavens and the new Earth, and we will return to the way it was in the beginning, before sin entered the picture.

Every Simchat Torah we can look forward to what the Torah, and particularly this parashah, is showing us- that we will return to Gat Eden, we will once again be in the physical presence of the Lord God (Adonai Elohim), and we will be eternally joyful and serene.

I love each time I start reading God’s Word all over again.

Parashah Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot (Intermediate Reading for Sukkot: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26)

Sukkot is one of the Holy Days which we are commanded to celebrate in Leviticus 23. It is one of the three Holy Days when we are to go to the Temple in Yerushalayim (Pesach and Shavuot being the other ones.)

At this time we build a Sukkah, which is essentially an open roofed tabernacle or tent, and we are to live in it for the next 7 days. This is a reminder of how our fathers lived in the desert.

This festival is more than just a memorial to our ancestors; it is a celebration of our relationship, our close relationship, with God. And not just as a people, but individually.

This parashah relates how Moshe asked God to go with the people- it comes after the people rebelled against God while Moshe was on the mountain, when Moshe destroyed the first set of tablets God gave him. Moshe is back on the mountain, and begging God to continue to live with the people as they travel through the desert. In fact, Moshe asks God to just  leave them there if He won’t go with them because it is not the people that matter, it is God’s presence with them that demonstrates who they are.

When God is with us, it proves we are His people. His presence is what separates us from the rest of the world, and for those who accept Messiah Yeshua as being the Messiah, the Anointed One of God and the promised salvation, and who have received the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), they have God’s presence with them, just as the children of Israel had His presence in the desert.

In the desert, He traveled as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night, but today as we walk through this desert we call “life”, God is with us always by means of the indwelling Ruach. That means that our bodies are, in a way, the ultimate Sukkah. This correlates to what Shaul said when he told us that our bodies are the temple housing the spirit of God. I have heard Christian teachings that allude to this, too, calling our bodies the Church.

As a Jewish man, I am not, and probably never will be, comfortable with the idea that I go to “church”, let alone that I am a “church.” I know it’s just a word, but words have power and the image and memories that the word “church” bring forth are not pleasant to me.

On the other hand, I like considering myself a Sukkah, where God and I congregate. Add to that how joyful it is to tabernacle with the Lord God, and that is an image I can live with!

Sukkot lasts seven days, but we celebrate for 8 days. The eighth day is called Sh’Mini Atzeret, and that is also called the holiday of Simchat Torah (note: holiday, not Holy Day.) This is a Rabbinical day of celebration, not a biblical one. The Rabbinical explanation is that God was so happy being with His people during those seven days that He extended it an additional day. Again, not in the bible as a God-declared festival, but a nice thought and a joyful way to celebrate the Torah, which is also God’s presence with us, is it not?

See: I’m not against everything that is traditional, just those that go against what God wants or says.

Final thought for today: in the desert, God’s presence was shown through His manifestation as a cloud and as fire. Moshe wrote the Torah, and after they came into the Land, God’s physical presence no longer went with them. But they had the Torah, which is not just God’s laws, regulations, and (overall) teachings, but it is, in a way, God, Himself. He tells us who He is (this portion also contains the 13 Attributes of God, which He announces as he passes by Moshe) and who we are, in relation to Him. Therefore, in my thinking, the Torah is God; not a manifestation, but it is who and what He is. Yochanan says that first there was the Word, then the Word became flesh. Do you think the “Word” he refers to is the Torah? I do. That’s why I feel comfortable believing that the Torah is God- not a manifestation of Him, but His essence and (thereby) His presence.  In the same way that our bodies are a Sukkah, the Torah is God; it is a spiritual relationship expressed by a tangible thing.

So, the Torah is with the people always, representing God’s presence. And the ultimate demonstration of God’s presence with His people is the Ruach HaKodesh. Unlike the cloud or fire, which appeared visible to all, and unlike the Torah, which is  tangible thing, the Ruach is His presence living inside of us. Every breath, every heartbeat, every thought…He is here sharing our life, living every moment of it in total communion.

Sukkot is one of the more joyful Holy Days we have, and for those who have accepted the Grace of the Almighty, we get to celebrate Sukkot every single day, and for the rest of our life.

Sweet!

L’Shana Tovah- A Rosh HaShanah Drash

For me, a Holy Day is described by God in Leviticus 23, and a holiday is something religion created. This day is sort of both, since the Holy Day is a memorial (Yom Teruah, or Day of Trumpets) and the holiday is the Jewish New Year. Actually, the new year as God tells us, is Pesach (Passover). In Exodus He tells us that the first day we are free from slavery to Egypt is to be the first day of our calendar.

On this day, the traditional Torah reading is the Akedah, or binding, of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-24.) In keeping with this tradition (not all traditions are bad), I would like to offer this Drash:

The fact that God tests us is seen throughout the Tanakh. He does so not to tease or tempt us to do wrong, but to strengthen us. To help us mature, spiritually.  The way to be prepared for a test, any test, is to study. But to study correctly, in other words, to study that which will help you overcome the challenges you are to face, you need to know the subject matter. You don’t study Algebra for a History test, and you don’t develop spiritual maturity through blessings.

That’s right- blessings are the gold star you get after the test. The test is the hard part, and the test stinks to high heaven. The tests are difficult, and never too much for us, so long as we remember to look to God for the strength to pass.  If we try to pass God’s spiritual testing on our own, we will most likely fail. We can’t do it, we need the Ruach to help us overcome our natural sinful sinfulness.

Isn’t that redundant, Steve? Sinful sinfulness? Maybe; the point I want to make is that we don’t just sin, we are sinful, too. We don’t just sin, we want to sin, we need to sin, it’s our natural state of mind. So, we don’t just sin, we live to sin, we desire to sin, we are sinfully, sinful. Thank God that Yeshua overcame this for us.

That’s why testing is so hard, but it doesn’t have to be. God’s tests are an open book test because the Bible is always close at hand, the Ruach is waiting for us to give it a “Shout Out”, and God is standing all around us, waiting to catch us.

Yet, we fail. We manage to avoid the safety net, the harness and the protective gear (that’s in Ephesians) and find a way to still fall flat on our faces. And sometimes when we fall, we land hard on someone else.

That brings us to another tradition: to ask forgiveness of those we have, or may have, sinned against during the past year. This is a Jewish tradition that Jews (probably) don’t know is also confirmed by Yeshua. Yeshua tells us before we bring our offering to God, if someone has something against us we should leave the offering at the altar, go to that person, and ask forgiveness. Gee- you mean Yeshua did something Jewish? Duh!!!

The next 10 days are called “The Days of Awe”, when we become introspectively aware of the many ways we have fallen short of what God has wanted of us. It is time to take off the blinders, to see ourselves as we are, to ask forgiveness of others and at the end, repentant and contrite of heart and spirit, to ask forgiveness of God when this period culminates on Yom Kippur.

I call it the “Days of Aw”, as in ,”Aw, shucks!” because that’s how I feel when I realize how much I know about what God wants, all the knowledge and insight I have gained from His spirit, and look at me- still stupid, still unwilling, still sinning and still trying. I guess the last part is the difference that His spirit has made in me- before I was saved, I was a sinner that rationalized my sins, now I am a sinner that regrets my sins. And even though I sound down on myself, I am glad that I sin less, that I want to do what is right, and that I am improving. Slow as molasses going uphill against the wind in January, but….making progress.

We all fail now and then, Brothers and Sisters, but do not let your failures make you sad- let them be a “test” to strengthen you to do better. And when we fail we only need to remember that Yeshua did not fail, that He passed every test presented to Him, and that because of His success we can get back on track. We must always strive to do better. Do not allow a letdown to cause you to give up on His calling in your life. That’s a cop-out!

Praise the Lord, because when we ask His forgiveness He forgets our failures, and praise the Lord that He always remembers our successes.

One last thought for the day: the Akedah introduces martyrdom to the Bible (even though Isaac was not killed, he was willing to die.) This will become a sadly regular part of the devoted Believer’s life for the rest of history (until the final victory is accomplished.) It is the ultimate testing of faith.

A modern Jewish poet named J. L. Gordon wrote this poem in memorial of a tragic slaughter that occurred in England at the Castle of York in the year 1190:

“We have sacrificed all. We have given our wealth.
Our homes, our honours, our land, our health
Our lives- like Hannah and her children seven-
For the sake of the Torah that came from Heaven.”

Yeshua is the living Torah and when He died on that tree the Torah that was a works-driven Torah died with Him. When He was resurrected, the Torah also was given new life, as a faith-driven path to Redemption. That means that nothing has changed in the Torah: it is still Torah (2nd Timothy 14) and is still valid for everyone who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What cannot be accomplished through the works-driven Torah, can be accomplished in the  faith-driven Torah that lives in us! Yeshua fulfilled the Torah, in works, in interpretations, in the sight of all the peoples. He is in us, and through Him we can be victorious over sin.

Use these next 10 days to look into yourself. The Torah is supposed to be a mirror that we look into. Look in the mirror- what do you see? Look harder- Torah is there, Brothers and Sisters. How can I be so sure? Because God Himself told us in Jeremiah 31:31 that it will be written on our hearts, and I believe God!

Each of us who have accepted God’s Grace through Yeshua Ha Meshiach, all of us who are children of the Everlasting God- we all are one in Messiah and He is in us!

Look deep within yourself over these next 10 days and seek Him out!

Parashah Nitzavim (Standing)

As we continue through D’Varim (Words, also called Deuteronomy) we hear Moshe going from ordering Israel what to do when they enter the land, to reminding and re-enforcing their covenant with God, to prophesying about the future. In fact, he talks as if he already knew what is going to happen to them in the future. I believe that this may have been shown to him by Adonai when Moshe was on the mountaintop looking over the Land.

In this parashah Moshe, again, tells the people to worship Adonai and not idols and what will happen when they turn from God. He tells them the covenant that day is not like the one their fathers made because it is not just for them there, at that time, but for them and everyone coming after them. This is the generation that was not born into slavery, and they are the ones that receive the promise made to their fathers about entering the land because their fathers broke faith with Adonai. So, it seems right that the covenant that their fathers broke should be reconfirmed with them.

Moshe, like all the prophets, told of the horrible things that will happen when the people reject God, but ends up with the wonderful promise of re-gathering the people after they do T’Shuvah and return to God. Here’s the part I love to hear- in chapter 30, verse 6 Moshe tells that God promises to circumcise the hearts of the people when they return to Him. The Haftarah portion that is usually read is Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 61:10-63:9, but I would like to respectfully recommend another Haftarah- Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 31:31.

Why? Well, the Yesha’yahu reading is the prophecy about returning to the land, and that is a wonderful and beautiful expectation of the end times, when we are back in the Land of our Fathers. But it misses the Messianic vision that Moshe gives, which is that God will circumcise the hearts of the people, which is what He promises through the vision of Yirmeyahu, also known as The New Covenant. That’s the promise of Messiah, isn’t it? That we will turn to God, we will have our hearts circumcised, the Ruach HaKodesh will be within us, and we won’t even need to ask people if they know the Lord, because we all will know Him. He will be in us, and we will be in Him.

There is an old Jewish expression that the Torah should be a mirror, so that when I look into it I see myself.  That isn’t happening yet; at least, not to me. It is similar, in my mind, to when Shaul talks about Torah and salvation and says it is like looking into a clouded or shadowy mirror, where we can’t see clearly the reflection but we will when we are completed in Messiah (pardon me for paraphrasing a bit there.)

The Tanakh has many Messianic prophecies, and the B’rit Chadashah is where we see these prophecies fulfilled by Yeshua, yet there are Messianic passages in the Tanakh that are ignored by the Rabbinical world. For instance, one of the best known (if that is a good way to define it) examples is the fact that of all the writings of Yesha’yahu that are used for Haftarah reading, the one never used is Yesha’yahu 53, which is one of the most important and obvious references to the Messiah and points directly to Yeshua. Yet, it is ignored. I wonder if the reason they recommend Yesha’yahu 61 for this parashah instead of Yirmeyahu 31 is also somewhat bigoted, trying to ignore the obvious reference to Messianic prophecy.

I don’t disagree that the recommended Haftarah is appropriate, because Moshe does, indeed, talk about the gathering of Israel from all the parts of the world where she was scattered. Perhaps because I am Messianic, and understand; no, not just understand, but am gratified by and look for, the Messianic prophecies that point to Yeshua in the Tanakh I think Yirmeyahu is more appropriate here.

You need to decide which Haftarah is best for you. As I say often in this ministry-blog of mine, you need to take responsibility for your own salvation. Don’t trust me or anyone else to make the decision of what to believe and what not to believe for you: you make that for yourself. Because, no matter what you end up doing, no matter who decided that you should do that or believe this, when you meet up with the Lord He will hold you accountable for your beliefs and actions and words. You. Not the Rabbi, not the Minister, not the Priest, not the Reverend, not even Yo Mama!. It’s all on you! So, read the Parashah, read the recommended Haftarah and read Yirmeyahu, then ask God to show you what you should get out of this. After all, it’s His word and He knows best what you need to know from it.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll see something no one else has been given the sight to see in His word. In Chapter 29, verse 28(29) Moshe tells us the things that are hidden belong to God and things that have been revealed belong to us, and our children forever.  Maybe God has something hidden that He wants to reveal to you.

You won’t ever get that revelation if you don’t read His word.

Parashah Ki Tavo (When You Come)

This parasha continues with the commandments regarding how the people are to behave when they enter the Land (ha Eretz). It tells them to write the entire Torah on plastered rocks and to stand, 6 tribes on one mountain and the other 6 on another one, and pronounce the blessings and curses that the people are subject to while in the Land. Chapters 28 and 29 specify, in somewhat graphic detail, the blessings for obedience and the curses (this is where it gets graphic) for rejecting the laws, thereby rejecting God.

But does God really curse us? God is good, all the time! We hear that often during services, and it is in the Manual, too. We also hear that God is the same: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Totally dependable. Loving and compassionate. Patient and forgiving; in fact, more than just willing to forgive, He wants to forgive!

We know God will judge, but we also know His judgments are infused with mercy.

However, He is God, and will do whatever He wants to do, however He wants to do it. We trust, and we should, that what He does is just and holy. God is loving, fair, merciful and compassionate, and he wants us to have only the best there is.

So, nu? With all that going for Him, why would He curse us just because we want to do our own thing? He gave us free will, right? He lets us make our own decisions, right? So, if we decide to ignore some, or all, of His rules why be so vengeful and nasty? I mean, c’mon, God- live, and let live. You go your way and I’ll go my way. No need to be all “up-in-my-face” about it. I’ll leave you alone and you leave me alone. Okay?

Actually…that is exactly what he does.

Remember that the world is a cursed place. It was cursed with the sin that Adam and Eve committed, and has remained cursed. In fact, Satan was thrown not to Sheol (hell), but to Earth. If you sometimes think it is hell on Earth, well- you’re right! It is.

God’s blessings are a kippur, or covering. It is the umbrella that protects us from the raining down curses that we must endure while we live in this world. We have the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, coming soon. Kippur means covering, and that is really what atonement does for us: when we atone before God, when we do T’Shuvah and (literally) turn from our sins, He covers us with His protection from the world, i.e., blessings. You see, things start off lousy- we are born into sin, with a sinful nature (Yetzer Hara) and into a sinful, cursed world. The wonderful things that happen to us are the exception, not the rule. Those exceptions happen because God covers us with His blessings. Yeshua said He wished He could cover Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) like a mother hen covers her chicks under her wings. Often, David used the term “under the wings”, an image of being covered and protected, in his psalms about how God cares for us.

We are given free will, and we can do whatever we want regarding the laws and commandments God has ordered us to obey. But we need to be ready for the consequences.

Does God curse us? I say no, because he doesn’t need to. We start off cursed, in a cursed world. God wants to cover us, to give us His Kippur, and we can choose to go to Him and stand under His protection, or we can choose to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” and stand alone, unprotected in the midst of tsouris.

I think many people just don’t like being told what to do; yes, we are sheep easily led astray. But we are also stiff-necked and stubborn, prideful and egocentric. The way we are easily led astray is that anyone who promises us hedonistic pleasures and autonomy will have a following more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world. What God tells us to do is for our best interest and will lead to Eternal pleasure, but (sadly) we prefer to do what feels good now and ignore the Eternal consequences. We like to be “eased” into obedience, but that is not how it works with the Lord. He doesn’t ask, and He doesn’t need to ask, just like when I was a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps I didn’t need to ask an enlisted man to do something. Even the Roman soldier who told Yeshua, by means of servants, that Yeshua did not need to come to his home to cure the sick slave, knew that was true because Yeshua had the authority to do so, wherever He was. God is THE ultimate authority in the Universe. He, and He alone, has the right and the power to enforce telling us what to do. Yes, he could send horrible curses upon us, but he doesn’t use that power- He doesn’t need to. He chooses instead to lovingly, and (I believe from what I read in the Bible) regretfully leave us to our own devices.

People curse each other- we willingly desire that bad things happen to someone else and if we could make it happen, we would. We actively curse each other. God does not actively curse us- His “curses” are passive, in that His curse is the result of us rejecting Him, and thereby throwing off His Kippur from the already cursed world. God doesn’t throw us under the bus- we run into the road and lay down in front of the bus all on our own.

Obey God, believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and accept Him as your Messiah, follow the commandments and you choose life: a life of blessings and an Eternity in the presence of the Almighty. If you prefer to do as you please, reject Yeshua and thereby reject God’s plan of salvation for yourself,  you choose Eternal suffering. You may have one heck of a good life on earth- the sinful know how to get what they want (there’s an interesting parable about that in Luke), but in the end, you are choosing death.

It’s your choice.