Do All Blessings Come from God?

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Now for today’s drash

We know that God loves to bless his children and that he rains on both the just and the unjust, alike (Matthew 5:4.) To me, that means even someone who rejects God will receive blessings from him, if for no other reason than God loves all his children.

Besides those blessings God gives to us simply because he loves us, we can earn blessings through obedience to his commandments (Deut. 28), which means that there is an awful lot of really nice stuff God has for all of us, and he never ever runs out of blessings for us.

But what about the Enemy, the Devil, that old lion HaSatan stalking each and every one of us, trying to place a wedge between us and God? Does he ever do nice things for people?

You bet he does!!

In fact, I believe that Satan gives more good things to people than he does bad things. Why? It’s because when we are given things we like, especially things that are worldly and appeal to our base nature, we become prideful and unappreciative. The Israelites in the desert are a perfect example of this, and for those who are not Jewish don’t think for a moment you are any better than they were. Even after 40 years of seeing bread fall from heaven, water come from rocks, clothes and shoes not worn from the rough terrain, having food and water supplied for over a million people (not to mention millions of animals) and yet, the moment they were had any trouble, they carped and complained and lost faith in the One who had been providing this all along.

They had the same attitude towards God that I used to hear when I was in Sales:

“I know you’ve been the best producer this branch has ever had, but what did you do for me today?” 

I believe that Satan gives many blessings so that when they are taken away, we will curse God. Look at the Bible verses that support this:

Job 2:9– His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Matthew 4:9Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “All this I will give You,” he said, “if You will fall down and worship me.”

Revelation 16:11– And the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness, and men began to gnaw their tongues in anguish and curse the God of heaven for their pains and sores; yet they did not repent of their deeds.

We know that Job did not fall victim to the Devil’s tricks, and neither did Yeshua. But we are told that in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) many will curse God for the pain and suffering they will be going through without realizing that this is as much a chance for them to be saved as it is having to suffer God’s just punishment for their sinfulness.

The Enemy knows that after being blessed with fleshly desires we not only get used to them, we think we deserve them. And when they are taken away, we feel rejected, unjustly punished and we take it out on the one who we think gave us these in the first place- God!  How many people who have been given blessings (Satanists notwithstanding) think that the Devil made it happen? Probably none. We blame the Devil for bad things happening in our lives, but not for the good things. And because we think God is blessing us, when the Devil takes away those things he gave us we don’t blame him- we blame God. We ask “Why?”; we look for reasons we are being punished;  we tend to get sad, melancholy and resentful, which results all too often in our rejecting God.

Can you see how by blessing us the Enemy can turn us against God?

So, nu?  How can I know who gave me the blessings I have? Actually, it’s not so hard to figure it out: if you are being obedient to God’s Torah you will receive blessings. That’s God’s promise, and all his promises are trustworthy. If you know that you are not obedient to Torah and yet, you are receiving blessings, then you have to ask yourself, “Who is giving me so many wonderful things for rejecting God’s commandments?” The answer is obvious, isn’t it? There is only one entity in the universe who will reward people for disobeying God.

One last note on this: if you are doing your best to obey the Torah and find yourself devoid of blessings, or at least having a lot of tsouris, then be happy for that. It means you have successfully rejected the Enemy’s attempt to seduce you and you are getting closer to God, which is why now he is attacking you. Maintain your faith and the blessings will come, eventually, just as they did for Job.

Blessings are able to be earned and also given freely by God to those who love him and show that love by obeying his commandments. If you know that you are disobedient to God’s commandments but have many blessings, you can be fairly certain those blessings are not from God.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but the Bible shows us it is true:

The Enemy gives us wonderful things to take us away from God; God takes away what we have in order to bring us back to him.

Always be certain your blessings are the ones earned through obedience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know what you are probably thinking right now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parashah Va-Ethchanan 2018 (I pleaded) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11)

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Moses is telling the people that they must remember the commandments that God has given them. He warns them against adding to or taking away from any of these commandments, as well as worshiping anything else, in any form, other than God. He also prophesies about their future, telling them that when they forget God they will be scattered throughout the earth, but when they later remember God he will gather them back into the land of their fathers.

Moses reminds them that he is not allowed to enter the land because of the incident at Meribah, and again warns them against becoming ensnared by the surrounding peoples when they enter Canaan and that those who God tells them to destroy must be destroyed completely to prevent pollution of the Holy people by pagan ways. They are not to marry or enter into covenant with any of the people living in the land now.

This parashah ends with Moses telling the people- actually, chiding them- that they need remember they aren’t in this beautiful land flowing with milk and honey because of anything they did or because they deserve it. In truth, they get to be all comfy-cozy in houses they didn’t build, with cisterns they didn’t dig out, and vineyards they didn’t plant only because God loves them.

Within this parashah are some of the most important Judaic teachings and prayers (for both Jews and Christians) found anywhere else in scripture. Specifically, I am talking about the 10 Commandments, the Shema, and the V’Ahavtah. This book is all about remembering, all about warnings to do as God commanded, and all about obedience to God in order to remain in the land. Deuteronomy can be considered the heart of all that is in the Torah, with regards to obedience and worship. It is a recap of all that happened and a prophetic warning of all that will happen once the people have settled in the land.

Of all that there is in here to talk about, what struck me today is right at the beginning, verse 3:26, which says (Chumash translation):

But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and the Lord said unto me: “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.”

This was God’s answer to Moses when he, again, pleaded with God to allow him to go over into the land. There were a few times that Moses tried to get God to change his mind regarding his judgment against Moses that he will not enter the land because of the faithlessness he showed at Meribah (Numbers 20:10-13) in front of all the people.

This reminds me of the prayer of another one of God’s people, many centuries later, who also pleaded with God for something and was told, “My Grace is sufficient for thee.”  That’s right- I am talking about 2 Corinthians 12:8 where Shaul (Paul) asked God 3 times to remove a “thorn from his side” (whatever that was) and this is what happened:

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.”

Moses showed what would be considered to be his own strength when he struck the rock, even to the point of saying “Must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Clearly, the people would have thought that it was through Moses and Aaron that the water came forth, not from God. Shaul was in a similar position, explaining that the “thorn” was placed there by God to keep him humble.

This thought, about remaining humble in the light of receiving God’s Grace and blessings, is exactly what Moses was saying to the people throughout this parashah, and continues to repeat throughout the entire book of D’Varim (Deuteronomy.) We will be blessed when we do as God commands (which he tells us later in Chapter 28) and those blessings can easily be turned into pridefulness if we forget that God is behind them.

God may give you a talent for music that makes you a big star, but with all the worldly accolades you receive will you remember that without the gift from God you wouldn’t be there?

God may give you a gift for teaching and you might have a large gathering of followers on your online ministry (I wish!), but when you are “Liked” all over FaceBook and have thousands of subscribers, will you remember that without God giving you that insight and directing people to your website, you couldn’t accomplish anything?

When we have tsouris (troubles) in our lives we are fast to go to God for help. Sometimes we may even find ourselves blaming him for letting us suffer and ask, “Why me?” when we should already know the answer. But what about when we are in the midst of blessings? When the job is good, family life is joyful, finances are secure and the car doesn’t even make funny noises anymore, do we thank God? Do we give him the credit and the glory for the wonderful life we have?

The answer to that question is one for each of us to fathom on our own. At this moment, are you thanking God for whatever is in your life now? If you are in the middle of a difficult time, can you still recognize the blessings that God has given to you? I start every prayer with a “Thank You” to God, no matter what the situation. Even if I am praying from a broken heart and in the midst of a terrible situation, I thank God for all he has already done for me and for the way he will save me from my current problems. That is the sort of faith we are supposed to have, isn’t it?

I am not saying this to puff myself up- Lord knows, as should all of you, that I confess my weaknesses often in this blog and screw things up (royally!) often enough that I am not a great example of a godly person. But this one thing I am happy to say I remember- to thank God no matter what the situation. If for no other reason, the fact that I am in that situation means I am not dead. That, alone, is something to be thankful for, although at times it doesn’t feel like it.

Let’s go forth from this moment on taking Moses’ advice to remain humble and thankful, in all situations and at all times in our life. If you can do that you will find it much easier to do as God has commanded you to do, which will result in even more blessings.

Parashot Thazria/Metzora 2018 Leviticus 12 – 15

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These chapters deal with the purification procedures for a person after childbirth, when Tzara’at (leprosy, or some infectious skin disease) breaks out and if one suffers any type of bodily secretion.

It should be noted that they refer mainly to uncleanliness (either physical or spiritual) with regard to the Sanctuary and the holy things associated with the Sanctuary. The restrictions regarding the Sanctuary do not apply for all cases in everyday life. The observance of these regulations have been somewhat lost over the centuries, starting with the destruction of the Second Temple, and now are rarely observed except by the Orthodox. For example, Orthodox  Jewish men will not shake hands with a strange woman or even give her change of a dollar. It is not because they are misogynistic or disrespectful but simply because they are obeying the laws in this parashah. A woman in her time of Nidah (menstrual cycle) is unclean, and if a man touches her or anything she has touched he also becomes unclean which would prevent him from being able to enter his synagogue that day.

As with all of God’s commandments that are not simple to understand (i.e., do not kill or do not lie) people try to make up the reasons for God giving us these mitzvot (laws.) The reasons generally fall into one of two categories: hygienic or levitical (religious.) They may also be referred to as either moral or ceremonial laws, and for many Christians the ceremonial laws are the ones that they are taught are only for Jews because Christ did away with when he died on the cross. Those who know better understand that “anti-Torah” teaching is wrong because Yeshua never taught against the Torah; in fact, he taught only from the Torah and never even implied that we should do anything other than what the Torah says. But…that topic is for another time.

I am going to be somewhat repetitive today because the important message I believe we get from these two parashot is one I have recently talked about. In fact, I talk about it often, and what it is is this: it doesn’t matter why God tells us to do something! What does matter is that he told us what we should do.

If there are good reasons we can understand for the regulations, such as separating someone with an infectious disease from the community, all the better. But it doesn’t matter why God tells us something- he is God, we are not. He is the Father, we are the children. He is in charge, and we must obey if we are to receive blessings.

That’s all there is to it. Now, if someone feels that they have a right to understand, go ahead and ask God to explain his reasons to you. He is “big” enough to be questioned, but realize something first: you had better ask politely, act respectfully, and not expect an answer. God doesn’t have to justify himself to anyone. God is merciful and compassionate and you might get an answer, but whether or not you receive and answer you are still expected to act as commanded.

Yeshua tells us we are either a slave to God or a slave to the world (Matthew 6:24) and, as such, we must choose whom we will serve. God tells us throughout the Torah that when we obey him we will be blessed. One of my favorite biblical chapters is Deuteronomy 28, which is the Blessings and Curses chapter. I have often written and talked about how God never does anything cruel to us; the world is already a cursed and fallen place, and because we live in it we are constantly barraged by cruelty and hatefulness. God’s blessings are protection from the world. When we act in obedience to the Torah we are protected. It is when we reject Torah that we find ourselves exposed to the world and cursed. God actively loves and protects his children who obey him, and passively allows us to go our own way when we reject him. That’s when we find ourselves in trouble.

So, nu?  What is the word for today? It’s this:

  • obey God because he is God;
  • obey God because we trust God tells us to do only what is in our best interest to do; and
  • obey God because he is telling us how to live forever with him in peace and joy. 

To paraphrase a line from a famous poem: “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do OR die.”

If these reasons aren’t enough for you, then you will have a hard life and may sacrifice your very salvation. We are not saved by obedience, we are saved by faith; and that faith is demonstrated not by what we say but by what we do.

Relationship is Like a Belly-Rub

My cat was next to me in bed last night, and as I was stroking his head he rolled over and exposed his belly to me, obviously wanting a belly-rub.

When I complied to his request, his purring got so much louder that I knew he was happy, and his joy became my joy, as well.

When we “roll over” to God and expose our “belly” by praying to Him from our heart and coming before Him with a contrite, humble and appreciative spirit, which is an act symbolic of complete trust and love, He finds great pleasure in providing blessings for us.

Parashot Nitzavim (standing) and V’yellach (and he spoke) Deuteronomy 29:9 through 31

This Shabbat we have a double-parashah. This happens during non-leap years so that the reading cycle will conform to the Gregorian calendar.

In these parashot (plural of parashah) Moshe finishes the third of his three discourses: the first is the review of their journey (1:6 to 4:40), the second deals with the religious foundations of the covenant and rehearsal of the Code (4:44 – Chapter 11), and this third discourse (Chapter 12 to here) as been all about obedience and punishment.

In these two relatively short chapters, we are given teachings that are so very, very valuable and important. In Chapter 29:28 Moses tells us that the secret things belong to the Lord, and that which has been revealed belongs to us AND our children. Prior to this Moshe reminds the people that the covenant is made between God and all the people- the ones there, the ones that were before, and the ones that are to come. In other words, God is eternal, and His covenants are eternal: although the people He made this covenant with (Israelites) are, individually, mortal, His covenant is with not just them, but their seed. Israel is, to God, an eternal son and so the covenant made with Israel, the nation, is as eternal as God.

The other important teaching, which comes on the heels of the fact that our relationship with God is eternal, is that this code, this covenant, is not too hard for us. We are told this in the very next Chapter, verses 30:11-14:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

After telling the people that God’s commandments are not too hard for them to do, he calls to heaven and earth to witness that day that Moshe is presenting life and death, and they should choose life. Here, again, a very important lesson for us, maybe the most important lesson in the entire bible: we are all, each and every one of us, responsible for the choices we make. God has given us Free Will to accept or reject Him, and it doesn’t matter who tells us what we should do, if we listen to anyone other than God we will be held accountable for that. The line the Nazi’s used in Nuremberg during the war crime trials was, “I was only following orders.”  In the human courts that excuse didn’t hold water, and it certainly won’t hold water in the Court of the Almighty!

The last reading this Shabbat is God telling Moshe his time is up, and to anoint Joshua, but first God let’s Moshe in on a secret: He tells Moshe what is to happen in the future. God shows Moshe the history of the nations of Israel and Judah, and has Moshe write down a song that God, Himself, has created which will be taught to the leaders to teach to everyone, so that when all this tsouris comes to be, they will remember the song and know that it is because of their rejection of God and violation of His covenant that these calamities have come upon them.

So what shall we talk about today? Which lesson that brings life eternal to us, which knowledge and understanding of God’s plan can we discuss?

I think it is simple, just as Moshe told the people- what God wants from us is for us to choose life. He has told us what we must do, and that when we don’t do it we will not be blessed or protected from our enemies. But, when we do as He says, He will protect us, He will bless us beyond our imagination, and He will provide all we need, forever.

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? In truth, it IS a no-brainer, and we qualify- we have no brains! We choose death, we choose fleshly desires and rewards, all which are fleeting and momentary. I just don’t get it- I suppose that is the iniquity we all inherited from Adam and Eve. Desire to sin is in our very DNA, and the only hope we have is that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is an expert in recombinant DNA. God can rewire our brains to accept His laws and teachings, but it means we have to work at it. It is not something He will just do- it is a team effort. When people have brain surgery done, very often they are fully awake to help guide the neurosurgeon. I believe that this is also how God helps rewire our brain- we work together, with God doing the repair while we give Him feedback, which is through our actions and words.

We are nearing the end of the Torah, and in a few weeks we will turn it back to the beginning and start to read it all over again. I think it is wonderful that these last chapters deal with the future of the Children of Israel, which eventually affects the world, just before we start all over again learning about God’s intervention in the world.  It is a vicious cycle that we create for ourselves- God blesses, we get used to His blessings and forget about Him and screw it all up, God punishes us to bring us back to Him, we do T’shuvah, God forgives and again blesses us, then we (again) become enured to God’s blessings, our iniquity wins out, we forget about God and sin, so God (again) punishes us, we (again) do T’shuvah, God (again) forgives us and blesses us, we screw it up…ad infinitum. This will not end until God completes His plan of salvation.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have given this definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think, based on this definition and the cycle of sin that mankind has demonstrated for millennia, there can be no doubt that we are insane!

It’s like the old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

We are the light bulb and God can change us, but only when we let Him.

Parashah Naso (Take) Numbers 4:21 – 7

We continue with the census of the tribe of Levi, which is where we left off from the previous parashah.

Next, God gives the commandments regarding how to tell if a woman has been unfaithful when there is nothing to go on other than the suspicion of the husband, and laws regarding restitution of property, which (I believe) would be equivalent to a “Tort” in today’s penal system.

The last part of this parashah records the gifts that the leaders of the twelve tribes gave to the Sanctuary for the service, therein. Each tribe gave the exact same number and weight of the exact same items to show complete unity, in that no one tribe was over any of the other tribes. The Midrash accounts for the sum of all the gifts in this way:

the 12 chargers given correspond to the 12 constellations;

the 12 bowls to the 12 months;

the 12 spoons to the 12 guides to men (heart, kidneys, mouth, palate, windpipe, esophagus, lungs (2), liver, spleen, crop and stomach);

all the silver weighed 2,400 shekels, which corresponded to the number of years since the creation of the world to Moses’ 40th year,

all the gold of the spoons weighed 120 shekels, the length of Moses’ life.

The part of today’s Torah portion that I want to talk about is Number 6:23-27, which is known as the Aaronic Benediction (also called the Priestly Blessing.) This is the blessing that God specifically told Aaron and Moses to use when blessing His people. You are probably familiar with it, as I have heard it used not just in Jewish places of worship, but in Christian churches, as well:

The Lord bless thee and keep thee;

The Lord make His face to shine upon thee and be gracious to thee;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

The final part of God’s command regarding this blessing is that this is the way we shall put His name upon the people, and thereby God will bless them.

The simplicity of this prayer is what impresses me: God is telling us that all we need is His blessing, His countenance and His peace. His blessing will result in health, life and prosperity. In the bible light represents happiness, purity, and friendship, so to cause His face to shine upon us is saying that we would have His divine love and salvation. It can also represent, as the Rabbis have said, the spiritual gifts of knowledge and moral insight.

Peace, the final blessing, is considered a pillar of the world, and there cannot be any level of social order without it. We are not only to receive the peace of God, but we are to employ it and make peace with others. Most every synagogue ends their prayers with, “May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace upon us and upon all Israel.”

It is the the burden of the people of God to make peace in their hearts, and then extend that peace to others, in order to help them find the same peace we have. Peace starts internally, and that comes from being able to commune with God, which comes from the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit); this is the same spirit that Yeshua (Jesus) said He would send to His followers and which He called “The Comforter”, because that is what it does.

If anyone reading this has ever felt a sensation of complete rest, total peace of spirit, and a tingling feeling throughout your body that makes you cry for joy, then you know the peace of the Lord that His Ruach can bring. I have felt that, more than once, yet due to the hardness of my heart I haven’t felt it as much in the last couple of years. I know it is my fault, and I constantly pray for the Spirit to come upon me again. Sometimes it does, often it doesn’t, and (again) it is because I am not opening my heart. Still and all, every now and then, when I am in the proper condition of worship… BAM!! His presence is felt mightily. What a great feeling!

I want to see this wonderful, overwhelming peacefulness come on my wife, on my children, on friends and family and even acquaintances. I want this to come over my enemies (I don’t have any enemies, but suspect that some consider me their enemy) and everyone who doesn’t know the Lord. Even if they could feel it for just a second, it could change their life.

God has so much for every single person on earth, and He is just waiting for us to ask Him for it. That is the saddest thing I have come to realize as I become more and more familiar with God’s ways: He is so anxious for each one of us to come to Him for wonderful blessings and for total peace of mind and spirit, but so few of us do. And some of those that do often abuse it, thinking that they can continue to act as they want because God is forgiving, so as long as they say they are sorry they will  be OK. We all stubbornly want to have things our way, and the history of mankind proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we do not know what is best for us.

God knows what is best for us, and has constantly told us, but have we listened? Are you listening right now?

If you haven’t known the peace that God’s spirit can bring through His blessings, you still have hope for it. If you really, really want to know the Lord, He is just dying to get to know you (pun intended), and all you need to do is admit you need Him, choose to change from ignoring Him to following His commands, and confess you believe Yeshua is the Messiah God promised who died for you- yes, just for you- and you want to be forgiven by means of that sacrifice.  That’s all you need to do- perform T’shuvah (turning) from sin in your heart, confess Yeshua is Messiah (this is very hard for Jews but should be easy for Gentiles), and ask God to send His Ruach to indwell and lead you for the rest of your life. This will bring you peace of heart, spirit and mind, and you will then be able to share that peace with all whom you love and care about.

You won’t be free of trouble and strife, for that is inescapable when living in a cursed and fallen world, but the Ruach (Spirit) is like a nice, cleansing hot shower after a long, dirty and sweaty day of hard work.

 

Parashah Thazria / Metzora Leviticus 12 – 15

Because leap year affects the weekly cycle of reading, some parashot are doubled, as with this weekly reading, when it is necessary to bring the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars into sync. 

These chapters deal, in quite extensive detail, with cleanliness. We are given the instructions regarding what a woman, who becomes unclean from the actions of giving birth and also from her time of Nidah (menstruation), must do (and when) in order to be considered clean again. This is more than just a physical cleansing- it is to become ceremonially clean, which would allow her to re-enter the camp and worship at the Sanctuary. We are also given the regulations regarding leprosy, in the Hebrew called  T’zaraat, whether on a person or in clothing or even in the plaster of the house. The rules we are given tell us how to identify what is  T’zaraat and what is not, what to do if decreed to be T’zaraat, and how to determine when it is cured. 

People always have to know why something is what it is. Maybe that is just part of the intelligence God gave us when He separated us from the animals. Sometimes I wonder if that was such a good idea. Why do I say that? Because we use, or maybe misuse, our intelligence to try to understand God, and in doing so we are trying to raise ourselves to His level. Remember Babel? 

There are many good, hygienic reasons for these cleanliness laws. It is credited to John Wesley to have first said, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, which indicates that to be holy is more than how we act, it is also what we are, physically. There are also many good reasons to avoid unclean people, mainly (the obvious one) so that you don’t catch what they have. No one can argue that is a good thing. My personal pet-peeve about questioning the reason for these laws, in fact, any of God’s laws, is that we should simply acknowledge and faithfully accept that God is God, and He wouldn’t do or command anything that is anything but good for us. We should all, like a trusting child, accept what God says as what we must do. Period. No “why”, no “It must be for this reason..”, no nuttin! You want a good reason to do what God says? Here it is: because He’s God, and you aren’t! And if that isn’t good enough for you, then you need to work on your faith. 

My concern is that I have noted (maybe you have, too) that when people understand something, they tend to reduce it’s importance, and don’t consider it as miraculous anymore. We can read the human genome, so we now think only what we can do with it, and ignore the fact that learning how to read it and understanding how it works, is a far, far way from having created it from nothing. DNA is a unbelievable miracle, yet it is just a series of small blocks on a gel-backed film to most scientists and people, today. 

I am often asked why I keep Kosher (I don’t keep Kosher according to the Rabbinical laws in Talmud, only according to Leviticus 11) and I say, simply, because that is what God told me to do. I am not some wonderfully faithful holy man, I am far from that, but I do appreciate God’s love and I respect His authority. I also trust God to know what is best for me, much better than I would ever know for myself, and as such I obey as much of the Torah as I can.  This is all the reason I need to want to obey- God says to do it, so I do it; it comes from respect for who and what He is, trust in His desire to do good for me, and as a love-response for all He has already done for me. 

If you need more than that, I respectfully suggest you work more on your faithful trusting in, and respect for, God. And, while you’re at it, turn down the volume on your Ego.

We don’t need to understand to be obedient. 

In Deuteronomy 28 God tells us when we obey His Torah we receive blessings, and when we disobey, we receive curses. I believe that because we live in a cursed world, the curses are already here, so God is not actively cursing us; His blessings are what protects us from the cursed world; therefore, when we don’t receive blessings, we are exposed to the curses. God’s blessings protect us from the world we are in, and when we obey God we receive those blessings.

So, if you absolutely, positively need to have some reason for obeying Torah, this is it:  obey God’s commands so that you can constantly receive blessings.