Parashah D’varim 2019 (Words) Deuteronomy 1-3:22

This is the final book of the Torah. Moses recalls all that has happened and also reviews all that is to be done when the people enter the land that God has promised them.

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There are three separate discourses in this book. The first recounts the past 40 years in the desert. The second discourse deals with the code of laws regarding worship, government, the penal code, and domestic life. The third discourse is all about the enforcement of the laws, with special attention paid to both the blessings for obedience and the punishment for disobedience. At the end of this last book of the Torah, we are told about the death of Moses.

In this parashah, Moses begins with retelling how he appointed men over the tribes to help him with judging and managing of the people. Next, he reminds them of how when, coming to the land, the people requested that Moses send out spies before they enter in. He relented to their request, which he said seemed good to him to do, but when the spies came back they gave a bad report which caused the people to rebel and refuse to enter. He reminds them that God sent them into the desert for that generation to die, and talks about their travels through the desert. This parashah ends with Moses telling of the destruction of Og and Sihon, the kings on the East side of the Jordan and his giving of their land to Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.

Something is in here that was not in the Book of Numbers, where we first are told of the spies going into the land. The very first line of Numbers 13 says that the Lord told Moses to send out 12 men, leaders from each of the 12 tribes, to reconnoiter the land. Now, Moses is saying that it wasn’t God’s idea, but the people who suggested sending spies. Does that mean that the Torah is wrong? No, it doesn’t, but it does mean that an understanding of Hebrew and the cultural idioms of that time will result in a better understanding of the Torah.

The (alleged) order by God to send men uses the Hebrew words shelach lecha, which mean “you send out”, or in a more ancient form, “send for yourself.”  In other words, God was saying, “If you really want to, then go ahead and do it.” He wasn’t prohibiting this, but he certainly wasn’t commanding it. He was going along with what Moses decided was a good idea.

Now, in this parashah (Deut. 1:29-34) some 40 years later, as Moses recalls this, he chides the people for not having trusted in God in the first place. Yet, didn’t Moses allow these spies to go? Didn’t he think it was a good idea? So, even though the people initiated what turned out to be a rebellion and caused them to wander for 40 years in the desert, Moses was just as much at fault. Being the leader, whatever the people do he is, ultimately, responsible for. In this case, he wasn’t just responsible but an active participant. He also showed a lack of faith in God by allowing the spies to go. He should have simply said, “No! We dun need no stinkin’ spies! All we need to do is to trust in God, go in and take the land.”

What at first seemed to be something God commanded turns out to be what the people wanted, and what Moses agreed to allow despite God not confirming it. This is why I said before it is so important to read the entire bible, and it really, REALLY helps to know Hebrew (and Greek, I suppose, for the New Covenant writings) as well as the cultural norms of that time in order to have a proper and complete understanding of God’s word.

I am not saying you need to be a biblical Hebrew scholar or have to learn Greek in order to understand God and the Bible. I am saying that we all need to do more than just read the Bible, we need to study it. We need to have a library of biblical study materials, such as a Chumash, a Tikkun, the Interlinear Bible set and a good Concordance. These will help us to see the many diversified connections within the word of God. Hermeneutically, the entire Bible (Genesis through Revelation) is homogeneous, and no one part contradicts any other part. However, there are many places where it seems to be contradictory, which is why we need to study and examine everything in the Bible using good biblical references and study materials. Only through a detailed and thorough examination of the passages in the Bible can we find the real meaning of God’s word, and overcome the superficial misunderstandings that a cursory reading can sometimes result in.

Of course, the first and most important thing to do is pray for the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide you and for God to show you what he wants you to know. Secondarily, use these study guides, Who knows? Maybe what God wants you to know he wil show you through one of these other books.

If you don’t have the study materials I listed, please consider investing in them. You don’t have to get them all at once, but when you use even just one of them, you will find more substance and have a better understanding of God’s word than you will ever get just by listening to someone else tell you what it means. Besides, how do you know that they even know what they are talking about? How many misinterpretations and outright wrong teachings have been promulgated throughout the centuries?

Each one of us will come before the Lord on Judgement Day, and each of us will have to account for what we have done during our lifetime. Those who have Yeshua as their Intercessor will be saved, but those who have not obeyed God’s word will have to stand on their own, and when they say “I was just doing what I was told to do”, I suppose God might reply with something like this:

“I understand you were doing what they told you to do, but it’s what I say that counts! And I told you everything you need to know in the Torah”

So, don’t miss out on what God is saying because you don’t want to invest the time in really getting to know the Bible. What you might be missing just may be the one thing that saves you from destruction.

Thank you for being here and please SUBSCRIBE if you haven’t done so, already, I welcome comments and only ask that you be nice.

I wish you all Shabbat shalom and until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Shelach Lecha 2018 (Send out) Numbers 13 – 15

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The people have been travelling in the desert for a little more than 2 years and have come to the border of the Promised Land. Moses, per God’s command, sends out spies to reconnoiter the land; one member from each of the 12 tribes. They come back 40 days later and of the 12 men, only Caleb from the tribe of Judah and Joshua from Ephraim give a favorable report. The other’s announce that they saw fortified cities and the Nephalim there (giants who were traditionally fallen angels) and that they could not possibly conquer those peoples. They spread fear and disappointment among the Israelites to the point where the people wanted to stone Moses. God tells Moses he will destroy these people and make a new nation out of Moses, but Moses intercedes (again, as usual) for the people. God relents what he was thinking of doing and decides to kill the 10 men by plague who started this rebellion, and that everyone over the age of 20 would die in the desert for their part of the rebellion. The people decide to attack anyway, and get their tuchas waxed. The parashah finishes with a man gathering sticks on Shabbat being stoned for his blatant disregard for God’ commandment, and the wearing of ztit-ztit  (fringes hanging on four sides of the garment) so that people will see this on other’s garments and remember to obey God.

Should we discuss the importance of the number 40, here in 40 days of spying and 40 years of wandering? Or maybe we can discuss how could people remain so faithless after 2 years of living with wondrous miracles happening every day (cloud, fire, manna)? The faithfulness of Joshua and Caleb is also something that could have deep meaning for us, in that we need to show faith is still alive even when living among faithless people.

I would like to talk about something that we see in this parashah but isn’t actually part of the story.

It came to me as I was reading about how God said he would make a nation out of Moses. My thought went right to: really? Moses is already in his 80’s, and I know that God can certainly give Moses more children at this age. But to make a nation out of him? It took some 400 years living in one of the most fertile areas of Egypt for the family of Jacob (initially numbering about 63 people) to grow into the nation Moses was leading.  Was God really willing to put everything on hold for another 400 years or so before the people entered the land?

As I was asking myself this question I thought about the idea of predestination. First off, I do not believe in predestination, but I do believe in predetermination. The difference is the former implies we have no choice and there is no real free will, whereas the latter means we have been chosen but we have free will so we can choose to accept or refuse. The “glitch” in predetermination is this: if God has chosen me for something and I refuse to do it, then what?

The answer is what Mordecai said to Hadassah (Esther) when she refused to see the king to intercede for the people (Esther 4:14) :

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place,{underlining added} but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

God had predetermined that Hadassah would be the means for him to save his people from the enemy of the Jews, Haman. She had the option to do nothing to help, and some people won’t like hearing this but the fact is that at first that’s exactly what she did. Her message back to Mordicai the first time he asked her to intercede was that the king normally will kill anyone (meaning wife) not called to him. Essentially, she was saying, “No way!” Then Mordecai pretty much threatened her with discovery and death herself, and then she realized she didn’t have much of a choice.

Now, back to the parashah. Moses could have told God “Fine with me- I’ll get busy with Zepporah tonight.” And then the bible we know today would be different, but the end result would be the same.

That’s the point. God promised the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham. It was predetermined that Moses would lead those descendants into the land. If the ones Moses had with him chose not to enter, so be it. God would raise another nation out of Moses to enter, but one way or another the children of Abraham would have that land.

This is the reason that throughout history God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would be in the land has been dependable.  It doesn’t matter when something God wants to be done gets done, the point is that it WILL get done, sooner or later.

How many people do we read about in the bible who refused to do God’s calling and never changed their minds? No one, you say? You don’t recall anywhere in the bible reading about someone who God had determined to do something wonderful but never accepted the calling? Of course not. I am sure there were many who fit that description, but because they did not accept the call, they never made it into history.

God’s will is insurmountable. His will will be done; if you are called to do it and do so, you will receive wonderful blessings for obedience. If you are called to do it and refuse, you just keep on going as you are and someone else will be raised up to take your place.

This is why it is so important for us to keep our eyes open and our ears cleaned out. When we hear God’s calling on our life we need to be willing to answer with “Whatever you say, Lord.” or we will be missing out. This doesn’t mean a faithful worshiper of God will be refused his or her place in eternity- not accepting the call from God doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be damned. It just means that the wonderful things that God had planned for you will go to someone else. I don’t know about you, but I would rather take God’s blessings than give them away.

I confess to you that my biggest fear in life is to not hear or ignore God’s calling, if and when I have one. Right now I believe this ministry is what God wants me to do, and I pray for its success (for his glory) and also that I am right when I think this is his calling for me. I really do fear that I may miss the calling God has for me.

Pray that you hear the calling God has for you, and even more so, pray for the strength to accept and fulfill that calling if, and when, you hear it. It’s one thing to hear the phone ringing and another thing altogether to be willing to answer it.

Parashah V’etchanan (and I sought..) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Moses asks God to allow him to enter the land, and God says, pretty much, “Enough already! Stop whining about this because I told you that ain’t gonna happen! But, I will do this- after you anoint Joshua climb up to the top of Mount Pisgah, and I will let you see the land.”

Some believe, as I do, that not only did God show Moses the land, but also the future. He showed Moses the eventual degradation of the people into idol worship, the consequent dispersal into the Diaspora and exile to Babylon, ending with their return to Israel. I believe this because of the warning Moses gives right after he observes the land, which is not so much the warning of a possible future as it is the narration of events from one who has seen it happen.

This rest of this parashah holds nearly everything that is important to the Jewish people, and thereby the world:

Deuteronomy 5:6-19: Moses reviews the Ten Commandments;

Deuteronomy 6:4:        Moses teaches us the Shema;

Deuteronomy 6:5-10:  Moses teaches us the V’ahavta;

Deuteronomy 6:16:      Moses teaches us a lesson that is used more often in Christianity (from my experience) than in Judaism: Do not test the Lord, your God.

Clearly, there is in just those 4 lessons more than I could write in a single post, unless that post was something like 15 pages or more. Don’t worry- this won’t be.

Actually, the message I have today is not about any of those passages. It is from Deuteronomy 4:5-8, which is what Moses told the people before he told them all those other things:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

I often state that the Torah is not just for the Jews, but for the entire world. The Jews received it so to learn it and live it (just like it says here), so that they may be an example to the world.

Shaul says pretty much the same thing, but to a different audience, in Romans 11:11

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Moses is telling Israel to obey Torah so that when the other nations see the wonderful rulings, peacefulness, social closeness, morality and compassion of the people, and how God is always close at hand to help and protect them, they will be jealous and want to be part of it. And Shaul, some 1500 or so years later, tells the Messianic communities that their living in faith to Messiah Yeshua will eventually be an example to the non-believing Jews how much better it is to accept Yeshua and make them jealous for their own Messiah.

Here we have the same message faithfully believe God and do as He says being told to Jews and Gentiles first going into the land, and centuries later to Gentiles and Jews who have been living in the land. And the reason is the same: to incite, through jealousy, those living outside of God’s plan to choose to accept God (and His Messiah.)

There are many passages in the bible that confirm this message, and it is unfortunate that much of Christianity has perverted and misused the writings of Shaul to dissuade people from hearing the proper message. Shaul says he is delivering the Gospel to the Jew first, then the Gentile (Romans 1:16); I believe this means if the Good News of the Kingdom of God is not presented in a way that is acceptable to a Jewish person, it isn’t the correct message for a Gentile.

Still and all, we can be confident in this: God’as plan will win out in the end!  Torah will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and we no longer ask our brother (and sister) if they know the Lord, because all will know Him.

In the meantime, what should we do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Live your life as an example to those who have rejected God and/or Messiah Yeshua to show them how blessed and peaceful it is to be living as God has told us we should.

Most everyone knows that God’s house has many rooms, but what many don’t know is that there is a really big pool in the backyard, which is always refreshing, so to you who are suffering the emptiness, despair, heat and discomfort of living a worldly life…C’mon in- the water’s fine!!!

 

 

Parashah Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot (Intermediate Day of Tabernacles) Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

This parashah is the one between the end and start of the Torah reading schedule. On the eighth day of Sukkot, called Sh’mini Atzeret (also called Simchat Torah, Joy of Torah) we celebrate turning the Torah back from the end of Deuteronomy to the beginning of Genesis. Today’s parashah is the intermediate parashah, and (I think) very apt for both ending and starting the Torah reading cycle because this parashah is, to me, the essence of Torah.

Moses has already broken the first tablets (with the commandments) and asked God to forgive the sins of the Golden Calf incident. He is talking with God, and asks that God remain with the people as they travel, or not send them anywhere at all. He asks to know God’s ways, meaning how he, Moses, is to rule in a way that will always be within God’s will. He asks to see God.

Moses wants to know God intimately; he wants to know God better and more fully than any human, ever, because he wants to lead the people in the way that will always please God. In this parashah we see the true nature of Moses, a man who is humble and fearless, almost demanding of God that He stay with the people, arguing that His divine presence is the only real sign to the other nations that Israel truly is God’s chosen people.

God agrees with all Moses asks, and we have in 34:6-7 the 13 Attributes of God, the Divine nature identified for all to know. Most every prayer in Judaism is based on, repeats and acknowledges God with these attributes.

God is “the Lord, the Lord”: the Talmudic “take” on this is that this repetition means that God is the same God before we sin and after we sin, defining His attribute of mercy; he is the all-mighty Lord of the Universe, Ruler of Nature and Mankind; He is merciful; He is gracious; long-suffering; abundant in goodness; abundant in truth; keeping mercy to the thousandth generation; forgiving of iniquity; forgiving of transgression; forgiving of sin; not allowing the guilty to remain unpunished; visiting the iniquity of the of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.

The last aspect is meant to identify that although forgiveness of sin is available, it is the spiritual forgiveness that we receive: the physical consequence of sin in the real world will still be felt, down as far as the 4th generation. However, mercy will be given to the 1,000th generation.

The end of this parashah is the repetition of the Covenant God made with the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai. I would think that these conditions God identifies here must be the ones that are really important to Him, since we know there are many more laws, rules, regulations and commandments than the handful given here.

The reason I stated above that I feel this parashah is so appropriate between the end and beginning of the Torah reading cycle is because we have it all here: the proof of the Jewish people being God’s chosen people is by His presence, and that presence will be with us as long as we act as he requires. His divine attributes identify who and what God is; the requirements of the covenant are that God will do marvelous things, we are to worship only God and not the idols of the Gentile people, we are not to intermarry so as to have the pagan’s influence us to turn from God to idols, we shall keep the feasts of the Lord as He decreed us to, especially the Shabbat, and all the first born belong to God, of both animal and man. No blood is to be offered with the sacrifice and we should not do as the other nations do in how we eat (I get this from the restriction of boiling a lamb in it’s mother’s milk. I don’t think anyone really knows why this law was given, but it must be important because it is repeated three times in the Torah.)

Here we have it all: who God is, how we are to worship Him, and the promise that when we do as He says He will do wonderful and marvelous things for us. Really, isn’t that all we need to know?

God’s presence goes with His people, and who are His people? The ones who worship Him as he says they should. Throughout the Tanach we read how those sojourning with the Israelites are to be considered as natural-born Jews when they do as the Israelites do. Having the same rights as the people, they also have the same obligations, meaning to fulfill the requirements in the Torah just as the Jews do.

What I am getting at here is that everyone is a child of God physically, but only a child of God, spiritually, when they do as God says. That means if you are a Catholic, but you respect and honor the Torah, you don’t bow down to the statues in the church and you ask forgiveness from God and not the Priest, praying not to Jesus but in His name to God, then you are one of God’s chosen people.

On the other hand, if you were baptized, had your Holy Communion, answered all the questions correctly at your Confirmation, studied the Sacraments and went to church every Sunday, but you don’t honor God’s Torah and you bow to statues, pray to saints (ignoring God) and generally reject the Torah as valid, don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms when you go before the Lord.

When Jesus died for our sins He did so to make up for the fact that no matter how hard we try, we cannot live up to Torah’s standards of behavior. His death was to cover the sins we can’t stop doing, but it was not license to continue to sin. Ignoring the Torah and the requirements that God gave us to show that we are His people was not done away with when Yeshua died; in fact, they were confirmed as necessary because He was resurrected!

Read this parashah, and read it as someone who knows nothing about religion or God. Look at it fresh, anew, and ignorant of whatever you have been told by your religious leadership; allow your heart to be open to what it says and your ears to hear the Holy Spirit. It tells us who God is, it tells us what he requires, and it tells us that He is there as long as we walk with Him.

God is the leader, He knows the way, and He desperately wants us to walk with Him. In fact, God so desires that we walk with Him that He is willing to walk with us, so long as we walk correctly. God led the people through the desert, but this parashah says that He went with them: in other words, when we walk the way God wants us to walk, He will be with us. I believe we are being told that where we walk is our decision, our choice, and that we are always walking to our eternal destination. We are on the way, whether or not we want to be, and we are all walking along a path that leads to eternal joy (this is the one that God is on) or to eternal damnation.

The question to ask yourself is: which path will you choose?

Fear of the Lord or Afraid of the Lord?

This coming Shabbat Parashah is the story of Korach. I was preparing my message (our Pastor is on vacation and when he is gone I help by leading the liturgy and delivering the message) and, although I usually keep that message separate from these postings, I really feel that it is important enough (well, I would hope they all are) to share here, as well.

After the rebellion is put down by God, Abiram and Dathan are swallowed by the earth, Korach and the 250 mutineers (in the Chumash they call this “The Great Mutiny”) are burned up alive, and the staffs that were placed in the Tabernacle have shown that Aaron’s is the one God has chosen, the people all cry that they are going to die if they come before the Tabernacle.

We can read in B’midbar (Numbers) 17:12-13:

The Israelites said to Moses, “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost!  Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord will die. Are we all going to die?”

And, in truth, you can’t really blame them for being afraid. After all, Abihu and Nadab offered unauthorized fire before the Tabernacle and they were burned alive, and now these 250 men (not to mention Korach), all of whom were righteous (well, maybe we won’t mention Korach here) and well-respected leaders of their individual tribes, were also burned alive.

Maybe, just maybe, standing in front of the Tabernacle isn’t such a good idea because even those people who were good were killed.

Of course, we can also say that the people weren’t considering the sin these men committed against the Lord as the real cause of their death.

The truth is that any sinner can come before the Lord if he or she comes with a penitent heart and a contrite spirit. David says so in Psalm 51 (verse 17):

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise

The people were afraid of God at Sinai, too, but I believe there was a big difference between how they felt then and what they are feeling now: back then their heart was different. Their fear then was a righteous fear- they felt their unworthiness before the Lord and asked Moses to be their representative because they were so unworthy that if they heard God’s voice again they would die, and this attitude God appreciated (Deuteronomy 5:27-29):

“Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ “The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. ‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!…”

This verse, which Moses tells the people when preparing to turn them over to Joshua, shows us the remorse and pain God felt from the knowledge that this healthy and righteous fear of Him will turn into the type of fear that will lead His people to resent, rebel and (ultimately) reject Him.

Proper “Fear of the Lord” means to respect His holiness and honor Him by being lovingly obedient. Faithful obedience is what God wants more than sacrifice and more than anything else we could ever give Him. He has created everything- there is nothing we have that He cannot give to Himself, except for our love, faithful obedience and worship. Those things God cannot have unless we give them to Him, and that is what He wants more than anything else.

If we are afraid of God, if our “Fear of the Lord” is not awesome respect for Him but is being afraid of what He might do to us, that serves the enemy of God. That is what Satan wants you to feel- Satan wants you to be afraid of God, because that kind of fear will be a wedge separating you from God’s loving protection and blessings. Then, being alone and unprotected, you will suffer the curses of living in a fallen and cursed world, and you will turn against the Lord and curse Him to His face for all your Tsouris. That is what Revelations 16:10 tells us will happen:

“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 need to remember that for those who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah, there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1), and we can march boldly up to the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16), unafraid and confident that He will listen to us and that our Intercessor, Yeshua ha Maschiach, is sitting there at His right hand saying to Him, “Father, this one is mine.”

What we need to be afraid of is ourselves. We are the biggest stumbling block to salvation there is: the enemy can’t do anything to us unless we let him, and God will do everything for us, again, if we let Him.  It is our choice, and we are (and will be held) accountable for the choices we make.

Have a healthy “Fear of the Lord”, which will keep you in His Grace, and be afraid only of your own sinfulness and pride, which will separate you from it.

 

Parashah Yitro (Jethro) Exodus 18 – 20

Moses’s father-in-law, Yitro, brings Moses’s wife and two sons to him now that he has taken the people close enough to their home on the way to Sinai. And after staying the night, Jethro (who apparently has converted from paganism after hearing about all that God did) sees Moses all day long judging for the people and advises him to learn to delegate. Moses takes that advice and sets up what is (in today’s world)  a system of circuit courts, with himself being the final court of appeal.

The people come to Sinai and God, in a thunderous cloud of smoke and fire, gives them (and us) the 10 Commandments, first identifying and charging the people to be a nation of priests unto the world. After seeing the majesty and fearsomeness of God, the people tell Moses that they will do as Moses says if only Moses, alone, will speak to God and then tell them what God said. They are too afraid of God to be in His direct, physical presence.

This parashah ends with God instructing Moses the way any altar to God is to be constructed.

The Decalogue is designed to make the people holy, i.e., separated from the rest of the world. Our Priests, Rabbis, Pastors, Ministers- whatever title we give to our religious leaders- are supposed to be above-board in everything they do. We are told in the Torah what kind of people they are to be and how they are to manage their household, and this is repeated in the New Covenant, as well. So, too, those who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are to be above-board. They are to be holier-than-thou, but not in the usual sense or meaning of that phrase.  The world thinks holier-than-thou means to be self-absorbed, overbearing and conceited. When God (and Yeshua says this too, and often) tells us to be holy He means the opposite of what the world means: God’s holiness is shown by meekness, humility and honoring God above all things. Being holy unto God means never honoring ourselves. We are to be a holy people, priests to the world, and as such we are to be an example of Godliness. We are to be holier in order to demonstrate to everyone else how they are to be; we are to be holier by being humble, meek, unassuming and self-effacing.

Those who worship God are to be an example of how God wants everyone to act. Yeshua told His Talmudim that the people will know they are His Talmudim by how they act (John 13:35).

The Jewish people were chosen to represent God’s system of worship and society. The Jewish people are the Chosen people not because they deserve it or are the greatest. We have proven our unworthiness over and over. It has resulted in the destruction of Shomron and Yehudah, and the disbursing of the Jewish people all over the world. Over the millennia we have proven we are obstinate, stiff-necked and ungrateful. We have proven that the Jewish people are just like everyone else. The one and unique difference why we were chosen is because of the righteousness of Abraham, and that righteousness was also shown by King David. Despite our the sinful and obstinate nature, shown throughout the history of the Jewish people, we are still a nation of priests. Subsequently, any and all who accept that God is God and, now that Yeshua has come into the world, accept that Yeshua is God’s Messiah and accept the grace we have available to us through His sacrificial death, are then inducted into the nation of priests.

And, as a member, you are expected to abide with all the laws that govern that group. Unfortunately, although every “Born Again Believer” is a member of the nation of priests, most Christian teachings have ignored the Torah (at least, most of it) and preached obedience only to the 10 Commandments. They use Yeshua (Jesus) as their excuse for not even trying to obey any of the other 603 commandments.

The bottom line is this: God has no religion. God has rules, regulations, ordinances, and laws. The main ones are here, in this parashah, and the rest are given throughout the Torah. As far as God is concerned, if you violate even a stroke of the Torah, you have violated the entire Torah. It’s that simple, it’s that plain, it’s that awesome. A nation of priests means to be holier than the other people in the world: not ‘above’ them, not ‘better than’ them, just separate from them. We are to be living in the world as a light in the darkness, and we are to be an example of what God wants from everyone.

And because we represent Godliness in a satanic world, we are going to be hated, derided, insulted and persecuted. So, well…it sucks, but it’s the way we must be. The world has only themselves to look to for hope, which means the world has no hope. We have God as our hope, we have Yeshua as the means of our salvation, and we have the Ruach HaKodesh as our Comforter. The job is  hard, the workplace is a horrible place to be, and our clients are mean, ungrateful and uncooperative.

If you want to be a member of the nation of priests, there’s no question about it: the job is tough! The Boss expects a lot from us, there are no vacations or personal days, and the people you are required to deal with will treat you somewhere between ignoring and abusing you to killing you. You really have to ask yourself if it is all worth it.

The answer is: YES!! Absolutely!! True, the job is hard and thankless, but the retirement plan is heavenly!

Parashah Vayyelech (And He Spoke) Deuteronomy 31

This parashah is short. Moses tells the people he is going to die, appoints Joshua as his successor and is told by God that the people will be rebellious and suffer greatly in the future. God tells Moses to write a song that will be a witness for God against the people when all the troubles they will bring upon themselves happens.

The Chumash suggests that the Song of Moses (that’s in the next parashah) and the only Psalm Moses is known to have written, Psalm 90, may have been written around this time in Moses’ life. They show how short life is and how important God is.

Everything changes, except for change, itself. Without change there is only stagnation, and there can be no improvement without change. Change is the way we become better, but almost everyone I have ever dealt with would rather have things stay the same.

Did you know that the American Revolution was not to change anything? No- they just wanted everything to remain as it had been. Since they couldn’t get it to stay the way they were used to, they ended up, out of a total lack of any other option, to rebel. That rebellion resulted, with God’s help, in the best non-Theocratic political system the world has ever known.

There was about to be real change for the Israelites. Pretty much every single one of the million-plus people had grown up with Moses being in charge. They had lived in the desert with manna in the morning, water available, divine guidance by day and night, and now they were losing it all. Everything was going to change. No more Moses, no more manna, no more pillar of cloud and fire, no more marching out or staying put. They were going to cross the Jordan. They were going to (finally) enter the Land, the one thing their entire existence has been aimed at doing. No more waiting , no more wandering. It’s here. It’s now. It’s really happening.

Good thing they didn’t wear underwear, because if they did they would probably have had to change it!

They were told God would go ahead of them and not to be afraid. We read later how true that statement was. God did do amazing things to get them there, and once there He continued to do amazing things for them. God is always there; even when He is forced to ignore us (because of our rejection of Him), He is still there. Waiting in the wings, so to speak, for us to return to Him. And He will send us reminders. It won’t be a cute little “Missing You” greeting card, or a post on His Facebook page. What it will be is to allow us to suffer the tsouris of being left alone in a cursed world. And He will wait, patiently, painfully, until we realize how totally stupid we have been; self-centered, self-absorbed, rebellious and, well….you get the point. And when we turn back to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, He will accept us. Gladly!

He also knows that most will never come to that realization. It has always been, is now, and always be only a remnant that will be saved. Not because of God’s desire for anyone to die, but because of our stiff-necked and sinful nature. He told Moses this, who told the people, who went ahead and did what they shouldn’t have done, anyway.

I guess no matter how much things change, people never will. Individuals, yes, but people? I don’t see it happening. And that is probably the most important change we need to make.

So, forget the “people” and concentrate on you. You make sure you are able to change, you make sure you are willing to accept change in your life, because like it or not, it’s coming and there isn’t anything you can do to avoid it. Our loved ones die, our children grow up and need us less, we grow old and need others more, the world gets more technological and less human, and pain, strife, injustice, cruelty, love and compassion all survive and continue. There will be constant change until the final judgment.

Until then, realize that change is necessary and unavoidable. So nu?… since you can’t stop it and you can’t avoid it, you might as well accept it and grow with it.

Just remember the most important thing to change is your devotion and faithful obedience to God- it should constantly grow stronger.

Parashah Chukkot (Statutes) Numbers 19 – 22:1

Where do I even start? The Red Heifer rules? The death of Miriam? The death of Aaron? The defeat of Sihon and Og? What about the incident at Meribah, which made God so angry with Moses and Aaron that He refused to let them enter the Land? And the snakes, which caused Moses to make the brass snake that we hear about later in 2 King, 18:4 (I speak of that in my book.)

The Chumash speaks of the Red Heifer regulations as the most mysterious in the Torah; in all scripture, for that matter. That which defiles everyone involved in the making of it also purifies all those who partake of it. The lesson the Rabbis give us is simply that there are many things that we can not understand, and it is not our understanding that is required by God, but our faithful obedience.

This can also be seen in the sin of Moses at the rock at Meribah. There are a few different commentaries, but (essentially) the way Moses acted showed faithlessness in front of the people, and for that God was not given all the honor He expected Moses to give Him. In Judaism it is believed that the greater the man, the stricter the standards by which he is judged.  This is repeated, in a way, in James 3:1-2 where it says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The total and complete obedience of Gods commands are what God expects and demands from us. Moses did not just speak to the rock to show God’s miraculous intervention, he struck it (twice!) with the staff that God told him to take with him. That staff represented the miracle that God caused (Parashah Korach)  and I believe that God wanted Moses to take it, not to strike the rock, but to have it there to remind the people of God’s choice of Moses and Aaron as His representatives and their leaders. Moses used the staff in a totally wrong way, which brought no honor to God at all.

In Chapter 21, verses 4 – 9 (inclusive) we are told of another time the people grumble against Moses. This is at the end of their journey- Miriam and Aaron have died- yet after all these years of God’s miraculous intervention and provision, they still kvetch about everything! Oy! No wonder God was so angry that he sent snakes to kill the people. Yet, when they repented, He told Moses to make a brass serpent and place it high on a pole, high enough that all the people, no matter where they were in the camp, could see it. And when they were bitten, they only need look to the snake and they would not die.

Yeshua said, in John 3:14, that He would be lifted up like the snake in the desert. I see a double-prophecy in this statement, one prophecy to be fulfilled currently and the other aspect to be a far-future event. The current meaning was that Yeshua was going to be placed up on a pole, i.e., He was to be crucified. The future meaning of this prophecy would be that Yeshua (Jesus) would be worshipped instead of God, as the snake (called Nehushtan) was in 2 Kings during the time of King Hezekiah. When Moses placed the snake on the pole, it was to represent the salvation of God- the people still suffered for their sin (they were still being bitten by snakes, and that doesn’t feel very good) but instead of dying they could look to the representation of God’s salvation, the brass snake, and the consequence of their sin (death) was avoided. Today, and for many years, the image of Yeshua, a graven image on a pole (cross) that is displayed in some churches, is worshipped in lieu of God.  Just as the representation of Gods salvation was turned into an idol during the time of Hezekiah, today the “church” has turned Yeshua into an idol- an image and a person to be prayed to directly for salvation and to answer prayers. Yeshua told us to pray in His name; He was telling us to pray to God and to invoke His name. It’s somewhat like when someone wanted to enter a Speakeasy during Prohibition days, when they were stopped at the door they would say, “Joe sent me”, or some other code, that gave them recognition and entry.  When we pray to God, praying in the name of Yeshua is a means to gain entry, to have our prayers recognized and seen as righteous: not because of who we are, but by the righteousness of Him who we are referring to when we come before the Lord. The snake stopped being a representation of God’s salvation and replaced God as an idol, in and of itself. An idol is anything that we worship instead of God. So, too, today the image and the very personage of Yeshua has become an idol, something that is prayed to instead of God. Just as He said He would be.

God, and God alone, is who we worship, who we pray to, and who we obey. God, and no other. Yeshua is our Messiah and, as such, he sits at the right hand of God. At the right hand of God, NOT on the throne of God! So we should pray to God, and ask what we ask in the name of Yeshua; as intercessor to God, not as His replacement.

From all there is in this parashah, let’s remember this: God is the only God, God is supreme, and whatever God tells us to do, whether we understand why or not, we should do. That means E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G God tells us to do, as much as it is possible for us to obey.

And if you want to know everything that God tells YOU to do, read the Torah. Read the Mitzvot (commandments), read the Chukkot (regulations/statutes) and read the Mishpatim (rules).  All of the laws, rules, statutes, commandments, and regulations in there are expected to be obeyed by anyone and everyone who worships El Elyon, Adonai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the father of Jesus.

There is just so much in this parashah, but if I were to put it in a nutshell, so to speak, I would say that the lesson here for us is to recognize that God isn’t concerned with how well we understand His laws and regulations, just that we show Him our love and worship through obedience.

Yeshua said that if we love Him we will obey Him: like Father, like Son.

Parashah Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:15) When you set up…

We begin this portion of the Torah with the lighting of the menorah. The Tabernacle has been constructed and anointed, then Aaron and his sons, now the menorah is lit and Aaron is told that he and his descendants are the ones blessed and honored to perform that duty. The Levites are separated, cleansed and appointed (officially) to their duties, and the people are reminded that God has separated the Levites unto Himself for serving Him, as a ransom for all the firstborn that were killed in Egypt. The term of service is to be between the ages of 25 and 50, after which the Levite is still to serve as a teacher and leader, but not physically to work in the Tabernacle or move it.

The beginning of the second year God tells Moses to have everyone celebrate the Pesach festival, and the ruling is given that if a person is unclean and cannot celebrate it in the first month, then that person is to do so on the 14th day of the second month. The rule is the same for both the native and the person who sojourns (a convert) with the people. This is repeated many times throughout the Torah: whether born Jewish or converted, once you have chosen to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob you are an adopted child, and you are not only privileged to be given all the rights of a native, but you are also responsible to follow all the laws.

As an aside, here’s where this has ended up today:

– Christianity wants to be accepted as a child of the same God that the Jewish people worship, have accepted that Yeshua is their Messiah, but worship Him instead of God and have rejected Torah;

– Judaism worships God, follows Torah, yet they have (for the most part) rejected Yeshua as their Messiah;

– the only ones who have it right (in my opinion) are the Messianic Jews and Hebraic Roots movement Christians, who worship God, have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah and also follow Torah, just as Yeshua did.

Back to the Parashah: now it’s the second year since leaving Egypt, the second month so everyone has had the chance to celebrate Passover, the Tabernacle has been up for a while, the Levites are serving and the Cloud has been over the Tabernacle all this time. Now is the first move. We read about how the tribes march out, the Ark of the Covenant in the lead and the wonderful invocation that Moses gives when the Ark leads, and when it comes to rest. These words are still repeated to this day when the Torah is removed from the Ark, and when it is returned.

God commands that two silver trumpets be made for calling the people to gather and to prepare for war. These are ceremonial trumpets, and different from Shofarot.

As the people start to move, they begin to grumble, as they will often, against Moses and their situation. This time it is about not having any meat. I personally think that if they had asked God respectfully He would have obliged them, but as such, with their faithless and selfish grumbling and kvetching, God sent them meat and then made them sick of (and from) it to the point where a plague broke out against the people. Maybe it was a form of Avian Flu? Whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant, or maybe I should say, it wasn’t pheasant (ouch!)

The final chapter relates how Aaron and Miriam complain against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. Most likely that means she was Ethiopian, although it could refer to Zipporah, a Midianite. It was either a second marriage or just that Zipporah was from Midian- we do not know for sure, but we do not for certain that Miriam is the instigator and Aaron is drawn into the issue by her. That is clear from the Kumash. Miriam is summarily punished by God for speaking against Moses, and Moses immediately asks God to forgive her. Here we learn about how meek and humble Moses is. God allows her to be healed of the leprosy He inflicted on her and makes her wait outside the camp, as one unclean, for 7 days.

The lesson for us today from this that I want to talk about is how simple and manifest the prayer of Moses was to heal his sister. All he said was, “Heal her now, oh Lord, I beseech thee!” Simple, heartfelt, and (if I may use the word) …pure. It is a pure prayer, asking what is needed for both the person making the prayer and the person for whom the prayer is offered for.

How many times do we hear people pray on and on, andonandonandonandon….sometimes I can sense them stumbling, trying to think of something else, anything else, to say. As if the Lord doesn’t get it, like God doesn’t know what we want so while we have His attention let’s just get everything we possibly can out. Sometimes after a service, when we are going to do the blessings over the wine and bread (the Kiddush) the leader will go on praying about the sermon, the communion act, and other things, and I wish that he would just give the blessings. Those blessings are simple and say it all- thank you, Lord, for bringing forth bread from the earth and for creating the fruit of the vine. Maybe a quickie reminder, that this is what we do not just to thank God but in memory of the Messiah’s request that we remember Him, also, when we do this. Communion is not communion with Yeshua, it is communion with God, and serves additionally as a memorial to Yeshua’s sacrifice. Together, the prayers and Yeshua’s sacrifice bring us into communion with God.

When you pray, don’t go on. Your Father in heaven knows what you need (didn’t Yeshua tell us that in Matthew 6:8?) so just ask with a simple, heartfelt request for what you need now. Don’t go on about tomorrow- today has enough problems of it’s own (oh, my- didn’t Yeshua say that, too?) and we are only to ask for what we need now. And don’t ramble on (Yikes! Yeshua said that, too!) We can’t possible need so much that a prayer to God will take more than a few minutes. It should take no time at all. The only thing that should take up a lot of time is recounting all the wonderful blessings God has given us. If I was to thank God, one-by-one, for all the blessings He has bestowed on me (most every one of them undeserved) I would be praying non-stop, 24/7/365 (366 on leap years) from now until I died, and I would still be short.

Make your prayer meaningful by filling it full of meaning. When we say to somone, “I love you”, is there really anything else to say? We all know what that means, the words evoke the myriad emotions and feelings and memories of what loving and being loved has meant to each individual who says those three words. If humans can understand so fully what it means to tell someone you love them, then how much more can the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, our very Creator, know about what we want, need and feel when we talk to Him?

Let your prayer life conform to the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Schmo!

God knows what you want and he knows what you need, so ask for what you want and He will give you what you need. Don’t try to speak in perfect Shakespearian language, don’t try to emulate Solomon, don’t make King James roll over in his grave listening to you. Just pray as Moses prayed, and as Yeshua told us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-14.

Start by giving honor to God, ask for forgiveness (to cleanse yourself before Him), then ask Him for only that which you need right now, and only what you need to survive, tell God what you desire, and then finish with praising the Lord and recognizing His worthiness and power. Finally, invoke the name of Yeshua ha Mashiach, for we were told that when we pray in Yeshua’s name, God will grant us whatever we ask for. That’s it- if you are praying much more than 1-2 minutes, you’re probably getting off the mark.

I have prayed to God for more than 2 minutes, but it was more like talking with Him. I converse with Him (well, I talk and He listens) and sometimes it does go on for a while, but it is a conversation. And it is totally private. But my prayers, my orisons, my requests and my deepest feelings that I pour out to Him are simple and short.

Do what you feel good about; if you really feel good when you pray for a long time, than don’t let anything I do or say get between you, your prayer life and your communion with God. I just ask that you review what you are doing, and if Moses was comfortable with a 5 or 6 word prayer to heal his sister from a death-like existence, then maybe we should be comfortable with asking God simply and honestly for what we need.

Prayer only has to be from the heart, from a broken and contrite spirit, honest, heartfelt and to God. That’s all it takes.

Parashah Terumah (Offering) Exodus 25 – 27:19

Today we read of the instructions for building the Tabernacle, which are very, very detailed. The size of the supports, the types of precious metals and gems, the material the coverings are to be made from, the colors, everything about the Tabernacle is designed, defined, and described in this parashah, and in great detail.

The Tabernacle was more than just a tent- it was a symbol of the presence of God. It was situated in the very center of the campsite, surrounded by the Levites, who not only had to be close to service the tent, but they were also a buffer zone (if you will) to prevent the people from approaching too close to God and, by doing so, losing their lives.

The materials it was constructed with became more precious and fine the closer they were to God, just as we are to become more precious, i.e. holy, as we approach the Lord in our walk with Him.

The outer sections of the tabernacle were connected with rings and sockets of bronze, and as we got closer to the center of the tabernacle, where God’s presence sat, they used silver, and inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. So, too, the coverings: closest to God were made from fine linen woven with scarlet and blue and gold threads (these colors were very hard to make as they came from a mollusk that was very rare) whereas the outer coverings were of tanned ram skins.

Where is the Tabernacle in our lives, today? Have you ever been in the home of a Hindu person? Or a Buddhist? They have a small section of their home that is a sanctuary, a place which they have separated from everything else in their home where they worship. Although this is not the worship of the true God, it should be a lesson for us that we need to have a “tabernacle” that is centered in our life. Maybe not a physical structure, but we need a reminder of God’s presence in our everyday activities.

The Israelites could see the tabernacle; they saw the cloud over it during the day and the fire at night. It was a constant, physical and visual reminder of God. Jewish people who wear tzitzit and have a mezuzah on their doors (commanded in Numbers) have a physical, visual reminder of God’s presence. The kippah (yarmulke) is another visual reminder, although it is not commanded to be worn, same as the Star of David or a mezuzah (worn around the neck.) Christians wear a cross or sometimes a fish; there are different types of reminders of God’s presence in our lives we can have. Even a bumper sticker can serve as a reminder of God.

Maybe I should ask this: do we need a physical reminder if we have the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, living inside us? The tabernacle was in the center of the camp, and the Ruach lives inside us, sort of in the center of us. God outside of us, God inside of us; which is more important?

I don’t know! All I know is that if I had a constant, daily, absolutely impossible to not see or not be reminded of “thing” that kept me aware of God’s presence and kept me on track with serving God correctly, I would be a much better example of His holiness.

Let’s start to look for the “tabernacle” in our own life as we continue to become more holy. The Israelites had theirs right there, in the midst of them, but today we have to travel to get to our places of worship. I think that is somewhat problematic, but, then again, we aren’t wandering in the desert.

Or are we? Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, no matter how much effort I put into being a good husband, father or friend, I am just wandering through life. Going here and there, no real goal, no real end, just gadding about, aimlessly. Going through the motions of life instead of living my life.

That’s why I feel it is so important to have a “tabernacle” in the midst of our existence. A secure and stable foundation, with God at it’s center. Whether it be a synagogue down the block, a church in town, or a small, separated place of worship in a corner of the living room. Maybe I should wear tzitzit (I already wear a mezuzah around my neck), or a kippah? That won’t really make a difference, though, since I won’t see either of them and would get used to them being there.

I guess we all need to determine what the best “tabernacle” is for ourselves. And whatever it is, we need it to be there, all the time.

The Ruach is with us, it is a “comforter” (as Yeshua called it) and it can be the tabernacle in your life if you are open to always hear it. I confess I don’t always hear it, and when I do, sometimes I don’t heed it’s call. I gotta give the Ruach credit- it must be of God because it is so patient and constantly trying to get me to do what is right.

Find your “tabernacle”; and whatever it is, a place, the Ruach, a mezuzah, whatever…because it is a reminder of God’s presence in your life, make sure it is at the center of your life and that you live your life centered on it.