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

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

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

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

This ends the Book of Genesis.

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

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

Yet, in the NKJV there is a significant difference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Until then, tonight begins Shabbat so Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Parashah Yayyechi 2017 (and he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

This week we come to the end of the book of Genesis.

Jacob blesses Joseph’s children, and adopts them. He later blesses each of the 12 Tribes, then acob dies. The book ends with Joseph’s death and his request to make sure his bones are brought back to the Land when the children of Israel return.

When Jacob blesses Judah, we have a messianic prophecy of the coming of Yeshua…or do we? Where as Christianity sees this as a messianic prophecy, Judaism rejects it as such,,,but why?

Parashah V’Yeshev (and he dwelt) Genesis 37-40

We now learn the history of Joseph’s life, starting with his bad report on his brothers and ending with his interpretation of the dreams of his prison mates.

Along the way we read about an incident in Judah’s life- why now? Why here?

What does the significance of Judah’s experience have to do with the life of Joseph in captivity?

 

Parashah V’Yechi (and he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

We come to the end of Genesis, when Jacob blesses the two sons of Joseph, essentially adopting them into his family, and then blessing all his sons. He is carried back to the burial cave of his fathers and buried there. Then Joseph also dies and is embalmed.

The biblical account of the burial place for the three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is in Hebron.  This is an Arab-controlled area, with a very small, completely surrounded Jewish section. Many Orthodox Jews will have Shabbat services in the cave at Machpelah (Hebron) that is accepted as the actual burial place for the Patriarchs.

However, Joseph is supposedly buried in Shechem. In fact, there is a Tomb of Joseph building in Shechem, which is totally off-limits to anyone Jewish.

Here is the “welcome” sign as you enter Shechem:

warning sign outside Schechem Valley entrance

So, two of the most important and holy of all Jewish locations in the land of Israel are off-limits to Jews. Yes, they can go to Hebron, but it is a dangerous route to travel, in both directions.

This is not a political blog, it is a ministry, but part of what ministry is, at least to me, is to tell the truth about the world and the spiritual battles that are occurring, every day, within it. One of these battles is that the Church is supposed to be grafted into the state (both spiritual and political) of Israel. It does NOT replace it!!  Believers are supposed to be supportive of Israel and the Jewish people because they are God’s chosen Priests, and you don’t double-cross your priest.

The Arab world has stated, over and over, that it’s only desire for the Jewish nation is that it be totally destroyed- not a very friendly “How do you do” campaign slogan. They have lied about their “rights” to the land they have occupied (yes, they occupied these lands  AFTER the nation of Israel made the land economically desirable); they have planted trees because that gives them ownership, even though the trees they planted are the only thing on the mountainsides they planted them on. There are thousands of trees, olive trees (which only need to be reaped once a year, otherwise there is nothing you need to do to them with regards to care-taking) all over the “disputed” West Bank, which is the Jordan Valley Rift area. The shanty towns that Israel is accused of causing are actually Arab creations because the Arabs have nowhere else to go- their own country will not allow them back in.

In Shechem there are bare, cinder-block buildings we would call “Projects” that house Arabs wanting to enter Israel but are not allowed- by the Arabs- to do so. And- they are not allowed back into Syria, either. In truth, none of them really want to go back to Syria…I mean, would you? So, Jewish people are kept out of Shechem, and the Arab people in Shechem are kept in there.

Truth be told, those Arabs that do live and work in Israel have no problem with  the Jewish people, and the Jewish people, the Israelites, have no problem with any Arab who wants to live and work with them, so long as you don’t try to kill me. The Arabs that work in Israel have the same pay, same benefits, and same opportunities as the Israelites- can we say that in America when it comes to minorities?

The Jewish people only want to live in peace, and be left alone. The Arab political powers want them destroyed. This is an age-old, sibling rivalry that goes back to Abraham. God tells Hagar that Ishmael with be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against his brothers and his brothers hands against him (Genesis 16:12), and we can see that has been true since then. History shows us that the Arab world has been nothing more than one political assassination after another, with family against family and people against people. The “Palestinian People” have nothing to do with Palestine- they are North Syrians, nomads, who used to take their herds and feed them on the hills of the Jordan Rift, then go back to Syria when the grass was gone. If you travel along that road you can still see the Arab shepherds along the way with their goats and sheep. It wasn’t until Israel became a nation and started to clear out the mosquito infested swamps, irrigate the land and make it a viable farming community that suddenly now, this is “historically” land that these “Palestinian” peoples owned, and Israel was invading their territory!

Horse-apples!

The only “Palestinians” that have “historically” lived there were the Jews. The North Syrians were dubbed with that title as a propaganda program by Yasser Arafat; and it was as good as anything that Joseph Goebbels could have come up with. Both Arafat and Goebbels had the same goal- to bring the world against, and ultimately destroy, the Jewish people, whose only “crime” was wanting to live peaceably on their own land.

One day we will have complete access, safe and open to all, to the burial places of our Patriarchs. This will come about because, when you read the bible, you know how it will all end. It would be nice if the Arabs would just get off their hate wagon. Isn’t it about time that ISIS and ISIL and all the other terrorists in the world leave Israel alone and concentrate on taking care of their own people; you know, not abuse and rape their own women, not kill themselves, not attack innocent men, women and children in countries that take them in only to try and help them?

The world has never really been a nice place for people- Adam and Eve had it made, but they blew it, and not just for themselves but for everyone. Now we live in a world that is cursed and fallen, and it is only going to get worse. It seems all this week I have been on an apocalyptic bent, but with all that is happening, natural and man-made disasters everywhere, how can I not see the end coming? How can anyone not see the end coming?

Keep reading the bible, keep praying to God for peace in our time- we know how things will end, we just don’t know when, so praying for the peace of Jerusalem and peace in our time is fine. It isn’t against God’s plan, it is just asking for a reprieve for the time being.

If you call yourself a “Believer”, say you have been “Born Again” and profess to worship God- the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- then you MUST support and help the Jewish people. There’s no real choice about it: God said that is what you are to do, and Shaul (Paul) also says that we need to be one new man (Ephesians 2:15), meaning that the Jewish people and Christians need to worship the one Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) and work together. Christians are grafted in, and when you graft a branch onto the tree the branch now belongs to that tree, not the other way around.

So draw from the root of the tree to which you have been grafted in, do not denounce it, do not ignore it and do not work against it- you will only be killing yourself.

 

 

 

Parashah V’yegash (and he approached) Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Joseph has kept his true identity a secret from his brothers, and after setting up Benjamin to take the fall for robbing from him, Joseph now has them where they believe that Benjamin will be kept as a life-long slave to the Grand Vizier of Egypt, and this will just kill Israel.  Judah steps forth, as the guarantor for the boy, and offers a beautifully poignant plea on behalf of Benjamin, offering to give his own life in servitude if only Benjamin may be allowed to return to his father, or else the fact that Benjamin is being left in Egypt will kill their father.

At this point Joseph has heard enough, and is convinced of the truth of the T’shuvah (turning from sin) and repentance his brothers have done after the way they treated him as a child. He reveals who he really is to them, and immediately defers any fear of retribution they may have. He gives them assurance that he knows God was the one who placed him where he is so that he could save his family (reminds me of what Mordecai says to Hadassah/Esther, that maybe she was queen and in her position for such a time as they were going through.)

The brothers are overjoyed to see Joseph alive, and with Pharaoh’s approval and help, the entire family of Israel (67 in Canaan and 3 in Egypt, totaling 70) move to Goshen, and thus is planted the seed of a nation. This is why God tells Israel in a dream to go to Egypt, and foretells of the 400 years before they will be able to come back to the land God promised them.

There is so much to talk about regarding Joseph’s spiritual perception. Here is an innocent and God-fearing man who has been mistreated by family, unjustly accused by his master’s wife, forgotten by one who owed him a debt and unfairly jailed for years, yet when he has it in his power to revenge himself on those that caused it all to happen, he forgives and consoles them. He rightly (or better yet, righteously) accounts the events in his life that led to where he is as the work of God. He sees past the obvious and realizes the truth of the meaning of his life, his ups and downs, and all that has led to this moment.

We need to have revelation, just as Joseph did, as to what God is doing in our lives. Joseph’s brothers were blind to his true identity. To be fair, who would have expected to see your brother as Grand Vizier of Egypt when 13 years earlier he was sold into slavery? Yet, as an Egyptian, Joseph would have been clean shaven- no full beard (that a Hebrew would have) to hide his face. Even though it is 13 years later, his face would still be very recognizable, especially to his brothers. His voice should be very similar, also. Yet they didn’t recognize him at all- their expectations of who they were going to see blinded them to be able to see their very own brother, right there in front of them.

That is also what happened with Yeshua: the expectations the Jewish people had for their Messiah was that He would be a Rambo- someone who would lead them in gaining political freedom from Rome. Yeshua wasn’t here for that, and the Scriptures also were clear about the Messiah’s spiritual leadership. When it comes to prophecies about the regathering of the people to the land, it is always God that is the progenitor of that event. Yeshua didn’t meet their expectations, and as such many did not have revealed to them the truth of His ministry and what He was there to do.

When I was a salesman, I learned that perception is everything- once someone perceives the value to be greater than the cost, you have a sale. The value is built up by creating the expectation of the rewards the buyer will receive once they own this thing. When our expectations are unrealistic, due to marketing hype, our personal desire for what we want something to be, or just because we were told to expect something by someone else, there is often much disappointment when that “thing” doesn’t meet our expectations. When we have it and finally realize it is not what we expected, the truth is revealed; but, by then, it is too late.

The end times are very near- Yeshua told the people they could read the signs of the weather but not the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3), and He chided them for their blindness. It was their unrealistic expectations that blinded them, and we are going to be blinded, too, if we expect anything but what the bible tells us is going to happen.

Keep your eyes open for the unexpected- in fact, expect it! Shaul (Paul) tells us that the End Days will come upon us like a thief in the night (Thessalonians 5:2) and so we must always be watching. There are many parables Yeshua tells about being prepared and not knowing when He will return, but He does tell us what signs to look for.

You don’t need to look for Yeshua because His return will not be a secret one- He’ll be riding on the clouds, the entire sky will be filled with His presence. I don’t think you will need to strain to see that. But the Anti-Christ will be the exact opposite at the beginning- he will work secretly, in shadows and subversively until he comes to full power, so you need to watch for him, but maybe not for any one person. Look at the fruits, as Yeshua told us, because you can tell the good tree from the bad tree by the type and kind of fruit it produces. No one really knows who the Anti-Christ is, and as far as I am concerned, I don’t know if it is really just one person. The United Nations seems to be acting just as we would expect the enemy to act, yet it is not one person. If the UN is not the Anti-Christ, it is unquestionably one of the tools of the enemy. It’s fruit is rotten and full of worms.

The point today is this: look for the fruits, do not let yourself be blinded by human expectations or what you have been told by your religious leaders alone- read the bible, read Revelations (I don’t think anyone really can understand it, but it will help a lot just to be familiar with the process) and especially read what Yeshua tells us about the End Days. Knowledge is power, and as the old adage says, “Luck favor’s the prepared”, so make your own luck by knowing what to look for and not blinding yourself with unrealistic expectations. Perceive with spiritual eyes, ask the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to see for you so that you will not be like the blind man being led by another blind man, with the end result that they both fall into a hole.

Perception is everything- so be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, let the Ruach guide your perception so that you will not be blinded by human expectations.

Parashah Mikketz (it came to pass), Genesis 41-44:17

Joseph is still in jail, unjustly accused by Potipher’s wife, and now forgotten by the cup bearer to Pharaoh, but God has given him grace and Joseph is in charge, the position we would call “Trustee.”

Pharaoh has a dream, the dream of the 7 ears of corn and the 7 cows, and is so troubled by it that he calls all the magicians and soothsayers to interpret it, but none can. Now the cup bearer remembers Joseph, and Joseph is brought forth. Joseph interprets the dream and consults Pharaoh regarding how to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and manage things that he immediately appoints him Grand Vizier over all of Egypt. Pharaoh also, it is important to note, gives credit (as Joseph did from the start) to God, whose spirit rests in Joseph. The honor bestowed on Joseph also honors God.

Now Joseph is “The Man”, married into a very influential family and running the country. The famine has hit so hard and is so extensive that Israel’s sons and their families feel the crunch, so Israel tells his sons to go to Egypt and buy food (apparently Israel had to give them a bit of a kick in the pants to get them going.) The sons go down, all except Benjamin, who Israel has been dotting over and guarding like a prized fragile vase. The brothers go to Joseph, who recognizes them in an instant, but they do not recognize him. That makes sense, since (for a start) why would they ever expect to even see Joseph again, let alone expect to see him as an Egyptian noble. Joseph is dressed differently, is groomed like an Egyptian, wearing royal clothing and (probably) eye shadow and mascara. Even his voice would be different since he was only 17 when they threw him in the cistern and now he is a 30-year old man.

So begins the testing by Joseph of his brothers: not a vengeful retribution but a test to see if they have repented of the evil they did to him. And the brothers, having been accused of spying out the land and placed in custody, immediately count all that is happening to them as just deserts for the way they treated Joseph. It’s been 13 years, yet the first thing they think of when they are in trouble and misjudged is that God is striking them for their sin against their brother.

Joseph lets them think about it for 3 days, then announces that he is a fair man and will hold only one hostage so the rest can bring the needed food to their families. Simeon is taken as the hostage (the reason for this, according to Rabbinical thought, is because Simeon was the one who first suggested killing Joseph, so maybe a little “get-back” is happening here) and the brothers are told that if they ever return without the youngest to prove their innocence, then they will be killed. They relate this to Israel, who now finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: let Benjamin go down with the brothers and risk losing him, or keep Benjamin at home and risk dying of starvation and leaving Simeon in jail for the rest of his life.

Finally, Judah (the leader) guarantees Benjamin’s safety and Israel relents. They go down, prove their story and Joseph, who is finding it harder and harder to maintain his identity a secret, invites them all to dine with him at his house. He tests them, one last time, by hiding a cup of his in Benjamin’s pack and after they leave he sends his men to catch up with them and accuse them of stealing. They rashly make an oath that whoever has stolen anything will be killed, and lo! Benjamin is the one. Totally crestfallen, they are all taken back to Joseph for judgement. Here we are left hanging until the next Parashah.

This seems to be easily explained with the old adage, “What goes around, comes around.” The brothers mistreated Joseph, and now they are being mistreated, as well. They immediately accept that their sins have caught up with them, and although they are scared for their lives, they accept their misfortune as deserved.

How many of us are willing to accept the results of our own inappropriate actions or words? Isn’t it true that when we do something wrong, the first reaction is to avoid the blame? To say, “Well, you could’ve done this” or “They should’ve done something to prevent that”, or just, “I didn’t mean it.”  The harm is done, and now someone has to pay, so if it is me, I need to get away from the pointing finger. Many people take almost a pridefulness in being able to avoid the consequences of their actions. I call those types “Teflon people”, because nothing ever “sticks” to them.

Those who fear God, who try to do their best, who show maturity and honesty, will always accept the consequences of their actions. President Truman used to have a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here”, meaning that ultimately he was responsible. He took that responsibility seriously, as well, and when we are responsible we are more careful about what we do and say.

Joseph knew what his brothers felt about him when he was a child, and certainly has never forgotten what they did to him. Yet, instead of feeling vengeful he wanted to embrace them because he had already forgiven them. I think it becomes clear as the story goes along that he was also desperate to reconcile with them. He was the one harmed but he showed understanding, forgiveness and love- all those things God likes us to do. But he wasn’t stupid about it- forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting again. His desire to reconcile was tempered by his common sense to make sure that before he lets them know who he is, which could mean their trying to take advantage of his position and power, he first tests their morality and trustworthiness.

We need to learn that no matter how poorly someone has mistreated us, the only way to overcome the pain and insult is to forgive and reconcile; first we forgive in our hearts, but we shouldn’t try to reconcile until we know their hearts. Forgiveness is first and foremost between the one that has been hurt and God, whereas the one hurt shows God that he or she has forgiven the sinner. That is the most important thing because forgiving someone who has sinned against you makes YOU right with God, and has nothing to do with their relationship with God. They need to ask God’s forgiveness. If they ask forgiveness from you, that’s a really good thing, but (ultimately) they need to ask for and be forgiven by God because He is the one who counts. Your forgiveness will do nothing to help them repair the rift between them and God that their sin caused.

We forgive the sinner to make ourselves right with God, which then also relieves the pain of the insult and mistreatment we suffered. If the sinner is willing and desiring to be forgiven by you, you have already done so, but that person needs to prove they have changed before you should trust them or reconcile. Let’s say I worked for you, and as your office manager I stole from you. I am caught, I return what I stole, and I ask for forgiveness. You forgive, and are even willing to let me work for you again, but you should not place me in a position where I can steal from you. Forgiveness is a spiritual thing, and not to be confused with real-life common sense. I abrogated a trust, and forgiveness works toward repairing our relationship but doesn’t reinstate the trust. The trust you had for me I now need to reestablish.

When God forgives our sins, they are forgotten, but when humans forgive, we should not totally forget what we forgave until the other person proves their true T’shuvah, repentance, and through their actions regains the trust that they violated.

Forgiveness is a spiritual action, whereas trust is real-life: always give them the chance to reconcile and regain trust, but don’t be naive about it.

Parashah V’Yegash (and he came near) Genesis 44 – 47:27

We take up from the last Parashah where Benjamin had been found holding the cup of Joseph, and was being held as bondsman to Joseph for life. Judah, who had told Israel he would be surety for the boy, approaches Joseph and tells Joseph how much Israel is bound, heart and soul, to Benjamin because his other son had been killed. Judah also tells Joseph that if Benjamin doesn’t return it will kill their father, and so Judah begs Joseph to let him, Judah, remain behind as slave for life and allow Benjamin to return so that their father isn’t troubled anymore.

This seems to be the final test passed, from Joseph’s viewpoint, for now he is so overcome with joy that his brothers have shown the loyalty and love to both Israel and Benjamin that he wanted to see, that he clears out all the Egyptians and confesses his true identity to his brothers. After the shock and surprise of this passes, they fall upon each other, crying for joy and Joseph immediately puts away any fear of reprisal by him, explaining how all this came about by God’s doing, that the terrible thing they did was actually part of God’s plan and His doing, so the brothers shouldn’t feel any remorse or guilt anymore.

The end of this parashah has Pharoah (who really seems to be a good leader and this guy just LOVES Joseph!) glad that Joseph is reunited with his family and immediately orders Joseph to bring them into the best land of Egypt, Goshen, so they can live there protected from the famine. God gives Israel, in a vision, permission to leave Canaan and dwell in Egypt, with the promise that God will bring his children back to their land. We are given the listing of genealogies of the sons of Israel at that time, and they come into Goshen and settle there.

We learn also how powerful the Pharaoh becomes thanks to Joseph. Up to this time, the people of Egypt were ruled by Pharaoh but they were all self-sufficient, owning their cattle and lands. When they run out of money to buy grain, Joseph barters their cattle for grain. When they are out of cattle to trade, Joseph acquires the titles to their land, and all this is now the property of Pharaoh. Essentially, Pharaoh is not only the legal ruler of the land of Egypt, but he owns it all, including the cattle. This makes Pharoah richer than before, and Joseph allows the people to keep 80% of the produce and give 20% to Pharaoh as their bondsman fees.

When I read this story, from Joseph’s sale into slavery through his reconcilement with his brothers, I think, strangely enough, of Mordecai saying to Hadassah how if she doesn’t ask the king to save the Jews, salvation will come from somewhere else, intimating God will do something, one way or another, to make sure His people survive. What causes me to think of this is how Joseph gives God all the credit (or blame?) for the slavery he suffered through for most of the past 13 years. Joseph was testing the resolve of his brothers, so do you think God had been testing Joseph’s resolve in the same way?  Joseph was a bit of a braggart, ratting out his brothers, telling them of his dreams how they were going to bow down to him. Was he really that naive? Given how smart he shows himself to be, I can’t think that Joseph wasn’t, at least a little bit, rubbing their noses in it. That almost got him killed, and did get him sold into slavery. And while slave to Potiphar, God tempted Joseph, now in charge of everything, with the wife of his master. Joseph showed himself to be trustworthy and upright, which landed him in the jail. However, it was in the jail that he ended up getting the most direct route to the Pharaoh, wasn’t it? We are told Potiphar was a mighty military man, but we don’t know if he had the ear of the Pharaoh as well as the cup bearer did. If not for being in jail, Joseph may never have even known about the dreams. Finally, when Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, we hear him tell Pharaoh that it has nothing at all to do with him, but everything to do with God when it comes to interpretation. Joseph now has passed the final testing from the Lord, showing his true humility and acknowledgement of God as the ruler and knower of all things.

What would have happened if the brothers didn’t change? What would Joseph had done if Judah had just said, “Oh well, see ya Ben. I’ll tell Dad you screwed up and have to stay in Egypt.” ?

I don’t know. Maybe if Judah hadn’t shown compassion, Reuben would have? After all, Reuben owed his father a lot for having insulted him the way he did. Maybe it would have been one of the other brothers? As Mordecai said, if Hadassah doesn’t do something, God will raise up another savior. If not Judah, would Reuben have been the one to demonstrate the compassion and love that Joseph was looking for?

It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is not who God uses, but that God uses someone to accomplish His plans. God has used righteous men, God has used horrible men, God has used an ass, and God has even stepped in and taken the reins, Himself. Whatever or whomever God chooses to achieve His plans and enforce His will, the bottom line is that whatever God wants to be done, will be done. And exactly when He wants it to be done, as well.

For you and me, the lesson here is that we aren’t in charge- we never were, we aren’t now, and we never will be. But that doesn’t mean we are predestined and have no control. Au contraire, mon Ami! It means we are totally in charge, and thereby fully responsible, for our actions. We are the ones who  choose to do and we are the ones who choose not to do. God will always get what He wants done, done. If He gives us a chance to be part of His plan, and we take it, then we are blessed to be able to serve the Lord. If He gives us the chance and we refuse, He may give us another chance, or He may not. We can blow it in a second and never know we could have been a Joseph, or a Judah, or even a Moses!

The choice to serve God or not to serve Him is totally up to us- we are not predestined to the degree we are irresponsible. I knew people who believed that God was in charge, but instead of honoring Him, they blamed Him. They easily took credit for anything they did that got them acclaim, and anything they failed to do or screwed up, well, then it was God’s fault because He is in charge of everything. A fatalistic approach to everything and an irresponsible attitude go hand in hand, and when you have a God that is in charge of everything, it is real easy to blame Him for what goes wrong.

I love to teach, and God has given me a gift for it, so when I give the message at Shabbat services or teach a class and I am congratulated, I will say that if I do something which is really good, I have to give all the credit to God. But when I really screw something up, that’s when I can take full credit.  I am proud to say that when I say that, it is NOT false humility (if that makes any sense.)

God has taught me that He is in charge, and that He will always get what He wants done, done, and that He will most often use people to achieve His plans. God has also taught me that everyone He has used, is using, or ever will use has the option to do God’s will or to ignore God’s calling. Sometimes, like with Jonah (for instance) God may give you a second chance; other times He may not. I can’t really give you an example of when God doesn’t give you a second chance because no one who has ignored God’s calling has made it into the bible.

We all have Tsouris in our lives- that is necessary for us to grow, spiritually and emotionally.  Those who use this to become better are the ones who will lead others; those who suffer under this and give in to their depression and self-pity become the bane of society. I believe that God will call on everyone at least once in their life. He is clear throughout the Tanakh that He wants everyone to turn from their sin and live; the death of the sinner never pleases Him. Therefore, He just has to call on everyone sometime to give them a chance to repent, to grow spiritually, to know God better and to be an instrument in God’s orchestra of salvation.

The thing is, God doesn’t shout. He doesn’t move mountains (although He can, if He really wants to) and he doesn’t send an engraved invitation. He just asks you to do something for Him. He doesn’t beg, He expects you to accept, and He doesn’t really want to hear excuses, like when Moses tried to get out of his calling. And most important, He doesn’t expect or like it when you try and give up. He is compassionate, patient and more than willing to lead you along the way, but when you accept God’s calling there is no Three Day Right of Rescission. When you agree to do God’s will, you are expected to do God’s will! You are expected to follow through, and I think that may be one reason we have free will- because it is such an onerous task to do God’s will in a world that hates God’s will, God will not force it upon us. God wants us to accept, and yet He allows us to refuse.

Listen for the calling in your life, and when you hear it, decide. You are allowed to say “No”, and I suspect that the vast majority of people choose that option. Yeshua tells us it is the small door and the path least taken that lead to salvation. The choice is yours, so please- make it a good one.

Parashah Mikketz (and it came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, who has had the dreams of the 7 good cows and the 7 bad cows, and the 7 good ears of corn and the 7 bad ears of corn. Joseph interprets the dreams and even tells Pharaoh the best way to prepare for the famine to come.

Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s ability to plan and organize, and immediately promotes him from Buck Private to Executive Officer over the entire land of Egypt. Joseph efficiently does what he said should be done and there is so much grain in the storehouses it can’t be measured. Then the famine comes, just as God had foretold through Joseph’s interpretation, and the land of Egypt is the only place in the world there is food.

Jacob hears of the food available in Egypt and sends his sons, all but Benjamin, to get food to keep them all alive. As they come to buy, Joseph is over-seeing the sales and making sure that everyone coming into the country is there peacefully. He sees his brothers, but they can’t recognize him; he is dressed as an Egyptian, speaks Egyptian and is the Grand Vizier- even if they thought he looked familiar, how they possibly even think that it could be their Hebrew brother running the entire land of Egypt?  They don’t know it’s Joseph, but Joseph knows it’s them. He treats them badly, accusing them of spying, and ends up keeping Simeon as a hostage until they verify their story about having another brother by bringing Benjamin to him.

Jacob is adamant that Benjamin not go anywhere, but when there is no food he has to relent. Reuben offers up his own two sons as collateral, but it is Judah’s promise to watch over Benjamin that Jacob accepts as trustworthy. They go back with Benjamin and Joseph treats them well, feeds them in his own house, then sets them up so that it appears Benjamin has stolen from him. The parashah ends with Benjamin found out a thief and to be held forever as the slave of Joseph.

Some people always try to demean and debunk the bible as nothing more than a storybook, but the details and historical accuracy of how Egyptians lived, the gold necklace, the re-naming of Joseph, all the details in this parashah indicate this is an historically and culturally accurate accounting.

Joseph is demonstrating here what Yeshua said to His Disciples in Mattitayu 10:16:

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

He is testing the brothers to see if they have learned their lesson regarding the way they treated Joseph. He already has remembered his dreams of the brothers bowing down to him, as they were right then and there doing exactly that same thing. He has overcome in many ways the pain and suffering he felt, which we can see in how he named his children. His shrewdness is demonstrated in that he did not reveal himself, giving the brothers the chance to act sorry and ask forgiveness simply because of Josephs’ powerful position. He didn’t speak Hebrew, he acted totally Egyptian, and in an instant he planned out how to test their loyalty to Jacob and their love for Benjamin. He remembered their jealousy of him, and I think he reconciled it not to his own actions but to the favoritism he received from Jacob as the son of Rachel. Maybe Joseph was testing the brother’s loyalty and protection of Benjamin, the only other child Rachel had, because he might have thought they would have the same hatred and jealousy of Benjamin they had for him.

Joseph was very shrewd, and yet we see he was also very gentle. Even though he accused them of being spies and talked roughly with them (essentially he gave them the “third degree”) he supplied them with the food they needed as they returned to bring Benjamin to him. Returning their money, I believe, was out of kindness- although it made it even harder for them to return because they were afraid that Joseph would not only think them spies but thieves, as well, having taken the food without paying for it. I don’t get that part- they had to have given the money when they received the food, and if it was in their packs later I would think they would wonder how anyone could possibly know they didn’t pay for the food. If someone who was responsible for giving out the food allowed them to get food without paying, that person was in trouble, not them. I guess this shows how people can be fearful even when there is nothing to be afraid of. Or, perhaps, they were concerned because they really thought this was God’s doing, as is evident in the way they talked to each other when Joseph was accusing them. They said it was the recompense and justice they deserved for what they did to Joseph, and God was bringing this down on their heads. Perhaps, even though there was no way the Egyptians could have known they didn’t pay, they figured they would know, anyway, since God is bringing this about.

We don’t see the fullness of Joseph’s acting gentle with them until the next parasha, but the lesson here is that we should be forgiving of those that harm us, even if they don’t care whether we forgive them or not. In fact, forgiveness has nothing to do with what the sinner feels. Joseph named his children Manasseh (God has made me forget all the trouble I have gone through) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction), demonstrating his acceptance of his life in Egypt and having forgotten the painful way he got there. He had already forgiven his brothers, he was gentle with them in his “mistreatment” because he wasn’t being vengeful, he was only testing them.

God tests us, too, and just as Joseph’s apparent cruelty was only an act, when we suffer through testing, God is not angry or vengeful, He is lovingly watching what we do so He can be ready to reward us when we pass the testing. He wants us to pass, He wants us to do what He has told us we should do, and when we fail, I am sure He is disappointed, but already thinking of a testing that is less harsh. We must pass through the fire to become purified, and if there is so much dross in us that we can’t be purified in a single testing, then we will go through the fire over and over and over until we are pure.  God is doing this to us out of love: we need to remember that when it feels more like punishment.

Joseph is showing us that we can forgive but still be wary; we can allow others back into our lives when they are repentant but we don’t have to trust them again until they prove their worth. Joseph had forgiven his brothers, but he needed to give them the opportunity to prove their repentance and trustworthiness so he could not just forgive, but accept them back into his life.

If there is someone who has done you wrong, do not wait for them to ask forgiveness- forgive them now. Remember what David said, even after he committed adultery with Bat Sheba and then planned Uriah’s death to cover it up: he said (in Psalm 51) that his sin was against God, and against God alone. The sin we commit may seem to be against someone, but it is really against God, and every single sin we commit has to be reconciled with God. When God forgives us, we are spiritually “saved” from the consequences. We will always, and I mean always, suffer the consequences of the sins we commit in the physical world, and we still need to ask those we sin against to forgive us.

Here’s the way forgiveness works: the only forgiveness that counts is the forgiveness we receive from God. That’s because we are not commanded to ask forgiveness, we are commanded to forgive. What that means is that if you sin against someone, you need to get yourself right with God first, then you can ask that person for forgiveness. However, it doesn’t really matter (from a spiritual viewpoint) if they forgive you or not. If they do, they are then making themselves right with God; if they don’t, they are sinning against God! To forgive is a commandment. If you feel someone doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, you are placing yourself above God! If God is willing to forgive, then you better be willing to forgive, too. Your willingness to forgive someone is between you and God- they are out of the equation. Once they sinned against you, they’re no longer important- now it is between you and God, and He wants you to forgive them. As for God forgiving them, well, that’s between them and God, and you have no part of that.

You know, we can learn a lot from from Joseph about forgiveness, and also about accepting where God has placed you.