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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parashah B’ha’alotecha 2018 (When You Set Up) Numbers 8 – 12

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In the reading for this Shabbat the menorah is created, the Levites are sanctified for service in the Tabernacle, the people the first Passover since departing Egypt is celebrated and the rule for those who are unclean to celebrate Passover in the second month is established. The order of march when the cloud moves is established and we are told how the people moved or remained based on the cloud over the Tabernacle. God has Moses construct the silver trumpets to be used for celebrations, announcing gathering of the people and going to war.

We read about the murmurings and complaints of the people regarding no flesh to eat and how God miraculously sent so many quails that the people all had meat for a month. God also punished them by sending a plague against them, even as they took the first bites of meat. Moses also request help from God to lead the people, specifically to handle their constant kvetching, and God has Moses gather 70 Elders, to whom God gives some of the spirit that was on Moses.

The final chapter of this parashah retells when Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses by reason of his Cushite wife. God is angry with them for this and punishes Miriam with leprosy. Moses prays for her to be healed and God relents, but she must be shut up outside the camp for 7 days.

What to say…what to say…what to say? There is, as always, so much here to talk about. Let’s talk about the quails

So the people are complaining that they have nothing but manna to eat. This parashah starts around the second year of being in the desert so if the people brought as much meat and vegetables as they could when they left Egypt, how long could it have lasted?  A few days? Maybe two weeks?  In the heat of the desert the vegetables certainly wouldn’t last long. That means that we can safely assume the people had been eating pretty much nothing more than manna for months.

Yes, they had sheep, goats and cows they could have slaughtered, but that would be counterproductive. A dead goat feeds you for a few days but a live one gives you milk and from milk you can make cheese, and it does that for years. Moses is overwrought with the complaints of hundreds of thousands of people and actually asks God to kill him if this is what he is going to have to deal with. God tells him to gather 70 elders who will help, and also that the people will have meat. In fact, so much meat that it will come out of their mouths and nostrils.  Moses is amazed and even doubtful, but God sets him straight and says, essentially, watch and see.

A strong wind blows from the sea and millions of quails are carried right into the camp. There are so many of them that they are about 3 feet deep all around the camp for miles. We are told that the quails covered a day’s walk in all directions. The people have their meat. But no sooner do they eat it when they fall victim to a plague (could this be the first recorded case of Avian Flu?) and thousands die.

Why would God have given them the meat they asked for then caused it to turn against them?  If he was really angry that they complained against him, why not just refuse to let them have meat? I don’t have the answer- God knows why he did what he did and he didn’t think it important enough for Moses to write it down.  But, if I was to guess, I would say God had two reasons for doing what he did:

  1. He gave them meat to show he is able to supply all their needs;
  2. He punished them for their complaining, but not because they complained about no meat.

The punishment was because they said they had it better in Egypt.  I think it was bad enough when the people showed distrust in God by complaining, but when they went so far as to say they had it better in Egypt! Oy! That really cut it. For 400 years they were wailing and crying before God for freedom from their task masters, and here they are now- free! Not just free, but God got rid of the Egyptians, is giving them water and food in the desert, is bringing them to a promised land full of milk and honey, has said he will protect them, and even gives them a cloud by day and fire by night as a sign of his divine presence.

And after all this they say they want to go back to Egypt because it was better under the taskmasters of Egypt than to have the Living God in their camp…all because in  Egypt they had vegetables and meat.

These people were saying that they would rather have vegetable and meat instead of the presence and gifts of God. That’s really what it came down to, isn’t it? If they had it better in Egypt, then they are saying all that they have now is not as good.  Forget the Tabernacle, forget the freedom, forget the promised land- I’ll trade it all in right now for a good steak and potatoes dinner.

Are we any different today? Do we yearn for the physical pleasures of the flesh so much that we are willing to forget about the eternal joy that comes with living a holy life? How many eat what they want to because they would rather have a ham sandwich than receive blessings from God for obeying his law about not eating pork? And even if you want to argue that Kashrut (Kosher) laws are not necessary (by the way, you’d be wrong but that is for another discussion) God promises that we will blessed if we obey his laws (Deut. 28) so whatever your feelings about Kosher laws, obeying them will gain you blessings. Aren’t blessings from God the best thing we could hope for? Yes?

Then why do so many prefer pork rinds and shrimp cocktails to blessings? This is just an example of how we may be exchanging what God has planned for us for the things of the flesh that we are used to having.

I think this Shabbat we should all look in the mirror for a few minutes, and ask ourselves: “Am I ready to leave Egypt and what it has for me to be with God?”  Egypt, of course, representing the world and the desires of the flesh. God will lead us on our journey of righteousness, help us to find what we need, supply us with all we require, and deliver us to the Promised Land. But we must be willing to give up the vegetables and meat that we so loved in our slavery before we start walking in freedom with God.

It’s a tough decision to walk with God. Yeshua says we must give up pretty much everything and pick up our execution stake if we want to follow him, and following Yeshua means obeying God. That means honoring and obeying what God said we should do in the Torah. Torah obedience will not earn you salvation, but it will earn you blessings.

As for me, I prefer the blessings of God to the vegetables and meat of Egypt. What about you?

Parashot VayYakhel and Pekudey 2018 Exodus 35 – 40:38

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This Shabbat we have a double parashah, which brings us to the end of the book of Exodus.

Moses gathers all the people and asks that they voluntarily give the materials needed for the construction of the Tabernacle. The people give freely, and in fact, they give so much Moses has to tell them to stop bringing any more because there is too much for the work.  God appoints men with extraordinary skills to supervise the work and both men and women help. This is a totally united effort, and the chapters relate in great detail every single item, how it was all constructed in exacting detail and in perfect accordance to God’s commandments.

The Haftarah for these readings are from 1 Kings telling about all the work Hiram led in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem and Solomon’s prayer.

After the Tabernacle is set up and anointed God’s presence fills it with a cloud so thick Moses cannot enter. This also happens in 1 Kings after the construction of the Temple is completed. In both these cases, the work was done in a whole-hearted way to honor God, and once completed as God ordered it was acknowledged by God as acceptable in a very visible manner with the indwelling of His Ruach (Spirit) in physical form.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 6:19:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? 

We are also a temple when we invite the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to dwell in us. As such, are we constructing ourselves with as much fervor, love and obedience to detail that the people did in these readings? Do we voluntarily give of ourselves to others, and these people did to God? (That which you do tho these, my brethren, you do unto me-Matthew 25:40)

When we read these passages, it seems redundant and a little boring, if you will, because there is so much detailed minutia about every little thing. The reason for this is to show how all the people paid attention to what God told them to do. Now, it’s one thing to build a structure and another thing altogether to build up holiness in ourselves. Yet, the message is the same for both: when we do what God asks of us, as He asks us to do it, we will be successful and then God will bless our efforts with His presence.

When I first came to God I did so intellectually, and after three months or so of attending Messianic Shabbat services, I felt I wasn’t any different from before. That’s because I was still being an intellectual Believer, not a spiritually open Believer. It wasn’t until I was spiritually open and emotionally empty that I was able to receive an anointing from the Rabbi and then I felt the Ruach haKodesh enter my body. That was a moment that has lasted my entire lifetime. If you are interested in hearing it, you can go to this video: Steve Bruck Testimony

Over the years I am afraid I have become inured to that wonderful sensation of the Ruach filling my soul, and I miss it. I know that it’s my fault I don’t feel it as often as when I started to believe. In Psalm 51 King David asks God to “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;” : I also want to feel that joy again, that elation when I first felt the Ruach enter me.

My “temple” needs repair so that I am once more in accordance with God’s instructions. And those instructions aren’t as detailed as the ones we read this Shabbat; no, they are very much simpler. In fact, they are in Micah, 6:8:

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

I want the Tabernacle of my body to be acceptable to the Ruach haKodesh, and to allow it to fill me so much that I can’t be inside it any more. We call that “Dying to Self” and it is the aim (or should be) of everyone who worships God. I am not confessing I have fallen from faith; no, not at all! It is my faith that makes me want to be better and be more acceptable to God than I am now. But I do confess I need to work at it more, just as Shaul told us in Philippians 2:12-13:

–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Let each of us, starting this very moment, renew the work on our own Tabernacle and continue to perform whatever maintenance we need to do so that we are always acceptable to God, so that His Ruach can fill us as He filled the Tabernacle in the desert and the Temple in Jerusalem.

This completes the book of Exodus (Sh’mot), and in accordance to tradition we cry:

                                                                                                            Hazak, hazak, v’nit’chazek!

                                                                                             Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened! 

 

Parashah B’shallach (After He Had Let Go) Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

The freed slaves are led by God to the Red Sea, and Pharaoh comes back after them with chariots and his entire army.

God saves His people with the miraculous parting of the sea, and the Israelites walk across; when the army of Egypt follows, the waters come back down upon them and they are destroyed.

The people sing the Song of Moses at this wondrous escape from certain death, but soon after are kvetching about not having meat or water or bread.

God answers their complaints, but it doesn’t seem to appease their ingratitude or faithlessness.

 

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 Vayyiggash (He came near) Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

As this parashah starts, the brothers have been accused of stealing a cup from Joseph’s house, and Benjamin is found to be the one holding the cup. They are brought before Joseph, and Judah pleads for Benjamin’s life.

His plea is so heartfelt that Joseph can no longer hide his identity, and upon the brothers being reunited, Joseph has them all move to Goshen for the remainder of the famine. Of course, they stay a little longer than that.

Joseph tells his brothers that what happened to him was God’s work, which provides us a great lesson to remember when we have Tsouris in our own lives.

 

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’Yishlach (And he sent) Genesis 32:4 – 36

Jacob returns to his homeland and hears that Esau is coming to meet him, with 400 armed men. splits his camp, then sends gifts from his flocks, a bunch at a time, to his brother in order to try to appease his anger.

But what is important to note is that before he sent gifts, he prayed to God, reminding God that He told him to return, and of God’s promise to protect him.

After this, Jacob wrestles with an angel, and prevails.  What meaning does this have for us? When we have Tsouris in our life, who do we wrestle with?

 

Parashah V’Yetze (And he went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

Jacob leaves his home, travels to his Uncle Laban and while living there gains his wives and all his children except Benjamin. There is strife between them, though, as Jacob’s flocks get healthy and large while Laban’s grow weaker. Jacob leaves secretly and Laban goes after him to recover his daughters, but God warns Laban to do no harm to Jacob, so they meet, make a pact of peace and Laban returns home.

During Jacobs time with Laban, Laban deceives Jacob, Jacob deceives Laban, and Rachel deceives them both.  How can it be that the Father and Mother of the tribes of Israel are such sneaky people?