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.

 

Do You Really Want to Risk His Wrath?

No video today.

I am a member of a number of Christian, Messianic or Hebraic Roots discussion groups. They all have value for learning and sharing ideas, yet it is a shame so many people within these groups undervalue themselves and others with their obnoxious and prideful statements. You can recognize them because when they are faced with opposite opinions they spit out a bunch of bible passages (taken out of context) and eventually end up calling the one(s) disputing with them pagans, Satanists or worse.

When people are discussing a topic and one of them ends up resorting to personal attacks and accusations, that indicates they are not able to adequately defend their position; it also demonstrates both emotional and spiritual immaturity.  Ask them to leave it at “You have your belief and I have mine, so let’s agree to disagree?” and they ignore you, continuing to force their ideas down your throat.

The real issue is pridefulness- those people are too prideful to accept that they may not be the only correct answer. As such they do not have the humility or respect for others to simple allow someone else to have their own belief. Worse than that, they use biblical passages to justify their accusatory and judgmental attitude. It’s always the same thing: God wants us to tell the truth, or God told me this is so, or God says we are to judge others.

They forget God said that we will be judged as we judge others. Oops- that could be a problem!

Whenever I see someone writing these sorts of things, even when they aren’t nasty but just stubbornly refusing to accept that anyone else may have another belief or idea that could also be correct, I think of Job and his friends. I assume we all know the book of Job well enough to recall that after his friends misjudged him because they thought they knew what God was all about, God was not too happy with them. This is what he told them (Job 42:7-9):

After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. So take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite did as the Lord commanded them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job’s friends had been telling Job all about how God works, what he wants, what he believes, what he knows…basically they were talking for God as if they knew him and what he thought. That is what got God so mad.

People who tell others absolutely that we need to use God’s holy name, how it is pronounced, what God wants us to do, what God told us isn’t important, why God made the rules he made, etc. all are doing exactly what Jobs friends did. I suspect, although I can’t say for certain, that God still isn’t too happy with people who do that. Since God tells us he doesn’t change it only seems logical that if Jobs’ friends ticked of the Lord with their assumptions about what he feels and thinks, people who tell others today what God feels and thinks would be in the same spot Job’s friends put themselves.

For the record, let me say there are many, many places in the bible where God tells us, absolutely, what he likes and dislikes, what he says is wrong and what he says is right, and these things we can state clearly are how God feels. He told us so.

My complaint (and concern) is for those people who assume they know what God wants and tell others what they should believe or do. I believe when they do that they are risking his wrath.

I would like to ask people to be polite and respectful of others. We can speak the truth with love and if we believe something absolutely but someone else doesn’t, then let’s justify our opinion without attacking their opinion. And never attack a person for what they believe. When I think someone is relating a misinterpretation of a biblical passage, I will say I believe what they have been taught is wrong and then I will interpret the passage the way I believe it should be done. I will also ask them to re-read it praying for holy spirit guidance. I won’t say they are wrong, but that they were taught incorrectly. This way they (hopefully) won’t take it as a personal attack. You can’t change someone’s mind, but you can punch holes in their argument with facts. Again, you can attack their position but do not attack them. And if they are adamant not to change their mind and start to get upset or hostile, then end it. Wipe the dust from your sandals and move on.

There is an old joke: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

We can’t change someone’s beliefs or mind unless they are open to listening. If it becomes obvious that they aren’t going to change their mind, you’ve done all you can. Move on to the next subject. I have often just told people I won’t change my mind and I see they won’t change theirs, so let’s move on to something else. It’s sad that most of the time my respectful attempt to end the discussion reaches deaf ears.

Let’s end today’s message with a quote from Proverbs 12:15:

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

 

What Kohelet Was Really Talking About

Most descriptions of the writing of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) say it is a rather droll and depressing book. After all, how many times does he tell us that whatever he did was as useless as “chasing the wind”? The very beginning starts with “Useless, useless- all is useless!”

But I find this book to be uplifting and empowering because when we get past his kvetching we can see the reason for his feelings of despair and uselessness, and that what he learned is actually very good for us.

He tells us what he is trying to do in Kohelet 1:12-18:

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.  (bold print added by author) 

He repeats this desire to understand what is wisdom and what is folly in Kohelet 2:12, and he defines exactly what he discovers about seeking wisdom in Kohelet 8:16-17:

When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.

Can you see why Kohelet is so frustrated?  He is trying to figure out why God does what He does! He is a human being trying to understand the mind of the Almighty- no wonder he sees all his attempts to understand the activities of mankind as useless and chasing the wind. He cannot understand why good things happen to bad people, and vice-versa. He cannot fathom why people who have no family build up fortunes, only to die and have those fortunes wasted by strangers.

What Kohelet really sees as useless is not so much the activities of men, but his attempt to understand why they happen.

And there are parts throughout the book where he begins to realize what is really important: he tells us this in Kohelet 2:24:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God.

and in Kohelet 3:12:

I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;

and, once more, he advises us what is really important in Kohelet 9:7:

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Most of the teachings I have heard regarding Kohelet bypass all the wisdom, warnings, and complaints that are in this book and go straight to the end, which is where Kohelet concludes that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is, of course, an absolute truth, and good advice, but by ignoring the diatribe in this book they have missed the whole point of what Kohelet found out in all his efforts to understand God.

Kohelet is telling us what he learned is that we are to accept with full appreciation all that God has given us, and we should just enjoy whatever we have from Him because nothing ever really stays the same. Our wealth, our family, our activities, our work, everything we do will be changed, lost or gained, only to be given to our descendants or others we don’t even know, The lesson is:  whatever we have is from God and we should appreciate it, and be joyful in it.

Can you see now why I find this book to be so uplifting, even when it is written with such disdain for all human activity? It reminds me that it doesn’t matter what I have or don’t have, nothing will remain the same (so there is hope) and whatever I enjoy now, I will probably lose at sometime, so I might as well really enjoy it now while I have it. And even if I lose it, I may gain it all back again. There is always hope.  Kohelet is telling me that I will never understand why things happen, so stop frying my brain trying to figure it out- just enjoy it!  WOW! That is like lifting a giant weight off my shoulders!

God is in charge and you aren’t, so stop trying to run the show or figure it out. You can’t.

I once read a very wise statement: Any god that can be understood by the mind of Man is not worthy of the worship of Man.  Our God is far beyond our understanding, and trying to understand the “why” of life is a lost cause before you even start, so stop chasing the wind and enjoy all that God does for you.

You don’t have to believe to like the bible

Before I was saved I didn’t know the bible, at all. I knew what I had been told, or what I thought they had said, and that was it.

And that was not always correct, either. How many people do you think would say yes if you asked them, “Does the bible say, ‘God helps those that help themselves.'”?

We who know the bible know that this is not said anywhere in the bible; the truth we learn from the bible is that God helps those that ask Him for help.

So, what brought me to the Word of God? It wasn’t the spiritual stuff, it was the social stuff. It was the fact that I realized (and we have to make others realize this by exposing them to these facts) the bible held many wise sayings and useful rules for how to act in society. I realized that there was wisdom that was available for me without having to believe in God. There was truth and understanding about people and how they treated each other in the stories it has, and there is history (I am a lifelong student of history) that is fascinating. It is very hard to argue, with all the archeological evidence and artifacts found over the centuries, that the bible is not an accurate historical document.

All of these things got me interested in the bible as a book. I read it as I would any other saga, and I recognized it as a history of the human experience.

But then the Word of God got into me. The bible does say, in Isaiah 55:11:

“…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

The purpose of God’s word is to save us from ourselves, and it did that for me. I didn’t understand a lot of it, and what really helped me was to get my hands on a special type of bible- a messianic one. Being Jewish, the New Covenant writings were an anathema to me- I had been told by every Jew I ever knew, even ones that didn’t know the first thing about the bible, that Jesus was a Jew that turned against Judaism and created Christianity (what a crock that is, but even today it is accepted by most Jews as the truth.) And, as a student of history, I knew how well Christianity had treated the Jewish people over the millennia, so (naturally) I had no interest in anything Christian. However, the messianic version bold-printed every New Covenant reference to the Tanakh, and when I saw, page after page after page, that most of everything in the New Covenant came directly from the Old Covenant, I realized that (you’ve heard me say this before) there is nothing “new” in the New Covenant. It is a Jewish book!

So, nu? Let’s read our audience and ask only the questions we already know the answers to: let’s sell salvation the right way. If you are finding that your efforts to interest non-Believers is not working , stop telling them what you think is important and ask them what they think is important.  People only want to know what interests them, so with all there is in the bible you just have to be able to find something that is relevant to their interests.

That is how you get people to read the bible, or (at least) know something about it that is accurate. Just help them to understand that the bible is not just for believers, it is for everyone. The stories are the best stories that have ever been told (isn’t the Gospel called “The Greatest Story Ever Told?”), the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs is easy to read and necessary for any and all aspects of life, the mitzvot regarding how to treat each other in a society are the foundation for most every civilized country in the world. The history is fascinating.

All of this is in there, and you don’t need to believe in God to enjoy and learn from it. Even within the bible there is a book that never once mentions God. Not a word about Him, not even His name, only a reference to His ability to achieve His goals (if you aren’t sure which book, it’s the Book of Esther {Hadassah}.)

People are afraid of the bible, and I don’t blame them-after all, it does tell us that if we reject God we go to hell. But, other than that, as a book it makes you think, it is a real “page-turner” (in most places- I will admit that the genealogies and the first 8 chapters or so of Numbers is a drag) and it can be read only a chapter or two a day.

Get people to see the bible as more than a religious book, teach them that there is more to the bible than God-related things, and get them just interested enough to read it. Even just one book, or a story. Get their face in the book, and leave the rest to the book.

Isaiah knew what he was talking about. All we need to do is get someone curious enough to read something in the bible.

If you can do just that one thing, God will take it from there.

Parashah Chayye Sarah (the Life of Sarah) Genesis 23 – 25:18

We start with the death of Sarah, and end with the deaths of Abraham and Ishmael. The main part of this parashah is how God led Eliezer to find Rivkah (Rebekah) for Yitzchak (Isaac) and we already get to see in Laban’s actions his treachery and greediness. He was attracted to the gold given to Rivkah, and he spoke in place of his father, even to allowing Rivkah to leave with Eliezer. Later we will see Laban’s greediness and treachery against Jacob, as he tricks Jacob into marrying Leah before Rachel, then changes the conditions of the bride price, over and over, for fourteen years.

This parashah also shows us that God will intervene in our lives, leading us to the proper people or places, when we ask Him to do so. It also shows how we still need to be cautious: Eliezer definitely showed faithfulness but still made sure he fulfilled his quest before partaking of food and rest. Even though it seemed pretty obvious that God had led him to the right place, he made sure. Not as a test of God, or as a lack of faith, but simply to make sure Rebekah was the one that God was leading him to find.

The enemy will intervene in our lives, also, and although he can’t overcome God’s will, he can certainly interfere with our will. Remember Eve? So when we faithfully ask God for guidance, and even when we are open to His leading us (through the Ruach HaKodesh, or Holy Spirit), we still need to be aware and alert.

In Matthew 10:16 Yeshua tells His Talmudim (Disciples) that He is sending them out and they should,”Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” We may be led by the Spirit, and even while we pray to God for help and guidance, the enemy is out there:  just like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, trying to trap us and changing road signs. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes, but gentle as doves- watch for treachery and be alert for detours that don’t seem to make sense.

It’s like I tell people day after day when we talk about cyber-security: if it looks even a little “off”, don’t trust it. If you are receiving an email from a bank telling you your account has been accessed, they don’t send it to “Dear Sir or Madam”, or “Dear Account Holder”. Think about it for a second- if you are being told that your account is in jeopardy, why don’t they address you by your name? After all, if they know your account, they should know your name, right?

Are you wondering,”If it seems to be so simple, why are people constantly hacked?” I’ll tell you why: it’s because they are too lazy to think. That’s really what it comes down to- those people who are the victims of a scam or who have their computers hacked into are almost always a victim because they allowed it to happen. They aren’t just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The reason they were hacked is because they clicked on the link, they opened the attachment, they did what the bad guys wanted them to do. And because they didn’t take the time to think about what they were doing, about what they were reading, or even about why they got this message, they trapped themselves.

Faith is not ignorance, belief is not blind, and being careful is not distrusting God. God is there helping you, especially when you ask Him to do so. And the enemy of God is out there, too, waiting for someone who mistakes faith for irresponsibility. That’s right- irresponsibility! If you ask God for anything, you are responsible to seek out His answer for you. Our God is a God of action, not a God of sitting around waiting for it to happen. When you pray for something, act like you have already received it, and when you think you have it,  make sure it is what you asked for. That’s faithfulness.

Eliezer asked God to lead him to the right wife for Yitzchak. God did, and Eliezer made double-sure that Rivkah was the one by retelling the story (notice there is a slight difference in how he tells it to Laban and the family, stressing how God is choosing Rivkah) and seeing if she was willing to go with him right away.  No waiting around, no taking his time. Eliezer didn’t think, “Well, that’s that. I’m off the hook, they have a lot of food and drink, and I can have a little time to myself now.”  He did what he was supposed to do, he verified that this was what God led him to, and he got back to where he belonged. Given the way Laban treated Jacob (which we will read about in the next few parashot), I wonder what would have happened if Eliezer had allowed Rebekah to stay there for another 10 days. Would it have turned to 20 days? Would it have been until all the goods and gifts Eliezer had with him had been expended? Who knows? One of the most valuable lessons you can learn when interpreting the Bible is that you cannot make an argument out of nothing. But, still…it’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?

Pray to God for guidance, for help, for healing, whatever- and make sure you seek it out. Just as Yeshua tells us in Mark 11:24, “Therefore, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours”; walk in faith, but stay alert for the enemy’s trickery to detour you away from your true destination.

Being faithful doesn’t mean being stupid; it means being wise, being alert, and being responsible. Trust in God, but still… watch where you step.