Parashah Sh’mot 2020 (the Names) Exodus 1 – 6:1

This second book of the Torah begins with the history of Moses. He was born at the time when the Pharaoh wanted all male children killed, but his mother hid him until he was three months old, then she sent him down the Nile trusting in God to save him. He was found by Pharaoh’s sister, who took pity on him and saved him from being drowned.

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Miriam was following her brother, who the Egyptian named “Moshe”, and offered to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the child, bringing him back to his own mother. She raised him as a Hebrew child until he was weaned (back in those days that could have been until he was a toddler), and then he was raised by the Egyptians as one of the royal family.

As an adult, one day Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and in anger, he killed the Egyptian. That became known and Moshe fled for his life, ending up in Midyan, marrying a Midianite woman and working for her father, a priest of Midyan.

When Moshe was 80 years old, he saw the burning bush and God told him to go lead the people out of Egypt. Moshe made any number of excuses, each of which God handled by giving him miraculous signs to perform, and eventually even allowing Aaron to act as the mouthpiece for Moshe. In the end, God had to order Moshe to go; yet, on the way, Moshe still did something that made God so angry he was going to kill him, but Zipporah saved him by circumcising Gershom, his oldest son.

Moshe comes to the people and shows them the signs, and they believe him. Then he and Aaron go to Pharaoh to ask to let the people go three days into the desert to worship Adonai, but Pharaoh refuses, and to make things worse, he orders that no straw be given the people but they must still make their quota of bricks, forcing them to work day and night, gathering stubble from the fields.

This parashah ends with Moshe asking God why he has made things worse, and God explains that this is so that he can now show all his wonders.

Of all the possible lessons, both historical and spiritual that can be found within this one parashah, I want to talk about something that is, essentially, social.

The reason the Israelites become enslaved was not due to riotous actions, rebellions, or anything criminal. It was that they were blessed by God and grew strong. Their numbers grew, and the absence of any reason to enslave them, other than what the Torah tells us, i.e. the fear of the Egyptian leadership that these people may one day turn against them, indicates that they were living peacefully and separate from the Egyptians. The Israelites did their thing, and the Egyptians did their thing, and neither bothered the other. In the end, it wasn’t what the Israelites did that caused them to become slaves, but what the Egyptians were afraid they might do.

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world, and since we know that God gives us blessings in order that we can share them, the blessings to the world were first found within Israel. And throughout history, every time Israel shares their blessings with others, it is turned against them.

In Egypt, they were enslaved for being prosperous. In Isaiah 39, we read that after Hezekiah shows the emissaries of the King of Babylon his riches, the king of Babylon decides to take them for himself. In Spain, the riches and business success of the Jewish population led to their persecution and exile during the Inquisition. Even the Pope at that time told Isabella not to exile the Jews because they were beneficial to the Spanish economy, but she refused to listen.

And we all know what happened in Germany.

Even today, many (if not most) of the technological and medical advancements that have benefitted the world came from Israel: did you know that Israel is the leading technological contributor to the world today? Yet, despite all the wonderful blessings Israel has given to the world, the world supports the enemies of Israel!

Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs!

God chose the descendants of Abraham, who the world knows as “the Jews” to be the way he, God, blesses the world. He has given us the gifts that have made the world better, but this blessing came with a curse: in a world that is sinful, egocentric and full of fear and jealousy, the gifts that the Jews share with the world have made them the targets of the world.

I have written before about the number of Nobel prizes given to Jews compared to the rest of the world. Currently, Jews represent .02% of the world’s population, which is 2 out of every 100 people. Yet, of all the Nobel prizes awarded, those won by Jews represent nearly 24% of all prizes, across the board.

Just as the King of Babylon wanted the riches that Hezekiah had, the world wants what God has given to the Jewish people. But, what the world doesn’t realize, is that these gifts from God are to be given to the world through the Jews. In other words, the Jewish people are the distribution means for God’s blessings; destroy the Jews, and there will be no more blessings.

God has certainly blessed us, but this blessing has also been the bane of our existence; God wants his people to bless the world, but in doing so the world has turned against his people.

Over and over we read in the Bible, and also see in human history, that the more the Jewish people bless the world, the more the world hates us. Even the greatest of all blessings, the Messiah, who came from the Jewish people, has been turned against us and under his name millions of Jews have been tortured, persecuted and murdered.

Yet, we persevere. God will never allow his people to disappear from the earth, and despite the terrible and unappreciative way the world treats us, we will continue to share our gifts and blessings with the world. Why? Because we fear God, and we want to do as God has told us to do.

When we obey God, he is on our side, and no matter what the world tries to do, we will NEVER be destroyed.

As Shaul said to the Jews in Rome (Romans 8:31): “…when God is with us, who can be against us?”

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Why Isn’t Simchat Torah in Nissan?

For those of you who may not be familiar with Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah), it is the holiday that comes on the 8th day after Sukkot.  On this day we all get together in the Synagogue and read the end portion of Deuteronomy, then as the congregation sings (and in some places will also have Davidic dancing, usually a Hora since everyone can dance the Hora) the Torah is rolled back to the very beginning, and after that is done the first portion of Genesis is read.

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I have been blessed in that many times I have helped to roll back the Torah, and believe-you-me if you want to have forearms that look like Popeye’s, you will get them when you roll back a heavy Torah. You have to be very, VERY careful because it is made of animal skin and tied with animal gut (Kosher animals, of course.) The cost of a Torah can be anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to well into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Torah is separated into 54 Parashot (portions), which are read on each Shabbat. In leap years they are read separately and in non-leap years sometimes two will be read at the same time, in order that at the end of the year, on Simchat Torah, every synagogue in the world will be reading the end of Deuteronomy and turning their Torah back to the beginning. Except for some synagogues which use a three-year cycle of reading instead of a one-year cycle: after all, we’re Jewish and it just wouldn’t be right if we all agreed on something.

BTW…I have written a book that is a commentary on each of the 54 Torah parashot, which can also be used for Bible study or even as fodder for a sermon. Here is a link to where you can buy it if you are interested (Parashot Drashim.)

In Leviticus 23:23 God says the first day of the 7th month is a day of remembrance, a day for blowing on the shofar and a day of complete rest. In Judaism, we say it is the first day of the Ten Days of Awe, during which we look, introspectively, to see how far short of the way God wants us to live we have been and thereby prepare our souls for Yom Kippur, the 10th day of this month when we come before God to ask for forgiveness of our sins over the past year.

If we consider that Rosh Hashanah is a new year celebration, it seems to make sense that the annual reading cycle of the Torah should be associated with it. But God said (Exodus 12:2) that the new year begins on the first day of Aviv (in Hebrew this means “Spring”), which has been renamed to Nissan. Therefore, if God says that is our new year, why isn’t Simchat Torah also celebrated at that time?

I don’t really know if anyone has the answer to that. From the little research I did, it seems that the three-year reading cycle was the norm in Israel until the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, taking many of the Babylonian influences with them, such as the names of the months and the annual reading cycle, which led to this holiday beginning sometime in the Second Millennia.

For me, it makes sense that Simchat Torah could be celebrated either at the beginning of the Holy Day cycle (before Passover) or at the end of the Holy Day cycle (Sh’mini Atzeret, the eighth day after Sukkot) because each is an annual cycle. The connection to Sh’mini Atzeret, though, makes more sense because that is after we have been cleansed of our sins and just finished an entire week living in Sukkot, to commemorate the way God took care of our ancestors and how they could commune with him because his presence was among them in their camp.

The Torah is more than a list of commandments; it tells us who God is. He reveals himself to Moses and, thereby, to us and that is why I think it is best celebrated after Sukkot. In Judaism, it is said that the reason God told us to have an eighth day added to Sukkot is that he so enjoyed being with his people for those 7 days that he added an additional day. And when we turn the Torah back to the beginning, it is like reliving that first kiss.

For me, that is the true joy we get from Simchat Torah -to get to know God all over again.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Yeshua: Rejected by Jews and Recreated by Christians

Pretty much everyone knows that when Yeshua walked the earth the Jewish population, for the most part, rejected him as the Messiah, although there were many who accepted him. After his resurrection, he was introduced to the Gentiles in the Middle East and Asia, and they much more readily accepted him as the son of God. By the end of the Third Century, the group called Christians far outnumbered the Jewish population, both in the land and within their own group and had separated themselves so much from how Jews lived and worshiped that they created an entirely new religion.

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By the end of the Second Millennia, Christianity had become so diversified that there are now dozens of Christian sects and religions, all purporting to worship the same God and believe Jesus Christ to be his son and the Messiah, yet their religious rites, doctrine and dogma are significantly different.

So, why do Jews, after all this time, still reject Jesus Christ as their Messiah?

The answer is simple, really: the guy that Christianity proposes to be the son of God and Messiah to the world not only has nothing to do with Judaism but has persecuted, murdered, and forced Jews to convert against their will since the 4th Century. PLUS…they have completely misconstrued and/or replaced what Yeshua taught when he walked the earth.

I mean, when you think about it, that’s a pretty good reason for Jews not wanting to have anything to do with this fair-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan You-Know-What who hates their guts.

Yeshua was, still is, and always will be Jewish. He is the Messiah who was promised to be sent to the Jewish people to bring them back into communion with God and lead them in their own country. He lived in accordance with the laws that God gave to the Jewish people (he had to- otherwise he would have been a sinner and as such, his sacrifice would not have been acceptable) and he taught others to do the same as he did.

“Wait a minute!”, you say, “If he taught the same things that the Jews already knew, why didn’t they believe him?”

That’s the problem, isn’t it? Why didn’t they believe him?

In my opinion, there are three reasons that the mainstream Jewish population has rejected Yeshua as their Messiah, despite his teachings and the miracles he performed. Two of them were present at the time he was actively teaching, and they were:

  1. The people were praying for a political Messiah, someone to free them from Roman rule and that was not why Yeshua came; and
  2. Jerusalem in the First Century had one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, political and social environment ever within the history of the Jewish people. The king wasn’t a son of David, the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) wasn’t a descendant of Aaron, and many of the members of the Sanhedrin throughout the land were political “hacks” and not truly Levites. The Pharisees and Sadducees, despite their differences, were a strong political and social power, and Yeshua’s teachings were exposing their hypocrisy and corruption. In essence, Yeshua’s influence on the people was a threat to the Jerusalem “Power Elite” and, as such, he had to be gotten rid of. The people would do what their leaders said to do, so they rejected him not on a personal basis, but as a result of being told that if they followed Yeshua they would be ostracized.

The third reason didn’t really come into play until nearly 60 years after his resurrection.

You see, as more and more Gentiles converted from their pagan religion to what was, essentially, Judaism, they had trouble making that paradigm shift from a religion centered on hedonistic pleasure to a religion centered on self-control, righteous living and respect for others. So, the original Disciples who were now the first leaders of the people who had accepted Yeshua were trying to make that conversion more palatable, if you will, by initially having only 4 requirements that had to be immediately followed (Acts 15.) The assumption was that the other instructions that are in the Torah, which is what Yeshua taught, would eventually be incorporated into their lives as they continued to practice Judaism.

And that’s where the whole thing fell apart.

You see, the Jewish population in the First Century was in rebellion against Roman rulership and were being politically persecuted. These neophyte Believers, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, were being persecuted by the mainstream Jews (under orders of the Power Elite) and the last thing they needed was the Romans on their backs, as well. So, what they did was separate themselves from the Jewish population to avoid Roman persecution.

Of course, that backfired because the Jews were allowed to worship their religion but Rome would not stand for any new religion forming in a land they ruled.

In order to separate from Judaism, these followers of “The Way” changed the Shabbat to Sunday, they did not continue to follow the Torah and even disowned their Jewish roots. After Emperor Constantine got involved (circa 325 AD), the people who professed to follow the teachings of Yeshua were a totally different religion than the one Yeshua taught about! Modern-day Christianity is what Constantine invented, as well as this guy Jesus Christ. Jesus is nothing like Yeshua, doesn’t worship God as Yeshua did, doesn’t teach what Yeshua taught, and hates Jews.

Can you see now why Jews rejected, and still do reject, Jesus Christ as their Savior?

So, nu? Now that we understand the problem, how do we solve it? I am sorry to say that I see no way for this problem to be resolved by human means. We can pray for individuals to find the truth about Yeshua, as I did, and for the Christian leadership to retrace their steps back to where the schism between Judaism and Christianity began, and heal that fissure so that we are all on the same path.

Yeah- like that’s gonna happen.

Those of us who know the truth about Yeshua have to be able to present him in a way that Jews will accept him, meaning teach what he taught and try to overcome the many centuries of wrongful teaching regarding Yeshua. We need to show Jews who Yeshua is, and help them to realize that Jesus Christ is NOT the one God sent or the one to believe in: they must know about Yeshua that he is the one to accept.

We also have to teach those practicing all forms of Christianity so they know that the Jesus Constantine created is not the Messiah God sent, and what they have been told Jesus Christ taught is not what Yeshua taught.

This will not happen easily or quickly and we will be fighting an uphill battle because, to be frank, Christianity is a lot easier than Judaism. Jews have the Torah commandments to live up to, but Christians are told Jesus died for their sins and as long as they are a “good person” they go to heaven. They don’t even care about the Acts 15 requirements anymore.

When Yeshua returns and God’s plan of salvation is completed, there won’t be different religions anymore: in truth, there won’t be any religions, only the one way of life that God gave us from the start. Judaism is called a religion, but that is not what God intended it to be: God gave us the instructions on how to worship him and how to live with each other in the Torah and he didn’t expect us to do anything else.

The Torah was never meant to be the rulebook for a religion, but to be the User Manual for how to live.

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Parashah Vayyechi 2020 (And he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Jacob and his entire family are now in Goshen, and Jacob lived there for another 17 years. Joseph is told that his father is ill and he brings his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim to Jacob so that they can be blessed by him.

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Jacob makes Joseph swear to bury him with his fathers, and tells Joseph that he (Jacob) is adopting Joseph’s sons as tribes of Israel under Joseph’s inheritance. After this, Jacob blesses the sons of Joseph and places the younger over the elder (just as had happened with him and his brother, Esau.) After this, he blesses all his sons (although some of what he said doesn’t sound much like a blessing) and dies.

Joseph tells his brothers, who were worried that with Jacob dead Joseph may still yet take vengeance on them, that what they designed for evil God turned into good, saving their lives and many others, so he will always take care of them.

The parashah ends, as does this first book of the Torah, with Joseph’s death.

And as we come to the end of a book of the Torah, we recite this saying:

Chazak! Chazak! V’nit Chazek!
(Strong, Strong, and let us be strengthened) 

 

When Jacob is blessing his sons, part of the blessing for Judah says (Genesis 49:10):

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, as long as men come to Shiloh; And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be. 

This verse has been considered for many centuries to mean that Judah will be in charge of the other tribes until such time as Shiloh comes, with “Shiloh” meaning the Messiah. This is a messianic interpretation that has been pretty much universally accepted by Christians and Messianic Jews, and pretty much universally rejected by mainstream Judaism.

I often use the 1965 Soncino edition of the Chumash, with commentary by Dr. J. H. Hertz, C.H. (the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire) as reference material for these messages.  His insight and understanding of the Jewish mindset, as well as his scholarly knowledge of the writings of many other Jewish scholars, has been exceptionally helpful in my understanding of the text of the Torah and its meaning.

However, when it comes to messianic interpretations used by Christianity, he was just as prejudiced against Christianity as any other Jew I ever knew while I was growing up in a Reform Jewish household, or have met during my lifetime.

Let me show you what I mean: here are some excerpts from his notes on the Book of Genesis.

Regarding the use of Shiloh as the Messiah:

Despite the fact that nowhere in scripture is that term applied to the Messiah, Christian theologians assume that Shiloh is a name of the founder of Christianity. In this sense, ‘Till Shiloh come’ is a favorite text of Christian missionaries in attempting to convert illiterate Jews or those ignorant of scripture.

As he further discusses Christian misinterpretation of the Tanakh for missionary use, he brings up Isaiah 53, and with reference to that says:

For eighteen hundred years Christian theologians have passionately maintained that it is a prophetic anticipation of the founder of their faith. 

In his commentary on Jacob’s blessings, Dr. Hertz said that when Jacob referenced Reuben’s sleeping with one of Jacob’s concubines (Genesis 44:4), he suddenly started to talk in the third person instead of the second person because the event was so loathful to him. Yet, when Dr. Hertz refers to Yeshua, he doesn’t even use his proper name.

How hateful must someone be to not even use the name “Jesus Christ” when talking about him?

And did you notice that he refers to Yeshua as the “founder of their faith”? How could such an intelligent and knowledgeable scholar of the Bible not know that Christianity, as it existed in his time, was nothing like what Yeshua taught, but (in truth) the real founder of that religion was Constantine?

The answer is simple: he was never taught the truth about Yeshua because the bigotry between Christians and Jews was so solidified that no one cared about the truth, and believed only what they had been taught growing up.

I was taught the same thing that Dr. Hertz was taught, that Jesus Christ was a Jew who rebelled against Judaism and created his own religion, which hated and killed Jews.  Actually, that reference would be a lot more accurate if we applied it to Martin Luther, but it is not at all accurate or true with regard to Yeshua.

I hate the hatred between Jews and Christians that has been developed over the Millennia, and as much as I try to expose the truth in this ministry of mine, it will never have an impact except, God willing, on a few people who may be exposed to my messages and books. And that is fine with me; in fact, if I can help just one Jewish person (Gentiles would be OK, too) during my entire life to come to know the truth about Yeshua, then it will be worthwhile work.

The animosity between Christians and Jews is two-sided, and built upon ignorance, which is the foundation stone of bigotry; I am sorry to say it will not be alleviated (apologies to Dr. Hertz) until Shiloh comes, again. Once Messiah Yeshua returns in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) and God’s plan will come to completion, then everyone will know the truth about who the Messiah really is, about who really created Christianity and that God really does exist and his word is absolutely truthful and trustworthy.

So, until that time arrives (which I believe is almost upon us), we will have to deal with defeating this age-old misunderstanding one person at a time.

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Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!

 

The Bible and Weight Watchers

I’ll just bet you are wondering how I can realistically put the Bible and Weight Watchers together.

It’s easy, but first a little personal history.

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I am 5’8″ tall, and somewhat muscular, so when I tell people what I weigh, I often get a surprised look, and am told, “You don’t look that heavy.”  Yet, I am. In 2010 I weighed almost 215 pounds and felt terrible about it. So, when a Weight Watchers representative started a weekly lunch meeting at work, I joined in. I was motivated to do their plan and about a year and a half later, I was down to my ideal weight of 175. That is when I felt I knew the program, knew pretty much how many points foods were worth and could stop paying the monthly fee for the phone app because I knew I could keep track of what I was eating on my own.

So I quit WW. And do you know what happened then? That’s right- I went back up. Not all the way back up, but up to about 205.

I have recently started NOOM, a different type of weight regimen that doesn’t just keep track of your food intake but helps you to understand the psychology of your desire to eat and gives you ways to change that behavior.  So far, after two weeks I have lost about 10 pounds, but I know (from experience) that the closer I get to my ideal weight, the longer it will take to lose those last few pounds.

“OK- thanks for all that personal info, Steve, but what does any of this have to do with the Bible?  Oh, wait- I get it! You are saying that because David says in Psalm 119:

          How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

and in Psalm 34:

          Taste and see that the LORD is good; 

that what you’re saying is the Bible is fattening!”

No, that is not what I mean.

The thing that makes Weight Watchers or NOOM, or for that matter, any regimen work is that it is not just something you do constantly but is something that you track constantly.

The Bible is not to be read once in a while but should be read every day. And you shouldn’t use one of those “Bible Verse per Day” calendars or notepads because that throws you all around the Bible and you do not get to see the continuity or the interrelationships within the Word of God. It is like reading a mystery novel starting at the beginning, then going to the middle, then near the end, then back to the beginning where you left off, to the middle, and so forth. No one reads a book like that, and even though the Bible books aren’t in perfect chronological order, you need to read it from Genesis through Revelation in the order that it is presented so that what you learn is contextually correct.

I consider it a real danger when people use these “verse a day” type of study guides: they teach single verses that are taken out of context and so you do not get a full understanding of what you are reading.

Learning God’s word is a regimen, a life-long regimen, and as such needs to be tracked and maintained. I read a couple of pages a day: I start at the start and go until I reach the end, then I turn it back to the start and start all over, again. Just like with NOOM, where I am keeping a record of what I eat to make sure I am staying on track to become more physically healthy, reading the Bible every day is how you stay on track to become more spiritually healthy.

Make reading the Bible -the whole Bible- part of your spiritual diet plan, and keep track of it every day. Make this a new, life-long regimen. They say that after doing something 21 times it becomes a habit, so starting today and for the rest of this month read a few pages a day, and by February you will start to see a spiritually healthier you.

And nothing is as attractive as someone who is spiritually healthy.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!