Parashah Mishaptim 2021 (Ordinances) Exodus 21 – 24

These ordinances are regarding slavery, accidental death caused by someone else, other torts, and reimbursement for different types of personal injury and loss.

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There are ordinances against witchcraft, sodomy, polytheism, and unfair treatment of people with financially less than yourself. We are also told about the treatment of people, in general, such as fairness in the courts, avoiding mob mentality (lynching), and respect for the property of others, even if they are your enemy.

The final ordinances are regarding the Shabbat and the pilgrimage festivals, and at the end of this parashah, we are told that Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law from God, and was there for 40 days and nights.

There are three different types of “laws” within the Torah: Mitzvot, Mishpatim, and Chukim.

The mitzvot are the laws that are plain to understand why we are given them, such as the law against murder.

The mishpatim, which we read in today’s parashah, can be understood to a point, but not all can be totally understood and some are considered to be Edot. For the most part, as we see today, they deal with laws that are more like misdemeanors and civil actions, such as torts, slavery, and social contracts.

The Chukim are those laws for which we have no idea why they exist. These include the rules about the showbread in the Sanctuary, the prohibition against wearing two types of cloth, and the Laws of Kashrut (Kosher.)

Over the past two-plus decades that I have known the Lord, accepted his Messiah, and studied his word, I have seen so many people try to explain why God gave us these rules. They say it is for health reasons, because the Hammurabi Laws already established them, because as a nation we now needed a constitution and penal code, and so on. These all may make sense and be valid, or they may just be someone’s imaginings, but here is what I say:

It doesn’t matter why God gave us these rules.

We have been given laws, ordinances, commandments, and rules regarding how we are to worship God and how we are to treat each other. There could be any number of reasons why God told us to do these specific things, but all we need to know is that he is God and he always wants what is best for us. We must trust that what he says we should do is the best way for us to act, and the best way for us to be able to be with God for all time in the hereafter.

I once read that any God who can be understood by the mind of man is not worthy of the worship of man. That being said, to try to understand why God gives us these laws is almost an insult to him, implying that we mere mortals, less than worms compared to God, could ever be on the same mental and spiritual plane that God is on.

Here is today’s simple, easy-to-understand message:

Stop trying to figure out why God does what he does
or says what he says!

You never will, and all you will end up doing is confusing yourself and possibly others. The only important thing to know about the rules we are told to obey that come from God is that they come from God, and if you can’t trust him enough to simply accept that and work within it, then you have issues of faith that you really need to work on.

Humans always want to understand the “why” of something, and I confess I am no different- my favorite TV shows are on the History and Discovery channels, especially “How It Works” and “How It’s Made”- I LOVE those shows!

The problem with us humans is that once we understand how something works, we think we are better than the one who first invented it! Oh, sure, I can take a car engine apart and put it back together, explaining how all the parts work, but I didn’t create it! I didn’t have that idea, that origination of thought that saw the internal combustion engine and was able to fathom how it works, designing the intricate parts and combining them in a way that made it function.

And when we try to understand why God says what he says, we are doing that same thing, which leads into the sin of thinking we are as good as God!

And you wanna know something? We aren’t!

So, if you are one of those who just have to know why God gave a specific instruction or regulation, please stop asking why and just accept that it is given for your benefit, to help you become more holy and to secure your salvation.

And, frankly, if that isn’t good enough for you, then you will just have to live with disappointment because you will never understand God, unless God, himself, tells you why.

And one last thing: if he does tell you why, keep it to yourself because I don’t want to understand why: I would rather obey from trust than from understanding.

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That’s it for today, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Beshallach 2021 (It came to pass) Exodus 13:17 – 17

The Israelites are free, and instead of taking the quickest route to Canaan, God has Moses lead them away from that route and places them between the Red Sea and the desert.

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Pharaoh, after having had time to reconsider, sends his entire army after the slaves. The people become afraid and cry to God while accusing Moses of bringing them into the desert to die. Moses calls out to God, who tells him to stop being afraid. God opens the Red Sea so that the Israelites can walk through the sea on dry ground, while the Egyptian army is held back by a pillar of fire.

After Israel was mostly through, the fire disappeared, allowing the chariots to go after the people. God caused the wheels to get stuck in the muddy ocean bed, and when Israel was through and the army in the midst of the sea, God closed the waters on them and the entire army of the Pharaoh was drowned.

The people came to a place called Marah (bitter) where the water was not potable, but God had Moses throw a certain tree into the water, and then it was safe. Next, after two months or so, the people complained about the lack of bread and meat and said they should never have left Egypt (this becomes the standard kvetch for them throughout their journey). God tells Moses that the people will have meat and that he will provide them bread, as well, and he sends manna and has millions of quails land, literally, at their feet.

Immediately, the people rebel against God’s commands, taking more manna than they needed (which turned to worms the next morning) and gathering on the Shabbat.

The people travel on, coming to a place where there was no water, and again they complain. God tells Moses to take the Elders and his rod, with which he will strike a rock and water will flow from that rock. Moses, in his anger, asks the Elders, “Do you expect me to bring water from this rock?” He then strikes the rock twice, after which water comes out.

But God is angry with Moses for not giving God the credit for the water, and this one sin is enough to prevent Moses, despite all he does for the 40 years he leads the people, from entering the Land.

This parashah ends with the battle against Amalek, who came out and attacked the weak and defenseless Israelites who were at the rear of the marchers. In this battle, Hur and Aaron held up Moses’ arms, for when his arms were upheld, the Israelites prevailed, but when his arms got tired and he dropped them, the Amalekites prevailed. After they are defeated by Israel, God states that he will blot out the remembrance of Amalek.

Before I talk about this parashah, I would like to share some interesting information about Amalek and the Torah. God says he will blot out the remembrance of Amalek, which happens in Deuteronomy 25:19, and to honor that mitzvah, when the Sofer (the scribe who writes the Torah) is testing the ink or the quill pen, he writes “Amalek” down on a piece of parchment and then crosses it out several times to perform the very thing God said would happen, namely that the name of Amalek will be blotted out.

What I find interesting every time I read this part of the Torah is that when the army of the Egyptians comes out to the Israelites, they immediately assume it is to kill them. Why would they think that?

The Pharaoh didn’t want to let them go because they were serving as slaves- if there were no Israelites, then the Egyptians would have to do all that work. And, if he killed them all, then the Egyptians would have to do all that work. The Israelites were essential to the Egyptian economy, especially now that Egypt’s economy has suffered destruction. So, if anything, Pharaoh wanted to recapture the people, not kill them, but the people all cried to Moses that it would have been better for them to die in Egypt.

This makes no sense until we consider the one most important condition of these people- they were faithless. Hundreds of years of slavery created a slave mindset in all of them, and as such, they were unsure of themselves and had no faith in God. Even after the plagues, their faith was so weak that with each new challenge, they immediately felt lost and doomed.

The sad thing is that nothing has changed in the 3500 years or so since then. And not just with Jews, but with all people.

I’ll bet that when you read Facebook posts, or Tweets, or whatever, you see so many people who only see the worst possible solution. And not just with non-Believers, but within the body of Messiah, as well. Too often people only see the dark, the doom, the worst-case scenario, and those people are the ones who are, not surprisingly, also the most depressed, fearful, and sad.

I believe there is so much anger, fear, and depression in society today because we have kicked God out of his rightful position as king and savior. We reject his authority as creator, we remove prayer from school, we kiss-up to the godless who want to destroy Israel so that we don’t offend them, and we not only condone, but support sinfulness within the society, from gender-related issues to the murder of children as they are ready to leave the womb.

Instead of a society that honors God and his Messiah, we are a society that sacrifices to Molech (abortion) and emulates Sodom and Gomorrah.

Our government, schools, and (consequently) our society has rejected God and he will, as he has done throughout history, eventually reject us. In truth, I believe God has already rejected the United States, and we can’t expect any more blessings from him.

Now, don’t accuse me of being faithless, because I am not seeing a worst-case scenario: I am making a judgment based on how we have treated God and what has happened throughout history, which we read in the Bible. When God is rejected he waits, patiently, for those rejecting him to repent, but at some point, only God knows when (no pun intended), he decides the waiting period is over and it is time for judgment. I believe that given the state of things in America right now, we are entering into the judgment we deserve.

We have gone out of our way to be politically correct by not offending people who are, by their actions, themselves an offense to God, so when we side with those who offend God, well…what do you expect to happen?

The narrative of the Israelites traveling through the desert is a perfect lesson for any society, and that lesson is when you are faithless, you will never be happy. The books of the Prophets, Chronicles, and Kings demonstrate that when we are faithful and show that faith through repentance and obedience (James says faith without works is dead), then we are blessed and the people are secure. But, when we are faithless and show that faithlessness through disobedience, we become mired down with problems that we cannot solve, become subject to others, and live in fear.

There is little that we can do to change an entire society, although one person can make a difference- what about Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Castro, to name a few. If you ask me, the reason they were so influential was that they used the fear and faithlessness of the people to create a new god for them, one that did what they wanted it to do instead of the One who tells us what we should do for him.

This is one of the biggest lies that modern religion tells its followers: “God will do so much for you because he loves you, just as you are.”

God WILL do so much for you, and God DOES love you, just as you are, but there are two sides to the covenants he made with us, and the other side is that God will do these things AFTER we demonstrate our faith in him through obedience.

Salvation is free for the asking, but blessings have to be earned, and (for the record) the gift of salvation won’t be taken away from you, but you can throw it away.

Work on having faith, even in the darkest places, and temper faith with a bit of reality. God is faithful, one thousand percent, but that faithfulness means not only can we count on him for salvation, but we can also count on him for judgment and punishment for our sins. Remember this lesson from the Bible: we will be forgiven on a spiritual plane, but sin always has consequences in the physical world.

Faith in God doesn’t prevent tsouris in life, it helps us to persevere through that tsouris fearlessly, without losing our joy.

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That’s it for now: L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Bo 2021 (Go) Exodus 10 – 13:16

As we continue with the plagues against Egypt, God sends locusts, three days of darkness, and the final and most terrible plague, the death of the firstborn.

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Before the angel of death passes, Pharaoh tells Moses that the next time Moses sees his face, he will die, and Moses says that is fine with him, but since Pharaoh has changed his mind all these times and still refuses to let the Israelites go, the final plague will be the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, from the lowliest animal to the son of the Pharaoh, himself.

God gives Moses the instructions regarding the lamb’s blood and how the Seder is to be performed. He tells Moses this is the first day of their year from now on, and that when they leave they are to ask for jewels and valuables from the Egyptians, who were more than happy to give so long as the people leave.

After the firstborn die, and Pharaoh tells Moses that all the people and all they have are to leave his land, God tells Moses that from now on every firstborn child or animal is to belong to God, as redemption for all the firstborn God took away from the Egyptians. Later we will see that this redemption was made through a tax.

I wanted to talk about how God kept his word to Moses when in Exodus 12:12 he said he would bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt, as well as Pharaoh, but as I read through the parashah something else “hit” me, so I will talk about that, but first, it is really interesting to see how God judged the false gods through the plagues.

Some of you may already know this, but I will present it quickly for those that aren’t familiar with the many gods the Egyptians have worshipped.

Egyptian godRealmPlague
Ra / AtumSunDarkness
OsirisAgricultureLocusts
SethStormsHail
GebSnakesMoses’ staff
ApisCattle / NileNile turns to blood
Cattle Blight
HequetFrog-headed goddessFrogs
Isisprotection from diseaseboils
AnubisUnderworld / deathdeath of the first born
PharaohDivinely empowered to protect and maintain orderAll the plagues

As you can see, these gods of the Egyptian polytheistic religion were, in one way or another, shown to be less powerful than the God of the Israelites.

That is interesting and of value for study, but there was something, as I mentioned earlier, that I find to be a spiritual message in what God told the Israelites to do, specifically regarding the feast of unleavened bread (Hag HaMatzot.)

As most of us know, chametz (leavening) represents sin and the feast of unleavened bread begins on the night of the Seder, lasting seven days. Seven, the number of completion, is also a special number with regards to the cleansing rituals which are described in Leviticus. When becoming unclean due to a discharge or after a woman’s’ time of Nidah (menstrual cycle) or after a skin disease clears up, the waiting period from the time of becoming unclean until being declared clean, after being inspected by the Cohen, is seven days.

I believe that God decreed Hag HaMatzot is to last seven days because it is representative of them being cleansed of the sin of Egypt that was on them all, for many of them had adopted the Egyptian lifestyle, diet, and even their religion. Now, this shouldn’t be a big surprise because they had been slaves for 400 years, but still and all, now they were being brought back into a relationship with the God of their Fathers, and he didn’t want any of the spiritual stench of slavery on them. By removing the chametz from their diet, they were undergoing both a physical and spiritual cleansing of the sin they had become accustomed to while in Egypt.

The Passover sacrifice is a thanksgiving sacrifice, not a sin sacrifice, and the purpose of this type of sacrifice is to bring us back into a relationship with God. The fasting of anything with chametz cleanses us, spiritually as well as physically, so that our communion can be complete.

Passover is coming around, again, and when you have your Seder and spend the next week eating matzabrie, matzo sandwiches, and other matzo recipes (my favorite is matzo with butter and salt), remember that you are not just obeying God, but you are cleansing yourself of both physical and spiritual chametz.

One last thought: generally, before the Seder, the Rabbi will inspect the home to ensure that all the chametz is removed, which reminds me of the Cohen’s inspection before someone was allowed back into the camp.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah V’ayra 2021 (And I appeared) Exodus 6:2 – 9

We now come to the time of judgment on Pharaoh and Egypt, which God pronounced and performed through the 10 Plagues.

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At first, God allowed Pharaoh to see his power with Moses’ staff turning into a snake, which the magicians of Egypt easily mimicked with their Black Magic. However, Moses’ snake ate their snakes, to show that they may be able to copy God’s power, but he is the most powerful.

As Pharaoh continues to refuse to allow the Israelites to sacrifice, God sends his plagues, each one becoming more severe than the one before it, not just testing the obstinacy of the pharaoh, but to show his authority and power over their gods.

First, the Nile turns to blood. Then the frogs, followed by gnats. With this third plague, the magicians are stumped, unable to create or stop it, and they now go to Pharaoh, convinced that God is superior and they tell him so.

With the fourth plague of flies, not only does God show his authority and power, but he ramps it up a bit, now separating his people in Goshen from the Egyptians, demonstrating without doubt that they are his chosen people and he can protect them. Next, the cattle of the Egyptians (but not of the Israelites) are stricken with disease and they all die.

The next two plagues, boils and hail that turns into fire, have destroyed not just cattle and people, but the crops of the Egyptians, as well.

You’ve got to ask, what the heck is wrong with the Pharaoh? I mean, really? His stubbornness has caused the people to suffer more than all the suffering they had ever undergone, and yet he doesn’t let the Israelites go. How could he be so cruel to his own people? Why didn’t he submit to the power of this remarkably powerful God?

Perhaps for the same reason that so many people do not submit to God, even to this day: they just don’t want to change what they have, or what they think they have.

Let’s take Pharaoh’s side for a moment: for generations, the Pharaoh was raised being told that he was a god. Although he never showed any magical or divine powers, he was convinced he was a god; and the people? Well, they were there to serve him. Let’s not forget that they were also his slaves. Remember how when Joseph was in charge, and the people were buying the stored grain during the 7-year famine? When they first ran out of money, they traded their cattle for grain, then their homes, their land, and in the end they became indentured to Pharaoh. There is nothing in the Torah to indicate that between the Pharaoh of Joseph and the Pharaoh of Moses that this condition changed. So, as far as Pharaoh was concerned, although you would think he should care about his people, again, his whole life they were nothing more than property to him.

Pharaoh was shown all the wonders of the power of God, and also that Moses was God’s representative, so as a politician, leader, and just someone with enough sechel (Hebrew for common sense) to see what was happening, he should have relented and let the people go, as Moses asked, three days into the desert to worship.

Now, here’s a question for you… did God cheat the Pharaoh?

Moses asked Pharaoh to allow the people to go three days into the desert to worship God (Exodus 8:23); Moses didn’t ask Pharaoh to release the people forever, he just said let us go into the desert to worship our God. All the way back in Exodus 4:1, all that Moses asked was to let the people go to the desert to hold a feast unto God. Even later, after the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh relents and says take everyone and everything to go worship God, but he never says don’t come back.

God never told Moses to ask that Pharaoh let the people go, forever.

But, from the very moment God chose Moses, he already planned to release the people forever, so why didn’t he send Moses to tell Pharaoh that he had to free the slaves? Moses never asked for freedom, just to be allowed to go into the desert to worship.

But it seems that Pharaoh knew their plan was to escape, and I say this because, after the flies, he says they can sacrifice, but only in the land of Egypt, and then when Moses says that isn’t good, Pharaoh says go, but not too far.

Later, in the following parashot, Pharaoh tries to negotiate with Moses, saying to go worship but leave the children, then to take the children but leave the cattle, so it seems to me that somewhere Pharaoh got the idea that once they were gone, they weren’t coming back.

I mean, who would want to go back to a life of cruel slavery, right?

But my point is, when all was said and done, God never had Moses say let my people go, forever, and I don’t see anywhere that Moses even implied the people would never come back.

I don’t know what this means if it even means anything. Again, it seems that God cheated Pharaoh, having Moses ask to allow them to go three days into the desert to worship, but never saying they wouldn’t come back. Why didn’t God have Moses, right from the git-go, tell Pharaoh, “Look- I’m God, I’m all-powerful, and these are my people. You’ve had them long enough, so let them go so I can fulfill my promise to their ancestors.”?

That would have been straight forward, completely truthful, and I think still would have allowed God the opportunity to kick Pharaoh’s butt because when given that demand, I can easily see Pharaoh replying with, “No way, Pal!”

So, nu? I have a question that I can’t answer; yet, maybe you can? Do you have any idea why God would not tell Pharaoh, straight-out, that he had to release the Israelites forever so that God could fulfill his promises to them?

Perhaps as we continue to read about this event we will receive some revelation to lead us to understanding why God handled things in this way.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Sh’mot 2021 (The names) Exodus 1 – 6:1

We now come to one of the most well-known biblical tales, known even to those who aren’t of the Judeo-Christian faiths: the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, brought about by God working his miracles through Moses and Aaron against the kingdom and gods of Egypt.

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In this parashah, which is quite a long one, we start with the names of those children of Israel who went into Egypt. Joseph has died and over the next couple of hundred years (remember that in Genesis 15:13 God told Abraham his descendants would be in a foreign land for 400 years) the Israelites blossom from a large family into a nation, and the Pharaoh in power did not remember Joseph. All he saw was a mighty nation living in his land and the potential danger to his rule. So, in order to protect his rulership, he enslaved the people and worked them mercilessly. However, even under the harshness of Egyptian slavery, the population grew, so Pharaoh ordered the Israelite midwives to kill all the male children but leave the females alive. The midwives disobeyed, so Pharaoh then ordered his own people to kill any new-born male Israelite children.

During this time, Moses is born and hidden, and after three months the child couldn’t be hidden anymore, so his mother placed him in a waterproof basket and sent him down the Nile (or up the Nile, as the case may be), leaving his future in God’s hands. The daughter of Pharaoh sees the basket and knows the child is an Israelite but raises him as her own son. Miriam, Moses’s older sister, had followed the basket and was wise enough to offer to have one of the Israelite women nurse the baby, which Pharaoh’s daughter agreed to. Once weaned, which was probably at about 4 years of age, Moses was raised in the household of the Pharaoh, but he knew who he was and who his people were.

One day when Moses was a full-grown man, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite, and his anger flared up within him. He killed the Egyptian and hid the body, thinking no one would ever know, but the very next day he saw two Israelites fighting and tried to stop them. One of them asked who did Moses think he was judging them, and would he kill one of them as he did the Egyptian?

Realizing that the murder was known, and knowing that sooner or later he would have to be tried and killed for the crime, he fled to Midian.

There he helped the daughters of the Chief, or Priest of Midian when they were accosted at a well, and in return, the chief gave one of his daughters to Moses in marriage. Moses stayed there, as a shepherd, until he was 80 years old, which is when he saw the burning bush.

Of course, we all know the story from here- Moses approaches the bush, God speaks to him and tells him to go to Egypt to free his people. Moses hems and haws until God pretty much says, “Enough!” God sends Aaron to help Moses by acting as his mouthpiece, and when they first approach Pharaoh and ask that he let the people go to worship their God, Pharaoh refuses; as punishment for even asking, he adds to the harshness of their slavery by requiring the same tally of bricks, but doesn’t supply the straw. That meant that the people had to glean straw all night, even though they have worked sunup to sunset.
Moses and Aaron, who were welcomed by the Israelites when they came saying God had sent them to free the people, now are hated and blamed for the additional problems. Moses asks God why he hasn’t done what he said he would do, and free the people, but God says that now Moses will see his wonders at work.

OMG!!! Where do I start? How do I stop?

Let’s do this, first: a point of interest. When we read this, God not only tells Moses he will work wonders but also tells Moses that he will kill the firstborn of the Pharaoh (Exodus 4:23), so Moses knows what the endgame play will be, before the game even starts.

What I want to do today is open a can of worms by discussing the name of God, which we are given, by God, himself, in Exodus 3:14. And I call this a can of worms because of the divisive and eternal argument within the Believing communities as to how to pronounce God’s name, the Tetragrammaton, which is יהוה, the Hebrew letters Y-H-V-H.

In the Torah, God doesn’t answer Moses’ question with the Tetragrammaton but instead says this:

And God said unto Moses: “I am that I am”; and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I am hath sent you.”

So why, if God’s name is Y-H-V-H, didn’t he tell Moses that was his name?

The answer is what I have been trying to tell people for years, which is the very crux of the problem with the “Holy Namers”: the use of the word “name” in ancient days didn’t just mean what someone was called, but who and what they were.

The Chumash explains it this way (this is from the Soncino 1965 Second Edition, and is not a quote): when Moses asked “מה שמו?” (What name?), it wasn’t an inquiry for knowing what God is called because the people must have already known what God was called. When Moses proclaimed that he was sent by the God of their fathers, it is unthinkable that this would be some unknown God. In those days, “name” meant fame or reputation. And in Exodus 9:16, it is used to indicate that God’s name represents his power.

So, from God’s view, what his name is, as in first or last name, is less important than what his reputation and fame are to those whom he wants to know about him. God is telling Moses, who wants to know what to call him, that what to call him isn’t important. What is important is that he is who he is: this is a statement not of personal identity but of eternal nature and omnipotence.

God wants not just the Israelites, but Pharaoh and the whole world to know that he IS. And you might ask, “‘What is ‘IS“?” It means he is whatever he needs to be, whenever or wherever he needs or wants to be. He is eternal, he is all-powerful, and he is able to do whatever needs to be done.

He is THE God; the only God, the one, true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator, the King, the Father, the Judge, the Executioner, the Savior…you name it, and God IS.

In other words, I am that I am, which is everything to everyone, all the time, forever and ever. Amen!

So, when people argue about how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton and accuse you of praying to Ba’al if you use the word “Lord”, or that you pray to idols when you use the word “God”, you can ignore them. They are too prideful to think they could be wrong and too stubborn to hear the truth. But you never know- you could meet an exception- so I would suggest you test the waters by asking them, “Would you like to know which name God, himself, told us he wants us to know him by?” And if they answer they would, then quote them Exodus 3:14, and hopefully, they will learn something.

The traditional names for God that Jews have used for millennia are God, Lord, Adonai, and HaShem (the Name); these are what we call God and we do not ever try to pronounce the Hebrew word Y-H-V-H simply out of respect for him. Christians do not understand this and misinterpret the use of the term “call on his name” or “the name of the Lord” because they do not know the Torah, so they do not know that God, himself, doesn’t care about the Tetragrammaton. He is more concerned with our knowing who he is than what to call him.

So don’t be like the ignorant who concentrate their time and energy trying to call God by his first name, as it were, because God doesn’t care about that. The Holy Name controversy has done NOTHING to edify or help people come closer to God, but it has been a divisive and hateful point of contention within the body of Believers. It has served no useful purpose with regard to salvation but has been very helpful to the Enemy, in that it divides and separates the people of God.

God tells us what is important to him in the Torah, in Genesis 15:16 where we are told that because Abraham believed him, his faithfulness was credited as righteousness to him. Abraham was faithful and thus righteous, and there is no mention of which name Abraham called God.

We are saved by faith, not by pronunciation, so know who God is, know what God can do, and know what God wants from you: that is all you need to know. That, along with accepting that Yeshua is the Messiah God promised to send and through his sacrifice, our sins can be forgiven. If you know that, you are set.

That’s really all you need to know, but you should continue to study so you and grow in spiritual strength and maturity and can be a good example to the world of God’s peace, the joy you receive through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), God’s overwhelming love, and (of course) his salvation through Messiah Yeshua. Also, we can demonstrate God’s power to change us, for the better.

All the self-help books and seminars in the world don’t really change anyone- almost all of them eventually go back to who they were and what they were doing, which is why that drek keeps selling. It’s like fad diets- they work for a while, then people go back to what they were.

But with God, once changed by his spirit, almost everyone stays changed- that is who HE is! He has the power to make effective and lasting change; in fact, he is the only one who can make an eternal change.

He is that he is, and that is how he wants us to know him.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, share these messages with everyone you know, and I always welcome your comments.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Vayyechi 2021 (And he lived) Genesis 48:28 – 50:26

In these final chapters to the Book of Genesis, Jacob dies at a ripe old age of 147. But before dying, he blesses the children of Joseph, placing his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two, and telling Joseph that he is doing this on purpose, because the younger will be greater than the older.

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Jacob also gives a specific blessing to each of his children, renouncing Reuben for having slept with his father’s concubine, telling Levi and Simeon that their anger and violence was a sin (when they slew all the men of Shechem), telling Judah that he would be prince among the tribes and rule over them until the coming of Shiloh, which is generally considered to mean the Messiah (not all Jewish commentators agree that this is a messianic prophecy), and establishing what will become the identifying traits of the other sons.

He makes them swear to bury him in the cave at Machpelah, where his father and grandfather are buried, along with their wives. He then dies, is embalmed, and carried to the cave along with a giant retinue, and the whole country mourns for him.

When all are back in Goshen, the brothers of Joseph are concerned that now, with his father dead, Joseph might take revenge on them and they approach him promising to be his slaves, but he tells them that what they intended for evil, God turned to good so that many lives could be saved. Joseph promises his brothers to take care of them and their little ones. He tells them that one day God will bring them all back to their homeland, the land God gave to Abraham and makes them swear that when that day comes, they will carry his bones out of Egypt.

The book ends with the death of Joseph at 110 years of age.

חזק חזק ונית חזק!

(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)

For me, one of the most meaningful messages for us from the story of Joseph is how God has a plan, for every one of us, but we never really know what it is until it happens.

I am pretty sure that when Joseph was thrown in the pit by his brothers, he wasn’t looking forward to the future, but was wondering if he would even have a future! Yet, he managed to end up as the second most powerful man in the known world and in a position to save God’s chosen people from extinction.

I find it interesting (because I don’t really believe in coincidence) that we are coming to the end of this story just as we are entering a new year. For just as Joseph didn’t know what plan God had for him until it happened, coming through this past year we all are somewhat concerned about what the future holds. Normally, we look forward to the new year, but right now I think most people aren’t looking forward to the new year as much as they are looking forward to ending the one we just came through!

So what does Joseph’s story have for us today? Simply this: we don’t know what God is planning for us, and we don’t know when it will come about, and we don’t even know if it will be easier or if we still have more fire to pass through. But, what we do know, what we can learn from Joseph, is that so long as we maintain our faith in God, which we demonstrate through obedience to his instructions, and trust that he is working all things for our good, eventually, then we will come out of this tsouris better than when we went into it.

Personally, I believe this horrible year is just the start. We have, as a country, kicked God out of nearly everything important, from our system of justice, to our schools, and even from society, in general. We are more concerned about offending sinful people and those who want to kill us than we are about offending God! And sooner or later, as we see throughout the Tanakh, when we reject God he will reject us. And for those who are still righteously faithful and God-fearing, we also see throughout the Tanakh how the innocent become collateral damage when the sinful leaders must be punished.

So, let us hope I am wrong and that we are coming out of the fire, cleansed of dross and purer than when this year started.

As we leave 2020 behind, pray that the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, the opening to a new and better place, and not actually an express train barreling down on us.

Thank you for being here and please share these messages to help this ministry grow, subscribe here and on my YouTube channel (use the link above), and remember that I always welcome your comments.

For those who celebrate the New Year, may it bring you joy and blessings.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Vayyiggsh 2020 (He came near) Genesis 44:18 – 48:27

When we left the last parashah, Benjamin had been found guilty of stealing the cup from Joseph, and the brothers followed Benjamin, under arrest by Joseph, back to Joseph’s house.

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Now, Judah comes before Joseph and relates how important Benjamin is to Israel and that if he doesn’t return, his father will likely die of a broken heart, having already lost his favorite son earlier. Judah says that he guaranteed the safety of Benjamin and begs Joseph to take himself as the bondsman, allowing the boy to return to his father. for there is no way that Judah could return to Israel without Benjamin to watch his father suffer.

At this final show of concern and self-sacrifice, Joseph is no longer able to contain himself and after having the Egyptians leave him alone with his brothers, he reveals himself to them. After a moment of complete surprise and disbelief in what they heard, they do recognize Joseph, who tells them not to be afraid or angry at themselves for what they did to him because it was really God directing their actions so that Joseph could come to the position he is in, now. He tells them to bring his father and all their belongings to Egypt because the famine will go on for another 5 years.

Pharaoh is told that Joseph’s family is coming, and after they meet with Pharaoh he gives them the best pasture land in the country, the land of Goshen.

We are now told the lineage of the 12 tribes up to that point so that we know the total number of people in Israel’s family that entered Egypt. At the end of this reading we learn how Joseph was able to make Pharaoh not just ruler, but the owner of all of Egypt- the land, the people, and all they owned by having the people trade their property, possessions, and eventually themselves to Pharaoh in exchange for grain when they were completely out of money. Thanks to Joseph, the land of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh, and all the people were sharecroppers.

To me, one lesson from this parashah is obvious: God has a plan, and whether we have a life of joy and peace or one with suffering and abandonment, it is all for a reason. Joseph went from favored son to slave, wrongfully accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned unjustly, but later raised to such a high standing in the land that he was revered and admired by all.

And why Joseph? What did he do that was so great? In truth, he was a little snitch, reporting on his brothers to their father and getting them in trouble, then being so naïve (or was it prideful?) to tell them that they will one day bow down to him? Really? These are the acts of a wonderful leader?

No, of course, they aren’t. Perhaps that is why Joseph had to suffer as he did, not as punishment but to smelt away the dross so that the pure gold could come out. The one thing that was great about Joseph, pretty much from the moment he was enslaved, was his faith in God and his honesty. He showed merit and moral strength, and later he came to understand (as he told his brothers) that what they did for evil, God turned to good.

Much of the world is celebrating a holiday today that is designed to give glory to God and thanks for sending the Messiah. There are those who feel that this holiday is sinful because of the date we celebrate it, which used to be a pagan holiday. Be that as it may, it is never wrong to give thanks to God.

This is supposed to be a happy time of the year, with all people desiring peace, goodwill towards others, and joy. However, many people are depressed and saddened because they don’t have family, or can’t afford to buy presents, and some have a diagnosable seasonal disorder that brings on feelings of depression and gloom.

Suicides are usually higher during this holiday season than at any other time of the year!

I believe the reason is a lack of faith. Even those who profess to believe in God and the Messiah feel depressed because of their worldly situation. This year, 2020, has seen the past 9 months with the world in turmoil and fear from the COVID-19 virus epidemic, and some states in the U.S. have actually outlawed Christmas, in a way, by ordering people to stay in their homes and gatherings to be limited in number.

Just like Joseph, we are enslaved unfairly and in prison, feeling alone and abandoned. That is why we need to take this other lesson from the parashah: God is in charge, and even though we can’t see why this tsouris is happening, we must maintain our faith and continue through with the moral dignity, honesty, compassion for others, and fearlessness that Joseph showed until we are released from this situation.

The bad news is that we may not find that release soon, or it might even get worse. We may be “COVID-ed” for the rest of our lives, having to wear masks everywhere and not being allowed to have a party or go to an event if there are more than 10 people there.

But I don’t think that will happen: I believe that this coming year, 2021, will see more freedom to socialize. Not because COVID will be cured (the truth is it will never go away), and not because people will get fed-up with all the drek and mismanagement of the pandemic, which they pretty much are, already, but simply because nothing of this world lasts forever. The political party that will be in charge will have to do something to bring the economy back and relieve the tension felt throughout the country, and that is when we will all sit back and say, “Remember when we had to…”

Maintain faith in the face of adversity and trust that God will bring you through it, and in the meantime, even though we are up to our mouths in muck and mire, we must keep ourselves honest in all we do.

One last lesson from Joseph is that no matter where we are, or what is happening to us, or how long we suffer tsouris in our lives, we must always strive to be who God wants us to be, which may not be visible until after the dross is washed away.

Thank you for being here, please subscribe and share these messages. For those celebrating this holiday season, may you be blessed with the peace and joy that God has for all those who glorify and honor his name and the name of Yeshua ha Maschiach.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Mikketz 2020 (It came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

Joseph is still in jail, and it has been two years since the Cupbearer to the Pharaoh was returned to his station, as Joseph had told him when he interpreted the man’s dream.

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At this time, Pharaoh has two separate dreams, and no one in the kingdom can interpret them, when suddenly (or should we say, finally?) the Cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about him. Pharaoh calls for Joseph, who properly interprets the dreams about the 7 cows and the 7 ears of corn.

Pharaoh is so impressed he promotes Joseph from prisoner to Grand Vizier and places him in charge of storing grain for the next 7 years while the crops are successful. Joseph is also given a wife who bears him two children, Manasseh and Ephraim.

As the famine comes, Jacob (also called Israel) sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph but doesn’t allow Benjamin to go. As the brothers come to Joseph they don’t recognize him, but Joseph knows them.

The rest of this parashah is about how Joseph tests the brothers to see if they are still quarreling and jealous by accusing them of being spies, releasing them with grain, so they don’t die, but keeping Simeon as a hostage until they bring Benjamin to prove their story.

The brothers tell Jacob what happened, but he refuses to allow Benjamin to go down with them to get Simeon released. Eventually, they need more food and reluctantly, only after Judah guarantees the boy’s safety, does Jacob allow Benjamin to go down with the brothers to get more food.

Joseph continues to test them, and after treating them all to lunch, sends them on their way but plants his goblet in Benjamin’s pack so that after overtaking them, he can accuse Benjamin of stealing.

The parashah ends with Joseph telling the brothers they can go home, but Benjamin must stay as his slave for life.

There are two passages in this parashah that I want to discuss with you today, and they are found in Genesis 42:21 and Genesis 44:16:

42:21They said to each other, “We are in fact guilty concerning our brother. He was in distress and pleaded with us; we saw it and wouldn’t listen. That’s why this distress has come upon us now.”

44:16: Y’hudah said, “There’s nothing we can say to my lord! How can we speak? There’s no way we can clear ourselves! God has revealed your servants’ guilt; so here we are, my lord’s slaves – both we and also the one in whose possession the cup was found.”

The first statement was between all the brothers when they were in jail during their first visit, and the second statement was after they had told Joseph (in their absolute certainty of their innocence) if anyone is found with his goblet, that one will be killed and the rest of them will be his slaves for life.

What both of these statements have in common, besides having been heard by Joseph (while the brothers didn’t know he understood them) is that they represent recognition of the sin they committed against Joseph many years ago and that the consequences of that sin have now come back to bite them in the tuchas.

The lesson today is simple: there are no free lunches. Just because through Messiah Yeshua’s sacrifice we can be freed from the eternal consequence of our sin, in the real world we can never escape those consequences. They may come immediately, or maybe (as with Joseph’s brothers) not for many years, but sooner or later, they will come.

What this means for us is that despite being a believer in Messiah Yeshua and a faithful worshiper of God, when we screw up we will pay for it here on earth. Sin is a horrible thing; like yeast, it spreads and affects much more than just what it initially touches. And in many cases, innocent loved ones are collateral damage of the sins we commit.

David sinned against Uriah and the consequences of that sin came many months later when the child conceived by that sin was killed.

Eli sinned by allowing his sons to be sinful, and after years of this not only did they die in battle, but when he heard of it, Eli fell off his stool and broke his neck. Meanwhile, the Ark of the Covenant was in enemy hands!

Look at how many times, in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the sins of the leaders caused so many innocent people to suffer and die.

We all sin, we are born into sin with the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination), and iniquity (the desire to sin) is part of our very DNA. If anyone could ever live a sinless life, then the Messiah died for no reason because if any one human being can live without ever sinning, then every human being can live without ever sinning. And if no one is sinning, we don’t need forgiveness through a Messiah.

But, of course, no one can live without sinning and that is why we DO need the Messiah.

Moving forward, the good news is that although we will sin, we can be eternally forgiven of that sin; the bad news is that we will still have to live with the consequences of it while we are alive. So, try your best not to sin. And if you are thinking:
DUH! Gee, thanks, Steve, what a revelation: try not to sin. Lot of good that will do us!”
I do have a recommended way to sin less: pray for forgiveness every day, pray that God will guide and strengthen you through his Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) every day, give thanks every day, and remember all the times people misjudged you for no good reason before you judge anyone else.

Oh, yes, and one more thing, probably the most important one: forgive those who wrong you and do not return their evil with more evil. Trust in God to dispense justice because even if someone seems to be getting away with it here on earth, they won’t escape the consequences of their actions when they come before his throne…and we all WILL come before his throne.

Thank God he has provided the Messiah so that when we come before the Throne of Judgment he will be our Defense Attorney.

And what’s really great is that he’s a Jewish lawyer!

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah V’Yishlach 2020 (And he sent) Genesis 32:4 – 36

In last week’s reading, Jacob was on his way back to his father’s land and heard that Esau was coming to meet him, with 400 men. That didn’t sound good to Jacob- not good, at all!

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So Jacob comes up with a plan: He will appease Esau by sending ahead of himself a large gift, a little at a time, and also split his camp into two, so that in case one is destroyed, the other may survive.

After his group crosses a fork in the Jordan River, with Jacob remaining behind to ensure all have gotten across safely, at night a man comes and wrestles with Jacob throughout the evening, without success in overcoming him. While Jacob has control, in a desperate attempt to get free, the man causes Jacob’s hip to be damaged, but Jacob holds tight until the man asks to be let go because the morning is coming. Jacob refuses to accept the surrender until the man, who Jacob recognizes now as an angelic being, gives him a blessing. The angel gives Jacob a new name, Israel.

Jacob, limping from his injury, crosses the Jabbok River and joins the camps.

When Esau and Jacob meet, Esau is glad to see his brother, embraces and kisses him, and says he doesn’t require the gifts, but after Jacob insists, he takes them. Jacob introduces his family, and when Esau asks Jacob to go with him, Jacob politely begs off, giving the excuse that he needs to take the animals at a slow pace, as well as the young children in the camp. Jacob then settles in what is today called Shechem.

While settled there, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, goes for a walk by herself in the countryside and is raped by the son of the leader of Shechem. The man falls in love with her and asks what bride price Jacob would want in order that the man can marry her. The sons of Jacob, Levi and Simeon (who the Chumash says were the brothers of Dinah from the same mother) state that all the men in the city must be circumcised in order for their sister to be part of that society. When the men agree to this, thinking more of being able to gain the riches of the family then doing the right thing, on the third day after the procedure, which is (supposedly) the most painful day, the brothers and their servants ransack the town and kill all the men, taking their sister back home with them. Jacob chides them for making his family a target for retribution, and after God advises him to go to Beth-El, Jacob moves his camp there. God protects them on the way so they aren’t harassed by any of the other people in that area.

Along the way to Beth-El, Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob is approached by God, who confirms his promise to Jacob to give all the land to Jacob’s descendants, who will be a nation of kings.

The parashah ends with the lineage of Esau.

The Chumash comments that the name change from Jacob, which means one who supplants through guile, to Israel, one who has wrestled with God and succeeded, really indicates that Jacob had a spiritual metamorphosis.

Maimonides says that this was a prophetic vision, and other commentators have believed this contest to be symbolic: the struggle within each of us between our baser passions and nobler ideals. It seems to me, though, this had to be more than symbolic because there was a name change and Jacob did receive physical damage.

In any event, the name change was confirmed by God, and Jacob’s actions after this do represent a change of heart.

With Esau Jacob took advantage, and while with Laban, he took advantage, but now, as Israel, he condemns his sons for their violence and anger with regard to what they did to the men of Shechem (this is especially evident in the blessings he gives before his death.) As one who supplants, Jacob would have congratulated his sons for their guile, but he does the opposite, which shows the change of heart he has undergone.

Jacob used guile and his wits before he wrestled with the angel in that he sent the gifts to Esau, but after he sent his camp across the river he was alone in the dark, fearful and concerned, and he prayed to God for help and protection. Jacob figured to get out of trouble by sending gifts, but now he is out of ideas and has no more tricks, and finally looks solely to God for help.

Here we see the change from depending on himself to depending on God.

This is the change we must all make within ourselves. When we stop depending on ourselves or others and look totally to God, we will be winners.

This doesn’t mean to sit back and wait for God to do everything for us. Jacob didn’t do that- after he prayed for protection, he demonstrated his trust in God by continuing to meet his brother. Letting God be in charge doesn’t mean becoming idle; our God is a God of action, not of sitting around waiting for things to happen, and after we look to him for help and guidance we must then get off our tuchas and do whatever it is we have to do, trusting that God will see us through it.

And he will see us through it, or he might, if we are on the wrong path, prevent us from making things worse for ourselves. Sometimes God clears the way, and other times he will place thorns and briers in your path to redirect you. It is up to us to always be aware of what we are doing and to be open to God’s guidance.

The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, is the best guide anyone can have, and when we accept Yeshua as our Messiah and ask for the gift of the Ruach, we will receive it. But, again, it is up to us to listen to it.

Jacob was scared for himself and his loved ones, and in his solitude wrestled with what to do, finally coming to the conclusion that he needed to trust God to protect him. The Torah says he wrestled with an angel, but maybe he really was wrestling with himself- the old image of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

Even though we are told that Jacob defeated the angel, in the long run Jacob (the one who supplants) surrendered to God’s will and became Israel, the Prince of God.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah V’yetze 2020 (And he went out) Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

(Still waiting for my new webcam so no video message today)

In this reading we have the story of Jacob coming to his uncle, Laban, and of how he agreed to work 7 years to marry Rachel. Laban, on the wedding night, substituted Leah, and Jacob had to work another 7 years for Rachel, although he did marry her the week after his wedding to Leah, as the honeymoon (if we can call it that) in those days lasted 7 days.

After 14 years with Laban, and having fathered 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel between Leah, Rachel, and both of their handmaidens, Jacob now is going to earn wages, and the two men agree that Jacob will own all the spotted and mottled sheep, which were the least desirable of the flock. Laban changes the terms often, but each time Jacob manages to make sure he has the healthiest and most robust of the flock. Finally, when Jacob learns that Laban’s other sons are upset that Jacob’s flocks are so much better, accusing him of stealing their father’s best, he decides it is time to get on back home.

He secretly leaves while Laban’s sons are in the field, but Jacob doesn’t know that Rachel has stolen the household gods from her father. After learning of this, Laban catches up to him but God warns Laban in a dream not to harass or harm Jacob. When they come together, despite some rash words and Laban not finding his gods (because Rachel was hiding them), Laban and Jacob make a pact to never cross over the boundary between them to do harm to each other.

In other words, you stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine.

This is where the parashah ends: there is so much to work with and so little time to do so.

The one thing I want to point out in today’s message is that it seems, from what we have read so far in the Torah, that God is willing to work with sinners once he has decided that they are worth working with.

What the heck does that mean?

It means that we hold in high esteem the Patriarchs of Judaism, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet Abraham showed faithlessness – yes, faithlessness- when he “pimped out” Sarah (which he did twice!), and Isaac did the same thing with Rebecca, and Jacob coerced, in a somewhat underhanded way, the first born rights from his brother and then he lied to his father.

I mean, really- did they leave anything out?

Next, we read about how Laban fooled Jacob into taking as wife a woman he didn’t love or desire and how Rachel stole the household gods from her father, which I believe didn’t have anything to do with regard to Rachel’s religious beliefs, but rather did it to steal what was rightfully her father’s inheritance.

In those days, the oldest son inherited the household gods, and the other children would come to that son and pay for the privilege to pray to the gods for successful crops, healthy children, etc. The household gods were more than just idols: they represented the right to have control over the family.

Yet, despite all the subterfuge, lies, and scamming that these people did, God was still with Jacob and protecting him. Why? He lied, he was disrespectful to his father, he was disrespectful to Laban (by making sure his share of the flocks were the healthiest, leaving Laban with the weakest), and Rachel stole from her father.

Again, I ask why did God stay with Jacob?

Frankly, I am not sure, but my best guess is that God was keeping his promise to Abraham, which he repeated to Isaac, and later repeated to Jacob as Jacob was on his way to Laban (Genesis 28:10-22). In fact, Jacob made a covenant with God at that time, promising to worship Adonai, alone, and to tithe a tenth of everything he has if only God will protect him, keep him supplied with food, and bring him back to his father’s house in safety.

Perhaps that is the reason God went to Laban in a dream, to protect Jacob so he returned to his homeland in safety?

If I was to title this parashah, I would call it, “What Goes Around, Comes Around.”

Jacob fooled his father (to get the blessing), and in turn was fooled by Laban (to get Leah married), who was later fooled by Jacob (making sure he had the healthiest of the flock), who was later fooled by his daughter, Rachel (who stole the symbols of his authority over the family), who was fooled, in a way, by Jacob because as she was dying after giving birth to Benjamin, she wanted him to be named Ben-Oni (the son of my sorrow) but Jacob renamed him Ben-yimin (the son of my old age.)

So, nu? What does any of this mean to us, today?

Maybe what it means is that despite the fact we profess to love and want to obey the Lord, God, we are still human, still weak, still able to sin, yet still loved by God so much that he is willing to work with us, so long as we are trying to work with him.

And that means when you do wrong, which we all do and will always do, after you repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, you can trust God to forgive you and work with you, to continue blessing and helping you so long as you continue to work at being what he wants you to be.

We, today, have something that the Patriarchs didn’t have: we have the Torah. We have written down exactly what God expects of us, and when we add the Tanakh we also have a historic narrative of what happens when we do right, and what happens when we do wrong. This is like a guarantee, showing us that for thousands of years God has been 1000% faithful to do what he has said he will do.

This doesn’t mean you can lie, cheat, and steal without worry because we, unlike Jacob, Laban, or Rachel, have a written code to go by and, therefor no basis to say, “Gee, I didn’t know that was wrong.”

Just like they say: ignorance of the law is no excuse. And if you don’t want to find this out the hard way, I suggest you start reading the law, often and continually, so you know it. Don’t take what you are told for granted as being correct, because most of the time, it isn’t.

Hey…if the religions of the world had it right, there wouldn’t be so many different religions.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!