Parashot Vayak’hel/Pekudei (And he assembled…) Exodus 35:1-40:38

These last two parashah are read together, bringing us to the end of the book of Exodus, or you might say, this is an exodus from Exodus. Ouch!! ūüôā

As an aside, there are often times when we will read two parashah together. The parashah schedule is designed so that we always end up with the last reading of D’Varim (Deuteronomy) on Simchat Torah, the 8th day after Sukkot (also called Sh’mini Atzeret) so there are times during the year that we need to read two portions instead of one to keep to the schedule.

These last chapters are all about the Tabernacle. We have the exact dimensions, size, weight, and every little detail of the Tabernacle, which Moses was told to erect on the first day of the first month. Aaron and his sons are anointed in their holy garments, and thus the place of worship and the means of worship are completed.

With everything done as required, God’s presence fills the Tabernacle. He has moved from the mountain to the Earth, and now resides with the people.

I see here the picture of how we, as a sort of Tabernacle, must prepare ourselves for the presence of the Holy Spirit by being “correct” in weight, size and construction. This doesn’t mean to get platform shoes, a haircut and go on a diet if you want to be saved, but it does show that once we are ready, in accordance to what God has designed, we can accept the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, and God will dwell with us.

In Ezekiel God says He will give us a heart of flesh, and in Jeremiah He promises

I will put my law in their minds¬†and write it on their hearts.¬†I will be their God,¬†and they will be my people. 34¬†No longer will they teach their neighbor,¬†or say to one another, ‚ÄėKnow the Lord,‚Äô¬†because they will all know me,¬†from the least of them to the greatest,‚ÄĚ

We need to prepare ourselves for the presence of the Lord, just as the Tabernacle was prepared. Once we are ready we can be filled with His Spirit.

So, what is “ready”? I know, absolutely, that the Ruach dwells inside me, but I am not perfect, I am still sinful. So if I am not perfectly built as the Tabernacle was, how can the Ruach enter me?

Because God is not interested in my body; He is interested in knowing what is in my heart. And in my heart is T’Shuvah, is repentance, is the desire not to do what ¬†I want to do, but to do what God wants me to do. And even though I am not able to be the perfectly erected Tabernacle that Moshe built, I am good enough because I am repentant, broken¬†of the spirit of self-importance, desiring God’s forgiveness, and accepting of the Messiah Yeshua. Only because I accept Yeshua as my Messiah, and ask forgiveness in His name (and all the other stuff, too) am I able to be a properly prepared tabernacle of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the part I don’t understand- I know that God cannot abide sin, and that I am a sinful sinner, yet His Ruach can live within me. I just don’t get it: it seems to be self-negating that the Holy Spirit, which cannot abide sin, can survive and even grow within this sinful body. Hallelujah, and thanks be to God, Almighty, that He is able to give¬†me His spirit while I am still a sinner to help me become a more perfect tabernacle than I am now.

Like so many things about God and His plans, I do not understand how many of these things are possible, but that isn’t important. What is important is that it is being done.

The Tabernacle of God that Moshe built, once properly prepared, allowed the Lord to dwell with His people. The tabernacle of our heart, when properly prepared, will allow the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to dwell within us. The preparation is not nearly as complicated or expensive as the one for the Tabernacle Moshe built. All we need to do is go to the Lord with a broken spirit, a contrite heart acknowledging and owning up to our sinfulness and inability to overcome it alone, and a desire to do T’Shuvah, to turn from our sins and do what pleases God. Oh yes, the final ingredient for the recipe of¬†salvation: we need to acknowledge Yeshua as our Messiah and ask, in His name, for forgiveness and for the Ruach to dwell within us. That is the final, and ultimate, preparation. That finalizes the¬†construction¬†of the tabernacle in¬†our heart, in which¬†the Ruach will¬†dwell.

If you haven’t built your own¬†tabernacle, you need to get to work.¬†You have until your very last breath to do this; however, unless you know the exact moment you will die, you better not wait.

Parashah Ki Thissa (when you take) Exodus 30:11 – 34

As usual, there is just so much here. I took an entire course just about the symbolic nature of the spices used for the incense and anointing oils.

There’s also how God can use humans to achieve His goals, in the way that he gave all this knowledge and understanding to Oholiab and Bezalel to make the things required for the service in the Tabernacle.

Then there is the sin of the Golden Calf; and what’s up with Aaron? How could he have done that?

And then there’s Hur- Moses left both Aaron and Hur in charge, but there is no mention of Hur when Moses comes back and asks Aaron why he made the calf. In fact, Hur isn’t mentioned anymore. The Chumash says it is thought that Hur stood up against the people and was killed, so Aaron decided to do as the people said and¬†live. It also says that Aaron was a peaceful man and that he was stalling, knowing that to refuse would cause bloodshed and hoping that Moses would return before they actually had a chance to worship the calf (which is why he said the next day would be a feast.)

The Levites are the ones that come rushing to Moses when he asks who is for God, which God later reminds us about when He separates the Levites from all the other tribes to serve Him, alone. Their dedication and their immediate choice to serve Him was remembered and they were given the honor of having God as their inheritance. There’s gotta be at least one or two good sermons in there!

And then we have Moses asking God, after this terrible sin, to do him a favor? To show Moses His glory? I mean, what’s that about? Moses just managed to convince God that He shouldn’t destroy the people for this terrible sin, and when God relents Moses decides, what? Now’s a good time to ask Him something no one has ever asked of Him? To show me your presence so I will know that you really, really like me?

And God says, “OK- you got it. But you can’t see my face or you have to die; that’s how it is.” Talk about a compassionate and forgiving God! He is so teed off at this stiff-necked, rebellious group of people that He is going to wipe them out of existence, and when He relents to Moses’ pleas and says He won’t destroy them…POOF! It’s gone. No more anger, and here’s this guy asking to see my presence. Ah, he’s OK, I guess. After all, I did tell him that he finds favor in my sight, so why not?

Finally, Moses goes back to the mountain and gets the 10 Commandments again. After he destroys them in his anger (after telling God not to be so angry), God doesn’t say, “Why did you do that? I gave them to you and you broke them, on purpose, and now you want me to give you more?” Instead, He gives another set of tablets to Moses.

This parashah shows just so much about God, Moses, and the sinfulness of mankind. Where do I start? Worse than that, how do I stop?

I am always affected by Moses’ actions in this parashah, regarding the first set of tablets and how he soothes God’s anger, then loses his own. God is holy and righteous, yet with the intercession of Moses God relents from destroying the people and making a new nation out of Moses. This, alone, is remarkable when you consider that God was willing to chuck some 470 years of work right out the window, and start over. This reminds us that God’s time is not like our time. It would have been easy for God to do what we could never even think of trying. Yet, was God really going to destroy the people, or was He testing Moses’s desire to lead and his humility before the Lord? Abraham asked God to relent from a destruction, and here is Moses doing the same. Was that really the reason behind God saying He would destroy the people?

And after Moses, with a cool-headed and compassionate plea (not so much for the people but for God’s reputation) saves the people, when he sees the actual crime before him, he totally loses it. He smashes what God gave him, he calls for support and then he, on his own, orders the destruction of the sinners. Some 3,000 of them. Much less than the number God was going to destroy, but still, that’s a lot of people.

So Moses was cool and thoughtful when he was keeping God from vengeful destruction, but when faced with the same emotional response, Moses doesn’t hold back.

I think there is a lesson here for us- it is easier to tell others what to do than it is to do it ourselves. “Do as I say, not as I do” is easy. God, however, is different; He does what He says, and He expects us not to do what He says. Yes, He commands us to do things, but He knows we can’t. If He didn’t know that we are incapable of doing what the Torah says, then why did He plan, from moment One, to send Yeshua our Messiah to make it possible for us to be with God? ¬†If, when God gave us the Torah, He really expected that we could obey it to the letter (as Yeshua did), then why did we need Yeshua? Even if we are able to observe Torah perfectly, there still will¬†be very few people who will make it into Heaven. No doubt. Even with the Grace of God we have now through Yeshua’s sacrificial death, Yeshua told us that only a¬†few will¬†make it. The path less followed is the one to salvation, so even with the automatic and guaranteed “Get Out of Hell” card Yeshua deals us, still, only a remnant will make it.

But we can’t observe Torah perfectly. And we do need Yeshua. That’s why I say God does as He says and doesn’t expect us to do as He says.

That’s no reason for us not to try. We need to do the “WWJD” thing. God requires us to do, not to think about doing, not to observe others doing, but to do. Like Yoda said, “Do…or do not. There is no try.” We must¬†start out wanting to do, not saying we will do our best. I believe that saying we will try our best is making an excuse for failure before we even start. Henry Ford was quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” And Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

What God is saying to the people and to Moses is simply, “Do!”

Maybe¬†we can’t “Do” as God tells us to do, but we can do more than we have been doing. We never can be sinless, but we always can sin less. That’s the “Do!” for us. This is something we can hear and obey: sin less.

Look for the thing that God wants you to find in this parashah, as you should with the entire Manual. Always read it with the prayer that God will show you what He wants you to get from it.

I feel like¬†I did a lousy job this morning, since there is too much for me to talk about and too little time for me to do it with. So help me, please- take whatever you can from my babbling and use it in a way which will allow you to¬†please the Lord. That’s the best I can do- give you something you haven’t had: a new understanding, insight to a new revelation, or just a push to get you off your tuchas and into the game.

Thank you, Father, for your Word, your teachings, and your salvation through Yeshua Ha Mashiach, help us all to be doers of the Word.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Tetzaveh (Command) Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This parashah describes the way the priestly robes are to be manufactured, and the process for the anointment and consecration of the priests (Aaron and his sons), as well as the rules for their share of the sacrifice, and about the incense.

In the description of the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. According to the Chumash (Soncino Edition) the words are translated as “The Lights and the Perfections”, possibly to imply “perfect lights.” ¬†There is still to this day the question of just what the Urim and Thummim were: were they a kind of dice, or is it a term for the breastplate, being one and the same with the precious gems?

They are mentioned also in Leviticus, Numbers and 1 Samuel. But after the reign of David they are no longer being used for determining God’s will; in fact, they aren’t mentioned at all.

So what were they? I would like to submit that what they are¬†is less important than what they represent, which is the need to¬†ask for God’s opinion and judgement on important matters. We know that whatever the Urim and Thummim were, when important matters of state or judgement was needed this “thing” was used to determine God’s will. In Joshua, after the failure to attack Ai, God commanded Joshua to call forth all the families and draw lots to determine the person at fault for the sin Israel committed. We read in other places about the use of lots to determine the outcome, always with the underlying understanding that it is God who is making the lot come out as it should. This could have been the Urim and Thummim.

In the “real” world, we “know” that the use of dice or some other form of determining a result from a random process is all luck and statistics-with each throw of the dice you have a 1 in 12 chance of a certain number coming up. It’s just dumb luck.

That doesn’t explain why the lots used in the Bible were always accurate. The party that was chosen never said, “It’s not me- I didn’t do it! Throw those dice again.” No, indeed- those chosen by lot confessed. If you knew that you were going to be killed because of the results of the Urim and Thummim, wouldn’t you lie through your teeth to prevent it?

I don’t think it is important to know what the Urim and Thummim were because the point is that they were used to ask for God’s guidance before taking action. That is what we need to remember. And that is, I believe, why we don’t hear about them after the days of David. What happened after David’s rule? The kingdom split in two, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Shomron) began a long and ugly degradation of it’s worship, immediately prostituting itself to the Semitic gods of the area and eventually being destroyed by God. The Southern Kingdom of Judah did the same, although it was a longer decline due to a number of righteous kings, but in the end they also were destroyed by God. Not totally, like the Northern tribes, but it was devastating and lasted from about 750 BCE up to the 1950’s. ¬†Not once during this time do we hear of anyone consulting the Urim and Thummim: it is like¬†America today. First we took God out of the schools (1962 Supreme Court decision from a New York suit) and then in 2003 they removed the monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Courthouse, taking God out of our system of judgements.

The use of the Urim and the Thummim remind us more than just that we need to ask God for His guidance in (not just) important matters, but it also reminds us that God is in charge, that what might seem to be a random chance event may be God determining the actions of men, all designed to accomplish His will. No one will be able to accept this unless they faithfully believe God is in charge. However, when we leave God out of our decisions, when we ignore His will, and when we tell Him, basically, to “mind His own business”, He will do just that. He will not keep us in His will, He will not influence our outcomes, and He will leave us to our own devices.

Not a good idea. We are totally incompetent, self-centered and foolish. I like to say the ultimate proof that God exists is to look at the history of Mankind: if there wasn’t a compassionate, all-powerful and protective God watching over us, how could we have possibly survived this long?

We must look to God for guidance in everything we do. We must trust that He is not just willing to help¬†us, but is (in every way) able to guide us away from sin and self-destruction towards righteousness and everlasting life. He tells us throughout the Tanakh that He gets no pleasure from people dying in their sin, but wants us all to do T’Shuvah, and live. The Urim and Thummim were more than just a method for determining His will, they represent the understanding and acceptance¬†that God is in charge, that God is willing to help, and that God wants us to ask Him for guidance. So much so, that He even provided the means to ask Him.

I am not suggesting that you carry a pair of dice or a “lucky” coin and toss them every time you need to make a decision. What I am saying is that we need to seek God’s guidance in everything we do. Heck, maybe tossing a silver dollar and leaving it up to God to determine the course of action we should take isn’t such a bad idea, after all. It worked for the Patriarchs, it worked for Joshua, who knows? Maybe it will work for you?

Whichever way you want to seek God’s will in your life is not as important as the fact that you do seek His will before you make important decisions. As a Believer, as a country, and as a people we need to seek the Lord’s will and guidance in what we do. And this needs to be done at all levels, from the lowest to the highest, because the highest human level is still way, way, way below God. Way below!

By the way, asking God for guidance is no excuse to do nothing and blame God for not answering you. We are to seek His guidance, and we are to walk in faith. The need¬†for action was already determined when the Urim and Thummim were consulted, so do not use asking God’s guidance and waiting for an answer as an excuse to sit on your tuchas and do nothing.

Ask and He will answer, walk in faith and He will guide you.

Parashah Terumah (Offering) Exodus 25 – 27:19

Today we read of the instructions for building the Tabernacle, which are very, very detailed. The size of the supports, the types of precious metals and gems, the material the coverings are to be made from, the colors, everything about the Tabernacle is designed, defined, and described in this parashah, and in great detail.

The Tabernacle was more than just a tent- it was a symbol of the presence of God. It was situated in the very center of the campsite, surrounded by the Levites, who not only had to be close to service the tent, but they were also a buffer zone (if you will) to prevent the people from approaching too close to God and, by doing so, losing their lives.

The materials it was constructed with became more precious and fine the closer they were to God, just as we are to become more precious, i.e. holy, as we approach the Lord in our walk with Him.

The outer sections of the tabernacle were connected with rings and sockets of bronze, and as we got closer to the center of the tabernacle, where God’s presence sat, they used silver, and inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. So, too, the coverings: closest to God were made from fine linen woven with scarlet and blue and gold threads (these colors were very hard to make as they came from a mollusk that was very rare) whereas the outer coverings were of tanned ram skins.

Where is the Tabernacle in our lives, today? Have you ever been in the home of a Hindu person? Or a Buddhist? They have a small section of their home that is a sanctuary, a place which they have separated from everything else in their home where they worship. Although this is not the worship of the true God, it should be a lesson for us that we need to have a “tabernacle” that is centered in our life. Maybe not a physical structure, but we need a reminder of God’s presence in our everyday activities.

The Israelites could see the tabernacle; they saw the cloud over it during the day and the fire at night. It was a constant, physical and visual reminder of God. Jewish people who wear tzitzit and have a mezuzah on their doors (commanded in Numbers) have a physical, visual reminder of God’s presence. The kippah (yarmulke) is another visual reminder, although it is not commanded to be worn, same as the Star of David or a mezuzah (worn around the neck.) Christians wear a cross or sometimes a fish; there are different types of reminders of God’s presence in our lives we can have. Even a bumper sticker can serve as a reminder of God.

Maybe I should ask this: do we need a physical reminder if we have the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, living inside us? The tabernacle was in the center of the camp, and the Ruach lives inside us, sort of in the center of us. God outside of us, God inside of us; which is more important?

I don’t know! All I know is that if I had a constant, daily, absolutely impossible to not see or not be reminded of “thing” that kept me aware of God’s presence and kept me on track with serving God correctly, I would be a much better example of His holiness.

Let’s start to look for the “tabernacle” in our own life as we continue to become more holy. The Israelites had theirs right there, in the midst of them, but today we have to travel to get to our places of worship. I think that is somewhat problematic, but, then again, we aren’t wandering in the desert.

Or are we? Sometimes I feel that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, no matter how much effort I put into being a good husband, father or friend, I am just wandering through life. Going here and there, no real goal, no real end, just gadding about, aimlessly. Going through the motions of life instead of living my life.

That’s why I feel it is so important to have a “tabernacle” in the midst of our existence. A secure and stable foundation, with God at it’s center. Whether it be a synagogue down the block, a church in town, or a small, separated¬†place of worship in a corner of the living room. Maybe I should wear tzitzit (I already wear a mezuzah around my neck), or a kippah? That won’t really make a difference, though, since I won’t see either of them and would get used to them being there.

I guess we all need to determine what the best “tabernacle” is for ourselves. And¬†whatever it is, we need it to be there, all the time.

The Ruach is with us, it is a “comforter” (as Yeshua called it) and it can be the tabernacle in your life if you are open to always hear it. I confess I don’t always hear it, and when I do, sometimes I don’t heed it’s call. I gotta give the Ruach credit- it must be of God because it is so patient and constantly trying¬†to get me to do what is right.

Find your “tabernacle”; and whatever it is, a place, the Ruach, a mezuzah, whatever…because¬†it is a reminder of God’s presence in your life, make sure it is at the center of your life and that you live your life centered on it.

Parashah Mishpatim (Regulations) Exodus 21 – 24:18

This section of the Torah is where we see the judicial, or penal code, side of the Torah.

Torah doesn’t mean “law” but is properly translated more as “teachings”, and is a multi-faceted book. It is a Ketuba (marriage certificate), a penal code (as we see in this parashah and other parts of the Torah), a constitution (in that it defines the way the nation will operate and the rights of the citizens, therein) and a historical documentation of the birth of the world and the creation of humanity. It is also a prophetic book, which tells us exactly what will happen to this new “nation of priests”, of the coming of Messiah and where humanity will finally end up.

The regulations in the Torah come from God, directly, and one of the arguments I have heard from people who constantly try to demean God and the validity¬†of the Bible as His word is that it is not a unique document. They use the fact that other cultures and peoples had the same or similar laws in effect before the Torah, so because these rules and regulations were not original they imply the Bible is the work of men. The History Channel (which I normally like to watch, so long as they are not doing something about God) has historically (pun intended) debunked the Bible, and even brought God’s existence into question. But it’s not just them. The argument against these laws (as I started to talk about before I went a little off tangent) are meant to make it seem that the Bible is not the word of God, because what He is proclaiming ¬†to¬†the children of Israel are not “original”. It is often pointed out that Hammurabi had these in his code before Moses, and there are other such arguments.

So what? Leviticus 11 outlines the rules about which animals we can eat and which ones we can’t eat, yet Noah already knew this. He brought on 7 pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean. Just because laws are written down in Torah doesn’t mean they have to be original and new to prove they are from God. And, likewise, just because they weren’t written down before Torah doesn’t mean they weren’t valid.

Shaul tells us that the Torah created sin, in that before there was Torah there was nothing telling us exactly what was wrong and what wasn’t. Because Torah spelled it out, it made the right “right” and the wrong “wrong.” Shaul never argues against the Torah, however, even though Romans and other letters have been misconstrued to make it seem that way.

Just because a law exists doesn’t mean it is a good law, and if it doesn’t exist that doesn’t mean the actions not specifically outlawed are good. ¬†How many laws do we still have on the books that are outdated, either culturally or technologically?¬†Here are some examples I just took off the Internet:

* Horses are forbidden to eat fire hydrants in Marshalltown, Iowa.

* In Fairbanks, Alaska it is considered an offense to feed alcoholic beverages to a moose.

* (Prescott, Arizona) No one is permitted to ride their horse up the stairs of the county court house.

* (Calif.) Animals are banned from mating publicly within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school, or place of worship.

* (Devon, Ct.) It is unlawful to walk backwards after sunset.

* (Florida) If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.

I don’t know how true these are, but I am sure everyone reading this knows what I am talking about with regards to crazy laws that are still laws. Just because laws¬†are written down doesn’t make them realistic, just because they were not written down doesn’t make the action valid, and just because they already existed somewhere else doesn’t mean they aren’t from God.

The point of all this rhetoric I am spouting is that just because the mishpatim (regulations) that God gave to His people aren’t the very first time someone was told how to act doesn’t mean there is no God. It doesn’t mean Moshe made these up himself, and it doesn’t indicate or diminish the importance of what they represent: the encoding of a system of just and fair laws that, at that time, were more respectful of the individual rights and the treatment that each person should receive under the law than any other codes or laws of that day.

Another wrongful argument is that¬†“an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” requirement is cruel and unjust. The Rabbi’s are explicit in the Chumash (Soncino edition) about this: they say “life for life” (specifically in Ex. 21:23) is a legal term meaning “fair compensation.” They justify this by referencing Lev. 24:21 where it says “He that killeth a beast shall make it good; and he that killeth a man shall be put to death.” ¬†The “eye for an eye “, which is similar to the Code of Hammurabi, is different here in that it is not an absolute term to be taken literally (as it was under the Code of Hammurabi), but instead is, as the Rabbi’s say, telling¬†us justice should be rendered in a fair and reasonable manner.

This parashah is about¬†God commanding that we should¬†have compassion and fairness when we render justice. It is a penal code. He also states that the widow and orphan, as well as the stranger, must be treated with (as I see it) a little extra compassion because they have no one to represent their rights or to protect them in the world. In fact, God says that if these people are not treated well, and they call out to Him, He, Himself, will act on their behalf. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want God to be angry with me!

What I take from this parashah is that we should all be fair and just to each other, the rich treated no differently than the poor, no one offering or accepting a bribe, and to remember that God is aware of what we do and if there is no one on Earth to protect or enforce the rights of a person, when that person calls to God for help, God will answer on their behalf.

That is both a warning to those who think to oppress others, and a comfort to those who are being oppressed.

The parashah ends with God telling the¬†people how He will bring them into the land, and also warns them that He has provided His angel before them (Moshe?) and not to rebel against the angel because, ultimately, God will punish them for disobedience. He tells them, as we see throughout the Torah, that they will receive blessings if they obey and if they don’t (which usually ends up more a prophecy than a warning) they will receive the same treatment that God has planned for the people there already. In other words, as He reminds us throughout the Bible, God will use the Israelites as His rod of punishment against those nations that have rebelled and sinned against Him, and if the people God has chosen should end up doing the same thing that the ones they punish do, then they, the punishers, will become the punished.

And that’s exactly what happens, isn’t it? And it didn’t take them long, did it? The people make an oath and form a blood covenant with God to obey all these mishpatim. Then Moshe climbs up Mt. Horeb (Mt. Sinai) and within 40 days the people break¬†their covenant.

The Torah is valid: it was before Moshe wrote it, and it has never changed. God gave us the Torah and told us that these laws and regulations are to be observed throughout all our generations. That means forever.

And despite what you may have been taught about Torah being only for the Jews, the truth is that Yeshua upheld the Torah, Shaul upheld the Torah, James upheld the Torah and God hasn’t changed His mind about any part of the Torah. So if you think that you don’t have to obey the Torah, you better get your head out of where it is now and back where the sun can shine on it! The Torah tells us how God wants us to act, to Him and to each other, and He hasn’t changed any part of it.

And God will hold YOU responsible¬†for what you do or what you don’t do when you have to face Him. With Yeshua as our Messiah we are saved from our sins, true, but there are different levels in heaven and some will be the greatest and some will be the least. I am glad just to know I will be there, but since I am going to be there, why would I want to be the least? Those who obey God will be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and those that don’t will be told something else. I don’t know what, and I won’t tell you what because, well…I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something along the lines of, “Okay, you’re in, but someone has to clean the toilets and since you didn’t want to do anything else I told you to do while you were on Earth, you can do this while you are here in Heaven.”

Sit at the table with God or clean the toilets? Make your choice now.

Parashah Beshallach (After he let go) Exodus 13:17-17:16

The sea is turned away, Pharaoh’s army is destroyed, manna comes from heaven, ¬†rocks give forth water, and millions of quails appear from an empty sky.

Even with all this, not to mention the 10 Plagues that have just happened and 400 years of slavery are over, the people still grumble and look back to Egypt at every little stumbling block or problem.

Isn’t this what we all do? Isn’t the grass always greener somewhere other than where we are in our lives? And don’t we spend more time “killing the messenger” than dealing with the source of our problems?

Throughout the journey in the Desert we read, over and over, how the people grumbled against Moshe. “We don’t have food”, “We don’t have water”, “We don’t want you to be the only leader”, “The people in the land are too strong for us”, yadda-yadda-yadda! Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch!

And they did this despite the many miraculous events that they witnessed: and we’re not talking about reading of it in the morning paper, or watching it happen on You Tube! They were eye witnesses, they lived through these things, they walked on dry land with a wall of water on both sides. They knew all these things had happened, that God had done it, yet the first time they stub their little toe they are totally fed up and want to go back to being slaves! Oy!

Yet, we are no different today. You disagree? Maybe some of you do, so let’s think about this: when you start a new job, haven’t you noticed that when others are running around you are calm and you can handle things? You think “This isn’t such a big ¬†deal”, right? Then a year later, you are running around just the same way while the newbie is thinking, “This isn’t such a big deal.”

How many times have you been in a situation where you seem calm and others are not, yet there are times you can’t see any hope, running around tearing your hair out by the roots, ¬†and others are calm? Look close at your experiences and you will see that we are all the same as the young and immature Nation of Israel was in the desert- always complaining, forgetting the blessings, not trusting even in trustworthy things, all because of our petty and selfish desires for comfort and ease.

This is a lesson for us all- God is always present, God is capable, and we need to trust in Him to form our future while we let go of the past. There are two things that no one can ever do- change the past or go back to it. The past is just that- past. It is gone, and whatever was good about it is a memory, just as whatever was bad about it is also a memory. It is up to us to choose how we live: in the past, the present, or the future.

God wants us to remember the past so that we can do what is right in the present, which will secure our future. 

(Please read that again because it can change your life)

The people of Israel knew that God was with them and that He was capable of doing everything and anything that they needed. He had sent the plagues, He split the sea, He provided them manna to eat and water to drink, and when they cried out for meat He gave millions meat for a month! In the midst of the desert, no less!

True, they did have some issues: no water or food, the most powerful army in the world coming to destroy them with hundreds of chariots. OK, I will give you that these are somewhat significant, but may I remind you that these people saw the plagues, they saw the sea close behind them while still open in front of them, they saw the pillars of cloud and fire guide them and protect them. I mean, c’mon? How much more do you need to realize that there is a great power that is on your side?

We need to ask ourselves how many seas have opened before us? How many times did we receive water and food during times we were in a “desert?” And how often do we gripe and cry about things that are, in the light of God’s majesty and awesome Grace, so unimportant and childish, that we should feel ashamed?

Shaul complained about a “thorn in the side” that he had to deal with, and that God answered his prayers to remove it by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is sufficient for all of us: it was sufficient in Egypt, in was sufficient in the desert, it was sufficient during the time of the Judges, and throughout all history it has been sufficient.

Are you satisfied with the manna God provides for you, or do you want the leeks of Egypt? The people forgot that those leeks,vegetables and meat they had were given to them like farmers feed their pigs, in big pots that were shared by all. They also forgot that whatever they received in Egypt was given to slaves, not free people. They forgot that before they ate they were worked, whipped and mistreated all day, every day. There was no 9 to 5 with an hour for lunch; there was only every day, sun-up to sunset, 7 days a week, every week of the year for their entire lifetime.

Look to your life for the good and do what you can to overlook the bad, even if it seems insurmountable to you. Look instead to all that God has done for you; list it in your head. I guarantee that no matter how terrible it seems right now, no matter how thirsty you feel, how hungry, or how many chariots are coming after you, when you remember and count all of God’s blessings you have received you will realize that even during the worst times of your life,¬†you are blessed.

Let’s not be like the people in the desert, grumbling against those that are just doing their jobs (who take orders from someone else) and always looking back at what we perceive to be better days. No matter how bad it seems right now, there’s a good chance you may find yourself looking back at this very moment and wishing you had it as good as you do now! That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Trust in God, look for the blessings He has given you and believe and trust that He only wants what is best for you. Trust in the Lord and you will see His majesty, His power and His compassion rain down upon you as though the very floodgates of heaven were opened over your head. Read His word (all of it) and obey His word (all of it) and He will bless you in everything you do. ¬†Yes, you will still have tsouris in your life because that is part of life. Only the dead have no problems, so if you want a problem-less life, well…not the best alternative, is it?

Stop kvetching about everything and get on with it. Walk in faith and the seas will split for you, the rocks will give you water and the heavens will provide you sustenance.

At the Red Sea, as the Egyptian army was coming after them, God asked Moshe why he was crying out to Him, and told¬†Moshe to¬†tell the people to start walking. The seas hadn’t split open yet, but God said to start walking. That is what we need to do- walk in faith before we see what God is doing. Walk in faith, as God told Moshe and the people to do, and you will see the salvation of the Lord appear before you!

Parashah Bo (Go) Exodus 10:1-13:16

Here we see the final culmination of the plagues against Egypt. So far the plagues have destroyed much of their cattle and most of their crops, but the locusts are coming to finish off everything that wasn’t already destroyed. Next, three days of darkness: the ultimate defeat of Ra, the sun god and their major diety.

Finally,¬†the coup de grasse: the death of all the firstborn. And with this horrible plague comes both the end of Hebrew slavery, and the beginning of the Nation of Israel. It is the first day of the first month of their existence as a free nation. You know that expression, “This is the first day of the rest of your life?” I think this is where it started.

The sacrifice of the Passover lamb, however, is somewhat misunderstood, especially when we refer to the sacrificial death of Yeshua/Jesus during that fateful 1st Century Pesach celebration.

Yeshua is often referred to as the Lamb of God, or the Paschal Lamb. But the passover lamb sacrifice was not a sin sacrifice. The sin sacrifice was to be presented and killed at the tabernacle. There would be a portion given to the Priest and the rest was to be burned on the alter. The remainder portion for the Priest was to be eaten in a holy place, and only by the male priests. The blood was to be sprinkled against the altar and poured onto the ground.

That is not the regulation for the passover lamb.

The peace offering is treated differently. With a peace offering the person presenting the offering is allowed to eat the flesh, and can share it with others. The Passover Seder is exactly that- a peace offering that is shared with others. It is not a sin offering.

Yeshua may be called the Paschal lamb, but His death was a sin sacrifice. The paschal lamb is a peace offering.

It was Pharaoh who should have been making a sin offering. Although he didn’t have any intention of doing so, the Lord made that choice for him. The choicest of Pharaoh’s possessions were being sacrificed to the Lord to atone for the sins he had committed against God’s people. And even though Pharaoh had no intention of doing so, he did make a sin sacrifice: he lost his first born, and the firstborn of all his people. And from then on, the first born of both people and animals from the nation of Israel belonged to the Lord.

At the same time the people of Israel were making a peace sacrifice to the Lord, the people of Egypt were making a sin sacrifice to the Lord. There was a peace offering, and a sin offering; there was communion and there was punishment. Two sides of the same coin.

Fifteen hundred years after the first Passover, as the people were making their peace offering, Yeshua was offering up His own body as a sin offering for the people. It was history repeating itself, anew. The Passover in Egypt was the beginning of the physical freedom from slavery, and the Passover in Jerusalem 1,500 years later was the beginning of the spiritual freedom from sin. We normally associate these two freedoms on Shavuot, 50 days (give or take) after the Passover Seder, but it really happened after dusk on the night of that Seder.

God commanded that on Yom Kippur we perform¬†the sin sacrifice for all the people, yet Yeshua was a sin sacrifice for all the people on Passover? What’s with that?

Yeshua is both sides of the coin- He is both the sin sacrifice and the ultimate peace offering. His sacrifice was first for the sin of the people while they enjoyed a peace sacrifice. When He returns, he will be bringing peace and communion to the people of God while the rest of the world will be suffering for their sin. Passover and Yom Kippur are the two sides of the coin of salvation. The first Passover saw the sin offering of the Egyptians (their firstborn) and the peace offering of Israel. The Passover of salvation saw the sin offering of God’s firstborn and the peace offering of Israel. The final Passover (which may not be on Passover, but more likely will be around Yom Kippur) will see the sin offering of the world and the final and eternal peace for¬†those who have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah.

Peace and suffering, two sides of the same coin and both working together to make salvation possible.

If you aren’t sure which side you are on, ask God for forgiveness, accept Yeshua as your Messiah and ask Him to send to you the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit.) Then start to read the Bible through the eyes of God’s Spirit so you can truly see what He has in there for you.

Parashah Va’Ayra (I appeared) Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

We read on this Shabbat from the Torah about how God begins the wondrous works that eventually gain the freedom of His people from Egyptian bondage. During this parashah we read of the first plagues released upon Egypt, up to the sending of hail. God is showing His power, and not just His power, but His power over the Egyptian gods, even to the point of demonstrating that Pharaoh, a god to the Egyptians, is powerless against the God of the Hebrews.

What I want to talk about is not the miraculous signs and works (don’t forget the staff turning into a snake and Moses’s hand turning leprous, then being healed) but the fact that even though some of these plagues could be explained away, they are still miracles.

Science today thinks that because something can be explained, that makes it more of an event than a miracle. We can explain how the digestive system works in living things. Even a child can pretty much understand you eat it, your stomach takes the good stuff and your blood moves it all over your body, and what you don’t need you get rid of at the other end. The more we learn about the science of digestion, the more intricate and detailed the explanation can become. But that doesn’t change the essence of the whole thing- it’s a miracle! Think about it: you eat something and you get nutrition from it. It saves your life, or, if it’s the wrong thing to eat it can kill you. Eating a lot of chocolate can make a human feel better, but eating a lot of chocolate can kill a dog. Isn’t that wondrous? Isn’t that just, like, so weird? One man’s food is another man’s poison.

The Nile turned to blood. There were frogs, lice, flies¬†and disease all over the land, on both cattle and people. It’s all explainable, right? What if some mold or natural¬†pollution¬†up river (which would be south of Egypt, since the Nile flows the wrong way) caused the water to become reddish? There is a mold here in Florida that is causing the river fish to die because it is literally choking them to death, taking the oxygen from the water. What if this happened then? If the river was not supporting life, wouldn’t the life in the river come out onto¬†the land? There is a fungus killing off frogs all over the world today. It’s called Chytrid, and to date has killed off nearly 1/3 of all frogs in the world. We don’t know what causes it, we can clean a frog infected with¬†it, but then the frog can catch it, again. What if there was a mold in the river that discolored it, then that mold also got on the frogs and started killing them off? Wouldn’t¬†the flies and lice come to lay their eggs in the rotting flesh of the dead frogs? These bugs carry diseases that the cattle would catch, and the Egyptians would also get sick. Lice and flies can cause rashes and without the modern medications the rashes could develop into infected sores.

All of this is science, it is explainable. So does that mean there is no God behind it? Just because I can understand the mechanics of a miracle, does that make it less of a miracle?

Here’s a cute story:

One day¬†a bunch of scientists were talking about how they now understand diseases and how they work, and eventually will be able to cure them all. In fact, they will be able to prevent them, and maybe even genetically destroy them altogether. They even told God He wasn’t needed since we now understand all about how the world and humans work. God said to them, “Can you make a man from a handful of clay?” The scientists talked about it amongst themselves, then said, “Yes, we believe that we can.” God said, “Go ahead- show me.” So the scientists went out into the garden and grabbed a big handful of clay. That’s when God said, “Oh, no! That’s my clay- you have to make your own.”

We are such an egocentric people. We think that mankind is the ultimate life form in the Universe. May I remind us all that God is alive, too, and we aren’t better than Him! We think that because¬†we understand something God has designed we are as wise and capable as God. ¬†Not true. Not even close! The apple wasn’t that powerful.

In your life, do you see the miracles that occur everyday? Do you even look? We need to understand and accept that what God allows us to understand about His ways is for our benefit. It is to remind us of His wonderful love and affection for us. It is also to remind us of who is in charge. I love to watch a thunderstorm (from inside, of course): the strength¬†of the wind and rain, the frightening sound of the thunder, and the awesome power of lightening. It reminds me of God’s ultimate power, strength, and creative abilities. I feel only pity for anyone who¬†no longer can see these wonders for what they are, but only observes them and thinks how the clashing of different fronts causes the water droplets in the air to coalesce and fall. The temperature differences cause¬†the winds to move at accelerated speed, and the free electrons in the atmosphere gather together and are attracted to the positively charged ground, causing the discharge of their combined¬†kinetic energy. I may not be exactly correct in this description of a storm, but it doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Not too wondrous; not even worth listening to, actually.

Miracles happen every day, all around us. The opening and closing of a flower, a bee flying to and fro, grass growing, even someone dying. Why do we die? If you’re hit by a bus, well, that’s an easy enough explanation. But what about just dying? Alive one minute, then the next minute you “give up the ghost.” If the heart, lungs, blood flow, etc. are all working, why does it just stop? Why did people live hundreds of years at a time when we didn’t even have band aids or Bactine, yet in the modern world, with all our medical knowledge and ability, we can’t get much past our eighties?

If you think about how unbelievably idiotic we are, as a species, it’s a miracle we are still alive, at all! We destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves, we drink the wrong stuff, we smoke the wrong stuff, we eat all the wrong stuff (and too much of it, too.) We even have TV shows that demonstrate just how absolutely self-destructive we are (they call it reality TV, and they are right. That’s what it is!) If anyone ever tells me they doubt the existence of God, I ask them how, given all that we do to ourselves and our world, could we have ever survived this long if there wasn’t a gracious, loving, compassionate and all-powerful God keeping us alive?

Make your day, your week, heck- your whole life- more interesting; enjoy that wonderful, childlike fascination with the world simply by looking for the miracles. Forget the reasons why. Who cares why? Just enjoy what God does for us, everyday. That’s the lesson in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)- live, eat, and enjoy what God has provided. Just¬†forget about trying to understand or explain it because that’s all just¬†“chasing the wind.”

Here’s the message I have for you from today’s parashah: look for the miracles, appreciate them, and enjoy God.

Parashah Shmot (These are the names) Exodus 1 – 6:1

Who doesn’t know the story of the first chapters of this book? The Hebrews multiplied under the kindness of Pharaoh, but after Joseph died and another Pharaoh took over , the people were enslaved. They suffered 400 years until¬†God sent a Saviour, Moshe (Moses) who, himself, had become an outcast and pariah in the eyes of Pharaoh. Moses sees God’s presence at the burning bush and, despite trying to get out of it, he is sent to Egypt to bring the people out of bondage and lead them to the Promised Land.

Here is the Messiah that the Judeans of the First Century were expecting. Here is the Messiah that the Jewish people of today, I believe, still expect.

Not a spiritual saviour, but a political one.

Isn’t that why so many people did not accept Yeshua when He was ministering to them during the three years or so that He wandered about Judea and the surrounding areas, preaching the¬†Good News of salvation? They wanted someone like Barabbas, or Bar-Kochba, or even Ronald Reagan. They wanted someone who would get rid of the Romans and reestablish the Jewish State as a separate and independent country. They wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger to tell the Romans, “Go avay, and don’t be bach!”

But that’s not what they got. They got a quiet, unassuming man who had no social standing, wealth, or political power. No wide circle of Facebook friends, no You Tube video¬†that went viral, pretty much nothing of any worth to anyone of the world. Just as Isaiah said, a man “…of no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,¬†nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.¬†He was despised and rejected by men,¬†a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.”

What kind of Messiah are you looking for? It’s easy, thanks to 20-20 hindsight, to recognize Yeshua’s messianic authority and now, after some 2,000 years, to know He is the Messiah God promised. Still, what kind of Messiah are you looking for? Should he be loving and forgiving? Should he be accepting of you as you are, giving you whatever you ask for just because¬†you are a “good” person? Should he save you from your sins and guarantee you a place in heaven, no matter what, so long as you just ask for it?

That’s not who Yeshua is, and it’s not what He does. Yes, He is the Messiah who died for your sins, but that doesn’t mean salvation is a “come as you are” party. You need to do T’Shuvah, to turn, to repent, and to mean it! And you need to show that repentance in real, tangible terms. That means you have to change how you live.

He is loving and compassionate, as well as understanding. He is also the Son of God and He will stand by your side at Judgement Day, so long as you are truly repentant and have shown the fruits of your repentance. In the Torah, in Leviticus, when God is outlining the laws about bringing the different types of sacrifices, one of the regulations is that no matter what, we should never come before the Lord¬†empty handed. And every sacrifice, whether it be animal, grain or oil, must have salt. ¬†The covenant between man and God is called a “covenant of salt”; we should never come before the Lord empty handed or without salt.

When we come before Him at Judgement, the salt we bring is our repentance, and what we present before Him are the first fruits of our salvation: the good works we have done after accepting Yeshua as our Messiah.

Read the parables about the fruit tree in the garden, the servants who were given talents, the wedding lamp holders who had no oil, and the wedding guest who did not have the proper clothing…all these represent the fact that we are invited but we need to do more than just show up. We need to have both salt and something to present to the Lord.

God has done all He needs to do with regards to a political Messiah. That card has been played. And the spiritual Messiah is also face-up on the table. Now we need to show our hold card, we need to show the fruit of salvation and the¬†salt of our covenant so when we are “called” we will have a strong hand. The¬†world deals us a lousy hand, but God is able to turn the cards to our advantage. We need to work at it, we need to look to God for salvation, to Yeshua (Jesus) for intercession, and to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) for constant guidance.

All that we need to save us from our sin is here. God’s work is done, Yeshua’s work is done, and the Rauch’s’ work is being done in each of us. Now it’s our turn. Salvation is free, but you need to work at it. You don’t need to work for it, but you do need to work at it. It can’t be taken away, but we can throw it away. Read those parables I told you about, and understand- God has done His part, it’s up to each of us now to complete His work in the world by completing His work in ourselves.

Some people want¬†a Messiah who¬†is enabling and forgiving, even if you don’t change your ways; who will do what you want just because you ask him; and who promises you total salvation no matter what you do for the rest of your life. Some people want a Messiah that will intercede for them; who will become their advocate at Judgement Day; who will guide them and provide salvation for them; and who will be honest and fair in telling them what they need to do in order to be saved and remain saved.

These are two kinds of Messiahs people are being told about: the one who doesn’t care what you do and the one who requires you to change.

The question is: What kind of Messiah are you looking for?

Parashah Vayigash (He Approached) Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

This parashah starts with the request by Judah to remain as Joseph’s¬†slave instead of Benjamin. At this final show of humility, sacrifice and love, Joseph¬†cannot contain himself any longer and reveals his true identity to them.

When we learn about¬†this Torah portion we often discuss the fact that Joseph was testing his brothers to see if they had learned their lesson. But what lesson was that, in Joseph’s mind? Was it to be concerned for¬†each other? Was it to see if they were no longer allowing their jealousy to rule their actions? Or was it that they could truly feel love for Benjamin, their father’s favorite (just as Joseph had been) to the point of sacrificing their own freedom or life, for him?

I think Joseph finally trusted them when Judah’s entreaty was entirely focused on Yakov, who Joseph loved with all his heart. He wasn’t asking to release Benjamin because Benjamin was only a youngster (although he was probably in his early or mid twenties by then); he didn’t ask that he remain¬†instead just because of his promise to Yakov to care for Benjamin and ensure his safety (although this was a part of the request.) I think what showed Joseph the true change in his brothers was that Judah’s request was solely and completely focused on the welfare of¬†his father. The final plea was in order to prevent Judah from having to see his father overwhelmed by grief.

This shows us how we are to act towards our parents, and elders, and each other, too. We are to put their welfare ahead of ours. Yeshua said that there is no love greater than the love of one who lays down his life for his friends; not just for parents or siblings, but for friends. If we are that devoted to friends, how much more so should we be devoted to family?

Judah was asking to replace Benjamin not so much because¬†of his promise to Yakov, but out of love for Yakov. If the promise of protection had not been made, I wonder if Judah would have still came forward and asked to replace Benjamin. We can’t make an argument from nothing, but I would like to think that one of them would have stepped forward, at this point in their lives, for their father’s sake.

In this case, Judah’s request to stay in the place of Benjamin was enough to show Joseph that they had changed. And in keeping with Joseph’s test of them, he passed his own test of love when he immediately told them, once he revealed himself, that they should not be upset or angry with themselves, or feel remorse about their evil deeds against him, because it was all an act of God. It was God who caused this to happen so that Joseph would be where he is, which will allow the children¬†of Israel to¬†be able to survive and grow into the nation of Israel.

The lesson that I see in this parashah is an easy one to understand- love each other, protect each other, care for each other, and be concerned for each other’s feelings over your own. Judah was more concerned for his father than he was for himself; in fact, more than he was for his own family, as his slavery to Joseph would have caused much distress with his own wife and children.

Joseph’s statement and revelation that God was behind this all the time reminds me of the statement Mordekhai¬†makes to Hadassah (Esther) when he asks her to intercede¬†with the king on behalf of all¬†the Jews in Asia. He tells her, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”

Over the past couple of parashot, and finally in this one, we see a sort of precursor to the story of Esther, don’t we? A Jew, a foreigner and slave to the people where he lived,¬†of no real importance to anyone there, taken into the palace and made head of all the peoples. And, more than that, in that position he was able to save not just his own people, but the people who enslaved him. Joseph saved Egypt and the people surrounding Egypt, and Esther saved more than just the Jews in Asia: by preventing the Persians from doing harm to the Jews she saved them, as well. Doesn’t God promise that He will curse those who curse His people, but bless those that bless them? If the Persians, as a people, had tried to destroy the Jews, wouldn’t God have come down on them like a ton of bricks?

Of course, although this episode went well for the Persians, they didn’t stay friendly to the Jewish people. Today, Persia is still a nation (Iran) but they are on the Holy Hit list, believe-you-me, and the day of reckoning will come upon them.

The story of Joseph is one of the greatest tales in the Bible- heck! in the world!- of rising from the lowliest social position one can be in to one of greatness, all because he kept his¬†faith in God, and was always obedient to¬†God’s commandments. Throughout the Bible we see how this attitude has allowed the humble to achieve greatness: Abraham, Joseph, Moshe, Hadassah, Gideon, Yeshua, and the Talmudim of Yeshua. Men of no worldly importance, who, by God’s grace and actions and intercession, have saved millions, maybe billions, of people from eternal damnation. And how did they do this? By remaining humble and faithfully¬†obedient to God.

The world says to watch out for Numero Uno. God says to forget Numero Uno and watch out for all the other numbers, and trust in Him to watch out for you.

The Bible proves that God’s way works better than the world’s way. Who will you listen to?