Parashah Balak (Balak) Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Here is one of the best known biblical tales- the story of Balaam’s talking ass.

We start with Balak, son of the the king of Moab, seeing the Children of Israel on his doorstep having just annihilated both King Og and King Sichon, and taken their lands. Being afraid for his own kingdom, Balak sends envoys to Mesopotamia to find Balaam, a known prophet who’s reputation is that whomever he blesses is blessed, and whomever he curses is cursed.

Balaam is an enigma in the bible- he is obviously a true prophet of Adonai because when asked to come curse a people (at this point he doesn’t know who the “people” are) he sacrifices and asks the guidance of Adonai. Adonai tells him that these people are blessed (indicating God has blessed them), so Balaam cannot curse them. Balaam tells the envoys he cannot go with them, and sends them away (it is important to note that he doesn’t tell them what God told him, just that he cannot go with them.)

Balak figures Balaam is holding out for more money, so sends more important men with a better offer. Once again Balaam asks God, who this time relents to say go if you are called, but say what I tell you. Balaam saddles up his ass and rides with them the very next morning. However, God places an angel in the way where Balaam has to pass a narrow gap, and although Balaam is blind to the angel, the ass is not and steps to the side to avoid the angel. Balaam is peeved at this and strikes the ass. This happens again, and this time Balaam’s foot is crushed against a wall by the ass while trying to avoid the angel. Again, the ass gets a beating. Finally, the angel with sword drawn is directly in the path at a point where there is no way around, so the ass just plops down on the ground. Balaam gets off and beats it, cursing at it. Then two remarkable things happen:  first, the ass talks to Balaam asking why he is beating it these three times. The second remarkable thing is that Balaam answers without skipping a beat, as if having your ass talk to you is an everyday event!

Finally, Balaam sees the angel, confesses his sin to God and says he will return home. At this point God tells him to continue to go, but he must say only what God tells him to say.

Balak is overjoyed to see Balaam, and takes him to a high point where he can see the tribes encamped. Balak says to curse them, but after Balaam sacrifices and gets a word from God, he blesses them as God directs. Balak is upset, and Balaam tells him that he warned Balak’s envoys and Balak that he could only say what Adonai told him to say. Balak is unrelenting, takes Balaam to two other locations to see (stupidly enough) if that would change God’s mind, but each time Balaam blesses even more.  Now Balak is so peeved that he sends Balaam away without pay, but before going God gives Balaam a prophetic word for Balak, as well as the kings of the Midian tribes that were with them regarding their future.

The parashah ends relating how the women of Midian lure the men of Israel into worshiping their gods, and how this sin results in a plague from God. One prince of Israel, from the tribe of Simeon, goes as far as to rebelliously display his Midianite woman right in front of Moses. This so angers Phinehas (Pinchas), Aaron’s, son, that Phinehas grabs a spear and runs it through both of them, pinning them together.

It is interesting to note that even after Balaam is told don’t curse the Israelites, when urged a second time to do so, he again asks God if he can go. God relents to let him go but warns he must say only what God tells him to say; the Talmud explains this apparent change of mind by God as God, having warned him not to go, allows that if he is absolutely determined to go to his destruction, so be it. The Rabbi’s tell us the angel that was placed in Balaam’s path was not a destroying angel, as the story may imply, but an angel of mercy to try to turn him back before it was too late. Later in the Torah we learn that Balaam was the one who gave the idea to the kings of Midian to have their women seduce the men of Israel to sin, and Balaam (finally) got his reward when Israel fought against Midian and he was slain with the sword.

I have to ask myself: What is it with this guy, Balaam? He is clearly a prophet of Adonai because not only does he ask of Adonai, but he is answered by Adonai! And he should know that when God said these people are blessed by Him, that no curse he may give would have any effect, anyway. Also, as I mentioned above, Balaam doesn’t tell the first envoys that God has blessed this people, only that God said Balaam cannot go with them. This didn’t slam the door shut in Balak’s face, as it should have, but left it open a bit, so to speak, so that Balak could send a better offer. It is clear that Balaam, although a prophet of Adonai, from the very beginning wanted to have the rewards offered by Balak.

God knew that Balaam’s intent was to curse the people, and he put the fear of God (literally) into him by sending the angel. God then allowed Balaam to continue to go because God used this human desire to sin and turned it into a way to glorify Himself.

He’s good at things like that.

The lesson Balaam teaches us today is this: anyone can be turned from service to God by the allure of worldly rewards. Anyone. That means you, that means me, that means anyone. It also shows us that God is going to warn us, and try to stop us from hurting ourselves, but if we stubbornly refuse to listen, even if our family donkey is telling us we are doing something stupid, then God will move out of the way as we rush towards destruction.

During our lives God will give us more than enough rope to pull ourselves up, or to hang ourselves. It’s our choice. We need to listen to God, whether He speaks to us directly or through another medium. Often events in our life proclaim God’s will for us, other times it may be events in someone else’s life that we see happen, that warn us of what will happen to us if we do the same things. And then we may just get a direct word from God through the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) that is designed to keep us on the right path.

Shaul warns us against this, as well. In 2 Peter 2, Shaul talks about false prophets and wicked people who sin, and entice others to sin. When we see sin and work with our brother or sister to help them overcome it, we must be careful not to get too close to it, or we, ourselves, may be enticed into it. Just as the men of Israel were enticed by the Midianite women, as Balaam was enticed by the riches offered, and even as Judas was enticed by the offer of silver, we all, every one of us, must be careful not to allow the innate sinfulness within us to be given any leeway.

The best guide we have is the Ruach HaKodesh. We must discipline ourselves to listen to it. Next, we need to make sure we are surrounded by godly people who can encourage and help us. Finally, we must never judge sinners or backsliders harshly, but instead treat them with love and encourage them to do T’Shuvah (repentance) that they may be saved. Again, though, be warned- work with sinners but do not allow yourself to get too close. Even if you never touch a fish, hang around the fish market all day you will stink like old haddock! Sin comes slowly and stealthily, so stay alert. Read your bible, know the signs, and listen to those who are godly and knowledgeable.

Remember: you can learn a lot when you are open to hearing what others say, even if the one talking is an ass.

Parashah Yitro (Jethro) Exodus 18-20

This parashah starts with the reunion of Moses to his wife and children, whom he had sent away while still in Egypt to be with her father, Jethro, the Priest of Midian. Now in the desert and with Egypt no longer a threat of any kind, Jethro brings Moses’ family back to him.

The next day, while watching Moses dispense justice all day long, Jethro suggests that Moses delegate his authority so that he, alone, doesn’t have to hear every single case. Moses accepts this advice and does as Jethro suggested.

Proverbs 12:1– “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

The rest of this section of Torah takes us to the mountain of God, Sinai (also known as Horeb) and the people are told to prepare to meet the Lord, who came down to the mountain in fire and smoke and gave us the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.

Before reading the Torah, we recite this prayer:

Blessed art thou, oh Lord, our God, king of the Universe, who has chosen us from all peoples and given to us his Torah. Blessed art thou, oh Lord, giver of the Torah. 

And after we read from the Torah, we recite this prayer:

Blessed are thou, oh Lord our God, king of the universe, who has given us the Torah of truth, and placed everlasting life in our midst. Blessed art thou, oh Lord, giver of the Torah.

Why were the Jewish people granted this wonderful election- to be given the Torah, which provides everlasting life? The answer is simple: God loved Abraham, who was a righteous and faithful servant, and since one of the 13 Attributes of God is to bless those who love him to the thousandth generation (Exodus 20:6): that is why the descendants of Abraham were chosen, and blessed with receiving and being the guardians of the Torah.

Notice I said “descendants of Abraham” and not “the Jewish people”: I did that because once someone accepts the God of Abraham as their God, that person is considered by God’s commandment to be an adopted child of Abraham (Romans 9:8 and Galatians 3:29), and as such is afforded all the rights and privileges under the Torah (as well as the obligation to obey the Torah) as any “natural born” descendant.

The Torah was given to those who are descendants of Abraham: the purpose not being for their use only, but to show the world how God wants us to worship Him and treat each other (Exodus 19:6.)

Christians are descendants of Abraham because they accept Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah, and so through that relationship are worshiping the same God who sent Yeshua. That means they are adopted sons and daughters of Abraham, and as such, have also been given the Torah to provide them everlasting life.

Why then do so many Christian organizations teach that the Torah is (essentially) dead, and the laws and commandments in the Torah (which God said to obey) are not binding on Christians?  It’s like they want to have their cake and eat it, too- give us the everlasting life that Torah provides, but don’t expect us to obey the Torah.

Huh? Really?

I use this analogy when teaching about the split between Christianity and Judaism:

Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer chases Bugs into a tree? Bugs is sitting on a branch, and Elmer is on the tree sawing the branch, laughing derisively as he knows Bugs will fall to the ground. But when the branch is cut through, it is the tree that falls to the ground while the branch remains suspended in air. That’s what Christianity thinks is possible when they teach that they can ignore the Torah.

The Torah is what God gave to the world– the Jews are nothing more than the first ones to learn the lessons. God’s commandment to the Jewish people is to follow, then teach others to follow. That is how the descendants of Abraham are to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 22:18), and why it is so important to realize that accepting Yeshua means becoming a descendant of Abraham, which carries the obligation (even the commandment) to teach the nations and the peoples of the world about the Torah, which was, and is, part of God’s plan of salvation.

To put it more succinctly: if you teach that the Torah is not necessary, you are working against God’s plan of salvation. If you think faith is all you need to be saved, you are right, but without obedience then your faith is empty; everything (EVERYTHING) Yeshua taught us to do is directly from the Torah. Everything His Talmudim (Disciples) taught the newly grafted branches onto the Tree of Life to do was directly from the Torah.

I am not saying to be a Christian you have to convert to Judaism, and because I am Born Again that doesn’t make me a Christian- I am a Jew. But everyone who accepts Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah and Savior becomes a descendant of Abraham and, as such, is required to obey the commandments God gave to the descendants of Abraham- the same ones we read in the Torah, starting with this parashah and the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments is the “Reader’s Digest” version of the entire Tanakh, the first 5 dealing with our duties to God and the next 5 with our duties to each other. As Yeshua said, the most important commandments are to love God and love each other, and on those two commandments pivot all the writings and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40.) These 10 commandments teach us how to love God and each other, but neither God nor Yeshua ever meant that we should exclude all the other commandments found in the Torah. That is what Yeshua meant when He said that the writings and the Prophets pivot on, or are contained, in these two things. He wasn’t saying we can ignore the rest, He was saying that the rest will come more naturally from doing these two things.

We need to get back on line, back in the proper groove, which is to honor the Torah, which honors God, and try to obey all that God said we should do. There shouldn’t be differences in religions, in fact, there shouldn’t be different religions, at all! There should only be God and each other- that is the game plan He gave us to follow. Apparently, we didn’t like a lot of God’s rules, so we’ve made up a bunch of our own, from Talmudic laws of Halakha (Way to Walk) to Christian Canons and rites. And whom do these rules honor?  Not God, because they are man-made and their main purpose is to provide a few with power over the others.

Anything different from what God told us to do is not from God- think about that.

Salvation comes from faith, but faith without works is dead, so prove your faithfulness by your works: the works God, Himself, gave us in His Torah.

Parashah Mattot (chiefs) Numbers 30:2 – 32

The previous parashah ended with Moses reviewing for the people the commandments regarding sacrifices and the Holy Days. Now he continues with the laws regarding vows. These three things- sacrifice, Festivals and vows- form the basis of worship. The people are at the end of their journey and being prepared to enter the land God promised them they would possess. This is not the generation that refused God’s offer, for they all died in the desert. This is the new generation of Israel, a nation not born into slavery but born into freedom, raised in the harshest of climates and environments. This is the generation that has grown up knowing battle.

After the A-B-C’s of worship are reviewed, God tells Moses that the last thing he is to do as leader is to have Israel destroy the Midianites for the cruelty they imposed on the Israelites. After this, Moses is to meet his Maker.

The Israelites destroy the 5 kings of Midian, but there are still Midianites left in other parts of Canaan. Israel takes all the spoil, including women and children, which makes Moses mad. He reminds them of the sin caused by these women after Balaam suggested they seduce the men of Israel into worshiping their gods. Moses orders all the women who are not virgins to be slain, and all the male children (BTW…Balaam is also slain in the battle.) The spoils are split with those who did not go to war, with a lions share to the men who went to battle. There is tithing of the spoils, and the men that risked their lives gave a portion one tenth the size of those that received spoils but did not fight.

Miraculously, but not surprising considering God is behind this, of the 12,000 men from Israel who went to fight (1,000 from each tribe) it is reported that not one man is killed in battle.

This parashah ends with the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh asking if they can have the land east of the Jordan because it is good for their cattle.

Just for the record, Manasseh wasn’t really spit in half: there were 8 tribes of Manasseh (Numbers 26:29-32 lists the sons of Manasseh, 8 in all), of which 6 families stayed on the East of the Jordan, and the other 2 were on the West.

This request ticked Moses off, as he assumed they were refusing, as their fathers had, to enter the land, but it was soon resolved that they would go into the land to help the other tribes conquer it, and only after the other tribes had their inheritances would these three tribes return to their share east of the Jordan. These three tribes built up their cities and fortified them, then joined the rest of the camp to go into Canaan and take possession.

I have often heard that the bible is not fair to women. Of course, any complaint against social mores in historic times that is based on current beliefs is ridiculous. History is what it was, and can’t be judged by what is now. We can make comparisons, we can say that women were considered in a different light then, but when we look deeper we see that they were not treated unfairly then, considering that day’s ethical beliefs. In fact, the bible shows that women were given just as much right as men to make decisions, once they were of age or their social status was free of parental support.

That is really the difference- today a female person of majority (legal age) has rights and is accountable for what she does, with no consideration as to her marital status or where she lives.  Back then, the ages for majority were different, but what was the same then as it is now is …“as long as you live under my roof, you will abide by my rules.” A female who was a virgin and living with her father was under his authority. She was allowed to make vows, and if the father (or when married, the husband) let those vows stand by not voiding them, then she was totally accountable to God for keeping that vow. If the father (or husband), who technically owned all assets of the family, voided the vow the moment he heard about it, then the female was absolved of responsibility. However, if the male did not void it immediately upon learning about it, but tried to void it later, the female was not accountable because he was! She had the right to make a vow and the responsibility to keep it, unless the person that owned the property for the family voided it. Remember- a vow would affect the entire family, and may also affect their income; or, the person making the vow may be less available for doing chores. Whatever the vow was, it affected everyone in the family, and may have affected their assets. It is only right that the one who owns the assets is given a right of review. It may be that you say women should have as much right to the property as the man, but there were no communal property laws in 1500 BCE. Today that certainly isn’t fair, but that is how it was back then. When you consider the cultural ethics of the time, the laws about family leaders (the father or husband) having the final vote about a vow the female living with him makes, is very fair, and respectful to all involved.

Note , also, that if a woman was a widow or divorced (the assumption is that she is living alone), then her vows were binding. Again, here it shows that she has the same authority as a man to make a vow, but being under her own authority (marriage-wise) she is totally accountable. Having the right to promise to do something also carries the weight of responsibility for doing that which was promised. Man or woman, this was equally enforced.

One example that comes to mind is how Elkanah let stand Hannah’s vow to give her first born son to God (1 Samuel, 22-23.)

When we read the bible we have to incorporate proper interpretive rules, and one of those is to accept that the cultural norms of that day were acceptable then. We may not accept them now, but that doesn’t make the people back then “wrong” or “unfair’ because the rules, as well as the entire game, was very different.

By remembering to account for cultural and ethical differences, you will not misjudge the people, or (for that matter) the bible.

Parashah Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:15) When you set up…

We begin this portion of the Torah with the lighting of the menorah. The Tabernacle has been constructed and anointed, then Aaron and his sons, now the menorah is lit and Aaron is told that he and his descendants are the ones blessed and honored to perform that duty. The Levites are separated, cleansed and appointed (officially) to their duties, and the people are reminded that God has separated the Levites unto Himself for serving Him, as a ransom for all the firstborn that were killed in Egypt. The term of service is to be between the ages of 25 and 50, after which the Levite is still to serve as a teacher and leader, but not physically to work in the Tabernacle or move it.

The beginning of the second year God tells Moses to have everyone celebrate the Pesach festival, and the ruling is given that if a person is unclean and cannot celebrate it in the first month, then that person is to do so on the 14th day of the second month. The rule is the same for both the native and the person who sojourns (a convert) with the people. This is repeated many times throughout the Torah: whether born Jewish or converted, once you have chosen to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob you are an adopted child, and you are not only privileged to be given all the rights of a native, but you are also responsible to follow all the laws.

As an aside, here’s where this has ended up today:

– Christianity wants to be accepted as a child of the same God that the Jewish people worship, have accepted that Yeshua is their Messiah, but worship Him instead of God and have rejected Torah;

– Judaism worships God, follows Torah, yet they have (for the most part) rejected Yeshua as their Messiah;

– the only ones who have it right (in my opinion) are the Messianic Jews and Hebraic Roots movement Christians, who worship God, have accepted Yeshua as their Messiah and also follow Torah, just as Yeshua did.

Back to the Parashah: now it’s the second year since leaving Egypt, the second month so everyone has had the chance to celebrate Passover, the Tabernacle has been up for a while, the Levites are serving and the Cloud has been over the Tabernacle all this time. Now is the first move. We read about how the tribes march out, the Ark of the Covenant in the lead and the wonderful invocation that Moses gives when the Ark leads, and when it comes to rest. These words are still repeated to this day when the Torah is removed from the Ark, and when it is returned.

God commands that two silver trumpets be made for calling the people to gather and to prepare for war. These are ceremonial trumpets, and different from Shofarot.

As the people start to move, they begin to grumble, as they will often, against Moses and their situation. This time it is about not having any meat. I personally think that if they had asked God respectfully He would have obliged them, but as such, with their faithless and selfish grumbling and kvetching, God sent them meat and then made them sick of (and from) it to the point where a plague broke out against the people. Maybe it was a form of Avian Flu? Whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant, or maybe I should say, it wasn’t pheasant (ouch!)

The final chapter relates how Aaron and Miriam complain against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman. Most likely that means she was Ethiopian, although it could refer to Zipporah, a Midianite. It was either a second marriage or just that Zipporah was from Midian- we do not know for sure, but we do not for certain that Miriam is the instigator and Aaron is drawn into the issue by her. That is clear from the Kumash. Miriam is summarily punished by God for speaking against Moses, and Moses immediately asks God to forgive her. Here we learn about how meek and humble Moses is. God allows her to be healed of the leprosy He inflicted on her and makes her wait outside the camp, as one unclean, for 7 days.

The lesson for us today from this that I want to talk about is how simple and manifest the prayer of Moses was to heal his sister. All he said was, “Heal her now, oh Lord, I beseech thee!” Simple, heartfelt, and (if I may use the word) …pure. It is a pure prayer, asking what is needed for both the person making the prayer and the person for whom the prayer is offered for.

How many times do we hear people pray on and on, andonandonandonandon….sometimes I can sense them stumbling, trying to think of something else, anything else, to say. As if the Lord doesn’t get it, like God doesn’t know what we want so while we have His attention let’s just get everything we possibly can out. Sometimes after a service, when we are going to do the blessings over the wine and bread (the Kiddush) the leader will go on praying about the sermon, the communion act, and other things, and I wish that he would just give the blessings. Those blessings are simple and say it all- thank you, Lord, for bringing forth bread from the earth and for creating the fruit of the vine. Maybe a quickie reminder, that this is what we do not just to thank God but in memory of the Messiah’s request that we remember Him, also, when we do this. Communion is not communion with Yeshua, it is communion with God, and serves additionally as a memorial to Yeshua’s sacrifice. Together, the prayers and Yeshua’s sacrifice bring us into communion with God.

When you pray, don’t go on. Your Father in heaven knows what you need (didn’t Yeshua tell us that in Matthew 6:8?) so just ask with a simple, heartfelt request for what you need now. Don’t go on about tomorrow- today has enough problems of it’s own (oh, my- didn’t Yeshua say that, too?) and we are only to ask for what we need now. And don’t ramble on (Yikes! Yeshua said that, too!) We can’t possible need so much that a prayer to God will take more than a few minutes. It should take no time at all. The only thing that should take up a lot of time is recounting all the wonderful blessings God has given us. If I was to thank God, one-by-one, for all the blessings He has bestowed on me (most every one of them undeserved) I would be praying non-stop, 24/7/365 (366 on leap years) from now until I died, and I would still be short.

Make your prayer meaningful by filling it full of meaning. When we say to somone, “I love you”, is there really anything else to say? We all know what that means, the words evoke the myriad emotions and feelings and memories of what loving and being loved has meant to each individual who says those three words. If humans can understand so fully what it means to tell someone you love them, then how much more can the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, our very Creator, know about what we want, need and feel when we talk to Him?

Let your prayer life conform to the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Schmo!

God knows what you want and he knows what you need, so ask for what you want and He will give you what you need. Don’t try to speak in perfect Shakespearian language, don’t try to emulate Solomon, don’t make King James roll over in his grave listening to you. Just pray as Moses prayed, and as Yeshua told us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-14.

Start by giving honor to God, ask for forgiveness (to cleanse yourself before Him), then ask Him for only that which you need right now, and only what you need to survive, tell God what you desire, and then finish with praising the Lord and recognizing His worthiness and power. Finally, invoke the name of Yeshua ha Mashiach, for we were told that when we pray in Yeshua’s name, God will grant us whatever we ask for. That’s it- if you are praying much more than 1-2 minutes, you’re probably getting off the mark.

I have prayed to God for more than 2 minutes, but it was more like talking with Him. I converse with Him (well, I talk and He listens) and sometimes it does go on for a while, but it is a conversation. And it is totally private. But my prayers, my orisons, my requests and my deepest feelings that I pour out to Him are simple and short.

Do what you feel good about; if you really feel good when you pray for a long time, than don’t let anything I do or say get between you, your prayer life and your communion with God. I just ask that you review what you are doing, and if Moses was comfortable with a 5 or 6 word prayer to heal his sister from a death-like existence, then maybe we should be comfortable with asking God simply and honestly for what we need.

Prayer only has to be from the heart, from a broken and contrite spirit, honest, heartfelt and to God. That’s all it takes.