Weekly Torah Commentary – Yom Kippur September 30, 2017

Torah Reading: Leviticus 16: 1-34 & Numbers 29:7-11

Haftorah Reading:  Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14, Jonah 1:1 – 4:11, Micah 7: 18-20

At first glance you may well be saying, ‘Whew, that’s a lot to read!’  Yes it is.  We’ll not try to tackle all of that in one post!  So here’s what caught my attention this week as I read through all these verses.

YomKippur

 

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: ‘I live in the high and holy place and with those whose spirits are contrite and humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.  Isaiah 57:15

Key words: contrite and humble – two aspects of ‘those with repentant hearts.’ What do those words really mean?

A person who is ‘contrite’ has a genuine sense of remorse or sorrow over what they’ve done and a desire to make it right.  This goes far deeper than a casual ‘I’m sorry.’  To be contrite means, for example, that if I have spoken harshly to someone and wounded them, I not only apologize with sincerity but go out of my way to re-affirm my respect for them.  To be contrite, therefore, includes action or behavior that outwardly expresses my inner regret.

Humility has been defined in a variety of ways, one of my favorite ones being ‘the quality of rightly evaluating your strengths as gifts of God and not of your own making.’  Humility is the total opposite of the ‘Me first’ attitude.  Humility causes us to see and value the worth of all of God’s people and to go ‘the second mile’ in our service to others.  In a nutshell, a humble person puts God and others ahead of his own selfish interests.  Thus the book of Proverbs admonishes us:  When pride comes, then comes dishonor but with the humble is wisdom. 11:2-3  And again, Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life. (22:4)

Considered in Judaism as the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is observed with fasting and prayer at the end of a month long period of repentance.  This is the annual season of stepping back from our busy lives a bit and reviewing our life for the past year.  How have we failed in our walk with God? What progress have we made? Where do we need to press in and grow stronger in His service in the days ahead?

It is also important to recognize that this is specifically called the Day of ATONEMENT, not the day of Forgiveness, though we do pray for forgiveness on the day of atonement.  But there is a difference between forgiveness and atonement.  The Scriptures make abundantly clear that whenever we repent and turn to God, He forgives us – all through the year, not just on this day.

Atonement is a little different.  Think of it this way.  If I visit your home and you have a white carpet on which I spill a glass of purple grape juice, you may get rather upset but if I apologize and ask you to forgive me, you will because we’re friends.  However, the purple stain is still on the white rug.  Atonement is made when I ask you for a rag and rug cleaner and I get down on my hands and knees to remove the stain.  Atonement is repairing the damage done by the offense committed.

Sin damages our relationship with our Heavenly Father, whether we sin by commission or omission.  When we recognize our sin and repent, asking forgiveness, He forgives.  Making atonement for that sin is when we repair the damage by re-focusing our priorities on our relationship with Him and putting our own interests in the subordinate place.

It is written in Leviticus 16:30 that the LORD says, ‘On that day [Yom Kippur] offerings of purification will be made for you and you will be purified in the LORD’s presence from all your sins.’   I especially like the way this verse is translated in the TLV translation: ‘For on this day, atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you.  From all your sins, you will be clean before Adonai.’

To be forgiven is one of the greatest gifts we can receive. To be forgiven AND atoned for is even greater!  Every sin has its consequence.  If a spouse or friend betrays you, you may forgive them but the trust between you is broken.  That’s the consequence.  To repeat: Atonement is about repairing the consequence of our sins.  We are not always able to do that for ourselves and even we do, our efforts may fall short.

The good news of Yom Kippur is that God Himself has promised to make atonement on our behalf…and He has and He does.  For that He deserves our eternal gratitude and love.

In Tune with Torah this week = May the words of Micah the prophet which are read during the Yom Kippur service, be more meaningful to you at this time than ever before and may the love of God for you become more and more real to you today and in the days ahead.  Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us.  You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us Your faithfulness and unfailing love as You promised to our ancestors, Abraham and Jacob, long ago.  Micah 7: 18-20

May all of our names be written in the Book of Life.

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Ha’azinu September 23, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 32

Haftorah reading: II Samuel 22: 1-51

David’s song of thanksgiving in this week’s haftorah is almost identical to Psalm 18.  It celebrates the victory God has give him over his enemies.

David says of the LORD: He is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer as well as my shield and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, my refuge and my savior.

Wow! Is the LORD all of that to you today?  He is no respecter of persons, the Bible says.  That means that God doesn’t play favorites. What He was to David, He will be to you…if you let Him!

Notice that David’s relationship with the LORD is intensely personal. He says MY rock, not a rock. He calls the LORD MY tower, MY strength, MY shield and MY deliverer. To David the LORD God wasn’t just ‘a’ tower or ‘a’ hiding place or ‘a shield’ but MY shield and so on.

Without a strong, intensely personal relationship with the LORD, we are left only with religion – rituals, lists of do’s & don’ts, but empty of a living relationship.

Keep in mind that David did not spend years in a high class seminary or yeshiva. He was not highly educated at the feet of a great Rabbi. David was a shepherd, but oh, what a shepherd! As a mere teenager, he spent hours, days alone with the sheep and His God, developing a relationship with the Almighty which was founded not on great intellectual learning but on humble faith and prayer; in other words, David spent time meditating, focusing on the LORD and became His friend. That was David’s secret.

Great learning can fill your mind with much knowledge about God; time spent in His presence will fill you with Him!

In Tune with Torah this week: as we begin a new Hebrew year, 5778, let us determine to KNOW the LORD, not just about Him, but let us press in to know Him!

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – 9/15/ 2017 Nitzavim-Vayelech

Torah reading: Deut. 29:9 – 31:30  (a double portion)

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 1-5

This is a familiar passage to many but this week I’d like to focus on two unusual names that are in these verses for they – by themselves – have a message for us.  They are Hephzibah and Beulah.  Now, you may be thinking, what in the world do those names have to do with us?  And what parent gives such odd names to their daughters?

Hephzibah           Beulah

I’ve never met any woman with the name Hephzibah yet its meaning is beautiful: my joy is in her.  In this portion of Isaiah, God is telling the people of Israel through the prophet that though they were once rejected, they will afterward be called Hephzibah; in other words, God will find joy in them again, they will be precious, delightful and pleasing in His sight.

So we need to ask: why were they rejected and how will they become precious and delightful to the LORD again?

Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people that God is ‘your husband’.  Therefore their sins against Him have grieved His heart and put a strain between Him and His people.  In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declares in the name of the LORD: I thought,’After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return and her faithless sister, Judah, saw this.  She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.  Jeremiah 3:7-8  Imagine that! God says He divorced his unfaithful spouse, Israel! How was this to be remedied?

The answer was not another sacrifice for if you read the Torah carefully you quickly see that no sacrifice in and of itself erased sin; true repentance elicits God’s forgiveness and the sacrifices offered for sin under the Mosaic Covenant only had value as representations of a repentant heart.  We could go further with the analogy and say that in a manner of speaking, all sin falls under the umbrella of ‘adultery’.  That’s not my idea.  Jeremiah declares it:  I have seen your adulteries [says the LORD] and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field.  I have seen your abominations.  Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean? Jer, 13:27

Sin caused an alienation between God and Israel.  Yet all is not lost. Repentance is the path to restoration and God promises that if they turn back to Him, they will no longer be rejected but once more considered precious in His sight.

This is true on a personal as well as a national level. Of late it has become unfashionable to speak of SIN.  Political correctness has generated all manner of excuses, rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that clearly disagree with the inviolable Word of God.  Unless you call it for what it is – SIN – you have no route to restoration.  We repent for SIN, receive God’s forgiveness and our relationship with Him is restored.  If you choose instead to sugar coat ungodly behavior then you eliminate the need for repentance – a very dangerous position.

I may not be enamored of the name Hephzibah, but I sure want to be a ‘Hephzibah’ – a person precious and delightful to the LORD, someone of whom He could say ‘My joy is in her’.  Don’t you want the same for yourself?

The name Beulah means ‘married’. Marriage for a woman in bible times was more than just the norm – it was a necessity. Fail to marry, and you had no children, no income, no protection, no honor.

The story is told of a farmer who had seven daughters; six of them were lovely but the seventh was very homely.  There was nothing attractive about her appearance and she was therefore shy, lacked confidence and wallowed in her misery.  One day a very eligible bachelor came to the farmer asking for permission to court one of his daughters. The farmer was excited because the young man came from a prominent family that owned lands and wealth.  Besides that he was handsome and kind.

The farmer gathered his six daughters – the pretty ones – and brought them before the bachelor.  He looked at each one and was impressed with their intelligence and their beauty yet he didn’t choose any of them.  He turned to the farmer and said, ‘Don’t you have another daughter?’

Awkwardly, the farmer nodded in agreement.  ‘Bring her here,’ asked the bachelor.  A few moments later, the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family emerged, dressed very plainly, head bowed, eyes on the floor, her hair unkempt.  The bachelor stepped closer to her, lifted her chin and looked into her eyes for a few moments.  Then he stepped back and said to the farmer, ‘With your permission, I would like to court this one of your daughters.’ Her sisters were aghast and couldn’t understand how the young man would choose their sister over any of them.

Not long afterward, the bachelor came to see the farmer again, this time to ask permission to marry the farmer’s ‘unattractive’ daughter. He loved her and was willing to accept her just the way she was, he declared.

A year later, the ‘ugly duckling’ was no longer ‘ugly’ but had blossomed into a beautiful person, inside and out.  What changed her? The unconditional love of her spouse.

Need I say more?

In Tune with Torah this week = It could be said that the greatest need of every man and woman on the face of the earth is to learn and experience the unconditional love of God.

The story of God’s relationship with Israel is a love story.   I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you to Myself.  Jeremiah 31:3

Jer.31

Hephzibah and Beulah say to us: Without a relationship with our Father, our King, our Husband, we are all ‘ugly ducklings’.  It is His love, His kindness, His lavish grace poured out generously in our lives that make us lovely, delightful, attractive, from the inside out.  That is the kind of person of whom God can say, ‘My joy is in him/her.’  May He be able to say that of all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tavo September 8, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 60: 1-22

This section of Isaiah contains a few nuggets for our inspiration.  It opens with these words:

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.  To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for His own glory.  Isaiah 61:1-3 NLT

God raised up a prophet endowed with the Holy Spirit to bring a Word that transforms poverty into prosperity; a Word that restores broken hearts; a Word that unleashes the cage of incarcerated dreams and visions; a Word that gives perspective for vision and leadership within the discombobulated realities of post-exilic Jerusalem.

To Isaiah, love and service for the post-exilic Hebrew people were priority. Equipping the people to rebuild waste places and regaining beauty for ashes were more important to the prophet than building his own ministry.

Divine callings are validated by our willingness to submit to the Spirit that has appointed and anointed us for the particular work to which God has called us.  Isaiah, surrounded by broken communities and fear; beauty trampled into ashes; years of hard labor smashed in a little time, announces with the confidence of one who knows his calling, that the Spirit of the LORD has sent him to lift up the downcast.

This was a risky declaration. Conditions were not good in Jerusalem at that time but Isaiah does what no president, prime minister or politician could do.  He brings the hope that the people needed. How? Because the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he obeyed the prompting.

powerofone

 

This Word from God came at a time when the people felt that they were forgotten, unloved and abandoned. The message of the prophet assured Israel that God still loves and favors the abandoned.

The very same Word that spoke order in the middle of chaos in Genesis 1 is the same Word that filled the mouth of the prophet. There is something incredible that happens when the Spirit of God shows up.

  • The Spirit brings a Word to solve problems;
  • The Spirit brings a Word to undo predicaments and heal pains;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word that transforms lives and communities;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to resolve and restoration;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to change and challenge;
  • The Spirit comes with a Word to rescue and reveal God’s power;
  • The Spirit comes with a vision and provision;
  • The Spirit brings a Word of hope and help.

The “good news” to the broken is restoration. The “good news” to the hurting is healing.

What does this passage have to do with us today?

You and I may not be anointed as ‘prophets’ but the same Spirit of the LORD that empowered Isaiah is the same Spirit of the LORD today.  There isn’t a different one!

In 1945, Alma Androzzo penned the words to the song, “If I can help somebody as I pass along; if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, If I can show somebody he is traveling wrong; Then my living shall not be in vain.”

It is high time that we jump off the political bandwagons and take our position as God’s people seriously.  You can help solve problems, comfort the hurting, encourage the lonely and change your community – yes YOU!  The power of ONE is immeasurable, and never greater than when you have been empowered by the Spirit of the LORD for a specific task.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that we recognize the power that we each have to affect change and that we all step forward in obedience to the Spirit of the LORD. If we each take this responsibility we become many and, in this context, one is no small number. So, next time you think of yourself as “just one person” remember what a powerful thing that is. Just because you’re one doesn’t mean you’re small – it means you’re one more person who can make a difference.

It may be the lovable toddler or the wayward teen, the grieving widow or the grateful man for whom all is well. Each person is an individual. Each has divine potential. And each must be spiritually nourished and temporally cared for with love, kindness, and individual attention.

In Tune with Torah this week = Child of God, you are not here by accident or happenstance. You have a specific purpose to fulfill for God’s glory.  Let no timidity, excuse or rationalization keep you from walking in the destiny to which you were born.

The Spirit of the LORD is your strength.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Teitzei September 1, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 54: 1-10

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the massive devastation, it is no ‘coincidence’ that this week’s Haftorah reading from Isaiah cries out: It’s time to rebuild.  Verses 1-3 speak of ‘enlarging your place’ and verses 4-10 are a call to ‘start fresh’.  The message, however, reaches far beyond what has happened in Houston this week.  Let’s not miss the spiritual intent that is enclosed in the physical events.

Isaiah54

Enlarge your house, build an addition.  Spread out your home and spare no expense! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will occupy other nations and resettle the ruined cities.  Vs. 2-3

After a major disaster like Hurricane Harvey there will be those who will leave Houston forever and make their home elsewhere, just as many did after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  Isaiah 54 is God’s promise to those who decide to stick it out and trust God.

There has been a period of devastation, moments where it looked hopeless, but our haftorah tells us how God intends to rebuild afterwards. He doesn’t tells us to close ranks and lick our wounds. Instead he calls us to Enlarge our tents, Start Fresh, and lay a rich foundation.

Perhaps the ‘hurricane’ in your life is not about wind and water but circumstances that have shaken you, threatened your sense of well-being and introduced a new level of fear.

The Babylonian exile and captivity meant more than oppression for Israel; it meant shame, disgrace, and humiliation.  Through Isaiah, God promised Israel a glorious release from not only the exile and captivity, but also from the shame, disgrace, and humiliation.  That same promise is extended to you today.

The remnant of Israel is looking at a rebuilding process that is hopeless. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t leave one brick on top of another in Jerusalem. But God is commanding the Jews to go back and rebuild the temple and the city.

Typically most rebuilds of cities in ancient times consisted of completely demolishing the city and then building a new one on top of it. They are know as “Tells” or cities built upon previous cities. In Israel there are many man made mountains of demolished cities and this is where most of the archeological digs take place.

God called the exiles to rebuild from the ashes because though it looked desolate to the people, God saw something different.

If your situation looks desolate, remember that God doesn’t see it that way. He can resurrect and rebuild any life that has been devastated.

How does he do that? Vs. 2-3 Enlarge your tent

Often times the counsel that God gives goes against all logic. He is telling Israel to enlarge its tents. How do you enlarge something that is so devastated? At that time, Israel wasn’t even at place to rebuilt yet alone a place where tents can be enlarged.  But God says that the curse and shame of barrenness would be so completely broken, and Israel would be so fruitful, that they would have to expand their living space.  This was of particular comfort to the returning Babylonian exiles, who felt themselves small in number and weak. This promise certainly strengthened them just as it can strengthen us today.

And…this is a recurring promise in the scriptures.

1 Chron 4:10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked.

We too can pray for God to enlarge our tents even though it doesn’t seem possible. That’s because it’s a work that only God can do.

Psalm 127:1-2 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

It is easy when mistakes have been made to focus on those and get stuck but verse 4 says: Forget the shame of your youth. God did not ignore the reason for the exile – the sins of Israel – but He calls them to look forward, not backward.  He had forgiven them and the time had come to move ahead, unhindered by past mistakes.

In Tune with Torah this week = Regardless of what we may be facing, looking back is never the right move.  If you have repented of past sins and failures, God has forgiven you. His word to you now is  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

Take courage! Look forward! Press on!

Shabbat shalom