Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh February 23, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 27: 20 – 30:10

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 15:1-34

This week’s Torah reading includes the description of the garments prescribed for the High Priest and the rest of the Levites.

HighPriest

When we look at the garments we learn that there were seven basic pieces that the High Priest would wear. There were some garments that only he could wear, not the rest of the priests.

The High Priest would wear:

• The ephod—28:6-14

• The breastplate—28:15-30

• The robe of the ephod with a belt—28:31-35

• A mitre (turban) with a gold medallion—28:36-38

• The linen breeches—28:39-43

The ordinary priest would wear a similar uniform although not as ornate as that of the high priest (28:40-43).

• The linen breeches

• The embroidered coat

• The belt (girdle)

• The turban

Nothing was spared in the quality and work of these garments that the priests were directed to wear.  Materials included pure gold, precious jewels, fine linen, pure white wool and costly ointment.  Those who fashioned the garments had to be “wise-hearted and skilled.”

The pattern of worship for the Israelites at the Tabernacle in the desert, and later in the Temple, called for them to gather at regularly times to worship the LORD. There was a discipline, a reverence and a faithfulness mandated by the Torah.  Hmm – what about us today?

A brief aside….Is it enough to ‘show up’ for services and ignore the discipline, reverence and faithfulness of daily prayer in our own private space?  Not it’s not.

There are benefits and dangers to ritualized prayer and worship.  Among the benefits are 1) a sense of community, 2) a routine which reminds us to pray, 3) an opportunity to develop self-discipline and faithfulness, two virtues that can enhance everyone’s life.

The dangers are 1) we adopt a ‘minimal’ attitude; that is, ‘showing up’ becomes enough and we take no personal time to commune with God privately at home, 2) the repetition of ritual prayers dulls our senses, minimizing our ability to pray with concentration and heartfelt devotion, 3) we deceive ourselves into thinking that outward religious expression is all that God wants.  Hardly!

Listen to the prophet Isaiah:  ‘…this people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me…Isaiah 29:13

Back to the priestly garments…We do not have time or space in this commentary to delve into all the different pieces of the priestly garments but we’ll look at one of them.

You shall make for them [white] linen trunks [or shorts] to cover their naked flesh, reaching from the waist to the thighs.  Ex. 28:42

Every time the priests came into the temple they were to wear these linen breeches for the sake of modesty and purity.  This piece of clothing hearkens back to the Garden of Eden.  What was the first thing that Adam and Eve did after they sinned?  They ‘sewed fig leaves together and make themselves loin coverings.’  Gen. 3:7

Their first action after sinning betrayed their shame and guilt.  They covered themselves up.  Being exposed was no longer acceptable.  When God came on the scene, it became clear that just covering their loins was not enough for ‘the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.’  Gen. 3:21

A lack of modesty in worship is displeasing to the Lord. Therefore, though they would also wear tunics and robes, the priests were required to wear linen breeches underneath to assure that during the exercise of their duties, no unseemly exposure could occur.

But there’s another reason, too.  Remember that the people to whom the Torah was given had only recently left Egypt after being immersed in that pagan culture for years.  They were acquainted with the way the Egyptians worshiped their idols.

The Egyptian priest was clothed in a very short flimsy skirt. As he ascended the pagan altar all of those gathered around the altar would be provoked to sensual immoral behavior. This was activity was not limited to the Egyptians but was common among the majority of societies who gave themselves to the worship of idols. As the priest would ascend the altar more and more of his body would be exposed to the people and it would spur the people to sinful “worship” involving their lustful passions.  In prescribing these linen breeches for the Israelite priests, Moses would have immediately recognized  the Lord’s wisdom.  The worship of the children of Israel to their God was to be markedly different to that of the pagan Egyptians.

In Tune with Torah this week = modesty is not a highly esteemed virtue in our modern society. (That’s an understatement!) Yet in God’s eyes it is highly prized.  Modesty is not limited to how we dress.  Modest speech is just as highly valued.  How do you speak about yourself? Do you brag? Do you feign humility but in fact are actually ‘fishing’ for compliments? Are you modest, humble about your accomplishments? About your family? Do you talk about yourself too much?  All of these relate to ‘modesty’.

Modest speech, modest behavior, modest dress – they all affect our worship of the Holy One of Israel.  To some, modesty is old fashioned. To those who love God and seek to walk in His ways, modesty is a desirable and precious virtue.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Terumah February 16, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

Haftorah reading: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it.”  Exodus 25:8-9

pillaroffire

There is a principle embedded in the pages of Scripture that says: God has provided the cure before the disease.  In timeless eternity before Creation, God, in His great mercy and love, had a plan that was already in motion before man fell; a plan to reveal His love and His character to mankind and give man a second chance to commune with God.

When you read through the Book of Exodus, you will find that God gave three very important things through Moses that gave Israel the beginnings of God’s plan.

First, He had to show them what it meant to be holy, and to show them where they had already missed the mark and were an unworthy people, worthy only of death and judgment. He did this by giving them the Torah, and specifically the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments are not suggestions but rather God’s instructions for attaining to a holy life.

Secondly, God gave Moses the Civil and Religious Laws that we read so much of in the Book of Leviticus and other books of God’s Word. These laws were meant to show man the way to living a sanctified and committed life.

Thirdly, God commanded Moses to build a dwelling place for Him in the midst of the nation of Israel. It was the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

The Tabernacle was to be the place where God would dwell and guide His people during their wilderness journey. The building of the Tabernacle was to be one of the most joyful and momentous occasions in the history of Israel.  Everything about this tabernacle was a symbol of something far greater than a building made with hands. It was built to visually express God’s deepest desire: to dwell in the hearts of men.

So let’s take a look at some facts about the Tabernacle.

1. The Tabernacle was the worship center of Israel for a long, long time: more than 500 years from MOSES to DAVID – until Solomon’s TEMPLE was built

2. A Large portion of the Torah is dedicated to the Tabernacle:

-13 chapters in the book of Exodus discuss the Tabernacle and its priesthood.

-18 chapters of Leviticus discuss the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle.

-2 chapters in Deuteronomy are set aside for the study of the Tabernacle.

3. The Tabernacle was filled with symbols, types, pictures, and shadows that teach us spiritual truths. The symbolism of the Tabernacle is significant.

4.  The Tabernacle and its priesthood were teaching tools for more than 500 years. Israel had to settle for an imperfect Tabernacle that was made with human hands but which foreshadowed God’s ultimate plan of Redemption.

5. The cloud that guided by day was visible above the Holy of Holies to show that God was in their midst.  The pillar of fire by night was comforting. The Children of Israel could always look toward the Holy of Holies and see the fire of God’s presence over their camps.

The Tabernacle was the dwelling place for God’s presence upon earth, standing as a strong and enduring witness of the reality of God’s presence, His love and His care for His people.  But it also testified to a reality to come: that one day those who are called God’s people would so embody the spirit and essence of the One they follow that all nations would see and recognize Him as Almighty Father, Glorious Creator and Incomparable Redeemer.

The Tabernacle is referred to by three distinct words.  A ‘tabernacle‘ is a ‘dwelling’ place.  A ‘sanctuary’ is a ‘place set apart.’  A ‘tent of testimony’ signifies a dwelling which makes a statement about who lives in it.

In Tune with Torah this week = Given that the Tabernacle was not only a physical place but also a spiritual reality that speaks to us these many centuries later, this Shabbat let us ask ourselves how we individually embody the three names by which it was known.

Am I – are you – a ‘dwelling place’ for God?  Is God at home with your way of life?

Am I – are you – a ‘sanctuary’ for Him? Is your life ‘set apart’ from the secular world’s way of doing things?  From its values and systems?

Am I – are you – a ‘tent of testimony’? Can others look at your lifestyle and recognize the presence of God in you?  Does your day to day life ‘testify’ that you love God and follow Him?

The Tabernacle was not just for the wilderness.  May its true meaning live on in each of us!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim February 9, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17

Sinai

In this week’s Torah reading, we find a series of specific commandments given by God to Moses.  Most are elaborations on the basic principles of the Ten Commandments.

We’ll look at just a few.

21:15  He who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death.  Can you imagine if this law was in strict effect today?  But does it just mean literally ‘strike’ them; that is, hit them, beat them physically?  Well it certainly includes that but there is more than one way to ‘strike’ a parent. Defiance, rebellion, disrespect – all are means of ‘striking’ one’s parents.  And there’s more.

21:17 He who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death. Abusive words towards one’s mother or father is just as sinful, according to this commandment.  Showing dishonor and even cruelty to older parents is reprehensible.  Ignoring your parents because you are so busy with your own life is displeasing to the Lord.  And perhaps the worst: speaking evil of your parents to others.

The positive commandment is ‘Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth.’ (Exodus 20:12)

21: 22-25  If men fight each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the women’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judge decides. But if there is injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty, life for life; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. 

This passage has bewildered people at times because they don’t understand what it is saying.  There is no way that God would demand the barbaric act of gouging out someone’s eye or cutting off someone’s hand.  The language here is Hebraic idiom and what it means is this: the offender must pay the injured in proportion to the level of injury.  To put it in modern terms, if your teenage son got in a fight and knocked out the front teeth of another teenager, under this commandment, you as the parent would be responsible to pay for the dental work needed by the injured person.

21:32 If an ox gores a male or female servant, the owner shall give his or her master thirty pieces of silver and the ox shall be stoned.

The value on the life of a servant in those days was thirty pieces of silver so if you owned an ox and it killed one of your neighbor’s farmhands, you would be responsible to pay damages – 30 pieces of silver.

Chapter 22:22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.  If you afflict them at all and if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My anger will be kindled and I will kill you with a sword and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 

Widows and orphans have a special place in God’s heart.  He is protective of them and commands us to be the same.

22:28 You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.  This commandment is particularly timely at present, especially for my fellow Americans.  With the daily news this week being dominated by exposure of corruption and fraud at the highest levels of government,  many are angry at what’s been done.

Anger towards sin is one thing; but ‘cursing’ the sinner is something else entirely.  The adage is most appropriate here: Hate the sin; have regard for the sinner. Regardless of how upset we may get at the moral failures of leaders, we must guard our tongues lest we violate God’s rule: do not curse a ruler of your people.  The Scripture commands us to pray for those in authority over us and it does not carry with it an addendum that says, pray for them as long as they’re good in your eyes.  No, pray for them – period!

In Chapter 24, after hearing these and other instructions Moses gave them from the Lord, the people cry out, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.” (vs. 3b) In fact they repeated the same commitment again in verse 7.

In Tune with Torah this week = if we are honest, there are times we come across difficult passages when we read the Torah or listen to a teaching.  Perhaps it touches a nerve or puts a demand on us to change or to grow spiritually and we chafe against it.  It is precisely at those times that we need to echo the cry of the children of Israel: “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.”  

Weekly Torah Commentary – Yitro February 2, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 6: 1-13

In Exodus 18, Moses is faced with the challenge of change.  And his father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) is the source of the challenge.

Change is not easy– and many of us don’t like change.

Change is necessary– though all of us know down deep inside that change is important.

Change is a constant: “One man said that the only thing that you can count on is change.

After seeing many miracles and overcoming many obstacles, Moses and Israel were in a time of rest and recuperation when Jethro brought Moses’ wife and children to him. (Moses had left them behind when he was called to confront Pharaoh.)

MosesJethro

When Jethro arrived, Moses took him into his tent and bragged on all that God had done for Israel. Jethro’s was so moved that he offered a sacrifice to the God of Israel. Then we read:

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”  Exodus 18:13-23

There are both challenges and benefits to facing change in a godly manner.  What do we learn from Moses in this situation? Three fears that leaders – and all of us – face come to mind.

Pride-Why should I listen to Jethro? God has been doing mighty things through Moses. Everything seems to be working for him. Suddenly here is his father-in-law giving him unsolicited advice.

It is easier to make changes when things are going poorly but much harder when things are going well. A wise leader or person makes changes and adjustments through out their lives.  It is the tree that is producing good fruit that is pruned in order to produce even better fruit.

Fear-What if this does not work? Moses had to ask himself, what if this thing does not work? What is everyone going to say when I tell them that they need to go to someone else besides me?

One of the reasons we oppose change is fear; fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of being insignificant, fear of others doing better than we have done.

Insecurity-Is it a good idea to empower others?  Moses was the leader. If you opposed him and God, bad things happened. Now Moses was advised to empower others and give them influence. This had to test his insecurity. Moses may have thought, “What if those whom I put over a thousand people end up opposing me?”

A very real question!

By contrast, what are the benefits to Moses for accepting Jethro’s advice?

Efficiency –  vs. 17: “Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

I think most rational people look at this story and conclude that this was a wise decision. The ability to delegate to the right people improves efficiency and productivity.  More people were able to use their gifts and talents in a proper framework of authority and thereby fulfill their own callings and giftings.

Effectiveness – People were taken care of more quickly, and they were able to get a more personal touch.  Jethro says, If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.  vs. 23  The wisest thing Moses did  was to break up the people of Israel into smaller groups, so they could be cared for more effectively.

Excellence – Moses himself was able to do what he was called to do with greater excellence by having the ‘distractions’ of meeting with all the people delegated to capable men of integrity.  Moses was called to deliver the people and to teach them and Jethro’s advice freed him to fulfill that calling more fully.

Jethro said to Moses, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”

Lastly, Jethro’s advice facilitated the training of future leaders.

Once Israel entered the promise land, they would need leaders to govern throughout the region.  Raising up judges under Moses was a training ground for preparing the leaders that would be needed after Moses passed away. The benefit of wise change is that it prepares God’s people for the future.

In Tune with Torah this week = Changes that we may be facing in our personal lives may not be anything like what Moses faced.  Nevertheless, change is a constant part of life and as we face changes, we do well to pay attention to both its challenges and its benefits.  To resist change when it is pressing upon us is harmful to our spiritual growth. Let us embrace it and by the grace and wisdom of our Heavenly Father submit ourselves to the changes that will propel us on to the next step of our spiritual journey.

Shabbat Shalom