Weekly Torah Commentary – May 11, 2018 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send the seasonal rains…I will give you peace in the Land and you will be able to sleep without cause for fear…I will look favorably upon you, make you fertile and multiplying your people…and I will fulfill My covenant with you Leviticus 26: 3, 6, 9.

Someone has said that the history of Israel could be summed up this way: Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – over and over again.  To a great extent, that’s absolutely true.

But throughout that ebb and flow of Israel’s national character, one thing remains constant to this very day – GOD’S ETERNAL FAITHFULNESS to HIS COVENANT.

covenant

The people who populate the pages of your Bible and mine understood Covenant to a degree that few modern folks do.  In biblical times, covenants were linked to all kinds of relationships, whether nations, tribes, clans, families or individuals.

The English word ‘covenant’ comes from the Latin con-venire which literally means “to come together in agreement.”  The Hebrew word brit literally means ‘to bind or to fetter, a binding obligation’.  In biblical terms, the word Covenant is the ultimate expression of committed love and trust.

So we could define Covenant this way: It is a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and an oath, that creates a relationship in which each party is bound by specific undertakings on the other’s behalf. 

Westerners may feel strange or uncomfortable with the concept or confuse it with a ‘contract’ but they are not the same.  Contracts are negotiated by both parties and can be changed or even cancelled.  A Covenant is entirely different.  It is far above the exchange of things; it is the giving of oneself in committed relationship and the openness to receive from the other person. It cannot be altered or cancelled. A familiar example of this is the covenant between David and Jonathan detailed in the book of I Samuel.

The most amazing news announced to a man and his descendants was that God, in His unconditional love for us, cut a covenant with Abraham, thereby calling to all descendants of Abraham in every generation to enter into the most intimate and unbreakable bond of relationship known to mankind – a covenant relationship with Himself.  God’s covenant draws us into the circle of friendship in which God and His people are bound together.

What is perhaps equally amazing is that a perfect, all-wise and altogether holy God with no necessity within Him and no pressure from without, chose to create us with – of all things – free will.  Do you understand how incredible that is?  He created us with the capability to say ‘No’ to Him.  If I may put it this way, God took the greatest risk ever by creating man and woman in His image and likeness, yet with the ability within them to reject and rebel against the very One who created them.  If that’s not unconditional, eternal, unfathomable LOVE, I don’t know what is!

And when He did, He had already determined that He would make a covenant with the man of His choice, Abraham – a covenant that would last unconditionally throughout time and eternity, a covenant that He would never break because of Who He is – Almighty, Everlasting Eternally Unchangeable God!

There is another Hebrew word we must include in this discussion: chesed, which includes three ideas – strength, steadfastness and love – and it is commonly translated as loving kindness.  It denotes much more than loyalty and some legal obligation; it is genuine love, warmhearted generosity and goodness, an attitude of heart that goes beyond requirement to lavish giving of oneself and one’s resources.

By now, I’m sure you recognize that everything we’ve said about Covenant describes the very essence and character of our Heavenly Father.  He is unlimited Love, unconquerable Strength and unending faithfulness or steadfastness.  When God made covenant with Abraham, it was for keeps!

And so the psalmist wrote: Your (chesed) loving kindness, O Lord is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Psalm 36:5

God made Covenant not to create loving kindness but to express His loving kindness – that we might see His heart now and for all eternity.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

Most importantly, let us not forget precisely what God promised Abraham:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai, ‘God Almighty’….This is My covenant with you. I will make you that father of a multitude of nations.  What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer by Abram. Instead you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.  I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them.’  Gen. 17:1, 4-6

This promise of ‘many nations’ – not just one – followed Abram’s declaration of Faith. And Abram believed the LORD and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith Gen. 15:6

This occurred some four hundred years before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai.  Abram was not considered righteous by God because of meticulous keeping of the law for there was no law in his day! God called him ‘righteous’ because of his FAITH.

In tune with Torah this week =  Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation and also father of ‘many nations’ which includes the Gentile nations, stands for all time as the premiere example of the power of FAITH.

At the age of 99, when every natural reality cried against it, Abram BELIEVED that God could do the impossible…and God did.  Every man, woman and child who believes in the Person and the Word of the living God is a child of Abraham, one of His spiritual descendants.

Child of Abraham, FAITH is the bedrock of our relationship with God; He cannot lie, His Word will never fail. You can trust your Heavenly Father implicitly for His Chesed – loving kindness – endures forever!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar May 4, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 32:6 – 27

Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.  Lev. 25:17

fearoftheLord

Why do some people take advantage of others?
Why do some people use others to reach their own goals?

The first thing that will come to your mind when you try to answer such questions is that the people who do this are just plain mean. I agree, but what drives a person to act this way? And why do other people never feel like using others even though they might gain many benefits if they did so?

Let me suggest the following reasons, though there are probably more:

Helplessness  Human beings generally will use the least effort to achieve their goals and/or unmet needs.  If they feel helpless to succeed on their own merit they use others to gain their ends. When they do, they reveal nothing about you, but a whole lot about themselves.

Lack of control over one’s own life: When someone feels as though they’ve lost control over their life, they often resort to taking advantage of others in an attempt to regain control.  A popular way of feeling ‘in control’ of one’s life is controlling others.  A hen-pecked husband, for example, may try to compensate by controlling his co-workers on the job.

Inferiority: Feelings of inferiority and worthlessness prompt some to compensate by becoming arrogant, introverted or fostering a superior attitude.  When a person takes advantage of another he might feel superior to him and as a result compensate for his feelings of insecurity.

Narcissism, codependency & double standards: Narcissists and codependent people use others in order to feel better about themselves. In order not to feel guilty or to experience shame those people usually try to convince themselves that they are better than others and therefore the ‘others’ deserve to be taken advantage of.

It’s noteworthy that the verse from this week’s Torah reading says Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of others.’  That tells me that the importance of this commandment lies in our righteous fear of the Lord or the lack of it!  It’s really not primarily about one’s ego or emotions.  It’s deeper than that.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, it says in Psalm 111:10.

And in Proverbs 10:27, we read: The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be shortened.

Again in Proverbs 14:27, The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
that one may avoid the snares of death.

If we knew that all of our secret thoughts, words, and actions would be displayed publicly so that everyone could watch them and evaluate them, it would make a profound difference in the way we live! We have an instinctive concern about what others think of us and how they will judge the things we do.  How much more should we be concerned about God’s evaluation of our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and motives?

Each of us will give an account of our lives to God, and He is fully aware of everything we think, desire, speak, and do. The fear of the LORD is the result of an awareness of these truths. It can be defined as a continual awareness that you are in the presence of a holy, just, and almighty God, and that every motive, thought, word, and action is open before Him and will be judged by Him.  It means that we live with a profound awe, respect and reverence towards Him and His Truth as we learn it from the Scriptures.

Understanding that, it makes perfect sense that the Torah reading this week would say, Show your fear of God….. by not taking advantage of one another.’

Our motivation for treating others with respect comes from our respect towards God who created us all! To take advantage of others for selfish purposes demonstrates disrespect not only to the one you take advantage of, but to God Himself.

In Tune with Torah this week = understand that taking advantage of others can manifest in several ways but the bottom line is a self-serving attitude that cares more about oneself than the other person.  But the Bible tells us not to think of our own interests only, but to care about the concerns and interests of others.

Selfishness is at the root of every sin and failure.  There’s a delightful little book I read recently which contained this wonderful statement:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.  (from The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller)

Shabbat Shalom