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.

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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

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shoftim August 25, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”  Isaiah 52:7

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Beautiful feet?  A beautiful smile, a beautiful outfit; beautiful children:  I can envision all of those. But has anyone ever called your feet “beautiful?”  Achy?  Cold?  Smelly?  Ugly?  Yes!  But beautiful?

There are all sorts of feet. There are large feet, small feet, long feet, short feet, lean feet, and pudgy feet. Some people have strange looking feet. Others have beautiful feet. Did you know that there are foot models who get paid to have their feet photographed?

Take a look at your feet. Do you like your feet? On a scale of one to ten; one being ugly and ten being beautiful, how would you rate your feet? While God has made many beautiful things, I don’t imagine any of us would rate our feet as a ten! However, it is possible for all of us to have beautiful feet, at least in God’s eyes.

God thinks some feet are very beautiful! I’m not suggesting a pedicure. God is not so much concerned about how your feet look, but where they go and what they do.

 

Some feet lead to trouble, strife, and heartache. Isaiah 59:7-8 reads, “Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made themselves crooked paths: whosoever goes there shall not know peace.”

Other’s feet are yielded to God for service to others. Job said in his defense in Job 29:15, “I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame.” The psalmist in Psalms 119:59-60 said, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep Your commandments.”

But Isaiah sees a messenger running to deliver news from a distant battle, before satellites & cell phones offer us instant information everywhere.  Isaiah pictures him first popping into sight over a mountaintop.  But why label his undoubtedly dirty, dusty, tired feet ‘beautiful?’

The Lord’s prophet knows that the ‘good news’ this messenger will deliver is so good that everything about him will seem ‘beautiful.’  A beautiful message makes a messenger beautiful from head to toe in the Lord’s eyes.

Setting the stage for his prophet’s promise, “the sovereign Lord” – a Lord who rules our world — recalls three troubled times: “First my people went down to Egypt to live; lately Assyria has oppressed them…Now my people have been taken away for nothing; those who rule them mock the Lord.”

What happened when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt?  The Lord – using ten plagues; miraculously opened a path through the Red Sea — powerfully walked his people out of Egypt, through the wilderness; into their promised land.

What happened when king Sennacherib’s Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem to starve God’s people into submission?  The Lord’s angel put 185,000 Assyrian soldiers to death in one night; Sennacherib headed for home a loser.

What happened when Babylon ransacked Jerusalem; carried God’s people into captivity?  In Isaiah 52:7, Isaiah prophecies concerning those Jews who were exiled in Persia.  In that day, King Cyrus permitted the Jews held captive in Babylon, to return to their native land. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that announces peace; that brings good news, that proclaims salvation; that says unto Zion, Your God reigns!” Isaiah’s words referred to the heralds who proclaimed the liberating message to the Jewish people, “You’re free! No more captivity! It’s time to go home!” What good news!

In Tune with Torah this week = Your feet were designed to go places. They say that your feet will carry you the equivalent of five times around the earth in an average life span. Your feet may take you up and down a soccer field; they make take you to school or to work.

However, your feet are at their best when 1) they take you to worship the LORD God of heaven and earth, and 2) when they take you to perform acts of kindness towards others: to proclaim peace to the troubled soul, comfort to the grieving soul, encouragement to the discouraged soul and the love of God to the despairing soul.

In worship and in service to others our feet are the most beautiful.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – PESACH

At sundown this evening, the children of Israel around the world will gather for the traditional Passover Seder – a family meal but so much more than a family meal.

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We will read the Exodus story, put ourselves in the shoes of the Pharaoh’s slaves and walk out of that slavery by the miraculous Hand of the God of Israel into freedom and redemption.

Slavery is not just physical or geographical.  Slavery in its many forms can imprison men, women and children in every nation and every generation.

May this Passover be a time of complete deliverance from any form of ‘slavery’, oppression or depression in any of our lives.  May it be a week of great blessing – even unexpected, surprising blessings.

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Chag Pesach Sameach! May you have a healthy, peaceful and totally blessed Passover week.

 

In Tune with Torah – Tzav – April 7, 2017

Torah reading: Leviticus 6-8

Haftorah reading: Malachi 3: 4-24 (in the Hebrew Bible, the verses of chapter 4 in the   Christian Bible are part of Malachi 3 )

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For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore, you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.  From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts.  But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Malachi 3:6-7

Man is always changing his ways for man by  nature is not stable but easily influenced by circumstances and other people.  God’s ways do not change.

Man is always changing laws.  Things that were unthinkable in past generations are today commonplace. New laws, new ordinances are easily legislated. God’s laws do not change.

Man is capable of great love but too easily exchanges love for rejection when love puts a demand on his selfishness.  God’s Love never changes.

Man can be merciful towards others when it suits him but most of the time it doesn’t.  We are far more prone to be judgmental, critical, unforgiving and vengeful.  God’s mercy never changes.  To the very end, He gives mercy to us when we call upon His Name.

He heard the cries of the Israelite children.  Exodus 3: 7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;

God’s same  mercy is available and active today and will be for all time and eternity.

Man has limited patience and is easily annoyed and irritated.  God’s patience seems endless! Throughout history, His people have disobeyed laws, but He is always ready to take us back.  Sadly, many people turn their backs on forgiveness and restoration because they refuse to admit their sin. God is always ready to return to us if we are ready to return to Him.

Man must choose to give of himself, of his money, of his time.  It is often a struggle for us to give for by nature, we tend to hoard to ourselves what is ours.  God is a giver; He causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous; He provides seed for the sower and bread for food, as the scripture says. Every breath we take is a gift from God. His care and provision over us, even when we take it for granted and don’t give a thought to thanking Him, His giving continues.

But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Malachi 3:7

The answer to that question is already outlined in the paragraphs above.  How do we return to God? By doing as He does.  But in order to do so, there must first be repentance.

Now we often think of repentance in a ‘chopped-up’ fashion.  For example, we assign repentance to our duty after committing a specific sin.  I submit to you that what God is looking for is a much broader repentance.  His great commandment in Leviticus 19:2 is:

You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 

Our greatest reason to repent is that by our day to day lifestyle we have not reflected the holiness of God.  This is the bigger picture.  Each individual sin is important – yes! Each individual failure requires our repentance – yes! But if we fail to live in view of the all encompassing commandment ‘to be holy as He is holy’, we spend our lives in what I call segmented repentance – a little bit here and a little bit there.

If instead, we see the admonition of Malachi to ‘return to the LORD’ from a greater perspective, it will propel us to live a repentant life; that is, that repentance is a mindset that recognizes each failure not only for its intrinsic rebellion against God, but as part of the bigger picture: I have failed to reflect the holiness of my God. 

This is at the heart of Malachi’s answer to the people who asked, ‘But how do we return?’ They were thinking in terms of a list. Do this – do not do that.

Malachi says instead: Will a man rob God?  Yes, he goes on to speak about tithes and offerings but it’s not about the money, it’s about their attitude. God doesn’t need anybody’s money! What He wants is your heart – that your greatest desire would be to reflect Him and His Holiness.  Giving is one way of overcoming our self-centeredness and making us more like Him.

He also addresses their arrogance.  Your words have been arrogant against Me…you have said, It is vain to serve God and what profit is there in keeping His commandments?  Malachi 3:13-14

This is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking accusations God could ever levy at any of us.  It reveals an attitude of self-centeredness in serving God.  In effect they had said, ‘Why should I bother serving God when He hasn’t done what I want?’

In modern days that attitude is often phrased as ‘If there’s a God how could…..this have happened to me?’  I ask you: Does God exist to satisfy our every whim?

Or do we exist to bring glory to Him?

In Tune with Torah this week = taking time to reflect on our own attitudes and ‘return’ to the basic reason why we are alive today: to bring honor and glory to our God by reflecting in our own lives His love, His patience, His mercy, His giving, His holiness.

I, the Lord, do not change. 

But we must.

Succot – A special edition October 16, 2016

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At sundown this evening, Jews around the world begin to celebrate the seven day festival of Tabernacles or Succot (the Hebrew word for tabernacles, tents, dwellings).

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The Feast of Tabernacles is a very joyous holiday lasting from the 15th of until the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (Oct. 17-24 this year).

This festival is the last of seven mandated for the Jewish people in the book of Leviticus, chapter 23, where God instructs Moses: ”Say to the Israelites: ‘on the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days”.

The Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the 40 years the Israelites lived in the desert, after the Exodus from Egypt and dwelled in tents or ‘tabernacles’, on their journey to the Promised Land.  As soon as Yom Kippur is over, Jews begin to construct their temporary dwelling – in their garden if they have one, or for apartment dwellers, on their balconies.  Throughout the holiday, families eat their meals in the these temporary dwellings and some even sleep in them, at least in Israel where the weather is still warm enough to do so.

The tabernacle, or ‘Succah’, must consist of at least three walls covered with a top made by branches or leaves from a Palm tree. The roof of the tabernacle should include an open space so that the stars can be seen to remind those who sit in it that life on this earth is temporary and we look forward to eternal life in the world to come. It is the special pleasure of the children in the family to decorate the succah with all manner of colorful pictures, hangings and fruit.

Zechariah the prophet refers to the Feast of Tabernacles when he prophesies that in the end of days when the Messiah comes:  ”the nations shall go every year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts and to keep the Feast of Succot”.  His prophecy also states that those nations that will not come to Jerusalem to worship the LORD will suffer drought as a consequence.

Here in Israel, Succot is one of the most joyful times of the year.  Throughout this coming week, visits to family and friends add to our enjoyment of the festival.  Yet even as we celebrate, partake of wonderful food and happy reunions the reality of eternity is never far from our consciousness.

We pray that this would be the year the Messiah would appear and bring the Kingdom of God to this troubled world.

For all of you celebrating Succot with us, may you realize the immense blessings of this festival and come closer to God than ever before.  May He ‘tabernacle’ with you in a special way during this week.

To friends of every nation, Succot is also the time when we celebrate that all mankind are God’s creation; every nation has its place and its calling in God’s overall plan for the world.  In fact, the Succot liturgy includes prayers for all the nations of the world.

One day – may it be soon – Messiah will reign from Jerusalem; swords will be beaten into plowshares, the lion will lie down with the lamb and peace shall finally come between men and women of every race and nation.

May it come soon – even in our day.

A happy, healthy and blessed Succot week to all of you.

Rosh Hashana 5777 October 3, 2016

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A FEW THOUGHTS ON YOM TERUAH,

the Day of the Trumpet,

commonly known as Rosh Hashanah

  Though many think of Rosh Hashana as the ‘day of judgment’ or simply the Jewish New Year, I’d like to suggest that we look a bit deeper.  Yes, there is certainly truth in those two concepts but they can also be misunderstood and misapplied.

The very word ‘judgment’ makes people uncomfortable.  We don’t like to be judged by a boss, a teacher, or anyone for that matter.  Yet ‘judgment’ in the context of love is a beautiful thing.  For example, the concern that parents show about their children’s activities, friends, and tendencies is often interpreted by the children as ‘judgment’ when in fact it is the parents’ love for their children that motivate their watchfulness and when necessary, their intervention.  To be honest, one of the most devastating things a parent can do to a child is not to ‘judge’ them. Why? Because a parent who isn’t interested in what their child is doing is sending a message that says clearly—“I don’t care about you,” the most destructive message a child can perceive.

On Rosh Hashanah, when we say that God “sits in judgment” what we are saying is that God loves us: He cares about each and every one of us, He cares about who we are, how we live, and whether or not we are moving forward in fulfilling the destiny that is uniquely ours and for which He put us on this earth.  That the King of the universe actually cares about “little ‘ol me” is a remarkably empowering and life-giving idea. Rosh Hashana is about how much you mean to Avinu Malchenu, our Father, our God.

Potential

Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of the first human being, Adam. God could have launched humanity with a family, a village or a whole planet filled with people: why did He begin with just one person? Jewish thinking is that God began with one person to teach us about the fantastic potential inherent in each individual. You and I have the ability to impact our entire world; we are capable of making a world of difference. Therefore, as we approach the dawning of this year, 5777, we ask ourselves: As “How can I contribute, even in a small way, to making the world a better place?” “What can I do to make a difference in someone else’s life?”

Think of it this way: Every Rosh Hashanah is a vote of confidence from God in your individual, personal potential.  It is also a fresh opportunity to unlock more and more of your personal God-given gift.

Life

On this feast, we ask God to “Remember us for life” and “Inscribe us in the Book of Life.” When we greet one another we say “May you have a good year, and may you be written and sealed for a year of good life and peace.”

While the face value meaning is that we should enjoy a long life on this earth, there is a deeper meaning as well.  A person can be alive, strong, and healthy yet be “dead” in their soul at the same time. A life lived in the boots of a Nazi, or under the flag of ISIS is a life utterly drained of all meaning.

Certain choices that we make, and certain courses of action that we pursue have the ability to infuse life with “life.”  Other choices drain out the life of everything God intended for us. On Rosh Hashanah, we not only ask for physical life, but more importantly we are asking that our spiritual life be enhanced; that with God’s help in the new year, we will make the kinds of choices that reflect His giftings in us and His purpose for creating us in the first place: to be a living reflection of Who He is.  When the shofar is blown and its sound echoes across the world, may we hear the call of God to holiness, righteousness and peace.

My prayer for all of us is that the year 5777 will be a year of unparalleled spiritual growth in our personal lives and in our communities.

Shana Tova v’ Metuka – May you have a good and sweet year!