Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzaria-Metzora April 28, 2017

Torah reading: Leviticus 12 – 15

Haftorah reading: II Kings 7:3-20

A little background: What we read about this week takes place during the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Ephraim/Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  This is also the time of the long and impressive ministry of the prophet Elisha, the successor to Elijah, who received a double portion of the anointing that had been on his mentor.

At the time of this narrative Israel and Aram (Syria today) were almost continuously at war.  In the previous chapter (chapter six), the king of Aram, Ben Hadad, had laid siege to Samaria, the capitol city of the northern kingdom. That meant no one went into the city and no one came out of the city.  A siege was designed to starve the inhabitants of a city into either surrender or else to reduce them to a state of such weakness as to be unable to put up any resistance when once the wall was breached.

As our passage begins, a very severe famine is driving the people even to cannibalism! Two women approach Joran, an evil king of Israel reigning at that time, one of them complaining that the previous day she and her neighbor had struck an agreement: that day they would eat her son, and the following day the other woman’s son. So they boiled and ate the first woman’s son, but the next day the second woman had hidden her son. When the king hears this, he tore his robe – but not in repentance. He reacts with rage, directing his anger at Elisha. He swears an oath before God to have Elisha’s head cut off.

elijah-mantle-falls-on-elisha

King Joram arrived at Elisha’s house the next morning. Elisha, being a prophet, knew beforehand that the king was coming, and what he intended to do. But instead of a stinging rebuke, Elisha gives the king some interesting news – great news!

Then Elisha said, “Listen to the word of the LORD; thus says the LORD, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’”  II Kings 7:1

In other words, the famine will be over, and food will once again be plentiful. The very next day grain and flour would be sold at completely normal prices. That would require a miracle, given the desperate situation at hand. But that’s exactly what is being promised. Elisha, the prophet of God, has declared “Thus says the Lord…”

Would God really rescue a rebellious people? Yes, because of His covenant. After all, if God only rescued the deserving, where would that leave you and me?  Mankind would long ago have ceased to exist if God’s mercy depended on our ‘worthiness’. His mercy is an expression of His faithfulness to His own covenant.  It’s a matter of God’s integrity.

One of the king’s officials is skeptical but Elisha assures him that he will see the miracle.

Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why do we sit here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ then the famine is in the city and we will die there; and if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we will live; and if they kill us, we will but die.”

Leprosy is just about the worst thing that could happen to someone in ancient times. Lepers were complete outcasts from society. These four lepers are sitting outside the gate of the city, and suddenly it dawns on them that they have absolutely nothing to lose! They can’t go inside the city because they’re lepers, and they can’t just sit there and starve to death. They realize they have only one option that doesn’t guarantee death: go out to the army camp and surrender to the Syrians. If the Syrians let them live, they’ll at least be able to eat and stay alive. If the Syrians kill them, they’ll just die a little quicker.

It’s amazing how much clarity you can have when you’re out of options. These four lepers “threw caution to the wind” and took the only logical step left, surrender to the enemy.  Was it a good idea?

They arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Arameans; when they came to the outskirts of the camp of the Arameans, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians, to come upon us.” Therefore they arose and fled in the twilight, and left their tents and their horses and their donkeys, even the camp just as it was, and fled for their life. vs. 5-7

Well, well, well! God had gotten involved! The Arameans heard such a loud sound that they were sure thousands of horses were approaching.  Yet it wasn’t a real army! God caused them to hear something that wasn’t even there! So, for the sake of a rebellious people who made up the Northern Kingdom, the covenant keeping God of Israel caused trained warriors to run like rabbits so that the deliverance of Israel was completely God’s doing.  And it happened when Israel was hardly deserving of the miracle!

God’s love and faithfulness are far greater than we realize.  He is faithful because He is Who He is, even when we are not faithful or obedient. That’s called Mercy.

When these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they entered one tent and ate and drank, and carried from there silver and gold and clothes, and went and hid them; and they returned and entered another tent and carried from there also, and went and hid them. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The biggest “losers” turn out to be the biggest winners! While initially acting on impulse to eat, drink, grab the gold and silver, the lepers are stricken by their consciences. “We may be outcasts in Israel, but our people Israel are dying at this very moment, and we’ve found food; we’ve made a discovery that will save our people – how can we keep this good news to ourselves?”

So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city, and they told them, saying, “We came to the camp of the Arameans, and behold, there was no one there, nor the voice of man, only the horses tied and the donkeys tied, and the tents just as they were.” The gatekeepers called and told it within the king’s household. vs. 10-11

The lepers had to call to the watchmen from outside the gates to announce the good news as they were not allowed in the city.  I am impressed by their selflessness. Other lepers may have collected as much silver and gold as they could and thought “I’m taking care of me – I couldn’t care less about the rest of that bunch.”

An integral part of growing in spirituality is learning to be selfless, instead of selfish. We are called to care about others, not just ourselves.  We are part of God’s larger family, not islands adrift in a troubled world.

Then the king arose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you now what the Arameans have done to us. They know that we are hungry; therefore they have gone from the camp to hide themselves in the field, saying, ‘When they come out of the city, we will capture them alive and get into the city.’” vs. 12

The king was not a godly, believing man; he assumed the worst. Never mind that Elisha had promised just a day earlier that the very next day God would provide food in abundance. It’s happening, just as promised, but the king isn’t making the connection.

Prideful cynicism can be deadly.  Every moment King Joram delayed, people in the city of Samaria were dying. Thankfully, at least one of the servants in his court had the presence of mind to offer a wise suggestion.

One of his servants said, “Please, let some men take five of the horses which remain, which are left in the city. Behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who are left in it; behold, they will be in any case like all the multitude of Israel who have already perished, so let us send and see.” They took therefore two chariots with horses, and the king sent after the army of the Arameans, saying, “Go and see.”  They went after them to the Jordan, and behold, all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste. Then the messengers returned and told the king. So the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. Then a measure of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two measures of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.  Verses 13-16

So the messengers go and sure enough, there were all the clothes and equipment left behind by the Arameans. They reported back to the king that Israel was indeed delivered according to the word of the Lord through the prophet, Elisha.

In Tune with Torah this week = Giving praise to God at all times in every kind of situation is always the right thing to do for we never know when God is at work without our knowledge, causing all things to work for our good like He did for Israel.  Let us choose to be devoted and full of faith like Elisha, rather than skeptical like the evil king.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemini April 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 9-11

Haftorah reading: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, uncovering himself in the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these maids you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.   2 Sam. 6:20-23

Daviddances

Remember that David was a simple shepherd boy – a teenager – when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint him the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul was reigning over Israel and when David killed Goliath, he won the king’s favor.  However, that didn’t last long for Saul became exceedingly jealous of David and his abilities as the commander of his army. Eventually David becomes King and Jerusalem becomes his city, The City of David.

In I Samuel 18 there’s an interesting verse that bears on this week’s reading: “When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.”  (vs. 28-29)  Saul gave his daughter in marriage to David but Saul’s jealousy and fear of David continue until we read in 1 Samuel 25:44 that Saul gives his daughter who was married to David to another man by the name of Palti.

After the death of Saul, David decides he wants his first wife, Michal, back and sends one of his men to escort her back to David’s palace (2 Samuel 3:14-22). Talk about dysfunctional relationships!

This complicated relationship between David and Michael continues to the point where in this week’s Haftorah, we get this description of David taking the ark into the city Jerusalem, his City, the city of David.

David was wearing an ephod or the priestly garments as he danced with all his might before the LORD – a dance of worship, of celebrating the goodness of God, of recognizing God’s power and glory.  David worshiped with everything in him.

When he got home afterwards, Mrs. Michal had her critical speech ready and memorized! In essence she says to her husband, the king, ‘You sure made a fool of yourself today!’

Why did Michal speak so harshly to David?

There may be several reasons but here at least are a few.

Remember that she loved David and had been his first wife.  When her father tore her from him and gave her to another man because of his own (Saul’s) jealousy, perhaps she felt abandoned that David did not come after her and rescue her from this new ‘husband’ right away.  Perhaps she struggled with resentment against both her father and her husband and if that resentment festered in her, bitterness would have developed and this was the moment it poured out of her onto David.

Alternatively, could there have been some tension between the ‘wife born into royalty’ and the lowly shepherd become king? Was that the reason behind accusing him of being ‘undignified’? In modern terminology would she be calling him a ‘peasant’, ‘a country bumpkin’?

David’s answer is to point out that what he was doing, he was doing for the LORD.

It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (vs. 21-22)

David makes it quite clear to his wife that his dancing is a perfectly acceptable form of celebrating the God He loves so ardently. Though he was King of Israel, David celebrated with abandon the One Who is King of the Universe and lets Michal know in no uncertain terms that nothing she says will keep him from passionate worship of the LORD.

Good for him!

The verse that follows is ominous and one can’t escape the connection.  Michael, daughter of Saul, had no child to the day of her death.  (Vs. 23) In biblical times, infertility was seen as one of the worst judgments of the LORD against a woman.

It was not wise to criticize the one doing the dancing!  It is never wise to criticize another person’s expressions of love and devotion to the LORD, even if it’s not ‘your style’ of worship.  The worship is not addressed to you!  It’s addressed to the Holy One of Israel.  Who are we to criticize how another person worships Him?

Notice 2 Samuel 6: 16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; she despised him in her heart. (emphasis added)

That word despised has synonyms such as hated, loathed and detested. There can little doubt that her ardent love for David had gone cold. But somehow, I don’t think her verbal attack was only about the dancing, do you?  Resentment had been simmering under the surface for a long time.

King David reckoned himself small in comparison to the God of Israel and cared little for the opinions of men. If the maids had noticed his zeal and passion for God, well then, he was fine with that.  ‘May it inspire them to passionate love for God!’ would have been his way of looking at the situation – radically different from Michael’s.

Is there more here for us to glean so many centuries later?
Are you convinced that what God thinks of you is what really matters in life?  Or like Michal, are you overly conscious of ‘what others might think’ if you stand strong in your faith and its expression?

Michal would have been an extremely brave or extremely cheesed off woman to confront the king in the way she did. But with her upbringing her own view she saw David because of his dancing as a ‘vulgar fellow’.

In society today we encounter opposition to our faith in God, to our celebration of Him.  The secular mind calls it foolishness.  Like Michal they have their ‘reasons’, but there is NO ‘reason’ for you or I to be moved or weakened in our faith by the opinions of other people.

Was David wrong to dance, to celebrate before the Lord? This was a King who had seen the power of God in his life. He knew what it was to sense the ‘joy of the Lord’ for it was this king who had written Psalm 16 which ends with these words: ‘In your presence is fulness of joy and at Your right hand, there are pleasures forevermore.’ vs. 11

In Tune with Torah this week = Is the presence of the LORD real in your life? Do you know that you know that He is with you? That He loves you with an unconditional love? That His attitude toward you is one of blessing?  Joy is much more than a feeling; it is an attitude of life fueled by an abiding awareness of God’s personal love for you!

May your joy in Him increase this Shabbat and throughout the rest of your life.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Passover Sabbath – April 14, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Can these bones live?  (vs. 3)

drybones

That is the question which the Spirit of the Lord asked Ezekiel in his famous vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Spirit of the Lord set Ezekiel down into a valley filled with bones that were ‘very dry’. The prophet experienced this vision after God had directed him to prophesy the rebirth of Israel in chapter 36. God announced, through the prophet, that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of “David, My servant [who] shall be king over them”  clearly a reference to the future Messiah, descendant of David. However, this promise seemed impossible.  At that time, Israel was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed utterly impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as a sign to reinforce the promise.

God directed Ezekiel to speak to the bones. Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam. Ezekiel obeyed, the bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the flesh, breath entered the bodies, and they stood up in a vast army.

This vision symbolized the whole house of Israel then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were in a state of living death, pining away with no end to their judgment in sight. They thought their hope was gone and they were cut off forever. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed and the nation had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack with no hope of resurrection.

The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the cleverness of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually.

As with all of scripture, there is always more than the simple meaning. We understand the promise to Israel but we also derive personal encouragement and hope from this passage.

Typically in the scripture, valleys are places of hardship or trial.  The verse from Psalm 23 comes to mind, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me.  The implication is that walking through a valley could be a fearful thing but we are assured that the LORD is with us, even then.

When we go through valleys in our life, sometimes dreams die. Sometimes our hope dies, our faith dies. Sometimes promises die. Sometimes circumstances happen tragically, things just go wrong in our life. Sometimes things are out of our control and sometimes they are in our control, but regardless of whether they are in or out of our control, we are assured that whatever has been lost in those valleys and wherever there has been trauma or grief or sorrow and death, it is the LORD and He alone who can breathe on the dry bones and restore life.

Is there a dream, a hope, a goal you’ve had that seems at present utterly impossible? Has an important relationship gone wrong?  Have you suddenly lost a job? Or has someone you love been diagnosed with a life threatening disease?

Any of these could be seen as a ‘valley experience’ in our life. Maybe your dream has been dead so long that it’s like the bones Ezekiel saw: very dry.

This Haftorah gives us resounding hope and divine reassurance of redemptive restoration, no matter what lies dead in your valley.

In tune with Torah this week = The festival of Passover is a wonderful time to re-visit old dreams and desires, to bring them before the LORD in prayer and listen for His word of hope.  For the same God who transported Ezekiel into that valley is the God who hears your hearts’ desires today.

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.

Pesach2

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 )

Mal3-6

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.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 31, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 1-5

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23

“This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and His Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).

In this passage, the LORD says a number of things about himself to reveal his true nature to His people. What we end up seeing is a multi-faceted God who is many things to his people.

First, God gives his name in the Hebrew, YHVH. That is the most holy name of God, the personal name of the covenant God.

Then he expresses one of his titles, the King of Israel. Above and beyond the great David and the wise Solomon, the real King of Israel is still the LORD God Himself.

Thirdly, the LORD calls himself Redeemer, the One who delivers his people from bondage and sin, gloriously demonstrated in the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders.

Isaiah44

Isaiah had employed these names before in speaking of God, but this next one is new.

The LORD Almighty can be translated the ‘YHWH of Armies’ or the ‘LORD of hosts.’ What it means is that our God has at his disposal all armies, earthly and heavenly. God has the resources to carry out anything and everything He desires or decrees.

If we could meditate on those names alone we would wrestle for a lifetime with all that they mean. But there is more.

He says he is the First and the Last. The first and the last…mysterious, inspiring and captivating descriptions.

The LORD is First in that He does not derive His life from anywhere else. He is self-existing and self-sufficient. He is eternally present and the eternal “I AM.”

He is the Last in that He remains at the end of all things supreme and totally fulfilled. He is so complete that no one can add or take away anything from Him. He is the beginning and the end; the Creator and the Judge; the full revelation and the final authority. The LORD says, “…apart from me there is no God.”

What an awesome God! “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it,” says the LORD. Dumb idols made of rock cannot speak. That is so plain to see…or is it?

What the LORD wanted His people to do was stand as witnesses that there is only One God. “You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (44:8).

Now there we have yet another metaphor for our God – He is the Rock. There is nothing else reliable to rest upon. The Rock is a symbol of refuge, trustworthiness and changeless integrity. Did you know that Moses wrote the first rock song? In Deuteronomy 32 God is called “the Rock” several times and Moses cries out at one point, “For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede” (32:31). This hard rock song belts out the fact that God is a great foundation to build on and a matchless Savior. Who is like our God? Other rock songs sing the same tune: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Ps 62:6).

Why then were the Jews making images out of rock, wood and other precious items and calling them gods in the time of Isaiah? One reason stands out: people want gods they can control. As Pascal said, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.”

What are idols? “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame” (44:9). Idols are nothing. But those who worship them reverse creation. God turned the chaos in Genesis 1 into his wonderful creation crowning it with the creation of humankind. When people make idols they form gods in their own likeness and turn creation back into chaos.

In Isaiah 44:10-13 we see that idols reflect the frailty of their makers. They create gods out of stone and wood and then build houses for them. How ridiculous. A man sweats and tires himself out creating a god that cannot move, speak or protect himself from the elements. Then he worships this thing. Would the true God need a house or require food? Does he have the same limitations as a man?

To be created in the image of God means that we are His servants; when we try to make God in our image means that we think He is our servant.  Wrong..wrong…triple wrong!

The truth about idols is this: What you can produce by your own intelligence and your own power is no more powerful than you yourself. If you cannot deliver yourself from your difficulty, how do you expect something you have made with your own hands to be able to do it?

What are our idols today? We don’t take a piece of wood and fashion it into our own image and worship it. Idols have different meanings today. An idol is simply this: anything you consider more precious, more important than God. Is there something that controls your life other than God? What drives us further from God? Consider these possible modern day idols or, shall we say, values:

Individualism: This idol has been predominant in our society for a few decades. I do what I want when I want and when I feel like it. My ideas and thoughts and judgments are significant; I will consider what God has to say but ultimately it’s my choice. The result is a lifestyle of your own choosing. Sex before marriage, homosexuality, and adultery are all on the rise because “no one can tell me what to do.” Respect for human life is on the decline because of our “right to choose.”

Wealth: Money drives us and opens up the doors of opportunity and pleasure in our world. But how many of our decisions are based on money as opposed to what God wants? If we have the money do we think we can do anything? Even more important, do we really think the money we have is “ours” alone? Does not the Torah teach us that money is a gift of God and therefore it is His right to direct us how to use the money He entrusts to us?  What controls our investments: Retiring with a nest egg or dying with treasures in heaven?

Entertainment: Do you seek after bring entertained? If it’s not fun then we don’t want to do it. Do you want to learn about God’s Word or do you want to do something more “fun”? We have become “fun addicts” so that if you are not enjoying yourself it’s pointless.  Really? Have you experienced the joyful excitement of learning God’s Word and discovering truth, revelation, wisdom, and guidance in its pages?

Good Deeds: A lot of people still believe that as long as you do good things and live a good life God will welcome you to heaven when you die; God is good so he won’t hold your beliefs against you as long as you are good enough.

That, my friends, is the creed of the secular philanthropist, not the faith system God has commanded His people to live by.  The prophet Habbakuk said it succintly: The righteous shall live by faith. (Hab. 2:4)  This is not to minimize good deeds such as kindness, compassion, integrity, caring for the poor and the widow and so on.  But it IS to say that good deeds for the sake of good deeds is not enough.  For it is FAITH that pleases God.  Abraham, long before the Ten Commandments were given, was considered righteous in God’s sight because of his FAITH, not for the ‘good deeds’ he had done.

Only the God who saves is worthy of praise! Isaiah returns to the truth about God in v. 21 and points out that there is one thing only God can really do: Save us!

“Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you” (44:21).

We see the basis for God’s faithfulness in saving his people: He made us. Man does not make God; God makes man. It’s so simple even a child knows this. Because he has made us for this grand purpose of worship he will not forget us. He wants us to love Him because He first loved us.

One of the greatest things He has done for us is that He has forgiven us. There is no perfect man on the face of the earth.  All have sinned, all have fallen short of the high calling of God. But He says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (44:22). Think of the darkest, cloudiest day that you can remember. God has swept away those clouds with His powerful arm and revealed blue skies and golden, sun-drenched fields. That is the imagery Isaiah uses to paint the removal of sin. To take advantage of this great forgiveness all a person has to do is return to the LORD with humble hearts and repent of their wandering ways. Cry out to the LORD and he will save you with his abundant forgiveness.

Then we will see the glory of the LORD in all of creation. “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel” (44:23).

In Tune with Torah this week = taking time to meditate on Isaiah 44 is a vehicle for renewing your love, your faith and your humility before such a loving and awesome God.  He is for you; He has prepared a way for you to have an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Let not the idols of man pull you away from the greatest relationship every offered to man: a relationship with the God of Israel, the Holy One, your Redeemer.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel-Pekudei March 24, 2017

Torah Reading: Exodus 35-40
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18

In this week’s Haftorah portion we find the commandment of Passover reiterated by the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Israel.

In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. Ezekiel 45:21

Pesach2

This year Passover begins on April 11th and ends on April 18th. Most households here in Israel are already in the throes of preparation. One’s entire home is cleaned until it’s spotless; menus for the seven days are planned and except for perishables, the shopping has already started; and invitations to one’s Seder meal have already been dispatched. It’s an exceedingly busy time, especially in Israel.

But beyond all that, what is most important about Passover is what we remember and what we look forward to. Like all the Biblical festivals, Passover is past, present and future.  It speaks of our past deliverance, our present determination and our future destiny.

Passover conveys five major concepts that serve every generation well. They are the five most important things to know about Passover, and to incorporate into every day of the rest of the year. They are: history, optimism, faith, family, and responsibility.

1) History or Memory: It has been said that the idea of history originated with the Hebrews going all the way back to Abraham.

“Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery.”

To record and remember is a biblical mandate that had never seemed important to anyone else before the Jewish people came on the scene. It was the Passover story that initiated a commitment to memory. History is the only way we can learn from the past. History allows us to grow by standing on the shoulders of giants. Make a mistake once, and you’re human. Never learn from what happened before, and you’re brainless. That’s why it’s so important to heed the famous words of George Santayana that “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2) Optimism: The most difficult task Moses had to perform was not to get the Jews out of Egypt, but to get Egypt out of the Jews. They had become so acclimated to their status as slaves, they lost all hope that they could ever be free. Hope creates optimism and the hope they held onto originated in the covenant of God with Abraham.

The true miracle of Passover is the message that with God’s help, no difficulty is insurmountable. A tyrant like Pharaoh could be overthrown. A nation as powerful as Egypt could be defeated. Slaves could be free. The oppressed could break the shackles of their captivity. Anything is possible, if only we dare to dream the impossible dream. That hope is, someone has said, in the DNA of the Jew. I hope it’s in yours as well!

3) Faith: The very foundation of Judaism and the Jewish people is FAITH. That is the legacy which our father Abraham bequeathed to us. Some four hundred and thirty years before the Torah was given, FAITH in a personal God was planted firmly into the Abrahamic line of descendants, into their spiritual heritage.

The God of Sinai didn’t say “I am the Lord your God who created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, he announced, “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” The God of creation could theoretically have forsaken the world once he completed his task. The God of the Exodus is constantly involved in our history and has an unshakeable commitment to our survival.

4) Family: The importance of family cannot be overstated. God built his nation not by commanding not a collective gathering of hundreds of thousands in a public square but by asking Jews to turn their homes into places of family worship at a Seder devoted primarily to answering the questions of children. The home is where we first form our identities and discover our values. No wonder then that commentators point out the very first letter of the Torah is a bet, the letter whose meaning is house. All of the Torah follows only after we understand the primacy of family.

5) Responsibility: Passover reminds us that no man is an island. We are responsible first for ourselves, yes; but also for family, friends and society.
As we celebrate the great deliverance from slavery, some may ask why were we enslaved to begin with? Why did God allow that?

The Torah and the Prophets tell us that we were slaves in Egypt – and so we must have empathy for the downtrodden in every generation. We were slaves in Egypt – so we must be concerned with the rights of the strangers, the homeless and the impoverished. We experienced oppression – and so we must understand more than anyone else the pain of the oppressed.

The purpose of our suffering was to turn us into a people committed to righting the wrongs of the world, to become partners with God in preparing the world to become the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom to be ruled by the Messiah.

In Tune with Torah this week = From earliest childhood every Jew child learns to embrace these five ideals: history (memory), optimism, faith, family and responsibility. These are not just ideals for the Jewish people but for all nations and all peoples. As we prepare for Passover let us ponder these truths and renew our personal commitment to all that they represent.

Shabbat Shalom