Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayei Sarah November 25, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah reading: I Kings 1: 1-31

In this week’s Haftorah reading, King David is described as ‘advanced in years’, his body showing signs of the years of hardship he had endured.  He was about 70 at this time but seems even older than his years; for David, it wasn’t just the years – it was the mileage. He seemed to live the lives of four or five men in his lifetime.

David’s diminished ability shows that question of David’s successor had to be addressed. King David could not last much longer, and his family history had been marked by treachery and murder. At this point, it was worth wondering if there could be a bloodless transition from David to the next king.

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.  (I Kings 1:5)

2 Samuel 2: 3-5 describes the sons of David and lists Adonijah as the fourth son. Two of the three sons older than Adonijah were dead by this time (Amnon and Absalom), and we suspect that the other older son (Chileab) either also died or was unfit to rule because he is never mentioned after 2 Samuel 3:3.  As the oldest living son of David, by many customs Adonijah would be considered the heir to the throne. But the throne of Israel was not left only to the rules of hereditary succession; it was God who determined the next king.

However, Adonijah violated a basic principle in the Scriptures – that we should let God exalt us and not exalt ourselves.

For exaltation comes neither from the east, Nor from the west nor from the south.
But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another. (Psalm 75:6-7)

humility

The late John R.W. Stott once said: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”  His succinct statement about pride and humility goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.

Some would say that pride is the special problem of those who are rich, powerful, successful, famous, or self-righteous. However, pride takes many shapes and forms and affects all of us to some degree for pride is essentially a preoccupation with self – my wants, my ways, my desires, my will.  As a famous Harvard psychologist observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness…  the very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride.

Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it can manifest as an attitude of superiority, contempt and/or indifference. However, chances are good that most of us do not see pride in our lives. For while it is easy to see pride in others, it is very difficult to see it in ourselves.

Like Adonijah, we all have a ‘pride problem’ which is why there are multiple verses throughout the Scriptures that urge us to humble ourselves before the LORD for just as pride is the root of all sin, so “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”  The simplest definition of humility that I know is this one:  Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

Mother Teresa, the venerable nun who worked among the poorest of the poor in India, wrote in her book, The Joy of Living:

These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
To mind one’s own business.
Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one’s dignity.
To choose always the hardest.

So how should we think of ourselves?  On the one hand, we are God’s creatures: small, finite, dependent, limited in intelligence and ability but we are also God’s children: created, loved, and redeemed by God’s grace alone and gifted by God with certain unique abilities, resources, and advantages, which are to be used for His glory for whatever we have, we have received from Him.

Adonijah was not content with his state in life; he wanted what was not his to have, for God had already decreed that Solomon, not Adonijah, was to succeed David as the next king of Israel.  His arrogance brought him to an early grave.

Humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s word and opens our hearts to his Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells with him “who is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15).

Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant of the LORD does not happen over night. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it grows quietly in our innermost being as we make those choices that enable humility to grow.

In Tune with Torah this week =  a commitment to make those choices, the most important being to consistently seek a closer relationship with God in prayer and in meditation on His Word.  For those who truly know their God will be humble and those who truly know themselves cannot be proud.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Devarim August 12, 2016

Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

In the fortieth year on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the Lord had commanded him to give to them.  Deut. 1:3

 

We have come now to the final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy.  Moses has reached the age of 120 and he knows his end is near.  Therefore he undertakes to review and repeat to the new generation of Israelites all that the Lord has done and said since their parents first left Egypt.

The first thing we notice is that at his advanced age, Moses is still clear minded with a sharp memory.  As he rehearses the events of the past forty plus years, every detail is as clear to him as it if it happened yesterday.  He is an amazing example of healthy and wholesome aging.

In a generation like ours where the ‘senior’ population is significantly larger than in previous generations, the topic of aging well or aging successfully is a popular one.  Both from a medical standpoint as well as a psychological one, many writers publish articles and books on the subject.  My question as I ponder the opening of this week’s Torah portion is: How did Moses attain to 120 years of age ‘with his eye undimmed and his strength undiminished’ as is written later in Deuteronomy?   It’s unusual enough for someone to live to 120, let alone to do so with such mental and spiritual clarity!

There may be other reasons but let me suggest two, from which we can all derive inspiration, regardless of our present age.  The prophet Isaiah wrote: Those who trust in the Lord find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles; They will run and not get weary.  They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)

eagle

Multiple times throughout the Torah we are reminded that Moses spent a great deal of time in prayer before the Lord, in seeking His face for direction on how to fulfill the mission the Holy One of Israel had given him.  He spent forty days – twice – on top of Mt. Sinai in the very intense presence of the Almighty and the Torah testifies that even his face glowed when he descended the mountain.  His intimate relationship with God was, I believe, a key to his vibrant and energetic long life.  Perhaps Isaiah was thinking of Moses when he penned the verse above.

Secondly, Moses is a unique portrayal of the axiom: Don’t retire; get re-fired!  Remember that it was at the age of 80 that he encountered the burning bush and heard the call of God to lead his people out of slavery.  He did not protest, ‘I’m too old; find some young whipper-snapper, God!’  The only protest he made was that he doubted his own ability, not that he was too old!!  By submitting to God’s will for his life and accepting the mission he was given, Moses was ‘re-fired’ for a task that would consume the final 40 years of his life and which he completed with such distinction that to this day, the children of Israel call him Moshe Rabeinu, Moses, our teacher.

What motivated him when he woke up each morning of those last 40 years?  He had a purpose that was greater than himself.  He invested the last third of his life into a generation that would outlive him and carry on the message he had received in the presence of the Lord.  The last third of his life was all about others, not himself. How different from the way modern senior citizens often look at their ‘golden years.’

I’ve heard contemporary senior citizens say things like, ‘I’m retired so I can do whatever I want now’ or ‘I’m past 70 so I’m just relaxing and enjoying myself.’  Moses would be appalled!

Life itself is a gift from God. Living to an advanced age is a gift that many people don’t receive. Given that by the age of retirement careers and professions are no longer a focus, should we not instead consider that our later years are a precious opportunity from God to invest ourselves in the next generation? That instead of selfishly focusing on our own pleasures alone, that we see this season of life as the opportunity to devote our lives to others in some meaningful way?

Moses certainly did so and the fruit of his efforts lasts these thousands of years later.  There can be no greater legacy than imparting to the next generation the spiritual and moral values that will guide them into a successful life in the eyes of God and man.

In Tune with Torah this week = if you are retired or near retirement, what are you doing with the gift of time available to you in this season of life?  Are you using it for God’s purposes?  Have you identified a purpose, an inspiration for your golden years?

If you are of the ‘next generation’, do you recognize that your elders have gained much wisdom through life experiences?  Do you listen to them? Do you gather nuggets of truth for your own life?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Noah October 4, 2013

The account in this week’s Torah portion is one of the most well known of Bible stories – Noah and the Ark.
There are so many lessons that can be drawn from this text and I’d like to approach it a little differently this year.

What can we learn from God and from Noah this week?

1) Noting that Moses was 80 years old when God called him to bring Israel out of Egypt, and Avraham was 100 years old when Yitzhak was born, my first suggestion to all of us is this:
Stay healthy and fit – when you’re 80, or 100, or 600 (like Noah), God may call on you to do something very important! Seriously, it is never too late to make a difference in this world. Since when has an advanced age ever been a problem in God’s eyes? Think about it!

2) Don’t listen to critics; do what you are called or inclined to do in your service of God. If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success, either. Theodore Roosevelt’s comment on critics bears repeating here: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

3) Plan ahead – it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. There is a delicate balance between focusing on the present and making today the best day of your life and, on the other hand, planning ahead for efficiency and success in the various arenas of life. The wise man balances both of these aspects of living and learns wisdom.

4) Don’t miss the boat. All of us are offered unique opportunities in life. Sometimes we realize it and take advantage; some times we ‘miss the boat’ and regret it later. This is not limited to considerations about major, life-changing opportunities. How about the every day opportunities we have to do things like show kindness instead of ignoring someone, or hold our tongues rather than speak a word of gossip or criticism of someone else? Daily life is full of opportunities to become a better person. Don’t miss the boat!

5) Speed isn’t always an advantage. There were cheetahs on the Ark, but there were also snails. In our fast paced society, rushing has become so ‘normal’ that thoughtfulness and patience are nearly lost arts; not to mention that when we are overly rushed or in a hurry, we often make mistakes. The cheetah in you needs to slow down a bit and the snail needs to step it up. Impulsiveness and procrastination need to meet in the middle and find wisdom.

6) If it’s a rainy season of life for you right now, remember that no matter how long it rains, eventually the sun will shine again. If you have to start your life over, change careers, move to distant cities and make any other life changes that are difficult and stressful, have a companion by your side. Two are better than one.

7) Finally, remember that we are all in the same boat. The problems may look different, but we all have problems; we all have challenges; we all have issues to work through; we all need to grow in spiritual maturity. Therefore, we all need to develop a spirit of compassion and understanding towards our fellow man.

In Tune with Torah this week = ponder each of these seven thoughts and if you keep a spiritual journal, you may want to write your own thoughts in response to them. The story of Noah’s ark never grows old;
its message is as important to us today as it was in his time.

Shabbat Shalom!