Weekly Torah Commentary – Bamidbar May 26, 2017

Torah Reading:  Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Haftorah reading:  Hosea 2: 1-22

The book of Hosea describes Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and its prophetic meaning for Israel. Chapters 4–14 give excerpts from Hosea’s preaching of grace and judgment leading up to the fall of Israel in 722 BC. Chapters 1–3 are so powerful and personal that we want to look at them for if we grasp the point of chapters 1–3, we grasp the point of the book.  And what is the point?  Read on…

Hosea 2: 1-23 is one of the most tender and most beautiful love songs in the Bible. It is sung by God to his unfaithful wife, Israel. But before we look at it, glance back for a moment to chapter 3. Here we see Hosea and his wife, Gomer for the last time. She has run off and lives now with a “significant other.” So Hosea is free, right? Now he can get a divorce. She has ended the marriage once and for all. She has another man. Therefore Hosea is free. Right?

Wrong!

God would not give up on Israel, and He appointed Hosea to symbolize his undying love to his wife of harlotry. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.” Hosea 3:1

Hosea

Two thoughts come to me as I read these verses.  First of all, who would ever want, let alone obey, that kind of calling?  What a man Hosea must have been! Secondly, in light of what God asked Hosea to do here, we get a glimpse into what God’s love for us in our wretchedness is like.

Throughout their marriage, Gomer had been unfaithful, and finally she went off with another man. Hosea could have had her stoned according to the Torah. But God commands him to love her. “Go again, love her.” And – imagine this –  not just was Hosea to go and get her and love her, but he had to be willing even to pay this “significant other” for her.  Besides the enormous emotional demand God’s word to him presented, Hosea in the natural could not afford it! He didn’t have enough money! So he paid half in cash and half in barley: fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley. And how amazingly interesting that the total amounted to what Exodus 21:32 says a female slave costs. Gomer had evidently sunk to the lowest possible level. And God says to Hosea, “Get her back, whatever it costs, get her back. I did not create her to be a slave to sin and immorality.”

Every kind of sin a a form of adultery for every sin is a betrayal of the One Who created you, loves you, redeems you and desires to fellowship with you.  Sin is choosing to do something you like better than God’s commandments.

Perhaps one of our problems is that while we may desire to serve the Almighty as our God, we have yet to learn to love Him as our Husband.

For Your Maker is your husband; the LORD of Hosts is His name, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.  Isaiah 54:5

Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 31:31-32

The entire message of the book of Hosea could be summarized in these words: Love God warmly as your Husband, don’t just serve him as your Lord.

In Tune with Torah this week = God’s love for us is such that the response He desires is a love in return that is as powerful, as committed, as deep and as lasting as the love between husband and wife is meant to be. Sadly in our modern age, the examples of this kind of faithful, loving marriage are not as plentiful as in generations past.  Yet, that does not in any way lessen the truth of God’s committed love towards us and His desire that we experience powerful, deep, faithful and lasting love from Him.

If you’ve been hurt by betrayal or divorce with all of their implications, may the word of the LORD today encourage you that there is ONE who loves you faithfully and He will never betray or abandon you.  Love Him warmly as your husband even as you serve Him as your Lord.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Bamidbar & Shavuot May 22, 2015

Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

This week we begin a new book of the Torah, the Book of Numbers, so-called because of the extensive census taken of the children of Israel. However, in Hebrew it is known as Bamidbar, which literally means “in the desert.”

Commentaries abound on the spiritual meaning of the desert and ‘desert experiences’ in spirituality. In the Torah, one figure stands out as the powerful example of such experiences.

We find a man with an advanced knowledge of science, literature, and military tactics living on the backside of the desert with his father-in-law, raising a couple of boys and watching over a flock of sheep that did not even belong to him.

Moses entered the desert at the age of forty and didn’t leave until he was eighty. So during the span of life most people consider as the most productive years, Moses tended sheep as an unknown, humbled servant. The first forty years he was nursed by his mother and educated in the courts of Pharaoh. The second forty years he spent in the desert working for his father-in-law while being taught by God and the final forty years he fulfilled his life’s purpose: to lead the children of Israel out of slavery.

One commentator made the insightful remark: Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was somebody; spent his next forty years finding out he was a nobody and his final forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”

The proverbial ‘desert experience’ is discussed in many spiritual writings and Torah commentaries, but at its heart is this simple message: the desert is the place of encounter with the living God.

Sometimes God has to take us through a barren wilderness experience places to teach us what we need to learn. He set the pattern with the children of Israel. Your wilderness may not be a literal desert but a time of loneliness or inner doubt; it may be a period of new challenge, a struggle with unknowns, the trauma of an unexpected tragedy which plunges you into a depression or prolonged self-pity. Each desert experience is tailor made for the individual whom God desires to prune, as the gardener does a tree in order that it may become more fruitful.

When faced with our own ‘wilderness’ we can react in three ways. 1) “What did I ever do to deserve this? I don’t need it!” My spouse may need it, my sister may need it, my neighbor may need it, but I certainly do not!” (A little humility needed perhaps???)

2) “I’m tired of it.” No matter how long we may have been in a desert experience it always seems too long. But if it’s less than Moses’ forty years, count yourself blessed when you feel like saying, “I’m tired of dealing with this person, this situation, this circumstance. I’ve had it! I’m done!” (Have you noticed that God is never ‘done’ when you are???)

3) The response that God is waiting to hear is: “Here I am. What do you want me to learn?”

Principle – God never does anything without a purpose. God put Moses through a forty year course in the wilderness so he would know how to lead a whole nation through a similar wilderness.

But you may ask: Why does God lead us through desert places at all? Is it really necessary?

Moses himself tells us that it is in order that God can humble us, and test us, that the true condition of our heart might be revealed. It is not so that God can know us, He already does; it so that we can know ourselves. In Deuteronomy 8:2 says, “And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

Our ‘desert’ seasons impart life lessons we can learn nowhere else. In the desert, God taught Moses how to deal with past failures and painful memories. As Moses marched off into the desert Moses may have believed that God could not, would not ever use him again. God used those years to teach Moses how to forgive himself. Can you imagine what the 40 years guiding the whole nation of Israel through the wilderness would have been like if Moses had not learn to first forgive himself so that could forgive others?

Another very important lesson that God taught Moses in the “School of the Desert” was how to handle monotony, how to wait on God and not give up. You see, frustrating as it may seem to me and to you, God is not at all concerned with our concept of time! He has no obligation to conform to our timetable; it is we who must conform to His!

In Tune with Torah this week = If you find yourself in “God’s School of the Desert” don’t despair. God has some things that He wants you to learn so that you can become the person He sees you can be. The ‘desert’ is the place to put the past in the past and move on; the place to stop running from one dead end to another and to wait until God leads you out.

This Sunday we celebrate the Festival of Shavuot or Pentecost. The ultimate purpose of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness was that they should arrive at Mt. Sinai to experience the singularly profound moment of God’s descent on the mountain to deliver to them through Moses the Torah of life.

This weekend is an especially important time to renew our love for and re-dedicate ourselves to the study of God’s Word. May we all experience a fresh outpouring of His Divine Presence as we remember the events of Shavuot/Pentecost!

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Bamidbar May 23, 2014

BAMIDBAR/NUMBERS 1:1 – 4:20

This week we begin reading the fourth book of the Torah. Numbers” is the name by which the fourth of the Five Books of Moses is commonly called in English Bibles, but in the Hebrew original it is known as Bamidbar, or “In the Wilderness.” Of particular interest is the fact that this is the Torah portion always precedes the Festival of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. Why is that?

We know that Israel is called to be a ‘light to the nations’; we are called to ‘be holy as I am holy, says the Lord’, Consequently, Shavuot is not just a celebration of an historical event, not just a remembrance of that awesome day when God Himself descended on Mt. Sinai and gave us His Torah. As great as that is, Shavuot is more than that.

God could have chosen to give the Torah to Avraham. He didn’t. He could have given it to Jacob and his twelve sons. He didn’t. He could have given it in the holy city of Jerusalem. He didn’t. He chose the wilderness, the desert, as the suitable place for this awesome event.

THe desert is a no-man’s land. It is ownerless and barren. Just as a desert is empty and desolate, so does each of us need to know that we are but an “empty vessel.” Humility is an essential character if we are to successfully absorb the divine wisdom in the words of Torah – and those of the prophets as well.

As long as we are full of ourselves and our preconceived notions, we will not be able to integrate the essence and spirit of the Torah into our hearts and lives. Even when we think we know a good deal about the sacred writings, the truth is, as the old proverb describes, “the older I get, the less I know” or as one of the Sages wrote, “as much as you know, you are still an undeveloped wilderness.”

Another reason we can consider to answer the question, Why did God give the Torah in the desert?, is that an ownerless wilderness is open to anyone. No person or group of people has a monopoly on Torah. It belongs to each and every single Jew, not just the rabbis or the yeshivah students, or the religiously observant. “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the entire Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). Add to that, the multitudes of descendants of Jewish ancestry that in our day are making their way home; those described in the prophet Ezekiel, as the ‘house of Israel’ are being reunited with the ‘house of Judah’ though they have lived as Gentiles because of past generations’ assimilation under persecution. It is an astonishing and inspiring phenomenon as we today witness, for example, literally thousands of descendants of the generation of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and France, re-connecting to that holy spark of their ancestors and returning to the Torah, for the Torah is also theirs.

While we acknowledge that there is much hard work ahead of us if we are to acquire the Torah and make it ours, we also know that with diligence and effort we can succeed. Some of Judaism’s finest Torah scholars throughout the generations have emerged from the simple, ordinary folks; shepherds, tailors, cobblers and the like.

Now, while this holy Torah, given in the wilderness, is available to all, it is those who embrace it with love, who let go of preconceived notions and attitudes, and the inclination to ‘pick and choose’ among the commandments, who progressively discover a living relationship with the God of Israel, the joy of which is un-equalled by any other relationship or experience. Rightly did David cry out, “In Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand, are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11

For this, in fact, is the heart of Shavuot: that the the God of Israel ‘married’ the people of Israel and the Ketubah (marriage contract) is the Torah. The Torah was NOT given to establish a religious system, contrary to what some may think. The Torah was given to establish a living, breathing, pulsing, joyful and intimate relationship between God and His people.

This statement does not in any way demean Judaism as a religion; rather, it is intended to highlight the GOAL of Judaism – to provide a framework where His chosen people, learning and living according to the Torah, would become a community, a nation, that would demonstrate the incomparable beauty of a living relationship with the Almighty. To observe the mitzvot and the traditions of Judaism without the inner, personal relationship with God misses the mark entirely.

As Maimonides has commented on this verse: Behold, I have take the Levites from amongst the children of Israel… and the Levites shall be Mine (3:12)

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but any man of all the inhabitants of the earth whose spirit has moved him and whose mind has given him to understand to set himself aside to stand before G-d to serve Him, to worship Him, to know G-d and walk justly as G-d has created him, and he casts from his neck the yoke of the many calculations that men seek–this man has become sanctified, a holy of holies, and G-d shall be his portion and his lot forever, and shall merit him his needs in this world, as He has merited the Kohanim and the Levites.”

In Tune with Torah this week = may the very title of this week’s reading, “Bamidabar/the Wilderness”, and the significance of it which we have briefly discussed, give us ample food for thought as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Festival of Shavuot, which will be observed from sundown, June 3 through sundown, June 4th. May we embrace the Torah anew with joy and earnestness, so that this important festival will be both memorable and meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom