Weekly Torah Commentary – Devarim July 28, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 1: 1-27

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.  Isaiah 1:1

Isaiah

Someone has called Isaiah the ‘Shakespeare of the biblical writers’ because of his passion and eloquence.  As we will have several Haftorah readings in the next few weeks from Isaiah’s book, let’s take a look at this man – who he was and when he lived.

Who was Isaiah? His ministry spanned the reigns of at least four kings, most likely five – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and probably into the reign of Manasseh. This is a period of approximately 40 years, covering the time of the second half of the 8th century B.C. (750-700). The son of Amoz, he exercised his ministry in and around Jerusalem. Some commentators speculate that he was from a well-to-do family with ties to the royal family. He was married and had at least two sons but we are told precious little about his personal and family life.

Isaiah was a contemporary of two other prophets – Micah, who also prophesied in Jerusalem (Judah), and Hosea, who prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no mention of Isaiah and Micah knowing each other, although it is impossible to see how they could not have. There is no reference to Micah having access to the kings as Isaiah did, which again indicates that Isaiah had connections not available to Micah.

The times of Isaiah were turbulent, to say the least. King Uzziah, who reigned for fifty two years, led Judah during a period of prosperity not known since the days of Solomon. Jeroboam II reigned in Israel during most of Uzziah’s reign and had similar success. But their deaths were a turning point. By 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel were destroyed by Assyria, its people forever scattered. Judah survived the Assyrian threat, but not before being reduced to a subservient country, impoverished by paying taxes to Assyria.

Uzziah’s son, Jotham served for sixteen years, pretty much in the same vein as his father. Both were described as being faithful to God, although Uzziah for some reason let pride get the best of him and fancied himself as being able to carry out the work of a priest. He entered into the temple area, reserved only for priests, and tried to burn incense on the altar. He was struck with leprosy which resulted in his death.

Ahaz, the next king, was the consummate opportunist, guided by one principle – his own ego. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; in fact, it was at his invitation! Israel wanted Judah to join them and dethrone Ahaz, in order to place their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz’s reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was utter devastation for the northern kingdom of Israel and the submission of the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires of false gods.

Hezekiah succeeded his father and clearly was not his “father’s son.”  He followed the Lord, using his throne to bring reform to the country. It was Hezekiah who had the courage to tear down the pagan altars. He also dealt with Assyria, but unlike his father he turned to the Lord for deliverance through the counsel and encouragement of Isaiah.

The highlight of Hezekiah’s and Isaiah’s careers occurred in their response to a siege by Assyria. There were actually two separate threats made against Jerusalem by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In the first, he sent his general to Jerusalem to order the surrender of the city. Dismayed, Hezekiah turned to the temple to pray and sent a petition to Isaiah to engage in prayer.  Isaiah strengthened the king with an encouraging prophecy that the Assyrian king would turn away due to false reports he would receive. Hezekiah then held steady, and, true to the prophecy, the Assyrian king turned away with his army. Years later Sennacherib would renew threats to Hezekiah, who again turned to God in prayer and received another promising word from Isaiah. That time, the Assyrian army was struck with a plague.  How different from the conniving Ahaz!

All the prophets, to be sure, proclaim the salvation of the Lord, but none can match Isaiah for the sheer grandeur of proclamation regarding God’s salvation.

Steadily and masterfully, the prophet describes and expands an exalted vision of the great act of redemption and restoration for God’s people. He does not merely proclaim these things will take place, but he takes every act and concept to great magnitude.  It is Isaiah who proclaims a salvation and restoration more grand than could have been imagined, culminating a new Jerusalem ‘whose righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch, who will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.’ (Isaiah 62:1-3).

If we wanted to summarize the theme of Isaiah’s book, it would be this verse:  And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  Isaiah 40:5

The incomparable glory of God shines through this book as the prophet expounds on the glory, majesty and holiness of the Holy One of Israel.

In Tune With Torah this week =  For Isaiah, true insight into the meaning of life is not merely that there is a God out there who loves us and offers a wonderful plan for us; it is that all things and everyone live for the glory of God. God does not exist for us; we exist for Him. The wonderful news Isaiah declares is that God is most glorified by his work of redemption.

Over the next few weeks, the haftorah readings will be primarily from Isaiah.  Expect to be enlightened and inspired by the visions and prophecies of this amazing servant of God.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ha’azinu October 14, 2016

Deuteronomy 32

He is the rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.  Deut. 32:4

lordrock

What did Moses mean when He characterized God as a rock?  It means He is stable in his nature, invincible in his power, fixed and immutable in his ways, and His promises are sure; not one of them will fail.

For example, changes that happen in our lives that are inconsistent with our hopes and dreams are ALWAYS for our good, whether or not we understand that when it happens.  In fact, very often we only appreciate what God has done for us in hindsight.  But knowing that He is a “Rock”, unchangeable and invincible, strengthens our faith to remain steady in the midst of unexpected circumstances.

His work is perfect for He is perfect. All his works, all his actions are blameless, perfect, wise, and righteous. Faith is the evidence that we believe this to be true; our life is the testimony to that faith.  We have all witnessed individuals struck with shocking loss or devastating illness who inspire all of us to greater faith.  How do they do it?  By growing their faith consistently.

Faith grows; it is not static.  Its nourishment is the Word of God which is why Moses also wrote, ‘Not by bread alone does man live but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Deut. 8:3  Do you want a stronger faith in God? Spend more time in His word, reading and pondering what you have read.

It always puzzles me how people who say they have trouble believing in God forget that in everyday life, we constantly operate in ‘faith’.  When you’re driving and the light turns green, you go, ‘believing’ that the other driver who has a red light will actually stop because if they don’t, you could die.  But we rarely think of that as ‘faith’.

When you shop for food, you purchase what you desire with the – may I say – irrational ‘faith’ that all the food you buy is pure and healthy? It doesn’t cross your mind that something may be poisoned or spoiled until on the rare occasion when that’s exactly what happens.

We use natural ‘faith’ every day of our lives.  If we didn’t, none of us would ever leave our homes!

So why is it such an issue to have faith in God? REAL faith? He is the ONLY ONE who is stable in His very essence, unchangeable, unstoppable, irrevocably loving towards His children, just in all His ways…. and desiring a good future for you.  He said so:

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plan for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  Jeremiah 29:11

This verse in Deuteronomy is the first time God is called a ‘rock’ in Scripture.  It means that HE is our firm foundation on which we may build our hopes and dreams. He has a perfect plan for our lives and is eager to share it with us if we will just seek Him.

Under his protection we find refuge from all our enemies, and a sure footing in all our troubles.  David picked up this theme in several of his psalms, among them:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  Psalm 18:2

For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me.  He shall set me high upon a Rock.  Psalm 27:5

He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.  Psalm 62:6

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever you may be facing now or in the coming months, this is a good week to meditate on what it means to you that the LORD is your rock.  Think about what that means to you, your family, your friends.  He is always there for you; are you there for Him?

Shabbat Shalom!

Weekly Torah Commentary – Nitzavim September 30, 2016

Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20

“See I have placed before you life and good, and death and evil … I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse; and you shall choose life so that you and your offspring will live.”

chooselife

God has given each of us a clear choice: the ability to choose life and good, or death and evil, and it is this choice that is the very foundation of our spiritual life.   Life and good vs. death and evil. Interesting parallels, don’t you think?

It would appear that the Torah is saying we have two pairs of choices, not just one. We have the right to choose good or evil; we also have the right to choose life or death.

To choose between good and evil is a straightforward commandment. While we face situations and temptations in life that would seek to seduce us away from faithfulness to God because the ‘evil’ seems to hold a greater promise of happiness than the ‘good, we know the right thing is to choose ‘good’. Whether we do or not is our responsibility.

But what about a choice between ‘life’ and ‘death’?  Apart from suicide, none of us chooses death over life.  In fact we have an innate drive for preservation of life.  So what are we to derive from this verse?

The ‘death’ referenced here is not simply a matter of ceasing to breathe.   And, the ‘life’ referenced here is not simply a matter of continuing to breathe!  The Torah is giving us spiritual principles.

Biblically speaking, the true meaning of life is that our time on this earth is a journey towards holiness.  Learning from His Word what He desires of us, developing our character, growing in spirituality is all part of what the Bible means by ‘choose life’. Being alive means directly facing the challenges that life presents and using them to become a better person.

Choosing ‘death’, on the other hand, is that attitude that avoids dealing with challenges, opts to escape difficulties and trials, and leaves spirituality off its radar. Death is the choice of comfort over effort, of a laze life over a life full of challenge and growth.

It is important to note that choosing death is not limited to failure to keep the commandments. Someone can appear to be doing all the right things externally and sitll be ‘dead’ inside. What is frightening is that such a person lives his life on ‘cruise control’ all the while believing he’s just fine. If he never really pushes himself to further develop his personal relationship with God, to make time for prayer, to work at improving his character, it could be said that he’s choosing a living death; the comfortable or lazy option.

Actually what we are discussing could be explained this way as well. Life is a constant struggle between two contradictory forces that pull us in opposite directions. The body wants its pleasurable comforts; the spirit of man hungers for a relationship with God, expressed by a desire to expand and grow. Thus, each person is constantly faced with these conflicting forces pulling him in opposite directions. In this week’s Torah Portion we are told that to succeed in life, must choose life.

This lesson is particularly appropriate as we approach Rosh Hashanah. On these Holy days we are urged to examine ourselves, to take a spiritual inventory of where we are as a person – what is important to us, what are our priorities?

The choice between living an essentially comfortable life (even if it is done in a ‘religious’ way) and striving to fulfill one’s potential in service to our God is an essential element of Rosh Hashanah.

In Tune with Torah this week = this weekend is the perfect time on God’s calendar to set aside some time to evaluate our spiritual life.  Are we consistent in seeking a closer relationship with the LORD, week by week, month by month? What do we struggle with and what steps will we take to overcome those struggles? In what ways is God calling us to deepen our relationship with Him?

Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 26, 2016

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  Deuteronomy 8:2-3

To humble and to test – those are key words in this week’s Torah reading.

Humility is vastly underrated and misunderstood in our contemporary society.  A quick Google search of “improving confidence” came up with 9,580,000 results. Another search for “improving humility” only got 499,000 results. That speaks volumes.

Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where the serpent, in a simple but deadly approach, uses pride as the avenue by which to seduce our first parents.  He arrogantly contradicted what God had said to Eve about eating the forbidden fruit and charged God with lying. For the first time since she was created, Eve was introduced to the possibility of unbelief.  By challenging what God had said, he aroused doubt in her mind about the integrity of God Himself.  Seeing that she paused to consider his words, the serpent drew her into deeper deception by suggesting that God’s reason for ‘lying’ was to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being Godlike.

The  inclination to exalt ourselves and our opinions above our true state as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Confusion produced deception and Eve began to look at the forbidden fruit in a new light. From there it was an easy step to rationalization and the erosion of her will to resist the serpent’s seduction.  Weakened by doubt, seduced by pride, she opted for ‘independence’ and disobeyed God’s single command to her and Adam.

It was a test which she failed miserably with long lasting consequences.

We often fail to understand why God tests us. Most of the time tests come, not because of sin, but because of opportunity.  God is looking to bless us but like a good Father, He looks for evidence that we are ready to handle whatever advancement He is wanting to give us. So the test is administered, much like a student who has been diligent in his studies is required to pass a test at the end of each course. How utterly foolish would it be for a college student to spend months in a particular course of study and to refuse to be tested at the end of it?

Life is God’s University of Holiness.  As we make this journey through the days He allots to each of us, there are ‘tests’ along the way.  They are carefully designed by our Father in heaven to be stepping-stones to a higher spiritual level, to a deeper relationship with Him.  Each ‘test’ is uniquely crafted to address an attitude, an opinion or a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to our growth towards the ideal He set before us:  ‘You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ Leviticus 19:2  Each test is an opportunity to be reminded that we are not as ‘in control’ as we sometimes think; that there is a God in the heavens and He alone is Supreme and we are privileged to be His children.

There is no holiness without humility; there is no humility without testing.

Learning to handle the testings that come our way is at once simple but at the same time complex.  The way was succinctly summarized by the prophet Isaiah:

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on You, because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3  How often is our mind ‘fixed’ more on worry and anxiety than on Him?

All of us have met people who seem to be pillars of inner serenity when faced with heart-wrenching tragedy.  We admire them and marvel at what we consider their ‘strength’. More often than not, what we call their ‘strength’, is rather the evidence of their deep faith, a faith established in a humble spirit that acknowledges at all times the goodness of God and the righteousness of His ways, regardless of what is happening around them. These are the kind of people that inspire the rest of us.

The same prophet, Isaiah, also wrote:  For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite Isaiah 57:15

To paraphrase, God dwells in the heaven of heavens and also with those who are of a humble spirit.

In Tune with Torah this week = tests are a part of life.  We cannot escape them. The issue is how we react to them.  Do we get angry or resentful towards God when difficult situations arise?  As if to say ‘how dare God allow this to happen to me‘?  That is the response of an ugly pride, of an attitude that thinks more highly of oneself than one should.  We did not create ourselves and we live ‘by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’.  My life – your life – day by day depends on Him.  Let us be thankful for the gift of each day and walk through this life the way the prophet Micah instructed us: He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

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 — Devarim July 31, 2014

Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:1-3:22

For this week’s reading, we open to the final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, in Hebrew: Devarim. Moses begins his final address to the next generation and addresses a subject of profound importance: justice.

“I instructed your judges at that time as follows: “Listen to your fellow men, and decide justly [tzedek] between each man and his brother or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment. Listen to great and small alike. Fear no one, for judgment belongs to God. Any matter that is too difficult for you, bring to me and I will hear it.”

As we make our way through this book of the Torah over the next few weeks, we will find that Tzedek, “justice”, is a key word. A bit later we read:

Justice, justice you shall pursue, so that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Deut. 16:20)

So what does the Hebrew word, Tzedek, really mean?

It is very difficult, nay impossible, to translate with one word because it has many shades of meaning. The word can be translated as justice, charity, righteousness, integrity, equity, fairness and innocence. Clearly, it has a much broader range than the Hebrew word for strict legal justice, mishpat. For example, we will read later in Deut. 24: 12-13:

If a man is poor, you may not go to sleep holding his security. Return it to him at sun-down, so that he will be able to sleep in his garment and bless you. To you it will be reckoned as tzedakah before the Lord your God. (Deut. 24:12-13)

You can readily see that tzedakah does not here refer to legal justice. Rather it is speaking of the godly way to interact with a poor person who had nothing but his coat to offer as security for a loan. The lender could hold on to the coat til the loan is paid but that would be a harsh “justice”, cold and uncaring about the person. It is simply not the right thing to do. Compassion and kindness towards our fellow man takes priority. In fact, this same issue was already addressed in Exodus:

If you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Ex. 22:25-26)

In situations like these, the word tzedakah, a form of tzedek, is rendered as compassion or charity; or simply stated, the right and honorable thing to do.

In Judaism, justice (Tzedek) must be balanced with compassion. According to Jewish thinking, Justice in this sense is always accompanied by mercy or grace. In Hebrew these two words – justice and mercy are not opposites. Actually the very word, tzedek, expresses the balance between the stricter sense of mishpat and the loving kindness reflective of the nature of God.

Why then does Moses begin his discourse with this topic of Tzedek, justice? Because a right understanding of the true meaning of tzedek is critical to the behavior God expects from His people. Tzedek is impartial; it makes no distinction between rich and poor, Jew or non-Jew, powerful or powerless. The Torah upholds equality before the law as a reflection of our equality before God Himself. We are urged more than once in the Torah to recognize that justice must not be arbitrary or exercised by human whim: “Fear no one, for judgment belongs to God.” Because it belongs to God, it must never be compromised – by fear, bribery, or favoritism. It is an inalienable right.

At Sinai, God gave to His people a religion of love: You shall love the Lord your God; you shall love your neighbor as yourself; you shall love the stranger.

But it is also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts and don’t we see plenty of evidence of that in our world today? Those would not bend the rules to favor themselves or those they love or want to support have no place in Torah thinking.

On Sinai we were also given a religion of compassion, for without compassion the rule of law degenerates into inequity and even tyranny.

Justice plus compassion equals tzedek. No nation will thrive successfully when this principle is ignored, overlooked or denigrated. Neither will any family.

In Tune with Torah this week = Parents, is your discipline with your children just to the offense and is it administered with grace, with compassion? Friends, when you see someone doing wrong, is your first instinct to judge and condemn? When you yourself make a mistake, are you harshly self-critical? Unable to forgive yourself? Or others? This week, let us individually ponder whether or not we have learned tzedek – how to interact with a compassionate justice and a just compassion.

Your thoughts?

Weekly Torah Commentary — Devarim July 12, 2013

Having completed this year’s study of Bamidbar/Numbers last week, this week we open to the first portion of Devarim/Deuteronomy. The book opens with the message, “These are the sayings that Moshe told to all Israel…”
and continues a couple of verse later by saying, “Moshe began explaining the Torah….”

From these statements we understand that the Torah was given not just to the generation at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but to all Jews in every generation since then. It was a national gift, a constitution for the budding nation. While it is true that each of us has mitzvot/commandments to observe, the intent of the Torah is bigger than the individual. It was given to “all Israel”.

Each action of the individual Jew does in fact affect every other Jew. We are all connected in a very deep and significant way because of the covenant between the God of Israel and His people. Think of it this way: Every cell of your body exists for its specific task of promoting and guarding the health of your body as a whole. A heart cell does not get jealous of a liver cell; a kidney cell does not envy a brain cell. Each one fulfills its distinct purpose for the good of the entire body. So, too, is every Jew tasked to live his or her individual life in such a way that all of Israel benefits. This sense of community is at the very heart of Judaism.

That is not to minimize in any way the patriotism or sense of community found in the citizens of other nations — not at all. What we are saying is that fundamentally our Jewish sense of community derives from the encounter of God with our father, Avraham; it was confirmed to Yitzhak and Ya’acov and the Torah was given through Moshe. Our connection is spiritual from its very inception.

So, too, is our connection to the Land which God has chosen. The Chosen Land and the Chosen People are one. God promised the land of Israel to Avraham and his descendants forever. Early in this week’s reading, Moshe tells the people, “Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. Turn yourselves around and journey…” In modern terms we might say it this way, “Leave the comfort and convenience of exile and go to the Land where you belong.”

We are well aware that many Jews have made “Aliya” (which means ‘to go up’) to Israel in recent years. They have in fact left their place of birth, family, friends and careers to come to Israel and start anew. But the concept of ‘Aliya’ is broader than just physically moving.

“Aliya” begins in exile; it begins with a change of mind, a change of heart, a life-altering decision. The actual move to Israel is the result of that earlier decision and commitment.

The concept of “aliya” (to go up) yields spiritual ramifications as well. Life is a process of ‘aliya’ – a journey of going from one level of spiritual maturity to the next. Each change within ourselves that we decide to make is ‘aliya’ – going up higher. There is always a measure of risk in growth, in change. Stepping into the unknown or the little known is a scary proposition.

For the Jews coming home to Israel, a deep and abiding faith in God’s covenant with this Land and with His people is fundamental to a successful ‘aliya’. Add to that, a sincere love for the Land and for one’s fellow Jew and a successful aliya is virtually assured.

Rav Avraham Kook, of blessed memory, taught that it was incumbent upon us to love the Land that God loves and to love the people that God loves. He was a master at finding the good in every person he met. He used to teach that Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel, both the land and the people) was not an emotion; it was a commandment and in keeping it, we reflect the same kind of love that God Himself shows towards the Land and His people.

Rav Kook also taught us that the greatest way to protect our Land from its enemies is by increasing unity within the nation. That doesn’t mean letting other issues slide; what it does mean is not allowing those issues to overshadow the main task of promoting love and unity among our own people. Divisions and hostilities weaken the spiritual fabric of the Land. May God help us!

In just a few days, we as a nation will be observing Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple. The reason we lost the Temple and our Land was because of baseless hatred towards one another. When strife and divisions abound, love for one another wanes and so does the love of our Land. How appropriate that this is the Shabbat we should be pondering these principles.

I am well aware that not all of my readers live in Israel; in fact not all of you are Jews. But the underlying principles apply universally – in families, towns, cities, and nations.

In Tune with Torah this week = The familiar psalm comes to mind, “How blessed it is when brethren dwell together in unity….there the blessing flows…” Wherever you are this Shabbat, ask yourself how well you are promoting unity, love and peace in your own home, your own community, your own country.

“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways…….then will I heal their Land.” Israel needs this healing but so do all the other nations of the world.

Shabbat Shalom