Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar May 4, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 32:6 – 27

Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.  Lev. 25:17

fearoftheLord

Why do some people take advantage of others?
Why do some people use others to reach their own goals?

The first thing that will come to your mind when you try to answer such questions is that the people who do this are just plain mean. I agree, but what drives a person to act this way? And why do other people never feel like using others even though they might gain many benefits if they did so?

Let me suggest the following reasons, though there are probably more:

Helplessness  Human beings generally will use the least effort to achieve their goals and/or unmet needs.  If they feel helpless to succeed on their own merit they use others to gain their ends. When they do, they reveal nothing about you, but a whole lot about themselves.

Lack of control over one’s own life: When someone feels as though they’ve lost control over their life, they often resort to taking advantage of others in an attempt to regain control.  A popular way of feeling ‘in control’ of one’s life is controlling others.  A hen-pecked husband, for example, may try to compensate by controlling his co-workers on the job.

Inferiority: Feelings of inferiority and worthlessness prompt some to compensate by becoming arrogant, introverted or fostering a superior attitude.  When a person takes advantage of another he might feel superior to him and as a result compensate for his feelings of insecurity.

Narcissism, codependency & double standards: Narcissists and codependent people use others in order to feel better about themselves. In order not to feel guilty or to experience shame those people usually try to convince themselves that they are better than others and therefore the ‘others’ deserve to be taken advantage of.

It’s noteworthy that the verse from this week’s Torah reading says Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of others.’  That tells me that the importance of this commandment lies in our righteous fear of the Lord or the lack of it!  It’s really not primarily about one’s ego or emotions.  It’s deeper than that.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, it says in Psalm 111:10.

And in Proverbs 10:27, we read: The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be shortened.

Again in Proverbs 14:27, The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
that one may avoid the snares of death.

If we knew that all of our secret thoughts, words, and actions would be displayed publicly so that everyone could watch them and evaluate them, it would make a profound difference in the way we live! We have an instinctive concern about what others think of us and how they will judge the things we do.  How much more should we be concerned about God’s evaluation of our thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and motives?

Each of us will give an account of our lives to God, and He is fully aware of everything we think, desire, speak, and do. The fear of the LORD is the result of an awareness of these truths. It can be defined as a continual awareness that you are in the presence of a holy, just, and almighty God, and that every motive, thought, word, and action is open before Him and will be judged by Him.  It means that we live with a profound awe, respect and reverence towards Him and His Truth as we learn it from the Scriptures.

Understanding that, it makes perfect sense that the Torah reading this week would say, Show your fear of God….. by not taking advantage of one another.’

Our motivation for treating others with respect comes from our respect towards God who created us all! To take advantage of others for selfish purposes demonstrates disrespect not only to the one you take advantage of, but to God Himself.

In Tune with Torah this week = understand that taking advantage of others can manifest in several ways but the bottom line is a self-serving attitude that cares more about oneself than the other person.  But the Bible tells us not to think of our own interests only, but to care about the concerns and interests of others.

Selfishness is at the root of every sin and failure.  There’s a delightful little book I read recently which contained this wonderful statement:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.  (from The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller)

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor April 27, 2018

Torah reading (in Israel): Leviticus 21 -24    (Overseas schedule one week behind)

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

worship

In its essence, Leviticus is a book about worship. In it, the requirements for acceptable worship are carefully detailed.. You will remember that the book opens with the tabernacle having been constructed and the glory cloud of the Lord having descended—but Moses was still on the outside of the tabernacle. After the anointing of the priesthood in chapter 8, the priests, as instructed in chapter 9, then offered their prescribed sacrifices and the tabernacle was opened for corporate worship.

Unfortunately, soon thereafter (chapter 10) two of Aaron’s sons offered an unauthorized sacrifice before the Lord and died in His presence—on the spot. Their dead bodies were transported by their tunics and they were cast outside the tabernacle.  There was still much for the Israelites to learn about holiness

God decreed that their eating habits were to be holy (chapter 11); their childbirth was to be regulated by God’s holy law (chapter 12); their personal and domestic hygiene was to be holy, as symbolized by the laws regarding leprosy (chapters 13—14) and those with reference to bodily discharges (chapter 15).

In chapter 16, the regulations for the yearly observance of the Day of Atonement were closely followed by instruction concerning the central place of the blood in acceptable worship (chapter 17). After all of this, in chapters 18-20, the Torah dealt other issues of practical, day-to-day holiness.

Clearly the central theme was God’s passion for His holiness and therefore His prescription that His people be holy. This is summed up in 19:2 with the words, “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.’”

The same mandate applies to every generation

This week’s reading In chapters 21—22 continues the theme by addressing the priesthood.

In chapter 21, we learn that the priests had to meet certain prescribed qualifications if they would be deemed holy enough to serve in the tabernacle. No exceptions were to be made. It was serious business to serve God’s sanctuary.

In chapter 22, further regulations are given concerning the quality of the sacrifices that the priests were to offer. The priests in other words were responsible for the kind of worship offered by those whom they represented.

The overall theme is that those ordained to lead God’s people were to display unquestioning loyalty to the Lord God alone. They were to be holy.

Leviticus calls for holiness on the part of the congregation, on the part of the priesthood, and on the part of the high priest. And with each call to holiness, the demands become stricter.

This should not surprise us since the closer one gets to the Lord the holier one must be. This is pictured for us in the tabernacle itself.

The courtyard was where the people in general would gather and they certainly had a code of holiness for which they were responsible. The priesthood then had greater demands for holiness placed upon them, for they were allowed access to the Holy Place. But the high priest had an even higher standard of holiness placed upon him, for he alone was allowed access, one day a year, beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies.

The children of Israel were to be different, and the priests of the children of Israel were to be especially different. Those with greater privilege had greater responsibility.

In Tune with Torah this week =  Let it not be said that these ancient words have no relevance to us for the scripture itself tells us that everything was written for our instruction.

First, leaders of God’s people today have the same responsibility to live in holiness.

Second, congregational members also have the responsibility to seek holiness for the admonition in last week’s Torah reading is clear: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’  That was spoken to the entire nation of Israel, not just the priests.

Third, the instructions to the priests provide a model of self-discipline which all of us need to apply to our lives.

Without discipline there is no holiness.  Without holiness, there is no godly congregation. Therefore the call to be holy as He is holy is at once personal and congregational.  As each of us grows in holiness, the entire community benefits.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Emor May 2, 2014

Vayikra/Emor 21 – 24

NOTE: Because of the interruption of the Torah readings two weeks ago during Pesach, we mistakenly posted a commentary on EMOR last week. Since it is actually read this week, we are offering an additional commentary on this reading.

This week’s Torah Portion ends with the distressing story of the son of an Egyptian man and Jewish woman who committed the grave sin of blasphemy and as a result was severely punished. The episode begins with the words, “the son of an Israelite woman went out – and he was the son of an Egyptian man – among the Children of Israel…”

The Rabbinical sources and the commentaries point out that the significance of the words, “he went out” is unclear – where did he go out from? Rashi’s explanation is that the man went “out of his world.” In other words, that through blasphemy, he abandoned his place in the World To Come, Olam Haba. Another commentary agrees with this understanding by making note that the wording deliberately says he left “his world” as opposed to “the world”.

This explanation provides us with an important understanding of the Torah outlook with regard to reward and punishment in the world to come. One may think that a person in this world has no intrinsic connection to the next but rather when he dies and goes up, he will receive ‘prizes’ for his good deeds and lose status there because of his sins. The ‘reward’ in the afterlife is viewed as being his prize, similar to the way in which a person collects his reward after winning a raffle.

According to Torah understanding, this is not at all the case. Rather, from birth, we have a soul connection to the next world, to eternal life. Every good deed is noted by God and nourishes our soul towards holiness, thereby directly preparing our place in Olam Haba. In the case of the young man in question here, the sin of blasphemy was so great that he forfeited his place in the world to come. The Here is the key – mark it well: Reward and punishment in the next world is not arbitrary; rather each person creates his own Olam Haba or lack thereof by how we live our life here on this earth.

There is an interesting statement in the Mishnah: “Every Jew has a Portion in the World to Come…”

The commentaries ask is it really true that every Jews is received in the world to come? Actually in a later portion, the Mishnah actually describes those Jews who receive no reward, no place in Olam Haba!

What’s going on here?

The answer is that every person (Jew and Gentile alike) has a place reserved for him BUT each one ‘decides’ by how he lives his life whether or not to maintain that place or not. An analogy of owning land can be used to help further understand this concept. The portion described here is like a plot of land; each person inherits a bare plot of land. It is up to him to tender the plot and plant it so that healthy crops grow in it. If, at the end of one’s tenure of the crop, he has developed it well, then he can reap the rewards of his hard work by enjoying a bountiful harvest. If, however, he neglects the crop, then it will remain undeveloped, and if he mistreats it, by throwing dangerous chemicals into it, for example, then he will damage it. At the end of his tenure he will be left with a useless piece of land.

So too, everyone is born with a lofty soul that is our connection to God and to the next world. If a person busies himself with seeking to know God and doing good works, improving his own moral character with right choices, then we will elevate our soul so that after our deaths our souls will be fitting vessels to enjoy the spiritual wonders of Olam Haba. If, however, he neglects and damages his soul, giving no thought or concern for spiritual matters, that person will be unprepared for the inevitable meeting with his Maker at the end of life.

The way we conduct ourselves in this world determines the state of our portion in the Next World.

There are natural spiritual consequences to one’s actions. Thus, just like in the physical world, it is understood that certain actions, such as walking off the roof of a building, will cause great damage, the same is true in the spiritual world. It is true that no one is perfect and everyone fails. However, God has provided a way for us to turn back to Him – repentance. When we repent of our failings and sins, He forgives us and puts us back on the path of righteousness.

In Tune with Torah this week = Is the reality of a ‘world to come’ a part of your life? Does it impact your decisions and behavior? If not, it needs to, beginning right now. Let us live, not just for today, but knowing that one day all of us will face our Maker. May we be prepared to enter into Eternal Life in peace and joy at that time.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — EMOR April 25, 2014

EMOR Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1 – 24:3

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering; seven complete Sabbaths shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall you number fifty days and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

We are presently in the process of obeying this commandment as we are in the days of the counting of the Omer, which leads up to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah.

Why would God, in remembrance of Pesach (Passover), command us to number or count these forty-nine days? The simple answer is that God wants us to realize the exodus out of Egypt was more than just the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The exodus was directly connected to their arrival at Mount Sinai and to the receiving of the Torah on the fiftieth day.

The Israelites had been weakened physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the Egyptians. The years of backbreaking labor had taken a physical toll on the people. It was hard for them to keep an emotional balance while living in slavery. Understandably, there were emotions of hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration. Spiritually they had been battered by the paganism of Egypt and their thousands of gods.

Their belief in the One True God had been passed down to them by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons. No doubt, among many of the people, there was a wavering of this belief because of the severity of their conditions.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “mitzrayim.” The root meaning of this word is ‘boundaries and limitations’. Thus, in Egypt there was an oppressive and restrictive atmosphere that hung over the Israelites. The Egyptians restrained the Israelites’ freedom of movement and their freedom of expression.

As the children of Israel left Egypt, they were freed from their oppressive constraints. They now had to shed their emotional baggage as well to prepare for the monumental experience of receiving the Torah. This meant that negative emotions; such as, hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration had to be replaced with the positive emotions of love, compassion, benevolence, harmony, and humility, to name a few.

We know the rest of the story. The Israelites did make it to Mount Sinai and they did receive the Torah; however, it was not without some major bumps along the way. There were complaints over water, food, and a major complaint over the whereabouts of Moses, which led to the golden calf incident. As a result, not everyone that left Egypt was standing at Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day.

What about us today, how can we apply the counting of the Omer to our lives?

We also have negative emotions that affect us through our surroundings. Today, our work load has been increased, prices of goods and commodities have risen, taxes have risen, and our overall ability to enjoy life has been diminished. Also, cultural norms have seeped into our lives with humanistic thought and behavior; slowly turning us away from God’s commandments to a morally bankrupt set of principles and practices.

What about the nation in which you live? And I live? Is our nation restricting our freedom of movement and restricting our freedom of expression? Our rights to travel, relocate, and voice our grievances with our national leaders were denied in Egypt prior to the exodus. What’s happening today?

Additionally, how would we judge our nation concerning its level of spiritual righteousness or spiritual impurity? Is our nation doing well or is it sinking close to the level of God’s judgment?

Because of the conditions surrounding us, the counting of the Omer takes on a new importance. It allows us personally to spend these forty-nine days exchanging our negative emotions for positive ones. The end result will be that we will arrive at a higher spiritual level, which will allow us to receive and understand the Torah in a greater way. Thus, we will let a greater light of Torah shine forth to the people around us, to our community, to our nation, and ultimately the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = this is the time to take inventory of our emotional life and determine whether or not we need to exchange irritability for patience, frustration for trusting prayer, fear for faith and stress for quiet confidence in our God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Portions of this week’s commentary were taken from an article found on THYME FOR THE SOUL magazine.