Weekly Torah Commentary. – Beshalach January 26, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

Haftorah reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.  Exodus 13:17-22
The Exodus is a love story.   How can it not be? The story’s central theme is about a community of people, the Hebrews, held in bondage in Egypt by Pharaoh; but, a people dearly loved by God.  Therefore, He raises up Moses to lead them through a long and difficult journey to the land which God promised them.
The Exodus story leads us through a rhythmn of acts of disobedience and subsequent repentance and through it all, God, always ready to provide restoration to a
repentant people, demonstrates His abundant mercy and faithfulness over and over again. How can it not be a love story?
Is this not the same way He reveals Himself to us? God remains faithful in spite of our complaining and worrying about the inability to make things happen when we want to them to occur. This love story shows how God provides even when we don’t think there are provisions being made.
Having crossed the Red Sea, God does not allow the Israelites to enter into the Promise Land via the direct route through Philistine country; because had they done so the
Israelites would have had to pass Shur, the Egyptian wall that protected the Northeast highwaysout of Egypt. This wall was heavily guarded and could be passed only with great difficulty. If theIsraelites would have successfully crossed the border, further opposition could be anticipated from the Philistines. Instead God took them through a round about route that would take longer but had its unique purpose and reward.
We are told that the people marched like a strong army. Not haphazardly, but in formation that ensured that even though the people were taking the long way around it was done so in an orderly fashion. Why? God was allowing them to grow through the
discipline of the wilderness, so that when they were strong enough physically and mentally they would be able to come into open conflict with any formidable foes.
Did the Israelites know they were being directed the long way to reach entrance into the
“Promise Land?” They probably did. They wondered “Why so many delays?” And, we today, can empathize and understand their plight in wanting to get to the “Land of Milk and Honey” as quickly as possible; for the Israelites had suffered long enough under the Pharaoh in Egypt. We can fully understand since we know how it feels to need and
want important blessings…those blessings from God that are viewed as life altering, lifesaving, sanity-saving. Plus, it doesn’t help us in the 21stcentury that we live in an “instant society.” We want our needs to be met as soon as we identify them as being “very necessary.”
As the story unfolds describing the Israelites’ pilgrimage, God does not hold the
Chosen People’s weaknesses and complaining spirits against them. God knows they may
become discouraged, but even if the route takes longer, it’s safer for the people’s well-being. This was God’s Provision; a provision of protection. And although the Israelites were going to Canaan the long way around, Moses maintained his promise to Joseph to “carry Joseph’s bones” into the new land, an important reminder that even when blessings are delayed, it is incumbent upon us to maintain our integrity, to keep our word, to fulfill promises that we have made. It is a matter of honor to be faithful, even as God is faithful to us.
How amazing that God displays Himself as a “Pillar of Cloud” during the day and a “Pillar of Fire” during the night to the Israelites. This visible appearance of God’s presence allows the Israelites to literally behold Him. Can you imagine what it  must have been like?  And don’t we at times wish that such a visible presence would accompany us in our journey through life?  Have you ever cried out in a season of difficulty, ‘Lord, where are You?  If only I could see you?’
How do we respond when we feel as though it’s taking forever to receive an answer from God? How can we acquire a sense of peace during our marching times of walking through a painful journey that appears to never end? How do we hold on?
In Tune with Torah this week = let’s remember, the Israelites did reach the Promised Land; although it was through a roundabout way. God still made the provision and the promise was fulfilled.

Life just does not allow for everything to go as planned; as we have prayed for or hoped for. Why? Because God knows what we need, even when we don’t. It may be difficult to surrender and let go…especially when the path designed for us by God does not go in the direction we expected, dreamed about or hoped for.
However, the end goal remains.  Our journey has a destination – eternal life with God in the world to come.  If our route to get there seems roundabout, take heart.  We are in good company.  And the good news is this: the same God Who led, protected and provided for the Israelites is the same God who watches over us today. He has never failed and He will not start to do so with you.
Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Yitro February 6, 2015

Shemot/Exodus 18 – 20

The monumental event that took place at Mt. Sinai — the giving of the Torah to Moses – is recorded in this week’s reading.  Immediately after the Ten Commandments (or Instructions) were given, we read these words:

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.  Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 20:18-20

‘…in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.’

The Fear of the Lord is far less popular as a sermon or bible study topic than the Love of God.  Yet there are abundant references to it in the Scriptures and misconceptions about it abound.

The Fear of the Lord is defined as 1) an awe-inspiring reverence for God; 2) a personal awareness of His majestic sovereignty and power; 3) a true reverence, awe and respect toward the Almighty; 4) a humble and respectful fear of sinning against Him.

It is this last definition – a humble and respectful fear of sinning against Him – that is stated in the verses quoted above.  Moses explained to the Children of Israel that they were not to be ‘afraid’ of God, but rather, afraid of sinning against Him; in other words, the privilege that was theirs of witnessing – even from a distance – the powerful delivery of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai was to serve for the rest of their lives as a deterrent to sin.

The miracles He wrought for their deliverance from slavery, the destruction of Egypt’s army, the thunder, the lightning and the smoking mountain – all of these were to inspire in them a reverential awe of God along with a deeply grateful love towards Him for all of His goodness towards them.  The result of such awe and love should naturally be a desire to refrain from any type of actions or words that would contradict His revealed instructions as to how they should live out the remainder of their days.

We may not have stood physically at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but have not each of us received abundant blessings from God in our lives?  Blessings that too often we have taken for granted?  As we observe our world today, I suggest that the Fear of the Lord has become a rarity in many a society and nation, even within the communities of God’s people.  Because of it, Sin abounds and is in fact, accepted.  Evil is called good; good is called evil.  Our world has by and large lost the Fear of the Lord.

Consider these verses:

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.  Proverbs 8:13

…by fear of the Lord, one departs from evil.  Proverbs 6:16

Do not let your heart envy sinners but in the fear of the Lord continue all day long; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.  Proverbs 23:17

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him.  Psalm 147:11

The fear of the Lord prolongs one’s life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.  Proverbs 10:27

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments.  His descendants will be mighty upon the earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed.  Wealth and riches will be in his house and his righteousness endures forever.  Psalm 112: 1-3

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence and His children will have a place of refuge.  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death.  Proverbs 14:26

These are just a few of the dozens of references stressing the importance of and extolling the blessings we derive from maintaining the fear of the Lord in our souls.  To learn to ‘hate evil’ and ‘love righteousness’ is a worthy and laudable pursuit, and one we should teach our children.

The great King Solomon sums up the matter this way at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes:

The conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.  Eccl. 12:13

A side effect of losing the Fear of the Lord is a diminishing awareness of the World To Come.  We get so caught up in the here and now that the reality of eternity eludes us.  Were you or I to live 120 years, it’s but a moment compared to the eternity which awaits us.  We are forgetting that our life in the ‘here and now’ will have a direct effect on the ‘there and then’.  For as we read in the quote above from Proverbs 23, “…surely there is a hereafter…” As you read this commentary, you are one day closer to eternity, the most important journey you will ever take.  How are your preparations coming?

The Fear of the Lord and the awareness of Eternal Life are critical to a successful spiritual life in the here and now.

In Tune with Torah this week – set aside some time to meditate on the verses quoted above.  Let them speak to your soul and draw you closer to our Father, our King.

Shabbat Shalom

What’s the Fuss about ELUL? August 25, 2014

The month of ELUL on the Hebrew calendar is a thirty day preparation period for the upcoming festival of Yom Teruah (The Day of the Blowing of the Shofar), also commonly called Rosh Hashana, the new year. Throughout this month, Jews around the world and other biblical believers who are in tune with the festivals of the Lord as described in Leviticus 23, turn their attention to the subject of repentance.

Rosh Hashana is seen as the world’s ‘annual review’. In the course of your career, many of you may have experienced a corporate annual review. You know what that means. But did you know that all peoples and all nations also undergo an Annual Review in the courts of heaven? That, in fact, is what the festival is all about.

Now, if you were facing an important court date, an event that could potentially alter your entire future depending on its outcome, you would likely prepare thoroughly for weeks ahead of time, driven by a desire for the most favorable outcome possible.

On Rosh Hashanah, whether mankind is aware of it or not, the heavenly books are opened and God conducts His own audit of each individual as well as each nation. What have you done in the past year with the blessings you’ve received, the challenges you’ve faced, the talents you possess? Have you used each one as a platform for higher growth as a person? Are you, for example, a bit wiser than you were at this time last year? Are you kinder? More compassionate? Or by contrast, is your temper shorter and your faith weaker?

What of the nation? Is justice and righteousness increasing? Or is morality breaking down?

In both cases, it is His assessment that ordains the events of the coming year. What is it that you need to experience in the year to come in order to draw closer to Him, to lead a meaningful and effective life and to advance personally towards the fulfillment of your life’s purpose?

Understanding what is at stake as Rosh Hashana approaches, on the first of Elul the wise begin a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for refocusing on our purpose in life while turning away from robotic existence. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly with the intention of improving. After all, who doesn’t want a favorable ‘Annual Review’?

Elul is the time that we acknowledge our failures, apologize where necessary and make amends to repair any residual damage because of our words or actions.

Elul is THE month to be reminded that life on this earth is at best temporary but a greater world awaits.
Your position and mine in the world to come will profoundly reflect how we lived our time on this earth.
The young don’t often think of such realities, but as we get older, we do. And so we should…at every age.

Psalm 27 is thematic for the month of Elul and deserves our attention and meditation.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the defense of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,
My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.

And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,
And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice, And be gracious to me and answer me.

When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation!

For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me up.

Teach me Your way, O LORD, and lead me in a level path
Because of my foes.

Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries,
For false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence.
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.

Elul is a sober time but it is not a fearful time for the God of Israel reaches out to us as we turn towards Him. He loves the repentant soul and because His mercies are new every morning and His compassion never fails, we are assured of forgiveness as we prepare for a brand new start in a brand new Hebrew year.

Elul 1 falls on August 27, 2014, two days from now.

What does this post say to you? I look forward to your comments.

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