Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel-Pekudei March 9, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 36:16-36

This week two portions of the Torah are read: Vayakhel and Pekudei.

movingforward

The book of Exodus has been all about moving forward.  The very word ‘exodus’ conjures up images of a journey, an exit from one place to go to another place.  With this week’s readings we are at the end of the book and we read these words: Moses said to the whole Israelite community, “This is what the Lord has commanded: From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering…” (Ex. 35:4-5).

God expects voluntary offerings from his people. Notice the words: everyone who is willing…God does not coerce or manipulate.  Offerings are to come from willing hearts for that is when they are pleasing to the Lord.

Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments (Ex. 35:20-21).

The happiest people I know are generous people. Moses had to stop the Israelites from giving to the work of God. They found great satisfaction and joy in their giving.

And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary… said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done” (Ex. 36:3-5).

Moving forward requires people who give to the work of the Lord.  It also requires gifted workers with servants’ hearts.

The Israelites had done all the work just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:42-43).

There is great blessing in doing a job well, with excellence and faithfulness.

Faithful

Excellence is defined as ‘the quality of being especially good’. Those who did the work of building the Tabernacle were not sloppy; they didn’t start and not finish; they didn’t do the minimum, they gave their all.  Since every day of our lives should be a love gift to our God, shouldn’t everything we do be done with excellence?

Faithfulness is defined as trustworthy, reliable, loyal and thorough in the performance of duty.  As we have followed the details of the building of the Tabernacle over recent weeks, we have witnessed the diligence, the reliability and the thoroughness with which the workers completed their tasks for the glory of God.

excellence

Excellence and faithfulness are also two character traits of God Himself.

We read in Isaiah 12:5:  Praise the LORD in song, for He has done excellent things; Let this be known throughout the earth.

And in Deuteronomy 7:9: Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments

Our God is excellent in all His ways and He is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to Him.

In Tune with Torah this week =  As we are called to be holy as He is holy, it behooves us to as ourselves this week: Am I a reliable, dependable person? Do I keep my word to others? And to God?

Secondly, do I carry out my responsibilities with excellence? Or am I satisfied with doing the bare minimum? Am I diligent to do my best, knowing that everything I do is intended to bring glory to God?

May excellence and faithfulness be found in all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

Shabbat Shalom