Weekly Torah Commentary – May 11, 2018 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah reading:  Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

If you follow My decrees and are careful to obey My commands, I will send the seasonal rains…I will give you peace in the Land and you will be able to sleep without cause for fear…I will look favorably upon you, make you fertile and multiplying your people…and I will fulfill My covenant with you Leviticus 26: 3, 6, 9.

Someone has said that the history of Israel could be summed up this way: Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – Deliverance, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance – over and over again.  To a great extent, that’s absolutely true.

But throughout that ebb and flow of Israel’s national character, one thing remains constant to this very day – GOD’S ETERNAL FAITHFULNESS to HIS COVENANT.

covenant

The people who populate the pages of your Bible and mine understood Covenant to a degree that few modern folks do.  In biblical times, covenants were linked to all kinds of relationships, whether nations, tribes, clans, families or individuals.

The English word ‘covenant’ comes from the Latin con-venire which literally means “to come together in agreement.”  The Hebrew word brit literally means ‘to bind or to fetter, a binding obligation’.  In biblical terms, the word Covenant is the ultimate expression of committed love and trust.

So we could define Covenant this way: It is a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and an oath, that creates a relationship in which each party is bound by specific undertakings on the other’s behalf. 

Westerners may feel strange or uncomfortable with the concept or confuse it with a ‘contract’ but they are not the same.  Contracts are negotiated by both parties and can be changed or even cancelled.  A Covenant is entirely different.  It is far above the exchange of things; it is the giving of oneself in committed relationship and the openness to receive from the other person. It cannot be altered or cancelled. A familiar example of this is the covenant between David and Jonathan detailed in the book of I Samuel.

The most amazing news announced to a man and his descendants was that God, in His unconditional love for us, cut a covenant with Abraham, thereby calling to all descendants of Abraham in every generation to enter into the most intimate and unbreakable bond of relationship known to mankind – a covenant relationship with Himself.  God’s covenant draws us into the circle of friendship in which God and His people are bound together.

What is perhaps equally amazing is that a perfect, all-wise and altogether holy God with no necessity within Him and no pressure from without, chose to create us with – of all things – free will.  Do you understand how incredible that is?  He created us with the capability to say ‘No’ to Him.  If I may put it this way, God took the greatest risk ever by creating man and woman in His image and likeness, yet with the ability within them to reject and rebel against the very One who created them.  If that’s not unconditional, eternal, unfathomable LOVE, I don’t know what is!

And when He did, He had already determined that He would make a covenant with the man of His choice, Abraham – a covenant that would last unconditionally throughout time and eternity, a covenant that He would never break because of Who He is – Almighty, Everlasting Eternally Unchangeable God!

There is another Hebrew word we must include in this discussion: chesed, which includes three ideas – strength, steadfastness and love – and it is commonly translated as loving kindness.  It denotes much more than loyalty and some legal obligation; it is genuine love, warmhearted generosity and goodness, an attitude of heart that goes beyond requirement to lavish giving of oneself and one’s resources.

By now, I’m sure you recognize that everything we’ve said about Covenant describes the very essence and character of our Heavenly Father.  He is unlimited Love, unconquerable Strength and unending faithfulness or steadfastness.  When God made covenant with Abraham, it was for keeps!

And so the psalmist wrote: Your (chesed) loving kindness, O Lord is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Psalm 36:5

God made Covenant not to create loving kindness but to express His loving kindness – that we might see His heart now and for all eternity.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your Faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

Most importantly, let us not forget precisely what God promised Abraham:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai, ‘God Almighty’….This is My covenant with you. I will make you that father of a multitude of nations.  What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer by Abram. Instead you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.  I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them.’  Gen. 17:1, 4-6

This promise of ‘many nations’ – not just one – followed Abram’s declaration of Faith. And Abram believed the LORD and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith Gen. 15:6

This occurred some four hundred years before the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai.  Abram was not considered righteous by God because of meticulous keeping of the law for there was no law in his day! God called him ‘righteous’ because of his FAITH.

In tune with Torah this week =  Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation and also father of ‘many nations’ which includes the Gentile nations, stands for all time as the premiere example of the power of FAITH.

At the age of 99, when every natural reality cried against it, Abram BELIEVED that God could do the impossible…and God did.  Every man, woman and child who believes in the Person and the Word of the living God is a child of Abraham, one of His spiritual descendants.

Child of Abraham, FAITH is the bedrock of our relationship with God; He cannot lie, His Word will never fail. You can trust your Heavenly Father implicitly for His Chesed – loving kindness – endures forever!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 29, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

Haftorah reading: I Kings 2: 1-12

Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”  Genesis 48:1-5

Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_by_Benjamin_West

Reuben and Simeon were Jacob’s first-born sons. They were the ones who by right and by custom should have received a double portion of Jacob’s estate, twice as much as any of their brothers. But now, Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, as his own first-born sons. They will replace Reuben and Simeon as first-born sons and receive their inheritance. This elevates Joseph’s position, as the 11th born son, to an even greater position than the 1st born son. That’s because he, through his first two children, now receives four portions of his father’s estate. Usually, the first-born son receives two portions of the estate and the rest of the children only one, but Joseph gets four portions! Jacob elevates Joseph through this adoption, then he continues.

Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). Gen. 48:6-7

The elevation of Joseph to the status of 1st born, reminds Jacob of Joseph’s mother, Rachel. He still feels the pain of her loss even after all those years; but in the midst of the pain and in the midst of his own terminal condition, he looks to the future with confidence. He adopts two boys as his own and promises them a double portion of his estate even though he has nothing to give them at this time. Jacob is living in a strange land. In fact, he has no land of his own except a small burial plot hundreds of miles away.

Yet he speaks with all the confidence of a promising future for his family.

Why? Because Jacob has found his hope in the promises of God, and that’s where we find our hope as well. If we feel as though we have nothing, if we are dealing with physical or emotional pain, if this year of 2017 has been a struggle, nevertheless, as we face the onset of a new year, we can utterly depend on the promises of God, just as Jacob did. We can look forward to the coming year with an absolute assurance that God will keep His Word. We can face the future with joy in anticipation of all that God has for us in the days ahead.

Jacob spoke to Joseph not out of what he presently possessed but out of the promise of God to him, and to his father, Isaac and to his grandfather, Abraham.

A story is told about a man at the age of 75 who planted a number of very small fruit trees.  His family wondered why he did so as he would likely never live to see the trees mature.  Some years later, after the old man had passed away, his son realized that when he visits the family farm, he has an option: he can either go to the nearby cemetery to mourn over his father’s grave or he can go pick fruit from the trees his father planted and think about the legacy of hope and faith his father left to the family.’

The Bible commands us to teach our children and our grandchildren about our God and the reliability of His promises.

In Tune with Torah this week = we need to ask ourselves: are we ‘planting fruit trees’ or are we complaining about our circumstances? Are we using the days allotted to us to build a spiritual legacy for those to follow or are we wasting time moaning about the present?

Jacob teaches us that the promises of God are irrevocable, unchangeable and more sure than the sun rising in the morning.  Our confidence and faith as we enter 2018 is founded on HIS integrity, not on world conditions.  Therefore we can pray with David, the sweet psalmist of Israel: ‘Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.’ Psalm 51:12

May this new year bring each of us closer to the LORD of Glory than ever before.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Lech Lecha October 27, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 20: 18-42

The week’s Torah reading provides us with a shift in the direction of the narrative thus far.  During the first eleven chapters of Genesis, there has been a consistent theme of sin followed by punishment.  It began with Adam and Eve.

Before long we had the days of Noah in which mankind had already sunk into untenable moral decay. God saw the condition of mankind as a whole and He destroyed the earth and all its people, except for Noah and his family, with a flood.

Not too long afterward, there was the Tower of Babel where mankind had gathered together and decided to build a tower that would reach the heavens in order to ‘make a name for ourselves.’ (Gen. 11:4)  At first glance, it seems as though the human situation is looking up. The people were unified, they all spoke the same language and they were co-operating together on a common project.  Yet God punished them – the whole group of them – by confusing their language and scattering them across the earth.

What was their sin? ‘…let us make a name for ourselves..’ It could very well be that had they attempted to build a tower in order to be closer to God and His heaven – in other words – to exalt the Name of the LORD instead of their own name – the story would have ended differently.

Therefore in the early chapters, we see the recurring theme of man’s failure to exalt His Creator and instead to follow the evil intent of his own mind which brought upon them the chastisement of the Almighty.

Now, as we move on to chapter 12, suddenly God speaks to one man, to an individual, Abram, instead of to mankind in general.

Abram

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you, I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ Gen. 12:1-3

Abram wasted no time in arguing with God or procrastinating about what he’d been told. The text indicates he obeyed without hesitation and with his wife, his nephew Lot and others of his household, he set off after the call of God.   At the time he was 75 years old. (take courage, it’s never too late to be used by God!) Not until he was 100 was Isaac born.

Abram embraced the call and the promise of God quickly then awaited its fulfillment patiently, much longer than he anticipated having to wait.

From that one man would eventually arise a people with the mandate to be ‘a light to the nations’.  It never fails to impress me that in the days of Abram, whom God re-named Abraham, there was no Torah, no written scripture of any kind, no Bible study groups.

But there was a man of FAITH. There was a man whose faith did not waver, whose trust in the one true God did not dissipate and whose confidence in his God’s integrity he never questioned.

Abraham’s greatest legacy to us is the value of FAITH.  It is faith that pleases our God and centuries later the prophet Habakkuk would write, ‘the righteous man shall live by faith.’

It had to begin with Abraham; it could not have started with Moses.  For unless the faith came first, the commandments are meaningless, a compilation of do’s and don’ts fit for robots.  It is FAITH in the Holy One of Israel that prompts us to want to honor His Name not just in word but also in deed.

Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people because of his exemplary faith.  It is faith that pleases God, first and foremost,  It is faith that causes us to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our resources.’  Deut. 6:5

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is more than mental assent.  Biblical faith is a conviction in the heart that our God is real, He is Almighty, Everlasting and utterly Faithful.  He has drawn us to Himself and loves us with an unending and extravagant love.

The saying ‘Seeing is believing’ is backwards when it comes to spiritual understanding.  The truth is ‘Believing is Seeing.’

If your faith is in need of strengthening, take some time this Shabbat to read His Word and ponder it quietly in your own heart. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  He will.

Shabbat shalom.

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Weekly Torah Commentary – Re’eh August 18, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 11:26 – 16:17

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 54:11 – 55:5

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, And every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD (Isaiah 54:17).

weapons

A weapon refers to any tool or utensil used against another person. A weapon is anything that could be used against you for evil intent.  So when the LORD through the prophet Isaiah says to us, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper,”  it means that nothing built, sharpened, aimed at, or fired against you, your family, God’s kingdom, or God’s people will succeed. Though your ‘enemies’ may seem to win for a while—a job may be eliminated, a child may wander far, a life may even be lost—in the end, even these tragedies will be understood in the context of God’s agenda for prospering those who are truly His.

Why is this true? The reason “no weapon formed against you shall prosper” is not because you are a fierce warrior, but because He is.  Joshua 23:10 tells us that “One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you”. Could you single-handedly chase away a thousand soldiers? No, but God can—and it is He who fights for you. He is the Defender of His children.

Isaiah assures us our enemies’ weapons will not prosper. That word is translated succeed and prevail in certain English renditions of the Bible and the concept gives us hope. Here’s the good news: no assault against us – physical, emotional or spiritual – will be final. Even if it appears to be prospering, it’s not done yet. Even if it wins the battle, it won’t win the war. Why? Because our God takes it very seriously when someone opposes or attacks the ones He loves. You can count on that.  For example, have you heard or read about the miracles God performed for Israel during the Six Day War of 1967?

Just as your enemies’ weapons will not win, neither will their words: “And every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn.”

Have you ever been a target for hurtful words because of your faith? Have you experienced ridicule in your workplace or home because of your loyalty to the Torah? Do you know the sting of scorn because of your stand for God’s truth? Have you been rebuked because of your faithfulness to God’s revealed Word?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, that’s not a good sign. It suggests the people around you haven’t noticed a direct connection between you and God. We are called to be ‘a light to the nations’.  If the ‘light’ of God is not glowing through your life, something’s wrong!

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then savor this truth: God always wins!

You may wonder, When will this victory happen? Does God’s definition of “soon” match ours? “Soon” implies sooner than we think—especially from an eternal perspective. Before long we will be in eternity, astonished by how fast life on earth raced by.  The Prophets declare without compromise that in the end, God wins over all.  ‘And the LORD will be King over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only One and His Name the only One.’ Zechariah 14:9

And because He wins, so will you. You get to share in His victories. Isaiah says so: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” As you face the weapons and words of your enemies, as you engage in the battles of life, set your heart and hope on the final outcome. Live with eternity in view. It’s going to end well for you. Guaranteed.

In Tune with Torah this week = recognizing that no trial or difficulty lasts forever but their presence in our lives provide us with opportunity to grow closer to the LORD. Any situation we face has one of two effects: we either get bitter – or better.  Let your experiences in this life may you a better person, not a bitter one.  You do that by honoring the LORD, even on the darkest of days.  ‘I will bless the LORD at ALL times; His praise shall CONTINUALLY be in my mouth.’  Psalm 34:1

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 11, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.  Isaiah 51:1-2

abraham-father-of-faith

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story of Abraham and his family is covered from chapter 11 through chapter 50, while only two chapters are given to the entire story of creation. What was there in the life of Abraham that distinguished him as such a man that so great a portion of Genesis is devoted to disclosing his life in great detail?

The life story of Abraham begins in Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived in a comfortable home and in pleasant circumstances. Archaeology has disclosed that Ur, located not too far from Babylon, was a prosperous city with lovely homes, beautiful parks and public buildings. Abraham was comfortable and secure in Ur, but it was also a wicked city where pagan sacrifices — including human sacrifices — were continually offered.

According to Genesis 12:1, God directed Abraham to leave Ur, leave his family, and dwell in tents for the rest of his life. Abraham started out with his father and his nephew, Lot, and got as far as Haran. Only when his father died did Abraham move on to the promised land with Lot. At long last he had come to the place of God’s appointment.  Keep in mind that when God instructed Abraham (then Abram) to leave Ur, God didn’t explain exactly where Abraham was going. He simply said, ‘Leave and go…and I’ll show you where to stop!’

From Abraham’s life, we learn and re-learn some much needed lessons. Abraham demonstrated his faith that God would care for him, provide for him and guide him by doing what God told him to do regardless of how bizarre it may have sounded to his family and friends at the time, let alone his wife!  Can you imagine your husband coming home one afternoon and saying, ‘Honey, we’re moving.’  You reply in surprise, ‘Oh? Where are we going?’  Your husband replies, ‘I have no idea.  God just spoke to me today and said we must leave here and He will show us where to settle.’  Seriously?!?!?!?  It’s probably the mercy of God towards Sarah that the scripture doesn’t tell us her first reaction!  To her credit, despite whatever her first reaction was, she followed her husband, trusting his faith in God.

Without knowing where the land was to which he was going, he accepted God’s promise that his descendants would inherit that unknown land.  Keep in mind that at the time he had no descendant and he was already advanced in years.  But Abraham understood something that we moderns too often overlook: When God speaks, our only appropriate response is to obey.  It is not ours to judge what God has said and decide whether or not we agree.  He has spoken? End of story.  Do what He said!

In the materialistic society in which we live, we need a constant reminder that earthly possessions are always temporary, and only that which is eternal abides forever. There is a world to come – an eternal world – which God has prepared for His people that they  may live with Him forever.  Our status in that world has everything to do with the quality of our faith in this one, for the degree to which we choose to love God and obey Him is determined by how genuinely we believe in Him and believe His word to us as found in the pages of Scripture.

Abraham, despite his great faith, had one great frustration. For most of his life he and Sarah, his wife, had no children. How could the promises of many nations coming from him, and of his descendants inheriting the land, be fulfilled if he had no children? According to Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham suggested that his chief servant, Eliezer, be made his heir, but God said, “This man will not be your heir” (Gen. 15:4).

Sarah, being a resourceful woman, suggested to Abraham that he have a child by Hagar, an Egyptian slave that they had brought back with them from Egypt. In those times, this was not an unusual practice if a wife was barren. In due time Ishmael was born, and Abraham’s heart was delighted. But this was not the fulfillment of God’s promise.

When Abraham was already ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety, there was really no human basis for hope that Sarah would bear a son. Nevertheless God said, “Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen. 17:19).  At that advanced age, Abraham believed what God said over the “evidence” of his and Sarah’s physical status.  How could a 99 year old man with a 90 year old wife believe they could have a child?  Some today might call them crazy!

Yet Abraham’s faith in God convinced him that if God said it would happen, that was good enough for him and he did not allow the physical circumstances to shake his faith in his God.  And so from this one man, as good as dead from a physical viewpoint, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand of the seashore.

The supreme test of Abraham’s faith was yet to come. Fiery tests of faith which occur early in life sometimes climax in much greater tests of faith in a time of spiritual maturity. So it was with Abraham.

When Isaac had reached his early teens, God told Abraham to do a strange thing. One day God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). What an astounding command! Abraham was to take the promised son on whom all the promises of God for the future of Abraham depended, and offer him as a human sacrifice upon an altar on a distant mountain.

Even though Abraham had been accustomed to human sacrifices in his pagan life in Ur, how could this possibly fit into the plan of God? What was to happen to all the promises that depended on Isaac? There is no scriptural record of any wavering. Early the next morning the journey began.

Taking two young men with him, his son Isaac, and wood for the offering, Abraham began the journey that on the third day brought them near to the place of sacrifice. When Isaac asked the searching question, “Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8).

When they came to the place, Abraham apparently had to tell what he was about to do. And Isaac, being a strong young man, had to be willing to be bound on the altar as God had directed Abraham. Just as Abraham took the knife to take the life of his own son, God stayed his hand, and told him to offer instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby.

The incident with Isaac reveals more clearly than any other the maturity of Abraham’s faith. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Abraham had such confidence in God that even this confusing direction did not deter him from his utter confidence in God’s integrity and moral character.  Since God had said that through Isaac, the promised descendants would come.  Abraham considered that to be the final word.

In Tune with Torah this week = Abraham was a man of faith who believed he could live in God’s place, who believed in God’s provision for him in time and eternity, who believed the promise of the son whom God would give him miraculously, and who believed in God’s utter and incomparable integrity.  Now here’s the bottom line: Abraham believed God with this amazing faith because he knew God.It is not enough to know about God; we must, like Abraham, develop a personal relationship with Him by spending time in His presence, pondering His words and internalizing their message so that our lives are impacted.

It behooves us to remember that while Jewish tradition called Moses our ‘Teacher’; it is Abraham who is our ‘father’.  Therefore, Isaiah exhorts us ‘Look to Abraham…’  Judaism began with a man of FAITH, more than four hundred years before the Torah was given.

If we delight in being children of Abraham, than our faith today must stand on the same foundation. Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith in the living God who will accomplish for us in time and eternity all that He has promised in His love and grace.

Shabbat shalom.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Passover Sabbath – April 14, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Can these bones live?  (vs. 3)

drybones

That is the question which the Spirit of the Lord asked Ezekiel in his famous vision of the valley of dry bones.

The Spirit of the Lord set Ezekiel down into a valley filled with bones that were ‘very dry’. The prophet experienced this vision after God had directed him to prophesy the rebirth of Israel in chapter 36. God announced, through the prophet, that Israel will be restored to her land in blessing under the leadership of “David, My servant [who] shall be king over them”  clearly a reference to the future Messiah, descendant of David. However, this promise seemed impossible.  At that time, Israel was “dead” as a nation, deprived of her land, her king, and her temple. She had been divided and dispersed for so long that unification and restoration seemed utterly impossible. So God gave Ezekiel the vision of the dry bones as a sign to reinforce the promise.

God directed Ezekiel to speak to the bones. Ezekiel was to tell the bones that God would make breath enter the bones and they would come to life, just as in the creation of man when He breathed life into Adam. Ezekiel obeyed, the bones came together, flesh developed, skin covered the flesh, breath entered the bodies, and they stood up in a vast army.

This vision symbolized the whole house of Israel then in captivity. Like unburied skeletons, the people were in a state of living death, pining away with no end to their judgment in sight. They thought their hope was gone and they were cut off forever. The surviving Israelites felt their national hopes had been dashed and the nation had died in the flames of Babylon’s attack with no hope of resurrection.

The reviving of the dry bones signified God’s plan for Israel’s future national restoration. The vision also, and most importantly, showed that Israel’s new life depended on God’s power and not the cleverness of the people. Putting “breath” by God’s Spirit into the bones showed that God would not only restore them physically but also spiritually.

As with all of scripture, there is always more than the simple meaning. We understand the promise to Israel but we also derive personal encouragement and hope from this passage.

Typically in the scripture, valleys are places of hardship or trial.  The verse from Psalm 23 comes to mind, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me.  The implication is that walking through a valley could be a fearful thing but we are assured that the LORD is with us, even then.

When we go through valleys in our life, sometimes dreams die. Sometimes our hope dies, our faith dies. Sometimes promises die. Sometimes circumstances happen tragically, things just go wrong in our life. Sometimes things are out of our control and sometimes they are in our control, but regardless of whether they are in or out of our control, we are assured that whatever has been lost in those valleys and wherever there has been trauma or grief or sorrow and death, it is the LORD and He alone who can breathe on the dry bones and restore life.

Is there a dream, a hope, a goal you’ve had that seems at present utterly impossible? Has an important relationship gone wrong?  Have you suddenly lost a job? Or has someone you love been diagnosed with a life threatening disease?

Any of these could be seen as a ‘valley experience’ in our life. Maybe your dream has been dead so long that it’s like the bones Ezekiel saw: very dry.

This Haftorah gives us resounding hope and divine reassurance of redemptive restoration, no matter what lies dead in your valley.

In tune with Torah this week = The festival of Passover is a wonderful time to re-visit old dreams and desires, to bring them before the LORD in prayer and listen for His word of hope.  For the same God who transported Ezekiel into that valley is the God who hears your hearts’ desires today.

Shabbat shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel-Pekudei March 24, 2017

Torah Reading: Exodus 35-40
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18

In this week’s Haftorah portion we find the commandment of Passover reiterated by the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Israel.

In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. Ezekiel 45:21

Pesach2

This year Passover begins on April 11th and ends on April 18th. Most households here in Israel are already in the throes of preparation. One’s entire home is cleaned until it’s spotless; menus for the seven days are planned and except for perishables, the shopping has already started; and invitations to one’s Seder meal have already been dispatched. It’s an exceedingly busy time, especially in Israel.

But beyond all that, what is most important about Passover is what we remember and what we look forward to. Like all the Biblical festivals, Passover is past, present and future.  It speaks of our past deliverance, our present determination and our future destiny.

Passover conveys five major concepts that serve every generation well. They are the five most important things to know about Passover, and to incorporate into every day of the rest of the year. They are: history, optimism, faith, family, and responsibility.

1) History or Memory: It has been said that the idea of history originated with the Hebrews going all the way back to Abraham.

“Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery.”

To record and remember is a biblical mandate that had never seemed important to anyone else before the Jewish people came on the scene. It was the Passover story that initiated a commitment to memory. History is the only way we can learn from the past. History allows us to grow by standing on the shoulders of giants. Make a mistake once, and you’re human. Never learn from what happened before, and you’re brainless. That’s why it’s so important to heed the famous words of George Santayana that “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2) Optimism: The most difficult task Moses had to perform was not to get the Jews out of Egypt, but to get Egypt out of the Jews. They had become so acclimated to their status as slaves, they lost all hope that they could ever be free. Hope creates optimism and the hope they held onto originated in the covenant of God with Abraham.

The true miracle of Passover is the message that with God’s help, no difficulty is insurmountable. A tyrant like Pharaoh could be overthrown. A nation as powerful as Egypt could be defeated. Slaves could be free. The oppressed could break the shackles of their captivity. Anything is possible, if only we dare to dream the impossible dream. That hope is, someone has said, in the DNA of the Jew. I hope it’s in yours as well!

3) Faith: The very foundation of Judaism and the Jewish people is FAITH. That is the legacy which our father Abraham bequeathed to us. Some four hundred and thirty years before the Torah was given, FAITH in a personal God was planted firmly into the Abrahamic line of descendants, into their spiritual heritage.

The God of Sinai didn’t say “I am the Lord your God who created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, he announced, “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” The God of creation could theoretically have forsaken the world once he completed his task. The God of the Exodus is constantly involved in our history and has an unshakeable commitment to our survival.

4) Family: The importance of family cannot be overstated. God built his nation not by commanding not a collective gathering of hundreds of thousands in a public square but by asking Jews to turn their homes into places of family worship at a Seder devoted primarily to answering the questions of children. The home is where we first form our identities and discover our values. No wonder then that commentators point out the very first letter of the Torah is a bet, the letter whose meaning is house. All of the Torah follows only after we understand the primacy of family.

5) Responsibility: Passover reminds us that no man is an island. We are responsible first for ourselves, yes; but also for family, friends and society.
As we celebrate the great deliverance from slavery, some may ask why were we enslaved to begin with? Why did God allow that?

The Torah and the Prophets tell us that we were slaves in Egypt – and so we must have empathy for the downtrodden in every generation. We were slaves in Egypt – so we must be concerned with the rights of the strangers, the homeless and the impoverished. We experienced oppression – and so we must understand more than anyone else the pain of the oppressed.

The purpose of our suffering was to turn us into a people committed to righting the wrongs of the world, to become partners with God in preparing the world to become the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom to be ruled by the Messiah.

In Tune with Torah this week = From earliest childhood every Jew child learns to embrace these five ideals: history (memory), optimism, faith, family and responsibility. These are not just ideals for the Jewish people but for all nations and all peoples. As we prepare for Passover let us ponder these truths and renew our personal commitment to all that they represent.

Shabbat Shalom