Weekly Torah Commentary – Beshalach Feb. 10, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 13:17-17:16

Haftorah reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31

Someone has said there are only three kinds of people in the world—those who watch things happen, those who make things happen, and those who scratch their heads and ask, “Hey, what’s happening?” The ability to make things happen is the gift of leadership.

deborah

In Judges 4–5, two godly female leaders perform legendary exploits for God. These two are willing to risk life and limb for God’s purposes. They are women of courage. In this account, our author reveals that God intervenes when we act with courageous faith. Chapter 4  focuses on Deborah’s victory (4:1–16), and on Jael’s victory (4:17–24). Chapter 5 is a victory song by Deborah.

“Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.”

After Ehud gutted the “fat calf” Eglon (3:20–22), God gave His people eighty years of peace. This is the longest period of peace recorded in the Book of Judges. But once Ehud dies, the people return to their evil. This verse tells us something about sin. It is difficult to be creative in sin. Mankind simply does the same thing over again.

Today, you may have a stronghold of anger in your life and you express it to vent your frustrations. However, when the dust settles you feel awful inside and you can’t take your words back. Or perhaps it’s gossip or overeating or jealousy. All of these sins follow the cyclical pattern of sin in the Book of Judges. They are repetitious, monotonous, and destructive.

In 4:2–3, Israel’s rebellion requires God to act. “And the LORD sold them [Israel] into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan,who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. The sons of Israel cried to the LORD; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.”

God loves His idolatrous people enough to discipline them with idolaters. He lovingly preys on their insecurities by raising up Jabin and Sisera along with their nine hundred iron chariots who rule over Israel for twenty long years.

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment.”

God raises up a courageous woman named Deborah to be Israel’s judge. Deborah’s name means “honeybee” for she does what most marks a bee. She stings the enemy, and she brings sweet refreshment to her people. Deborah is also called “the wife of Lappidoth,” which means “woman of torches.” This is quite apropos since she will shortly light a fire under Barak and demonstrate true leadership.

Deborah “sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, ‘Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded,‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’” (4:4-6)

Deborah is not telling Barak anything that he does not already know. She calls Barak to Bethel to remind him of the truth that he already possesses. God has been speaking to Barak. His home was Kedesh-naphtali. “Kedesh” means sanctuary. Evidently there was a holy site there in Naphtali, and there may have been a very small glimmer of truth and light there. In any case, Barak knows the truth. He knows that he should be a man of faith. He knows that God can deliver Israel, but he is impotent, powerless, and afraid to act. Deborah is calling him to go back to what he knows is true, and to act on it.

“Then Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’” (4:8)  Initially, it seems like Barak is the ultimate coward.  It appears that Barak wants Deborah to accompany him so that he can be assured of God’s presence. He also likely wants the prophetess with him so that he can consult with her as he has need. While this sounds somewhat reasonable, the problem is God’s will has already been revealed to Barak, and he is reluctant to act on the command he has received. Though the will of God is clear, Barak puts a condition on obeying God.

It’s all too easy to be passive like Barak when we receive God’s commands. We can often lack faith when God has called us to lead but when we move forward in faith, God will always intervene. He always has a perfect plan for us to follow. In the case of Barak, God chose the leader of His army, the place for the battle, and the plan for His army to follow. God also guaranteed the victory. Similarly, we know that “God’s commandments are God’s enablements” and that we should obey His will in spite of circumstances, feelings, or consequences.

Deborah replies in 4:9–10: ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.” This is a beautiful response from Deborah. She does not ridicule Barak or “call him out” by questioning his manhood. She doesn’t nag, command, or insist. Nor does she attempt to manipulate him. Instead, she merely reminds him of his responsibility before God.

The contrast between Deborah and Barak suggests that God raises up a woman to lead Israel because the Israelite men were cowards and declined leadership. Barak, though a gifted warrior, is tainted by his lack of faith and shamed for it. The honor of killing the enemy commander in battle will go to a woman. Who will be the woman who gets the honor?

“‘Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him,” Deborah says to Barak. Like an ancient Joan of Arc, Deborah calls the people to battle, leading them out of idolatry and restoring their dignity as God’s chosen ones.

Not once, but twice, Deborah informs Barak that it is the Lord who is going to bring victory. It is not Deborah, Barak, or Israel; it is the Lord who will win this battle!  Chapter 5 tells us that at just the right moment, the Lord allowed the Kishon River to flood and completely disable the enemy so that Israel could slay them. Sisera’s legendary iron chariots become mired in the muck and mud. Barak’s infantry charges down from Mount Tabor and absolutely destroys the Canaanites.

The battle plan God had given Barak made little sense, militarily speaking. Chariots were very effective on the plains, but they were of little or no value in the mountains. God ordered Barak to muster his troops on Mount Tabor, and then to lead them down from the mountain and onto the plains. This is precisely where the chariots had the advantage and could do the most damage.  The Canaanites depended upon their nine hundred chariots. The Israelites chose to trust in God’s promise.  Throughout the Book of Judges, God uses weak and foolish people and methods. God intervenes when we act with courageous faith.

In chapter 4: 17-24, Barak’s fearfulness is contrasted with Jael’s faithfulness.

“Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Yael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” 4:11

In 4:18, “Yael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.’ And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. He said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.” Yael offers Sisera hospitality. She invites him into her tent and tells him not to fear. Like Deborah, the mother of Israel, Yael treats Sisera like a little boy. She covers him with a rug, gives him milk to drink, and tucks him into bed because he has had a long, hard day.

Before he drifts off to sleep, Sisera says to Jael, “‘Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’ But Yael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple,and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Yael came out to meet him and said to him, ‘Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.” This lady is a courageous warrior!  By the standards of ancient warfare, she is a hero. She decisively and courageously helped God’s people at a critical moment in history. The glory did, indeed, go to a woman and not to Barak.

The defeat of Sisera and his army was a turning point in history because it put the Israelites on the offensive and the Canaanites on the defensive. This victory not only eliminated some of Jabin’s top warriors, but it deprived him of his greatest weapons—his nine hundred iron-rimmed chariots. The spoils of this victory would also have provided armor and weapons for many Israelite soldiers.  God brought all this to pass through the obedience of two women.

God intervenes when we act with courageous faith.

Application:

Perhaps you are facing a decision at this time; or some type of challenge to your faith.  Perhaps an ‘enemy’ is harassing you, be it financial pressure, illness or an emotional trial. The message of this week’s Haftorah is clear: Courageous faith is the path to victory.  To do as David did and say ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth’, is the first step: acknowledging your faith and dependence on God. The second step is being humble enough to receive advice and support from others in your time of need.  A faithful friend is a gift from God.  As Deborah did for Barak, they will do for you.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’eira January 27, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2-9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

On the first day of the first month of the 27th year during our exile, the LORD spoke to me. ‘Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army fight hard against Tyre. They struggled until they all had bald heads and sore shoulders. But he and his army gained nothing from the fight with Tyre. Therefore, the LORD your King says: I will give the country called Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He will ruin it and he will rob it. He will carry away all its wealth. With this, he will pay wages to his army. I have given him Egypt as a reward. In what he has done, he worked hard for me. This is what the LORD your King says. At that time, I will make Israel to become strong again. You will speak to them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’  Ezek. 29: 17-21

In the first sixteen verses of Ezekiel 29, the LORD spoke to Ezekiel to prophesy against Egypt.  He describes the king of Egypt as being like ‘a great crocodile in the river’, warns him that another nation (Babylon) will attack and conquer them and He (God) will ruin the country.  For forty years Egyptians will be banished and scattered from their country but after that time, they will return and this shall be a sign to the Israelites that they, too, will return to their native land.  More importantly, it will be a sign to Israel that the LORD’s promise to them is sure and will indeed come to pass.  For when they see this prophecy of Ezekiel’s against Egypt come to pass, they will know that his prophecy that Israel will be restored will also come to pass. Notice the last words: At that time, I will make Israel to become strong again.  You will speak to them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

There is the key: …that they will KNOW that I am the LORD.

Throughout biblical history, we are confronted with the issue of faith vs. fear.   Though the Israelites knew about God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as the covenant at Mt. Sinai, along with all the miracles the children of Israel experienced through the centuries, nevertheless in Ezekiel’s day, they still doubted Israel’s restoration.  Every visible indication was that Israel as a sovereign nation on the land promised to Abraham was finished, thrown into the dustbin of history…that is, if you only looked at what was visible.

However, the promises of God are not dependent on what is visible, but on His eternal and intrinsic integrity.  God cannot lie.  When Israel was exiled because of her sinfulness, He nevertheless had promised they would eventually return, that the God of heaven would keep His Word to Abraham and his descendants.

But given the conditions around them, the people of Ezekiel’s day doubted.

Aren’t we too often so much like them? On the one hand, we declare that we believe the Scriptures to be the eternal, inviolable Word of God but when visible situations or our earthly circumstances seem to contradict what we believe how easily are we prone to doubt.  In times like that, we may even say things like ‘I know God can help me but I’m not sure He will in this instance.’  May God forgive us!

Sometimes we are simply impatient.  We want an answer and we want it now.  We want to see a situation change and we want it yesterday!  It is precisely in times like these that it is vital to remember all the blessings God has already provided us in our lifetime.

One of the most powerful deterrents to doubt is an attitude of gratitude.  Giving thanks to our heavenly Father on a daily basis is to the soul like Vitamin C to the body – it strengthens your immunity against the ‘dis-ease’ of doubt!

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth, we read in Psalm 34:1.

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  Psalm 106:1

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1

John Henry Howett wrote: Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion. Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception. Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude. Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.  How true!

thanks

To train ourselves that our first thought on waking up will be ‘Thank you, my God, for another day to live and serve You’ is a worthy pursuit. Beginning our day with thanksgiving sets an atmosphere, a positive outlook that makes the new day an adventure instead of a drudgery.

In Tune with Torah this week = check out your ‘gratitude attitude’.  How is it doing?  On a scale of 1 – 10, how grateful were you this week for God’s daily blessings in your life?  We too often focus on the ‘big’ things and forget to thank Him for the multitude of so-called ‘little’ things He does for us continually.  He deserves our thanks for EVERYTHING!

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 – Shoftim September 9, 2016

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this Torah … It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to be in awe of the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not feel superior to his brethren or turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:18-20)

In these verses, the queen of all virtues is highlighted: ‘[he] shall not feel superior to his brethren’. 

Many people have misconceptions about humility. To be humble is not about beating yourself up or letting other people put you down.  It is not low self-esteem, nor is it the opposite of confidence. In fact, only the truly humble person thinks and acts with confidence because he understands his utter dependence on the goodness of God.

Humility is not just a virtue; it is the root of all other virtues.  A lack of humility is at the root of every character defect and failure for it is the ego [pride] that causes us to choose our own way and our own opinion over God’s.

In this regard, we do well to remember Isaiah’s warning:  ‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the LORD. And My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts, higher than your thoughts.’  Isaiah 55:8-9

The seemingly insignificant events of daily life are the tests of our humility.  It is in the simple things of every day that our humility – or the lack thereof – is demonstrated.  You see, it is not enough to assume a humble countenance before God in times of prayer.  Humility before God is proven in our interactions with our fellowman.  This is why the king of Israel is commanded to keep God’s Word with him at all times and to meditate on it continually.

The ‘Me’ in all of us is a tyrannical, demanding person. It will always want the highest place amidst others and feel indignant or ‘wounded’ if another is preferred over ourselves. Nothing dies harder than our tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. By contrast, the humble person is easily able to rejoice when others are honored and generous in giving praise where praise is rightly due.  He is not jealous nor is he threatened by the achievements and success of another.

Humility is essential to faith. For what is biblical faith?  The utter confidence that there is a God in the heavens who loves and cares for us and has created us with a purpose and a destiny.  Faith is quiet but immovable confidence in His covenant and His goodness. By its very nature, faith demands humility.

Strong intellectual convictions without humility in the heart lead to arrogance and attitudes of superiority.  Did not the prophet Micah remind us: O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and what He requires of you. To do justice, to love righteousness and to walk humbly with your God Micah 6:8

If a king or leader, whom all are taught to honor and respect, is commanded to be humble – “not feel superior to his brethren” – how much more so the rest of us. Moses, the great leader of the Jewish people, was “very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth” Num. 12: 3?

We have just entered the Hebrew month of Elul; thirty days of preparation for the great Festival of Trumpets which this year begins at sundown on October 3rd.  Elul is the month of repentance, of pausing to take an internal inventory.  How have we progressed spiritually in the past year? In great measure, the answer to that question is founded on how we have grown in humility – or not.  For it is out of the humble heart that spirituality flourishes.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we search our hearts in preparation for Yom Teruah, the Festival of the Blowing of the Shofar, also called Rosh Hashana, the issue is not so much to analyze each outward deed but to get to the heart of the matter – is the root of my personal behavior self-focused or God-focused?  Self-serving or God-serving? Prideful or humble?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Chukat July 15, 2016

Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

The first thing we need to understand is that between vs. 22 of Numbers 19 and vs. 1 of Numbers 20, thirty-eight years have passed!  The congregation of the sons of Israel who arrived at the wilderness of Zin ‘in the first month’ are, by and large, the children of the generation that came out of Egypt.  You may remember that God had decreed that generation would die in the wilderness because of the sin of the Golden Calf and their children would go into the Land.

This new generation set up camp in Kadesh and Miriam died there and was buried.  Immediately afterward we read:

“There was no water for the congregation and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness for us to die here?  Why have you made us come up from Egypt to bring us into this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.’

This generation grew up knowing  that they were destined to enter the Land.  They watched over the years as one after another of the elder generation passed away.  By this time there were few of the elderly left and Moses was now almost 120 years old.  It is a very different situation from the time when this generation’s parents had complained about a lack of water.

In Exodus 17: 1-7 a similar complaint was brought to Moses: ‘Give us water to drink’.  Moses turned to the Lord Who instructed him to strike the rock and water would flow out.  He did – and it did.

All these years later, the children present the same complaint but with a slightly different inference. What they are really saying is ‘Moses, why did you bring us out here? Why have we settled here in Kadesh? We’re supposed to be going into the Land.  Look, the older generation is just about gone. Get us out of this desert now.  We don’t want to wait anymore!’

Moses and Aaron fell on their faces at the entrance to the Tabernacle.  The Lord spoke to Moses, commanding him to take his rod – the staff he had used at so many critical junctures of the journey – and in the presence of the people, to speak to the rock and water would flow.

MosesRock

So Moses and Aaron gathered the people.  With the staff in his hand, Moses addressed the people: ‘Listen now, you rebels! shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’  Then he struck the rock twice and water flowed.

But God was not happy with Moses. He said, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to sanctify Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the Land which I have given them.’  Key word: ‘believed’

Many have suggested that Moses’ punishment was due to his outburst of anger and/or because he disobeyed by striking the rock instead of speaking to it.  is there anything else here we need to discover?

Notice that God did not rebuke Moses for not ‘obeying’ Him but for not ‘believing’ Him. It was Moses’ faith – or lack thereof – that God faulted him for.

Moses had always used the rod in the working of miracles. But here, God was changing the strategy. God said , ‘Speak’ -use your voice, Moses.  It was a test, one that Moses had faced before.

We remember a much earlier time when God was also annoyed with Moses.  In Exodus 4: 10-14, Moses protests God’s call on his life saying ‘Please, Lord, I’ve never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’  The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I the Lord?  Now then go and I, even I, will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say.’  But Moses said, ‘Please Lord now end the message by whomever You will.’  Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses.

Moses was comfortable using the rod.  He was not comfortable using his voice.  But that’s what God told him to do.  He didn’t believe God could use his voice to perform a miracle.  (God had ‘never done that before’ – where have you heard that before?) Moses’ lack of faith in this instance had profound consequences, particularly as it was the second time in his life that he resisted using the spoken word when God commanded him to do so.

In Tune with Torah this week = The Bible teaches us that FAITH is what pleases God.  How many times have we felt prompted to do an act of kindness, to perform a godly task, to reach out to someone in need but we rationalized it away and didn’t do it?  The natural fruit of Faith is Obedience.  When we disobey the Lord, there is always a connection to our faith.  This week, let us learn from Moses that when God asks us to do something, He also gives us the grace and the ability to do it.  Let us be quick to obey, thereby demonstrating the authenticity of our Faith!

Shabbat Shalom

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Weekly Torah Commentary – Behar May 20, 2016

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

In the opening of this week’s reading, God commands Moses to instruct the people of Israel about the Shemitah, the rest for the land every seven years.

Trusting

As soon as the Jews settled in the Holy Land, they began to observe the seven year cycle that leads up to a Sabbatical year for the Land itself, known as the Shemitah which literally means ‘to release.’

The The Shemitah year waives all outstanding debts.  Does that sound great!  But there is more to it than that.  The observance of Shemitah has several dimensions.

1) It brings release to those in actual debt.
2) It gives the land a year to rest and renew itself.  Lev. 25: 3-6
During the Shemitah year, the farmers in the Land of Israel must refrain from cultivating their fields.  Anything that grows of itself is considered communal property and free for anyone to take.
3) It is a call to trust in God.
The Shemitah calls to the children of Israel to remember Who their Provider really is and to focus on their relationship with Him while they enjoy free time they would otherwise spend in farming.  They are to remember Who it was who gave them the Land of Milk and Honey!  Those who put their trust in God are richly rewarded.
I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops. Until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop! (Leviticus 25:21–22)

 

Though many Jews living in Israel today are not farmers, the lessons of the Shemitah year are still relevant.  The Shemitah is like an extended, year long Shabbat where we focus on deepening our faith in God and trusting Him for everything we need.  We are urged during a Shemitah year to focus less on material pursuits and tend to our spiritual life.

So we conclude that the underlying theme of this week’s reading is trust.  King Solomon wrote: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Isn’t that the challenge? ‘…lean not to your own understanding…’  We’re all guilty of doing that, aren’t we?

Particularly on Shabbat and during a Shemitah year, it behooves us to meditate on this verse and ask ourselves: How much do I depend on my own understanding and/or perception of events and circumstances?   You may remember that the prophet Isaiah wrote: God’s ways are not our ways…His thoughts are not our thoughts.  When we lean too heavily on our opinions, our perceptions and our attitudes, (thinking that surely we must be right!) we leave no room for God to share His ways and His thoughts with us about our life, our circumstances and our future.  Haven’t you been through something and wondered what in the world was happening, only to recognize – perhaps much later – that God was indeed at work in your life, even through that difficult time? Even when you couldn’t see His hand at all when you were living through it?  Hindsight really is a wonderful teacher.

In Tune with Torah this week = take some time this shabbat to reflect on all the blessings God has poured out into your life, how He has cared for you in good times and in bad, and let your trust in His unfailing love grow within you.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Shemot January 1, 2016

Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

In this week’s Torah reading we have the longest private conversation between God and an individual. It takes God 39 long verses (from Exodus 3:1 to 4:17) to persuade Moses to embrace the mission to which God is calling him; namely, to deliver the Hebrews from slavery.  In a wide-ranging conversation,  God patiently responds to Moses’ many objections and questions before Moses finally submits to his life’s purpose.

We could discuss many aspects of the conversation but for the sake of brevity, let’s just look at the objection raised by Moses in 4:1.

Moses responded and said, But they will not believe me and they will not heed my voice, for they will say, “God did not appear to you.”

Maimonedes explained in one of his writings that the Jewish people do not believe in Moses because of the miracles he performed, but rather because of Mt. Sinai and what happened there.  We will read later in Exodus 19:9:

Behold! I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking to you, so that they will believe in you forever, God says to Moses.

Before this, the Israelites had their doubts about Moses, particularly when Pharaoh increased their hardships after Moses requested their deliverance.

Moses understood that those who believe in someone simply because of miracles will sooner or later entertain suspicions and doubts which is why he said, “They will not believe me…”  Therefore God reassured him ahead of time that when the people stood at the foot of the mountain and heard God’s voice speak to Moses their faith would be permanent.

We tend to think that because we cannot ‘prove’ God’s existence, that is why some refuse to believe in Him.  ‘If only God would do a miracle I could see, some say, then I will believe.’  Not so! The Hebrew slaves saw many miracles in the process of the plagues poured out on Egypt and still they doubted.

What we may not appreciate – but I believe Moses did – is that there is a significant difference between believing in God (that He exists) and believing in the instructions and messages contained in His Torah and the Prophets.

To believe in God is ‘harmless’ in a manner of speaking. One can believe that He exists as an abstract philosophical thought that makes no impact on one’s life.

It is the revelations in the Torah and the Divine messages delivered by the prophets that put a demand on us. It is the Word of God that informs us that God has a profound interest in us and cares enough to communicate how we can enjoy a productive and fulfilling life: by embracing and following His instructions.

To put it simply, it is not so much the fact that God exists that stirs up immense opposition but the messages and instructions He has given.

Imagine for a moment living through the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea, the falling of manna from the sky, the spring of water flowing out of the rock — one couldn’t possibly ask for clearer ‘proof’ of God’s existence and presence.  So in the face of the miracles, the people believed but the rest of the book of Exodus gives eloquent testimony to how quickly the impression made by miracles fades away in the memory of the beholder.

God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Though we may think we’d ‘believe’ if we saw miracles, God knows we’d be no better than the Israelites who saw plenty and still doubted and rebelled.

Moses led the entire Jewish people to meet God, to know that it is possible for human beings to experience Divine communication, and to accept and live by God’s commandments.  Faith, not sight, was to be the hallmark of the seed of Abraham for all generations to come.

This brings us to the crux of the issue. Knowledge of God is not scientific nor academic in nature. Knowledge of God is based on relationship with Him.  The God of Israel loves me and watches over me. He has a plan and a purpose for my life and is intimately interested in my achieving the destiny for which He created me. To accept this and respond to Him like Moses did I must be able to relate to Him personally.  I must be able to get to know Him as I would get to know a person. The only way to get to know people is to spend time with them.  That, my friends, is the essence of what prayer is supposed to be all about – spending time with God, speaking to Him and listening for His response.

In Tune with Torah this week = Blessed are those who have met and spent time with godly men and women.  You don’t have to ask if they pray, if they are intimate with God, it’s obvious by the kind of people they are.

As we enter into 2016, a time when people typically make new resolutions (which few end up keeping), perhaps all we should ask ourselves is: “What can I do this year, how can I change my schedule so that spending time with God is my highest priority?   Instead of identifying someone else who is inspiring, how about YOU become the inspiration for others in 2016?
Shabbat Shalom.  May it be a year of spiritual growth for each of us.
To review a message about 2016, check out our other blog at this link: Coffee & Commentary