Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 16, 2018

Torah reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 45:18-46

Leviticus 4:29  He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering.

atonement4

This short sentence holds a wealth of meaning.  Let’s take a close look at it.

In this one sentence, Spirit-inspired Scripture teaches us how a sacrifice benefits the one who offers it. The very same procedure for sacrifice is commanded in Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24 and 33.  There was an old saint I knew years ago who used to say ‘If God says something once in His book, pay attention. If He says it twice, really pay attention.  If He says it three or more times, stop everything and meditate on what He said.’  I am reminded of his comment every time I read through this portion of Leviticus.

Why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifice anyway? Many people question the practice and find it a difficult concept.

 

First of all, this text is speaking specifically of the sin offering. Therefore, it implies that a sin had been committed and the person who sinned has acknowledged and repented of their sin. Under the Mosaic convenant, their repentance was verified in the offering of a sacrifice.

Secondly, the ‘sinner’ who came to present a sacrifice, by the very act of doing so, understood that there had to be a substitute to atone for his sin. Even a casual reading of the Torah awakens you to the fact that there were many sins for which the only appropriate punishment was death.  The justice of God demands death for sin, because sin – of any kind – is far more serious in God’s eyes than we generally think.  Consider: He created you, gave you life, presented you with His revealed Word, provides what you need.  To sin against such a loving God and Father is indeed despicable.  As one Rabbi said, ‘Considering all that God has done for you, to sin against Him is pure insanity.’

It was God’s love that created the principle of sacrificial substitution to provide the sinner with a second chance…and a third…and a fourth.  In the book of Lamentations we read: The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23

Thirdly, offering implied an acceptance by God of the victim offered.  When the priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, in God’s eyes, the guilt of the sin for which this offering was being presented, was transferred to the animal who died on behalf of the sinner so the sinner could live.  Watching the slaying of the animal seared on the sinner’s conscience the seriousness of sin and was designed to act as a strong deterrent against further sin in the penitent’s life.

Under the Mosaic covenant, whoever sinned against the LORD and regretted their action, was required to sincerely repent – have a change of heart; they had to bring an animal to be slaughtered to ‘stand in’ on their behalf in order that the penitent not be stoned to death or killed in any other manner. It was not until this atonement was made, that the penitent was declared forgiven and released from the punishment due to his sin.

Now we clearly see why it is written later in Leviticus: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’  Leviticus 17:11

In Tune with Torah this week = If you’ve ever questioned the significance of the blood sacrifices, my prayer is that you will see them in a new light. It is the LOVE of God that prompted the sacrificial system to demonstrate His understanding and compassion towards our human frailty, but also His Divine Will that we not remain in our weakness and frailty but through repentance and recognition of what the Sacrifice really means, we might grow in the knowledge and love of God, becoming men and women of holiness.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that is contained in one short sentence!

Shabbat Shalom

 

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 – 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 – 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!