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. – Beshalach January 26, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

Haftorah reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31

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

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

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayelech October 7, 2016

Deuteronomy 31

Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or tremble at them for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you.  He will not fail you nor forsake you.  31:6

A timely message indeed to a world that seemingly has much to fear.  Societal unrest, terrorism, monster storms like the one bearing down this very day on the southeastern part of the United States, conflict among nations – all of these and more can cause ‘men’s hearts to faint’ as the Scripture says elsewhere.

Yet the word to us this week is ‘Be strong and courageous…’  What is courage?

courage

Courage is grace under pressure.

Karl Barth wrote that Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

Someone else has said that Courage is doing what you are afraid to do; that there is no courage unless there is something to be afraid of.

There are many examples of courage exercised in the Bible:  Moses before the Pharaoh,
David as he faced down Goliath, Abigail as she saved the entire household of Nabal
and Esther when she went before the king to save the Jews, to name just a few.

Courage always starts on the inside, in our inner man. We learn His instructions and commit to living by them, regardless of others’ opinions, knowing He has promised to be with us and never leave us. He goes with us into every difficult situation in life.  Is He is for us – and He is – who can be against us?

Courage takes a stand and makes things right.  If we submit to peer pressure and follow the crowd, we lower ourselves to their level.  By standing firmly on our convictions, we invite them to a higher standard.  Even if 20 million people believe in an irrational idea, it’s still irrational!  Numbers do not give credibility to the idea. Only the truth and righteousness found in God’s word gives credibility to any idea. Simply swimming with the tide leaves you nowhere. If you believe in something that’s good, honest and bright — stand up for it 100%. We are to be God’s change agents in this world.

Courage is contagious, have you noticed?  It’s something like a wildfire.  Once it starts to spread, there isn’t much you can do to stop it.  One act of courage and change an entire nation.  Again, think of Esther whose one act of courage saved the Jewish people from extinction.

Courage is the product of a person following God.  Courage will take you beyond your self-imposed limitations.  Courage is knowing that when I walk with God and obey Him, the very worst that could happen cannot really hurt me.  Courage stretches you beyond where you are now.  It takes you to a higher level in life and enables you to serve God to the best of your ability and reach the potential He planted in you when He created you.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief.  It is bravery, fearlessness, boldness, audacity and daring, empowered by the grace of God.

Joshua certainly needed courage to assume the leadership of the children of Israel upon the death of Moses.  Imagine what that must have been like.  Moses has been in charge for forty years; Moses has seen God on the mountain top; Moses heard their problems and found solutions and so much more.  Imagine how you would feel being called to follow a leader like Moses!  Is it any wonder that Moses said to Joshua more than once, ‘Be strong and courageous.  The Lord will be with you as He was with me.’

In Tune with Torah this week = is there a person, a situation, a problem that you are reluctant to face, to deal with though you know you need to?  The word of the Lord to us this week is ‘Be strong and very courageous for the Lord your God is with you.’

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Chayei Sarah November 6, 2015

Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

This week’s Torah portion focuses on the story of how Rebekah became Isaac’s wife. Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, went to the area where Abraham’s relatives lived and in a series of remarkable events obviously directed by the God of Israel, he is made to know that Rebekah will be the perfect match for his master Abraham’s son. After negotiating with her family, Eliezer brings Rebekah back with him. After hearing how God had directed his father’s servant in finding Rebekah, Isaac receives her. The Torah describes that moment for us:

Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he married Rebekah. She was his wife, and he loved her. Then Isaac was comforted after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:67)

Let’s think about this for a minute. Rebekah has grown up in her parents’ home and to this point we can only assume she’s had a ‘normal’ life. Without the benefit of knowing any later events, think of Rebekah getting up that morning, completely unaware that her entire life’s course would change that very day. She had no foreknowledge that Abraham’s servant was en route to their home. Remember – no phones, no fax machines, no internet!

She went about her ‘normal’ day, like any other day. When it was time to draw water at the well, she made her way there as she had so many times before. Seeing a stranger with an entourage of camels and servants, she understood they were travelers. Her upbringing had taught her to be kind to strangers and she did what came naturally. She offered Eliezer a drink of water and declared she would draw water for the camels as well – all ten of them!

Friends, this was no small task! It’s a known fact that a thirsty camel can drink up to 25 gallons of water or more at one time. These camels had been traveling for several day, laden with goods and gifts. Other servants accompanied Eliezer as well.

Let’s suppose that the camels only drank 10 gallons of water (most likely a gross underestimate). That means that this young girl with a bucket, drew out well over 100 gallons of water from the village well in order to provide hospitality to this caravan of strangers. And all this was BEFORE she knew anything about the reason for their presence!

Eliezer had prayed and asked God for a very specific sign – that the young woman whom God had chosen for Isaac would offer him water and to the camels as well. Rebekah didn’t know that. She did what she’d been taught to do – and her entire life and destiny was sealed by that selfless, exhausting act.

I wonder sometimes whether in the course of hauling more and more water, she wondered if the camels would ever be satisfied. Did she stop and wipe the sweat from her brow as she prepared to lower the bucket again? It was, after all, the Middle East where all this was happening. It was a tiresome, difficult task which Rebekah did willingly and kindly. In so doing, she embraced unknowingly the destiny for which she was born.

We sometimes think that the great moments of our lives are defined by a heroic or unusual event. The truth is that most of the time we have no idea until much later the power of an act of kindness and/or faithfulness. Our responsibility is simply to choose to do right, to be gracious to stranger and friend alike and only later it may be revealed that the most mundane service we provided was in fact the moment when our destiny became attainable.

In Tune with Torah this week = never underestimate the power of an act of kindness and hospitality towards others. Do what is right because it’s the right thing to do and leave the results to God.

Shabbat shalom