Weekly Torah Commentary – Pesach March 30, 2018

The Passover festival begins at sundown this Friday, March 30 and continues for the next seven days.  As it coincides this year with Shabbat, the readings for Passover take the place of the normal Shabbat schedule of readings.

Torah reading: Exodus 12: 21-51

Haftorah reading:  Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2 – 6:1, 6:27

SederPlate

Passover is our festival of freedom, liberation, deliverance and release. We became free people, no longer enslaved to our Egyptian masters.  We celebrate it with enthusiasm and joy and remind ourselves and our families that spiritual freedom is not a matter of geography but of inner liberation, something that every human being needs.  All manner of things can enslave us: fear, worry, addictions, relationships and more but Pesach proclaims that freedom is available!

Being enslaved is a two-edged sword. There is the physical circumstance of slavery—the torturous existence of being subjected daily to the merciless demands of a tyrannical superior. But internal psychological slavery is far worse.  It binds up and at times paralyzes its victim mentally and emotionally.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim. It means limitations, which we all have to certain degrees. For some, that may mean severe financial problems; for others, it could be serious health challenges. And for still others, it may be the burden of an abusive psychological environment. These are circumstances that can make us feel like slaves or prisoners.

But what about our internal shackles?  Though we may have experienced freedom from certain things that held us bound in the past, perhaps there are still others which trouble us; things like fear of what other people think, traumatic events or even our own inability to forgive those who have offended us.  Unforgiveness and bitterness, in fact, are two of the most enslaving emotions known to man.

Take the example of a woman in an abusive marriage who files for divorce.  There may be a real sense of relief when she no longer has to live with the abusive spouse but is she just as free in her soul from the damaging effects of that relationship?

When the children of Israel left Egypt, we know they were at times tempted to want to return. They complained, they griped and they moaned against Moses and against God.  The question comes to mind: Did ‘Pharaoh’ go with them?

Oh, surely they left Pharaoh behind in Egypt, but was he still having an effect over their lives?  The answer is, of course, yes!  He continued to have full control over their psyche.

On the seventh day of Passover, we celebrate the splitting of the Red Sea. The behavior of the children of Israel on that day reveals that though God had delivered them by means of amazing and powerful miracles, they still feared Egypt’s might and power.  They panicked as Pharaoh’s army approached in the distance. It was only after the sea split—and they saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore—that they finally experienced complete deliverance, not just physically but psychologically as well.

It’s easy to think of ourselves as free when we’ve overcome some difficult circumstance or limitation. We may be shocked, however, to discover that “Pharaoh” still pursues us even after we’ve escaped his Egypt. But the abuser closing in on us is the “Pharaoh” we’ve allowed to come with us in our thought life.  I’m reminded of the saying you’ve probably heard, ‘It took a day to get Israel out of Egypt but forty years in the desert to get Egypt out of Israel.

So how do we eradicate these demons from our inner world? How do we live free of the personal Egypt within ourselves?

By asking God to split open our inner sea of fears, anxieties, worries, cares and addictions.

To split the Red sea, G‑d “turned the sea into dry land.” Deep beneath the surface of our lives is the power and grace of God which keeps us alive day after day.  To transform the sea into dry land means to reveal that neither we, nor our world, are separate from God; that He alone has full control over our lives and knows what’s best for us; that He cares for us lovingly and leads us perfectly.

In Tune with Torah this week = Passover is a wonderful opportunity to ask God for total freedom from whatever troubles you.  If you are plagued with worry and fear, ask Him for a new and deep understanding of His love for you – the love that drives out fear.  If addiction of one sort or another is the problem, He IS the great deliverer.  He is more than willing to set you free.

Sometimes we don’t even realize we have a “pharaoh” in our life but most of us do. Passover is the perfect time to “send him back to Egypt” so that we can move on to our Promised Land unhindered.

A blessed Passover season to you and shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tetzei September 16, 2016

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother.
Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)

hate

Two verses in this week’s portion deal with the prohibition to hate.  The portion deals with so many other issues that it’s easy to miss this commandment – do not hate.

But why these particular two verses?

The Egyptians of Moses’ day had enslaved the Israelites, “embittered their lives”, subjected them to a ruthless regime of intensely hard labor and forced them to eat the bread of affliction. They had embarked on a program of attempted genocide, Pharaoh commanding his people to throw “every male [Israelite] child born, into the river” (Ex. 1:22). And God tells the next generation of Israelites: ‘do not hate’?

It’s as if none of this had happened, as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality. Yet Moses and the people were where they were only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution. Nor did he want the people to forget it.  It is commanded in the Torah that every year on Passover we are to remember what the Egyptians did.  But why? So we would never succumb to enslaving others.

What is really at stake here with these two verses cuts to the very heart of what is about to happen to the children of Israel.  It is nearly time to enter the Land and Moses knows that in order to live in freedom, you must let go of hatred. A free and moral society cannot be built by people consumed with hatred and resentment.  It just doesn’t work.

Bitterness, resentment, humiliation, a sense of injustice, the desire to inflict injury on your former persecutors are all evidences of a profound lack of freedom. Those who hold on to anger against their persecutors remain captives.  They may be ‘free’ externally but the soul is in captivity and poisons the mind and the emotions.  Anyone who allows their ‘enemy’ or ‘persecutor’ to define who they are has no understanding of freedom.

What Moses is telling them is that they must live with the past, but not in the past.

Hatred and freedom cannot coexist.  To create and maintain a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, the chains of the past must be broken; memory robbed of its sting; and pain re-directed into constructive purpose and the determination to build a different future.

Hatred projects our conflicts onto someone else whom we can blame but only at the cost of denying our own responsibility. That was Moses’ message to those who were about to enter the promised land: that a free society can be built only by people who accept the responsibility of freedom; by a people who are not defined by what they hate but by what they dream and work for.  This was the insightful message of Dr. Martin Luther King, among others.  Dr. King once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness.  How right he was…and still is.

People who hate harbor a permanent feeling of injury, a feeling that is out of all proportion to reality.  In their subconscious a perverse feeling convinces them that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhumans, and thus deserve the world’s complete recognition and submissiveness. They want to be the center of the world and become deeply, even violently irritated when those around them do not recognize them as such.

They are like spoiled or badly brought up children who think their mother exists only to wait on their every whim and who throw a tantrum if she occasionally does something else, like spending time with her other children, her husband, a book or her work. They interpret it as a personal attack instead of normal living.

Ultimately the hater is obsessed with himself.

Some have suggested that those who hate suffer from an inferiority complex.  Actually the opposite is true: the hater is so sure of his own superiority that hate is the only response to those who do not affirm or appreciate his self-generated true worth.  A serious face, a quickness to take offense, strong language, shouting, the inability to step outside himself and see his own foolishness – these are typical of one who hates.

Our Torah portion this week enjoins us: Do not hate... Rather choose the way of the prophet who said ‘The joy of the LORD is your strength.’  Nehemiah 8:10

In Tune with Torah this week = is there any hate in your heart towards anyone?  If so, this is the time to acknowledge it, repent of it, ask God for freedom from it and determine to change your attitude for the truth is this: Hatred kills the one who harbors it; only love and peace bring health and well-being, physically as well as spiritually.

Shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Re-eh September 2, 2016

 

This week’s jam-packed portion opens with these words: “I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God…; the curse if you do not … and you follow other gods.”

It continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and from embracing the other religions in the land.

The source of the Chosen People concept is found in 14:1-2: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation.”  We have been chosen for responsibility, not privilege — to act morally and to be a “light unto the nations”. As descendants of Abraham through Isaac, we are first and foremost to be a people of Faith in the One True God, the Holy One of Israel.

The Torah states, “For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him…” (Deuteronomy 11:22). How does one “cleave to the Almighty?”

The Torah tells us that even someone who appears to be highly observant of the commandments and loves God, must show in his behavior and interactions with others that he is an imitator of God (“to walk in all His ways”). Only then can a person be considered as one who cleaves to Him. Emulating God means being compassionate and bestowing kindness on others. As He is merciful so we should be merciful, as He bestows kindness, so we should bestow kindness. One might think that a person who loves God need only devote himself to prayer and Torah study and by this means he will cleave to God. We see from this verse, however, that an essential ingredient in cleaving to God is caring about our fellow man.

It is by truly caring about others (you shall love your neighbor as yourself) that we show ourselves to be godly.

It is noteworthy that this portion of the Torah is read just before the onset of the Hebrew month of Elul which will begin at sundown tomorrow. Elul, when spelled in Hebrew letters, is the acronym for the words, “I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me” (ani l’dodi v’dodi li) Oftentimes those words will be inscribed on the inside of an engagement ring).

ShofarElul

The month of Elul is a time of heightened spirituality when the Almighty is, as it were, extends grace for repentance in a unique way. It is a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time to do a spiritual audit and to commit to making whatever changes necessary to deepen your connection with Him. 

In Tune with Torah this week = as we approach the month of Elul, let us take very seriously the admonition to use this coming month as an opportunity to do a true “check up from the neck up” – to examine ourselves and our thought life as it is our thoughts that give birth to our words and our behaviors. How are we doing at loving others as we love ourselves, for example? This is the month to search our own souls and determine to grow in godliness in the new Hebrew year, 5777, which will begin on October 3, 2016.

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 — Bamidbar June 10, 2016

Bamidbar – Numbers 1:1-4:20

Moses

The book of Bamidbar (‘the desert), listed in English Bibles as ‘Numbers’, is the fourth book of the Torah. As we begin to read it this Shabbat, we find some curious facts. Several events in this book should never have happened, most notably the forty years in the desert.  That was not the original plan!  After Sinai, the next stop for the Children of Israel, just a handful of days later, was intended to be the Promised Land. Yet we learn a timeless lesson: the ‘unplanned’ delay became a ‘school’ for the children of Israel.  Many of the lessons they learned ‘b’midbar’ – in the desert – were crucial to their formation as a holy nation.

Sound familiar?  We all experience delays in life, many of which we find irritating and troubling.  We’re in a hurry to ‘get on with it.’  However, like the children of Israel every delay is a treasure field of opportunity for spiritual, emotional and mental growth.

What additional significance was there for the Hebrews prolonged years in the desert?  Apart from the practical aspects of being prepared to conquer the land, there seems to be a greater design behind God’s decision to extend their sojourn in the desert. Is there something special about the desert that is unique to the process they would undergo?

In the desert, man is exposed, often without shelter. Hot days, cold nights, open spaces and no reliable sources of food or water create a situation of unparalleled vulnerability. It was in this atmosphere that the children of Israel were to learn about complete reliance on God. It was in the desert, as in no other place, that they would understand that all sustenance comes from God Himself.

Isolation is another aspect of desert living. Life in societies where ideas, customs and behaviors constantly swirl around you has its inevitable effect. It is very difficult to stand apart from your surroundings.  The newly freed slaves at the very birth of their development into a nation needed time alone before encountering the pagan societies of Canaan.  Time in the desert was not just an avoidance scheme; it was a place and time for preparation to become a viable and righteous society. Israel was called to become ‘a light to the nations’.  To do so, they themselves first needed to be enlightened and matured.  This was the purpose of ‘b’midbar’ – in the desert.

Every spiritual seeker sooner or later has a desert experience.  It may not be geographical and often, in fact, it isn’t.  The ‘desert’ of the soul can happen in the busiest city because it’s not an external thing; it’s an inner period of suffering, learning, growing, etc.  But it’s also a gift from God to lead us closer to Him.

This weekend, we have an interesting convergence of days.  Shabbat is on Saturday and as it comes to an end, we immediately transition into the Festival of Shavuot or Pentecost, which is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  A few words about that are in order.

The Torah refers to the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  The Torah is a compilation of the historical record from creation to the death of Moses and includes – but is not limited to – the commandments God delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai; commandments designed to teach the former slaves (and us) how to live out a life of holiness in relationship with the God of Israel. In addition to the commandments, there are multiplied narratives of the experiences of the biblical Patriarchs, the released slaves, wars and conquests, etc.  Therefore, we should understand that the term ‘Law’ in reality should not be used interchangeably with the word Torah. For, ‘the Law’ refers to the commandments within the Torah but the entire Torah is more than laws.

Shavuot is a day when God holds out His hand and invites us to enter into that scary place called relationship – where the goal is closeness to God, not outward traditions and not necessarily practical benefit.  Living in intimacy with God will cost you.  Opportunities arise in all of our lives that seem “too good to pass up” but are they really?  The primary question in choosing which opportunities to accept should be: Will this position or location afford me the opportunity to enhance my spiritual life or will it hinder my spiritual growth?  Am I inclined to accept only because of the significantly higher salary or have I sought the Lord, as David did consistently, for His direction for my life?  Sad testimonies abound detailing the collapse of families, divorces and tragedies that resulted from a misplaced priority of pursuing money and position over family considerations.

Shavuot calls us to review our priorities.  Is my relationship with God my highest priority?  If not, I need to repent.  Are my family relationships intact?  If not, we have some work to do in resolving whatever issues there are that hinder the love, peace and joy that are meant to characterize a godly home.

This Shabbat/Shavuot weekend let us make it a priority to spend quality time in the presence of God – each of us personally – and resolve to deepen our relationship with Him and with those we love.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Shavuot (may Pentecost joy be yours!)

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – April 22, 2016 PASSOVER

We have an unusual situation this Shabbat. Friday night at sundown, not only does the Sabbath begin, but also the week long Festival of Passover.  Therefore the regular Torah cycle of readings is suspended until after Passover is completed.

Pesach

The readings for this week are Exodus 12:21-51, Numbers 28:16-25 and Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2 – 6:1, 6:27.  I encourage you to read them at your leisure.

Here in Israel, our people have been super busy, cleaning all the leaven out of their homes and preparing for the Seder (festive meal) Friday evening.  What is it about Passover that is so special that an entire nation prepares diligently, even feverishly, for it each year?

Early in the Torah, God defines himself by the event commemorated each year at Passover: At the beginning of the ten commandments he introduces himself like this: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”. 

Previously He called Himself “The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob”, or “I AM” but beginning at this point He is “The One who brought you out of Egypt” and that self-description is repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible literally hundreds of times.

Many of the Psalms refer to the Passover miracle and though many Jewish people consider Mt. Sinai as the defining moment, perhaps God sees the Passover as the cornerstone of the Israel story.  Passover was the moment in history when the Jewish race became the Jewish faith.

Our God is all about freedom; human choice is at the heart of the unfolding deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Even though God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, that only happened after some serious choices on Pharaoh’s part to harden his own heart first. God just confirmed his free choice.

The children of Israel also had to choose whether to go along with God’s plan or not. They were not rescued from the Angel of Death by force – He gave them an “opt in” clause: to have death pass over your house, you must sacrifice a lamb and dab its blood on your door frame. This act of faith constituted the individual’s response to a command of God which carried a promise with it.  All who believed it was true and acted accordingly were saved. That means that those who escaped from Egypt freely chose to obey God and follow him by faith – not just because of their national ancestry. This is the moment that the people of Israel became a faith community.

As we mentioned, the ten commandments are introduced by God’s reminder that he loves to set slaves free, and the very first command when he subsequently lays down the rest of the Torah is this: “These are the laws you are to set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.” (Exodus 21:1-2). What a strange subject with which to start a new code of government, spiritual life and ethics! But God is determined that his people should not be in slavery – they should be free. This is the message of passover. That is what the exodus was all about. God is serious about making his people free.

Remembering is very important to God. The Bible frequently urges us to do just that: “Remember”.  If we remember what God has done, what He has said and who He is, we our faith in Him is energized and our trust solidifies.

The Passover Seder meal is a festive, teaching, and remembering experience, instituted by God himself, in order to prevent us from forgetting His amazing power and faithfulness. Today the family celebration is based around four cups of wine and a “haggadah” or “telling” which is like an order of service. There are different ideas about what each of the four cups represents, but generally the first cup is about being set apart for God, the second is the time to tell the story, the third is after the meal, when Jewish people usually give thanks for their food, and the last one is “hallel” or praise, during which the psalms of thanksgiving are recited.

Each item of food on the table symbolizes something in the story  and each aspect of the evening helps the Jewish people to remember the miracles God did for them and even to re-live them. It is as if we ourselves were delivered from the oppression of Pharoah.

The ultimate purpose of the Seder is to re-awaken and strengthen relationship. God wants intimacy with his people. God looks back at that time right after the exodus as something of a honeymoon with his people:

“This is what the LORD says:“‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest”. Jeremiah 2:1-3

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15

Someone once said “a dessert is something you want and don’t need, but the desert is something you don’t want, but you do need”.  We all experience ‘desert’ times in our spiritual life but it’s often during those times that our relationship with God deepends. One day ultimate rest will be ours but until then, life with God is not always going to be a walk in the park.

Passover is the time to draw closer to the One who delivers, saves and redeems.  We are with him, and he is with us. We are his people, and he is our God. The joy of relationship with Him is our strength and our song.

It is also a time to look to the future. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but it will be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.” Jeremiah 16:14-16 .

The story of God and the children of Israel is not over yet. God has indeed brought the Israelites out from the land of the north (Russia and surrounding area) and thousands have come to live in Israel from countries around the globe.  Many do not yet attribute this phenomenon to God but the days are coming when they will know it is truly His doing.

Meanwhile, we celebrate the Passover past and look forward to the future ‘Passover’ when we will transition from life as we know it to the promised manifestation of the restored Kingdom of God on this earth.  May it come quickly, even in our day!

A blessed Passover to all my readers – and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel March 4, 2016

Exodus 35:1-38:20

What do you do when your people have just made a golden calf, fallen into gross immorality and lost their sense of identity? How do you restore moral order – not just then in the days of Moses, but even now?

This week’s Torah portion gives us direction.

What did Moses have to do after the golden calf He had to transform the Israelites from a crowd into a community.

When Moses came down the mountain and saw the calf, the Torah says the people were peruah, meaning “wild, disorderly, chaotic, unruly, tumultuous.” He “saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” They were not a community but a crowd, a mob.

So – Moses began by reviewing for the people the importance of Shabbat because he knew a secret: when people will set aside that one day to focus on their personal relationship with the Holy One of Israel through prayer and study of His Word, they are drawn to love and serve their God with greater understanding and devotion.  Of course, we need to feed our spiritual nature every day of the week, but setting aside Shabbat for greater and more sustained attention to spiritual matters is vital.

Secondly, Moses instructed them to build the Tabernacle as a symbolic home for God.

Tabernacle

Why these two commandments rather than any others? Because the weekly Sabbath and the gathering in a sanctuary to worship with others of like faith are the two most powerful ways of building community. Moses understood that the best way to turn a crowd into a community was to have them build something together.  And he also understood that strengthening relationships within that community requires setting aside dedicated time when we focus not on our own self interests but on the things we share by praying together, studying God’s Word together, and celebrating together.  Simply put, uniting the commandment of Shabbat with the commandment to build the Tabernacle became the force by which that unruly crowd morphed gradually into a community.

The principle holds true to this very day for the golden calf was not a one-time event.  Every generation has its opportunity to ‘build a golden calf’ – an attitude, a conviction, a persuasion that begins to permeate the population’s consciousness to turn away from God and seek some other ‘god’.  The result is always deterioration of the society, conflict, violence and moral decay.

Developing community is essential if a nation or society will emerge from their own ‘golden calf crisis.’ We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good. Community is local. It is society with a human face. It is not far-off government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. Community is the work we do ourselves, together.

Community is at once the antidote to self-centeredness as well as deliverance from over-reliance on government. A sense of community causes human beings to flourish, protects freedom and sustains the common good.

And it all began in a desert at the foot of a mountain when Moses took action to bring God’s people out of a deadly crisis.  As we look around our world today, nations are in crisis.  A crippling economy, massive unemployment, unruly mobs in the streets, increased violence – these are all ‘fruits’ of the breakdown of the biblical concept of community.  America’s founding fathers warned that the republic they established would only survive if peopled by individuals with a firm moral compass derived from their Judeo- Christian values.

Every nation worldwide that finds itself in crisis in our day would do well to emulate the principles in this week’s Torah reading.  Every local synagogue and church troubled with divisive tensions would as well.  Revived attention to the Person and Words of the Holy One of Israel, along with rebuilding the sense of community is by far the most effective long-term means of restoring a broken nation or group.

In Tune with Torah this week = it begins with you and me.  How conscious are we of seeking the good of our local community, of our religious community whether synagogue or church?  Do we make decisions more often on our own self-centered attitudes than on what is best for the community?  And – as individuals within the community, how are we doing with regard to spending personal as well as communal time in the presence of God on our ‘day off’?

The survival and flourishing of our local and national identity, whatever our home nation might be, is more dependent on these two principles than on any political or governmental effort.

Shabbat Shalom