Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeishev December 8, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

Haftorah reading:  Amos 2:6 – 3:8

There is something extremely curious about the birth of a giraffe.  The mother gives birth standing up.  When the baby giraffe emerges from her womb, it literally drops to the ground, landing hard on its back.  The newborn will lay there almost motionless until after a few seconds, onlookers are shocked to see the mother give her baby a swift kick, a kick strong enough to knock the baby head over hooves.
Why does she do that? Because she wants the newborn to get up on its feet. Somehow, the baby giraffe understands what his mother wants and struggles to get up, but after a feeble try, gives us and drops back to the ground.
Boom! A second hearty kick from the mother rolls the young one over several more times. The newborn tries again to prop itself up again on its spindly legs, and finally manages to stand upright.
giraffe
But before the viewers can breathe a sigh of relief, the mother kicks the baby off its feet again!  The zoo keeper explains to the onlookers: ‘The mother wants her baby to remember how it got up.  In the wilderness where they live, if the baby doesn’t quickly get up and follow the herd, it will be picked off by predators.’ The swift kick is necessary for the baby’s life!
Perhaps we all have something in common with a baby giraffe.  Have you ever been kicked off your feet?  Have you been kicked while you were down? And have you been kicked by the very people from whom you expected kindness and understanding?
All of us have times in life when we get side-swiped by circumstances or side-lined by harsh judgments from those we most expect to stand by us. How we respond in those moments reveals the truth about what we really believe about God, about His plan for our life and about the meaning of our faith.
In this week’s Torah reading we drop in on Joseph at 17-years of age. As we open to Gen. 37:3, Joseph’s life is good and his future looks bright! But he is about to be kicked off his feet. He is about to be kicked hard while he is down. And the ones doing the kicking are his own family.
Yet somehow, Joseph managed to avoid the very thing that had consumed his brothers—the emotional stronghold of bitter jealousy. Somehow, Joseph faced trauma and the high-jacking of his dreams without becoming bitter; for his brothers, it’s a very different story. There’s a deep message for us all right here.
Bitterness is seething anger that hardens into a rebellious, vengeful conclusion. An unforgiving spirit lets anger take hold: anger over circumstances, anger at your spouse, at your children, your employer, whoever. If we embrace it, coddle it, dwell on it, it quietly takes over our entire life.  We feel entitled to hate the person, justified to desire their ruin, and energized to seek their downfall. That is the story of Joseph’s brothers. How did it happen?
Joseph2
Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons and when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than them, they hated him and could not speak a civil word to him.  Why was Joseph Jacob’s favorite? There are several reasons. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, Jacob most beloved wife. Rachel had died about a year before, so it is natural that Jacob would transfer his affection to their son. And Joseph was born late in Jacob’s life, giving the old man a special joy. Rightly or wrongly, Jacob cherished Joseph in ways he hadn’t shown to his other sons, and Joseph was hated for it. The brothers were jealous of his relationship with their father.
“And he made him a robe of many colors.” Jacob exercised his fatherly privilege and chose to appoint his firstborn son by Rachel as his heir.  He skipped his other nine sons and selected the youngest at that time. The symbol of the birthright was a special tunic. The Hebrew words used to describe this coat or tunic suggest that it was richly ornamented, but the most important detail the Hebrew gives us is that it was long-sleeved and extended to Joseph’s ankles.  Why is that important?  The tunics worn by working men in that day were sleeveless and stopped at the knees. A long-sleeved, tailored garment was worn by a manager, someone who had been put in charge, and was therefore exempt from the work himself. So the coat was a symbol of position. The brothers were jealous of his position. 
Verse 5 tells us: Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. In v. 6-8, Joseph tells his brothers that they were all in the field binding sheaves of grain when suddenly his sheaf rose up and their sheaves gathered around and bowed down. You don’t have to be brilliant to figure out the meaning of that dream, do you?

Verses 9-11: Joseph had a second dream, this time with different symbols, but with the same meaning. His dad heard Joseph’s dream and thought it was a joke, but his brother’s didn’t. Verse eleven reports that his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Now if your little brother had a crazy dream, you wouldn’t get jealous unless you really believed God was speaking to him.  The very fact that Joseph’s dreams provoked such violent jealousy testifies that the brothers believed the dream! They believed that God was speaking to their younger brother.  So the brothers were jealous of God’s favor on Joseph.

Self-pity, jealousy and anger finally pushed the brothers over a dangerous line. They were mad at their father for his favoritism. They were mad at God for the good things that were coming to their brother and not to them. There was only one way to get back at them both: they would take away the darling object of affection.

The first plan suggested was ‘Let’s kill him.’ Reuben, the oldest, inserts a voice of reason and suggests instead, ‘Let’s throw him into that pit over there.’  In the end, when a caravan of slave traders comes by, they haul Joseph up from the pit and sell him into slavery, wash their hands of the troublemaker and sit down for lunch!  Problem solved…or so they thought.

It appeared to be ‘problem solved’ for some years but you all know how it ends.

Our purpose right now, however, is to focus on the early part of the story.  What does it say to us?

In Tune with Torah this week = We need to ask ourselves some pretty confrontational questions.

Do I have an issue with jealousy?  Do I have any bitterness in my heart towards someone who enjoys a relationship that I wish I had?  Am I jealous of another’s position or promotion?  Do my emotions get riled up when someone gets more favor than I do at work or in my community?

Jealousy kills spiritual growth; it is a poison of the worst kind to our souls.

Our choice is pretty clear: do we go the way of Joseph who guarded his heart against bitterness? Or do we go the way of his brothers whose bitterness poisoned their lives for years?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Vayishlach December 1, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

Haftorah reading: Obadiah 1: 1-21

What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? I’m talking about those times in life when there seem to be no good options. Your current job is almost unbearable, but there are no other jobs available—and you do need the paycheck. You need knee surgery, but you don’t have health insurance. You may or may not be between a rock and a hard place right now, but at some point in your life, you will get in on the experience.

What do you do when nothing seems to work and you don’t know what to do?

That’s where Jacob was in our Torah reading this week.

For the last 20 years he has been working for his uncle, Laban, in Mesopotamia. It has been a cat and mouse relationship: Laban constantly cheating Jacob; but Jacob coming out with increase anyway.  He had made a deal with Laban to work for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked the 7 years, and instead of giving him Rachel, Laban gave him his other daughter, Leah. So Jacob worked for another 7 years for Rachel. I cannot imagine the emotional pain and rejection Leah went through, but that’s for another time. After those 14 years, Jacob worked for Laban another 6 years for flocks and other livestock. During that time both men are manipulating and maneuvering. All that was stressful, but bearable.

Then Jacob overheard Laban’s sons saying how much they hated Jacob and he realizes Laban has also turned completely against him. The situation is no longer tolerable or even safe. The relationships have turned completely sour. Jacob has to leave and God gives him the go ahead to do so (Genesis 31:3).

Jacob cannot risk even telling Laban that he’s leaving so he sneaks out with his family and possessions. When Laban finds out that Jacob has gone, he is furious and pursues him. There is no telling what Laban would have done to Jacob, except that God intervened. In a dream God told Laban to not to harm Jacob. Still the bridges have been burned. Jacob cannot go back.

So Jacob proceeds to his homeland in Canaan. But there is a problem with that too. The reason Jacob had spent those 20 years with Laban is that he had to flee from Canaan because of his brother’s fury against him.

So here is Jacob’s situation. Behind him is Laban—the proverbial rock. He can’t go back there. In front of him is Esau, the proverbial hard place. He is terrified of what Esau will do—so much so that encountering a host of angels at the border of Canaan does not alleviate his fears. Consistent with his nature, Jacob develops a plan to appease Esau. He sends messengers ahead to ask favor and friendship of Esau. Maybe over time Esau’s anger has cooled. Maybe Esau will let him return unharmed. But the messengers come back with an alarming message. Esau is coming to meet you and he has 400 warriors with him (Genesis 32:6). Jacob realizes: “This does not sound good. This sounds like a disaster about to happen. And I don’t know what I can do about it. I can’t go back to Laban—that door is shut. I don’t have men to fight Esau’s warriors—all I have is a few servants, women and children. If I flee to the left or right, they will easily overtake us.”

What do you do when Esau is coming at you with 400 warriors, you have burned the bridges behind you, and there’s no place to go?

Jacobwrestles

Jacob does two things.

First, he PLANS. He divides his family and flocks up with the possibility that some might escape Esau’s attack. And he sends lavish gifts ahead to Esau with the outside chance he might be able to appease him—but Jacob’s schemes will not change Esau’s heart—and down deep Jacob knows that.

Secondly, Jacob PRAYS with intensity and fervor.    Five things happen as a result.

(1) God engages Jacob. We think of Jacob wrestling with the Angel; but verse 24 tells us that God was the initiator. God Himself is wrestling with Jacob. What is the struggle? Jacob is contending for blessing. God is contending for change in Jacob so that Jacob can receive the blessing He has already planned to give him.

When we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, God is not trying to withhold blessing from us. He has situated us in a pressure cooker that will prepare our hearts to receive the blessing we need. We try to fix the circumstances. God is wanting to fix us.

God is dealing with Jacob’s self-sufficiency. God is wearing Jacob down and teaching him the absolute necessity of God-reliance. How does Jacob ultimately prevail here? By coming to the end of himself and discovering that God is all he needs.

Have you set your heart upon the things of God as the number one priority in life? If so, you have made a giant step in the right direction. There may still be a lot to learn; there may be some hard places along the way. But at least you’re headed in the right direction.

(2) The Angel touched Jacob’s hip-socket and threw it out of joint, signifying the breaking of Jacob’s self-reliance. From that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp. In the natural, he leaves the encounter weaker than before. If you’re going to war with Esau, you don’t want to be hobbling around out there with a limp—not naturally speaking anyway. If you go on with God, you may lose some things that you were relying on quite heavily. It has cost me some things to get where I am today. But I have gained some things far more valuable.

(3) God presses Jacob for a confession. “Jacob,” verse 27, “what is your name?” The name Jacob means “schemer, trickster.” “For you to advance in my plan, you need to acknowledge the problem. The problem is not Laban; the problem is not Esau—the problem is something in you that needs to change—and I’ve wrestled with you to bring about that change. The manipulating, scheming Jacob dies right here, right now. You shall no longer live as “Jacob.” This is a watershed moment in your life. “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel”. Israel means “Prince of God” or “God-governed.”

So, what has happened here?

(4) In this struggle, God has brought Jacob up from one level to a higher level. The end result of this terrible struggle in prayer is that Jacob has become a better man. This is not about Jacob wrestling a blessing away from a reluctant God. God had always intended the blessing for Jacob. This is about God taking Jacob through a process of humble and serious prayer.

Effectual, fervent prayer happens in the struggles of real life. Desperation is the fuel behind the kind of praying Jacob did this night. God Himself led Jacob to a tight spot so that Jacob could wrestle through his issues and prevail.

This night was one of three or four watershed moments in Jacob’s life. He walked away with a limp but with far less cockiness.

(5) God answered Jacob’s request. Esau did not attack Jacob; he received him with open arms. By God’s grace Jacob prevailed in prayer, and Genesis 32:29 ends with the statement, “And he (God) blessed him there.” God changed Jacob and God changed Esau.

In Tune with Torah this week = What do you do when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place? You pray, humbly, seriously and with a heart ready to repent. God brings us into those tight places so we will pray, so that He can prepare us for spiritual promotion and through it, increase His blessing on your life.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Noah October 20, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 66:1-24

It took only nine generations from Creation for mankind to descend into a moral decay of such magnitude that God announced to one man His intent to destroy the world with a flood.  Noah, the Bible says, was ‘righteous in his generation.’ A great grandson of Enoch, Noah had a powerful spiritual heritage.  In the book of Enoch we read that Enoch entrusted the revelations God gave him to his son, Methuselah, who subsequently passed them on to his son, Lamech, who then taught them to his son, Noah.

Remember that Noah’s grandfather was still alive as Noah grew up, married and had children.  In fact, Methuselah died seven days before the rains began, on the very day that Noah and his family entered the Ark.

After the flood, when the waters receded, God spoke to Noah again:

And God said to Noah and his sons: I will keep My covenant with you and your descendants…and never again will a flood destroy all of life, and there will not be another flood destroying the earth….This is the sign I am making, testifying to the covenant between Me and you and all living souls, forever: I have put My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Myself and the world. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember the covenant between Myself and yourselves and all living souls, and there will never again be a flood to destroy all life. The rainbow will be in the clouds and I will see it and remember the eternal covenant between G‑d and all the living souls on earth.  Genesis 9: 11-17

After the Flood, the LORD God promised that—in spite of how man might sin—He would never again cause a flood that would destroy the whole world. As a sign of that covenant, He created the rainbow.

rainbow

In Jewish thought, the rainbow has two very significant meanings.

First, the appearance of a rainbow is a sign that sin is proliferating in a nation or region.  As such, it is seen as an appeal for repentance.  There are accounts in Jewish history of generations that never saw a rainbow which the Sages understood to mean that within the population there was a remnant of righteous and holy people whose godly living and sincere worship of Almighty God were preserving factors for the entire generation.

Hmm – think about that for a while…..

The second meaning attributed to a rainbow declares that though the Flood brought destruction to the world, there was also an aspect of it that was a blessing. The Flood waters purified the world and gave to mankind a second chance, the ability to recover the meaning of their existence. The clouds, which are formed from the mist that rises from the ground, represented this transformation of the natural to the supernatural.

I suggest that there is yet another sign inherent in the rainbow.

The prophet Ezekiel described a vision in which he had seen the divine presence “like a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, with a corona around it; this was how the glory of God appeared, and I saw it and fell on my face and heard a voice speaking….”

The rainbow, therefore, is also a sign of the presence of God and the glory of God.Therefore on those occasions when we do see a rainbow, it serves to remind us that we serve a God in the heavens who is true to His word, His faithfulness extends to all generations and His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations .3:22-23)   Every sighting of a rainbow in the sky is an opportunity to give thanks and praise to an ever faithful and loving Heavenly Father.

Continuing with Jewish thought, in Zohar 13, it is written that just before the Messiah appears, mankind will see an especially bright and vividly colorful rainbow in the sky.

In Tune with Torah this week = throughout history the rainbow has been used as a symbol in a wide variety of ways.  Our purpose here is to look at its origin and what God said about it. For the devoted Bible believer, the rainbow is a sign of His covenant, His faithfulness and His mercy, even in times of grievous sin in a nation or culture.

Let  us be thankful that our God is merciful as well as just, faithful as well as loving. His heart has not changed since the days of Noah.  He is the same today as He was then. It took 120 years for Noah to build the Ark.  From ancient sources we know that during that entire time, his grandfather Methuselah, a righteous man, appealed to the people to turn from their wicked ways lest God’s judgment fall upon them.

If only they had listened…..

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Beresheit October 13, 2017

Welcome to a new year of Torah learning.  We completed the Hebrew year of 5777 and have now embarked on the year 5778 on the Hebrew calendar which means we start over at the very beginning of the Bible, the first book, Genesis or Bresheit in Hebrew.

Torah reading this week = Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Haftorah reading this week = Isaiah 42:4 – 43:10

Adam and Eve – the first human beings created by God and placed in a magnificent garden with everything they could ever desire and then some.  There was no lack of food and as the earth was perfect then, everything would have had the most exquisite taste and texture.

EveAdam

Yet as we know so well, they sinned and humanity has felt the results ever since.  Normally we describe their sin as disobedience for after all, God had clearly told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The serpent came along, tempted Eve, she ate and then gave some to Adam and he ate as well.

But let’s take a closer look for a moment, shall we?  Yes, of course, they disobeyed the direct command of God.  But why? Was it really just about an attractive, perhaps fragrant, fruit?  Really?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.  And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’  Genesis 3: 1-5

Look at that again carefully and think with me.  Adam and Eve had everything in that garden that they could ever want, desire or imagine.  It was an absolutely perfect place.

Yet the serpent – devious as he was – tempted Eve with the ONE thing that she and Adam did not have and never could have.  Look at it again.

The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God...’ 

Do you see it? The serpent went after the only thing he could use to stir up jealousy and envy in Eve.  The one thing that she and Adam could never be: equal to God.

We shouldn’t be surprised for do we not read in Isaiah that this same serpent who was once a magnificent cherub in the heavens thought in his heart: ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north.  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  Isaiah 14:13-14

Satan’s attempt to become equal with God was his eternal downfall. Seeing the sweet fellowship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God as they walked together in the cool of the evening, that serpent was jealous, insanely jealous.  He therefore decided to tempt them with the very sin that had caused his own expulsion from the heavens.

But it was a lie – a dastardly, heinous lie – and resulted in their expulsion from the Garden, just as he was cast out of the heavens.  Yet have we not continued through the generations to repeat Eve’s regrettable sin? In various ways, we have all sought in one way or another to be ‘our own god’.  Does that sound harsh? Well, it is a bit yet it’s the truth.  Every time you or I have violated God’s commandments, what we are doing is choosing our own will and way instead of His which is exactly what Eve did and persuaded Adam to do as well.

It’s not politically correct nowadays to talk about ‘sin’.  People don’t like to hear that. However, sin is still sin whether you talk about it or not. Whatever the specific action or behavior involved, in one way or another, sin happens when I choose to be ‘my own god’ in opposition to the ways and the Word of the Almighty God of the Universe, our Heavenly Father.

In Tune with Torah this week = as we begin a new year of study in Torah, our very first lesson is this: God is God and we are not!  He created you, knew you even before you were in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139), has a perfect plan for your life (Jeremiah 29) and loves you with an unconditional love.  The only rational response to such love is to embrace His Word and His ways, to repent when we miss it, pick ourselves up and go on to do better the next time.  I dare say that the devil is not our biggest enemy; our stubborn self-will is.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Beresheit October 27, 2016

Torah reading this week:  Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10

For three weeks we will be reading portions from the book of Isaiah as companion readings to the weekly Torah.  In this section that is partnered with Genesis 1-6, the reading begins with the verse:

Thus says the Lord God who created the heavens and stretched the out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.  Isaiah 42:5

This verse clearly refers back to the account of creation and establishes the rationale for the arrangement of the Haftorah readings in the yearly cycle.  Each section was chosen by its ability to mirror a principle or truth which the Torah reading holds forth from week to week.

fearnot

Chapter 40 of Isaiah begins the second half of the book of Isaiah and it is from this second half that the readings for this week and the next two weeks are taken.   In Chapters 1 to 39, God warned his people about judgement for their national sins. At that time, Assyria was the enemy and Isaiah himself lived through the events of this period.

In Chapters 40 to 66, God promises comfort to his people. (The word ‘comfort’ appears 13 times.) In these chapters, Babylon rather than Assyria is the enemy. God’s people have been exiled to Babylon because of their unfaithfulness to God. What Isaiah describes in this second half of the book he will not live to see for the events occur two hundred years later.

In Chapters 40 and 41, Isaiah reminds the people that God rules over nations and over history.  He reminds the people that sin has consequences and that false gods have no power.  He also assures His own people of His abiding love and care for them.

I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you….I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another nor My praise to graven images.  42:6,8

The prophet cries to Israel to sing a new song to the Lord – to praise Him unreservedly.

Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the Lord. Tell those who sail the seas to join in the song. And tell those who live in distant places to join in too. Let people who live in the deserts and in the cities sing aloud to praise God. Let the people in Kedar praise him. Let the inhabitants of the city called Sela shout for joy from the tops of the mountains.  Let the inhabitants of distant nations praise the Lord. Let them give him great honor.  42:10-12

From its earliest days, Israel was taught to praise the Lord, to worship Him as the one and only true God of heaven and earth.  That truth is foundational to all of the Scriptures and is encapsulated in the well know words of Deuteronomy: Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is One.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The revelation of God as One Supreme Being was first recognized by Abraham who spread that truth far and wide and passed it on to his descendants ‘that the world might know…’

Yet despite all their miraculous history, Israel had not learned as a nation to walk in the righteousness they were called to and God raised up Isaiah to warn them as a loving father does his children.  The spiritual blindness of the people, their disobedience to His instructions would bring discipline in the form of exile from their Land; yet, even in the stern warning there was a promise of future redemption.

 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel.  Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine!  43:1

This is the promise that to this day the people of God can rely on with absolute faith for as it says in another place in scripture, God is not a man that He should lie…

From before creation, God, who is love, had a plan which issued from His very being; a plan to create not only a physical earth and heavens but a people who would come to know Him, to learn from Him, to listen to Him and to live according to His ways.  As He is all knowing, it was not hidden from Him that many among mankind would rebel against His ways, and refuse to walk according to His commandments.  But His dream of a people who would fellowship with Him was not minimized by the reality that some would refuse His love.  Rather, His vision was towards those who would respond with hearts of faith and of love and seek to know Him, follow Him and live out their days in His presence and according to His Word.

Here is the wonderful truth: if you believe in Him, love Him and have dedicated yourself to living according to His ways, He was thinking of you – YES, YOU! – before creation.  That in itself is an amazing truth that boggles the mind.  But it’s true – absolutely true – and should elicit from all of us a ‘new song’ of praise and thanksgiving for His abundant goodness and love.

For we have all failed Him during our journey of seeking to walk in His ways.  Yet His promise of redemption can never fail us for unlike us, He is eternally, irrevocably, immutably faithful. What He has said, He will do. And when God sets out to do something, no power in the universe can stop Him!

He knows you by name and has provided eternal redemption because of  His love.

Should we not be moved to love such an awesome God in return? To lay aside anything and everything that would hinder us from walking according to His ways and His Word?

This week’s Haftorah urges us to remember and appreciate the wonders of creation, the glory of the Creator and our precious opportunity to show our gratitude by living in obedience to the One Who has so loved us.

Shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Beresheit/ Genesis October 17, 2014

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

In less than a single 24 hour day, humanity fell from grace to disgrace, from innocent utopia to banishment; from sheltered existence to the harsh grind of reality.

Genesis 2: 16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Notice that this commandment was addressed to ‘the man’, to Adam. Eve (Chavah in Hebrew) had not yet been created. Therefore, it was Adam who had to have related God’s command to Eve about the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Now notice what God said: ‘…you shall not eat…” God did not say ‘you shall not touch…’ However, it’s not far fetched to assume that touching it would greatly increase the likelihood of plucking it from the tree and eating it!

Genesis 3:1-5  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

There were two trees in the Garden of Eden that stood apart from the rest of the trees, shrubs, plants and herbs: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.

There was no prohibition against eating from the Tree of Life nor from any other form of vegetation in that garden paradise.  God is Life, the Author and Giver of Life.  The Torah is also called the Tree of Life.  To feed on the Words and Wisdom of God on a daily basis is to enjoy true Life.  That was the menu God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden and it would have yielded an eternal, perfect life.

The one thing – the ONE SIMPLE restriction – forbade them to eat of the knowledge of good and evil.  You would think that in a perfect and abundant atmosphere such as they were in, it would be a simple thing to avoid just one tree!

But something much bigger was at stake.

Knowledge, like many things in life, can be wonderful; and it can also be deadly.  Great knowledge can lead to great pride and arrogance which destroys a relationship with God; and indeed, often with others as well.

To “know” God and to “know” His Word is first and foremost a matter of the heart and the spirit.  Intellectual knowledge, represented in the Garden of Eden by the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is a poor substitute for ‘knowing’ Him, the Holy One of Israel, the Almighty, Everlasting One; the One Whose will has always been to dwell among His people.

Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-intellectual; university degrees are filed in my desk drawer.

But I am very much against knowledge for knowledge’s sake rather than for the purpose of deepening a personal, vibrant and growing relationship with Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King.

At Sinai, it was not a university that the God of Israel established; but a community of people whose destiny was to become a living sanctuary, a breathing Temple of His presence in this earth through an ever growing relationship with Him.

When Eve took that first bite and then enticed Adam to follow her example, intellectual reasoning based on appearance had its first devastating conflict with a loving Father Whose desire was intimate relationship: the fruit of the Tree of LIFE.

In Tune with Torah this week = As we begin a new cycle of studying God’s Torah, let us set our intent correctly.  Let each week’s reading and commentary be as fruit plucked from the Tree of Life creating in our souls a deeper hunger for God’s presence and a deeper passion to order our lives according to His ways.

Shabbat Shalom

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Weekly Torah Commentary — Bereishit/Genesis September 27, 2013

Bereishit/Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

On this shabbat we begin the study of Torah anew with the opening verses of the account of creation.

“In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters. God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

One of the principles of biblical exegesis says that when a word first appears in the Torah, the context in which it appears creates the backdrop for all its subsequent appearances. Therefore, LIGHT, as the first explicitly created entity, demands our attention by its unique status. Mankind has a powerful attraction to light and its intensely symbolic nature. Light is far more than physical; in fact, we use such phrases as ‘I saw the light….’ which refers not to a visual experience but an internally personal and psychological moment of understanding. The prophets saw light as a potent symbol and used it frequently in presenting their messages to the Jewish people and indeed to all mankind.

Interestingly, the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day of creation. So what is this LIGHT that is created on day one?

A careful reading reveals something we may miss if we read this chapter too quickly. The verses following the one quoted above read as follows: “God saw that the light was good and God separated between the light and the darkness. God called to the light: ‘Day’ and to the darkness He called: ‘Night’. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.”

Noting the Torah’s reference to the first day as “one day” and not “the first day” though the subsequent days are described as ‘the second day’ and ‘the third day’ and so forth, Rashi points out that the Light of day one was a powerful manifestation of all spiritual and material energetic potential; in other words, the vital point from which the myriad of nature and humanity would come. Interestingly enough, the Big Bang theory of creation proposes that the entire universe of innumerable galaxies emanated from a single, unified “point” of concentrated matter. Thus, from the viewpoint of the Sages, science confirms in its own terms what the Torah earlier proclaimed: that Day One of creation manifested the divine Light which contained within it the seeds of all subsequent creation. The unseen energy that causes a plant to grow and the human body to synthesize sunlight into vitamin D in our bodies, for example, emanates from that burst of Divine Light that appeared when God said, “Let there be Light.” That first created LIGHT encompasses spiritual and physical reality and serves as a bridge between the Oneness of God and the plurality of His creation.

Light plays an important role in the Prophets and the Writings. Consider these examples among many:

“Oh House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of God.” Isaiah 2:5
“Happy is the people who know the sound of the shofar; they will walk in the light of Your countenance.” Psalm 89:16
“The Word of God is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.” Psalm 119:105

And as man is created in the image of God, King Solomon used light imagery to describe this truth when he wrote in his Proverbs: “The candle of God is the soul of man.” 20:7

Not surprisingly, in the Haftorah that accompanies this week’s reading, we find the following verses:
“I, God, have called you in righteousness and will hold your hand and will keep you and give you for a covenant to the people, for a LIGHT unto the nations; to open the eyes of the blind, to release the prisoners from their confinement, and they that sit in darkness, out of their prison…” Isaiah 42:6

Therefore, we can conclude that underlying all the various meanings of light found in the Torah and Tanach lies the principle that human beings have the capacity to be conscious of the spiritual reality beyond the earthly factors of daily living. Once this God-consciousness becomes real to an individual, life changes. To “see the light” is to reach a new level of consciousness, to progress spiritually. To “see the light” is also the stepping-stone to “becoming a light” to those around us.
Unless we understand that a major purpose of our earthly existence is to be a “Light” to people around us, we will waste years in self-serving pursuits that in the end leave us empty and dissatisfied with life.

Each human being is a unique expression of ‘light’, just as each type of flower has its own beauty and fragrance. The simple song many of us learned as children says it clearly: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…”

In Tune with Torah this week = as we plunge into this new Hebrew year, let’s ask ourselves, “Is my light shining? Am I a positive influence on those around me? Do I mirror the goodness of God to my family and friends? Am I a ‘light to the nations’?

Shabbat Shalom