Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’etchanan August 4, 2017

Torah reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Haftorah reading:  Isaiah 40: 1-26

This chapter of the book of Isaiah is the prologue to a series of oracles and songs that follow; it has the basic themes that are found throughout the following chapters. The passage begins with an instruction to comfort the people of God (vs.1,2), followed by the oracle of the one preparing the way (vs. 3-8), and the heralds announcing the coming of the LORD in accordance with the Word of God (vs. 9-11). Israel was in need of such good news because they were in captivity at the time. The heralds bring the good tidings not to Babylon, but to Zion where the glory of the LORD will reappear when He leads His people like a Shepherd.

The second part of the chapter is an encouragement that God is able to do all this (vs. 12-26). The message of comfort is based on the omnipotence of God (vs. 12-17) and the incomparable nature of God (vs. 18-26). This portion is a passionate appeal from the prophet intended to stir the people’s faith and re-direct their focus away from their captivity to the God who is in the process of restoring them to their ancestral homeland.

The theme of the message of comfort and the hope for the people of God is God’s presence.  Two images are presented. First, He is the sovereign LORD coming with power and His arm rules for Him. Powerful majesty will be the pattern of His dominion as King. He will bring rewards to dispense to His faithful subjects.

The second image is that of the shepherd. “He tends His flock”. The figure of a shepherd was commonly used in the ancient Near East for monarchs; it is the natural figure for any culture with a great deal of animal husbandry.  It signifies the care, leadership, and provisions that the LORD will bring to His people.

The great message of comfort hangs on this point. Look to God. He is coming to establish His kingdom. He will come in power. Without Him the “sheep” are weak and frail; with His presence they find everlasting peace and righteousness.

creation

How do we know God will do this for His people?

In vs. 12-14 He is affirmed as the God of creation.  The Scripture is clear: He spoke and creation came into being. No one gave God any advice, ever! God created everything by His own design and counsel.

In vs. 15-17, God is declared as sovereign over all nations. Governmental leaders, even the best of them, are under His authority whether or not they realize or acknowledge it. In the final end of all things, it is to Him that they will answer for their leadership, its successes and its failures.  The nations exist by the sovereign will of our Father and it is to Him that they primarily owe their allegiance and their respect.  The fact that some nations don’t, nor do they wish to, doesn’t change the reality of God’s supremacy one single bit.

In vs. 18-20, Isaiah goes on to declare with emphasis and passion that there is NO ONE like our God – NO ONE. He is the true and only God. To compare Him to idols is blasphemous. Even the materials for idols comes from God (see Isa. 44). Humans who are weak and frail have made the idols; they look for ways to make idols that will last. No one made God; rather, God created humans. The question in verse 18 then is rhetorical and put there to express that there is no one to whom we may compare the Almighty.  He is totally OTHER.

If God made everything, and if He is sovereign over all nations, and if He is incomparable to anyone or anything, then all creation is under His power. Verse 21 begins this section with four rhetorical questions to remind the people of what they already knew. The repetition is meant to be a rebuke, like hammering a point home:

“Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”

They had centuries of time to have these truths sink in, but their weak faith and stubborn hearts had not taken it all to heart.  The distractions and interests of daily life clouded their thinking and removed the reality of God Almighty from their consciousness.

In tune with Torah this week = The people are called to look and contemplate the heavens and see God’s handiwork. It is by His power that the starry hosts were created and keep their order. Creation is meant to be a witness to the sovereignty of God, His existence, His creativity, His superiority over everything created.

Pondering these truths should inspire a fresh humility in our hearts; we, who so easily fall into thinking the the world revolves around us.  No it revolves around Him and it is incumbent upon us to consider His interests even more than our own.  He has made a world and filled it with people that He loves.  How are we responding to that love that He so generously pours out upon us?

Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Balak July 7, 2017

Torah reading: Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

Haftorah reading: Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s reading in the prophet Micah ends with this verse:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

This well known verse is a unique summary of what biblical obedience is all about.  Let’s get something straight from the very beginning.  Obedience according to biblical texts is not about meticulously complying with endless man made rules. It is, rather, an attitude of heart which recognizes the eternal love and compassion of the  Holy One of Israel towards us as our Father and our King (Avinu Malkenu) with the result that we want to honor, magnify and emulate Him.  You shall be holy for I am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

Over the centuries ‘holiness’ has been described primarily in terms of outward submission to commandments or instructions.  In all of the major religions of the world, issues such as manner of dress, style of worship, and conformity to doctrine and tradition have created the misconception that ‘holiness’ is measured by outward appearance.  Nothing could be further from the essence of biblical holiness.  Even a modern secular quote agrees: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’

One of the most outstanding examples in the prophets that illustrates this principle is in I Samuel 16.  After the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel from Saul because of his disobedience, He told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons.  Interestingly, the LORD didn’t tell the prophet which son. Jesse had several.

When the first son, Eliab, appeared before Samuel, the prophet looked at him and thought, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him. I Sam. 16:6

But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’  I Samuel 16:7

Apparently Eliab ‘looked’ like the perfect candidate but he wasn’t.  The ‘appearance’ of religiosity can be deceiving for mankind has a unique tendency to act one way outwardly while thinking just the opposite internally.  This is the definition of hypocrisy!

humility2

God chose the most unlikely of Jesse’s sons – the youngest, David, who was just a teenager at the time…but what a teenager!  David tended his father’s sheep, a lonely and boring task which David transformed into a consistent opportunity for worship.  He sang to the LORD on the hillsides, meditated on God’s Word while the sheep grazed, and wrote the most beautiful songs of praise and worship, the Psalms, which we enjoy to this day.  God called David, ‘a man after my own heart.‘ Wow – imagine such a compliment from the LORD!

 

David wasn’t a perfect man, but he had the qualities of heart that God loved and which Micah speaks about in this week’s haftorah.

First there is justice. Justice is a willingness to stand up for what is right. From justice comes moral integrity, honesty, a holding to God’s values. Those who are just make sure that all people are seen as valuable in God’s eyes, because they make it a point to look at everyone as created in God’s image and likeness.

The second character trait in Micah’s description is mercy.  When we are merciful we respond to hurts in peoples lives, without deepening their wounds. This motivates us to show forgiveness to those who have hurt you and done you wrong, just as God freely forgives you when you repent of your sins and failures. It also means forgiving yourself for past failures.

The third trait is humility. Humility is not about being a ‘doormat’, neither is it weakness, but it is that quality of heart that recognizes God for who He is.  The humble heart then wants to do all that God asks of you, because of who He is. It requires that we obey God even when our desire is to do otherwise. God’s will comes before our own. Humility also thinks of others more than oneself.  It is not haughty or arrogant but looks for and appreciates the good in other people.  It is the polar opposite of someone who is regularly critical, judgmental and harsh towards other people.

We could say it this way: there’s a major difference between perfectionism and excellence.  Perfectionism is concerned with doing things right (outward observance).  Excellence is concerned with doing the right thing (heart motivation).

In Tune with Torah this week = God has not called us to ‘perfectionism’ but to excellence.  We are not here to ‘perform’ before others in order to be applauded by them.  We are here to serve the living God from the depths of our hearts, loving Him, desiring what He desires and being occupied with His interests above our own.

Keep in mind that the fundamental meaning of the word ‘hypocrite’ is ‘an actor’ – someone who pretends to be someone he is not.

Let us walk before God as Micah urges: being just, showing mercy and living humbly.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor May 12, 2017

Torah Reading: Leviticus 21-24

Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord GOD.  vs. 15

The first question that arises when we read this passage is ‘Who are the sons of Zadok? And who was Zadok?’

“Now these are the ones who came to David at Ziklag, while he was still restricted because of Saul the son of Kish… For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God… also Zadok a young man mighty of valor, and of his fathers house twenty two captains” (1 Chronicles 12:1,22,28).  Long before David was crowned king, Zadok followed him faithfully because he knew what God had said through the prophet Samuel.

Zadok

Later, Zadok was the high priest during the reign of King David. When all of Israel went astray and followed after Absalom when he usurped his father’s throne, Zadok picked up the ark and followed David even though it seemed that this would mean certain destruction.

Zadok never followed the path of the politically expedient.  He did what was right. He knew that the Lord had anointed David as king and that He had not anointed Absalom. David was still the king, even though “all Israel” did not see it that way. The crowd paid a dear price, but Zadok’s reward would last forever. To this day, his sons are those whom are closest to the Lord.

Not once did Zadok ever look back. He proved to be righteous because he proved to be faithful! He was there when David needed him! And when so many others were being carried away with the rebellion of Absalom, Zadok remained faithful through it all.

“The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God… And the king said to Zadok, Return the ark of God to the city… The king said also to Zadok the priest, Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Abimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:23-25,27-28).

Note David’s question:“Are you not a seer?” This meant, “Zadok, you have the gift of discernment! You know what is evil and what is holy. You are strong enough, faithful and committed enough to Me to go into that realm of rebellion and idolatry and save the kingdom!” The king said to Zadok, “Return to the city.” God now had a holy priest to guard the house of God from ruin!

Though a whole nation was in rebellion, in Gods house there was a holy remnant. Is there anything that America, Israel and all the nations of the earth need more today than this? That “the sons of Zadok” – the remnant of God of which the prophets spoke – would stand in the gap and change the course of history, not by armies and weapons, but by prayer and faithful devotion to the truths of God’s Word.

Meanwhile, God was building for Zadok an enduring house, a priesthood that fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God who prophesied to Eli. This is that “faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul.”

The holy remnant, the faithful priesthood of today, these servants of the Lord whose hearts are blameless and faithful – these are the spiritual offspring of Zadok! These are “near to the Lord” who minister to Him. Ministry to the Lord is the mark of the Zadok remnant.

Who are the sons of Zadok? The sons of Zadok are the ones who do the deeds of Zadok. They have the faith in God and the substance of character to follow the way that is right, even if everyone else goes the other direction. That was the resolve of Zadok which he taught to his sons and it was to them that the LORD entrusted His work in a time of great political chaos in Israel.

Across the globe today there is an enormous vacuum of godly and righteous leadership which makes this a dangerous time.  Throughout history,  a lack of strong and righteous leadership has always provided the greatest opportunities for tyranny.

The answer is not to pursue leadership, but to pursue the repentance that will lead us back to God’s favor, and then He will raise up righteous leaders. In II Chronicles 7:14 we are promised, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin an heal their land.”  Four things are required to heal a land:

1)   Humility

2)   Prayer

3)   Seeking His face

4)   Repentance from wickedness

This is the time for courage and unyielding resolve.  There is no place for cowardice in true faith. This is our time. This is our watch.

In Tune with Torah this week = Will we show the courage that is demanded of the true servants of the King?  Will we, like the sons of Zadok, be those who spend time in the Lord’s presence, seek His face and feed our spiritual man on His Word?  Will we stand up and speak up for what is right, even if no one stands with us?

Where are the sons of Zadok today?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary -Trumah March 3, 2017

Torah reading: Exodus 25:1-27:19

Haftorah reading: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13

This week’s haftorah reading opens with these words: The LORD had given Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him.  I Kings 5:26

Solomon has long been associated with wisdom for it is written of him that ‘God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.’ I Kings 4:29-30.

So profound was his wisdom that we read four verses later: Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom. I Kings 4:34

wisdom

Wisdom is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.  As a virtue, it is a habit or disposition to perform the action with the highest degree of adequacy under any given circumstance with the limitation of error in any given action. This implies a possession of or the seeking of knowledge to apply to the given circumstance. (Wikipedia)

Wisdom involves an understanding of people, objects, events, situations, and the willingness as well as the ability to apply perception, judgment and action for the optimal course of action. It often requires control of one’s emotional reactions as well so that reason prevails to determine one’s action. In summary, wisdom is the ability to find the truth coupled with the right judgment as to what actions should be taken.

Solomon is about to commence building the Temple, one of the greatest construction projects of all time.  His wisdom dictated every phase of the building process so that in the end, the Temple of God in Jerusalem was known to the world of that day as a most magnificent and stunning edifice.

The temple is called the house of the Lord, because it was directed and modeled by Him, and was to be employed in his service. Far beyond all its visible beauty, however, it was adorned with the beauty of holiness for it was unique, the earthly Temple of the God of Israel.

There is a very interesting aspect to this construction project: no iron tool was allowed to be used in the construction process.  The Temple was built in an atmosphere of quietness and silence.  Imagine being able to witness such a project yourself.  Construction sites are usually so noisy but not this one. It had to have been amazing.

But beyond that, there is a message we dare not miss.  All our service to God should be done with as much wisdom and attention to detail as Solomon employed in building the physical Temple. God’s work should also be done ‘quietly’ by those who serve Him.  By ‘quietly’ I mean, that our service to the LORD should be carried out in a humble spirit that does not draw attention to ourselves but to Him.

During his presidency, Ronald Reagan is reported to have kept on his desk a plaque that said, There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.  An accurate and succinct description of what it means to fulfill our duties ‘quietly’; in other words, not requiring attention and approval at every turn.

The book of Proverbs, written by Solomon, has much to say about wisdom.  Here are just a few of its descriptions:

Proverbs 2:2  Make your ear attentive to wisdom,incline your heart to understanding.

Proverbs 3:13. How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding.

Proverbs 8:11. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her.

Proverbs 9:10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 11:2. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:16. How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.

Proverbs 19:18. He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good.

In Tune with Torah this week = like Solomon, we are enjoined to ask God for wisdom for He gives it willingly to those who ask.  And not just once – we may ask for wisdom continually for throughout life we meet all sorts of challenges and situation. Wisdom is indeed necessary in all of our affairs and relationships.

May He grant it in full measure to all who ask.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 20, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1-6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27: 6-28:13, 29:22-23

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine! Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, who will bring them down to the earth with His hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trampled underfoot; and the glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valley, like the first fruit before the summer, which an observer sees; he eats it up while it is still in his hand. Isaiah 28: 1-4

The prophet addresses the northern kingdom which was known as the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Ephraim.  This is the kingdom that was established in the territory given to Ephraim when Joshua divided the nation after they entered the Promised Land.  It was to this geographical location that the ten tribes moved when they rebelled against Judah who was located in Jerusalem and its environs.  Rather quickly the northern kingdom demonstrated their rebellion by changing times and seasons, changing instructions given in the Torah to suit their own preferences and eventually were conquered after only 70 years and dispersed among the nations.

A fundamental root of their rebellion is identified in the opening words: Woe to the crown of pride…

John R.W. Stott, a remarkably humble man of great abilities and accomplishments is credited with this succinct statement about pride and humility. It goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows. Stott said: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”

We haven’t heard much lately about this topic, have we? What throughout history has been recognized as the deadliest of vices is now almost celebrated as a virtue in our present society. Pride and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the successful, the famous, and celebrities of all sorts, and sadly, even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people, including each of us. Yet few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and love for others.

Humility, on the other hand, is often seen as weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. For the good of our souls, however, we need to gain a clearer understanding of both pride and humility and how to renounce the one and embrace the other.

Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil, that “proud spirit” as some have described him, using pride as the avenue by which to seduce our first parents. Taking the form of a serpent, his approach was simple yet deadly. First, he arrogantly contradicted what God had said to Eve about eating the forbidden fruit and charged God with lying. This shocking rejection of God’s word introduced Eve to the hitherto unknown possibility of unbelief and stirred up doubt in her mind about the reliability of God. In the next breath, the devil drew her into deeper deception by contending that God’s reason for lying was to keep her from enjoying all the blessings of her state. His goal was to undermine Eve’s faith and cause her to question God’s truthfulness.

As Eve in her now confused and deceived state of mind considered the possibilities, her desire to become ‘Godlike’ grew stronger. The forbidden fruit became more attractive. Desire increased, bringing with it the inclination to rationalize and thereby erode any inclination of her will to resist the temptation being offered.

Finally, weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she disobeyed God’s command. In just a few clever and devious words, the devil was able to use ego to bring about Eve’s downfall and plunge the human race into spiritual ruin. This ancient but all-too-familiar process confronts each of us daily.

Temptation to choose self over God is a daily issue.  Self-indulgence, self-pity, self-aggrandizement, self-will, taking oneself too seriously and thinking more of oneself than we ought to think are all symptoms of a pride in the heart that is displeasing to our God. The prophet Micah put it this way:  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before your God?  Micah 6:8

Pride can manifest itself in many ways, spiritual pride being the worst of them all. To consider yourself better than others because of your race, nationality, talents, achievements or religious affiliation is obnoxious to God.  What do any of us have that we have not received as a gift from our heavenly Father?  Even those things that we call ‘our’ achievements could never have come about without God’s sustaining and enabling grace being operative in our lives.  None of us is guaranteed ‘tomorrow’ – sudden and untimely deaths are a common occurrence of which we are all aware.

It behooves us to recognize that apart from the LORD’s blessing upon our lives, we would be sorry creatures indeed.  Understanding how much He has blessed us should inspire continual gratitude to Him through thick and thin.  David, a man who endured many difficult trials, understood this principle and so he wrote: I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.  Psalm 43:1

Humility is called the queen of all virtues.  Solomon wrote:

By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor, and life. Prov. 22:4

Better to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. Prov. 16:19

A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall come to the humble in spirit.  Prov. 29:23

Let’s be very clear about this issue.  A parent may be rightfully proud of their child for choosing to do right and/or succeeding academically, for example, through discipline and hard work. There is a kind of ‘pride’ that is acceptable in appropriate situations; a pride that focuses on the success of others, rather than oneself.

However, a pride that focuses on oneself, even in one’s own eyes, is reprehensible and must be avoided. That is the kind of pride that the LORD abhors.  It is undisciplined ego.

In Tune with Torah this week: if you go on and read the rest of the haftorah portion, you quickly learn that the pride of the Ephraimites brought their downfall.  That is the sure result of pride: downfall of one type or another.  May the only ‘crown’ we seek to wear be the crown of Humility.

This Shabbat let us examine our own hearts and humble ourselves before our God, acknowledging His goodness and kindness to us and thanking Him sincerely for all He has done for us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shoftim September 9, 2016

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 26, 2016

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  Deuteronomy 8:2-3

To humble and to test – those are key words in this week’s Torah reading.

Humility is vastly underrated and misunderstood in our contemporary society.  A quick Google search of “improving confidence” came up with 9,580,000 results. Another search for “improving humility” only got 499,000 results. That speaks volumes.

Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where the serpent, in a simple but deadly approach, uses pride as the avenue by which to seduce our first parents.  He arrogantly contradicted what God had said to Eve about eating the forbidden fruit and charged God with lying. For the first time since she was created, Eve was introduced to the possibility of unbelief.  By challenging what God had said, he aroused doubt in her mind about the integrity of God Himself.  Seeing that she paused to consider his words, the serpent drew her into deeper deception by suggesting that God’s reason for ‘lying’ was to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being Godlike.

The  inclination to exalt ourselves and our opinions above our true state as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Confusion produced deception and Eve began to look at the forbidden fruit in a new light. From there it was an easy step to rationalization and the erosion of her will to resist the serpent’s seduction.  Weakened by doubt, seduced by pride, she opted for ‘independence’ and disobeyed God’s single command to her and Adam.

It was a test which she failed miserably with long lasting consequences.

We often fail to understand why God tests us. Most of the time tests come, not because of sin, but because of opportunity.  God is looking to bless us but like a good Father, He looks for evidence that we are ready to handle whatever advancement He is wanting to give us. So the test is administered, much like a student who has been diligent in his studies is required to pass a test at the end of each course. How utterly foolish would it be for a college student to spend months in a particular course of study and to refuse to be tested at the end of it?

Life is God’s University of Holiness.  As we make this journey through the days He allots to each of us, there are ‘tests’ along the way.  They are carefully designed by our Father in heaven to be stepping-stones to a higher spiritual level, to a deeper relationship with Him.  Each ‘test’ is uniquely crafted to address an attitude, an opinion or a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to our growth towards the ideal He set before us:  ‘You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ Leviticus 19:2  Each test is an opportunity to be reminded that we are not as ‘in control’ as we sometimes think; that there is a God in the heavens and He alone is Supreme and we are privileged to be His children.

There is no holiness without humility; there is no humility without testing.

Learning to handle the testings that come our way is at once simple but at the same time complex.  The way was succinctly summarized by the prophet Isaiah:

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed on You, because he trusts in You.  Isaiah 26:3  How often is our mind ‘fixed’ more on worry and anxiety than on Him?

All of us have met people who seem to be pillars of inner serenity when faced with heart-wrenching tragedy.  We admire them and marvel at what we consider their ‘strength’. More often than not, what we call their ‘strength’, is rather the evidence of their deep faith, a faith established in a humble spirit that acknowledges at all times the goodness of God and the righteousness of His ways, regardless of what is happening around them. These are the kind of people that inspire the rest of us.

The same prophet, Isaiah, also wrote:  For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite Isaiah 57:15

To paraphrase, God dwells in the heaven of heavens and also with those who are of a humble spirit.

In Tune with Torah this week = tests are a part of life.  We cannot escape them. The issue is how we react to them.  Do we get angry or resentful towards God when difficult situations arise?  As if to say ‘how dare God allow this to happen to me‘?  That is the response of an ugly pride, of an attitude that thinks more highly of oneself than one should.  We did not create ourselves and we live ‘by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’.  My life – your life – day by day depends on Him.  Let us be thankful for the gift of each day and walk through this life the way the prophet Micah instructed us: He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

Shabbat Shalom