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

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Matot-Maasei August 5, 2016

Numbers 30 – 36

In this week’s portion, two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, agree together that the land east of the Jordan is ideally suited as pasture for their large herds and flocks of livestock. They approach Moses and ask permission to settle there rather than cross the Jordan. Initially, Moses is furious at their request.  “Shall your fellow countrymen go to war while you sit here?” he asks. Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies who, by demoralizing others through their behavior, condemned an entire generation to forty years of wandering in the desert?

Reuben

The Reubenites and Gadites get the point. They protest that they are not trying to exempt themselves from the struggles of their fellow Israelites. They are fully prepared to accompany them into the promised land and fight alongside them to conquer the Land. “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.”  After declaring publicly their commitment to participate in taking the Land, Moses grants their request on condition that they fulfill their word. “When the land is then conquered before God you may then return, innocent before God and Israel, and this land will be yours as your permanent property before God.”

The phrase – ‘you will be innocent before God and Israel’ – teaches an important lesson. It is not enough to do what is right in the eyes of God. One must also behave in such a way as to be seen to have done right in the eyes of one’s fellow man. It is incumbent upon us to live in such a way that we are above suspicion, men and women of uncontested integrity.

That sounds great but the reality of life is that at times even when we do conduct ourselves in a manner that we think is above suspicion and full of integrity, we still may find ourselves the object of criticism and judgments from others.  When that happens, how do we handle it?

First of all, those who pass judgment on others say more about themselves than they do about the person they are criticizing.  Remember that!  What we should be doing is finding the best in every person, not emphasizing what we perceive as their weaknesses or failures. (If, however, the criticism is constructive, our response should be one of humility and teachableness.)

Secondly, keep in mind that keeping a clear conscience before God is a much higher priority than being approved of by men.  It takes courage to do right, even if one has to stand alone, but that is the kind of integrity and courage that great men and women throughout the ages have exhibited and we do well to follow in their footsteps.

Reuben and Gad accepted Moses’ criticism and correction.  To their credit they kept their promise and went in to the Land to fight against the enemies of Israel.  But in the end, they returned to the other side of the Jordan.  They stopped short of taking possession of the Land God had promised Israel.  At the very border, instead of looking straight ahead, they looked to the right and to the left and decided to stay.

This is a second deeply significant lesson out of this week’s Torah portion.  When God instructs us, it is not enough to go part of the way, or even 98% of the way.  If we are committed to live by His Word, there is no room for compromise. Go all the way!

After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua and said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the Torah which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. Joshua 1:7

We are constantly bombarded with more than enough distractions in this world that easily draw our attention ‘to the right and to the left’ of what God has told us in His word.  This week’s Torah portion, as we come to the end of the book of Numbers, closes with these two very significant admonitions.

  1. Let integrity guide your thoughts, words and actions regardless of whether or not anyone understands. Your focus is to please God, not men.
  2. Refuse to be a 98% kind of person.  Go for the gold!  Be radical enough to obey God fully.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking these two principles to heart and checking our own lifestyle.  How are we doing?

Shabbat shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Be’halot’cha June 24, 2016

Numbers 8 – 12

In this week’s Torah reading we are confronted with a despairing and discouraged Moses. The children of Israel complain about the food: ‘If only we had meat to eat. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna.’

It was not the first time they showed such appalling ingratitude for all that the Lord had done for them; it was the fourth time. Yet Moses’ reaction is one of utter despair.

MosesQuail

Why are you treating me, Your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me!  What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did You tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing infant? How can I carry them to the land You swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I can’t carry all these people by myself.  The load is far too heavy.  Is this is how You intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me.  Do me a favor and spare me this misery!

Can you believe it? The great Moses prays to die! He is not the only biblical character to do so.  Elijah, Jeremiah and Jonah prayed the same – making us realize that even the greatest can have their moments of despair.

Yet there is something curious about this particular incident.  He had faced, and overcome, such difficulties before.  So, what is going on here?

God’s response is also curious.

Bring me 70 elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Make them come to the Tent of Meeting that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the spirit that is on you and put the spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

How would the appointment of seventy elders resolve Moses’ inner struggle?  He had already created a system of delegated authority on the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro. So why appoint more?

And what does God mean when He says: ‘I will take of the spirit that is on you and put the spirit on them’?  Was He anointing them to be prophets like Moses?  Prophets don’t carry out administrative affairs.  Prophets give guidance to the people.  Well, they already had Moses.  If the 70 elders were simply going to repeat what Moses was teaching the people, they were rather superfluous.  If not, they would undermine his leadership.  Strange, no?

Yet something happened when God spoke these words to him. Moses’ despair disappeared and his attitude changed. Immediately, it is as if a new Moses stands before us, untroubled by even the subsequent challenges to his leadership.

Just a few verses later we read that two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, prophesy not in the Tent of Meeting but in the camp. Joshua, protective of Moses’ authority, says, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them!’ Moses replies, with amazing generosity of spirit, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them.’

In the next chapter, his own brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, start complaining about him. There is no angry or despairing reaction.  ‘Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.’  When God became angry at Miriam, what did Moses do? He prayed for her. His despair has gone; his inner crisis has passed. These two challenges were far more serious than the request of the people for meat, yet Moses meets them in a spirit of peace and selflessness. Something has taken place between Moses and God. What was it?

We need to look back for a moment.  There is a noticeable change of tone between the book of Exodus and the book of Numbers. While there are complaints in both, the responses of God and of Moses are different. In Exodus, God does not generally get angry with the people. When He does, Moses’ prays and God hears. In Numbers, the responses of both God and Moses are less forgiving and long-suffering.  Why?

The early whining and complaining of the people appears more forgivable. Granted, in Egypt and during the early days after they were freed, they should have had faith in God, but they had not yet reached the Red Sea, or the desert, or lack of food and water. Their greatest sin – the making the Golden Calf – is followed by an extended interruption of the narrative as God instructs Moses and the people to build the Tabernacle. In fact, the next 53 chapters of the Torah (the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus and the first ten chapters of Numbers) are dedicated to the Tabernacle – its construction, the services that were to be held there and the arrangement of the nation around it.  These 53 chapters cover a break in the Israelites’ journey as if time and space stand still.

From the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the completion of the Tabernacle, the children of Israel are changed from a crowd of fleeing slaves into a nation whose constitution is the Torah, whose King is God alone and at whose center is the visible presence of their God hovering over the Tabernacle day and night. They are no longer what they were before Sinai. They are now ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

And that is why  Moses despaired when they murmured about the food.

What caused Moses’ spirit to break was the fact that, no sooner had they left the Sinai desert to begin the journey again, they reverted to their old habits of complaining as if nothing had changed. If the revelation at Sinai, the experience of Divine anger at the Golden Calf, and the long process of building the Tabernacle had not changed them, what in the world ever would or could?

Moses’ despair is understandable. For the first time since his mission began he could  visualize defeat.  Miracles, deliverances, revelations – it seemed that nothing could change this people from a nation so focused on food into one that grasped the significance of the unique spiritual destiny to which they had been called. Perhaps God, from the perspective of eternity, could see some ray of hope in the future. Moses, as a human being, could not. ‘I would rather die,’ he says, ‘than spend the rest of my life laboring in vain.’

God graciously gave Moses what he really needed. In saying that he would take some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the 70 elders, Moses realized that he did make a difference.  He didn’t need their help; he needed to know that ‘his spirit’ – the essence of everything he had become in his personal journey with God – was indeed communicated to someone else – to 70 others.

He didn’t need to know that people would be studying his words for hundreds and thousands of years in the future; that history would remember him as one of the greatest leaders of all time.  All he needed to know was that his life had not been in vain;  that he had disciples who could carry on the building and establishing of God’s nation after his demise; that the glorious vision of a nation dedicated to the Almighty wouldn’t die.

That was enough.

In Tune with Torah this week = if it was enough for Moses, it must be enough for us. The good we do lives after us. It is the only thing of value that really does. Not wealth or power but a trace of our influence for good is the most important legacy any of us can leave behind.   That alone is the antidote to despair, the solid ground of hope….and the greatest blessing of leadership in whatever capacity life has made you a leader.