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.
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?
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 – 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.


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 – Shemini April 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 9-11

Haftorah reading: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, uncovering himself in the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people, Israel. I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these maids you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.   2 Sam. 6:20-23


Remember that David was a simple shepherd boy – a teenager – when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint him the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul was reigning over Israel and when David killed Goliath, he won the king’s favor.  However, that didn’t last long for Saul became exceedingly jealous of David and his abilities as the commander of his army. Eventually David becomes King and Jerusalem becomes his city, The City of David.

In I Samuel 18 there’s an interesting verse that bears on this week’s reading: “When Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.”  (vs. 28-29)  Saul gave his daughter in marriage to David but Saul’s jealousy and fear of David continue until we read in 1 Samuel 25:44 that Saul gives his daughter who was married to David to another man by the name of Palti.

After the death of Saul, David decides he wants his first wife, Michal, back and sends one of his men to escort her back to David’s palace (2 Samuel 3:14-22). Talk about dysfunctional relationships!

This complicated relationship between David and Michael continues to the point where in this week’s Haftorah, we get this description of David taking the ark into the city Jerusalem, his City, the city of David.

David was wearing an ephod or the priestly garments as he danced with all his might before the LORD – a dance of worship, of celebrating the goodness of God, of recognizing God’s power and glory.  David worshiped with everything in him.

When he got home afterwards, Mrs. Michal had her critical speech ready and memorized! In essence she says to her husband, the king, ‘You sure made a fool of yourself today!’

Why did Michal speak so harshly to David?

There may be several reasons but here at least are a few.

Remember that she loved David and had been his first wife.  When her father tore her from him and gave her to another man because of his own (Saul’s) jealousy, perhaps she felt abandoned that David did not come after her and rescue her from this new ‘husband’ right away.  Perhaps she struggled with resentment against both her father and her husband and if that resentment festered in her, bitterness would have developed and this was the moment it poured out of her onto David.

Alternatively, could there have been some tension between the ‘wife born into royalty’ and the lowly shepherd become king? Was that the reason behind accusing him of being ‘undignified’? In modern terminology would she be calling him a ‘peasant’, ‘a country bumpkin’?

David’s answer is to point out that what he was doing, he was doing for the LORD.

It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (vs. 21-22)

David makes it quite clear to his wife that his dancing is a perfectly acceptable form of celebrating the God He loves so ardently. Though he was King of Israel, David celebrated with abandon the One Who is King of the Universe and lets Michal know in no uncertain terms that nothing she says will keep him from passionate worship of the LORD.

Good for him!

The verse that follows is ominous and one can’t escape the connection.  Michael, daughter of Saul, had no child to the day of her death.  (Vs. 23) In biblical times, infertility was seen as one of the worst judgments of the LORD against a woman.

It was not wise to criticize the one doing the dancing!  It is never wise to criticize another person’s expressions of love and devotion to the LORD, even if it’s not ‘your style’ of worship.  The worship is not addressed to you!  It’s addressed to the Holy One of Israel.  Who are we to criticize how another person worships Him?

Notice 2 Samuel 6: 16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; she despised him in her heart. (emphasis added)

That word despised has synonyms such as hated, loathed and detested. There can little doubt that her ardent love for David had gone cold. But somehow, I don’t think her verbal attack was only about the dancing, do you?  Resentment had been simmering under the surface for a long time.

King David reckoned himself small in comparison to the God of Israel and cared little for the opinions of men. If the maids had noticed his zeal and passion for God, well then, he was fine with that.  ‘May it inspire them to passionate love for God!’ would have been his way of looking at the situation – radically different from Michael’s.

Is there more here for us to glean so many centuries later?
Are you convinced that what God thinks of you is what really matters in life?  Or like Michal, are you overly conscious of ‘what others might think’ if you stand strong in your faith and its expression?

Michal would have been an extremely brave or extremely cheesed off woman to confront the king in the way she did. But with her upbringing her own view she saw David because of his dancing as a ‘vulgar fellow’.

In society today we encounter opposition to our faith in God, to our celebration of Him.  The secular mind calls it foolishness.  Like Michal they have their ‘reasons’, but there is NO ‘reason’ for you or I to be moved or weakened in our faith by the opinions of other people.

Was David wrong to dance, to celebrate before the Lord? This was a King who had seen the power of God in his life. He knew what it was to sense the ‘joy of the Lord’ for it was this king who had written Psalm 16 which ends with these words: ‘In your presence is fulness of joy and at Your right hand, there are pleasures forevermore.’ vs. 11

In Tune with Torah this week = Is the presence of the LORD real in your life? Do you know that you know that He is with you? That He loves you with an unconditional love? That His attitude toward you is one of blessing?  Joy is much more than a feeling; it is an attitude of life fueled by an abiding awareness of God’s personal love for you!

May your joy in Him increase this Shabbat and throughout the rest of your life.

Shabbat Shalom


Weekly Torah Commentary – Korah July 8, 2016

Numbers 16 – 18

Enter the consummate politician!  In the Torah? Yes, in the Torah.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben took action, and they rose up before Moses together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.  Num. 16: 1-2

Very often, we have read these chapters without realizing that there is not one rebellion happening, but two.  Notice: Korah is a Levite (from the tribe of Levi).  Dathan, Abiram and On are from the tribe of Reuben.  In the arrangement of the tribes around the Tabernacle in the wilderness, each tribe had its ‘neighborhood’.  The Levites were camped by the door of the Tabernacle while the other tribes encircled the larger area.


First, we are presented with Korah’s challenge to Moses and Aaron:

You have gone far enough for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?

The Levites were the only ones who had permission to transport the Ark of the Covenant; they were the only ones allowed to set up and break down the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Of the thirteen tribes of Israel, God chose only one tribe out to draw near to Him in that special way.  Korah was privileged to be a Levite but he wasn’t satisfied.  He wanted more power; he wanted the leadership position that Aaron had so he issues this ultimatum to Moses and Aaron.

Moses response was first to fall on his face before God and then he instructed Korah and the 250 with him to put fire in their censers and gather the following morning  at the entrance of the Tabernacle.  God will demonstrate, Moses declared, who is holy. (vs. 6-7)

Meanwhile ‘Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram‘ so obviously they were not present with Korach and the 250 Levites.  Dathan and Abiram refuse to come but convey their complaint against Moses:

Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? Indeed you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come to you. (vs.13-14)

Do you see the difference?

Korah wanted power, pre-eminence, leadership over the people.

Dathan and Abiram were angry that Moses had not yet taken them into the Land.

Korah had a spiritual complaint.  Dathan and Abiram had a political complaint.

But though their focus was different, Korah somehow managed to take the leadership of both groups. He ‘worked the crowd’ as it were – back and forth between both groups of rebels, building a case against Moses and Aaron.  God was watching.

The next morning, the crowd of Levites assembles.  God commanded Moses to get away from the ‘tent’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  Now this is interesting. Your translation may say the ‘dwelling’ of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.  But we’ve already noted that they didn’t live together. So what does this mean?

It’s clearer in the Hebrew.  It was the ‘meeting place’ of Koran, Dathan and Abiram; a place where they met to develop their scheme to seize power from Moses, the priesthood from Aaron and then march on into the Land under the leadership of Korah.  You realize, of course, that no one organizes a rebellion with 250 adherents overnight.  This had been brewing for some time.

Notice: in vs. 24 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’ But the very next verse says, ‘Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram with the elders of Israel following him.’

If Moses had to get up and go find them, then Dathan and Abiram were not present with Korah and the 250! As Moses approaches that meeting place, God commands the people to get away from the ‘tent’ of these wicked men.    Look what happened:  vs. 32 ..and the earth swallowed them up and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.

Now that would put the fear of the Lord in you, wouldn’t it?

Remember, this crowd is gathered with Dathan and Abiram by the meeting place of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, not at the entrance of the Tabernacle where Korah is, with his 250 followers.  Yet those who joined in with Dathan and Abiram’s complaint are called ‘the men who belonged to Korah’, indicating that the two companies of grumblers were united under the leadership of Korah.

Meanwhile, back at the entrance of the Tabernacle, ‘fire came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.’ (vs. 35)

Two complaints – two different punishments – one overall leader. What was Korah’s real sin?

He was a consummate manipulator of people to pursue his own agenda.  Whatever it took to gain power, that’s what he would do.  The substance of the complaints was secondary to his egotistical goal.

Some of the Levites, including himself, wanted to be priests instead of Aaron and his sons – a religious issue. Fine, Korah massaged their frustration with his own.

The Dathan and Abiram crowd wanted political leadership to get them out of the desert and into the Promised Land right now with no more waiting.  Fine, Korah latched onto their discontent, met with them, gained their allegiance and formulated a plan to challenge the divine mandate God had given to Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who appointed Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who delivered the people from Egypt, not Moses and Aaron.

He forgot…or refused to acknowledge…that it was GOD who decreed the prolonged stay in the desert because of the rebellion of the people, not Moses and Aaron.

He failed to realize that his fight was not with Moses and Aaron but with God Himself.

The root of his problem goes back to the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted more than the incredible abundance God had already given them.  Korah made the same mistake. Korah was born into the tribe of Levi.  That, in itself, was a great privilege and accorded him special privileges among God’s people.  But he didn’t think that was good enough.  Like Esau, Korah despised his birthright and wanted what was not his to have.  The result was tragic, not just for him but for hundreds of others.

One last curious fact: notice that Korah and his 250 companions were in front of the Tabernacle with their fire pans, so there were 251 Levites there.  The text says that fire came out of heaven and consumed the 250.  Which one of those 251 was spared?? Let me know what you think below.

In Tune with Torah this week = God created you with your own unique destiny and sent you to this earth with your own unique purpose. The human tendency to compare oneself with others, to want what they have, not just materially, but in talents, skills and opportunities is a base drive that must be disciplined if we are to live a peaceful and productive life.  Korah’s story challenges us to accept God’s plan for us with gratitude and joy, to live it out with enthusiasm and to refuse any jealousy or envy that tries to take root in our souls.

Shabbat Shalom

Don’t forget to leave a comment – and your idea of which one of the 251 Levites was not consumed by fire.



Weekly Torah Commentary – Matot-Masei July 17, 2015

Bamidbar/Numbers 33-36
The Danger of Suspicion

In this week’s Torah reading we learn that two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, see that the land east of the Jordan is ideally suited as pasture for their large herds and flocks of livestock. Accompanied by half the tribe of Manasseh, they approach Moses and ask to have permission to settle there rather than cross the Jordan. Moses is initially furious at their request. Doing so will demoralize the rest of the people, he protests: “Shall your fellow countrymen go to war while you sit here?” Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies who, by discouraging the people through their behavior, condemned an entire generation to forty years of wandering in the desert?

The Reubenites and Gadites get the point. They reply that they have no intention to separate themselves from the struggles of their brethren and are fully prepared to accompany them into the promised land and fight alongside them. “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.” Moses requires them to declare a public pledge to this effect and grants their request on condition that they fulfill their word. “When the land is conquered before God you may then return, free of any obligation before God and Israel and this land will be yours as your permanent property before God.”

The italicized phrase is the basis for an ethical axiom in Judaism. It is not enough to do what is right in the eyes of God. We are admonished to conduct ourselves in such a way as to be above suspicion. Our behavior and ethics should be above reproach.

All well and good but we know that at times the innocent are accused unjustly. Why?

Because the tendency to judge another is all too common in mankind.

We criticize in others what we do not like about ourselves. Let’s suppose you’re shy and someone in your workplace or class is outgoing and the proverbial ‘life of the party’. Because you would be embarrassed to be the center of attention, you don’t like it when someone else is and you get offended. So you ‘judge’ them as ‘show-off’s’. Perhaps what you really dislike is that they have the freedom to be themselves and for one reason or another, you feel that you don’t. Or somewhere along the line, you’ve decided that there’s something “wrong” with being shy.

We criticize in others what we are unwilling to deal with in ourselves. It’s easier to dislike it “out there” than take the steps to change ourselves. Haven’t you been around someone complaining about another person’s behavior and you think to yourself, “That’s funny, they do the same thing they are finding fault with in their friend!”

We criticize out of envy or jealousy. Do you find yourself resenting other people’s success, rather than being inspired by it? Are you prone to ‘brag’ about being poor, for example, because you resent those who are financially secure?

Most of our judgments towards others are attempts to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Maturity increases as we understand that each person we encounter has something to teach us if we’ll be humble enough to learn.

The sad part about it all is that most of our judgments are false because we presume to know the motive or thought pattern of the person we are judging. The Torah forbids us to do so. We hardly know our own inner workings, let alone have the right to pronounce judgment on others. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 By contrast, Proverbs 16:9 enjoins us: Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. Judgment of others is, after all, an act of pride, of ego.

In Tune with Torah this week = The Word of God teaches us to ‘love one another as yourself’. The ‘Golden Rule’ says ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The spiritually mature chooses humility and compassion towards others, fleeing from a judgmental spirit and thereby, reflecting the image and likeness of the Almighty in whose image we have been created.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Korach June 18, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 16 – 18

This week’s reading contains one of the more dramatic events in the wilderness – the rebellion of Korach and his companions.

Korach rebukes Moses: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” (Num. 16:3).

First problem with his accusation is that Moses did not “set himself above” the children of Israel; God called him to that position and responsibility. In judging Moses’ intent, Korach actually reveals a great deal about his own character.

Someone may argue that his comment is in keeping with what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

The problem is that Korach does not mean what he says. He opposes the leadership of Moses because he himself wants the position! “All are equal, but some are more equal than others” is the seventh command in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, his critique of Stalinist Russia.

According to Jewish law, even a king is commanded to be humble. He is to carry a Torah scroll with him and read from it all the days of his life “so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites” (Deut. 17:19-20.

Biblical leadership is not a matter of status but of function. A leader is not one who exalts himself higher than those he or she leads. The absence of hierarchy does not mean the absence of leadership. An orchestra needs a conductor. A team needs a captain.

A leader need not have ‘better’ skills or talents than those he leads. His role is different. He is there to inspire, to co-ordinate, to make sure that everyone is following the same script, traveling in the same direction, acting as a community rather than a group of prima donnas. The leader must have a vision and communicate it. Whether he likes it or not, at times he has to impose discipline.

Without leadership even the most impressive group of individuals will produce not music but noise. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). That is what happens when there is no leadership.

According to the Bible, a leader is a servant; to lead is to serve. Anything else is not leadership as the Torah portrays and understands it.

This is what Korach did not realize: it is not that Moses was a different kind of being than we are all called to be. It is that he epitomized it to the utmost degree. The less there is of self in one who serves God, the more there is of God. Moses was the supreme exemplar of the principle, that “Where you find humility, there you find greatness.”

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at humility. What is it really? Do I have any??
Humility is recognizing who God made you and embracing it. The genuinely humble person is not phony. He realistically evaluates the gifts and talents he/she has received from the Lord, is thankful and diligent to use those in service to God and others, always and foremost aware that all the glory belongs to the Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Tetzaveh February 7, 2014


This week’s parashah begins with God commanding Moses “And as for you, you shall instruct the Israelites to bring you pure olive oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the Eternal Lamp (v. 20).” At first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual. Isn’t God simply giving Moses yet another instruction concerning the construction of the Mishkan?

What caught our attention is the phrase: ‘and as for you.’ It’s different from the other instructions and a little study reveals that there are two other times where God’s directions begin with this same phrase: ‘and as for you.’

1) “Bring forth your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites to serve me as priests (28:1)” and 2) “speak[ing] to all who are wise of heart … to make Aaron’s vestments for consecrating him to serve Me as priest (28:3).” Both of these are prefaced with ‘an as for you.’ Why?

All three instances are directly related to laws concerning the priesthood, something that was going to be Aaron’s prerogative and not that of Moses.

The Sages point out that when Moses was before the Burning Bush, he begged God to use someone else. God’s response is to tell Moses that, because of his unwillingness to take up the mission to which God is calling him, he will not be permitted to partake of the priesthood, except for the brief period of 7 days when the Mishkan is being dedicated. Afterwards, the priesthood belongs to Aaron and his descendants.

Though some would interpret this as a punishment of sorts, Moses’s reaction was to rejoice over the blessed call given to Aaron. Aaron likewise rejoices at God’s choice of Moses as the leader who will deliver Israel from the Pharaoh.

In the Torah we are told that Moses’ primary attributes were that of greatness and humility. In reality it is his humility that is at the heart of his greatness. Though Aaron is appointed High Priest, Moses’s humility allows him to rejoice, much as his humility caused him to reject God’s initial call for fear that Aaron, being the elder brother, would be hurt. This is the meaning underlying the seemingly innocuous “and as for you” that begins the command for Moses to prepare the oil, decorate the courtyard of the mishkan and instruct others to prepare Aaron’s garments.

Properly understood, this phrase “and as for you” is not a punishment at all. It instead is an acknowledgement by God of Moses’ humility and his consequent ability to rejoice in the blessing given to his brother.

Being able to rejoice over the blessings given to others is a wonderful character trait and is the mark of a spiritually mature person; that is to say, one who is not egotistical or self-absorbed, thinking all good things should be theirs. The lack of humility breeds jealousies and resentments and betrays a lack of acceptance for God’s call and direction in one’s own life.

The ability to embrace one’s own purpose and position in life, right along with that of others, is a wonderful trait and in addition to demonstrating maturity, also conveys a deep faith in God’s guiding hand as well as an attitude of thanksgiving for one’s own blessings.

In Tune with Torah this week = Whenever our ego rears its head and urges us to move away from friends and family, and even from God, we need to remember the humility and integrity of Moses who after his initial struggle, embraced his own calling and was then free to rejoice in the calling and blessings of others.

Shabbat Shalom