Weekly Torah Commentary – Mattot-Maasei July 21, 2017

Torah reading:  Numbers 30 – 36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 2:  4-28, 3:4, 4: 1-2

Jeremiah begins this reading by recounting the faithfulness of the Israelites to God during the early years in the wilderness. Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, how you followed Me in the wilderness through a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD.’  Jer. 2: 2-3

But when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they became a bit too friendly with the locals and began to worship their gods. First they began to make friends with the Canaanites. Then they intermarried with them.  Then they began to worship the Canaanite gods of wood and stone. It was then that God punished them for their faithlessness.

Jeremiah reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them but that they, the Israelites, had abandoned him for these pieces of stone and wood. And so God says:

“For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters,
and cut them out cisterns,
broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13).

To this day, every drop of water in Israel is precious. The Israelites knew what it was to dig cisterns to collect runoff, and they knew what it was to lift buckets of water from the cistern and carry them to their gardens.

God said, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water”—the mountain spring that flows faithful and pure—the artesian well that provides abundant water. “They have forsaken me…, and cut cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The issue was idolatry—the chasing after false gods. Jeremiah called God’s people to return to the true God of their fathers.

What does this have to do with us today?  It has everything to do with us today. What is idolatry, after all, but putting something else in God’s place; giving greater value to something earthly than to the Holy One of Israel Himself?  Whatever is more important to us than God Himself and our relationship with Him is an idol – plain and simple!

Chaplain (Major General) Kermit Johnson, a former Army Chief of Chaplains used to warn chaplains about something that he called SAM, the destroyer. When a chaplain left the Army in disgrace, it was usually because of SAM. He could have said that SAM constitutes our idolatry. What is SAM? SAM stands for sex, alcohol and money.

It should not surprise us that sex would be one of the idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Sex is the goddess of the century. It pervades our media and our entertainment and presents a total perversion of what God intended it to be.  Our modern culture deludes us by promising us without consequences, making the morals of our parents and grandparents obsolete.

But sex without rules has not lived up to its promise and in many ways has been the near-ruin of the family in country after country.

Alcohol is another one of the destroyers—another idol— alcohol and drugs.  For an alcoholic or drug addict, nothing is more important than their fix! The next fix is more important than God, family or life itself. Those who are recovering alcoholics or who have been delivered from drug addiction know very well how destructive—and idolatrous—alcohol and drugs really are.

And it should come as no surprise that money is one of our modern idols—one of the things that we love more than God. Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America, said, “The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry.”

The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Money itself is not condemned nor the possession of money but the love of money.  When our decisions are based more on money than on God’s will and His ways, that’s when money becomes an idol and a destroyer of individuals and families.

But SAM—Sex, Alcohol and Money—is only part of our idolatry. This may surprise you but it has been suggested that Health is the most modern idolatry.  Ellen Goodman, a Newsweek columnist, penned some thought-provoking words on our health fetish. She said:

“The old taboos were religious. Ours are medical.
Our ancestors talked about risks to the soul,
and we talk about risks to our bodies.…
Our focus on these matters is religious in its intensity.”

Are there not people today whose whole lives revolve around their cholesterol count? Health is important and yes, we are responsible to take care of our physical bodies but when it becomes an obsession, ‘health’ becomes another idol. When we care more about the health of the body and too little about the health of the soul, our physical health has become an idol.

At what point does anything become idolatry?  When we put something other than God on God’s throne.  And know this: there’s a certain characteristic of idols that never fails: idols will betray us.  When we put our faith in anything more than we put our faith in God, sooner or later, that ‘idol’ will fail us.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:24

In Tune with Torah this week =  God’s people are His ‘cherished possession.’  He does not take it lightly when we consider anything in our lives as more important than Him.  He is jealous over us with a righteous jealousy for after all, He is our Creator and Father! Jeremiah called the people of Israel to love God and to put Him in first place in their lives. The greatest commandment is this: Hear, O Israel, the LORD is God; the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your possessions. Deuteronomy 6:4-5


Weekly Torah Commentary – May 18, 2017 Behar-Bechukotai

Torah Reading: Leviticus 25 – 25

Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

This week’s Haftorah reading opens with these uplifting words:

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of distress.

With these words, Jeremiah overcomes his impatience and his struggle to believe what God has promised in light of everything he can see with the natural eye.  To Jeremiah, had come the promise of the restoration of His people to their land but the prophet was experiencing what many of us have experienced.  The outward circumstances at the time seemed diametrically opposed to what God had said and Jeremiah was tempted to waver in unbelief.  But for us, as well as for Jeremiah, the good news is that the Lord ‘remembers that we are but dust’ and shows Himself  to His people, as a strong hold to prisoners of hope, and a strong tower or place of defense to all his saints: ‘my refuge in the day of distress’. What a comforting and reassuring verse!

A few verses later (17:5-8), God speaks to the prophet again and graphically describes the difference between the man who trusts in God and the man who doesn’t.  Here are His words:

Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trust in people and makes flesh his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.  For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wasteland in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitants. (vs. 5-6)

A sobering assessment. The message here is not that we should never trust another human being. What a sad life that would be! Rather, the message is that the man who puts more trust in what other people can do for him, who looks to earthly minded and fallible human beings for all of his needs and all of his questions, is ‘cursed’; that is, he will never be satisfied for another human being can never be the final answer to our deepest need: only God is.  And the Bible tells us He is a jealous God.  You should be happy about that because it means that God loves you enough to want your undivided love and loyalty in return.

To rely on this world’s systems is utter folly. History has demonstrated the instability inherent in even the best that this world has to offer.  Why? Because this world is temporary.  As long ago as the days of Isaiah, God revealed that He would one day make a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22). At the final Redemption this will happen as sure as you are reading these words right now. For God cannot lie.  Since He said He will do it, He will.


Therefore, what is man to do? The answer is in the next verses:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit. (vs. 7-8)

This is one of several places in the Bible where God uses the analogy of a tree to describe man.  A tree planted on the banks of a river or a stream flourishes because of the readily available water supply to support its life.  It has no fear of summer’s heat, its leaves stay green and even in a time of drought, it brings forth fruit.

In Isaiah 44:3 the LORD says: For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon your seed, and my blessing upon your offspring.

The man who puts his trust in the LORD, rather than people, will ‘thirst’ like a tree for the living water of which Jeremiah spoke earlier in his book:  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer.2:13). God Himself is the living water necessary for our life.

The prophet repeats the same concept a few verses past the ones we are now studying:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake You shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.  Jer. 17:13

Twice, God declares that He Himself is like a fountain of living water, a Source that never runs dry.  Water is essential for life; natural water for the body, spiritual ‘water’ for our souls.  And what is spiritual ‘water’? The revealed Word of God, the Bible.

The blessed man is the one who realizes and internalizes this truth and knows that he knows that he knows that in God alone is everything he will ever need or desire.  In His Word are found the understandings, the insights, the directions and the illustrations that help us understand what it truly means to have a ‘successful’ life.

Life happens; and the ‘happenings’ are not always to our personal liking.

God doesn’t ‘happen’; God IS.  He is the only reliable Source for life, health, peace, love and everything else that enriches our time on this earth.

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever your need is today, God is the answer.  Whatever your question is, God has the answer. Whatever may be confusing you, God has the solution.

Blessed is the man who TRUSTS in the LORD.

Shabbat Shalom




Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim Feb. 24, 201

Torah reading: Exodus 21-24

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26

This week’s haftorah reading is directly related to the first verse of the Torah reading in Exodus 21, in which God commands that anyone who has a Hebrew slave must grant him freedom after six years and send him away  with provision that will enable him to begin a new life.

The words in Hebrew translated as ‘Hebrew slave’ are eved ivri, which literally means a Hebrew worker or employee, not a ‘slave’ in the context of that word in modern thinking.  In ancient times, someone who had a debt they could not re-pay would voluntarily ‘work off their debt’ by serving in the household of the one to whom they owed the money.  In the Torah, God made clear that no one was to be such an eved ivri for more than six years and in fact, when the master released the worker, he was to provide him with whatever was needed for the newly freed servant to establish a new life.  The fundamental concept is that we are always to treat others with dignity, even and especially if they have fallen on hard times.

Fast forward to today’s haftorah:

“The word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people that were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; that every man should let his man-servant, and every man his maid-servant, that is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free; that none should make bondmen of them, of a Jew his brother. And all the princes and all the people obeyed, that had entered into the covenant, that everyone should let his man-servant, and everyone his maid-servant, go free, that none should make bondmen of them any more; they obeyed, and let them go. But those owners changed their minds and forced their former servants back into slavery. Jeremiah 34:8-9


Jeremiah addresses a situation in the Jerusalem of his day in which the population conducted a hypocritical ceremony of emancipation of their household servants only to re-‘enslave’ them shortly afterward.  God was outraged at such behavior and considered it treacherous and shameless, particularly because those who did so were themselves descendants of slaves that God Himself undertook to deliver from Egypt in a miraculous way.  He commanded in the Torah that His people were to be ‘holy as He is holy’ and to treat one’s fellowman as He treated them.

Therefore, the punishment inflicted upon them was justly deserved.

What made the peoples’ sin even worse was that they broke a covenant. To break a covenant was a grievous sin – and still is.  Therefore, the people suffered the consequence.

This reading reminds us that every decision has consequences not only for ourselves but for those around us.  And the decisions we make regarding how we treat each other are particularly important to God.

Has God been merciful to you when you needed mercy? Yes. Then in turn you are to be merciful towards those in need, towards those who have offended you, towards those who disagree with you.

Has God been good to you? Yes.  Then in turn you are to show goodness and kindness towards others.  It should be the natural result of your own awareness of God’s kindness towards you?

Has God been patient with you? We can all say a resounding ‘Yes’! Then it behooves us to learn patience in dealing with those around us, as the proper expression of gratitude to the LORD for His patience with us.

This is the lesson the Israelites had not learned and therefore, they paid the consequence.

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service’. But your fathers did not listen to Me or incline their ears to Me.  You recently repented and did was what right in My eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before Me in the house that is called by My name.  But then you turned around and profaned My name when each of you took back his male and female servants, whom you had set free according to their desire and you brought them back into subjection.  Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed Me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor.  Behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence and to famine, declares the LORD.  I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  Jeremiah 34:12 -16

God did not take lightly the fact that the people promised ‘in the house that is called by My name’ to obey the Word of the LORD and then almost immediately, took it back.  It was a mockery and an insult to His holiness and God took it personally.

He still does.

When we mistreat others in violation of His commandment that we are to love one another, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.  When we make a promise to Him and then ignore or dismiss it, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.


At least two questions arise out of this passage.  1) Am I treating others with the same kindness with which God treats me?  2) Am I a person of my word? When I make a promise, do I keep it?

The answers to those questions are supremely important to our God.

Shabbat Shalom



Weekly Torah Commentary – Bo February 3, 2017

Torah Reading:  Exodus 10:1-13:16

Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 46:13-28

Jeremiah 46:27 But fear not thou, O Jacob my servant, neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear not thou, O Jacob my servant, saith Jehovah, for I am with thee: for I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee; but I will not make a full end of thee, but I will correct thee in measure, and will in no wise leave thee unpunished.

This verses states emphatically that nothing whatever will be able to thwart the eternal purpose of God in providing redemption for all mankind through the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Despite the fact that the Chosen people had become a degenerate, a corrupt vine instead of the noble vine that God had planted, they will not be able to countermand or destroy God’s intention. They indeed failed, but God did not fail.

We need to understand the difference between an oath and a promise, which are two of the ways, among others, by which God speaks to us.  He has given many promises such as ‘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 forgive their sin and heal their land.’  2 Chronicles 7:14  The most important word in this passage is ‘If’. We readily understand that the promise comes with a condition: IF we will humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, then God will heal our land in response to His peoples’ prayers, repentance and humility.  That is a promise of God.

An oath, on the other hand, is when God speaks without condition; when He utters a pronouncement which will never be changed and which you can be absolutely sure will happen.  For example, immediately after Abraham was prevented from offering his son, Isaac, on Mt. Moriah and substituted a ram instead, the LORD spoke to Abraham in an oath:  ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gates of their enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed My voice.  Genesis 22:16-18  When God says ‘By Myself I have sworn…’ that is an oath which carries with it the utter impossibility of it not coming to pass.  There may not be a time frame given but if God said it in oath language, it WILL happen.  In this case, the blessings to Abraham did not follow an ‘If you will..’ clause. Rather, Abraham had already obeyed God in faith and God’s response was to pronounce a massive blessing that would span generations.

So it is with the passage above in this week’s Haftorah.  The LORD pronounces an unchangeable decree that though He discipline Israel for their transgressions, He will not leave them nor forsake them.  He has promised the same to each of us.  He will discipline us when we need it for a loving Father always does, but He will never leave us nor forsake us.

This entire chapter of Jeremiah gives an extensive view of what it will be like for mankind when one world power, such as Egypt, is overcome by another world power.  Human life in all such situations is considered a very cheap and expendable factor; and the sorrows of the human race appear are almost beyond the powers of our imagination to fully comprehend.

Though uncomfortable to some, it is important to remind ourselves that there will be a Day of Judgment; that each of us will have to stand before the Almighty and render an account of what we have done with the life He so freely bestowed on us.


In Tune with Torah this week = How often we do bring to mind that our life is a gift? That each day is a new gift from God? That He expects us to make good use of the time He has allotted to us, not to serve ourselves but to do good to others?  Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone – Today, while it is still today, serve the Lord in joy and in holiness.

Shabbat Shalom