Weekly Torah Commentary- April 20, 2018 Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

God has given us an explicit command regarding how He expects us to live.  It is a commandment found in this week’s Torah portion. Leviticus 11:44 and Leviticus 20:26 say: “You must be holy because I am holy.”

holiness2

You must be holy because God is holy…But what does it mean to be holy? What is holiness?

Let’s make it simple, shall we? Holiness is the fruit of a life wholly devoted to God and His purposes.

For some people, “holiness” is viewed as too difficult to achieve.

Depending on our upbringing and religious background, we can have legalistic notions of holiness or we can have moralistic notions of holiness. We can behave as if holiness is either outdated or something that only needs to effect a small part of our lives. Yet, God has commanded us “You must be holy because I am holy.”

When you think about being holy what comes into your mind? Thoughts of outmoded ways of dressing or the shunning of fashion and makeup? Or do you rather think in terms of morality, purity, integrity and commitment to a personal relationship with God?

What does really God expect of us?

The biblical idea of holiness, while it includes private morality, also means much, much more.  Holiness is about living the life God has planned and purposed for us. It is about living according to God’s standards and precepts, not by the world’s standards, not by our own standards, living by God’s standards. Holiness is not just for the advanced spiritually-elite.  The call to holiness is to everyone, regardless of status.

We are daily inundated with attitudes, principles and values that are diametrically opposed to the principles and values of the sacred Scriptures.  In order to successfully steer the direction and decisions of our life according to godly principles, we must know the Word of God and choose continually to live in accord with its teaching, which is the path to holiness.

Psalm 119 offers us tremendous wisdom in this regard.

You are only truly happy when you walk in total integrity, walking in the light of God’s Word. What joy overwhelms everyone who keeps the ways of God, those who seek Him as their heart’s passion.  (vs. 1-2)

God has prescribed the right way to live; obying His commandments with all our hearts. (vs. 4)

How can a young man stay pure? Only by living in the word of God and walking in its truth.  (vs. 9)

Give me revelation about the meaning of Your ways so I can enjoy the reward of following them fully. Give me an understanding heart so that I can passionately know and obey Your truth.  (vs. 33-34)

Truth’s shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of Your Word makes my pathway clear. To live my life by Your righteous commands has been my holy and lifelong commitment.  (vs. 105-106)  All quotations from the Passion Translation.

Holiness is neither a scary calling, nor is it impossible.  Holiness is not an event but a journey which encompasses our entire life. It is a way of life marked by progress, not perfection.  It is a calling that picks us up after we’ve failed and draws us forward after we’ve been stagnant.

Holiness is simply this: living each day with the intent of pleasing our heavenly Father in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Andrew Murray of South Africa said it this way over a century ago: the greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us. In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is lack of humility. The holiest will be the humblest.

Elizabeth Elliott: God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.

In Tune with Torah this week:  do you want to grow in holiness?  Well, then, consider this.
Let your thoughts, words and deeds by persistently God-like, determinedly holy, immovably honest, and passionately kind.

Shabbat Shalom
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For a few weeks at present, the Torah readings overseas are a week behind the Torah readings in Israel.  This post is following the Israeli schedule of Torah readings.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzav March 23, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 7: 21-28, 9:22-23

“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out”  Leviticus 6:6

FireAltar

Many people find the study of Leviticus difficult as it deals with the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle and the priesthood.  What we need to understand is that every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the sanctuary of God within us – our spirit.

The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was a visible physical one. As applied to us in the spiritual sense, this verse means that the fire of our love for God, though it cannot be measured outwardly, must nevertheless be outward.  Our love for God is to be of such a nature that it is evident to others in the way we live.

If a ‘fire for God’ burns continually in our spirit, what flows from that fire will be true righteousness, effective service.  A truly spiritual life is contagious.  It provokes others to reach out to a higher level of living for God.

Good works alone do not always testify to good character; but good character will always produce good works.  It is primarily the condition of our hearts that God is after.   Many good works can be done for ulterior or self-serving motives, or simply out of routine without thought of glorifying God.

Nothing great is ever accomplished in life without passion. Nothing great is ever sustained in life without passion. Passion is what energizes life. Passion makes the impossible possible. Passion gives you a reason to get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to honor God with my life today.” Without passion life becomes boring, monotonous and routine.

Passion is what mobilizes armies into action. Passion is what causes explorers to boldly go where no man’s gone before. Passion is what causes scientists to spend late night hours trying to find the cure to a dreaded disease. Passion is what takes a good athlete and turns him or her into a great athlete who breaks records.

Passion is an essential ingredient in a successful life – in the natural world and in the spiritual world. God created you with the emotions to have passion in your life and He wants you to live a passionate life.

Being passionate about God has nothing to do with either your personality or your age. Some of the most spiritual and inspiring people I’ve known – from fifteen to ninety-five – were as unique and different from each other as they could be, but in one characteristic they were all the same – they were passionate about God.  Their passion impacted me, inspired me, convicted me.  Have you met people like that?

Perhaps you may say, ‘I remember when I was passionate about God but I must admit I’m not quite that way now.’

Here are seven ‘passion killers’. Which one has robbed you of your passion?

1- Imbalance between your natural life and your spiritual life.  If all of your energies are spent on being busy, busy, busy with no time for God, you’ll lose your passion for God and passion for life.

2- unused talent – Talents are gifts from God. He did not give you special abilities just to sit on them and do nothing about it. Use it or you’re going to lose it.  This principle is easily seen in terms of the physical body. Unused muscles atrophy.

3-unconfessed sin – Few things rob your joy, your confidence and your passion, more quickly than guilt. You can’t feel guilt and passion at the same time because guilt by its very definition robs you of passion. Confess it, repent and ask forgiveness.

4-unresolved conflict – Conflict drains the passion right out of you. Do you ever start a day and it’s going to be a great day. You’re awake from the moment you get up.  You’re on the way out the door and you get in an argument with your husband, your wife or your teenager. All the zip goes out of your doo-dah. It’s like the air going out of a tire. Your passion disappears just as quickly. If you want the passion to be restored in your heart, in your life, you have to forgive. You have to let it go.

5- lack of community. Some lose their passion for God because they’re not spending time around other people who have a passion for God.  We need each other. We all stumble at times. So we all need people to help us up in our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes says it this way: “Two are better than one… because if one falls down his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”  Eccles. 4:9-10  If you want to keep your passion for God alive, you need to hang around people who are passionate for God !  It’s just that simple!

6- an unclear purpose –  Forgetting the purpose for your life is a sure way to kill your passion for life and for God. If you don’t know the purpose for life, why bother? Why put forth the effort? Why get out of bed? Life without purpose is activity without direction; it’s motion without meaning. Life without purpose is trivial, petty, and pointless.

Passion is waking up in the morning and jumping out of bed because you know there’s something out there that you love to do, that you believe in, that God made you for and you’re good at; something that’s bigger than you are and you can hardly wait to get at it again. It’s something that you’d rather be doing more than anything else.

7- an undernourished spiritual life – you must intentionally nourish your spirit. If you don’t do it nobody else is going to do it for you. How do you do that?  Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Deut. 8:3

Do you know you can have a vibrant, energetic body but a shriveled up, puny spirit on the inside?  Reality check! Our human bodies have a time limit; our spirits don’t. Death is but the transference from the physical realm to the spiritual realm where true life awaits us.  Taking care of our physical body but neglecting our inner spirit is consummate foolishness. We must feed our spirits by reading and meditating on God’s Word, by prayer and personal quiet times alone with Him.

In Tune with Torah this week = How many of these ‘passion killers’ spoke to you? Will you do something about it?  To be a light to others, there’s got to be some fire in you!  This shabbat, make an honest assessment of yourself.  Are you passionate about God? Does the fire of His love affect the way you live?

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 16, 2018

Torah reading: Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 45:18-46

Leviticus 4:29  He shall lay his hand upon the head of the sin offering.

atonement4

This short sentence holds a wealth of meaning.  Let’s take a close look at it.

In this one sentence, Spirit-inspired Scripture teaches us how a sacrifice benefits the one who offers it. The very same procedure for sacrifice is commanded in Leviticus 4:4, 15, 24 and 33.  There was an old saint I knew years ago who used to say ‘If God says something once in His book, pay attention. If He says it twice, really pay attention.  If He says it three or more times, stop everything and meditate on what He said.’  I am reminded of his comment every time I read through this portion of Leviticus.

Why did God command the Israelites to offer sacrifice anyway? Many people question the practice and find it a difficult concept.

 

First of all, this text is speaking specifically of the sin offering. Therefore, it implies that a sin had been committed and the person who sinned has acknowledged and repented of their sin. Under the Mosaic convenant, their repentance was verified in the offering of a sacrifice.

Secondly, the ‘sinner’ who came to present a sacrifice, by the very act of doing so, understood that there had to be a substitute to atone for his sin. Even a casual reading of the Torah awakens you to the fact that there were many sins for which the only appropriate punishment was death.  The justice of God demands death for sin, because sin – of any kind – is far more serious in God’s eyes than we generally think.  Consider: He created you, gave you life, presented you with His revealed Word, provides what you need.  To sin against such a loving God and Father is indeed despicable.  As one Rabbi said, ‘Considering all that God has done for you, to sin against Him is pure insanity.’

It was God’s love that created the principle of sacrificial substitution to provide the sinner with a second chance…and a third…and a fourth.  In the book of Lamentations we read: The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. Lam. 3:22-23

Thirdly, offering implied an acceptance by God of the victim offered.  When the priest laid his hands on the head of the sacrifice, in God’s eyes, the guilt of the sin for which this offering was being presented, was transferred to the animal who died on behalf of the sinner so the sinner could live.  Watching the slaying of the animal seared on the sinner’s conscience the seriousness of sin and was designed to act as a strong deterrent against further sin in the penitent’s life.

Under the Mosaic covenant, whoever sinned against the LORD and regretted their action, was required to sincerely repent – have a change of heart; they had to bring an animal to be slaughtered to ‘stand in’ on their behalf in order that the penitent not be stoned to death or killed in any other manner. It was not until this atonement was made, that the penitent was declared forgiven and released from the punishment due to his sin.

Now we clearly see why it is written later in Leviticus: For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’  Leviticus 17:11

In Tune with Torah this week = If you’ve ever questioned the significance of the blood sacrifices, my prayer is that you will see them in a new light. It is the LOVE of God that prompted the sacrificial system to demonstrate His understanding and compassion towards our human frailty, but also His Divine Will that we not remain in our weakness and frailty but through repentance and recognition of what the Sacrifice really means, we might grow in the knowledge and love of God, becoming men and women of holiness.

Isn’t it amazing?  All that is contained in one short sentence!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayikra March 31, 2017

Torah reading:  Leviticus 1-5

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23

“This is what the LORD says – Israel’s King and His Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).

In this passage, the LORD says a number of things about himself to reveal his true nature to His people. What we end up seeing is a multi-faceted God who is many things to his people.

First, God gives his name in the Hebrew, YHVH. That is the most holy name of God, the personal name of the covenant God.

Then he expresses one of his titles, the King of Israel. Above and beyond the great David and the wise Solomon, the real King of Israel is still the LORD God Himself.

Thirdly, the LORD calls himself Redeemer, the One who delivers his people from bondage and sin, gloriously demonstrated in the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt through miraculous signs and wonders.

Isaiah44

Isaiah had employed these names before in speaking of God, but this next one is new.

The LORD Almighty can be translated the ‘YHWH of Armies’ or the ‘LORD of hosts.’ What it means is that our God has at his disposal all armies, earthly and heavenly. God has the resources to carry out anything and everything He desires or decrees.

If we could meditate on those names alone we would wrestle for a lifetime with all that they mean. But there is more.

He says he is the First and the Last. The first and the last…mysterious, inspiring and captivating descriptions.

The LORD is First in that He does not derive His life from anywhere else. He is self-existing and self-sufficient. He is eternally present and the eternal “I AM.”

He is the Last in that He remains at the end of all things supreme and totally fulfilled. He is so complete that no one can add or take away anything from Him. He is the beginning and the end; the Creator and the Judge; the full revelation and the final authority. The LORD says, “…apart from me there is no God.”

What an awesome God! “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it,” says the LORD. Dumb idols made of rock cannot speak. That is so plain to see…or is it?

What the LORD wanted His people to do was stand as witnesses that there is only One God. “You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (44:8).

Now there we have yet another metaphor for our God – He is the Rock. There is nothing else reliable to rest upon. The Rock is a symbol of refuge, trustworthiness and changeless integrity. Did you know that Moses wrote the first rock song? In Deuteronomy 32 God is called “the Rock” several times and Moses cries out at one point, “For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede” (32:31). This hard rock song belts out the fact that God is a great foundation to build on and a matchless Savior. Who is like our God? Other rock songs sing the same tune: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Ps 62:6).

Why then were the Jews making images out of rock, wood and other precious items and calling them gods in the time of Isaiah? One reason stands out: people want gods they can control. As Pascal said, “God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.”

What are idols? “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame” (44:9). Idols are nothing. But those who worship them reverse creation. God turned the chaos in Genesis 1 into his wonderful creation crowning it with the creation of humankind. When people make idols they form gods in their own likeness and turn creation back into chaos.

In Isaiah 44:10-13 we see that idols reflect the frailty of their makers. They create gods out of stone and wood and then build houses for them. How ridiculous. A man sweats and tires himself out creating a god that cannot move, speak or protect himself from the elements. Then he worships this thing. Would the true God need a house or require food? Does he have the same limitations as a man?

To be created in the image of God means that we are His servants; when we try to make God in our image means that we think He is our servant.  Wrong..wrong…triple wrong!

The truth about idols is this: What you can produce by your own intelligence and your own power is no more powerful than you yourself. If you cannot deliver yourself from your difficulty, how do you expect something you have made with your own hands to be able to do it?

What are our idols today? We don’t take a piece of wood and fashion it into our own image and worship it. Idols have different meanings today. An idol is simply this: anything you consider more precious, more important than God. Is there something that controls your life other than God? What drives us further from God? Consider these possible modern day idols or, shall we say, values:

Individualism: This idol has been predominant in our society for a few decades. I do what I want when I want and when I feel like it. My ideas and thoughts and judgments are significant; I will consider what God has to say but ultimately it’s my choice. The result is a lifestyle of your own choosing. Sex before marriage, homosexuality, and adultery are all on the rise because “no one can tell me what to do.” Respect for human life is on the decline because of our “right to choose.”

Wealth: Money drives us and opens up the doors of opportunity and pleasure in our world. But how many of our decisions are based on money as opposed to what God wants? If we have the money do we think we can do anything? Even more important, do we really think the money we have is “ours” alone? Does not the Torah teach us that money is a gift of God and therefore it is His right to direct us how to use the money He entrusts to us?  What controls our investments: Retiring with a nest egg or dying with treasures in heaven?

Entertainment: Do you seek after bring entertained? If it’s not fun then we don’t want to do it. Do you want to learn about God’s Word or do you want to do something more “fun”? We have become “fun addicts” so that if you are not enjoying yourself it’s pointless.  Really? Have you experienced the joyful excitement of learning God’s Word and discovering truth, revelation, wisdom, and guidance in its pages?

Good Deeds: A lot of people still believe that as long as you do good things and live a good life God will welcome you to heaven when you die; God is good so he won’t hold your beliefs against you as long as you are good enough.

That, my friends, is the creed of the secular philanthropist, not the faith system God has commanded His people to live by.  The prophet Habbakuk said it succintly: The righteous shall live by faith. (Hab. 2:4)  This is not to minimize good deeds such as kindness, compassion, integrity, caring for the poor and the widow and so on.  But it IS to say that good deeds for the sake of good deeds is not enough.  For it is FAITH that pleases God.  Abraham, long before the Ten Commandments were given, was considered righteous in God’s sight because of his FAITH, not for the ‘good deeds’ he had done.

Only the God who saves is worthy of praise! Isaiah returns to the truth about God in v. 21 and points out that there is one thing only God can really do: Save us!

“Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you” (44:21).

We see the basis for God’s faithfulness in saving his people: He made us. Man does not make God; God makes man. It’s so simple even a child knows this. Because he has made us for this grand purpose of worship he will not forget us. He wants us to love Him because He first loved us.

One of the greatest things He has done for us is that He has forgiven us. There is no perfect man on the face of the earth.  All have sinned, all have fallen short of the high calling of God. But He says: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (44:22). Think of the darkest, cloudiest day that you can remember. God has swept away those clouds with His powerful arm and revealed blue skies and golden, sun-drenched fields. That is the imagery Isaiah uses to paint the removal of sin. To take advantage of this great forgiveness all a person has to do is return to the LORD with humble hearts and repent of their wandering ways. Cry out to the LORD and he will save you with his abundant forgiveness.

Then we will see the glory of the LORD in all of creation. “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel” (44:23).

In Tune with Torah this week = taking time to meditate on Isaiah 44 is a vehicle for renewing your love, your faith and your humility before such a loving and awesome God.  He is for you; He has prepared a way for you to have an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Let not the idols of man pull you away from the greatest relationship every offered to man: a relationship with the God of Israel, the Holy One, your Redeemer.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor May 13, 2016

Leviticus 21-24

Embedded in this week’s Torah reading are two of the most fundamental commandments. We find them in verse 32 of Leviticus 22:

Do not desecrate My holy name.  I must be sanctified among the Israelites. I am the Lord who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.’

Lev22-32

The two commands basically tell us that we are 1) not to desecrate God’s Name but instead 2) to sanctify His Name.  What does that mean?

Your name is how you are known to other people.  It is the same with God.  His ‘name’ identifies Him and how people use His Name identifies their perception or lack therof of Who He is.  As those who love Him and revere His Name, it is our responsibility to demonstrate that love and respect in our conduct and our words.  This is what Isaiah meant when he wrote: “You are my witnesses, says God, that I am God” (Isaiah 43:10)

Did you get that?  Our lives and conduct are to witness Who God is!

The God of Israel is the God of all humanity. He created the universe and life itself. He made all of mankind in His image. He cares for all of us: “His tender mercies are on all his works” (Psalm 145:9).

Yet the God of Israel is radically unlike the pagan gods we read about. He is not identical with nature. He created nature. He is not identical with the physical universe. He transcends the universe. He is not capable of being mapped by science: observed, measured, quantified. He is the author of science. How then is He known?

We are God’s ambassadors to the world.  Therefore our behavior either sanctifies God’s Name or desecrates it.  The prophet who never tired of pointing this out was Ezekiel, the man who went into exile to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple. This is what he hears from God:

I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, “These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.” (Ezekiel 36:19)

When the Jews were defeated and sent into exile, it was not only a tragedy for them. It was a tragedy for God, like a parent would feel when he sees a child of his disgraced and sent to prison.  But when God’s people are faithful to their mission, when they live and lead and inspire others, then God’s name is exalted.

Maimonides described it this way:

If a person has been scrupulous in his conduct, gentle in his conversation, pleasant toward his fellow creatures, affable in manner when receiving, not retorting even when affronted, but showing courtesy to all, even to those who treat him with disdain, conducting his business affairs with integrity … And doing more than his duty in all things, while avoiding extremes and exaggerations – such a person has sanctified God.

God trusted us enough to make us His ambassadors to an often faithless, brutal world. The choice is ours. Will our lives ‘sanctify His Name’, or God forbid, do the opposite? To have done something, even one act in a lifetime, to make someone grateful that there is a God in heaven who inspires people to do good on earth, is perhaps the greatest achievement to which anyone can aspire.

In Tune with Torah this week = how closely does our behavior mirror the faith we profess? Do we take seriously our destiny to be God’s ambassadors to those around us?

Shabbat Shalom!

Please leave a comment below and feel free to share this weekly commentary with others.

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Acharei Mot April 29, 2016

Leviticus 16-18

In this week’s Torah reading, we learn all about the annual Day of Atonement which the God of Israel commanded the Jewish people to observe “as a perpetual ordinance.” The strangest element of the service was the ritual of the two goats – one offered as a sacrifice, the other sent away into the desert “to Azazel.” They were brought before the High Priest, to all intents and purposes indistinguishable from one another; they were chosen to be as similar as possible to one another in size and appearance. Lots were drawn, one bearing the words “To the Lord,” the other, “To Azazel.” The one on which the lot “To the Lord” fell was offered as a sacrifice. Over the other the high priest confessed the sins of the nation, and it was then taken away into the desert hills outside Jerusalem where it plunged to its death.

scapegoat

Sin and guilt offerings were common in ancient Israel, but this particular ceremony was unique. When those offerings were made, confession was made over the animal to be offered as a sacrifice. On the Day of Atonement, however, confession was made over the goat not offered as a sacrifice. Why? And who or what in the world was Azazel?

The word Azazel appears nowhere else in Scripture, and three major theories emerged as to its meaning. According to the Sages and Rashi it means “a steep, rocky or hard place,” in other words a description of its destination. According to Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides, Azazel was the name of a spirit or demon, one of the fallen angels referred to in Genesis 6:2.  The third interpretation is that the word simply means “the goat [ez] that was sent away [azal].” Hence the English word “scapegoat” coined by William Tyndale in his 1530 English translation of the Bible.

But the questions remain. Why was this ritual different from all other sin or guilt offerings? Why two goats rather than one?

The simplest answer is found within the commandment:  “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30). The routine offerings were for atonement. But on Yom Kippur there was something more: not only atonement but also purification, cleansing of the soul. Let me say it this way: you make ‘atonement’ for an offensive act. But purification is a work within the soul. It is possible to ‘atone’ for something we’ve done without necessarily receiving a soul cleansing if heart repentance does not accompany the act of atonement.

After his adultery with Batsheva, King David cried out in Psalm 51:4,  “Wash me thoroughly of my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin” (Psalm 51: 4).  And further on, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”  Repentance opens the door to forgiveness but the damage done to our soul when we sin, needs also to be ‘healed’ in a manner of speaking. When the scapegoat was sent away, it symbolically carried all the stains and damage done to the souls of the people when they rebelled against the Lord God; stains that were not physical but mental and emotional.  It is sometimes difficult to get rid of the sense of guilt and/or defilement after we have committed a transgression, even when we know we’ve been forgiven.

The sacrificed goat represented atonement. The goat sent away symbolized the inner cleansing of the moral stain. This brings to mind the the verse that says God casts our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west and He remembers them no more. (see Psalm 103)

Ironically, the scapegoat of Acharei Mot is the precise opposite of what we generally think  ‘scapegoat’ means. Our modern interpretation of “Scapegoating,” means blaming someone else for our troubles. The scapegoat of Yom Kippur existed so that we would do just the opposite: We do not blame others for our fate. We accept responsibility. In the prayer of Yom Kippur, we declare, “because of our sins.”

Those who blame others, defining themselves as victims, are destined to remain victims. Those who accept responsibility mature and grow into the godly men and women God desires to see among His people.

Shabbat Shalom!

Please leave a comment below and pass this on to someone who may be inspired and uplifted by it.

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — EMOR April 25, 2014

EMOR Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1 – 24:3

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering; seven complete Sabbaths shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall you number fifty days and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

We are presently in the process of obeying this commandment as we are in the days of the counting of the Omer, which leads up to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah.

Why would God, in remembrance of Pesach (Passover), command us to number or count these forty-nine days? The simple answer is that God wants us to realize the exodus out of Egypt was more than just the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The exodus was directly connected to their arrival at Mount Sinai and to the receiving of the Torah on the fiftieth day.

The Israelites had been weakened physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the Egyptians. The years of backbreaking labor had taken a physical toll on the people. It was hard for them to keep an emotional balance while living in slavery. Understandably, there were emotions of hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration. Spiritually they had been battered by the paganism of Egypt and their thousands of gods.

Their belief in the One True God had been passed down to them by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons. No doubt, among many of the people, there was a wavering of this belief because of the severity of their conditions.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “mitzrayim.” The root meaning of this word is ‘boundaries and limitations’. Thus, in Egypt there was an oppressive and restrictive atmosphere that hung over the Israelites. The Egyptians restrained the Israelites’ freedom of movement and their freedom of expression.

As the children of Israel left Egypt, they were freed from their oppressive constraints. They now had to shed their emotional baggage as well to prepare for the monumental experience of receiving the Torah. This meant that negative emotions; such as, hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration had to be replaced with the positive emotions of love, compassion, benevolence, harmony, and humility, to name a few.

We know the rest of the story. The Israelites did make it to Mount Sinai and they did receive the Torah; however, it was not without some major bumps along the way. There were complaints over water, food, and a major complaint over the whereabouts of Moses, which led to the golden calf incident. As a result, not everyone that left Egypt was standing at Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day.

What about us today, how can we apply the counting of the Omer to our lives?

We also have negative emotions that affect us through our surroundings. Today, our work load has been increased, prices of goods and commodities have risen, taxes have risen, and our overall ability to enjoy life has been diminished. Also, cultural norms have seeped into our lives with humanistic thought and behavior; slowly turning us away from God’s commandments to a morally bankrupt set of principles and practices.

What about the nation in which you live? And I live? Is our nation restricting our freedom of movement and restricting our freedom of expression? Our rights to travel, relocate, and voice our grievances with our national leaders were denied in Egypt prior to the exodus. What’s happening today?

Additionally, how would we judge our nation concerning its level of spiritual righteousness or spiritual impurity? Is our nation doing well or is it sinking close to the level of God’s judgment?

Because of the conditions surrounding us, the counting of the Omer takes on a new importance. It allows us personally to spend these forty-nine days exchanging our negative emotions for positive ones. The end result will be that we will arrive at a higher spiritual level, which will allow us to receive and understand the Torah in a greater way. Thus, we will let a greater light of Torah shine forth to the people around us, to our community, to our nation, and ultimately the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = this is the time to take inventory of our emotional life and determine whether or not we need to exchange irritability for patience, frustration for trusting prayer, fear for faith and stress for quiet confidence in our God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Portions of this week’s commentary were taken from an article found on THYME FOR THE SOUL magazine.