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 – Vayechi January 13, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 47:28-50:26

Haftorah reading: I Kings 2:1-12

Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ ”  I Kings 2: 1-4

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David, son of Jesse – Israel’s greatest king, apart from the Messiah – recognized that he was but a man and shared the common destiny of all men. Knowing he would soon pass from this life, David gave a final charge to his son, Solomon.

Perhaps David sensed some weakness in Solomon. Perhaps he knew Solomon would be tested in far greater ways than he was. Whatever the exact reason was, David knew Solomon needed strength and courage. Great responsibilities require great strength and courage.

David also knew that Solomon could not be strong or courageous without obedient fellowship with God. In this place of obedient fellowship, Solomon would prosper in all that he did.

David had a general reason to exhort Solomon to obedience, but he also had a specific reason, a specific promise of God. God promised David that as long as his sons walked in obedience, they would keep the throne of Israel. This was an amazing promise. No matter what the Assyrians or the Egyptians or the Babylonians did, as long as David’s sons were obedient and followed God with their heart and with all their soul, God would establish and protect their kingdom.

We love to read about the promises of God but sometimes overlook the condition tied to those promises.  The book of Deuteronomy is filled with the repetition of the words:  “If you will….I will…”  If WE will love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength, than HE will dispense blessing, protection and prosperity of soul and body to us in proportion to our obedience to Him.  This is an uncompromising principle in God’s Word.

Here are some examples of this principle:

Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all the nations you will be My treasured possession.  Exodus 19:5

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you, as He swore to your forefathers.  Deut. 7:12

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from the way that I command you today by following other gods which you have not known.   Deut. 11:26-28

If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the Lord, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.   Psalm 91:9-10

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land… Isaiah 1:18-19

The promises of God can be likened to a spiritual bank account.  He has placed those promises on deposit, not because of anything we have done but because of His own eternal covenantal integrity.  Our means of accessing those promises is obedient faith; i.e., to believe what God has said and to walk according to His ways.  That is what ‘takes us to the bank to make a withdrawal’.  To attempt a withdrawal without the ‘access code’ will get you nowhere!  Our ‘access code’ is obedience to the conditions.

God wants us to benefit from His promises.  If He didn’t, He wouldn’t have made them!

Application:

This Shabbat would be a great time to take the scriptures quoted above and in quiet reflection, examine our own hearts to see if there are conditions we have overlooked, dismissed or ignored.  Repentance is the way back.  May we all live in such a way that the blessings of the promises of God can flow freely into our lives.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary-Lech Lecha November 11, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 12 – 17                Haftorah reading: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,

Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  (Isaiah 40:28-31)

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We live in a world that prides itself in all its accomplishments. We live in a world that prides itself in being able to do anything it sets its mind to do, a world that has put men on the moon. We live in a world that has so much power stored up in it’s nuclear weapons, it could destroy itself a number of times over.

But where is your strength? Is it in the things of this world? Or as a child of God, are you fully aware where your strength comes from? Our strength is in the LORD, our faithful, covenant God.

The pages of Scripture are full of examples of God’s people placing their trust in the LORD and finding that He is a faithful God, finding that He does, indeed, give strength to those that wait upon Him. Who can forget Israel’s deliverance and victory over the Pharaoh?  Who can forget such men as Elijah, Elisha and Samson, who when they relied on the Lord, when they were faithful, God strengthened them to perform their duties.

When we ponder the lives of biblical personalities, we must be inspired not only by their amazing accomplishments but far more so, by their unshakeable faith in the God of Israel who granted them not simply physical strength but spiritual strength.  That’s the truth that is expressed in our text: God is the source of our spiritual strength and has taught us how to tap into His strength for daily life. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” That is the key.

The fact that the text speaks of our being renewed in strength, implies that there is a weakness. And the text explicitly describes that weakness. In Isaiah 40:30, we read, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.”

Note that the prophet describes the ones who should be the strongest among men – youth. They are in the prime of their lives physically. Youths should be full of energy, able to run and run.

Similarly, the ‘young men’ are those slightly older than the youths, but still symbols of strength and vigor. They can work long hours and still have energy for social gatherings in the evening.

But God says that even they will grow weary and faint. You see, their energy is not endless. The youths may not see it that way. But, set them running a marathon sometime and they will find out. Work them hard enough and they will get tired to the point that to press on will only be with the greatest effort. They will grow weary and they will faint. And the young men, the text says, shall utterly fall.

The message is clear. Man, at his strongest, is weak. We need to understand that this physical picture points to the spiritual picture of weariness and stumbling in our relationship with God.

In Malachi 2:8 we read, “But you have departed out of the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”

Or we could point to Jeremiah 18:15, which expresses a similar idea. “Because my people have forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and it has caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths…”

We are prone to stumble, and most likely to do so when our personal relationship with the LORD has weakened for one reason or another.

But read on!  When we recognize our weakness or are feeling discouraged, the prophet declares: Those who look to the LORD will renew their strength… His care over you has never changed. The everlasting God has an everlasting love for his people.  You may get tired but God never does.

There is no substitute and no shortcut to enjoying the strength that only comes from the LORD. Making it a priority to spend time in His presence every day, in prayer and in meditating on the Scriptures is more essential to your spiritual life than food is essential to your physical life!

God recognizes that we sometimes get tired which is the whole purpose for this text.  Everyone gets weary but to whom is this promise given?  To those who will look to the LORD on a regular basis and draw their strength from Him.

To ‘wait’ conveys the idea of looking forward to, expecting that the Lord will send strength. We want to have Him help us. We want Him to hold us by our right hand, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 73.  Waiting implies a period of time.  Our problem is we want ‘instant’ everything but life isn’t like that.

Those who wait on the LORD are renewed in strength. He is our strength. In Him is complete safety.  That’s a promise that God gives to every one of His people. It’s not just words to impress us with a poetic picture of soaring like an eagle. The text does not say, “They that wait upon the Lord, maybe their strength will be renewed, and maybe not.”  It is a clear promise, as sure as every one of God’s promises.

In Tune with Torah this week: have you been feeling worn out lately? Tired and frustrated with daily life?  The first question we need to ask ourselves is: how much time am I spending alone with God on a daily basis?  The answer to that question is directly related to the message of this week’s Haftorah reading.

Shabbat Shalom

Rosh Hashana 5777 October 3, 2016

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A FEW THOUGHTS ON YOM TERUAH,

the Day of the Trumpet,

commonly known as Rosh Hashanah

  Though many think of Rosh Hashana as the ‘day of judgment’ or simply the Jewish New Year, I’d like to suggest that we look a bit deeper.  Yes, there is certainly truth in those two concepts but they can also be misunderstood and misapplied.

The very word ‘judgment’ makes people uncomfortable.  We don’t like to be judged by a boss, a teacher, or anyone for that matter.  Yet ‘judgment’ in the context of love is a beautiful thing.  For example, the concern that parents show about their children’s activities, friends, and tendencies is often interpreted by the children as ‘judgment’ when in fact it is the parents’ love for their children that motivate their watchfulness and when necessary, their intervention.  To be honest, one of the most devastating things a parent can do to a child is not to ‘judge’ them. Why? Because a parent who isn’t interested in what their child is doing is sending a message that says clearly—“I don’t care about you,” the most destructive message a child can perceive.

On Rosh Hashanah, when we say that God “sits in judgment” what we are saying is that God loves us: He cares about each and every one of us, He cares about who we are, how we live, and whether or not we are moving forward in fulfilling the destiny that is uniquely ours and for which He put us on this earth.  That the King of the universe actually cares about “little ‘ol me” is a remarkably empowering and life-giving idea. Rosh Hashana is about how much you mean to Avinu Malchenu, our Father, our God.

Potential

Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of the first human being, Adam. God could have launched humanity with a family, a village or a whole planet filled with people: why did He begin with just one person? Jewish thinking is that God began with one person to teach us about the fantastic potential inherent in each individual. You and I have the ability to impact our entire world; we are capable of making a world of difference. Therefore, as we approach the dawning of this year, 5777, we ask ourselves: As “How can I contribute, even in a small way, to making the world a better place?” “What can I do to make a difference in someone else’s life?”

Think of it this way: Every Rosh Hashanah is a vote of confidence from God in your individual, personal potential.  It is also a fresh opportunity to unlock more and more of your personal God-given gift.

Life

On this feast, we ask God to “Remember us for life” and “Inscribe us in the Book of Life.” When we greet one another we say “May you have a good year, and may you be written and sealed for a year of good life and peace.”

While the face value meaning is that we should enjoy a long life on this earth, there is a deeper meaning as well.  A person can be alive, strong, and healthy yet be “dead” in their soul at the same time. A life lived in the boots of a Nazi, or under the flag of ISIS is a life utterly drained of all meaning.

Certain choices that we make, and certain courses of action that we pursue have the ability to infuse life with “life.”  Other choices drain out the life of everything God intended for us. On Rosh Hashanah, we not only ask for physical life, but more importantly we are asking that our spiritual life be enhanced; that with God’s help in the new year, we will make the kinds of choices that reflect His giftings in us and His purpose for creating us in the first place: to be a living reflection of Who He is.  When the shofar is blown and its sound echoes across the world, may we hear the call of God to holiness, righteousness and peace.

My prayer for all of us is that the year 5777 will be a year of unparalleled spiritual growth in our personal lives and in our communities.

Shana Tova v’ Metuka – May you have a good and sweet year!

Weekly Torah Commentary – Terumah Feb. 12, 2016

Exodus 25:1-27:19

Where do we find ourselves in this week’s Torah portion?  At the foot of Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah.

Moses is told to instruct the children of Israel to bring offerings to God (vs. 3-7) and in verse 8 we are told the reason.

Have the people of Israel build Me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. (vs. 8)  Another translation renders this: Let the children of Israel fashion Me a Tent so I can make my home among them.

Tabernacle

You see, the Tabernacle wasn’t built because the people needed a place of worship. It was constructed for God; a home away from home, if you will, a specific place where God’s glory could rest.

This was the whole purpose for delivering them from slavery – that HE might dwell among them in such a profound, tangible way that every nation would know that He alone is God and that He and His people would enjoy an intimate relationship.  In a sense, God was about the process of re-creating the Garden of Eden.

Before Adam & Eve sinned, God walked with them in the garden; they and their Creator enjoyed absolute harmony and peace.  There was nothing between them and the Holy One.  That all changed because of ONE act of disobedience.  Though commentators may lament ‘what could have been’ if Adam & Eve had never sinned, the real issue at hand is that the Holy One of Israel lost the pleasure of their fellowship.  Since then He has deliberately and consistently worked among His people to restore what HE lost in Eden.

The text hints at this in the very next verse:  Be sure to make it according to the pattern that you saw on the mountain, He instructs Moses. During the forty days Moses spent in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai, the Holy One showed him the ‘Tabernacle’ – the ‘dwelling place’ in the heavens and essentially He said to Moses, Build Me one that is a mirror image of the one in heaven; a place where I can dwell.  The word in Hebrew is mishcan which literally means ‘tent of dwelling’.

But there is much more here than meets the eye.  The building – the ‘tent’ – speaks of something near and dear to the heart of God.  What He has always desired is to dwell in and among His people.  From the beginning He has wanted His people to be a living Tabernacle of His presence in the earth.

God did not intend his meeting with the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai as a never-to-be repeated pinnacle of human history. In the Tabernacle, he gave us the spiritual understanding to keep our relationship with Him fresh and alive, both as individuals and as communities of faith.  Entering the Tabernacle was a renewal and a reminder of the message of Sinai: I took you out of the slavery of Egypt so you could be My people and I could be Your God.  Walk with Me and be holy as I am holy.

Our sublime calling as human beings and as children of the Holy One of Israel is to be a living Tabernacle of the Almighty; that through our lifestyle – our words, our actions, our obedience to His Torah – the light of His truth will shine in this world.

In Tune with Torah this week = how well do we exhibit to those around us that spark of His presence which is within us? Do we have a positive effect on others by the way we live and interact with our fellowman?  Does it make a difference to this earth and to human kind that you are here?

Shabbat Shalom

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