Weekly Torah Commentary. – Bo January 19, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 10:1 – 13:6

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 46: 14 – 28

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the Lord our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”  Exodus 10:21-29

darkness

 

The plague of darkness brought upon Egypt was dreadful. Can you imagine living through three days of complete and total darkness, a darkness so thick you could actually “feel” the darkness?  It astonished and terrified the Egyptians. For three long days it remained so that it felt like six interminable nights.  Why did God do this?

One probable reason is that it gave Pharaoh time to consider his next steps. Spiritual darkness is spiritual bondage; while Satan blinds men’s eyes that they see not, he binds their hands and feet, that they work not for God, nor live with an eternal perspective.

So they sit in darkness. The blindness of their minds brought upon them this darkness of the air. Never was a mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was air so darkened as in Egypt. Consider the dire consequences of sin; if three days of darkness were so dreadful, what will everlasting darkness be like?

Meanwhile the people of God had light in their dwellings, manifesting the favor of the Holy One of Israel upon them.  Given the stark difference between the oppressive darkness in Egypt and the light emanating from the homes of the Israelites in Goshen, who in their right mind would not have wanted to align with those who had light?

Is it any different today?  A pall of darkness overshadows much of our world today – a spiritual darkness has pervaded cultures and societies in the east and the west, in the north and the south.  No nation on earth is neutral.  As a matter of fact, the Scriptures know nothing of being “neutral”.  Joshua, you will remember, challenged the Israelites:

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness….choose you this day Whom you shall serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:15

We do not bargain with God Almighty for His terms of reconciliation are so clear, that though men may dispute them, they cannot possibly alter them, or bring them lower. Repentance and a changed life.  That is what God expects and we must submit to His ways; we cannot, we dare not, expect that He should condescend to accommodate our pursuit of selfish pleasures.

Pharaoh had not reckoned with that truth.  He abruptly sends Moses away. Had he forgotten how often he had sent for Moses to ease him of his plagues? And now he dares to threaten Moses with death? Has Pharaoh learned nothing?   Is it not terrifying to behold what hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s word and commandments, can bring men to!

Darkness has crept into our modern world in recent times, slowly but oh, so surely.  That which would not even be spoken of in the last generation is common parlance today, even among our youth.  Honor, respect for one’s elders, integrity and courtesy are quickly becoming forgotten virtues.

In the midst of such darkness, there must be lighthouses.  Places, people who show forth the light of the LORD. Have we not been called by Him to be a “light to the nations”?

In Tune with Torah this week = Are you a light bulb for God?  Is your heart completely His?

The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those who hearts are completely His.  2 Chronicles 16:9

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — V’etchanan August 8, 2014

Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:23-7:11

As we plunge a bit further in to the Book of Deuteronomy, we see Moses reminding the children of Israel of their distinct and unusual calling:

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? (Deut. 4: 32-34)

As these words are being recorded, the children of Israel have not yet entered their own land. They are not yet a sovereign nation, except in vision. Yet Moses wanted to impress on their collective psyche the certainty that they were a people unlike any other nation. God Himself had called them to greatness and their experience at Sinai was unique in world history.

Moses repeats the critically important passage that has become the primary expression of Judaism’s faith: “Hear (listen) O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You are to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

In the continuing narrative he will remind them, not once but twice that they must teach their children what was transmitted at Sinai. Furthermore, he declares their eternal mission statement in no uncertain words: “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut. 7: 6)

The next line is very curious:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you are the fewest of all peoples. (Deut. 7: 7)

Now hold on! Didn’t God promise Abraham that his children would be as numerous as the stars of the sky? And the grains of sand on the seashore? And didn’t Moses just say a few verses earlier: “The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Deut. 1: 10)?

What gives here? How can he now declare that they are the “fewest of all peoples”?

Yes, in fact the children of Israel were far more numerous now than they used to be. When they descended to Egype, they were a company of seventy souls; a single family. Now they are a nation of twelve tribes!

Yet, compared to other nations of the world, they are still pretty small and he drives the point home by listing the nations they would have to overcome when they entered the Land: “…the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you …” (7:1). Israel was not only smaller than the great empires of that day, they were even small compared to the nations immediately in front of them.

Wasn’t that discouraging? Why would Moses say such a thing? Because he knew them so well. Look at this verse: “You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” Now here’s the salient point: “But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. (Deut. 7: 17-18) Moses wanted to impress upon them that the fear that had plagued them in earlier situations in the desert must not plague them when they enter the Land.

In God’s eternal wisom, He decreed that Israel would be the smallest of nations for a reason that speaks directly to its divine calling. Israel is to show the rest of the world that a people does not have to be numerous in order to be great. Israel’s unique history has demonstrated over and over again that by faith in the Holy One who chose them and delivered them from Egypt, they do not need large numbers to conquer their enemies. Victory will come “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech. 4:6)

This proclamation of Moses has been fleshed out in Israel’s history to this very day. It is a nation who by being small, becomes a unique and abiding testimony to the One Who is greatest of all. It is a fact that Jews have impacted the world in a way that is completely out of proportion to their numbers. In science, in medicine, in literature, in music, in technology Jews have excelled. But it is not for themselves; it is because this people was chosen to take responsibility, to make a difference in the lives of others, to contribute significantly to the betterment of this world; ultimately, to demonstrate the presence of God to a floundering world.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Gandhi said: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

This concept is embedded in the Jewish consciousness. One person, one small group, can change the world. Israel is called to model that; it is part of our calling to be a ‘light to the nations’. But understand this: it was never intended as a private possession of the Jews, unavailable to the rest of the world. It’s our job to demonstrate it; it’s the job of the rest of the nations to follow the example.

In Tune with Torah this week = one person can change history. How are YOU doing?

I look forward to your comments.

Shabbat shalom