Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim February 9, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17

Sinai

In this week’s Torah reading, we find a series of specific commandments given by God to Moses.  Most are elaborations on the basic principles of the Ten Commandments.

We’ll look at just a few.

21:15  He who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death.  Can you imagine if this law was in strict effect today?  But does it just mean literally ‘strike’ them; that is, hit them, beat them physically?  Well it certainly includes that but there is more than one way to ‘strike’ a parent. Defiance, rebellion, disrespect – all are means of ‘striking’ one’s parents.  And there’s more.

21:17 He who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death. Abusive words towards one’s mother or father is just as sinful, according to this commandment.  Showing dishonor and even cruelty to older parents is reprehensible.  Ignoring your parents because you are so busy with your own life is displeasing to the Lord.  And perhaps the worst: speaking evil of your parents to others.

The positive commandment is ‘Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth.’ (Exodus 20:12)

21: 22-25  If men fight each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the women’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judge decides. But if there is injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty, life for life; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. 

This passage has bewildered people at times because they don’t understand what it is saying.  There is no way that God would demand the barbaric act of gouging out someone’s eye or cutting off someone’s hand.  The language here is Hebraic idiom and what it means is this: the offender must pay the injured in proportion to the level of injury.  To put it in modern terms, if your teenage son got in a fight and knocked out the front teeth of another teenager, under this commandment, you as the parent would be responsible to pay for the dental work needed by the injured person.

21:32 If an ox gores a male or female servant, the owner shall give his or her master thirty pieces of silver and the ox shall be stoned.

The value on the life of a servant in those days was thirty pieces of silver so if you owned an ox and it killed one of your neighbor’s farmhands, you would be responsible to pay damages – 30 pieces of silver.

Chapter 22:22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.  If you afflict them at all and if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My anger will be kindled and I will kill you with a sword and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 

Widows and orphans have a special place in God’s heart.  He is protective of them and commands us to be the same.

22:28 You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.  This commandment is particularly timely at present, especially for my fellow Americans.  With the daily news this week being dominated by exposure of corruption and fraud at the highest levels of government,  many are angry at what’s been done.

Anger towards sin is one thing; but ‘cursing’ the sinner is something else entirely.  The adage is most appropriate here: Hate the sin; have regard for the sinner. Regardless of how upset we may get at the moral failures of leaders, we must guard our tongues lest we violate God’s rule: do not curse a ruler of your people.  The Scripture commands us to pray for those in authority over us and it does not carry with it an addendum that says, pray for them as long as they’re good in your eyes.  No, pray for them – period!

In Chapter 24, after hearing these and other instructions Moses gave them from the Lord, the people cry out, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.” (vs. 3b) In fact they repeated the same commitment again in verse 7.

In Tune with Torah this week = if we are honest, there are times we come across difficult passages when we read the Torah or listen to a teaching.  Perhaps it touches a nerve or puts a demand on us to change or to grow spiritually and we chafe against it.  It is precisely at those times that we need to echo the cry of the children of Israel: “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.”  

Weekly Torah Commentary – Yitro February 2, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 6: 1-13

In Exodus 18, Moses is faced with the challenge of change.  And his father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) is the source of the challenge.

Change is not easy– and many of us don’t like change.

Change is necessary– though all of us know down deep inside that change is important.

Change is a constant: “One man said that the only thing that you can count on is change.

After seeing many miracles and overcoming many obstacles, Moses and Israel were in a time of rest and recuperation when Jethro brought Moses’ wife and children to him. (Moses had left them behind when he was called to confront Pharaoh.)

MosesJethro

When Jethro arrived, Moses took him into his tent and bragged on all that God had done for Israel. Jethro’s was so moved that he offered a sacrifice to the God of Israel. Then we read:

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them His decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”  Exodus 18:13-23

There are both challenges and benefits to facing change in a godly manner.  What do we learn from Moses in this situation? Three fears that leaders – and all of us – face come to mind.

Pride-Why should I listen to Jethro? God has been doing mighty things through Moses. Everything seems to be working for him. Suddenly here is his father-in-law giving him unsolicited advice.

It is easier to make changes when things are going poorly but much harder when things are going well. A wise leader or person makes changes and adjustments through out their lives.  It is the tree that is producing good fruit that is pruned in order to produce even better fruit.

Fear-What if this does not work? Moses had to ask himself, what if this thing does not work? What is everyone going to say when I tell them that they need to go to someone else besides me?

One of the reasons we oppose change is fear; fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of being insignificant, fear of others doing better than we have done.

Insecurity-Is it a good idea to empower others?  Moses was the leader. If you opposed him and God, bad things happened. Now Moses was advised to empower others and give them influence. This had to test his insecurity. Moses may have thought, “What if those whom I put over a thousand people end up opposing me?”

A very real question!

By contrast, what are the benefits to Moses for accepting Jethro’s advice?

Efficiency –  vs. 17: “Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”

I think most rational people look at this story and conclude that this was a wise decision. The ability to delegate to the right people improves efficiency and productivity.  More people were able to use their gifts and talents in a proper framework of authority and thereby fulfill their own callings and giftings.

Effectiveness – People were taken care of more quickly, and they were able to get a more personal touch.  Jethro says, If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.  vs. 23  The wisest thing Moses did  was to break up the people of Israel into smaller groups, so they could be cared for more effectively.

Excellence – Moses himself was able to do what he was called to do with greater excellence by having the ‘distractions’ of meeting with all the people delegated to capable men of integrity.  Moses was called to deliver the people and to teach them and Jethro’s advice freed him to fulfill that calling more fully.

Jethro said to Moses, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”

Lastly, Jethro’s advice facilitated the training of future leaders.

Once Israel entered the promise land, they would need leaders to govern throughout the region.  Raising up judges under Moses was a training ground for preparing the leaders that would be needed after Moses passed away. The benefit of wise change is that it prepares God’s people for the future.

In Tune with Torah this week = Changes that we may be facing in our personal lives may not be anything like what Moses faced.  Nevertheless, change is a constant part of life and as we face changes, we do well to pay attention to both its challenges and its benefits.  To resist change when it is pressing upon us is harmful to our spiritual growth. Let us embrace it and by the grace and wisdom of our Heavenly Father submit ourselves to the changes that will propel us on to the next step of our spiritual journey.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va-eira January 12, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying ‘Work a miracle, then, you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and they did just as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh, and his servants, and it became a serpent.” Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: and the magicians of Egypt did the same with their enchantments for they threw down their staffs, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Exodus 7: 8-12

MosesAaron

This is one of the most interesting passages in the Torah. It opens our eyes to several deep spiritual truths and exposes certain things to us that may not be very clear to the way we moderns think.

There are only two major sources of spiritual power: The power of God and the power of evil.  Yes, my friends, there is Evil and it exists because of demonic forces at work in the world. From days of old, Satan has sought to mimic whatever God does.  That agenda was born in him when as the prophet Isaiah tells us, Satan sought to make himself equal with God.  The result was that he was thrown out of the heavens, out of God’s presence. (see Isaiah 14:12 – 20)

In this scripture passage we see two servants of the Holy One of Israel, a pagan ruler and his ‘magicians’.  By tapping into evil power, the magicians mimicked what Aaron did.  But realize this: the magicians’ power was severely limited.  Their serpents were quickly swallowed up by Aaron’s!  Pharaoh had several magicians so there were several snakes, but Aaron’s serpent did away with them in a moment. When a weaker power comes against a stronger power, the weaker power must of necessity bow to greater strength.

More than once in the Scriptures we see serpent against serpent: When serpents were biting the Israelites in the wilderness and Moses cried to the Lord, the solution was another serpent. God uses the coin of the enemy to pay back the enemy.

 

Spiritual warfare is not entertainment: It is real war.  The contest of the serpents was a violent one, ending in utter destruction of the magicians’ serpents.  Elijah dealings with the 850 prophets of Baal was no less violent. These two events among others in the Scriptures teach us that political correctness does not work with enemies of the most High God!

To accurately assess world conditions and international events we must be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in the world.  A great war between good and evil was launched centuries ago and continues to this day.  In the midst of this war we are too often ignorant of what the real issues are.  Instead of recognizing the implications of the contest between Moses and Aaron versus the magicians of Pharaoh, we stand and watch as if it were entertainment instead of warfare.

Mankind was created for one purpose: to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him eternally.  Each of us has been given a span of years during which we are to learn about Him, come to know Him personally and live our days according to His principles and commandments.  The ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’ perspective of the Essenes in the first century addresses this clearly.

Life is made up of varying experiences.  We prefer the joys and blessings that come our way and if we could, would avoid life’s hardships, challenges and sorrows. However, a necessary part of life is its battles for it is through them that we gain maturity, wisdom and a closer relationship with our God, provided we make godly decisions in the midst of the battlefields of daily living.

In Tune with Torah this week = Thankfully, we know from the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One of Israel triumphs. Knowing that the God we serve has secured the final triumph, it behooves us to live in such a way that our faith in His eternal victory is evident and guides our decision-making on a day to day basis.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 5, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Exodus 3: 1-6

Just like every other day, Moses was tending the flock. The morning was typical, calm, and cool with the dew hanging on the leaves while Moses walked along the path. Perhaps while walking in the still silence, Moses thought back upon his life, and what had led him here. He had grown up around the inner circle of Pharaoh’s cohort, raised by the princess as her own, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he could not contain his rage and committed murder. Moses fled from the comfort, power, and prestige of Egypt because he was afraid. He eventually settled in Midian and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest.

Moses was tending the flock that belonged to his father-in-law when he led them beyond the wilderness and came to Horeb (“wasteland”), the mountain of God. Walking along the path, filled with thoughts from the past, Moses discovered a bush on fire, and even though it was blazing, it was not consumed. Rather than continue on his journey, Moses turned aside to look at the great sight, to see why the bush was not being burned up. Then God called out from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he replied, “Here I am.” The Lord commanded Moses to stay put, and remove the sandals from his feet, for the place where he was standing was holy ground. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

It was just an ordinary, everyday journey for Moses. A normal routine with no “religious” intentions. He was not going out to find out what God was calling him to do with his life, he was not sitting in the great temple of Jerusalem, he was just doing his job.

God chose the mountain in the wilderness as the place of revelation and change for Moses’ life. The encounter took place far and away from the sights and sounds of the religious community. This holy moment took place in the least likely of situations and locations.

A burning bush appeared in the wasteland, but the fire did not consume it. Moses was not frightened away from the bush, nor was he repelled by the sight of something strange, but instead he was drawn toward it. His curiosity propelled him forward, not for religious reasons, but because it was unknown.

God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves to make use of human curiosity for his own purposes. Curiosity often leads to discovery, new life, and new vision.

Moses was the one who ran away from familiarity into the unknown. He had left behind his family and calling in Egypt because he feared for his life. He escaped to the place of Midian, found a wife, and a new calling and was settled. It happened in the ordinary and mundane moment of routine life that Moses was jolted into a new reality.

God is the one with the initiative in the situation. Moses was not begging on his knees for God to enter his life, instead it is God who confronts Moses and calls him to a task.

If the story of Moses and the burning bush is to come alive for us today, then we must prepare ourselves to be encountered by the living God when we least expect it.

Being called by God into a new season of your life is not something that applies only to clergy, nor is it something that happens exclusively in worship. We are all called in one way or another to live faithful lives for the honor and glory of God, whether we are teachers or students, engineers or musicians, writers or mathematicians. We are given incredible opportunities to respond to God’s calling in manifold ways in our daily lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by asking the hard questions that other people are afraid to mutter, by looking at the world through the perspective of the Scriptures.

We are not abandoned and left alone. We see how gracious God is toward us in the fact that God confronts us in his incredible holiness. He refuses to let us go our own way when we act and behave as if we were people who do not need His wisdom and instruction.

In Tune with Torah this week:  We, like Moses, are confronted by the Holy One when we least expect it. He searches deep into our souls and knows what we think, what we feel, and what we believe. God is not willing to allow us to wander off and be left to our own perspectives, but meets us in the ordinary and calls us by name: Moses, Moses; Taylor, Taylor, Marilyn, Marilyn, etc.

When God confronts you in the midst of life, how will you respond? Will you continue your journey and ignore the unexpected call? Or will you say, “Here I am, LORD”?

Weekly Torah Commentary – Toldot November 17, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 20:18-42

This week’s reading begins by telling us of other sons whom Abraham had by Keturah, his second wife whom he married after the death of Sarah.  We are also told of Abraham’s death and burial;  we read a list of Ishmael’s descendants; and, a description of the birth of Esau and Jacob. Frankly, this reading at first glance doesn’t seem very relevant to where we all live.

So what was Moses’ purpose in writing it?

Moses was writing to a people about to go in and conquer the land promised to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac. The previous generation had the opportunity to conquer that land, but they died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Now this generation had an opportunity to obey God in His redemptive plan of giving the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. God’s purpose as promised to Abraham will be fulfilled. The question is, will this generation be used of God to fulfill it, or will they, too, be set aside?

I believe that the main point Moses was trying to convey was that God’s purpose according to His choice will stand. God is sovereign; what He says, He will do. But even so, His chosen people must submit and commit themselves to His purpose if they want His blessing.

manseashore

Whenever a great leader, who has founded a work or a movement, passes away, there is concern for who will carry on. However, with God’s program, there is no such concern. His purpose is greater than any man. The most certain thing in this world is that God will do what He has said. Nothing can thwart His purpose.

This section of Genesis shows that God keeps His promises. God had promised to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations (17:4). The list of Abraham’s sons through Keturah, several of whom grew into nations, shows a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise. Even though we don’t recognize most of these names, Israel did. The existence of these nations was a demonstration to Israel that what God promises, He does.

The text goes on to make the point that Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac (25:5). While he gave some gifts to Keturah’s sons, he sent them away.  It is not that he rejected them; rather we learn from ancient records, that Abraham commissioned Keturah’s sons to go to distant lands to teach the people about the one true God – the God of Israel. Isaac, on the other hand, was God’s choice to continue the calling of Abraham, and thus God blessed him after Abraham’s death (25:11). As they were Isaac’s descendants, the generation going into the Land needed to see their part as God’s chosen means of fulfilling His promises to Abraham, and they needed to obey God in taking the promised land.

Then Moses lists the generations of Ishmael (25:12-18). Why? To make the same point–that God’s purpose according to His choice will stand. Abraham had asked God that Ishmael might live before Him (17:18). God denied that request because He had chosen Isaac, but He promised Abraham that Ishmael would become the father of twelve princes, and that He would make him into a great nation (17:20). Moses records the fulfillment of that in 25:18. The point again is, God’s purpose according to His sovereign choice was accomplished.

Moses hammers home the same concept in the account of the birth of Esau and Jacob. If God was going to make a great nation of Abraham through Isaac, then obviously Isaac needed to have children. But Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren. For 20 years there were no children in their marriage. But Isaac prayed and the Lord answered in accordance with His promise to Abraham.

But even in that situation, God made a choice. He told Rebekah that two nations would come from the twin sons in her womb, and that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). Esau became the father of the Edomites. Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became the father of that nation. It was God’s purpose that Israel’s descendants, those to whom Moses was writing, fulfill God’s purpose according to His choice of Jacob, by conquering the promised land.

So everything in the text is there to make the same point–that God chooses certain people for His purpose and that His purpose according to His choice will be accomplished.

These verses reveal two striking things about God’s choice:

First, God’s choice usually runs counter to man’s wisdom.

If we were going to pick a man to be the father of a multitude of nations, we’d probably run the couple through a fertility test and then pick the one who looked the most promising. God picked a couple who couldn’t produce any children. Then, we’d make sure that his son and his wife were fertile. In God’s sovereignty, the son’s wife was barren. His half-brother, Ishmael, didn’t seem to have any problem producing twelve sons, but Isaac could produce only two, and that only after 20 years of pleading with God. If we had to pick between the two sons, we’d pick the oldest. He seemed to be the strongest. The youngest was a wimp and a deceiver! God picked him. That’s how God’s choice usually runs–counter to man’s wisdom.

If God chose those who were strong in themselves, they would boast in themselves and God would be robbed of His glory. If God chose those who first chose Him, they could brag about their intelligent choice. So God chooses those whom the world would never choose. When His purpose is fulfilled through them, He gets the glory.

Secondly, God’s choice operates on the principle of grace, not merit.

One of the most difficult, but most rewarding, truths in the Bible to grasp is that God doesn’t operate on the merit system. He doesn’t choose those who have earned it or who show the most potential. He doesn’t choose on the basis of birth order or strength. If He did, He would have picked Ishmael over Isaac. Ishmael was tough; he grew up by surviving in a hostile desert. Isaac was a mild, blah sort of guy, not noted for much except digging a few wells.

This bothers people, because it humbles our pride, but it’s one of the most rewarding concepts in the Bible to lay hold of. It means that your redemption does not depend on you and your feeble hold on God, but on God and His firm grip on you.  It casts you totally on God and His sovereign grace, which is a good place to be. It floods you with gratitude as you consider His goodness and His mercy in choosing you in spite of your sin.

That doesn’t mean we can do anything we want. While God is sovereign, He has given me the responsibility to obey Him. I can’t presume on being one of the elect and go on living for myself.

Our responsibility is simply to submit to God and seek to obey what His Word clearly reveals, namely, that God’s sovereign purpose according to His unconditional choice will stand. When I quit fighting and submit myself to God and His ways, my relationship with Him flourishes.

The Lord didn’t wave His wand over the land of Canaan so that Israel could move in without any struggle. They had to commit themselves to God’s purpose and fight to get it.

Abraham is the example in our text. He submitted and committed himself to God’s purpose, and God blessed him abundantly. We read that he died “satisfied with life” (25:8). The expression is literally “full of years,” but it means more than just old. It implies that he couldn’t ask for anything more from life than God had given him. The only way you can truly die that way is if you have lived to further God’s purpose.

In Tune with Torah this week = Sometimes it’s easy to look at all the evil in the world and get discouraged because it seems like God’s side is losing badly.  The great truth is that God will accomplish His sovereign purpose. Let us therefore encourage one another to submit ourselves wholeheartedly to our heavenly Father and devote ourselves without reservation to His purposes.

Shabbat Shalom

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Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayelech October 7, 2016

Deuteronomy 31

Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or tremble at them for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you.  He will not fail you nor forsake you.  31:6

A timely message indeed to a world that seemingly has much to fear.  Societal unrest, terrorism, monster storms like the one bearing down this very day on the southeastern part of the United States, conflict among nations – all of these and more can cause ‘men’s hearts to faint’ as the Scripture says elsewhere.

Yet the word to us this week is ‘Be strong and courageous…’  What is courage?

courage

Courage is grace under pressure.

Karl Barth wrote that Courage is fear that has said its prayers.

Someone else has said that Courage is doing what you are afraid to do; that there is no courage unless there is something to be afraid of.

There are many examples of courage exercised in the Bible:  Moses before the Pharaoh,
David as he faced down Goliath, Abigail as she saved the entire household of Nabal
and Esther when she went before the king to save the Jews, to name just a few.

Courage always starts on the inside, in our inner man. We learn His instructions and commit to living by them, regardless of others’ opinions, knowing He has promised to be with us and never leave us. He goes with us into every difficult situation in life.  Is He is for us – and He is – who can be against us?

Courage takes a stand and makes things right.  If we submit to peer pressure and follow the crowd, we lower ourselves to their level.  By standing firmly on our convictions, we invite them to a higher standard.  Even if 20 million people believe in an irrational idea, it’s still irrational!  Numbers do not give credibility to the idea. Only the truth and righteousness found in God’s word gives credibility to any idea. Simply swimming with the tide leaves you nowhere. If you believe in something that’s good, honest and bright — stand up for it 100%. We are to be God’s change agents in this world.

Courage is contagious, have you noticed?  It’s something like a wildfire.  Once it starts to spread, there isn’t much you can do to stop it.  One act of courage and change an entire nation.  Again, think of Esther whose one act of courage saved the Jewish people from extinction.

Courage is the product of a person following God.  Courage will take you beyond your self-imposed limitations.  Courage is knowing that when I walk with God and obey Him, the very worst that could happen cannot really hurt me.  Courage stretches you beyond where you are now.  It takes you to a higher level in life and enables you to serve God to the best of your ability and reach the potential He planted in you when He created you.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief.  It is bravery, fearlessness, boldness, audacity and daring, empowered by the grace of God.

Joshua certainly needed courage to assume the leadership of the children of Israel upon the death of Moses.  Imagine what that must have been like.  Moses has been in charge for forty years; Moses has seen God on the mountain top; Moses heard their problems and found solutions and so much more.  Imagine how you would feel being called to follow a leader like Moses!  Is it any wonder that Moses said to Joshua more than once, ‘Be strong and courageous.  The Lord will be with you as He was with me.’

In Tune with Torah this week = is there a person, a situation, a problem that you are reluctant to face, to deal with though you know you need to?  The word of the Lord to us this week is ‘Be strong and very courageous for the Lord your God is with you.’

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Ki Tetzei September 16, 2016

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother.
Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)

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Two verses in this week’s portion deal with the prohibition to hate.  The portion deals with so many other issues that it’s easy to miss this commandment – do not hate.

But why these particular two verses?

The Egyptians of Moses’ day had enslaved the Israelites, “embittered their lives”, subjected them to a ruthless regime of intensely hard labor and forced them to eat the bread of affliction. They had embarked on a program of attempted genocide, Pharaoh commanding his people to throw “every male [Israelite] child born, into the river” (Ex. 1:22). And God tells the next generation of Israelites: ‘do not hate’?

It’s as if none of this had happened, as if the Israelites owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality. Yet Moses and the people were where they were only because they were escaping from Egyptian persecution. Nor did he want the people to forget it.  It is commanded in the Torah that every year on Passover we are to remember what the Egyptians did.  But why? So we would never succumb to enslaving others.

What is really at stake here with these two verses cuts to the very heart of what is about to happen to the children of Israel.  It is nearly time to enter the Land and Moses knows that in order to live in freedom, you must let go of hatred. A free and moral society cannot be built by people consumed with hatred and resentment.  It just doesn’t work.

Bitterness, resentment, humiliation, a sense of injustice, the desire to inflict injury on your former persecutors are all evidences of a profound lack of freedom. Those who hold on to anger against their persecutors remain captives.  They may be ‘free’ externally but the soul is in captivity and poisons the mind and the emotions.  Anyone who allows their ‘enemy’ or ‘persecutor’ to define who they are has no understanding of freedom.

What Moses is telling them is that they must live with the past, but not in the past.

Hatred and freedom cannot coexist.  To create and maintain a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, the chains of the past must be broken; memory robbed of its sting; and pain re-directed into constructive purpose and the determination to build a different future.

Hatred projects our conflicts onto someone else whom we can blame but only at the cost of denying our own responsibility. That was Moses’ message to those who were about to enter the promised land: that a free society can be built only by people who accept the responsibility of freedom; by a people who are not defined by what they hate but by what they dream and work for.  This was the insightful message of Dr. Martin Luther King, among others.  Dr. King once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness.  How right he was…and still is.

People who hate harbor a permanent feeling of injury, a feeling that is out of all proportion to reality.  In their subconscious a perverse feeling convinces them that they alone possess the truth, that they are some kind of superhumans, and thus deserve the world’s complete recognition and submissiveness. They want to be the center of the world and become deeply, even violently irritated when those around them do not recognize them as such.

They are like spoiled or badly brought up children who think their mother exists only to wait on their every whim and who throw a tantrum if she occasionally does something else, like spending time with her other children, her husband, a book or her work. They interpret it as a personal attack instead of normal living.

Ultimately the hater is obsessed with himself.

Some have suggested that those who hate suffer from an inferiority complex.  Actually the opposite is true: the hater is so sure of his own superiority that hate is the only response to those who do not affirm or appreciate his self-generated true worth.  A serious face, a quickness to take offense, strong language, shouting, the inability to step outside himself and see his own foolishness – these are typical of one who hates.

Our Torah portion this week enjoins us: Do not hate... Rather choose the way of the prophet who said ‘The joy of the LORD is your strength.’  Nehemiah 8:10

In Tune with Torah this week = is there any hate in your heart towards anyone?  If so, this is the time to acknowledge it, repent of it, ask God for freedom from it and determine to change your attitude for the truth is this: Hatred kills the one who harbors it; only love and peace bring health and well-being, physically as well as spiritually.

Shabbat shalom