Weekly Torah Commentary – Lech Lecha October 27, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 20: 18-42

The week’s Torah reading provides us with a shift in the direction of the narrative thus far.  During the first eleven chapters of Genesis, there has been a consistent theme of sin followed by punishment.  It began with Adam and Eve.

Before long we had the days of Noah in which mankind had already sunk into untenable moral decay. God saw the condition of mankind as a whole and He destroyed the earth and all its people, except for Noah and his family, with a flood.

Not too long afterward, there was the Tower of Babel where mankind had gathered together and decided to build a tower that would reach the heavens in order to ‘make a name for ourselves.’ (Gen. 11:4)  At first glance, it seems as though the human situation is looking up. The people were unified, they all spoke the same language and they were co-operating together on a common project.  Yet God punished them – the whole group of them – by confusing their language and scattering them across the earth.

What was their sin? ‘…let us make a name for ourselves..’ It could very well be that had they attempted to build a tower in order to be closer to God and His heaven – in other words – to exalt the Name of the LORD instead of their own name – the story would have ended differently.

Therefore in the early chapters, we see the recurring theme of man’s failure to exalt His Creator and instead to follow the evil intent of his own mind which brought upon them the chastisement of the Almighty.

Now, as we move on to chapter 12, suddenly God speaks to one man, to an individual, Abram, instead of to mankind in general.

Abram

Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you, I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ Gen. 12:1-3

Abram wasted no time in arguing with God or procrastinating about what he’d been told. The text indicates he obeyed without hesitation and with his wife, his nephew Lot and others of his household, he set off after the call of God.   At the time he was 75 years old. (take courage, it’s never too late to be used by God!) Not until he was 100 was Isaac born.

Abram embraced the call and the promise of God quickly then awaited its fulfillment patiently, much longer than he anticipated having to wait.

From that one man would eventually arise a people with the mandate to be ‘a light to the nations’.  It never fails to impress me that in the days of Abram, whom God re-named Abraham, there was no Torah, no written scripture of any kind, no Bible study groups.

But there was a man of FAITH. There was a man whose faith did not waver, whose trust in the one true God did not dissipate and whose confidence in his God’s integrity he never questioned.

Abraham’s greatest legacy to us is the value of FAITH.  It is faith that pleases our God and centuries later the prophet Habakkuk would write, ‘the righteous man shall live by faith.’

It had to begin with Abraham; it could not have started with Moses.  For unless the faith came first, the commandments are meaningless, a compilation of do’s and don’ts fit for robots.  It is FAITH in the Holy One of Israel that prompts us to want to honor His Name not just in word but also in deed.

Abraham is the father of the Hebrew people because of his exemplary faith.  It is faith that pleases God, first and foremost,  It is faith that causes us to ‘love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our resources.’  Deut. 6:5

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is more than mental assent.  Biblical faith is a conviction in the heart that our God is real, He is Almighty, Everlasting and utterly Faithful.  He has drawn us to Himself and loves us with an unending and extravagant love.

The saying ‘Seeing is believing’ is backwards when it comes to spiritual understanding.  The truth is ‘Believing is Seeing.’

If your faith is in need of strengthening, take some time this Shabbat to read His Word and ponder it quietly in your own heart. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  He will.

Shabbat shalom.

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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

daviddeath

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 – Ki Tavo September 23, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

The famous list of blessings and curses is found in this week’s Torah portion.  As we look at these, it’s important to remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was unconditional while the Mosaic covenant is conditional.  The recurring phrase ‘If you will…I will…’ appears no less than forty times in the Torah!

bless_curse

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully keep all His commands that I am giving you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.  You will experience ALL these blessings if you obey the LORD your God.  28:1-2

So what are all these blessings?  They are specifically listed in verses 3 – 12 of chapter 28 and I encourage you to read them for yourself, slowly and thoughtfully.  Verse 6 summarizes them blessings this way: Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed.

Wow! What a great promise? Aah…but remember the conditions!  If you obey the LORD your God and walk in His ways…..

The only way you and I can obey God is by knowing and understanding what it is that He requires of us.  We learn that by consistently studying His revealed Word.  Purposely establishing a set time in our daily routine to spend some time reading and pondering what the Bible has to say is not a luxury; it is mandatory to those who are serious about walking in the blessings of God.

‘But I’m so busy,’ you may protest.  I understand.  So am I.  However, let’s be honest.  We human beings are masters at finding time to do the things we really want to do.  If we ‘don’t have time’ for the Bible, what we are saying is that it’s not that important to me.  I guarantee if you take a hard look at how you spend your time from day to day, you will find a way to carve out 15-30 minutes for Bible reading and meditation.

How about limiting yourself to 30 minutes less on Facebook?  I recently read an article claiming that the average adult spends up to four hours on social media per day!!!

Or getting up 30 minutes earlier to begin each day with God’s Word?

Or turning off the TV 30 minutes earlier in the evening and taking that time for Bible reading?   Stay-at-home Moms with young children, how about pulling out your Bible when the little ones are napping?

There are so many ways that we can make it work – we just need the ‘want to’ !

Look at the list of blessings again:

*…your towns and your fields will be blessed…

*…your children and your crops…

*…the offspring of your animals

*…your food supply  (fruit baskets and bread boards)

*…rain will fall at the appropriate times to water your crops

*…the Lord Himself will conquer your enemies for you

and more…

By contrast, the curses for disobedience are lengthy – 47 verses!  It’s a worthwhile exercise to read through those verse as well, keeping in mind that it is not God’s desire to ‘curse’ anyone.  We curse ourselves when we refuse to obey His instructions.

Look at verse 15: But if you refuse to listen to the LORD your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you.

We need to understand that these ‘curses’ are societal, national.  What each one does, how each one lives does in fact have an effect on the whole of society. We are ‘our brother’s keeper’ to a degree and no man lives only to himself.  We cannot hide ourselves away in our homes, caring nothing for what is happening in our city or in our nation.

This week’s Torah portion calls us to strengthen our community consciousness.

In Tune with Torah this week = by all means, make the time to read chapter 28 of Deuteronomy – all of it.  What contribution are you making to the well being of your family, your immediate community, your city and your nation?  What changes are called for?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Re-eh September 2, 2016

 

This week’s jam-packed portion opens with these words: “I set before you a blessing and a curse. The blessing: if you obey the commandments of God…; the curse if you do not … and you follow other gods.”

It continues with rules and laws for the land of Israel primarily oriented towards staying away from idol worship and from embracing the other religions in the land.

The source of the Chosen People concept is found in 14:1-2: “You are a nation consecrated to God your Lord. God has chosen you from all nations on the face of the earth to be His own special nation.”  We have been chosen for responsibility, not privilege — to act morally and to be a “light unto the nations”. As descendants of Abraham through Isaac, we are first and foremost to be a people of Faith in the One True God, the Holy One of Israel.

The Torah states, “For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to cleave to Him…” (Deuteronomy 11:22). How does one “cleave to the Almighty?”

The Torah tells us that even someone who appears to be highly observant of the commandments and loves God, must show in his behavior and interactions with others that he is an imitator of God (“to walk in all His ways”). Only then can a person be considered as one who cleaves to Him. Emulating God means being compassionate and bestowing kindness on others. As He is merciful so we should be merciful, as He bestows kindness, so we should bestow kindness. One might think that a person who loves God need only devote himself to prayer and Torah study and by this means he will cleave to God. We see from this verse, however, that an essential ingredient in cleaving to God is caring about our fellow man.

It is by truly caring about others (you shall love your neighbor as yourself) that we show ourselves to be godly.

It is noteworthy that this portion of the Torah is read just before the onset of the Hebrew month of Elul which will begin at sundown tomorrow. Elul, when spelled in Hebrew letters, is the acronym for the words, “I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me” (ani l’dodi v’dodi li) Oftentimes those words will be inscribed on the inside of an engagement ring).

ShofarElul

The month of Elul is a time of heightened spirituality when the Almighty is, as it were, extends grace for repentance in a unique way. It is a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time to do a spiritual audit and to commit to making whatever changes necessary to deepen your connection with Him. 

In Tune with Torah this week = as we approach the month of Elul, let us take very seriously the admonition to use this coming month as an opportunity to do a true “check up from the neck up” – to examine ourselves and our thought life as it is our thoughts that give birth to our words and our behaviors. How are we doing at loving others as we love ourselves, for example? This is the month to search our own souls and determine to grow in godliness in the new Hebrew year, 5777, which will begin on October 3, 2016.

Shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Matot-Maasei August 5, 2016

Numbers 30 – 36

In this week’s portion, two of the tribes, Reuben and Gad, agree together that the land east of the Jordan is ideally suited as pasture for their large herds and flocks of livestock. They approach Moses and ask permission to settle there rather than cross the Jordan. Initially, Moses is furious at their request.  “Shall your fellow countrymen go to war while you sit here?” he asks. Had they learned nothing from the sin of the spies who, by demoralizing others through their behavior, condemned an entire generation to forty years of wandering in the desert?

Reuben

The Reubenites and Gadites get the point. They protest that they are not trying to exempt themselves from the struggles of their fellow Israelites. They are fully prepared to accompany them into the promised land and fight alongside them to conquer the Land. “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance.”  After declaring publicly their commitment to participate in taking the Land, Moses grants their request on condition that they fulfill their word. “When the land is then conquered before God you may then return, innocent before God and Israel, and this land will be yours as your permanent property before God.”

The phrase – ‘you will be innocent before God and Israel’ – teaches an important lesson. It is not enough to do what is right in the eyes of God. One must also behave in such a way as to be seen to have done right in the eyes of one’s fellow man. It is incumbent upon us to live in such a way that we are above suspicion, men and women of uncontested integrity.

That sounds great but the reality of life is that at times even when we do conduct ourselves in a manner that we think is above suspicion and full of integrity, we still may find ourselves the object of criticism and judgments from others.  When that happens, how do we handle it?

First of all, those who pass judgment on others say more about themselves than they do about the person they are criticizing.  Remember that!  What we should be doing is finding the best in every person, not emphasizing what we perceive as their weaknesses or failures. (If, however, the criticism is constructive, our response should be one of humility and teachableness.)

Secondly, keep in mind that keeping a clear conscience before God is a much higher priority than being approved of by men.  It takes courage to do right, even if one has to stand alone, but that is the kind of integrity and courage that great men and women throughout the ages have exhibited and we do well to follow in their footsteps.

Reuben and Gad accepted Moses’ criticism and correction.  To their credit they kept their promise and went in to the Land to fight against the enemies of Israel.  But in the end, they returned to the other side of the Jordan.  They stopped short of taking possession of the Land God had promised Israel.  At the very border, instead of looking straight ahead, they looked to the right and to the left and decided to stay.

This is a second deeply significant lesson out of this week’s Torah portion.  When God instructs us, it is not enough to go part of the way, or even 98% of the way.  If we are committed to live by His Word, there is no room for compromise. Go all the way!

After the death of Moses, God spoke to Joshua and said, “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the Torah which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. Joshua 1:7

We are constantly bombarded with more than enough distractions in this world that easily draw our attention ‘to the right and to the left’ of what God has told us in His word.  This week’s Torah portion, as we come to the end of the book of Numbers, closes with these two very significant admonitions.

  1. Let integrity guide your thoughts, words and actions regardless of whether or not anyone understands. Your focus is to please God, not men.
  2. Refuse to be a 98% kind of person.  Go for the gold!  Be radical enough to obey God fully.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking these two principles to heart and checking our own lifestyle.  How are we doing?

Shabbat shalom

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Chukat July 15, 2016

Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

The first thing we need to understand is that between vs. 22 of Numbers 19 and vs. 1 of Numbers 20, thirty-eight years have passed!  The congregation of the sons of Israel who arrived at the wilderness of Zin ‘in the first month’ are, by and large, the children of the generation that came out of Egypt.  You may remember that God had decreed that generation would die in the wilderness because of the sin of the Golden Calf and their children would go into the Land.

This new generation set up camp in Kadesh and Miriam died there and was buried.  Immediately afterward we read:

“There was no water for the congregation and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness for us to die here?  Why have you made us come up from Egypt to bring us into this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.’

This generation grew up knowing  that they were destined to enter the Land.  They watched over the years as one after another of the elder generation passed away.  By this time there were few of the elderly left and Moses was now almost 120 years old.  It is a very different situation from the time when this generation’s parents had complained about a lack of water.

In Exodus 17: 1-7 a similar complaint was brought to Moses: ‘Give us water to drink’.  Moses turned to the Lord Who instructed him to strike the rock and water would flow out.  He did – and it did.

All these years later, the children present the same complaint but with a slightly different inference. What they are really saying is ‘Moses, why did you bring us out here? Why have we settled here in Kadesh? We’re supposed to be going into the Land.  Look, the older generation is just about gone. Get us out of this desert now.  We don’t want to wait anymore!’

Moses and Aaron fell on their faces at the entrance to the Tabernacle.  The Lord spoke to Moses, commanding him to take his rod – the staff he had used at so many critical junctures of the journey – and in the presence of the people, to speak to the rock and water would flow.

MosesRock

So Moses and Aaron gathered the people.  With the staff in his hand, Moses addressed the people: ‘Listen now, you rebels! shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’  Then he struck the rock twice and water flowed.

But God was not happy with Moses. He said, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to sanctify Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the Land which I have given them.’  Key word: ‘believed’

Many have suggested that Moses’ punishment was due to his outburst of anger and/or because he disobeyed by striking the rock instead of speaking to it.  is there anything else here we need to discover?

Notice that God did not rebuke Moses for not ‘obeying’ Him but for not ‘believing’ Him. It was Moses’ faith – or lack thereof – that God faulted him for.

Moses had always used the rod in the working of miracles. But here, God was changing the strategy. God said , ‘Speak’ -use your voice, Moses.  It was a test, one that Moses had faced before.

We remember a much earlier time when God was also annoyed with Moses.  In Exodus 4: 10-14, Moses protests God’s call on his life saying ‘Please, Lord, I’ve never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’  The Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I the Lord?  Now then go and I, even I, will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say.’  But Moses said, ‘Please Lord now end the message by whomever You will.’  Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses.

Moses was comfortable using the rod.  He was not comfortable using his voice.  But that’s what God told him to do.  He didn’t believe God could use his voice to perform a miracle.  (God had ‘never done that before’ – where have you heard that before?) Moses’ lack of faith in this instance had profound consequences, particularly as it was the second time in his life that he resisted using the spoken word when God commanded him to do so.

In Tune with Torah this week = The Bible teaches us that FAITH is what pleases God.  How many times have we felt prompted to do an act of kindness, to perform a godly task, to reach out to someone in need but we rationalized it away and didn’t do it?  The natural fruit of Faith is Obedience.  When we disobey the Lord, there is always a connection to our faith.  This week, let us learn from Moses that when God asks us to do something, He also gives us the grace and the ability to do it.  Let us be quick to obey, thereby demonstrating the authenticity of our Faith!

Shabbat Shalom

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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!

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