Weekly Torah Commentary – 9/15/ 2017 Nitzavim-Vayelech

Torah reading: Deut. 29:9 – 31:30  (a double portion)

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 1-5

This is a familiar passage to many but this week I’d like to focus on two unusual names that are in these verses for they – by themselves – have a message for us.  They are Hephzibah and Beulah.  Now, you may be thinking, what in the world do those names have to do with us?  And what parent gives such odd names to their daughters?

Hephzibah           Beulah

I’ve never met any woman with the name Hephzibah yet its meaning is beautiful: my joy is in her.  In this portion of Isaiah, God is telling the people of Israel through the prophet that though they were once rejected, they will afterward be called Hephzibah; in other words, God will find joy in them again, they will be precious, delightful and pleasing in His sight.

So we need to ask: why were they rejected and how will they become precious and delightful to the LORD again?

Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet reminds the people that God is ‘your husband’.  Therefore their sins against Him have grieved His heart and put a strain between Him and His people.  In fact, the prophet Jeremiah declares in the name of the LORD: I thought,’After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return and her faithless sister, Judah, saw this.  She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery.  Jeremiah 3:7-8  Imagine that! God says He divorced his unfaithful spouse, Israel! How was this to be remedied?

The answer was not another sacrifice for if you read the Torah carefully you quickly see that no sacrifice in and of itself erased sin; true repentance elicits God’s forgiveness and the sacrifices offered for sin under the Mosaic Covenant only had value as representations of a repentant heart.  We could go further with the analogy and say that in a manner of speaking, all sin falls under the umbrella of ‘adultery’.  That’s not my idea.  Jeremiah declares it:  I have seen your adulteries [says the LORD] and your lustful neighings, the lewdness of your prostitution on the hills in the field.  I have seen your abominations.  Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will you remain unclean? Jer, 13:27

Sin caused an alienation between God and Israel.  Yet all is not lost. Repentance is the path to restoration and God promises that if they turn back to Him, they will no longer be rejected but once more considered precious in His sight.

This is true on a personal as well as a national level. Of late it has become unfashionable to speak of SIN.  Political correctness has generated all manner of excuses, rationalizations and justifications for behaviors that clearly disagree with the inviolable Word of God.  Unless you call it for what it is – SIN – you have no route to restoration.  We repent for SIN, receive God’s forgiveness and our relationship with Him is restored.  If you choose instead to sugar coat ungodly behavior then you eliminate the need for repentance – a very dangerous position.

I may not be enamored of the name Hephzibah, but I sure want to be a ‘Hephzibah’ – a person precious and delightful to the LORD, someone of whom He could say ‘My joy is in her’.  Don’t you want the same for yourself?

The name Beulah means ‘married’. Marriage for a woman in bible times was more than just the norm – it was a necessity. Fail to marry, and you had no children, no income, no protection, no honor.

The story is told of a farmer who had seven daughters; six of them were lovely but the seventh was very homely.  There was nothing attractive about her appearance and she was therefore shy, lacked confidence and wallowed in her misery.  One day a very eligible bachelor came to the farmer asking for permission to court one of his daughters. The farmer was excited because the young man came from a prominent family that owned lands and wealth.  Besides that he was handsome and kind.

The farmer gathered his six daughters – the pretty ones – and brought them before the bachelor.  He looked at each one and was impressed with their intelligence and their beauty yet he didn’t choose any of them.  He turned to the farmer and said, ‘Don’t you have another daughter?’

Awkwardly, the farmer nodded in agreement.  ‘Bring her here,’ asked the bachelor.  A few moments later, the ‘ugly duckling’ of the family emerged, dressed very plainly, head bowed, eyes on the floor, her hair unkempt.  The bachelor stepped closer to her, lifted her chin and looked into her eyes for a few moments.  Then he stepped back and said to the farmer, ‘With your permission, I would like to court this one of your daughters.’ Her sisters were aghast and couldn’t understand how the young man would choose their sister over any of them.

Not long afterward, the bachelor came to see the farmer again, this time to ask permission to marry the farmer’s ‘unattractive’ daughter. He loved her and was willing to accept her just the way she was, he declared.

A year later, the ‘ugly duckling’ was no longer ‘ugly’ but had blossomed into a beautiful person, inside and out.  What changed her? The unconditional love of her spouse.

Need I say more?

In Tune with Torah this week = It could be said that the greatest need of every man and woman on the face of the earth is to learn and experience the unconditional love of God.

The story of God’s relationship with Israel is a love story.   I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you to Myself.  Jeremiah 31:3

Jer.31

Hephzibah and Beulah say to us: Without a relationship with our Father, our King, our Husband, we are all ‘ugly ducklings’.  It is His love, His kindness, His lavish grace poured out generously in our lives that make us lovely, delightful, attractive, from the inside out.  That is the kind of person of whom God can say, ‘My joy is in him/her.’  May He be able to say that of all of us.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

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 – Bamidbar May 26, 2017

Torah Reading:  Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Haftorah reading:  Hosea 2: 1-22

The book of Hosea describes Hosea’s marriage to Gomer and its prophetic meaning for Israel. Chapters 4–14 give excerpts from Hosea’s preaching of grace and judgment leading up to the fall of Israel in 722 BC. Chapters 1–3 are so powerful and personal that we want to look at them for if we grasp the point of chapters 1–3, we grasp the point of the book.  And what is the point?  Read on…

Hosea 2: 1-23 is one of the most tender and most beautiful love songs in the Bible. It is sung by God to his unfaithful wife, Israel. But before we look at it, glance back for a moment to chapter 3. Here we see Hosea and his wife, Gomer for the last time. She has run off and lives now with a “significant other.” So Hosea is free, right? Now he can get a divorce. She has ended the marriage once and for all. She has another man. Therefore Hosea is free. Right?

Wrong!

God would not give up on Israel, and He appointed Hosea to symbolize his undying love to his wife of harlotry. “The Lord said to me, ‘Go again and love a woman who is beloved of a paramour and is an adulteress; even as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley.” Hosea 3:1

Hosea

Two thoughts come to me as I read these verses.  First of all, who would ever want, let alone obey, that kind of calling?  What a man Hosea must have been! Secondly, in light of what God asked Hosea to do here, we get a glimpse into what God’s love for us in our wretchedness is like.

Throughout their marriage, Gomer had been unfaithful, and finally she went off with another man. Hosea could have had her stoned according to the Torah. But God commands him to love her. “Go again, love her.” And – imagine this –  not just was Hosea to go and get her and love her, but he had to be willing even to pay this “significant other” for her.  Besides the enormous emotional demand God’s word to him presented, Hosea in the natural could not afford it! He didn’t have enough money! So he paid half in cash and half in barley: fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley. And how amazingly interesting that the total amounted to what Exodus 21:32 says a female slave costs. Gomer had evidently sunk to the lowest possible level. And God says to Hosea, “Get her back, whatever it costs, get her back. I did not create her to be a slave to sin and immorality.”

Every kind of sin a a form of adultery for every sin is a betrayal of the One Who created you, loves you, redeems you and desires to fellowship with you.  Sin is choosing to do something you like better than God’s commandments.

Perhaps one of our problems is that while we may desire to serve the Almighty as our God, we have yet to learn to love Him as our Husband.

For Your Maker is your husband; the LORD of Hosts is His name, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.  Isaiah 54:5

Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD.  Jeremiah 31:31-32

The entire message of the book of Hosea could be summarized in these words: Love God warmly as your Husband, don’t just serve him as your Lord.

In Tune with Torah this week = God’s love for us is such that the response He desires is a love in return that is as powerful, as committed, as deep and as lasting as the love between husband and wife is meant to be. Sadly in our modern age, the examples of this kind of faithful, loving marriage are not as plentiful as in generations past.  Yet, that does not in any way lessen the truth of God’s committed love towards us and His desire that we experience powerful, deep, faithful and lasting love from Him.

If you’ve been hurt by betrayal or divorce with all of their implications, may the word of the LORD today encourage you that there is ONE who loves you faithfully and He will never betray or abandon you.  Love Him warmly as your husband even as you serve Him as your Lord.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash January 6, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-28

This week’s Haftorah is one of my favorite passages in all of the prophets. God gave to Ezekiel a vision of what He would do in the end of days.

We know from biblical history that after the death of Solomon, king of Israel, the nation was divided in to the House of Judah and the House of Israel.  The House of Judah encompassed the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, while the House of Israel included the other ten tribes. Judah remained in the territory of Judah in and around Jerusalem.  The other ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, moved north to the territory of Ephraim and subsequently became known not only as the House of Israel but also as the House of Ephraim.  (I Kings 11-12)

twohouses

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph to whom Jacob on his deathbed gave the double portion blessing.  (Genesis 48)  His descendants, his grandfather prophesied, would become ‘melo hagoyim’; that is: a multitude of nations.

The northern House of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, over time rebelled against the Lord and that kingdom only lasted 70 years.  During those 70 years, the prophet Hosea was sent to them and prophesied extensively. In fact, to get an understanding of how Ephraim (Israel) turned away from the Lord, one simply has to read the prophecy of Hosea for it’s all there!  Hosea likened them to ‘a cake half-baked’ and rebuked them severely for rebelling against the LORD. One of the most famous verses of Hosea is frequently quoted in various contexts: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (4:6)

Though Hosea’s rebuke was blunt and harsh, it was not without hope and a promise.  He told them:

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.  Afterwards the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His Goodness in the last days.  3:4-5

The situation that developed in the northern kingdom of Israel is one of many illustrations throughout the Scriptures that convince us of God’s eternal faithfulness and patience.  But it also teaches us about the discipline of the LORD.

We don’t like discipline; some of us don’t even like the word! However, properly understood, discipline is an act of love.  A parent who never corrects, rebukes or in some way disciples his rebellious child does that child a great disservice and the irresponsible parent insures for himself heartache and grief in years to come.

God is the Father of all fathers, the most perfect, generous and patient of fathers.  He is also more LOVING than any earthly father could ever be.  It is because of His love for you and for me that He will bring correction, rebuke and discipline into our lives lest we stray so far from Him that there is no way back.

Our problem is that we sometimes don’t recognize the situations He allows in our life as discipline, as means of growing spiritually.  Instead we may get mad, disappointed or frustrated because we don’t make the connection in our own minds that EVERY difficulty or challenge we face in life is actually a GIFT.  Yes, you heard me – a GIFT.  Why?

Because each one is uniquely designed to give you and me opportunity to grow spiritually, to refine our character, to humble our self-will and to inch a little closer to the goal: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’   Leviticus 19:2

Thousands of years ago, God knew that the descendants of Ephraim would wander the world, many of them in later generations, completely unaware that they had any connection to the son of Joseph.

But the promise remains: in the last days (that’s now, my friends) the sons of Joseph would return to their God.  And it’s happening.

Hundreds – no, thousands – in the last 8-10 years have rediscovered that very connection and have been returning, slowly, sometimes painfully, to the LORD.  I’m not speaking about genetics necessarily though there have been many I’ve known who have learned later in life that they actually had Hebrew ancestry.

The return is not primarily physical; it is spiritual.  It is a return to relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the Almighty, the Eternal One, the Holy One.  Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to ‘seek’ a religion.  We are, however, in several places admonished to ‘seek His face’.  It is to God Himself that our allegiance must be given.

In Tune with Torah this week = We are living in a day and age where many souls are being awakened to true spirituality.  Religion will never satisfy the hunger in one’s heart for God.  It was never designed to.  Religious practice has been developed to strengthen a relationship already in existence.

Israel’s return to the Land of Promise is the physical manifestation of the prophet’s words but it’s not enough.  There must also be a spiritual return to the God who gave the promise!

How is your personal relationship with the LORD?  Is your ‘religious’ expression flowing out of your daily communion with Him or is it just ‘what we do’?  The answer to that question is more important than you can imagine.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayei Sarah November 25, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 23:1-25:18

Haftorah reading: I Kings 1: 1-31

In this week’s Haftorah reading, King David is described as ‘advanced in years’, his body showing signs of the years of hardship he had endured.  He was about 70 at this time but seems even older than his years; for David, it wasn’t just the years – it was the mileage. He seemed to live the lives of four or five men in his lifetime.

David’s diminished ability shows that question of David’s successor had to be addressed. King David could not last much longer, and his family history had been marked by treachery and murder. At this point, it was worth wondering if there could be a bloodless transition from David to the next king.

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king”; and he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.  (I Kings 1:5)

2 Samuel 2: 3-5 describes the sons of David and lists Adonijah as the fourth son. Two of the three sons older than Adonijah were dead by this time (Amnon and Absalom), and we suspect that the other older son (Chileab) either also died or was unfit to rule because he is never mentioned after 2 Samuel 3:3.  As the oldest living son of David, by many customs Adonijah would be considered the heir to the throne. But the throne of Israel was not left only to the rules of hereditary succession; it was God who determined the next king.

However, Adonijah violated a basic principle in the Scriptures – that we should let God exalt us and not exalt ourselves.

For exaltation comes neither from the east, Nor from the west nor from the south.
But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another. (Psalm 75:6-7)

humility

The late John R.W. Stott once said: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.”  His succinct statement about pride and humility goes straight to the heart of what the Bible teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sorrows.

Some would say that pride is the special problem of those who are rich, powerful, successful, famous, or self-righteous. However, pride takes many shapes and forms and affects all of us to some degree for pride is essentially a preoccupation with self – my wants, my ways, my desires, my will.  As a famous Harvard psychologist observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness…  the very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride.

Pride can be summarized as an attitude of self-sufficiency, self-importance, and self-exaltation in relation to God. Toward others, it can manifest as an attitude of superiority, contempt and/or indifference. However, chances are good that most of us do not see pride in our lives. For while it is easy to see pride in others, it is very difficult to see it in ourselves.

Like Adonijah, we all have a ‘pride problem’ which is why there are multiple verses throughout the Scriptures that urge us to humble ourselves before the LORD for just as pride is the root of all sin, so “humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue.”  The simplest definition of humility that I know is this one:  Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.

Mother Teresa, the venerable nun who worked among the poorest of the poor in India, wrote in her book, The Joy of Living:

These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
To mind one’s own business.
Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one’s dignity.
To choose always the hardest.

So how should we think of ourselves?  On the one hand, we are God’s creatures: small, finite, dependent, limited in intelligence and ability but we are also God’s children: created, loved, and redeemed by God’s grace alone and gifted by God with certain unique abilities, resources, and advantages, which are to be used for His glory for whatever we have, we have received from Him.

Adonijah was not content with his state in life; he wanted what was not his to have, for God had already decreed that Solomon, not Adonijah, was to succeed David as the next king of Israel.  His arrogance brought him to an early grave.

Humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s word and opens our hearts to his Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells with him “who is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15).

Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant of the LORD does not happen over night. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it grows quietly in our innermost being as we make those choices that enable humility to grow.

In Tune with Torah this week =  a commitment to make those choices, the most important being to consistently seek a closer relationship with God in prayer and in meditation on His Word.  For those who truly know their God will be humble and those who truly know themselves cannot be proud.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Devarim July 24, 2015

Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:1 – 3:22

This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. This particular portion always coincides with the Shabbat before the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, not just once but twice.

The Sages have taught over the centuries that Israel lost the Temple due to the sin of baseless hatred. Divisions, arguments, jealousies and hostilities were allowed to grow and fester in the population so that the unity Moses urged Israel to preserve was destroyed. Among others, the venerable Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of modern Israel, used to teach that as the Temple was destroyed by senseless hatred, it would be rebuilt when Israel returned to the commandment ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Extravagant love in the place of senseless hatred would unite the nation again as the psalmist wrote, Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity…for there the Lord commands the blessing – life forever.

While this teaching sounds simple, it is in fact quite daunting, deserving of serious meditation.

The words “baseless hatred” imply rampant, wanton violence, yet the precise Hebrew phrase is”sin’at hinam”. Literally, ‘hinam’ actually means “free of charge” or “at no cost”. The Torah is not speaking about hatred for no reason at all, but rather a hatred out of proportion.

We generally dislike people for a reason. We justify our dislikes by citing reasons we consider appropriate. Perhaps we have been hurt, insulted, ignored or humiliated in public. Disliking them seems to be our only defense. The problem with that is that more times than we care to admit, our response is not proportional. We “overcharge” for these real or imagined offenses. Then we pay back with interest, and, as we all know, according to the Torah, ‘charging’ interest of a brother is forbidden.

If we are willing to be honest, we would recognize that at times the other person had no intention to hurt. It is our own insecurity and emotional fragility that reacted and judged others as malicious, even when no such malice was intended.

So here’s our dilemma: When accused of senseless hatred, many of us can with utter honesty state that we are innocent. However, if we ask the question a different way, does our conclusion stand that test?

If we have harbored resentments and tried in any way to ‘get even’, we are guilty. Whatever hatred we have for ‘them’ is not “free.” It is protected and nurtured by our un-forgiveness.

Our love for others is grounded in the knowledge that every person is created in the image of God. This other person is my brother, sister or perhaps, cousin too-many-times removed. I am obligated by Torah to love and care for him or her, to constantly consider how I can improve their life, to pray for them.

Therein lies the rub: We convince ourselves that the hostility is well-deserved, while the love we are commanded to express is unearned and is given to the undeserving.

How do we resolve this dilemma? The prophet Isaiah wrote that God’s ways are not our ways, neither are His thoughts our thoughts. We are called to see the world and the people in it from God’s perspective rather than our own. We also need to remember that we were created in God’s image and likeness and He commanded us ‘Be holy as I am holy.’

We have all sinned and offended God and His Word. Yet He holds no grudge, nor does He withhold His care. High interest payback is not in His vocabulary! Neither should it be part of our relationship paradigm.

In Tune with Torah this week = taking an honest look at our relationships. Are we harboring any resentment, un-forgiveness or ill will towards anyone else? Are we very sure that they actually intended to hurt us or have we ‘assumed’ or ‘presumed’ we knew their intention? Could we be wrong in our assessment of what happened? Can we admit that we may have misunderstood the incident and rushed to an incorrect conclusion? Moses was called by God ‘the most humble man on the face of the earth.’ Could my relationships be improved with a bit more humility injected into them – on MY part?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Toldot November 21, 2014

Genesis 25:19-28:9

The critical event regarding the birthright which Jacob purchased from Esau in exchange for a bowl of red lentils is one of the most well known accounts in the Torah. But does the story focus equally on the relationship of Isaac and Rebecca as it does on Jacob and Esau?

Several commentators suggest that perhaps the communication between Isaac and Rebecca during their married life was less intimate than between Sarah and Abraham. We get a hint about the strained communication to follow when Rebecca saw Isaac “meditating in the field” at which point she “covered herself with a veil.” Was she in awe of Isaac? Did she feel she was unworthy to be his wife, and from then on that sense of inadequacy dictated her communication or lack of it?

The Sages suggest that at a series of critical moments in their married life we see a failure of communication. It quite possible that Rebecca never told her husband what she heard from God before the twins, Esau and Jacob, were born, in which God told her “the elder will serve the younger.” If Isaac knew this, he may well not have favored Esau.

The failure to communicate had its consequence. Many years later, when she heard that Isaac was about to bless Esau she resorted to deception; she told Jacob to pretend he was Esau. Why not simply tell Isaac that Jacob was chosen by God to be blessed? Was she afraid to acknowledge that she’d kept the prophecy to herself all these years? Was she afraid that Isaac would be angry?

Had she spoken openly to Isaac on that day, Isaac may well have responded in a way that would have changed the entire course of their, and their children’s, lives. The entire deceit planned by Rebecca and carried out by Jacob would not have been needed. At its root is the sad truth that she and her husband did not enjoy open communication. The consequences were painful.

The elderly Isaac felt betrayed by his younger son, Jacob. He “trembled violently” when he realized what had happened, and said to Esau, “Your brother came deceitfully.”

Esau’s sense of betrayal produced such a violent hatred toward Jacob that he vowed to kill him. Rebecca was forced to send Jacob into exile and for the next twenty years did not see the son that she so loved. As for Jacob, the consequences of the deceit lasted a lifetime, resulting in strife between his wives, and between his children. “Few and evil have been the days of my life,” he said as an old man to Pharaoh. Four lives were scarred by one act which may not even have been necessary in the first place.

There is always a price to pay for a failure to communicate. The Torah shows us real life, among real people with real problems. Communication matters. In Genesis 2,the phrase “And man became a living soul” can just as correctly be translated “and man became a speaking soul.” Life is about relationship. And human relationships only exist because we can speak. We can tell other people our hopes, our fears, our feelings and thoughts.

Parents, clear and kind, strong and honest communication is essential in the home between yourselves and between you and your children. Open and respectful communication is what makes families, teams and corporate cultures healthy. Each individual needs to understand the values and behaviors they are expected to exemplify. When a child or an employee does well, there should be sincere praise given. When constructive criticism is required, it must be given with courtesy, making clear that it is not the person who is being criticized but their action.

Honest, open and respectful communication is not just about speaking; it is equally about listening! Parents, employers, friends, co-workers – we must all learn to gift one another with attentive listening as the occasion arises. My late husband used to say, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth; perhaps that means we should listen twice as much as we speak.”

In Tune with Torah this week = we can derive a couple of lessons from this week’s reading: 1) the importance of good communication between human beings is essential to stable society and a stable home.
2) If we find ourselves struggling to communicate, this is the time to humble ourselves before God, asking for His help as we strive to improve our skill in communicating effectively with those we love.

Shabbat Shalom