Weekly Torah Commentary – Emor May 12, 2017

Torah Reading: Leviticus 21-24

Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 44: 15-31

But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood, declares the Lord GOD.  vs. 15

The first question that arises when we read this passage is ‘Who are the sons of Zadok? And who was Zadok?’

“Now these are the ones who came to David at Ziklag, while he was still restricted because of Saul the son of Kish… For day by day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God… also Zadok a young man mighty of valor, and of his fathers house twenty two captains” (1 Chronicles 12:1,22,28).  Long before David was crowned king, Zadok followed him faithfully because he knew what God had said through the prophet Samuel.

Zadok

Later, Zadok was the high priest during the reign of King David. When all of Israel went astray and followed after Absalom when he usurped his father’s throne, Zadok picked up the ark and followed David even though it seemed that this would mean certain destruction.

Zadok never followed the path of the politically expedient.  He did what was right. He knew that the Lord had anointed David as king and that He had not anointed Absalom. David was still the king, even though “all Israel” did not see it that way. The crowd paid a dear price, but Zadok’s reward would last forever. To this day, his sons are those whom are closest to the Lord.

Not once did Zadok ever look back. He proved to be righteous because he proved to be faithful! He was there when David needed him! And when so many others were being carried away with the rebellion of Absalom, Zadok remained faithful through it all.

“The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God… And the king said to Zadok, Return the ark of God to the city… The king said also to Zadok the priest, Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Abimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:23-25,27-28).

Note David’s question:“Are you not a seer?” This meant, “Zadok, you have the gift of discernment! You know what is evil and what is holy. You are strong enough, faithful and committed enough to Me to go into that realm of rebellion and idolatry and save the kingdom!” The king said to Zadok, “Return to the city.” God now had a holy priest to guard the house of God from ruin!

Though a whole nation was in rebellion, in Gods house there was a holy remnant. Is there anything that America, Israel and all the nations of the earth need more today than this? That “the sons of Zadok” – the remnant of God of which the prophets spoke – would stand in the gap and change the course of history, not by armies and weapons, but by prayer and faithful devotion to the truths of God’s Word.

Meanwhile, God was building for Zadok an enduring house, a priesthood that fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God who prophesied to Eli. This is that “faithful priest who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul.”

The holy remnant, the faithful priesthood of today, these servants of the Lord whose hearts are blameless and faithful – these are the spiritual offspring of Zadok! These are “near to the Lord” who minister to Him. Ministry to the Lord is the mark of the Zadok remnant.

Who are the sons of Zadok? The sons of Zadok are the ones who do the deeds of Zadok. They have the faith in God and the substance of character to follow the way that is right, even if everyone else goes the other direction. That was the resolve of Zadok which he taught to his sons and it was to them that the LORD entrusted His work in a time of great political chaos in Israel.

Across the globe today there is an enormous vacuum of godly and righteous leadership which makes this a dangerous time.  Throughout history,  a lack of strong and righteous leadership has always provided the greatest opportunities for tyranny.

The answer is not to pursue leadership, but to pursue the repentance that will lead us back to God’s favor, and then He will raise up righteous leaders. In II Chronicles 7:14 we are promised, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin an heal their land.”  Four things are required to heal a land:

1)   Humility

2)   Prayer

3)   Seeking His face

4)   Repentance from wickedness

This is the time for courage and unyielding resolve.  There is no place for cowardice in true faith. This is our time. This is our watch.

In Tune with Torah this week = Will we show the courage that is demanded of the true servants of the King?  Will we, like the sons of Zadok, be those who spend time in the Lord’s presence, seek His face and feed our spiritual man on His Word?  Will we stand up and speak up for what is right, even if no one stands with us?

Where are the sons of Zadok today?

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Miketz December 11, 2015

Genesis 41:1 – 44:17

In this Torah portion, Joseph interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh, predicting seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, and as result becomes Viceroy or Prime Minister, the second most powerful man in Egypt. After the famine began, his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize him. He keeps his identity hidden while he decides to test them. It will be yet some time before he reveals himself and asks for his father.

Biblical scholars have long wondered why Joseph never contacted his father. He’s called a tzaddik, a righteous man so how to explain this? Wouldn’t he have realized that his father was grieving?

Nachmanides (the Ramban) suggested in his commentary that Joseph could not have contacted his father until the dreams of his youth came true.  Only then could he be vindicated and reveal himself to his family.

Other commentators disagree with this view. Dreams are in the domain of God, they say; let Him worry about dreams. It is man’s job to do what is ethical, and the ethical thing for Joseph would have been to inform his father Jacob that he was alive and well.

A contemporary writer takes yet another position. Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun has suggested that perhaps the question is not Why did Joseph not contact Jacob? but instead, Why did Jacob not try to contact Joseph?

The answer seems straightforward; Jacob thought that Joseph was dead. However, Joseph had no idea what had happened back at home, and he could well have been asking himself: “Why doesn’t my father contact me?” We can agree that the sequence of events, from Joseph’s perspective, may suggest that line of thought.

Consider: Joseph knew that Jacob was well aware of the hostility between Joseph and his brothers. Could Joseph have wondered why Jacob sent him to look for his brothers in the first place?

Furthermore, there was a pattern in the family’s history that whenever relatives did not get along, the solution was to separate. It happened between Abraham and Lot, between Ishmael and Isaac and even with his father Jacob and his uncle, Esau. Could Joseph have assumed that because of all the dissension he stirred up in his father’s house, Jacob had decided to send him away?

Could it be that only upon learning from Judah that Jacob thinks his favorite son had been “ripped apart by beasts” [Genesis 44:28] did Joseph realize that his father thought that he was in fact dead?  Is that realization what prompted Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers at that moment and send for his father?

Another viewpoint: Given Joseph’s intimate relationship with his father Jacob, is it possible that Joseph thought, How can I expose to my father the terrible thing my brothers did? And if I betray them to my father, am I not doing as they did to me? What good will come of it? Shall my father lose his other ten sons because I make myself known to him?

According to this approach, Joseph’s consideration was completely selfless. To have been reunited with his father would clearly have been a great personal triumph for him, but it would have had tragic consequences. Therefore, Joseph chose to remain apart.

In Tune with Torah this week = try to imagine yourself in Joseph’s position. What would you have done? And why?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Lech Lecha October 23, 2015

Genesis 12 – 17

This week’s reading opens with the striking call of God to Abram: “Get going out from your land and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 12:1

Just imagine hearing a message from God like that! The text does not elaborate on Abram’s feelings or thoughts. It simply continues: “So Abram went, just as the Lord had spoken to him.” 12:3

He was 75 years old at the time and his wife, Sarai, was 65. Quite an undertaking at that age, don’t you think? Can you picture it?

“Sarai,” Abram says to his wife. “We’re moving.”

“Moving? Where? Why?” she replies.

“I’m not really sure, Sarai. The Almighty spoke to me and said we are to leave here and go. He’ll show us the way.” Did Sarai roll her eyes??? Would you if your husband came to you with such an announcement?? Have you ever wondered what their relatives thought?
Did they try to dissuade them? Did they think Abram was deluded, foolish, even crazy?

Sometime later after they had arrived in Canaan, God spoke again to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward…..He [God] took him outside and said, Look up now at the sky and count the stars if you are able to count them. Then He said to Abram, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he [Abram] believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” 15:1, 5-6

To this day, Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham on another occasion, is honored as the undisputed FATHER of the chosen people, the Patriarch, the first Hebrew. He was not given the Torah, as Moses was. He was not crowned king, as David was. There was no hierarchy, no Tabernacle or Temple, no developed religious system he was charged to oversee.

He believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

FAITH was the legacy he passed on to his son, Isaac and his grandson, Jacob. FAITH sustained his great-grandson, Joseph when he was betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned on false charges. FAITH inspired a mother of the tribe of Levi to hide her infant son that he might live. FAITH motivated that son, when he was grown, to leave behind the wealth and prestige of his upbringing in Pharaoh’s court in order to identify with his own people.

For some four centuries, FAITH was the essence of the first descendants of Abraham the righteous. It was only much later that the Torah was given through Moses so that the generation of Abraham’s descendants whose FAITH was nearly obliterated by the oppression of Egypt could find their way back to the kind of relationship with God that their father Abraham had enjoyed.

Contrary to what some may think, the essence of biblical Judaism is FAITH – relationship with the Holy One of Israel expressed in uncompromising trust in His revealed Word. This in no way minimizes the importance of His Torah; it actually defines it more clearly.
The instructions in the Torah teach us HOW to express and apply our living FAITH in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To obey God’s commandments from a heart of FAITH is what Mt. Sinai was all about. It was FAITH that earned Abraham the right to be called Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham.

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith in God and love for Him motivates us to obey His commandments. Simply to follow ‘tradition’ because ‘that’s what we do’ is not Abrahamic faith; it’s religion without relationship. What God wanted with Abraham was a relationship; what God wanted with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David was relationship.
It’s what He wants with you, too.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Feast of Tabernacles Oct. 8-15, 2014

SuccotThe Festival of Sukkot or Tabernacles is the last of the yearly festivals commanded in the book of Leviticus. Coming as it does right after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it seems redundant to some, even anticlimactic. However,it is a beautiful and inspirational festival.

Some believe that it was the Festival of Sukkot that inspired the Puritans of Massachusetts to celebrate their Thanksgiving Day. While giving thanks is a fitting conclusion to a succession of sacred days, Sukkot is much more than just a biblical “Thanksgiving.”

One of the readings during Succot is the book of Ecclesiastes in which the wise King Solomon speaks to us about the changing nature of life and eternal values. We are reminded that our condition is always precarious even when we think we dwell in security and safety. Yet through reading his book, we are reminded of a central issue in Succot: the temporariness of our earthly existence.

When we see what has happened to the world’s economy in a few short months, we might consider that we actually do ‘live’ in a sukkah. Anyone who has ever experienced a hurricane up close understands how a solid house can suddenly feel like a sukkah. When our trust-in our relationships, our work, our health-is shaken, we see that we really do ‘live’ in temporary dwellings on this earth. We can’t depend on the outer walls; our security and our stability is in God alone.

Since that’s the case, we are reminded each year during Succot of a valuable lesson about life. Strong faith is not a luxury but a necessity. Faith is a decision against chaos. It gives us the strength that comes from the inside, not from the outside.

Sukkot reminds us that what really matters in life is what will follow us into eternity: those words and actions which have eternal value; which have contributed to the betterment of our family and friends; which have inspired others to walk with God, to choose righteousness, to seek integrity, humility and holiness.

Succot is all about renewing in us the awareness of the destiny for which we were created: to be a living ‘Tabernacle’ or ‘Sukkah’ of His presence as we make our way through life’s joys and sorrows.