Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayishlach December 16, 2016

Torah reading: Genesis 32:4-36:43

Haftorah:  Obadiah 1:1-21

Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament, is an amazing little book whose theme is the pronouncement of doom against an ancient and long-forgotten nation, Edom. Written millenia ago, nevertheless, this book while appearing to say on thing on the surface, has a deep message for the 21st century reader.


Obadiah was one of the minor prophets, a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The name Obadiah means “the servant of Jehovah;” he fulfills the position of a servant. He comes and delivers his message, then fades into the background; that is about all we know of the man behind this book.

The book of Obadiah tells the story of two nations, Israel and Edom, the country to the south of Israel. Through this ancient land of Edom the Israelites marched as they came into Israel out of the captivity and slavery of Egypt. As they came into the land they had difficulty with the Edomites who were enemies of Israel from its very beginning.  Why?

Behind the story of these two nations is the story of two men, twins actually, Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the father of Israel, and Esau, his twin brother, became the father of the Edomites.  Jacob and Esau were in perpetual antagonism. According to Genesis even before they were born, they struggled together in their mother’s womb. That hostility marked the lives of these two men, and, subsequently, the lives of their descendants, the two nations of Israel and Edom.  From Genesis to Malachi the struggle and antagonism between them continues.

What is so important about these two men and these two nations? That is precisely what the book of Obadiah explains to us.

God is a great storyteller. He uses pictures so that we can understand truth more easily, more graphically. We like to have a picture. We would rather see something than hear it, so God has many pictures. He has taken these two men and the subsequent nations that came from them and used them throughout the Bible as a consistent picture of the conflict between the natural man and the spiritual man — Jacob and Esau, Israel and Edom.

Obadiah first turns the spotlight on Esau, who typifies a fleshly man concerned primarily with his personal wants, desires and passions.  The trouble with Esau, the prophet says, is this (verse 3):

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is high, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’  1:3

Esau’s problem is a self-focused pride or conceit.  Proverbs 6:16 says: “There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him.” And what is number one on the list? A proud look. And everything else that follows is a variation of pride. Those that are swift to run after mischief, he that spreads lies and slander and discord among brothers; all these things are manifestations of that single basic evil, human arrogance or conceit. Man’s undisciplined ego evaluates everything only in terms of its importance or its un-importance to oneself.  Esau typifies the character that thinks the universe revolves around him or her.

Here is the man who says, “Nobody can touch me. Who is going to upset me? My plans are all laid out. I am able to carry through what I set out to do.” This attitude of self-sufficient ability is a mark of pride. And the Lord says to Esau/Edom: “though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, yet I am able to bring you down.”

Here is the man who says, “I don’t need God. I can run my own life without God, in my own wisdom, my own strength, my own abilities, my own talents — that is enough. that is all I need to make a success in life.”

Esau/Edom is condemned for yet another type of arrogance. Look at verse 10:

For the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.

Violence is a fruit of arrogance and conceit that is centered only on self and strikes out against anything that dares to challenge its supreme reign in life.

Obadiah’s prophecy also condemns Esau/Edom for indifference towards others.

On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like on of them. vs. 11

One of the character traits of Esau/Edom is an inability to have empathy or compassion towards others; to be unmoved by the pain or suffering of one’s fellowman.

There is yet another form of pride that we read about in Obadiah (verses 12,13):

But you should not have gloated over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted in the day of distress.
You should not have entered the gate of my people in the day of his calamity;
you should not have gloated over his disaster in the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goods in the day of his calamity. Obadiah 1:12-13

Gloating over the misfortune of others is abhorrent to God and should be to us. What is behind this perverse delight we take in another person’s failure or his faults? It is Esau in us. In our pride and unconcern we don’t care what happens to someone else, as long as everything is all right with us. How selfish can we be?

The prophet goes on to say at the end of his short book that God has determined destruction for Esau but triumph for Jacob, who typifies the spiritual man, focused on God and caring towards others.  The message is clear: he who lives for himself will suffer loss in the kingdom of God; he who spends his life loving God and serving others pleases God in this life and looks forward to life in the world to come.


Selfishness in its various forms is a challenge for all of us.  If our goal in life is to honor God and to walk in His ways, selfishness is an “enemy” within that we must conquer.  Part of our responsibility to obey the commandment – ‘You shall be holy as I am holy‘- involves a day by day decision to live a life that reflects God’s generosity, kindness and love towards us by showing those same attitudes in our relationships towards others.









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)


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 – Be-halot-cha June 5, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 8-12

Towards the end of this week’s reading, God Himself describes Moses as ‘very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.’ Of all the character traits a person can have, why did God choose this particular one to emphasize?

One of the greatest and most succinct quotes I’ve heard on the subject is this one by the late John W. Stott: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” For the good of our souls, we need to gain a clearer understanding of pride and humility and how to forsake the one and embrace the other.

There are many biblical examples of pride and its consequences in the lives of individuals, and they offer valuable lessons. One of the more notable is that of Uzziah. When he became king of Judah at age sixteen, he set his heart to seek God and put himself under the spiritual mentorship of Zechariah. And “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chron. 26:5). As a result, he acquired wealth and also became politically and militarily powerful. Then things changed. “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction”

There are hints in the text that at some point along the way, he stopped seeking the Lord and exchanged his dependence on Him for a growing reliance upon himself and his own strength and wisdom. It is easy to become arrogant when we become stronger, more successful, more prosperous, or more recognized if we forget that all we have comes from God.

As a result of all his blessings, Uzziah, rather than humbling himself in thanksgiving before the Lord, developed an exaggerated sense of his own importance and abilities. This pride of heart led to presumption before God and brought very serious consequences upon him, illustrating the biblical warnings that pride leads to disgrace (Prov. 11:2) and that “pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18).

Interestingly, a famous Harvard psychologist, Gordon Allport, observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness… the region of his misery represents a complete preoccupation with himself. The very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride. If the sufferer is hypersensitive, resentful, captious, he may be indicating a fear that he will not appear to advantage in competitive situations where he wants to show his worth. If he is chronically indecisive, he is showing fear that he may do the wrong thing and be discredited. If he is over-scrupulous and self-critical, he may be endeavoring to show how praiseworthy he really is. Thus, most neuroses, are, from the point of view of religion, mixed with the sin of pride.

So – how are we to view ourselves? How do self-respect and humility walk hand in hand?

Specifics will vary from person to person, but certain things are common to us all. We are God’s creatures: we are small, finite, dependent, limited in intelligence and ability, prone to sin, and subject to death.

But we are also God’s children: created, loved, and blessed far more than we deserve because of His grace and kindness. We are gifted by God with certain unique abilities, resources, and advantages, which are to be used for his glory. These truths we must never forget or cast aside.

Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationships with others. Preoccupation with self has become epidemic in our world and nourishes a profoundly narcissistic culture. Repenting of self-centeredness and returning to the biblical principle of loving and serving our fellow man is not an option for those who love God and want to walk in His ways.

Truly, 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 lowly spirit” (Isa. 57:15).

In Tune with Torah this week = Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant. It 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 does happen if we willingly choose – willingly look for – opportunities to humble ourselves. It is a lifetime journey, this path to humility, but a journey well worth pursuing for humility is the crown of all the other virtues.

Shabbat Shalom