Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim Feb. 24, 201

Torah reading: Exodus 21-24

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25-26

This week’s haftorah reading is directly related to the first verse of the Torah reading in Exodus 21, in which God commands that anyone who has a Hebrew slave must grant him freedom after six years and send him away  with provision that will enable him to begin a new life.

The words in Hebrew translated as ‘Hebrew slave’ are eved ivri, which literally means a Hebrew worker or employee, not a ‘slave’ in the context of that word in modern thinking.  In ancient times, someone who had a debt they could not re-pay would voluntarily ‘work off their debt’ by serving in the household of the one to whom they owed the money.  In the Torah, God made clear that no one was to be such an eved ivri for more than six years and in fact, when the master released the worker, he was to provide him with whatever was needed for the newly freed servant to establish a new life.  The fundamental concept is that we are always to treat others with dignity, even and especially if they have fallen on hard times.

Fast forward to today’s haftorah:

“The word that came unto Jeremiah from the LORD, after that the king Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people that were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; that every man should let his man-servant, and every man his maid-servant, that is a Hebrew or a Hebrewess, go free; that none should make bondmen of them, of a Jew his brother. And all the princes and all the people obeyed, that had entered into the covenant, that everyone should let his man-servant, and everyone his maid-servant, go free, that none should make bondmen of them any more; they obeyed, and let them go. But those owners changed their minds and forced their former servants back into slavery. Jeremiah 34:8-9

 

Jeremiah addresses a situation in the Jerusalem of his day in which the population conducted a hypocritical ceremony of emancipation of their household servants only to re-‘enslave’ them shortly afterward.  God was outraged at such behavior and considered it treacherous and shameless, particularly because those who did so were themselves descendants of slaves that God Himself undertook to deliver from Egypt in a miraculous way.  He commanded in the Torah that His people were to be ‘holy as He is holy’ and to treat one’s fellowman as He treated them.

Therefore, the punishment inflicted upon them was justly deserved.

What made the peoples’ sin even worse was that they broke a covenant. To break a covenant was a grievous sin – and still is.  Therefore, the people suffered the consequence.

This reading reminds us that every decision has consequences not only for ourselves but for those around us.  And the decisions we make regarding how we treat each other are particularly important to God.

Has God been merciful to you when you needed mercy? Yes. Then in turn you are to be merciful towards those in need, towards those who have offended you, towards those who disagree with you.

Has God been good to you? Yes.  Then in turn you are to show goodness and kindness towards others.  It should be the natural result of your own awareness of God’s kindness towards you?

Has God been patient with you? We can all say a resounding ‘Yes’! Then it behooves us to learn patience in dealing with those around us, as the proper expression of gratitude to the LORD for His patience with us.

This is the lesson the Israelites had not learned and therefore, they paid the consequence.

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service’. But your fathers did not listen to Me or incline their ears to Me.  You recently repented and did was what right in My eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before Me in the house that is called by My name.  But then you turned around and profaned My name when each of you took back his male and female servants, whom you had set free according to their desire and you brought them back into subjection.  Therefore, thus says the LORD: You have not obeyed Me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor.  Behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence and to famine, declares the LORD.  I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  Jeremiah 34:12 -16

God did not take lightly the fact that the people promised ‘in the house that is called by My name’ to obey the Word of the LORD and then almost immediately, took it back.  It was a mockery and an insult to His holiness and God took it personally.

He still does.

When we mistreat others in violation of His commandment that we are to love one another, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.  When we make a promise to Him and then ignore or dismiss it, it is grievous to the heart of our heavenly Father.

Application:

At least two questions arise out of this passage.  1) Am I treating others with the same kindness with which God treats me?  2) Am I a person of my word? When I make a promise, do I keep it?

The answers to those questions are supremely important to our God.

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

Please leave a comment below and if you enjoy these weekly posts, please invite your friends to check us out.

 

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – April 22, 2016 PASSOVER

We have an unusual situation this Shabbat. Friday night at sundown, not only does the Sabbath begin, but also the week long Festival of Passover.  Therefore the regular Torah cycle of readings is suspended until after Passover is completed.

Pesach

The readings for this week are Exodus 12:21-51, Numbers 28:16-25 and Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2 – 6:1, 6:27.  I encourage you to read them at your leisure.

Here in Israel, our people have been super busy, cleaning all the leaven out of their homes and preparing for the Seder (festive meal) Friday evening.  What is it about Passover that is so special that an entire nation prepares diligently, even feverishly, for it each year?

Early in the Torah, God defines himself by the event commemorated each year at Passover: At the beginning of the ten commandments he introduces himself like this: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”. 

Previously He called Himself “The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob”, or “I AM” but beginning at this point He is “The One who brought you out of Egypt” and that self-description is repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible literally hundreds of times.

Many of the Psalms refer to the Passover miracle and though many Jewish people consider Mt. Sinai as the defining moment, perhaps God sees the Passover as the cornerstone of the Israel story.  Passover was the moment in history when the Jewish race became the Jewish faith.

Our God is all about freedom; human choice is at the heart of the unfolding deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Even though God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, that only happened after some serious choices on Pharaoh’s part to harden his own heart first. God just confirmed his free choice.

The children of Israel also had to choose whether to go along with God’s plan or not. They were not rescued from the Angel of Death by force – He gave them an “opt in” clause: to have death pass over your house, you must sacrifice a lamb and dab its blood on your door frame. This act of faith constituted the individual’s response to a command of God which carried a promise with it.  All who believed it was true and acted accordingly were saved. That means that those who escaped from Egypt freely chose to obey God and follow him by faith – not just because of their national ancestry. This is the moment that the people of Israel became a faith community.

As we mentioned, the ten commandments are introduced by God’s reminder that he loves to set slaves free, and the very first command when he subsequently lays down the rest of the Torah is this: “These are the laws you are to set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.” (Exodus 21:1-2). What a strange subject with which to start a new code of government, spiritual life and ethics! But God is determined that his people should not be in slavery – they should be free. This is the message of passover. That is what the exodus was all about. God is serious about making his people free.

Remembering is very important to God. The Bible frequently urges us to do just that: “Remember”.  If we remember what God has done, what He has said and who He is, we our faith in Him is energized and our trust solidifies.

The Passover Seder meal is a festive, teaching, and remembering experience, instituted by God himself, in order to prevent us from forgetting His amazing power and faithfulness. Today the family celebration is based around four cups of wine and a “haggadah” or “telling” which is like an order of service. There are different ideas about what each of the four cups represents, but generally the first cup is about being set apart for God, the second is the time to tell the story, the third is after the meal, when Jewish people usually give thanks for their food, and the last one is “hallel” or praise, during which the psalms of thanksgiving are recited.

Each item of food on the table symbolizes something in the story  and each aspect of the evening helps the Jewish people to remember the miracles God did for them and even to re-live them. It is as if we ourselves were delivered from the oppression of Pharoah.

The ultimate purpose of the Seder is to re-awaken and strengthen relationship. God wants intimacy with his people. God looks back at that time right after the exodus as something of a honeymoon with his people:

“This is what the LORD says:“‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest”. Jeremiah 2:1-3

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15

Someone once said “a dessert is something you want and don’t need, but the desert is something you don’t want, but you do need”.  We all experience ‘desert’ times in our spiritual life but it’s often during those times that our relationship with God deepends. One day ultimate rest will be ours but until then, life with God is not always going to be a walk in the park.

Passover is the time to draw closer to the One who delivers, saves and redeems.  We are with him, and he is with us. We are his people, and he is our God. The joy of relationship with Him is our strength and our song.

It is also a time to look to the future. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but it will be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.” Jeremiah 16:14-16 .

The story of God and the children of Israel is not over yet. God has indeed brought the Israelites out from the land of the north (Russia and surrounding area) and thousands have come to live in Israel from countries around the globe.  Many do not yet attribute this phenomenon to God but the days are coming when they will know it is truly His doing.

Meanwhile, we celebrate the Passover past and look forward to the future ‘Passover’ when we will transition from life as we know it to the promised manifestation of the restored Kingdom of God on this earth.  May it come quickly, even in our day!

A blessed Passover to all my readers – and Shabbat Shalom!

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Bo Jan. 15, 2015

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

The time had come.

The Hebrew slaves were on the brink of release. Moses, their leader, gathered them together. They fell silent, anticipating what he was about to say.

What would he speak about at this monumental juncture? He could have spoken about many things. He might have talked about liberty, the breaking of their chains, and the end of slavery. He might have talked about the destination to which they were about to travel, the “land flowing with milk and honey”. Or he might have chosen a more somber theme: the journey that lay ahead, the dangers they would face on their long road to freedom. Any one of these would have been the speech of a great leader at an historic moment in the destiny of Israel.

Yet…Moses did none of these things. Instead he spoke about children, about the distant future, about the duty to pass on to generations yet unborn the profound experience of the Exodus. Three times in this week’s Torah portion he turns to the theme:

And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say … (Exodus 12:26-27)

And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8)

And when, in time to come, your child asks you, saying, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him… (Exodus 13:14)

About to gain their freedom, the Israelites were challenged to become godly parents. Moses urged them to become a nation of educators who would invest their energy in making sure that successive generations knew what God had done for His people.  This in part is what made Moses not just a great leader, but a unique one.

In this admonition of Moses to the people, we learn that freedom is won and maintained, not on the battlefield, nor in the political arena, nor in the courts, national or international, but in the home.  You see, to defend a country you need an army. But to defend a free society you need strong families. You need parents that are not too busy to teach their children by word and example the ideals of godly living.  You need homes and schools that work together to, as King Solomon wrote in the Proverbs, ‘train up a child in the way that he should go.’

Children are a precious gift of God.  With the gift comes great responsibility.  That child is not yours; he or she is on loan from heaven, sent to this earth and into your care with a divine purpose and destiny, the greatest of which is the opportunity to get to know God and to love Him and live by His Word.

Not everyone is a parent, but we all have opportunities to influence the young. One of the greatest things we can do is listen when a child or teenager wants to speak.  Listen long enough to really hear what they are trying to say, avoiding impetuous responses before hearing the whole story.

To this day, every year at Passover, Jewish parents tell the Exodus story again to their children and grandchildren, lest we forget that slaves become free men only by the Hand of God.  Slavery as an institution has been greatly diminished but what about spiritual slavery? Are we ‘enslaved’ to careers, to negative behaviors, to greed or selfishness?  What do our children see?

In Tune with Torah this week = asking ourselves, ‘What do I model before others? Are my children and/or grandchildren knowledgeable about the God of Israel because I’ve taken the time to talk with them about Him and His Torah?  And more importantly, can they see by my lifestyle that God is first and foremost in my life?

Shabbat Shalom

PS. Several new subscribers have joined our online Bible Study this week, posted on our sister site.  If you’d like to check it out, go to: Coffee and Commentary

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Ki Tetzei August 28, 2015

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

In this week’s Torah lesson we encounter the greatest number of commandments listed in a single reading. Among them is the following: Do not hate an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land. (Deut. 23:8)

We may read that verse casually but think about the context. Moses delivers this commandment to the children of former slaves. The generation about to enter the Promised Land are the offspring of those whom Moses led out of slavery in Egypt, those who stood at Mt. Sinai and saw the glory of God on the mountain. The experiences of their parents and grandparents are vivid memories. And of all things, God through Moses commands them (doesn’t suggest mind you but commands) to forsake hatred toward the very ones who had enslaved and abused their forefathers. They’d imposed hard labor on them, threw scores of their male infants into the Nile and made their lives difficult beyond our understanding.

Yet 40 years later, Moses utters this commandment as if none of those atrocities had happened! In fact, he implies that the children of Israel owed the Egyptians a debt of gratitude for their hospitality!! Isn’t this the same Moses who at the command of God instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover every year to remember what they’d been through and celebrate their divine deliverance? Why would God give such a commandment?

The answer is as simple as it is profound. To be free, you must let go of hate. The children of the former slaves must not continue in a slavery mentality for mental and emotional chains are the most devastating of all.

Hatred, bitterness, resentment, rage and the urge to ‘get even’ betray a profound lack of understanding regarding true freedom. What Moses is teaching them is that while they must remember the past, they must not live in it. Anyone who allows the past to define who they are in the present has not yet been set free.

When the Torah commands “you shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt” it never intends the remembrance as justification for hatred or revenge. Rather it is always to urge the children of Israel to learn from what they experienced and never impose the same on others but instead to build a compassionate and just society.

The message repeated several times: Don’t subject others to hard labor or impose burdens such as your fathers endured. Be careful to remember the rest and freedom of every seventh day. Give generously to the poor. Let them eat from the leftovers of the harvest. Share your blessings with others. Don’t deprive people of their livelihood, etc.

The framework of the Torah is built on this principle: you know in your heart what it feels like to be the victim of persecution, therefore do not persecute others.

“Remember” – not to live in the past but to prevent its repetition at your own hands.

To experience what God calls freedom, the enslaved must be able to let go of antagonism to his former master.

Hatred and freedom cannot coexist. To create a non-persecuting society out of people who have been persecuted, the chains of the past must be broken; memories must transform into constructive outlets that serve to build a different future.

Freedom requires the abandonment of hate, because hate is the abdication of freedom. It projects our conflicts onto someone or something else we can then blame, refusing to accept personal responsibility for the present. Moses’ message to those who were about to enter the promised land: that a free society can be built only by people who define themselves by love of God, not hatred of the other.

In Tune with Torah this week = how much do we let ourselves be defined by our past instead of learning from it and moving on into the future free of negativity, bitterness and hatred? Forgiveness and letting go is a fundamental requisite for experiencing the freedom God created us to enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom