Weekly Torah Commentary – Terumah February 16, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 25:1 – 27:19

Haftorah reading: I Kings 5:26 – 6:13

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it.”  Exodus 25:8-9

pillaroffire

There is a principle embedded in the pages of Scripture that says: God has provided the cure before the disease.  In timeless eternity before Creation, God, in His great mercy and love, had a plan that was already in motion before man fell; a plan to reveal His love and His character to mankind and give man a second chance to commune with God.

When you read through the Book of Exodus, you will find that God gave three very important things through Moses that gave Israel the beginnings of God’s plan.

First, He had to show them what it meant to be holy, and to show them where they had already missed the mark and were an unworthy people, worthy only of death and judgment. He did this by giving them the Torah, and specifically the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments are not suggestions but rather God’s instructions for attaining to a holy life.

Secondly, God gave Moses the Civil and Religious Laws that we read so much of in the Book of Leviticus and other books of God’s Word. These laws were meant to show man the way to living a sanctified and committed life.

Thirdly, God commanded Moses to build a dwelling place for Him in the midst of the nation of Israel. It was the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

The Tabernacle was to be the place where God would dwell and guide His people during their wilderness journey. The building of the Tabernacle was to be one of the most joyful and momentous occasions in the history of Israel.  Everything about this tabernacle was a symbol of something far greater than a building made with hands. It was built to visually express God’s deepest desire: to dwell in the hearts of men.

So let’s take a look at some facts about the Tabernacle.

1. The Tabernacle was the worship center of Israel for a long, long time: more than 500 years from MOSES to DAVID – until Solomon’s TEMPLE was built

2. A Large portion of the Torah is dedicated to the Tabernacle:

-13 chapters in the book of Exodus discuss the Tabernacle and its priesthood.

-18 chapters of Leviticus discuss the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle.

-2 chapters in Deuteronomy are set aside for the study of the Tabernacle.

3. The Tabernacle was filled with symbols, types, pictures, and shadows that teach us spiritual truths. The symbolism of the Tabernacle is significant.

4.  The Tabernacle and its priesthood were teaching tools for more than 500 years. Israel had to settle for an imperfect Tabernacle that was made with human hands but which foreshadowed God’s ultimate plan of Redemption.

5. The cloud that guided by day was visible above the Holy of Holies to show that God was in their midst.  The pillar of fire by night was comforting. The Children of Israel could always look toward the Holy of Holies and see the fire of God’s presence over their camps.

The Tabernacle was the dwelling place for God’s presence upon earth, standing as a strong and enduring witness of the reality of God’s presence, His love and His care for His people.  But it also testified to a reality to come: that one day those who are called God’s people would so embody the spirit and essence of the One they follow that all nations would see and recognize Him as Almighty Father, Glorious Creator and Incomparable Redeemer.

The Tabernacle is referred to by three distinct words.  A ‘tabernacle‘ is a ‘dwelling’ place.  A ‘sanctuary’ is a ‘place set apart.’  A ‘tent of testimony’ signifies a dwelling which makes a statement about who lives in it.

In Tune with Torah this week = Given that the Tabernacle was not only a physical place but also a spiritual reality that speaks to us these many centuries later, this Shabbat let us ask ourselves how we individually embody the three names by which it was known.

Am I – are you – a ‘dwelling place’ for God?  Is God at home with your way of life?

Am I – are you – a ‘sanctuary’ for Him? Is your life ‘set apart’ from the secular world’s way of doing things?  From its values and systems?

Am I – are you – a ‘tent of testimony’? Can others look at your lifestyle and recognize the presence of God in you?  Does your day to day life ‘testify’ that you love God and follow Him?

The Tabernacle was not just for the wilderness.  May its true meaning live on in each of us!

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Pekudei March 11, 2016

As the book of Exodus draws to a close, a cloud envelops and fills the newly completed Tabernacle.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses was not able to enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the Tabernacle day by day and there was fire on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.  Exodus 40:34-38

We may not have noticed but the cloud has been a major element throughout the book of Exodus.

cloud

When the Israelites first left Egypt, the cloud accompanied them:

The Lord went before them by day with a pillar of cloud, to guide them along the way. By night it appeared as a pillar of fire, providing them with light. They could thus travel day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire at night from before the people.  Exodus 13:21-22

From the day they left Egypt, like a brooding mother, the cloud protected them. It separated their encampment from that of the Egyptians, it led them through the sea and at the appropriate time, God Himself descended on Mt. Sinai ‘in a cloud’ which the people could see.

God said to Moses, ‘I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that all the people will hear when I speak to you. They will then believe in you forever.’ Exodus 19:9

When God called Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai, he had to make his way through that cloud:

Then Moses went up the mountain and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord rested on Mt. Sinai and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud.  And to the eyes of the sons of Israel, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain.  Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. Exodus 24:15-18

These verses bear a striking resemblance to the verses quoted above describing the completion of the Tabernacle. The key concept in both is the ‘cloud’.

Think back to the incident of the golden calf. The people became impatient and confused; they felt abandoned due to Moses’ lengthy stay on top of the mountain. While that is understandable in the natural, the sin of the golden calf was the fruit of their lack of appreciation for God’s Presence in the midst in the form of the cloud. Because they turned a blind eye toward the ever-present manifestation of God, taking the ‘cloud’ for granted, they fell into sin.

Herein lies a key that applies to every person in every generation.

Though we may not see with our physical eyes, the ‘cloud’ of God’s presence with us by day and by night, the truth is that He is just as present today as He was then for He is the same – yesterday, today and forever.

Holy men and women throughout the centuries have taught the importance of living each day mindful of God’s presence with us.  That consciousness serves to protect us just as much as the cloud in the desert protected the Israelites.  When we do not take the ‘cloud’ for granted, as they did, we recognize more quickly the danger of entertaining temptation to do wrong and choose instead the ways of righteousness more readily.

In simple terms, cultivating the awareness of God’s presence with us at all times is a deterrent towards falling into sin, like a child who chooses to behave properly in his father’s presence while in the father’s absence may be more likely to transgress his parents’ instructions.

In Tune with Torah this week = look back over the past week and consider: how often have I been aware of God’s presence with me?  Are there times when I acted or spoke in ways that would not meet with the Lord’s approval?  If I had stopped then to consider His presence with me, would I have spoken or acted differently?   Let us be like David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who declared:

I have set the Lord continually before me. Psalm 16:8
Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel March 4, 2016

Exodus 35:1-38:20

What do you do when your people have just made a golden calf, fallen into gross immorality and lost their sense of identity? How do you restore moral order – not just then in the days of Moses, but even now?

This week’s Torah portion gives us direction.

What did Moses have to do after the golden calf He had to transform the Israelites from a crowd into a community.

When Moses came down the mountain and saw the calf, the Torah says the people were peruah, meaning “wild, disorderly, chaotic, unruly, tumultuous.” He “saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” They were not a community but a crowd, a mob.

So – Moses began by reviewing for the people the importance of Shabbat because he knew a secret: when people will set aside that one day to focus on their personal relationship with the Holy One of Israel through prayer and study of His Word, they are drawn to love and serve their God with greater understanding and devotion.  Of course, we need to feed our spiritual nature every day of the week, but setting aside Shabbat for greater and more sustained attention to spiritual matters is vital.

Secondly, Moses instructed them to build the Tabernacle as a symbolic home for God.

Tabernacle

Why these two commandments rather than any others? Because the weekly Sabbath and the gathering in a sanctuary to worship with others of like faith are the two most powerful ways of building community. Moses understood that the best way to turn a crowd into a community was to have them build something together.  And he also understood that strengthening relationships within that community requires setting aside dedicated time when we focus not on our own self interests but on the things we share by praying together, studying God’s Word together, and celebrating together.  Simply put, uniting the commandment of Shabbat with the commandment to build the Tabernacle became the force by which that unruly crowd morphed gradually into a community.

The principle holds true to this very day for the golden calf was not a one-time event.  Every generation has its opportunity to ‘build a golden calf’ – an attitude, a conviction, a persuasion that begins to permeate the population’s consciousness to turn away from God and seek some other ‘god’.  The result is always deterioration of the society, conflict, violence and moral decay.

Developing community is essential if a nation or society will emerge from their own ‘golden calf crisis.’ We find God in community. We develop virtue, strength of character, and a commitment to the common good. Community is local. It is society with a human face. It is not far-off government. It is not the people we pay to look after the welfare of others. Community is the work we do ourselves, together.

Community is at once the antidote to self-centeredness as well as deliverance from over-reliance on government. A sense of community causes human beings to flourish, protects freedom and sustains the common good.

And it all began in a desert at the foot of a mountain when Moses took action to bring God’s people out of a deadly crisis.  As we look around our world today, nations are in crisis.  A crippling economy, massive unemployment, unruly mobs in the streets, increased violence – these are all ‘fruits’ of the breakdown of the biblical concept of community.  America’s founding fathers warned that the republic they established would only survive if peopled by individuals with a firm moral compass derived from their Judeo- Christian values.

Every nation worldwide that finds itself in crisis in our day would do well to emulate the principles in this week’s Torah reading.  Every local synagogue and church troubled with divisive tensions would as well.  Revived attention to the Person and Words of the Holy One of Israel, along with rebuilding the sense of community is by far the most effective long-term means of restoring a broken nation or group.

In Tune with Torah this week = it begins with you and me.  How conscious are we of seeking the good of our local community, of our religious community whether synagogue or church?  Do we make decisions more often on our own self-centered attitudes than on what is best for the community?  And – as individuals within the community, how are we doing with regard to spending personal as well as communal time in the presence of God on our ‘day off’?

The survival and flourishing of our local and national identity, whatever our home nation might be, is more dependent on these two principles than on any political or governmental effort.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh Feb. 19, 2016

Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This week’s reading continues with the instructions regarding the Tabernacle.  Last week the focus was on its construction.  This week, instructions are given for what was to happen inside the Tabernacle.  Is this only a historical record of what happened back then? What does this have to do with us today?

Much of the reading is devoted to instructions regarding the priests, Aaron and his sons. ‘Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadav And Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar.  Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to me and be my priests.’ 28:1  The chapter continues with explicit instructions about the clothing the priests were to wear.

HighPriest

Aaron and his descendants have a permanent calling to serve God as representatives of the people.  Anyone not descended from Aaron is not qualified for that unique service.

However, earlier in Exodus 19:6, God declared to the children of Israel:

And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

What does it mean that God wants us to be ‘a kingdom of priests’?

The call to priesthood is three-fold:  to be set-apart, to share God’s character and to be brought close to His presence.

As a priest serves as an intermediary between God and men, so each of us who are part of the “kingdom of priests” is called by God to 1) understand that we are set apart for His purposes; 2) we are to emulate His character; and 3) we are to do all in our power to get as close to Him as possible.  Only then are we able to share His Word with others by demonstration and expression.  Wherever we find ourselves in this world, our primary destiny is to reflect the character of the Almighty through how we live.  Our words, our actions, our attitudes, our choices are to be governed by the Word of God and when they are, we become that influence over those around us that God created us to be.

Part of being a ‘priest’ was also to stand in the gap for the people. While you and I may not qualify to exercise that responsibility in the same way that Aaron and his sons did in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, nevertheless we are able to step into that role through prayer.  Turning to God on behalf of others is part of the duty of a ‘kingdom of priests.’

Our world is facing challenges and dangers from many directions.  Thousands are suffering in various and sundry ways – diseases, famines, natural disasters.  Others are struggling with unemployment, homelessness, depression.  The list goes on.  Are we touched with the pain of others? Or are we so wrapped up in ourselves that we pay no attention to the suffering and the persecuted?

Compassion is defined as ‘sympathetic concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.’ Whether you are able to give any practical assistance to someone in need or in pain is not the only issue.  Sometimes we can; sometimes we can’t.  But what we can always do is be the ‘priest’ and at the very least, lift them in prayer to our heavenly Father. We can follow the example of Abraham, who seeing the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah and being told that God was going to destroy the city, cried out in prayer for mercy.  “If You find fifty righteous, will You spare the city?” He asked the Lord.   How many times Moses went to God on behalf of the people when they sinned, when they rebelled, when they complained and he interceded on their behalf before God?

That is the duty of a priest.  That is the duty of a kingdom of priests.

In Tune with Torah this week = think about your prayers of the past week, the past month.  Were they primarily focused on you, your family, your needs, your concerns? If so, don’t beat yourself up about it – most of us would probably be in the same boat with you.

But don’t justify it either.  Our hearts need to be expanded so our prayers will be more inclusive of others beyond our immediate circle.  God’s compassion never fails, His mercies are new every morning.  Aren’t we all thankful for that!! We need to be more like Him and cultivate compassionate hearts towards others.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Terumah Feb. 12, 2016

Exodus 25:1-27:19

Where do we find ourselves in this week’s Torah portion?  At the foot of Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah.

Moses is told to instruct the children of Israel to bring offerings to God (vs. 3-7) and in verse 8 we are told the reason.

Have the people of Israel build Me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them. (vs. 8)  Another translation renders this: Let the children of Israel fashion Me a Tent so I can make my home among them.

Tabernacle

You see, the Tabernacle wasn’t built because the people needed a place of worship. It was constructed for God; a home away from home, if you will, a specific place where God’s glory could rest.

This was the whole purpose for delivering them from slavery – that HE might dwell among them in such a profound, tangible way that every nation would know that He alone is God and that He and His people would enjoy an intimate relationship.  In a sense, God was about the process of re-creating the Garden of Eden.

Before Adam & Eve sinned, God walked with them in the garden; they and their Creator enjoyed absolute harmony and peace.  There was nothing between them and the Holy One.  That all changed because of ONE act of disobedience.  Though commentators may lament ‘what could have been’ if Adam & Eve had never sinned, the real issue at hand is that the Holy One of Israel lost the pleasure of their fellowship.  Since then He has deliberately and consistently worked among His people to restore what HE lost in Eden.

The text hints at this in the very next verse:  Be sure to make it according to the pattern that you saw on the mountain, He instructs Moses. During the forty days Moses spent in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai, the Holy One showed him the ‘Tabernacle’ – the ‘dwelling place’ in the heavens and essentially He said to Moses, Build Me one that is a mirror image of the one in heaven; a place where I can dwell.  The word in Hebrew is mishcan which literally means ‘tent of dwelling’.

But there is much more here than meets the eye.  The building – the ‘tent’ – speaks of something near and dear to the heart of God.  What He has always desired is to dwell in and among His people.  From the beginning He has wanted His people to be a living Tabernacle of His presence in the earth.

God did not intend his meeting with the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai as a never-to-be repeated pinnacle of human history. In the Tabernacle, he gave us the spiritual understanding to keep our relationship with Him fresh and alive, both as individuals and as communities of faith.  Entering the Tabernacle was a renewal and a reminder of the message of Sinai: I took you out of the slavery of Egypt so you could be My people and I could be Your God.  Walk with Me and be holy as I am holy.

Our sublime calling as human beings and as children of the Holy One of Israel is to be a living Tabernacle of the Almighty; that through our lifestyle – our words, our actions, our obedience to His Torah – the light of His truth will shine in this world.

In Tune with Torah this week = how well do we exhibit to those around us that spark of His presence which is within us? Do we have a positive effect on others by the way we live and interact with our fellowman?  Does it make a difference to this earth and to human kind that you are here?

Shabbat Shalom

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