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 — Bamidbar June 10, 2016

Bamidbar – Numbers 1:1-4:20

Moses

The book of Bamidbar (‘the desert), listed in English Bibles as ‘Numbers’, is the fourth book of the Torah. As we begin to read it this Shabbat, we find some curious facts. Several events in this book should never have happened, most notably the forty years in the desert.  That was not the original plan!  After Sinai, the next stop for the Children of Israel, just a handful of days later, was intended to be the Promised Land. Yet we learn a timeless lesson: the ‘unplanned’ delay became a ‘school’ for the children of Israel.  Many of the lessons they learned ‘b’midbar’ – in the desert – were crucial to their formation as a holy nation.

Sound familiar?  We all experience delays in life, many of which we find irritating and troubling.  We’re in a hurry to ‘get on with it.’  However, like the children of Israel every delay is a treasure field of opportunity for spiritual, emotional and mental growth.

What additional significance was there for the Hebrews prolonged years in the desert?  Apart from the practical aspects of being prepared to conquer the land, there seems to be a greater design behind God’s decision to extend their sojourn in the desert. Is there something special about the desert that is unique to the process they would undergo?

In the desert, man is exposed, often without shelter. Hot days, cold nights, open spaces and no reliable sources of food or water create a situation of unparalleled vulnerability. It was in this atmosphere that the children of Israel were to learn about complete reliance on God. It was in the desert, as in no other place, that they would understand that all sustenance comes from God Himself.

Isolation is another aspect of desert living. Life in societies where ideas, customs and behaviors constantly swirl around you has its inevitable effect. It is very difficult to stand apart from your surroundings.  The newly freed slaves at the very birth of their development into a nation needed time alone before encountering the pagan societies of Canaan.  Time in the desert was not just an avoidance scheme; it was a place and time for preparation to become a viable and righteous society. Israel was called to become ‘a light to the nations’.  To do so, they themselves first needed to be enlightened and matured.  This was the purpose of ‘b’midbar’ – in the desert.

Every spiritual seeker sooner or later has a desert experience.  It may not be geographical and often, in fact, it isn’t.  The ‘desert’ of the soul can happen in the busiest city because it’s not an external thing; it’s an inner period of suffering, learning, growing, etc.  But it’s also a gift from God to lead us closer to Him.

This weekend, we have an interesting convergence of days.  Shabbat is on Saturday and as it comes to an end, we immediately transition into the Festival of Shavuot or Pentecost, which is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  A few words about that are in order.

The Torah refers to the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.  The Torah is a compilation of the historical record from creation to the death of Moses and includes – but is not limited to – the commandments God delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai; commandments designed to teach the former slaves (and us) how to live out a life of holiness in relationship with the God of Israel. In addition to the commandments, there are multiplied narratives of the experiences of the biblical Patriarchs, the released slaves, wars and conquests, etc.  Therefore, we should understand that the term ‘Law’ in reality should not be used interchangeably with the word Torah. For, ‘the Law’ refers to the commandments within the Torah but the entire Torah is more than laws.

Shavuot is a day when God holds out His hand and invites us to enter into that scary place called relationship – where the goal is closeness to God, not outward traditions and not necessarily practical benefit.  Living in intimacy with God will cost you.  Opportunities arise in all of our lives that seem “too good to pass up” but are they really?  The primary question in choosing which opportunities to accept should be: Will this position or location afford me the opportunity to enhance my spiritual life or will it hinder my spiritual growth?  Am I inclined to accept only because of the significantly higher salary or have I sought the Lord, as David did consistently, for His direction for my life?  Sad testimonies abound detailing the collapse of families, divorces and tragedies that resulted from a misplaced priority of pursuing money and position over family considerations.

Shavuot calls us to review our priorities.  Is my relationship with God my highest priority?  If not, I need to repent.  Are my family relationships intact?  If not, we have some work to do in resolving whatever issues there are that hinder the love, peace and joy that are meant to characterize a godly home.

This Shabbat/Shavuot weekend let us make it a priority to spend quality time in the presence of God – each of us personally – and resolve to deepen our relationship with Him and with those we love.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach Shavuot (may Pentecost joy be yours!)

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — Beresheit/ Genesis October 17, 2014

Genesis 1:1 – 6:8

In less than a single 24 hour day, humanity fell from grace to disgrace, from innocent utopia to banishment; from sheltered existence to the harsh grind of reality.

Genesis 2: 16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Notice that this commandment was addressed to ‘the man’, to Adam. Eve (Chavah in Hebrew) had not yet been created. Therefore, it was Adam who had to have related God’s command to Eve about the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Now notice what God said: ‘…you shall not eat…” God did not say ‘you shall not touch…’ However, it’s not far fetched to assume that touching it would greatly increase the likelihood of plucking it from the tree and eating it!

Genesis 3:1-5  Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

There were two trees in the Garden of Eden that stood apart from the rest of the trees, shrubs, plants and herbs: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.

There was no prohibition against eating from the Tree of Life nor from any other form of vegetation in that garden paradise.  God is Life, the Author and Giver of Life.  The Torah is also called the Tree of Life.  To feed on the Words and Wisdom of God on a daily basis is to enjoy true Life.  That was the menu God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden and it would have yielded an eternal, perfect life.

The one thing – the ONE SIMPLE restriction – forbade them to eat of the knowledge of good and evil.  You would think that in a perfect and abundant atmosphere such as they were in, it would be a simple thing to avoid just one tree!

But something much bigger was at stake.

Knowledge, like many things in life, can be wonderful; and it can also be deadly.  Great knowledge can lead to great pride and arrogance which destroys a relationship with God; and indeed, often with others as well.

To “know” God and to “know” His Word is first and foremost a matter of the heart and the spirit.  Intellectual knowledge, represented in the Garden of Eden by the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, is a poor substitute for ‘knowing’ Him, the Holy One of Israel, the Almighty, Everlasting One; the One Whose will has always been to dwell among His people.

Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-intellectual; university degrees are filed in my desk drawer.

But I am very much against knowledge for knowledge’s sake rather than for the purpose of deepening a personal, vibrant and growing relationship with Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King.

At Sinai, it was not a university that the God of Israel established; but a community of people whose destiny was to become a living sanctuary, a breathing Temple of His presence in this earth through an ever growing relationship with Him.

When Eve took that first bite and then enticed Adam to follow her example, intellectual reasoning based on appearance had its first devastating conflict with a loving Father Whose desire was intimate relationship: the fruit of the Tree of LIFE.

In Tune with Torah this week = As we begin a new cycle of studying God’s Torah, let us set our intent correctly.  Let each week’s reading and commentary be as fruit plucked from the Tree of Life creating in our souls a deeper hunger for God’s presence and a deeper passion to order our lives according to His ways.

Shabbat Shalom

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IN TUNE WITH TORAH – the book, birthed from this blog, contains a year’s worth of Torah meditations from past year’s postings,  is available on Amazon.com

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InTune

 

Weekly Torah Commentary — EMOR April 25, 2014

EMOR Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1 – 24:3

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the omer of the wave offering; seven complete Sabbaths shall there be: to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall you number fifty days and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15-16)

We are presently in the process of obeying this commandment as we are in the days of the counting of the Omer, which leads up to the festival of Shavuot, the day of the giving of the Torah.

Why would God, in remembrance of Pesach (Passover), command us to number or count these forty-nine days? The simple answer is that God wants us to realize the exodus out of Egypt was more than just the liberation of the Hebrew slaves. The exodus was directly connected to their arrival at Mount Sinai and to the receiving of the Torah on the fiftieth day.

The Israelites had been weakened physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the Egyptians. The years of backbreaking labor had taken a physical toll on the people. It was hard for them to keep an emotional balance while living in slavery. Understandably, there were emotions of hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration. Spiritually they had been battered by the paganism of Egypt and their thousands of gods.

Their belief in the One True God had been passed down to them by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons. No doubt, among many of the people, there was a wavering of this belief because of the severity of their conditions.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “mitzrayim.” The root meaning of this word is ‘boundaries and limitations’. Thus, in Egypt there was an oppressive and restrictive atmosphere that hung over the Israelites. The Egyptians restrained the Israelites’ freedom of movement and their freedom of expression.

As the children of Israel left Egypt, they were freed from their oppressive constraints. They now had to shed their emotional baggage as well to prepare for the monumental experience of receiving the Torah. This meant that negative emotions; such as, hatred, bitterness, anger, and frustration had to be replaced with the positive emotions of love, compassion, benevolence, harmony, and humility, to name a few.

We know the rest of the story. The Israelites did make it to Mount Sinai and they did receive the Torah; however, it was not without some major bumps along the way. There were complaints over water, food, and a major complaint over the whereabouts of Moses, which led to the golden calf incident. As a result, not everyone that left Egypt was standing at Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day.

What about us today, how can we apply the counting of the Omer to our lives?

We also have negative emotions that affect us through our surroundings. Today, our work load has been increased, prices of goods and commodities have risen, taxes have risen, and our overall ability to enjoy life has been diminished. Also, cultural norms have seeped into our lives with humanistic thought and behavior; slowly turning us away from God’s commandments to a morally bankrupt set of principles and practices.

What about the nation in which you live? And I live? Is our nation restricting our freedom of movement and restricting our freedom of expression? Our rights to travel, relocate, and voice our grievances with our national leaders were denied in Egypt prior to the exodus. What’s happening today?

Additionally, how would we judge our nation concerning its level of spiritual righteousness or spiritual impurity? Is our nation doing well or is it sinking close to the level of God’s judgment?

Because of the conditions surrounding us, the counting of the Omer takes on a new importance. It allows us personally to spend these forty-nine days exchanging our negative emotions for positive ones. The end result will be that we will arrive at a higher spiritual level, which will allow us to receive and understand the Torah in a greater way. Thus, we will let a greater light of Torah shine forth to the people around us, to our community, to our nation, and ultimately the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = this is the time to take inventory of our emotional life and determine whether or not we need to exchange irritability for patience, frustration for trusting prayer, fear for faith and stress for quiet confidence in our God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Portions of this week’s commentary were taken from an article found on THYME FOR THE SOUL magazine.

Weekly Torah Commentary — Toldot November 1, 2013

Beresheit/Genesis 25:19-28:9

Bible students have often noticed that the Torah discusses the lives of Abraham and Jacob in great detail, yet Isaac receives significantly less attention. In fact, there is only one Torah portion, Toldot, in which he is the central character, yet he lived a longer life than his father and his son. It seems we know the least about Isaac, the middle patriarch. What, therefore, are we to learn from him?

There is something interesting in the Talmud that may give us a clue. Each of the Patriarchs described the Temple in a different way. Abraham called it a mountain; Isaac, a field; and Jacob, a house. The commentaries explain that these different descriptions teach us many lessons about how each Patriarch understood the concept of serving God.

A mountain provides a fascinating view from its lofty heights. This symbolizes the remarkable life of Abraham, a man who stood alone against the entire world in proclaiming the truth of One God. He was a spiritual giant, a mountain, if you will.

A house represents one’s daily, mundane life. It symbolizes the fact that for much of Jacob’s life he was forced to be involved in very mundane activities and working for many hours in the fields. However, Jacob succeeded in elevating these seemingly unholy activities and making them holy.

But why does Isaac describe the Temple as a ‘field’?

Unlike a mountain, a field does not offer a fascinating view with great variety, and unlike a house, it is not a place of comfort at the end of the day. Instead field is a flat area of ground, yet a highly significant place. It is in the ‘field’ that intense work takes place to produce abundant crops.

Now we begin to catch a glimpse of why the Torah tells us little about the events in Isaac’s life. His calling was not to teach hundreds of people, as his father Abraham did, rather to devote himself to moral and spiritual development. This kind of ‘work’ by its very nature is not exciting; it’s slow and difficult, sometimes tedious and discouraging. And yet in a certain way Isaac’s calling is perhaps the most important of that of all the Patriarchs for it speaks of the stage in all of our lives that defines our spiritual success or failure.

Rav Akiva Tatz in his book, ‘Living Inspired’, writes that there are three stages in many aspects of life. The first is the ‘inspiration’ stage, whereby a person begins a certain endeavor or relationship with great enthusiasm. When the initial inspiration wears off and is replaced by the realization that this endeavor is not so easy after all, we enter the second stage which demands a great deal of persistence and hard work, often without seeing tangible fruits to one’s hard work.

The third and final stage takes place after the hard work, where a person finally begins to enjoy the fruits of his efforts. A good example of this phenomenon is the relationship of man and wife. At the beginning of a relationship both people feel a great deal of excitement about the relationship and ‘feel’ that they are in love, when in truth they are infatuated. The second stages takes place when that initial excitement wears off and the couple faces the realization that marriage involves a great deal of hard work and self development. If both spouses do exert the necessary effort then they will at some point reach the third stage of a genuine feeling of deep love.

The three Patriarchs correspond to the three stages: Abraham represents the exciting beginning and Jacob relates to the final phase of perfection. Isaac embodies the middle stage, where the excitement has faded and now a lot of hard work is required. This pattern is extremely pertinent to each one of us.

The beginnings of a spiritual journey are very exciting and exhilarating, yet soon after comes the realization that in order to be ‘holy as I am holy’, one must work very hard. This is the relevance of Isaac to our lives: He represents that stage of life which is not necessarily exciting and does not involve dramatic events, rather it involves self-development.

The significance of Isaac is relevant to every person regardless of his stage in life. For a younger person, it teaches him that in order to achieve greatness he must first be willing to put in a considerable amount of time and effort into developing his Torah learning, character traits and relationship to God. For people who are in a later phase of life, the lesson is that it is still essential that he find some time in his daily life to focus on his spiritual development, which includes a fixed time for Torah study and personal prayer and meditation.

In Tune with Torah this week = May we all follow the example of our father Isaac and make the necessary efforts to achieve the third stage where we can really appreciate the fruits of our hard work.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Devarim July 12, 2013

Having completed this year’s study of Bamidbar/Numbers last week, this week we open to the first portion of Devarim/Deuteronomy. The book opens with the message, “These are the sayings that Moshe told to all Israel…”
and continues a couple of verse later by saying, “Moshe began explaining the Torah….”

From these statements we understand that the Torah was given not just to the generation at the foot of Mt. Sinai, but to all Jews in every generation since then. It was a national gift, a constitution for the budding nation. While it is true that each of us has mitzvot/commandments to observe, the intent of the Torah is bigger than the individual. It was given to “all Israel”.

Each action of the individual Jew does in fact affect every other Jew. We are all connected in a very deep and significant way because of the covenant between the God of Israel and His people. Think of it this way: Every cell of your body exists for its specific task of promoting and guarding the health of your body as a whole. A heart cell does not get jealous of a liver cell; a kidney cell does not envy a brain cell. Each one fulfills its distinct purpose for the good of the entire body. So, too, is every Jew tasked to live his or her individual life in such a way that all of Israel benefits. This sense of community is at the very heart of Judaism.

That is not to minimize in any way the patriotism or sense of community found in the citizens of other nations — not at all. What we are saying is that fundamentally our Jewish sense of community derives from the encounter of God with our father, Avraham; it was confirmed to Yitzhak and Ya’acov and the Torah was given through Moshe. Our connection is spiritual from its very inception.

So, too, is our connection to the Land which God has chosen. The Chosen Land and the Chosen People are one. God promised the land of Israel to Avraham and his descendants forever. Early in this week’s reading, Moshe tells the people, “Enough of your dwelling by this mountain. Turn yourselves around and journey…” In modern terms we might say it this way, “Leave the comfort and convenience of exile and go to the Land where you belong.”

We are well aware that many Jews have made “Aliya” (which means ‘to go up’) to Israel in recent years. They have in fact left their place of birth, family, friends and careers to come to Israel and start anew. But the concept of ‘Aliya’ is broader than just physically moving.

“Aliya” begins in exile; it begins with a change of mind, a change of heart, a life-altering decision. The actual move to Israel is the result of that earlier decision and commitment.

The concept of “aliya” (to go up) yields spiritual ramifications as well. Life is a process of ‘aliya’ – a journey of going from one level of spiritual maturity to the next. Each change within ourselves that we decide to make is ‘aliya’ – going up higher. There is always a measure of risk in growth, in change. Stepping into the unknown or the little known is a scary proposition.

For the Jews coming home to Israel, a deep and abiding faith in God’s covenant with this Land and with His people is fundamental to a successful ‘aliya’. Add to that, a sincere love for the Land and for one’s fellow Jew and a successful aliya is virtually assured.

Rav Avraham Kook, of blessed memory, taught that it was incumbent upon us to love the Land that God loves and to love the people that God loves. He was a master at finding the good in every person he met. He used to teach that Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel, both the land and the people) was not an emotion; it was a commandment and in keeping it, we reflect the same kind of love that God Himself shows towards the Land and His people.

Rav Kook also taught us that the greatest way to protect our Land from its enemies is by increasing unity within the nation. That doesn’t mean letting other issues slide; what it does mean is not allowing those issues to overshadow the main task of promoting love and unity among our own people. Divisions and hostilities weaken the spiritual fabric of the Land. May God help us!

In just a few days, we as a nation will be observing Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple. The reason we lost the Temple and our Land was because of baseless hatred towards one another. When strife and divisions abound, love for one another wanes and so does the love of our Land. How appropriate that this is the Shabbat we should be pondering these principles.

I am well aware that not all of my readers live in Israel; in fact not all of you are Jews. But the underlying principles apply universally – in families, towns, cities, and nations.

In Tune with Torah this week = The familiar psalm comes to mind, “How blessed it is when brethren dwell together in unity….there the blessing flows…” Wherever you are this Shabbat, ask yourself how well you are promoting unity, love and peace in your own home, your own community, your own country.

“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves, turn from their wicked ways…….then will I heal their Land.” Israel needs this healing but so do all the other nations of the world.

Shabbat Shalom