Weekly Torah Commentary – Eikev August 11, 2017

Torah reading:  Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 49:14 – 51:3

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.  Isaiah 51:1-2


In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story of Abraham and his family is covered from chapter 11 through chapter 50, while only two chapters are given to the entire story of creation. What was there in the life of Abraham that distinguished him as such a man that so great a portion of Genesis is devoted to disclosing his life in great detail?

The life story of Abraham begins in Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived in a comfortable home and in pleasant circumstances. Archaeology has disclosed that Ur, located not too far from Babylon, was a prosperous city with lovely homes, beautiful parks and public buildings. Abraham was comfortable and secure in Ur, but it was also a wicked city where pagan sacrifices — including human sacrifices — were continually offered.

According to Genesis 12:1, God directed Abraham to leave Ur, leave his family, and dwell in tents for the rest of his life. Abraham started out with his father and his nephew, Lot, and got as far as Haran. Only when his father died did Abraham move on to the promised land with Lot. At long last he had come to the place of God’s appointment.  Keep in mind that when God instructed Abraham (then Abram) to leave Ur, God didn’t explain exactly where Abraham was going. He simply said, ‘Leave and go…and I’ll show you where to stop!’

From Abraham’s life, we learn and re-learn some much needed lessons. Abraham demonstrated his faith that God would care for him, provide for him and guide him by doing what God told him to do regardless of how bizarre it may have sounded to his family and friends at the time, let alone his wife!  Can you imagine your husband coming home one afternoon and saying, ‘Honey, we’re moving.’  You reply in surprise, ‘Oh? Where are we going?’  Your husband replies, ‘I have no idea.  God just spoke to me today and said we must leave here and He will show us where to settle.’  Seriously?!?!?!?  It’s probably the mercy of God towards Sarah that the scripture doesn’t tell us her first reaction!  To her credit, despite whatever her first reaction was, she followed her husband, trusting his faith in God.

Without knowing where the land was to which he was going, he accepted God’s promise that his descendants would inherit that unknown land.  Keep in mind that at the time he had no descendant and he was already advanced in years.  But Abraham understood something that we moderns too often overlook: When God speaks, our only appropriate response is to obey.  It is not ours to judge what God has said and decide whether or not we agree.  He has spoken? End of story.  Do what He said!

In the materialistic society in which we live, we need a constant reminder that earthly possessions are always temporary, and only that which is eternal abides forever. There is a world to come – an eternal world – which God has prepared for His people that they  may live with Him forever.  Our status in that world has everything to do with the quality of our faith in this one, for the degree to which we choose to love God and obey Him is determined by how genuinely we believe in Him and believe His word to us as found in the pages of Scripture.

Abraham, despite his great faith, had one great frustration. For most of his life he and Sarah, his wife, had no children. How could the promises of many nations coming from him, and of his descendants inheriting the land, be fulfilled if he had no children? According to Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham suggested that his chief servant, Eliezer, be made his heir, but God said, “This man will not be your heir” (Gen. 15:4).

Sarah, being a resourceful woman, suggested to Abraham that he have a child by Hagar, an Egyptian slave that they had brought back with them from Egypt. In those times, this was not an unusual practice if a wife was barren. In due time Ishmael was born, and Abraham’s heart was delighted. But this was not the fulfillment of God’s promise.

When Abraham was already ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety, there was really no human basis for hope that Sarah would bear a son. Nevertheless God said, “Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen. 17:19).  At that advanced age, Abraham believed what God said over the “evidence” of his and Sarah’s physical status.  How could a 99 year old man with a 90 year old wife believe they could have a child?  Some today might call them crazy!

Yet Abraham’s faith in God convinced him that if God said it would happen, that was good enough for him and he did not allow the physical circumstances to shake his faith in his God.  And so from this one man, as good as dead from a physical viewpoint, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand of the seashore.

The supreme test of Abraham’s faith was yet to come. Fiery tests of faith which occur early in life sometimes climax in much greater tests of faith in a time of spiritual maturity. So it was with Abraham.

When Isaac had reached his early teens, God told Abraham to do a strange thing. One day God said to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). What an astounding command! Abraham was to take the promised son on whom all the promises of God for the future of Abraham depended, and offer him as a human sacrifice upon an altar on a distant mountain.

Even though Abraham had been accustomed to human sacrifices in his pagan life in Ur, how could this possibly fit into the plan of God? What was to happen to all the promises that depended on Isaac? There is no scriptural record of any wavering. Early the next morning the journey began.

Taking two young men with him, his son Isaac, and wood for the offering, Abraham began the journey that on the third day brought them near to the place of sacrifice. When Isaac asked the searching question, “Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8).

When they came to the place, Abraham apparently had to tell what he was about to do. And Isaac, being a strong young man, had to be willing to be bound on the altar as God had directed Abraham. Just as Abraham took the knife to take the life of his own son, God stayed his hand, and told him to offer instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby.

The incident with Isaac reveals more clearly than any other the maturity of Abraham’s faith. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Abraham had such confidence in God that even this confusing direction did not deter him from his utter confidence in God’s integrity and moral character.  Since God had said that through Isaac, the promised descendants would come.  Abraham considered that to be the final word.

In Tune with Torah this week = Abraham was a man of faith who believed he could live in God’s place, who believed in God’s provision for him in time and eternity, who believed the promise of the son whom God would give him miraculously, and who believed in God’s utter and incomparable integrity.  Now here’s the bottom line: Abraham believed God with this amazing faith because he knew God.It is not enough to know about God; we must, like Abraham, develop a personal relationship with Him by spending time in His presence, pondering His words and internalizing their message so that our lives are impacted.

It behooves us to remember that while Jewish tradition called Moses our ‘Teacher’; it is Abraham who is our ‘father’.  Therefore, Isaiah exhorts us ‘Look to Abraham…’  Judaism began with a man of FAITH, more than four hundred years before the Torah was given.

If we delight in being children of Abraham, than our faith today must stand on the same foundation. Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith in the living God who will accomplish for us in time and eternity all that He has promised in His love and grace.

Shabbat shalom.




Weekly Torah Commentary – Behar May 20, 2016

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

In the opening of this week’s reading, God commands Moses to instruct the people of Israel about the Shemitah, the rest for the land every seven years.


As soon as the Jews settled in the Holy Land, they began to observe the seven year cycle that leads up to a Sabbatical year for the Land itself, known as the Shemitah which literally means ‘to release.’

The The Shemitah year waives all outstanding debts.  Does that sound great!  But there is more to it than that.  The observance of Shemitah has several dimensions.

1) It brings release to those in actual debt.
2) It gives the land a year to rest and renew itself.  Lev. 25: 3-6
During the Shemitah year, the farmers in the Land of Israel must refrain from cultivating their fields.  Anything that grows of itself is considered communal property and free for anyone to take.
3) It is a call to trust in God.
The Shemitah calls to the children of Israel to remember Who their Provider really is and to focus on their relationship with Him while they enjoy free time they would otherwise spend in farming.  They are to remember Who it was who gave them the Land of Milk and Honey!  Those who put their trust in God are richly rewarded.
I will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops. Until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop! (Leviticus 25:21–22)


Though many Jews living in Israel today are not farmers, the lessons of the Shemitah year are still relevant.  The Shemitah is like an extended, year long Shabbat where we focus on deepening our faith in God and trusting Him for everything we need.  We are urged during a Shemitah year to focus less on material pursuits and tend to our spiritual life.

So we conclude that the underlying theme of this week’s reading is trust.  King Solomon wrote: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Isn’t that the challenge? ‘…lean not to your own understanding…’  We’re all guilty of doing that, aren’t we?

Particularly on Shabbat and during a Shemitah year, it behooves us to meditate on this verse and ask ourselves: How much do I depend on my own understanding and/or perception of events and circumstances?   You may remember that the prophet Isaiah wrote: God’s ways are not our ways…His thoughts are not our thoughts.  When we lean too heavily on our opinions, our perceptions and our attitudes, (thinking that surely we must be right!) we leave no room for God to share His ways and His thoughts with us about our life, our circumstances and our future.  Haven’t you been through something and wondered what in the world was happening, only to recognize – perhaps much later – that God was indeed at work in your life, even through that difficult time? Even when you couldn’t see His hand at all when you were living through it?  Hindsight really is a wonderful teacher.

In Tune with Torah this week = take some time this shabbat to reflect on all the blessings God has poured out into your life, how He has cared for you in good times and in bad, and let your trust in His unfailing love grow within you.

Shabbat Shalom!


Weekly Torah Commentary – Behar/Bechukotai May 15, 2015

Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34

In the course of this week’s double portion reading, we are given the commandment of the ‘Shemitah’ or Sabbatical year; i.e, that every seventh year the land is to ‘rest’. Several verses outline the description of how the Sabbatical year is to be observed and the central message is the concept of learning to trust God.

What is the essence of ‘trust in God’? It is the consciousness that the Holy One of Israel is actively involved in our lives. The Sages suggest that the very goal of studying and obeying God’s commandments is to develop this trust in our own souls.

Developing heartfelt trust in God is a tremendously liberating experience, imparting to us a sense of serenity and inner peace in the midst of life’s ups and downs, its challenges and its complexities.

In Biblical times, debts were cancelled on the shmita year, and servants were set free. To this day in Israel, farm land is not to be worked during the sabbatical year; no Jewish farmer is to plow or to plant. The land is to rest in order to improve the quality of the soil, just as the Sabbath is given to us weekly that we might rest from the frenzy of daily life and turn our attention more fully to our Father in heaven.

This Sabbatical system, however, could seem to create one great problem: a lack of food! However, God assures us not to worry:

“Perhaps you will say, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year for we cannot sow nor gather our crop?’ I (God) will command my blessing upon the sixth year and it will bring forth (enough) produce for three years.” (Leviticus 25:20-21)

The promise int his verse reminds us that it is God who established the natural order of this world and it is He who sustains it. Therefore, as we place our trust in Him, collectively as a people, we can be confident that His provision during the years leading up to the Shemitah year will be more than enough to sustain us during the year of rest.

Psalm 46:10 urges us: “Be still and know that I am God…” To know Him requires that we first ‘Be still..’ The weekly sabbath is just that: a time to rest not just our bodies but our souls as we turn to Him in confidence as a child turns to his father in utter dependence.

In Tune with Torah this week = We are presently in a Sabbatical year, the ‘Shemitah’ year. It began last September on Rosh Hashana, the Feast of Trumpets and will conclude this coming September 13th, the next Rosh Hashana. As we look at our world it seems that there is precious little ‘rest’ for turmoil and conflict abound. It is precisely in such times that quieting our souls to renew and strengthen our trust in the God who loves us and cares for us is essential.

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is true: He is a shield to all them that trust in him.
2 Samuel 22:31

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayah Sarah Nov. 13, 2014

NOTE: Though I wrote and hit the command to “Send” last Friday, for some reason last week’s commentary showed up today! I apologize for the delay. You get two this week!

Genesis 23:1-25:18

This week’s reading deals with two major issues: the death and burial of Sarah, the wife of Abraham; and the search for a wife for Isaac. The events are covered in great detail, more so than many other events.

Certainly the acquisition of a burial plot for Sarah is of great significance for it becomes the first step in the acquisition of the land of Israel by Abraham and his descendants. Abraham purchased the field and the cave. When he takes possession of it, he establishes a foothold in the promised Land.

Next we turn to the process of finding a bride for Isaac. At first glance it seems that the amount of detail is disproportional but then again, the extensive detail indicates the importance of this event.

And Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Put, I beg you, your hand under my thigh. And I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. But you shall go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)

Eliezer, the servant, was Abraham’s trusted companion, the man whom Abraham had earlier imagined would perhaps one day be his heir. (Gen. 15:2-3)

And the servant took ten of his master’s camels…And he said, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I beseech you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham…” And she said, “Drink, my lord;” and she hurried, and let down her water jar upon her hand, and gave him drink…
And the man, wondering at her, held his peace, to see whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not. And it came to pass, as the camels finished drinking, that the man took a golden ear ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold…And the man bowed down his head, and worshiped the Lord. And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not left my master destitute of his mercy and his truth; As for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers…”

And after entering the house of Laban, Rebecca’s father, Eliezer explains his mission:

And he said, “I am Abraham’s servant…”

After relating what Abraham had commanded him to do, “…they called Rebecca, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?…..And they sent Rebecca their sister, and her nurse away, and Abraham’s servant, and his men… And Rebecca arose, and her maids, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man; and the servant took Rebecca, and went his way…And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said to the servant, “What man is this who walks in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “It is my master.” Therefore she took a veil, and covered herself.

Rebecca is aware that Isaac, and not Eliezer, is the master of the house, even before ever seeing Isaac. Yet, Eliezer seems so impressive. Only in comparison to Isaac is Eliezer’s stature reduced in her eyes.

To become Abraham’s “right hand man”, this servant must have been an extremely impressive individual. He had to have possessed the qualities of loyalty, integrity, reliability, diligence and humility. WE see all of these at work as Eliezer completes his journey.

Eliezer arrives just before sunset, yet he asks God to “work things out” before the day is done. This shows Eliezer’s incredible trust in God. What was the source of this trust? He was a servant of Abraham. He had seen Abraham. He learned from the Father of Faith how to trust God for what was needed.

Sometimes we forget the impact our personal faith can have on those around us. Your individual trust and confidence in God is a living example to your family and your friends. As Abraham’s faith ‘rubbed off’ on Eliezer, so is ours supposed to do the same. In the words of one teacher, “Faith is better caught than taught!”

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is personal but it is also communal. Your faith and mine can have a profound effect on those around us IF we are careful to speak words that express FAITH rather than doubt or anxiety. An act of gratitude is intrinsically related to maintaining a strong faith. As we recall and give thanks for all of God’s past blessings, we dispose our heart to trust Him for the future; in so doing, we set an example to those around us.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Chukat June 14, 2013

The Hebrew word which is the title of this week’s Torah portion is translated as ‘statutes’ or ‘commandments’. Within the Torah, there are certain commandments whose meaning is readily understood as being beneficial not only to the individual but also to the support of a harmonious community life. For example, ‘You shall not steal’ or ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ It doesn’t take a great deal of study or thought to understand that abiding by these two commandments and others like them is reasonable and righteous and will contribute a safe and stable society. These are usually referred to as ‘mitzvot’.

There are, however, a few other commandments whose purpose and significance are not so readily understood and these commandments, or statutes, are called ‘chukim'(plural of chukat). One of the chukim is contained in this week’s parsha: the commandment regarding the ashes of the Red Heifer. Scholars have debated, researched and pondered this statute for generations and for our purposes, we will not delve into those discussions. Rather we will look at the deeper meaning of ‘chukim’ in general.

The commandments classified as ‘chukim’ are, as we said, those that are not readily understood, and therefore can tempt one to doubt their relevance or meaning. However, let us be reminded that they are not understood by us; Hashem knows exactly the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of each chukim. He simply has not chosen to reveal that to us. However, that grants us no license to dismiss them as irrelevant, G-d forbid!

That brings us to the fundamental issues of FAITH and TRUST.

Are these two words synonymous? Some would say they are. I beg to differ and here is a key as to why.

Faith is a noun; it describes a quality which you and I are able to ‘possess’ as part of our moral character. Faith is a belief, a conviction about what is true.

Trust on the other hand is a verb; it is an action, it is something that we DObecause of the faith we have! Trust is faith in action.

Now let us apply this to our present consideration.

If we BELIEVE (have faith) that the Torah was given by Hashem to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, that it is a Divine work, the revealed will of Hashem for the children of Israel, then when we choose to obey its directives, we are demonstrating our TRUST in G-d Himself.

This perspective is what motivated the children of Israel to say at Mt Sinai — before they knew what the Torah contained — “We will do and We will hear…” If I were to translate that in a modern idiom, I might say, “I commit to doing whatever Hashem has commanded, even though I don’t yet know what is contained in His revelation.” That, my friends, is TRUST.

Trust grows out of a deep inner conviction that Hashem DOES – without question – have our best interests at heart and His will towards us is for good and for life. When we don’t understand what is happening in our lives, or are inclined to question and to wonder, TRUST says, “Though I don’t understand, I trust that G-d is at work in this and somehow, its end is for my good. Therefore, I will hold on to Him.”

Hashem never promised that we would completely understand everything. That is beyond us.

What He did promise is that our faith in Him and our trust, as manifested by living His Torah, will yield not only blessings and provision, but also more and more understanding as we grow spiritually.

In Tune with Torah this week: Faith is a noun; Trust is a verb. In what ways can I improve how I demonstrate my Faith in Hashem through thoughts, words and actions that express TRUST in Him.