Weekly Torah Commentary- April 20, 2018 Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

God has given us an explicit command regarding how He expects us to live.  It is a commandment found in this week’s Torah portion. Leviticus 11:44 and Leviticus 20:26 say: “You must be holy because I am holy.”

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You must be holy because God is holy…But what does it mean to be holy? What is holiness?

Let’s make it simple, shall we? Holiness is the fruit of a life wholly devoted to God and His purposes.

For some people, “holiness” is viewed as too difficult to achieve.

Depending on our upbringing and religious background, we can have legalistic notions of holiness or we can have moralistic notions of holiness. We can behave as if holiness is either outdated or something that only needs to effect a small part of our lives. Yet, God has commanded us “You must be holy because I am holy.”

When you think about being holy what comes into your mind? Thoughts of outmoded ways of dressing or the shunning of fashion and makeup? Or do you rather think in terms of morality, purity, integrity and commitment to a personal relationship with God?

What does really God expect of us?

The biblical idea of holiness, while it includes private morality, also means much, much more.  Holiness is about living the life God has planned and purposed for us. It is about living according to God’s standards and precepts, not by the world’s standards, not by our own standards, living by God’s standards. Holiness is not just for the advanced spiritually-elite.  The call to holiness is to everyone, regardless of status.

We are daily inundated with attitudes, principles and values that are diametrically opposed to the principles and values of the sacred Scriptures.  In order to successfully steer the direction and decisions of our life according to godly principles, we must know the Word of God and choose continually to live in accord with its teaching, which is the path to holiness.

Psalm 119 offers us tremendous wisdom in this regard.

You are only truly happy when you walk in total integrity, walking in the light of God’s Word. What joy overwhelms everyone who keeps the ways of God, those who seek Him as their heart’s passion.  (vs. 1-2)

God has prescribed the right way to live; obying His commandments with all our hearts. (vs. 4)

How can a young man stay pure? Only by living in the word of God and walking in its truth.  (vs. 9)

Give me revelation about the meaning of Your ways so I can enjoy the reward of following them fully. Give me an understanding heart so that I can passionately know and obey Your truth.  (vs. 33-34)

Truth’s shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of Your Word makes my pathway clear. To live my life by Your righteous commands has been my holy and lifelong commitment.  (vs. 105-106)  All quotations from the Passion Translation.

Holiness is neither a scary calling, nor is it impossible.  Holiness is not an event but a journey which encompasses our entire life. It is a way of life marked by progress, not perfection.  It is a calling that picks us up after we’ve failed and draws us forward after we’ve been stagnant.

Holiness is simply this: living each day with the intent of pleasing our heavenly Father in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Andrew Murray of South Africa said it this way over a century ago: the greatest test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it produces an increasing humility in us. In man, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in him and shine through him. The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is lack of humility. The holiest will be the humblest.

Elizabeth Elliott: God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.

In Tune with Torah this week:  do you want to grow in holiness?  Well, then, consider this.
Let your thoughts, words and deeds by persistently God-like, determinedly holy, immovably honest, and passionately kind.

Shabbat Shalom
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For a few weeks at present, the Torah readings overseas are a week behind the Torah readings in Israel.  This post is following the Israeli schedule of Torah readings.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayakhel-Pekudei March 24, 2017

Torah Reading: Exodus 35-40
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18

In this week’s Haftorah portion we find the commandment of Passover reiterated by the prophet Ezekiel to the people of Israel.

In the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten. Ezekiel 45:21

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This year Passover begins on April 11th and ends on April 18th. Most households here in Israel are already in the throes of preparation. One’s entire home is cleaned until it’s spotless; menus for the seven days are planned and except for perishables, the shopping has already started; and invitations to one’s Seder meal have already been dispatched. It’s an exceedingly busy time, especially in Israel.

But beyond all that, what is most important about Passover is what we remember and what we look forward to. Like all the Biblical festivals, Passover is past, present and future.  It speaks of our past deliverance, our present determination and our future destiny.

Passover conveys five major concepts that serve every generation well. They are the five most important things to know about Passover, and to incorporate into every day of the rest of the year. They are: history, optimism, faith, family, and responsibility.

1) History or Memory: It has been said that the idea of history originated with the Hebrews going all the way back to Abraham.

“Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“Remember that the Lord took you out of the bondage of slavery.”

To record and remember is a biblical mandate that had never seemed important to anyone else before the Jewish people came on the scene. It was the Passover story that initiated a commitment to memory. History is the only way we can learn from the past. History allows us to grow by standing on the shoulders of giants. Make a mistake once, and you’re human. Never learn from what happened before, and you’re brainless. That’s why it’s so important to heed the famous words of George Santayana that “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2) Optimism: The most difficult task Moses had to perform was not to get the Jews out of Egypt, but to get Egypt out of the Jews. They had become so acclimated to their status as slaves, they lost all hope that they could ever be free. Hope creates optimism and the hope they held onto originated in the covenant of God with Abraham.

The true miracle of Passover is the message that with God’s help, no difficulty is insurmountable. A tyrant like Pharaoh could be overthrown. A nation as powerful as Egypt could be defeated. Slaves could be free. The oppressed could break the shackles of their captivity. Anything is possible, if only we dare to dream the impossible dream. That hope is, someone has said, in the DNA of the Jew. I hope it’s in yours as well!

3) Faith: The very foundation of Judaism and the Jewish people is FAITH. That is the legacy which our father Abraham bequeathed to us. Some four hundred and thirty years before the Torah was given, FAITH in a personal God was planted firmly into the Abrahamic line of descendants, into their spiritual heritage.

The God of Sinai didn’t say “I am the Lord your God who created the heavens and the earth.” Instead, he announced, “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” The God of creation could theoretically have forsaken the world once he completed his task. The God of the Exodus is constantly involved in our history and has an unshakeable commitment to our survival.

4) Family: The importance of family cannot be overstated. God built his nation not by commanding not a collective gathering of hundreds of thousands in a public square but by asking Jews to turn their homes into places of family worship at a Seder devoted primarily to answering the questions of children. The home is where we first form our identities and discover our values. No wonder then that commentators point out the very first letter of the Torah is a bet, the letter whose meaning is house. All of the Torah follows only after we understand the primacy of family.

5) Responsibility: Passover reminds us that no man is an island. We are responsible first for ourselves, yes; but also for family, friends and society.
As we celebrate the great deliverance from slavery, some may ask why were we enslaved to begin with? Why did God allow that?

The Torah and the Prophets tell us that we were slaves in Egypt – and so we must have empathy for the downtrodden in every generation. We were slaves in Egypt – so we must be concerned with the rights of the strangers, the homeless and the impoverished. We experienced oppression – and so we must understand more than anyone else the pain of the oppressed.

The purpose of our suffering was to turn us into a people committed to righting the wrongs of the world, to become partners with God in preparing the world to become the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom to be ruled by the Messiah.

In Tune with Torah this week = From earliest childhood every Jew child learns to embrace these five ideals: history (memory), optimism, faith, family and responsibility. These are not just ideals for the Jewish people but for all nations and all peoples. As we prepare for Passover let us ponder these truths and renew our personal commitment to all that they represent.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary-Lech Lecha November 11, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 12 – 17                Haftorah reading: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,

Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  (Isaiah 40:28-31)

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We live in a world that prides itself in all its accomplishments. We live in a world that prides itself in being able to do anything it sets its mind to do, a world that has put men on the moon. We live in a world that has so much power stored up in it’s nuclear weapons, it could destroy itself a number of times over.

But where is your strength? Is it in the things of this world? Or as a child of God, are you fully aware where your strength comes from? Our strength is in the LORD, our faithful, covenant God.

The pages of Scripture are full of examples of God’s people placing their trust in the LORD and finding that He is a faithful God, finding that He does, indeed, give strength to those that wait upon Him. Who can forget Israel’s deliverance and victory over the Pharaoh?  Who can forget such men as Elijah, Elisha and Samson, who when they relied on the Lord, when they were faithful, God strengthened them to perform their duties.

When we ponder the lives of biblical personalities, we must be inspired not only by their amazing accomplishments but far more so, by their unshakeable faith in the God of Israel who granted them not simply physical strength but spiritual strength.  That’s the truth that is expressed in our text: God is the source of our spiritual strength and has taught us how to tap into His strength for daily life. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” That is the key.

The fact that the text speaks of our being renewed in strength, implies that there is a weakness. And the text explicitly describes that weakness. In Isaiah 40:30, we read, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.”

Note that the prophet describes the ones who should be the strongest among men – youth. They are in the prime of their lives physically. Youths should be full of energy, able to run and run.

Similarly, the ‘young men’ are those slightly older than the youths, but still symbols of strength and vigor. They can work long hours and still have energy for social gatherings in the evening.

But God says that even they will grow weary and faint. You see, their energy is not endless. The youths may not see it that way. But, set them running a marathon sometime and they will find out. Work them hard enough and they will get tired to the point that to press on will only be with the greatest effort. They will grow weary and they will faint. And the young men, the text says, shall utterly fall.

The message is clear. Man, at his strongest, is weak. We need to understand that this physical picture points to the spiritual picture of weariness and stumbling in our relationship with God.

In Malachi 2:8 we read, “But you have departed out of the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”

Or we could point to Jeremiah 18:15, which expresses a similar idea. “Because my people have forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and it has caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths…”

We are prone to stumble, and most likely to do so when our personal relationship with the LORD has weakened for one reason or another.

But read on!  When we recognize our weakness or are feeling discouraged, the prophet declares: Those who look to the LORD will renew their strength… His care over you has never changed. The everlasting God has an everlasting love for his people.  You may get tired but God never does.

There is no substitute and no shortcut to enjoying the strength that only comes from the LORD. Making it a priority to spend time in His presence every day, in prayer and in meditating on the Scriptures is more essential to your spiritual life than food is essential to your physical life!

God recognizes that we sometimes get tired which is the whole purpose for this text.  Everyone gets weary but to whom is this promise given?  To those who will look to the LORD on a regular basis and draw their strength from Him.

To ‘wait’ conveys the idea of looking forward to, expecting that the Lord will send strength. We want to have Him help us. We want Him to hold us by our right hand, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 73.  Waiting implies a period of time.  Our problem is we want ‘instant’ everything but life isn’t like that.

Those who wait on the LORD are renewed in strength. He is our strength. In Him is complete safety.  That’s a promise that God gives to every one of His people. It’s not just words to impress us with a poetic picture of soaring like an eagle. The text does not say, “They that wait upon the Lord, maybe their strength will be renewed, and maybe not.”  It is a clear promise, as sure as every one of God’s promises.

In Tune with Torah this week: have you been feeling worn out lately? Tired and frustrated with daily life?  The first question we need to ask ourselves is: how much time am I spending alone with God on a daily basis?  The answer to that question is directly related to the message of this week’s Haftorah reading.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Mattot-Masei July 5, 2013

This week we complete the reading of the book of Bamidbar/Numbers with the last two Torah portions from that book, Mattot and Masei. Throughout these readings, the power of our words is a major theme.

Mattot opens with a discussion of vows. A vow is a solemn commitment to specific action for a specific period of time and for a specific purpose. While the making of a vow is not intended to be a daily or weekly occurrence in our lives, the underlying message is. In the opening verses, we read, “…according to whatever comes from his mouth shall he do.” We are obligated by the words that we speak. Or — a man’s word is his bond.

Speech is a defining human quality, an ability which is part of what is involved in the declaration: ‘in the image of God created He them.’ But speech is not only a defining human quality; it is also a manifestation of the Divine spark within us, the Divine Breath, as it were. “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Bre/Gen 2:7) The term in Hebrew is nefesh chaya which is also translated in some places as ‘a speaking spirit’.

God could have created this world any way He pleased. This beautiful planet could have resulted from just a Divine thought or the Divine Will. Instead God chose to use words to create our world and to create mankind.

We need to realize that every time we speak, we utilize the very same tool which God purposely and specifically chose to use in the very act of Creation! This concept deserves some serious meditation. This is the very reason why the Torah — and indeed all of Tanach (the Bible) — gives such importance to our speech.

We know that thoughts give birth to words, and words give birth to action. There is a process common to all of us: thoughts – words – actions. When God speaks, His thoughts, His words, His actions are in complete alignment with one another; in total unity all the time. His thoughts, words and actions are ONE.

Too often, ours are not. Hence, the commandment, ‘according to whatever comes from his mouth, that shall he do.’

Consider: We were created in His image and likeness. We are commanded in Torah ‘to be holy as I am holy’. We are called to emulate Him, to reflect Who He is to those around us, to be a light to the nations.

An essential element in our ability to fulfill this calling is inner integrity of soul. When our words say one thing, and our actions say something different, we are fundamentally violating the very purpose for which we were created and the very destiny to which He has called us.

To become more like Him, whose thoughts, words and actions are always in unity, we need to strive towards that same unity in our thoughts, words and behavior.

When our thoughts are disconnected from our words or our words from our actions, we are being fundamentally dishonest. That dishonesty may or may not affect others in a particular instance, but it ALWAYS affects us, our inner being and can even impact our descendants. To say one thing and then do another is the mark of an unreliable person.

In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself – do I say what I think other people want to hear? Or am I straightforward in my communications? Do my actions reflect my words or not? Do I speak and act truthfully with graciousness and kindness or are my words and actions manipulated by what others will think? Or what I think they may think?? Learning to live with complete internal integrity is a lifelong journey and this week’s parshiot bring that challenge to the forefront for our meditation.

Shabbat Shalom