Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash January 6, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-28

This week’s Haftorah is one of my favorite passages in all of the prophets. God gave to Ezekiel a vision of what He would do in the end of days.

We know from biblical history that after the death of Solomon, king of Israel, the nation was divided in to the House of Judah and the House of Israel.  The House of Judah encompassed the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, while the House of Israel included the other ten tribes. Judah remained in the territory of Judah in and around Jerusalem.  The other ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, moved north to the territory of Ephraim and subsequently became known not only as the House of Israel but also as the House of Ephraim.  (I Kings 11-12)

twohouses

Ephraim was the second son of Joseph to whom Jacob on his deathbed gave the double portion blessing.  (Genesis 48)  His descendants, his grandfather prophesied, would become ‘melo hagoyim’; that is: a multitude of nations.

The northern House of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, over time rebelled against the Lord and that kingdom only lasted 70 years.  During those 70 years, the prophet Hosea was sent to them and prophesied extensively. In fact, to get an understanding of how Ephraim (Israel) turned away from the Lord, one simply has to read the prophecy of Hosea for it’s all there!  Hosea likened them to ‘a cake half-baked’ and rebuked them severely for rebelling against the LORD. One of the most famous verses of Hosea is frequently quoted in various contexts: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. (4:6)

Though Hosea’s rebuke was blunt and harsh, it was not without hope and a promise.  He told them:

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols.  Afterwards the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His Goodness in the last days.  3:4-5

The situation that developed in the northern kingdom of Israel is one of many illustrations throughout the Scriptures that convince us of God’s eternal faithfulness and patience.  But it also teaches us about the discipline of the LORD.

We don’t like discipline; some of us don’t even like the word! However, properly understood, discipline is an act of love.  A parent who never corrects, rebukes or in some way disciples his rebellious child does that child a great disservice and the irresponsible parent insures for himself heartache and grief in years to come.

God is the Father of all fathers, the most perfect, generous and patient of fathers.  He is also more LOVING than any earthly father could ever be.  It is because of His love for you and for me that He will bring correction, rebuke and discipline into our lives lest we stray so far from Him that there is no way back.

Our problem is that we sometimes don’t recognize the situations He allows in our life as discipline, as means of growing spiritually.  Instead we may get mad, disappointed or frustrated because we don’t make the connection in our own minds that EVERY difficulty or challenge we face in life is actually a GIFT.  Yes, you heard me – a GIFT.  Why?

Because each one is uniquely designed to give you and me opportunity to grow spiritually, to refine our character, to humble our self-will and to inch a little closer to the goal: ‘You shall be holy as I am holy.’   Leviticus 19:2

Thousands of years ago, God knew that the descendants of Ephraim would wander the world, many of them in later generations, completely unaware that they had any connection to the son of Joseph.

But the promise remains: in the last days (that’s now, my friends) the sons of Joseph would return to their God.  And it’s happening.

Hundreds – no, thousands – in the last 8-10 years have rediscovered that very connection and have been returning, slowly, sometimes painfully, to the LORD.  I’m not speaking about genetics necessarily though there have been many I’ve known who have learned later in life that they actually had Hebrew ancestry.

The return is not primarily physical; it is spiritual.  It is a return to relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, the Almighty, the Eternal One, the Holy One.  Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to ‘seek’ a religion.  We are, however, in several places admonished to ‘seek His face’.  It is to God Himself that our allegiance must be given.

In Tune with Torah this week = We are living in a day and age where many souls are being awakened to true spirituality.  Religion will never satisfy the hunger in one’s heart for God.  It was never designed to.  Religious practice has been developed to strengthen a relationship already in existence.

Israel’s return to the Land of Promise is the physical manifestation of the prophet’s words but it’s not enough.  There must also be a spiritual return to the God who gave the promise!

How is your personal relationship with the LORD?  Is your ‘religious’ expression flowing out of your daily communion with Him or is it just ‘what we do’?  The answer to that question is more important than you can imagine.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeshev December 23, 2016

Torah reading:  Genesis 37-40

Haftorah reading: Amos 2:6 – 3:8

By way of introduction, Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active about 750 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II, making the Book of Amos the first biblical prophetic book written. Amos lived in the southern kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes of social justice, God’s omnipotence and role as creator, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy. Amos was the first prophet to use the phrase ‘the day of the LORD’.

Look with me at these verses from this week’s reading:

From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone.  That is why I must punish you for all your sins.  Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?…When the ram’s horn blows a warning, shouldn’t the people be alarmed? Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has planned it?  Indeed, the LORD never does anything until He reveals his plans to His servants, the prophets.  Amos 3:2-3,6-7

There are three themes here that deserve our attention.

First, the discipline of the LORD in our lives flows from relationship with Him.  Notice: ‘…I have been intimate with you…that is why I must punish you for all your sins.’  To render this concept in a simplified manner we may say, ‘Because the LORD has drawn us close to Himself, our responsibility to live a holy life is greater and when we don’t, He reprimands us in one way or another.’ Discipline is an act of love.  Parents discipline their own children, not the children of strangers.  God’s discipline of us is actually a manifestation of His Fatherhood.  Therefore we should welcome it and respond appropriately.

Secondly, the next verse must be kept in context.  ‘Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?’  The LORD through the prophet, Amos, is asking ‘How can you say you are walking with Me when you and I are going in opposite directions?’

This verse has been frequently quoted and applied as a plea for unity between people.  That can be so but in its context, there is a greater question.  Are we walking with God in such a way that it is evident we are moving in the same direction that He is moving in?  Or to put it another way: in our day to day life, are we living according to His ways and His commandments?  Are we seeking the holy life He has called us to?

At the time in history when Amos prophesied, Israel was not doing so.  They were rebellious and arrogant, according to the prophet.  Amos reminds the people that when the ram’s horn was blown on the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), it was a warning call: Mend your ways, examine your life, repent.

But the people weren’t listening and their indifference to the warning had consequences.

Does disaster come to a city unless the LORD has planned it?  Indeed, the LORD never does anything until He reveals his plans to His servants, the prophets.

Amos could not have been more clear.  God was warning the people, ‘If you will not listen to Me, I will get your attention through circumstances.’

Therefore, the third theme this week is the same as I described in this week’s post on the COFFEE AND COMMENTARY blog. God has more than one way to discipline His children.  His preferred method is that we learn His Word and ponder it regularly so that we will recognize our own failures and repent quickly when we go astray. But if we are not paying attention to God’s Word, He may use adverse circumstances or difficulties to get our attention. Jonah experienced this when he refused to go to Nineveh.

This is precisely what Amos was saying to Israel in his day.

Application:

To ‘walk together’ with God ‘in agreement’ means to live a life of obedience to His revealed Word.  Before we apply this verse to walking in unity with other human beings, we need to realize that FIRST we need to walk in agreement with the LORD!  It is then that we can – in confidence – expect His blessings and miracles such as Jews around the world will celebrate this coming week during the festival of Hanukkah.

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hanukkah2                   christmas

This year Hanukkah and Christmas coincide exactly.  To all of my subscribers I send my warmest wishes and prayers for spiritual and physical health, peace and joy for you and your families at this season.  May our commitment to follow the LORD in all of His ways be deepened as we walk into the year 2017, and may our daily ‘walk’ with Him ALWAYS be ‘in agreement’.

Weekly Torah Commentary — NASO May 30, 2014

Numbers/Bamidbar 4:21 – 7:89

One of the highlights of Parshat Naso is the Priestly Blessing. The text of this blessing, which the Kohanim (priests) bestow upon the Jewish people, concludes, “May God turn His face to you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26).

In Psalms 29:11 we read, “God will bless His nation with peace.”

The Jewish people — “His nation” — are composed of three categories of people: Priests (Kohanim), Levites (Leviim), and Israelites (Yisraelim). The Hebrew acronym of the words “Kohanim,” “Leviim,” and “Yisraelim” spells the word kli, which means “vessel.” Therefore, we derive the insight that the Jewish people as a nation are called to be a vessel of God, a living, corporate sanctuary of His presence. And the fulness of God’s blessing is enjoyed only when there is peace among the brethren.

The same idea is communicated in Psalm 133: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity….for there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forever!

Our Sages offer four primary pieces of advice on how to achieve peace with others:

1) Make honoring God the purpose of all we do. If our daily activity is for the honor of God, and not for the sake of boosting our own ego, we can see one another as part of the same team, each one contributing his part to the goal of demonstrating God’s goodness in the midst of a needy world.

2) Train ourselves to look for the good in others. We are all flawed people but rather than being threatened or intolerant of differences, let’s focus instead on the positive qualities in others, just as we hope they will do towards us. It takes no effort to be a fault-finder; it takes maturity to consistently see the good in others.

3) Focus on the reward for making peace, as an incentive to pursue it. For example, suppose a friend of yours urges you to make peace with someone you really can’t stand. Your initial reaction is to immediately turn down the offer. Then the person asks, “What if I give you $1000? Or $100,000? Do you think you could try?” The reality is, my friends, that if we understand how much it means to God that we strive to live in peace with each other, and how much blessing He will release in response, the reward for making peace far outweighs any financial motivation. And that reward follows us into the World to Come.

4) Making peace sometimes requires us to humble ourselves for the greater good. The urge to be “right” is an emotional tyrant at times. It feeds the divisions and conflicts between people. My late husband of blessed memory said often, “It is better to be kind than right.” When all is said and done, more people are remembered — and loved — for their kindness than those who insisted on being “right” all the time.

In Tune with Torah this week = do you need to make peace with someone? Have you been avoiding it? putting it off? This shabbat is the perfect time to stop procrastinating and take at least a first step towards restoring a sense of unity between you. May we all have the courage and the grace to be peacemakers in this world.

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