Weekly Torah Commentary – Tetzaveh February 23, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 27: 20 – 30:10

Haftorah reading: I Samuel 15:1-34

This week’s Torah reading includes the description of the garments prescribed for the High Priest and the rest of the Levites.

HighPriest

When we look at the garments we learn that there were seven basic pieces that the High Priest would wear. There were some garments that only he could wear, not the rest of the priests.

The High Priest would wear:

• The ephod—28:6-14

• The breastplate—28:15-30

• The robe of the ephod with a belt—28:31-35

• A mitre (turban) with a gold medallion—28:36-38

• The linen breeches—28:39-43

The ordinary priest would wear a similar uniform although not as ornate as that of the high priest (28:40-43).

• The linen breeches

• The embroidered coat

• The belt (girdle)

• The turban

Nothing was spared in the quality and work of these garments that the priests were directed to wear.  Materials included pure gold, precious jewels, fine linen, pure white wool and costly ointment.  Those who fashioned the garments had to be “wise-hearted and skilled.”

The pattern of worship for the Israelites at the Tabernacle in the desert, and later in the Temple, called for them to gather at regularly times to worship the LORD. There was a discipline, a reverence and a faithfulness mandated by the Torah.  Hmm – what about us today?

A brief aside….Is it enough to ‘show up’ for services and ignore the discipline, reverence and faithfulness of daily prayer in our own private space?  Not it’s not.

There are benefits and dangers to ritualized prayer and worship.  Among the benefits are 1) a sense of community, 2) a routine which reminds us to pray, 3) an opportunity to develop self-discipline and faithfulness, two virtues that can enhance everyone’s life.

The dangers are 1) we adopt a ‘minimal’ attitude; that is, ‘showing up’ becomes enough and we take no personal time to commune with God privately at home, 2) the repetition of ritual prayers dulls our senses, minimizing our ability to pray with concentration and heartfelt devotion, 3) we deceive ourselves into thinking that outward religious expression is all that God wants.  Hardly!

Listen to the prophet Isaiah:  ‘…this people honors Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me…Isaiah 29:13

Back to the priestly garments…We do not have time or space in this commentary to delve into all the different pieces of the priestly garments but we’ll look at one of them.

You shall make for them [white] linen trunks [or shorts] to cover their naked flesh, reaching from the waist to the thighs.  Ex. 28:42

Every time the priests came into the temple they were to wear these linen breeches for the sake of modesty and purity.  This piece of clothing hearkens back to the Garden of Eden.  What was the first thing that Adam and Eve did after they sinned?  They ‘sewed fig leaves together and make themselves loin coverings.’  Gen. 3:7

Their first action after sinning betrayed their shame and guilt.  They covered themselves up.  Being exposed was no longer acceptable.  When God came on the scene, it became clear that just covering their loins was not enough for ‘the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.’  Gen. 3:21

A lack of modesty in worship is displeasing to the Lord. Therefore, though they would also wear tunics and robes, the priests were required to wear linen breeches underneath to assure that during the exercise of their duties, no unseemly exposure could occur.

But there’s another reason, too.  Remember that the people to whom the Torah was given had only recently left Egypt after being immersed in that pagan culture for years.  They were acquainted with the way the Egyptians worshiped their idols.

The Egyptian priest was clothed in a very short flimsy skirt. As he ascended the pagan altar all of those gathered around the altar would be provoked to sensual immoral behavior. This was activity was not limited to the Egyptians but was common among the majority of societies who gave themselves to the worship of idols. As the priest would ascend the altar more and more of his body would be exposed to the people and it would spur the people to sinful “worship” involving their lustful passions.  In prescribing these linen breeches for the Israelite priests, Moses would have immediately recognized  the Lord’s wisdom.  The worship of the children of Israel to their God was to be markedly different to that of the pagan Egyptians.

In Tune with Torah this week = modesty is not a highly esteemed virtue in our modern society. (That’s an understatement!) Yet in God’s eyes it is highly prized.  Modesty is not limited to how we dress.  Modest speech is just as highly valued.  How do you speak about yourself? Do you brag? Do you feign humility but in fact are actually ‘fishing’ for compliments? Are you modest, humble about your accomplishments? About your family? Do you talk about yourself too much?  All of these relate to ‘modesty’.

Modest speech, modest behavior, modest dress – they all affect our worship of the Holy One of Israel.  To some, modesty is old fashioned. To those who love God and seek to walk in His ways, modesty is a desirable and precious virtue.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim February 9, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

Haftorah reading: 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17

Sinai

In this week’s Torah reading, we find a series of specific commandments given by God to Moses.  Most are elaborations on the basic principles of the Ten Commandments.

We’ll look at just a few.

21:15  He who strikes his father or mother shall surely be put to death.  Can you imagine if this law was in strict effect today?  But does it just mean literally ‘strike’ them; that is, hit them, beat them physically?  Well it certainly includes that but there is more than one way to ‘strike’ a parent. Defiance, rebellion, disrespect – all are means of ‘striking’ one’s parents.  And there’s more.

21:17 He who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death. Abusive words towards one’s mother or father is just as sinful, according to this commandment.  Showing dishonor and even cruelty to older parents is reprehensible.  Ignoring your parents because you are so busy with your own life is displeasing to the Lord.  And perhaps the worst: speaking evil of your parents to others.

The positive commandment is ‘Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth.’ (Exodus 20:12)

21: 22-25  If men fight each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the women’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judge decides. But if there is injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty, life for life; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. 

This passage has bewildered people at times because they don’t understand what it is saying.  There is no way that God would demand the barbaric act of gouging out someone’s eye or cutting off someone’s hand.  The language here is Hebraic idiom and what it means is this: the offender must pay the injured in proportion to the level of injury.  To put it in modern terms, if your teenage son got in a fight and knocked out the front teeth of another teenager, under this commandment, you as the parent would be responsible to pay for the dental work needed by the injured person.

21:32 If an ox gores a male or female servant, the owner shall give his or her master thirty pieces of silver and the ox shall be stoned.

The value on the life of a servant in those days was thirty pieces of silver so if you owned an ox and it killed one of your neighbor’s farmhands, you would be responsible to pay damages – 30 pieces of silver.

Chapter 22:22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.  If you afflict them at all and if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My anger will be kindled and I will kill you with a sword and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. 

Widows and orphans have a special place in God’s heart.  He is protective of them and commands us to be the same.

22:28 You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.  This commandment is particularly timely at present, especially for my fellow Americans.  With the daily news this week being dominated by exposure of corruption and fraud at the highest levels of government,  many are angry at what’s been done.

Anger towards sin is one thing; but ‘cursing’ the sinner is something else entirely.  The adage is most appropriate here: Hate the sin; have regard for the sinner. Regardless of how upset we may get at the moral failures of leaders, we must guard our tongues lest we violate God’s rule: do not curse a ruler of your people.  The Scripture commands us to pray for those in authority over us and it does not carry with it an addendum that says, pray for them as long as they’re good in your eyes.  No, pray for them – period!

In Chapter 24, after hearing these and other instructions Moses gave them from the Lord, the people cry out, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.” (vs. 3b) In fact they repeated the same commitment again in verse 7.

In Tune with Torah this week = if we are honest, there are times we come across difficult passages when we read the Torah or listen to a teaching.  Perhaps it touches a nerve or puts a demand on us to change or to grow spiritually and we chafe against it.  It is precisely at those times that we need to echo the cry of the children of Israel: “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do.”  

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Beshalach January 26, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 13:17 – 17:16

Haftorah reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.  Exodus 13:17-22
pillaroffire
The Exodus is a love story.   How can it not be? The story’s central theme is about a community of people, the Hebrews, held in bondage in Egypt by Pharaoh; but, a people dearly loved by God.  Therefore, He raises up Moses to lead them through a long and difficult journey to the land which God promised them.
The Exodus story leads us through a rhythmn of acts of disobedience and subsequent repentance and through it all, God, always ready to provide restoration to a
repentant people, demonstrates His abundant mercy and faithfulness over and over again. How can it not be a love story?
Is this not the same way He reveals Himself to us? God remains faithful in spite of our complaining and worrying about the inability to make things happen when we want to them to occur. This love story shows how God provides even when we don’t think there are provisions being made.
Having crossed the Red Sea, God does not allow the Israelites to enter into the Promise Land via the direct route through Philistine country; because had they done so the
Israelites would have had to pass Shur, the Egyptian wall that protected the Northeast highwaysout of Egypt. This wall was heavily guarded and could be passed only with great difficulty. If theIsraelites would have successfully crossed the border, further opposition could be anticipated from the Philistines. Instead God took them through a round about route that would take longer but had its unique purpose and reward.
We are told that the people marched like a strong army. Not haphazardly, but in formation that ensured that even though the people were taking the long way around it was done so in an orderly fashion. Why? God was allowing them to grow through the
discipline of the wilderness, so that when they were strong enough physically and mentally they would be able to come into open conflict with any formidable foes.
Did the Israelites know they were being directed the long way to reach entrance into the
“Promise Land?” They probably did. They wondered “Why so many delays?” And, we today, can empathize and understand their plight in wanting to get to the “Land of Milk and Honey” as quickly as possible; for the Israelites had suffered long enough under the Pharaoh in Egypt. We can fully understand since we know how it feels to need and
want important blessings…those blessings from God that are viewed as life altering, lifesaving, sanity-saving. Plus, it doesn’t help us in the 21stcentury that we live in an “instant society.” We want our needs to be met as soon as we identify them as being “very necessary.”
As the story unfolds describing the Israelites’ pilgrimage, God does not hold the
Chosen People’s weaknesses and complaining spirits against them. God knows they may
become discouraged, but even if the route takes longer, it’s safer for the people’s well-being. This was God’s Provision; a provision of protection. And although the Israelites were going to Canaan the long way around, Moses maintained his promise to Joseph to “carry Joseph’s bones” into the new land, an important reminder that even when blessings are delayed, it is incumbent upon us to maintain our integrity, to keep our word, to fulfill promises that we have made. It is a matter of honor to be faithful, even as God is faithful to us.
How amazing that God displays Himself as a “Pillar of Cloud” during the day and a “Pillar of Fire” during the night to the Israelites. This visible appearance of God’s presence allows the Israelites to literally behold Him. Can you imagine what it  must have been like?  And don’t we at times wish that such a visible presence would accompany us in our journey through life?  Have you ever cried out in a season of difficulty, ‘Lord, where are You?  If only I could see you?’
How do we respond when we feel as though it’s taking forever to receive an answer from God? How can we acquire a sense of peace during our marching times of walking through a painful journey that appears to never end? How do we hold on?
In Tune with Torah this week = let’s remember, the Israelites did reach the Promised Land; although it was through a roundabout way. God still made the provision and the promise was fulfilled.

Life just does not allow for everything to go as planned; as we have prayed for or hoped for. Why? Because God knows what we need, even when we don’t. It may be difficult to surrender and let go…especially when the path designed for us by God does not go in the direction we expected, dreamed about or hoped for.
However, the end goal remains.  Our journey has a destination – eternal life with God in the world to come.  If our route to get there seems roundabout, take heart.  We are in good company.  And the good news is this: the same God Who led, protected and provided for the Israelites is the same God who watches over us today. He has never failed and He will not start to do so with you.
Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary. – Bo January 19, 2018

Torah reading: Exodus 10:1 – 13:6

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 46: 14 – 28

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.” But Moses said, “You must also give us sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also shall go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind. For we must take some of them to serve the Lord our God, and even we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!”  Exodus 10:21-29

darkness

 

The plague of darkness brought upon Egypt was dreadful. Can you imagine living through three days of complete and total darkness, a darkness so thick you could actually “feel” the darkness?  It astonished and terrified the Egyptians. For three long days it remained so that it felt like six interminable nights.  Why did God do this?

One probable reason is that it gave Pharaoh time to consider his next steps. Spiritual darkness is spiritual bondage; while Satan blinds men’s eyes that they see not, he binds their hands and feet, that they work not for God, nor live with an eternal perspective.

So they sit in darkness. The blindness of their minds brought upon them this darkness of the air. Never was a mind so blinded as Pharaoh’s, never was air so darkened as in Egypt. Consider the dire consequences of sin; if three days of darkness were so dreadful, what will everlasting darkness be like?

Meanwhile the people of God had light in their dwellings, manifesting the favor of the Holy One of Israel upon them.  Given the stark difference between the oppressive darkness in Egypt and the light emanating from the homes of the Israelites in Goshen, who in their right mind would not have wanted to align with those who had light?

Is it any different today?  A pall of darkness overshadows much of our world today – a spiritual darkness has pervaded cultures and societies in the east and the west, in the north and the south.  No nation on earth is neutral.  As a matter of fact, the Scriptures know nothing of being “neutral”.  Joshua, you will remember, challenged the Israelites:

Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness….choose you this day Whom you shall serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:15

We do not bargain with God Almighty for His terms of reconciliation are so clear, that though men may dispute them, they cannot possibly alter them, or bring them lower. Repentance and a changed life.  That is what God expects and we must submit to His ways; we cannot, we dare not, expect that He should condescend to accommodate our pursuit of selfish pleasures.

Pharaoh had not reckoned with that truth.  He abruptly sends Moses away. Had he forgotten how often he had sent for Moses to ease him of his plagues? And now he dares to threaten Moses with death? Has Pharaoh learned nothing?   Is it not terrifying to behold what hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s word and commandments, can bring men to!

Darkness has crept into our modern world in recent times, slowly but oh, so surely.  That which would not even be spoken of in the last generation is common parlance today, even among our youth.  Honor, respect for one’s elders, integrity and courtesy are quickly becoming forgotten virtues.

In the midst of such darkness, there must be lighthouses.  Places, people who show forth the light of the LORD. Have we not been called by Him to be a “light to the nations”?

In Tune with Torah this week = Are you a light bulb for God?  Is your heart completely His?

The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those who hearts are completely His.  2 Chronicles 16:9

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Va-eira January 12, 2018

Torah reading:  Exodus 6:2 – 9:35

Haftorah reading: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

When Pharaoh shall speak to you, saying ‘Work a miracle, then, you shall say to Aaron, Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent. So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and they did just as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh, and his servants, and it became a serpent.” Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: and the magicians of Egypt did the same with their enchantments for they threw down their staffs, and they became serpents; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Exodus 7: 8-12

MosesAaron

This is one of the most interesting passages in the Torah. It opens our eyes to several deep spiritual truths and exposes certain things to us that may not be very clear to the way we moderns think.

There are only two major sources of spiritual power: The power of God and the power of evil.  Yes, my friends, there is Evil and it exists because of demonic forces at work in the world. From days of old, Satan has sought to mimic whatever God does.  That agenda was born in him when as the prophet Isaiah tells us, Satan sought to make himself equal with God.  The result was that he was thrown out of the heavens, out of God’s presence. (see Isaiah 14:12 – 20)

In this scripture passage we see two servants of the Holy One of Israel, a pagan ruler and his ‘magicians’.  By tapping into evil power, the magicians mimicked what Aaron did.  But realize this: the magicians’ power was severely limited.  Their serpents were quickly swallowed up by Aaron’s!  Pharaoh had several magicians so there were several snakes, but Aaron’s serpent did away with them in a moment. When a weaker power comes against a stronger power, the weaker power must of necessity bow to greater strength.

More than once in the Scriptures we see serpent against serpent: When serpents were biting the Israelites in the wilderness and Moses cried to the Lord, the solution was another serpent. God uses the coin of the enemy to pay back the enemy.

 

Spiritual warfare is not entertainment: It is real war.  The contest of the serpents was a violent one, ending in utter destruction of the magicians’ serpents.  Elijah dealings with the 850 prophets of Baal was no less violent. These two events among others in the Scriptures teach us that political correctness does not work with enemies of the most High God!

To accurately assess world conditions and international events we must be aware that there are spiritual forces at work in the world.  A great war between good and evil was launched centuries ago and continues to this day.  In the midst of this war we are too often ignorant of what the real issues are.  Instead of recognizing the implications of the contest between Moses and Aaron versus the magicians of Pharaoh, we stand and watch as if it were entertainment instead of warfare.

Mankind was created for one purpose: to know God and to enjoy fellowship with Him eternally.  Each of us has been given a span of years during which we are to learn about Him, come to know Him personally and live our days according to His principles and commandments.  The ‘sons of light’ and the ‘sons of darkness’ perspective of the Essenes in the first century addresses this clearly.

Life is made up of varying experiences.  We prefer the joys and blessings that come our way and if we could, would avoid life’s hardships, challenges and sorrows. However, a necessary part of life is its battles for it is through them that we gain maturity, wisdom and a closer relationship with our God, provided we make godly decisions in the midst of the battlefields of daily living.

In Tune with Torah this week = Thankfully, we know from the Torah and the Prophets that the Holy One of Israel triumphs. Knowing that the God we serve has secured the final triumph, it behooves us to live in such a way that our faith in His eternal victory is evident and guides our decision-making on a day to day basis.

Shabbat Shalom

 

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayigash December 22, 2017

Torah reading: Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Haftorah reading:  Ezekiel 37:15-28

Have you wondered why the account of Joseph’s plight in Egypt is interrupted by a chapter about his half-brother Judah (Gen. 38)?  Genesis 37-50 is described as ‘the generations of Jacob’. The whole of this section is more about the LORD’s dealings with all of Jacob’s sons, rather than just one of them – and through them, or even despite them, the outworking of the purposes of the LORD for all people.

No doubt the placing of the chapter about Judah’s exploits at this point in the timeline has the advantage of chronological integrity. It also serves to illustrate how the cruel and scheming half-brother of Joseph (Genesis 37:26-28) became an honorable son to Jacob: humble, sensitive and self-sacrificing; caring for his father, and protective of Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin in Genesis 44:18-34. This is the testimony of Judah.

JudahJoseph

Judah’s oldest son was ‘wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him’ (Genesis 38:7).  According to Torah, a man was obliged to marry his brother’s widow and raise seed by her so the second son made as if to fulfill this obligation, but reneged on his duty at the last moment –  ‘which thing displeased the LORD,so He slew him also’ (Genesis 38:8-10).

Judah then selfishly and insensitively deceived his daughter-in-law, sending her back to her father’s house, but never recalling her to marry his third son. So Tamar deceived Judah and posed as a cult prostitute, easily seducing him, by now a widower himself, into fornication. Judah sent his payment to the ‘prostitute’ but his Canaanite friend, ironically enough, could not find the woman Judah had slept with. In order to avoid public humiliation, Judah then thought to cover up his sin by ignoring it.

His self-righteousness and hypocrisy were displayed when Judah heard that his daughter-in-law was pregnant. He pronounced the death sentence against her. Yet when Tamar produced Judah’s pledges which he had left with her when they were intimate, Judah was brought to humble confession of his sins: ‘she has been more righteous than I’.

This encounter changed Judah.   In this week’s reading we see a repentant Judah who shows the fruits of his repentance in care and compassion towards his elderly father, his brethren and all their children, and his youngest brother Benjamin. His repentant heart finds its greatest expression in the wonderful and moving speech in which he offers himself as a slave to Joseph in order to spare his youngest brother.

Here in Genesis 44 he is sensitive care and passionate compassion  Here is humility and self-sacrifice. Here is a taking of responsibility for the well-being of others .

In Tune with Torah this week – Humility, self-sacrifice and responsibility are character traits to be emulated and taught to our children and grandchildren.  However, we cannot give what we do not exemplify.  How are we demonstrating a repentant heart? Are we willing to sacrifice for others? Do we accept responsibility when we fail?  Do we walk in humility?

Shabbat Shalom

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To all of my subscribers who will be celebrating with family and friends at this time, may the Holy One of Israel bless you with good health, joy, peace and an abundance of His love at this special time and reveal Himself to you in deeper and deeper ways in the year to come.

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayeishev December 8, 2017

Torah reading:  Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

Haftorah reading:  Amos 2:6 – 3:8

There is something extremely curious about the birth of a giraffe.  The mother gives birth standing up.  When the baby giraffe emerges from her womb, it literally drops to the ground, landing hard on its back.  The newborn will lay there almost motionless until after a few seconds, onlookers are shocked to see the mother give her baby a swift kick, a kick strong enough to knock the baby head over hooves.
Why does she do that? Because she wants the newborn to get up on its feet. Somehow, the baby giraffe understands what his mother wants and struggles to get up, but after a feeble try, gives us and drops back to the ground.
Boom! A second hearty kick from the mother rolls the young one over several more times. The newborn tries again to prop itself up again on its spindly legs, and finally manages to stand upright.
giraffe
But before the viewers can breathe a sigh of relief, the mother kicks the baby off its feet again!  The zoo keeper explains to the onlookers: ‘The mother wants her baby to remember how it got up.  In the wilderness where they live, if the baby doesn’t quickly get up and follow the herd, it will be picked off by predators.’ The swift kick is necessary for the baby’s life!
Perhaps we all have something in common with a baby giraffe.  Have you ever been kicked off your feet?  Have you been kicked while you were down? And have you been kicked by the very people from whom you expected kindness and understanding?
All of us have times in life when we get side-swiped by circumstances or side-lined by harsh judgments from those we most expect to stand by us. How we respond in those moments reveals the truth about what we really believe about God, about His plan for our life and about the meaning of our faith.
In this week’s Torah reading we drop in on Joseph at 17-years of age. As we open to Gen. 37:3, Joseph’s life is good and his future looks bright! But he is about to be kicked off his feet. He is about to be kicked hard while he is down. And the ones doing the kicking are his own family.
Yet somehow, Joseph managed to avoid the very thing that had consumed his brothers—the emotional stronghold of bitter jealousy. Somehow, Joseph faced trauma and the high-jacking of his dreams without becoming bitter; for his brothers, it’s a very different story. There’s a deep message for us all right here.
Bitterness is seething anger that hardens into a rebellious, vengeful conclusion. An unforgiving spirit lets anger take hold: anger over circumstances, anger at your spouse, at your children, your employer, whoever. If we embrace it, coddle it, dwell on it, it quietly takes over our entire life.  We feel entitled to hate the person, justified to desire their ruin, and energized to seek their downfall. That is the story of Joseph’s brothers. How did it happen?
Joseph2
Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons and when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than them, they hated him and could not speak a civil word to him.  Why was Joseph Jacob’s favorite? There are several reasons. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, Jacob most beloved wife. Rachel had died about a year before, so it is natural that Jacob would transfer his affection to their son. And Joseph was born late in Jacob’s life, giving the old man a special joy. Rightly or wrongly, Jacob cherished Joseph in ways he hadn’t shown to his other sons, and Joseph was hated for it. The brothers were jealous of his relationship with their father.
“And he made him a robe of many colors.” Jacob exercised his fatherly privilege and chose to appoint his firstborn son by Rachel as his heir.  He skipped his other nine sons and selected the youngest at that time. The symbol of the birthright was a special tunic. The Hebrew words used to describe this coat or tunic suggest that it was richly ornamented, but the most important detail the Hebrew gives us is that it was long-sleeved and extended to Joseph’s ankles.  Why is that important?  The tunics worn by working men in that day were sleeveless and stopped at the knees. A long-sleeved, tailored garment was worn by a manager, someone who had been put in charge, and was therefore exempt from the work himself. So the coat was a symbol of position. The brothers were jealous of his position. 
Verse 5 tells us: Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. In v. 6-8, Joseph tells his brothers that they were all in the field binding sheaves of grain when suddenly his sheaf rose up and their sheaves gathered around and bowed down. You don’t have to be brilliant to figure out the meaning of that dream, do you?

Verses 9-11: Joseph had a second dream, this time with different symbols, but with the same meaning. His dad heard Joseph’s dream and thought it was a joke, but his brother’s didn’t. Verse eleven reports that his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

Now if your little brother had a crazy dream, you wouldn’t get jealous unless you really believed God was speaking to him.  The very fact that Joseph’s dreams provoked such violent jealousy testifies that the brothers believed the dream! They believed that God was speaking to their younger brother.  So the brothers were jealous of God’s favor on Joseph.

Self-pity, jealousy and anger finally pushed the brothers over a dangerous line. They were mad at their father for his favoritism. They were mad at God for the good things that were coming to their brother and not to them. There was only one way to get back at them both: they would take away the darling object of affection.

The first plan suggested was ‘Let’s kill him.’ Reuben, the oldest, inserts a voice of reason and suggests instead, ‘Let’s throw him into that pit over there.’  In the end, when a caravan of slave traders comes by, they haul Joseph up from the pit and sell him into slavery, wash their hands of the troublemaker and sit down for lunch!  Problem solved…or so they thought.

It appeared to be ‘problem solved’ for some years but you all know how it ends.

Our purpose right now, however, is to focus on the early part of the story.  What does it say to us?

In Tune with Torah this week = We need to ask ourselves some pretty confrontational questions.

Do I have an issue with jealousy?  Do I have any bitterness in my heart towards someone who enjoys a relationship that I wish I had?  Am I jealous of another’s position or promotion?  Do my emotions get riled up when someone gets more favor than I do at work or in my community?

Jealousy kills spiritual growth; it is a poison of the worst kind to our souls.

Our choice is pretty clear: do we go the way of Joseph who guarded his heart against bitterness? Or do we go the way of his brothers whose bitterness poisoned their lives for years?

Shabbat Shalom