Weekly Torah Commentary – Tzav March 23, 2018

Torah reading:  Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36

Haftorah reading: Jeremiah 7: 21-28, 9:22-23

“Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out”  Leviticus 6:6

FireAltar

Many people find the study of Leviticus difficult as it deals with the sacrificial system, the Tabernacle and the priesthood.  What we need to understand is that every aspect of the physical Sanctuary has its counterpart in the sanctuary of God within us – our spirit.

The altar on which the continual fire was to be set was a visible physical one. As applied to us in the spiritual sense, this verse means that the fire of our love for God, though it cannot be measured outwardly, must nevertheless be outward.  Our love for God is to be of such a nature that it is evident to others in the way we live.

If a ‘fire for God’ burns continually in our spirit, what flows from that fire will be true righteousness, effective service.  A truly spiritual life is contagious.  It provokes others to reach out to a higher level of living for God.

Good works alone do not always testify to good character; but good character will always produce good works.  It is primarily the condition of our hearts that God is after.   Many good works can be done for ulterior or self-serving motives, or simply out of routine without thought of glorifying God.

Nothing great is ever accomplished in life without passion. Nothing great is ever sustained in life without passion. Passion is what energizes life. Passion makes the impossible possible. Passion gives you a reason to get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to honor God with my life today.” Without passion life becomes boring, monotonous and routine.

Passion is what mobilizes armies into action. Passion is what causes explorers to boldly go where no man’s gone before. Passion is what causes scientists to spend late night hours trying to find the cure to a dreaded disease. Passion is what takes a good athlete and turns him or her into a great athlete who breaks records.

Passion is an essential ingredient in a successful life – in the natural world and in the spiritual world. God created you with the emotions to have passion in your life and He wants you to live a passionate life.

Being passionate about God has nothing to do with either your personality or your age. Some of the most spiritual and inspiring people I’ve known – from fifteen to ninety-five – were as unique and different from each other as they could be, but in one characteristic they were all the same – they were passionate about God.  Their passion impacted me, inspired me, convicted me.  Have you met people like that?

Perhaps you may say, ‘I remember when I was passionate about God but I must admit I’m not quite that way now.’

Here are seven ‘passion killers’. Which one has robbed you of your passion?

1- Imbalance between your natural life and your spiritual life.  If all of your energies are spent on being busy, busy, busy with no time for God, you’ll lose your passion for God and passion for life.

2- unused talent – Talents are gifts from God. He did not give you special abilities just to sit on them and do nothing about it. Use it or you’re going to lose it.  This principle is easily seen in terms of the physical body. Unused muscles atrophy.

3-unconfessed sin – Few things rob your joy, your confidence and your passion, more quickly than guilt. You can’t feel guilt and passion at the same time because guilt by its very definition robs you of passion. Confess it, repent and ask forgiveness.

4-unresolved conflict – Conflict drains the passion right out of you. Do you ever start a day and it’s going to be a great day. You’re awake from the moment you get up.  You’re on the way out the door and you get in an argument with your husband, your wife or your teenager. All the zip goes out of your doo-dah. It’s like the air going out of a tire. Your passion disappears just as quickly. If you want the passion to be restored in your heart, in your life, you have to forgive. You have to let it go.

5- lack of community. Some lose their passion for God because they’re not spending time around other people who have a passion for God.  We need each other. We all stumble at times. So we all need people to help us up in our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes says it this way: “Two are better than one… because if one falls down his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”  Eccles. 4:9-10  If you want to keep your passion for God alive, you need to hang around people who are passionate for God !  It’s just that simple!

6- an unclear purpose –  Forgetting the purpose for your life is a sure way to kill your passion for life and for God. If you don’t know the purpose for life, why bother? Why put forth the effort? Why get out of bed? Life without purpose is activity without direction; it’s motion without meaning. Life without purpose is trivial, petty, and pointless.

Passion is waking up in the morning and jumping out of bed because you know there’s something out there that you love to do, that you believe in, that God made you for and you’re good at; something that’s bigger than you are and you can hardly wait to get at it again. It’s something that you’d rather be doing more than anything else.

7- an undernourished spiritual life – you must intentionally nourish your spirit. If you don’t do it nobody else is going to do it for you. How do you do that?  Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Deut. 8:3

Do you know you can have a vibrant, energetic body but a shriveled up, puny spirit on the inside?  Reality check! Our human bodies have a time limit; our spirits don’t. Death is but the transference from the physical realm to the spiritual realm where true life awaits us.  Taking care of our physical body but neglecting our inner spirit is consummate foolishness. We must feed our spirits by reading and meditating on God’s Word, by prayer and personal quiet times alone with Him.

In Tune with Torah this week = How many of these ‘passion killers’ spoke to you? Will you do something about it?  To be a light to others, there’s got to be some fire in you!  This shabbat, make an honest assessment of yourself.  Are you passionate about God? Does the fire of His love affect the way you live?

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

 

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 – May 5, 2017 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim

Torah reading:  Leviticus 16-20

Haftorah reading: Amos 9:7-15

“On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord who does this thing.  vs. 11-12

Long before the time of Amos, the northern kingdom of Israel had rebelled and rejected the house of David. Here God promises to restore David’s royal line in preparation for the Messiah to come whose titles include ‘Son of David’.  Previous to these verses the prophet has been warning of judgment upon Israel but suddenly there is this abrupt change from the stinging rebuke.  It is now declared that the reason for the divine judgment was not revenge, but the only way to usher in the restored order on which the heart of God was set.

God’s intent in rebuke and judgment is ALWAYS restoration.  He disciplines those whom He loves that we might walk more uprightly before Him.

The Tabernacle of David calls our attention to worship for that was it’s purpose: to be a place of worship and exuberant praise to the Holy One of Israel.  To be sure David had no easy life. He faced many trials but what was his strength? He had a passionate love for God which was expressed in exhilarating worship.  From his heart came such words as:  ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.’

David knew the LORD to be not just the God of our good times but the God of all our times.  Therefore He is also the God of our worst times.  He is our God when all is going well and He is our God when troubles surround us.  He is our God when we have plenty to eat and He is our God when we are hungry.  In every and any circumstance, He is our God and worthy of our worship.

Worship is more than songs and the utterance of certain prayers.  Those may be experiences of worship but in truth our entire life is to be an expression of worship to our God.  Learning to honor Him and maintain an attitude of thanksgiving towards the LORD throughout our daily life, whatever our situation, is a process that never stops.  We will continue to learn it to our last breath.

You may be thinking ‘I don’t have trouble thanking God and praising Him for all the blessings He has given me but what about the hard times? What about when tragedy strikes or I’m going through a very difficult season of life?’

My answer is a question: What’s the difference between a potato, an egg and a coffee bean?  (I can hear you saying, ‘What?!? Did I read that right?!?)  Yes, you did.  Stay with me.

A potato is hard when you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, it becomes soft, mushy and weak.

An egg is protected by its shell until you put it in hot water.  After boiling it for some time, the egg becomes hard.

A coffee bean starts out hard, but when you put it in hot water it doesn’t get harder and it doesn’t get mushy, instead, it changes the water into something better – fragrant, aromatic coffee!

So – praising God and thanking Him for His kindness and goodness, even in hard times, is a matter of choice.

Will I choose to be like a potato whose spirituality weakens when I face something difficult?

Will I choose to be like an egg and harden my heart with bitterness and resentment in difficult times?

Or will I choose to be like the coffee bean? To immerse myself in the love of God when times are hard and change myself into something new and better despite the ‘hot water’ I’m going through?

These comparisons are not original with me.  I read a story on Facebook where a father used these very examples to help his daughter get through a very difficult time in her life.  They were too good not to pass on to you.

My fellow coffee-lovers out there, next time you sip your brew ask yourself, ‘Am I letting God change me into a better person not in spite of but because of what I’m going through?’  Even if you aren’t a coffee drinker, it’s still a great question!

In Tune with Torah this week = whatever it takes to develop a lifestyle of worship is well worth the investment.  For our God is worthy of all our worship and praise – all the time and in all our ways.

Shabbat Shalom