Parsha Pekudei

This week’s final portion found in the book of Exodus describes the finishing construction of the Tabernacle. Everything that we have read about in the last few portions comes to fruition within these last chapters. The portion begins with the words, “This is the inventory for the Tabernacle…” But why do we need to suddenly take an inventory? We already know from the last Torah portion that the donations the Israelite’s had brought were exceedingly more material than necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. So if they had enough, why count everything? The sages taught in the Talmud, Taanit 8b, “…A blessing is not found either in an object that is weighed or in an object that is measured or in an object that is counted…Rather, a blessing is found only in an object that is hidden from the eye.” What the sages are telling us here is that by counting and/or valuing an item, that item loses meaning, worth, and blessing. So then why would Moses take an inventory of the Tabernacle items and its furnishings?Why would Moses take an inventory of all the offerings of the children of Israel? First, we must ask the question, “What’s the problem with counting? What did the sages of Israel mean when they said a blessing is not found in a counted object?”

The children of Israel look at everything they have brought. Huge piles of dedicated items and material are spread out before them in order to construct a house for God. Why not celebrate this fact? The sages, when they made the ruling that “blessing is not found in a counted object,” recognized the fact that human nature is always desirous for more. The phrase “It’s never enough…” comes from a discontented heart. Once a person begins counting what they have (and what they don’t have) it can quickly lead to dissatisfaction. I’m sure most of us are familiar with the oft quoted phrase, “Count your blessings.” However, a problem that can arise, is people counting their blessings, as well as counting other peoples blessings. They begin comparing their blessings to other people’s blessings. Instead of being grateful for the donated family car, they become jealous of the friend who was given a brand new vehicle. Instead of being grateful for the cheap rental house miraculously provided, they become envious of the individual who received a brand new residence. This is the problem with counting blessings (the ones we receive AND the ones we give).

“Comparing Blessings” by andremsantana

Now imagine the Israelite’s…they’ve been oppressed and enslaved for hundreds of years. During that time of hard, forced-labor, they’ve had to construct numerous Egyptian temples and palaces…they know the amount of material that goes into a massive building project like this. What happens when the Israelite’s finish blessing God by giving loads of offerings, only to realize after the inventory count, they’ve only brought a smidgen of material in comparison to what was necessary for construction in Egypt? They become downhearted. They realize that the seemingly enormous offering they just gave, is small pickings when compared to the wealth of Egypt. It is better to not count what one has, because this leads to comparison, which leads to envy, jealousy, and status wars. It leads the Israelite’s to compare the Tabernacle of God to the glory of an Egyptian temple…Human nature likes to put price tags on things—the more expensive an item, the higher the status. But in God’s eyes, value is found in the sacrifice, not human evaluation/valuation.

A lot of affluent people give/live from their surplus, but God’s people here in this portion offered a “Terumah,” an “Offering,” in order to build God’s house. There has to be an understood cost in order to understand what it takes to welcome God into this realm. The amount of an object matters less when compared to the sacrifice behind the object being given. I’m reminded of the words of our Master Yeshua in Luke 21, when he saw a poor widow giving her 2 cents in the Temple treasury. He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” How did this poor widow put in more than everyone else? I believe it goes back to this week’s portion.

When Moses began inventorying the items for the construction of the Tabernacle, it wasn’t to impress the people by showing how much had been collected. It was to show the sacrifice being made by the Israelite’s—even if it wasn’t comparable to the Egyptian wealth necessary to build huge temples and carve out massive stone icons. But the God of Israel didn’t need an Egyptian temple; He desired the hearts of the Israelite people. The Israelite’s showed their desire for God not by the amount given—they didn’t have much comparative to the other surrounding nations, but they sacrificed for God by giving all they had…“Everyone whose heart was stirred.”

When Moses counted the articles for the Tabernacle, according to the Berditchover Rebbe, “he drew out the Divine spark within [each] thing, causing increased levels of Godliness to rest upon it.” The inventory Moses takes in this portion was for the purpose of elevating the items given by the Israelite’s for the creation of the Tabernacle. Moses was dedicating each individual item; every piece of gold, silver, bronze, linen, wool, all of it was dedicated to the holy service of building a house for God. Every single piece was needed for the construction. What is interesting here is that the Hebrew word for Tabernacle is the word “Mishkan” and has a numerical value of 410. Another word with this same numeric value is the Hebrew word “Kodesh” which means “sanctified/holy.” As the Ramchal writes in his commentary, “…This abode for the Shechina (God’s Presence/Glory) would need to be holy.” Every last detail of the Tabernacle needed to be pure and holy—inspected and inventoried by Moses to ensure spotlessness.

This tabernacle was going to be God’s home amidst the Israelite nation; it had to be done correctly. Which brings me back to the Hebrew word “Mishkan.” There are several different meanings and understandings behind this word, which will help us better, comprehend the function of the Tabernacle. The first word related to the Hebrew word MiSHKaN/Tabernacle is the word “SHaKheiN,” which means “Neighbor.” The ultimate purpose of the Tabernacle was to allow God to dwell among His people—allowing the Israelite’s to be neighbors with God. Because who wouldn’t want God for a neighbor?

The next connection we find to the Hebrew word MiSHKaN/Tabernacle, is the word “MiSHKoN” which means “a pledge.” Rebbe Nachman comments that, “God gave [] the Tabernacle as a guarantee (a pledge) that He will always be with us.” God’s promise to remain with the Jewish people was symbolized by the Tabernacle of Meeting being amongst them. Not only that, but in Song of songs 1:4 we find the Hebrew word “MaSHCHeNi” (shares the same Hebrew root word as Mishkan/ Tabernacle) which happen to be the words of the bride longing for her bridegroom with the words “draw me away!” And the very next thing the bride says is, “The king has brought me into his chambers…”Isn’t this a perfect representation of the Tabernacle? The chambers/courts of the greatest King of all! The bride in Song of Songs represents the ancient Israelite nation as well as the modern community of God, both longing for the Bridegroom; wanting to be found in the chambers of the King, with Him pledged to us and us to Him, not just as neighbors, but as Friends and Lovers as well.

Rebbe Nachman, in his commentary regarding the Tabernacle wrote, “The Tabernacle radiated Godliness in the desert. The Temples illuminated holiness to the Diaspora…By building the Tabernacle in the desert, Moses prepared for the eventuality that the Jews could invoke Godliness even in a place devoid of Godliness…” Moses knew that the Tabernacle and Temples would not always be with the Israelite nation, therefore, by building the Tabernacle in the desert, it was to be a constant reminder to the children of Israel, that even in the depths of the deserted wasteland known as exile, God could still be found. To this idea, Rebbe Nachman continues his thoughts by writing, that the word Mishkan/Tabernacle is mentioned twice in Exodus 38:21. Why? He says, “[it] is mentioned twice in this verse because whether it is erected or destroyed, it always remains with [the Jewish people].” The idea of the Tabernacle—God dwelling with man, has been enough to keep the Jewish people united as a nation. He then says, “The Tabernacle was dismantled every time the Israelites journeyed and rebuilt every time they encamped, to teach us that it accompanies us always. The Jews were able to travel through the desert —a place of serpents, poisonous snakes and scorpions, a place devoid of faith and serenity, a place filled with confusion and doubts—because the Tabernacle always remained with them.”

Whether the physical structure of the Tabernacle/Temple was with the Jewish people, the God of that structure was always, undoubtedly there, leading and guiding the nation into relationship with Himself. The Jewish people could face the vast desert, full of snakes and scorpions, because God was in their midst. The Ramchal tells us, “The word mishkan (tabernacle) appears twice in the opening pasuk (verse) of the parsha (portion) – ‘these are the accountings of the mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony’. Why is it not written more concisely: ‘these are the accountings of the Mishkan of Testimony?’ The Torah is alluding here to two mishkans – the mishkan above in the spiritual realms and the mishkan below in our world.”

The earthly Tabernacle was created to be a reflection of the heavenlies. It was a reminder to the Israelites, that the physical tabernacle represented something much greater—the Tabernacle of Heaven. God’s desire to dwell with man is so great—He wants to be invited into this realm. His invitation to all of humanity through the symbolism of the Tabernacle is, “I have invited you to join Me in My realm, will you invite Me into your realm?”

“The Joining Of Realms” by TheDigitalArtist

As the Ramchal stated in his commentary, “…the ‘Mishkan of Testimony’ served as a testimony to the world that the Shechina (God’s Presence/Glory) resides among Bnei Yisroel (the children of Israel)…” God’s house, among His people is a sign to the nations of the world; the God of Israel is alive! He desired to dwell among His people, and as we read in this portion, they welcomed Him in to be the center focus of their nation—the Tabernacle of God was placed in the very center of the Israelite encampment. God and man united as one. Nearer to the end of this portion we finally read, “[So] Moses did everything just as the Lord had commanded him.”I love the dedication of Moses here. He did “everything just”or—exactly, “as the Lord had commanded…” Moses did not withhold, cut corners, or let things slide. He was obedient and precise in following God’s Masterplan. Why? Moses knew that God dwelling among His people was contingent upon him getting the structure of the Tabernacle right. Did Moses succeed? In Exodus 40, at the very end of this portion and book of Torah, we read, “Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” The cloud of God’s presence hung so thick that Moses couldn’t even enter the Tabernacle. He went up to Mount Sinai, in the clouds and presence of God. But here, Moses cannot take one step into this glory cloud. It shows how much God desired to dwell among His people.

In this incredible display of passion, God descends amidst clouds of glory, and the people welcome His presence to take His place among them! Which brings us to today…God’s desire to dwell among His people, is just as strong now as it was back then. Are we preparing to have God as a neighbor in our neighborhood? His desire is to tabernacle among us…are we preparing to receive His presence? The Prophet Jeremiah envisioned a coming time when, “No longer will each man teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me…” Why will everyone know the Lord in that day, to where no one will have to teach his neighbor about the Lord? Because in that day, we all will be neighbors of the Holy One of Israel! But until that day, our job remains, to prepare the world for God’s coming (to a neighborhood near you!). How? By telling each and every one of our neighbors and brothers, “Know the Lord,” the Mighty One of Israel Who desires a personal relationship with everyone!

Parsha Tazria/Metzora Leviticus 12:1-15:33

This week happens to be a double-portion which begins with the laws concerning an “Eesha—Woman” who conceives/bears a child and ends with the laws concerning the “Metzora—Leper.” I believe these portions teach some very powerful concepts when read as an entire unit. So with that being said, let’s jump right into this week’s reading.In the second verse of this first portion (Leviticus 12:2) it says, If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child…” The Hebrew word used here for “conceived” is “tazria” and literally means “to sow seed.” Now if we go all the way back to the beginning, we read this same root word in Genesis 3. Right after the “Eating of the Forbidden Fruit” episode, God describes the consequences for the serpent, the woman and the man’s actions. The consequence for the woman, the first “Eesha” in history, has to do with childbirth.

God tells the “Eesha—Woman”, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children.” To the man, Adam, God says, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Many commentators describe these consequences on Adam and Eve as “punishments” for their disobedience. But I would like to propose these consequences to be “paths of redemption” instead. Note that God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” Or, in other words, “Cursed is the ground for your benefit.” These “punishments” actually happen to be paths, which bring redemption into the world! Think about it? How do we bring redemption into the world? We have children and work hard. We raise children who will build upon the foundation we have started…a foundation that builds a way for redemption to come into this realm.Notice that both Adam and Eve’s “paths of redemption” deal with “seed.” 

Adam would be a tiller of the ground and sower of seed. Eve, would be a carrier and nurturer of seed = children. The key that unlocks the power of redemption is found within the “seed.” Which is why I saved God’s words to the serpent for last. God tells the serpent, “V’evah Asheet…Vein Zar’acha U’Vein Zar’ah—And I will put enmity…between your seed and her Seed.” Notice the words “Zar’acha” and “Zar’ah.” These two words are connected to the word “Tazria” found in this week’s Torah portion (the root word is “Zera” which means “seed”). The word used here for “enmity” can also be translated as “hostility or an enemy/foe.” In other words, “there is going to be a war between seeds.” God then tells the serpent the outcome of this war. He says, “Hu Y’Shufcha Rosh V’Atah T’Shufenu Akev—He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Basically, “Her seed’s gonna destroy your seed.” God speaks to Abraham later in the book of Genesis. He tells him, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” Again we come across the word “seed.” Who is this seed? Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) tells us in Galatians 3:16 that “to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is the Messiah.” 

Rav Shaul is making a point concerning the word “seed.” There is no plurality, as in “seeds”; rather, there is one “Seed,” the Messiah, who will bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. How will the Messiah bring blessing to the earth? By “crushing the head of the serpent’s seed/offspring.” But notice, that the Messiah will be bruised in the process of crushing the serpent’s offspring underfoot. This brings us to the next part of this week’s portion. The second portion this week deals with the “Metzora—Leper.” Why are these portions next to each other? Well, if you put the names of these two portions together, “Tazria” and “Metzora,” you get the meaning “She will conceive (a) leper.” We already know that “tazria—the conceived one/the Seed” is the Messiah, but what does it mean the “woman will conceive a leper?”
Ja
In the Talmud there are several places where we find a description of the Messiah. Two of those, which I would like to share, are found in Sanhedrin 98a-b. Throughout the Bible and even in the New Testament, we never find a description of what the Messiah looks like. However, in the Talmud it says that the Messiah “[is] at the entrance of the city of Rome…[He] sits among the poor who suffer from illnesses (and He is covered in bandages).” Another passage states that the name of the Messiah is, “The Leper.” Why do the Rabbis call the Messiah a Leper sitting among the ill outside the gates of Rome?

Because Isaiah 53 tells us, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.” The Messiah is an outcast…sitting outside the gates. When Yeshua came to earth, the Prophet Isaiah described Him (the future Messiah) as having, “No form or splendor; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” Yeshua wasn’t anything special when He came to earth. He didn’t come into the world to win Mr. Universe competitions or come to be named Handsomest Guy of all time. Who was/is He? Isaiah continues, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Why is He a man acquainted with grief and sorrow? Because “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” 

They weren’t His own. He is the one described in John 1:29 as, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Of Him it is written in Matthew 1:21, “He will save His people from their sins.” But because He took the sin of the world upon Himself, Isaiah writes that, “we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” Why? Because we assumed that He was “stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.” I want you to notice the word “stricken” in this verse. In this portion, Leviticus 13:2, we read “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body…” Notice the underlined words above. These two words in Hebrew are “Nega Tza’arat—Infection of Leprosy.” The Hebrew word “Nega” meaning “infection” in Leviticus 13 is the same Hebrew word used for “stricken” in Isaiah 53. When people look at Yeshua (whether in His day or in our Modern time) they find that He is “infected” by sin. What most don’t realize is that the sin that the Messiah carries is not His own. The world looks at Yeshua and sees, as Isaiah wrote, “His visage [] marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” Yeshua our Messiah is not necessarily the most attractive or beautiful to look upon until one realizes that when touched by Him, the Leper of Lepers, our sin = our leprosy is removed and we are completely cleansed.

1 Peter 2 tells us that though He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; [He] bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”If we return to Leviticus 13, it says in verse 3, “Et Hanega B’ohr HaBasar—the Affliction in the skin of his flesh.” What does the affliction on the skin of the Messiah’s flesh represent? The Ramchal brings an amazing insight into this verse. If you take the first Hebrew letter from each of these 4 words and put them together, you get the word “Ahavah—Love.” The affliction upon the Messiah’s flesh represents His love for humanity. The sins of the world which He has taken upon Himself are only skin deep, His love for the world on the other hand, as it says in the Psalms, “reaches to the Heavens.” However, because He is leprous = He has taken the sin of the world upon Himself, the Torah tells us that a leper, “his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” 

Remember also that the Talmud describes the Messiah as dwelling “at the entrance (outside) of the city of Rome.” These passages tell us the Messiah must be an outcast from society, an outsider to the world. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore Yeshua [], that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.” Even now, He still suffers outside the gate waiting for the world to recognize Him for Who He truly is. Waiting for the world to welcome Him back as the true redeemer of all mankind. But until then, the writer of Hebrews continues, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp…” You see; if you want to truly find and follow Yeshua, you have to leave the camp, the city, and the pleasures of the world. Leave the pleasures of this world behind and “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5)
As it says in Psalms 16, in God’s “presence is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Yeshua is standing at the entrance of each persons heart knocking, He says “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him…” Yes, He may be a terrifying sight at first, but in reality His beauty is not in how He looks, rather it is in what He does. The lepers are cleansed when Yeshua goes to town! Now, before I finish, I want to look at one last verse from Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) found in Ephesians 4:8-10. It says, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?” 

Yeshua descended even to the lowest parts of the earth = He became an outcast. Why did Yeshua have to descend to the lowest parts of the earth and become an outcast? The reading from the Prophets this week comes from 2 Kings 7:3-20. The basic story line is, the kingdom of Israel is being attacked by the Arameans. The army is besieging Israel’s capital city of Samaria. The people within the city have resorted to cannibalism, because of the severity of the siege. Outside the city live 4 lepers. Nobody cares about them. The Arameans leave them alone because they’re leprous and the Israelites keep them out of the city because they’re leprous. So they say to each other, “Why should we sit here till we die? If we say: ‘Let’s go into the city,’ then the famine is in the city, so we will die there; but if we sit still here, we’ll die also. So come, let us go into the camp of the Arameans. If they spare us, we’ll live; and if they kill us, we’ll just die.” When they arrive at the camp of the Arameans they find the camp deserted “For the Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a noise of chariots and a noise of horses…so abandoning their tents, their horses and their donkeys…[they] fled for their lives.” 

The lepers realize what has happened, so being famished as they were, they eat and drink and take silver and gold from the tents. Suddenly they realize and say to each other, “It’s not right, what we’re doing. This day is a day of good news, and we’re keeping silent!” They hurry back to the starving city full of famished Israelites and report the good news. I would like to refer to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks concerning this story. Why did Yeshua come as an outsider to bring the good news? The same reason these lepers came and brought good news. You see, “sometimes outsiders see what insiders do not…four lepers, lowest of the low, became[] the harbingers of the good news that only they, because of their outcast state, were in a position to see. Sometimes outsiders do see what the rest of the world misses, and sometimes it is good news.” Yeshua came as an outcast, lowest of the low, to see what most did not. Yeshua, by accepting the status of outcast upon Himself, revealed good news to the entire world. I wrote little bit about the word “Nega—Infection/Stricken /Aflicted.” I would like to return to this word to end this observation. You see, Yeshua took the Nega upon Himself in order to bring the world to a place of delight! Why is this important to note? Because the letters that spell the Hebrew word Nega, when inverted, spells the Hebrew word Oneg, which means Delight. As it says in the Sefer Yetzirah “There is no good higher than delight (oneg/???), -[and]there is no evil lower than a plague (nega/???).” Yeshua came to turn our “mourning into dancing; [our] sackcloth [into] gladness” (Psalm 30) and our evil plague of leprous sin into the “river of [His] delights” (Psalm 36).
To Read More Of My Writing About This Portion: Click Here

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Shemini “Eighth” Leviticus 9:1-11:47

This week’s portion begins with the dedication of the Priesthood and the Wilderness Tabernacle for the service of God. It begins with the words, “It came to pass on the eighth day…” Now, I know I wrote about this topic last year, but I would like to expound on this idea because things like this always catch my eye. Did you notice anything strange in the above words? The phrase “eighth day” catches my eye because, how can you have an “eighth day,” when there are only seven days in a week? The Torah could have said something like “Eight days later…” or “After eight days…” Yet, instead it very specifically says “on the eighth day.” Why?

A short and simple explanation would be; if God created the world in seven days, then anything connected to an “eighth day” could be considered as “out of this world,” or “not of this creation.” In this portion, with the creation of the Tabernacle completed, a journey beyond time and space becomes achievable, because on an “eighth day,” as Mary Poppins would say, “anything can happen if you let it.” On this particular “eighth day,” a portal between Heaven and earth (the Tabernacle) was completed, allowing God and mankind to commune and communicate, one with the other. However, I believe in order for us to better understand this concept we must go back to the very beginning of creation and see if we pick up any clues concerning an “eighth day.”

When reading through the Genesis account of Creation, obviously we find nothing about an “eighth day” mentioned, but theoretically speaking, if there had been an “eighth day” it would have come right after the seventh day, which was the Shabbat/Sabbath. The Jewish sages tell us that Adam and Chava (Eve) ate from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on the sixth day, the very day on which they had been created. When God appears to them in Genesis 3, He sentences Adam and Eve to a life outside of the Garden, away from His presence. But because the Shabbat was about to begin God allowed them to stay in the Garden until Shabbat’s end. The first couple in world history sins, God sentences them for their “crimes against humanity” (because their sin still affects us even today) then Adam and Eve spend Shabbat/Sabbath/the seventh day in the garden. And at the end of the seventh day/Shabbat what is supposed to happen? Before we continue, remember that a day Biblically speaking begins in the evening, as it says in Genesis 1 “so [there was] evening and [there was] morning.” 

Evening comes first. Now during the creation week “before the creation of the sun and moon, G?d created a great light” (Chabad.com) as it says in Genesis 1, “In the beginning…God said, ‘Let there be light.’” This primordial light was the light, which shone throughout the creation process. Now, “Adam and Eve had [] sinned by eating from the forbidden fruit. As a consequence, G?d wished to hide this bright primordial light and expel Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. However, due to the sanctity of Shabbat, G?d postponed His actions and left the light to shine until the end of the sacred day.” (Chabad.com) God allowed this light, which according to the Yalkut Shimoni is “the light of Messiah” to continue to shine in honor of the Sabbath.

Even though mankind did not deserve to share a Shabbat/ Sabbath with this Messianic light, God still showed Adam and Eve the Light of the Messiah and the Calm of His holy Sabbath. Why did God allow them to have this experience? To give them a taste of what He had prepared for them. Even though they would be sent into exile, they could always think back to that one Shabbat they had spent in the Garden with God, encompassed by the light of the Messiah; and they would know that God’s plan was to one day bring them back again, if they would only fully return!
Ja
But in our story however, the sun is sinking, giving way to darkness. Remember, this is the first time Adam or Eve have ever encountered darkness since their creation. The pitch-black eeriness of the night terrified Adam because darkness and night represent exile. He was being sent away from the Garden of God and from the Light of the Messiah. But God had something He wanted to give Adam before he left. “Adam, [] thought that the darkness would engulf him. [But] G?d [] inspired Adam, who took two stones and struck them against each other, and fire burst forth. At that moment, Adam praised G?d and said the blessing ‘Blessed are You, L?rd our G?d . . . who creates the lights of fire.’” (Chabad.com)

As Adam and Eve, the Father and Mother of all humanity were sent from the Garden, God gave them a key, a reminder of the promise of a day when God would once again dwell with humanity, the promise of a coming “eighth day.” What was the symbol of that promise? Fire. And so every week, as the Sabbath fades, Jewish people all over the world welcome the new week in by the light of fire, a reminder of God’s promise that, He would be with us even in exile, and He will one day lead us to a new day = an “eighth day” when all things will be made new! This is why this portion begins with the words “It came to pass on the eighth day.”The completion of the Tabernacle opened the door for God to interact with humanity. This building was in response to the sin of Adam and Eve and was one step in the right direction for God and man to be reconciled. And guess what appears at the dedication ceremony? It says that, “the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people, and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.” The “fire and glory of the Lord” specifically “appeared to all the people.” 

God gave fire to Adam and Eve as they left Eden; God led the Israelites in a pillar of fire when they left Egypt, and finally, here God appears to the entire nation in an all-consuming fire, devouring the offerings of the altar. God’s fire is revealed all throughout the Bible. He is “the God who answers by fire” according to 1 Kings 18. And as it says in Hebrews 12, “our God is a consuming fire.” Therefore, if God is fire then I believe it would do us well to heed the old maxim “Never play with fire.” In this portion we read about the deaths of two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu (Nadab and Abihu). The verses state that, “Nadab and Abihu…each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord…So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” The Tabernacle has just been dedicated, everyone has just witnessed the glory of God, and suddenly amidst all of the excitement something very tragic happens. Two priests get carried away and approach God in an improper manner, in a way that “He had not commanded them.” These two had “played” with the fire of God and had gotten toasted before Smokey the Bear could even say a thing (if you want more on this topic please check out my website).
God expects a lot from those He selects to represent Him. Nadav and Avihu, whatever their intentions, had disrespected God, Moses, Aaron and the Children of Israel. Everyone had gathered to collectively worship and serve the God of Israel, but these two decided that they were going to do things their own way. Why did they not seek advice from anyone or talk it through with each other? The Book “Growth through Torah” tells us, “Before doing something that is questionable, make certain to consult someone who is older and wiser.”In some ways, their assumptions were their downfall. Do not offer strange fire before the One who is the All-Consuming Fire. Unfortunately, this Spiritual thrill-seeking spirit of Nadav and Avihu seems to have lived on despite their passing. Just as the fire of God descending to earth was a rare occasion in the days of the Israelites, it is the same today. The job of a priest was not to daily wait for the miracle flame of God to come down and consume the sacrifices. The job of a priest was to keep “the Divine fire alive by feeding the flames of the altar, [so that] the amazing glory of the LORD [would] not blaze out…” (FFOZ)

In our individual lives, how do we approach the L-rd? Do we demand fire, flames, miracles and/or wonders? Is our faith in God based upon some sign or miracle? For if we put our faith in God because of a miracle, then we will surely leave Him on account of a miracle. Our faith must be based on more than just fire from the sky…First Fruits of Zion writes concerning the desert Tabernacle, “There were probably some Israelites who felt as if something was amiss. ‘Why has this Tabernacle become so spiritually dry?’ they might have wondered. Perhaps they went looking for other tabernacles where God’s Spirit was ‘really moving.’ Some people are always looking for spiritual fire. They are in constant pursuit of emotional highs…” God is not calling people in pursuit of “spiritual experiences.” God is looking for faithful men and women who are steadfast in their walk after Him. These are the kinds of people who will truly see the fire of God; and when faithful men and women are grabbed by the power of God the world begins to move. Because these people have God’s word “in [their] heart like a burning fire, shut up in [their] bones…” The world moves towards a new day = the “eighth day,” when the people of God begin to prepare themselves and the world for the coming redemption! So next time you see a flame/fire, think of it as God’s symbol to humanity that even in the darkness of exile, there is hope, and through the many various trials, God’s promise of a new day, a day which is “out of this world” is on the horizon ahead! May it come soon and in our days!

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Tzav “Command” Leviticus 6:8(1)-8:36

This week’s portion begins by describing the various sacrifices and their functions. The first offering that is mentioned is called the“Korban Olah—Whole Burnt Offering/ Ascending Offering.” This sacrifice represents the idea of a person giving their entire being to the service of God. In past emails I have related the idea that the person offering the sacrifice was doing a physical act in order to show an inward, spiritual transformation. Sacrifices without heart change are regarded by God as worthless; in fact, He rebuked King Saul, speaking through the Prophet Samuel in 1Samuel 15:22 saying, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” Sacrifices are good, but a heart of obedience is better. The verse in 1 Samuel continues by saying, “Hineh, Shomea M’Zevach Tov—Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” 

However, Xus Casal points out that the words Hineh, Shomea M’Zevach” could be read as “Behold, obedience [comes] from sacrifice.” Obedience demands sacrifice. Not necessarily animal sacrifice. But obedience to God means rejection of oneself. What is obedience only for the sake of convenience? True obedience equals sacrifice; for what is something worth apart from sacrifice? Now some people have the misconception that sacrifices were necessary for God to draw near to His people. However, it is in fact the complete reverse; the sacrifices were never for God to draw near to people, they were for people to draw near to Him. These boring, dry and seemingly obsolete chapters in Leviticus concerning the sacrifices actually have much to offer in terms of how to come before the King of the Universe.

So let us now return to the “Korban Olah—Whole Burnt Offering/Ascending Offering.” We begin this portion with the words, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses…‘This is the law of the burnt offering: The burnt offering shall be on the hearth upon the altar all night until morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it.’” From this we ascertain that this whole burnt offering was to be on the altar “all night” until it was entirely consumed.
The “Whole Burnt Offering” represented the complete surrender of an individual’s life to God. Within Judaism, a person is viewed as having the capability to be a “Temple” or a “Mishkan—Dwelling Place” for God. Each different sense and organ of the human body is found paralleled by a vessel and/or function found in the service of the Tabernacle. The bronze sacrificial altar is equated with, in the words of Chabad Rabbi Shraga Sherman, “the essence of the soul in each and every [Godly person].” The bronze altar can be also related to “the digestive system and other ‘functional’ organs” (Based on the teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe). The bronze altar is the “innermost being of a person.” The depths of an individual are found in the “kishke—guts” of that person. What a person puts into the depths of their body is what is important to them, whether that be immoral pleasures, alcohol, victuals or any of the other various addictive vises. The “gut” of a person is also known as the “natural instinct” of an individual. The gut, or, altar within a person’s life wants sacrifices. This is why it says in the Psalms, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.” 

God wants us to offer up our innermost being to His service. The very “essence” of our soul should be given over to God as a Whole Burnt Offering with nothing left over.Because the Temple remains desolate the ability to do the physical offerings are currently impossible. However, the offering of the heart (Psalm 51), the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13) and the fruit of our lips (Hosea 14) are what we can give to God today. In the Midrash it comments “that if a person repents, it is regarded as if he had gone up to Jerusalem, rebuilt the Temple and the Altar, and brought on it all the offerings of the Torah” (Chumash Stone Edition). The power of repentance is the oft forgotten key in this day and age; it unlocks the potential of those who will receive it. In today’s world, the modern “cancel culture” plaguing the United States is because of an inability to forgive people for past mistakes (real or imagined). It was only after I saw these horrid on goings that I truly understood the verse from the Psalms, “But there is forgiveness with You (God), that You may be feared.” 

The modern culture is feared because of a lack of forgiveness, God is feared because of His forgiveness. Both are feared, one from a place of dread, the other from a place of awe. We should be those in awe of the Awesome One.Returning to the subject of the Whole Burnt Offering. We read in this portion, “the fire of the altar shall be kept burning,” it was meant to be an “esh tamid—eternal flame.” It stresses this point, stating it 3 times in only 5 verses. What significance does an eternal flame upon the altar have for us? This is the question we must ask ourselves: When we make a spiritual sacrifice to God, do we keep the fire of that sacrifice alive? Do we allow, as it says in the Midrash, “mitzvah goreret mitzvah—one good deed [to] bring another good deed?” Such is the meaning of the eternal flame. It adds that the sacrifice should be “upon the altar all night until morning.” Our past sacrifices should keep the flame of our hearts burning throughout the cold and dark times we all face. Every morning in fact, the first morning ritual done in the Holy Temple was the removal of the ashes and stoking of the coals on the altar. How do you start your day? Does your first morning ritual involve fanning the flame of God in your life? It says in Leviticus 6:12, “V’HaEsh Al-HaMizbe’ach Tukad Bo Lo Tichbeh— And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out.” This phrase Tukad Bo” could be translated as “shall be kept burning inside of him.” 

This wouldn’t make sense in any English translation, until we consider the spiritual altar of sacrifice within each of us. The fire of God in our life should be “Tukad Bo—always burning” inside of each individual’s innermost parts.I heard a good illustration regarding keeping the fire alive in our life (Live Kabbalah Podcast). Imagine your life as an Industrial Kitchen with all the latest and greatest equipment. It’s the type of kitchen that could serve a King. What if you did everything right except for one thing, you failed to take out the trash, what would happen? Over time trash would collect in your kitchen; the quality of service and taste of the food would plummet dramatically. What once had started as a beautiful kitchen has now become nothing better than a garbage heap. The moral of this story is if you don’t burn your trash, you will never discover the amazing high-tech kitchen underneath. Most people look at their life and just see the garbage; they never look deeper to find their true selves. By daily igniting the fire of God in one’s own personal life, it will keep the clutter, garbage and trash of the world from piling up.  Now I know I brought up the idea of Chametz—Leaven last week.

But since we are entering into the Passover Week I wanted to expound just a bit more on this topic. Regarding the festival of Passover God tells the Israelites, “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you are to remove the leaven from your houses. Whoever eats anything leavened from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12). Last week I wrote that leaven represented Laziness or Pride. Generally speaking, leaven represents “Sin.” I did some quick research and here was a fun fact about leavened bread. According to Howard Miller, a food historian and professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, “The first-known leavened bread made with semi-domesticated yeast dates back to around 1000 B.C. in Egypt.” (Live Science) There is also a type of bread going back in history called Al-Shamsi bread. [It] is considered an inheritance from [the] times [of the Pharaohs] when the ancient Egyptians were among the first to produce bread.” Ancient Egypt was the Bread Basket of the Middle East (Think about Joseph’s story). Leavened Bread could have very likely been an Egyptian invention! When God brings the Children of Israel out from Egypt, He makes a clear distinction. The bread of Egyptian slavery is not the bread of freedom!
But not only should the Israelites not eat leaven during Passover; God also continually and explicitly states in the Torah, “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread” (Exodus 23) “No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven” (Leviticus 2) and “[The Grain Offering] shall not be baked with leaven” (Leviticus 6). While unleavened bread is water/oil and flour baked in less than 18 minutes; Leavened bread takes more ingredients and effort. Leavened Bread is a process; it takes work, time and dedication. Here’s an idea I got from Aleph Beta. Nothing is wrong with leavened bread, however, it is easy to look at something we have dedicated a lot of time and energy into and say to our-self and others “look at what I have accomplished!” It is good when people put energy into new ideas and inventions. However, the further away one gets from the original ingredient, the further away one can get and the easier it can become to forget the Creator of that ingredient.

This is a dangerous pitfall for all of humanity. God gave the entire world to humanity to explore, improve and build upon. But man wanted to “be like God.” There is nothing wrong with improving and creating; but when your creation leads you to think of yourself as the source of that creation, you forget the God above who gave us everything necessary for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Matzah for Passover and unleavened Bread at the altar are reminders of God’s goodness from the very beginning of time. When we eat unleavened bread we remember the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the One who at one time brought the entire Israelite nation out from the land of Egypt and has today “kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season!”

Chag Samaech/Happy Holiday,
Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Vayikra Leviticus 1:1-5:26

This week’s portion begins with the word “Vayikra” which means “And (He) called.”  In Hebrew this word is spelled out as “V Y K R A.” Notice that the “A— aleph” is smaller than the rest of the letters in the word. This is the way it is written in the Torah scroll. Rabbi Menachem Weiman writes that while “French may be the best language for romance [and] German may be a great language for philosophy. Hebrew is the language of Godliness.” God created the entire Universe using the Hebrew letters as the building blocks, or blueprint as it were, for creation. So when there is an oddity in the Torah, such as an unusually sized letter, it begs for further research.

Rabbis throughout the centuries have been puzzled as to why this letter was recorded differently when compared to the rest of the Torah. You see, the letter “A— aleph” wasn’t necessary in the first place. Without the letter aleph the first word of this portion would have been “Vayiker” instead of “Vayikra.” The term “Vayiker” is used in a later portion when it says “God vayikermet Balaam” in Numbers 23. The term Vayiker could also be translated as “encountered, happened upon, or befell.” Why did God vayiker—encounter Balaam, and vayikra—call to Moses?

The term vayiker according to Rav Frand connotes the idea of happenstance while the term vayikra is a word of endearment. God showed His favor to Moses when He called Moses in this first chapter of Leviticus. This does not mean that God suddenly “happened upon” Balaam, rather, it means that Balaam related to God like a whack-a-mole game (here there, gone there); Moses, on the other hand was constantly connected to God.
The Stone Chumash describes the moment God told Moses to write Vayikra as the first word of Leviticus. It says, “In his monumental humility, Moses wished to describe God’s revelation to him with the same uncomplimentary word used for Balaam – without an A– but God instructed him to include the A (aleph) as an expression of affection. Too humble to do so wholeheartedly, Moses wrote a small A.” The humility of Moses is given as a big reason as to why the letter aleph is small in the word Vayikra.

However, there is another reason, which helps to tie this idea together.In the book of 1 Chronicles chapter 1, verse 1 in the very 1st word there is an enlarged aleph. The word is in fact the name of someone, “Adam HaRishon—The first Man.” Adam, whose sin brought about the need for the Torah of Moses; it is his name which begins with an enlarged “aleph.” There is an enlarged aleph and a smaller aleph in the TaNaCH (Hebrew Scriptures), one to equalize the other out. What are these two alephs telling us?
Adam, whose name begins with the enlarged aleph, viewed himself as the pinnacle of creation. His self-esteem and pride led to his ultimate downfall. Moses, in response to the sin of Adam, recognized that the only way to rectify the relationship between God and humanity was to come before God in a state of humility and sincere repentance; this is why Moses wrote an undersized aleph.
The pride and arrogance of Adam needed to be counteracted by the humility and meekness of Moses. Not just by writing a small aleph alone, but also by following the instructions written in the book of Vayikra (with a small aleph), which leads humanity to a restored connection to God.The book of Leviticus—though some find this book to be the most uninteresting in the Torah—is in fact the ultimate response to counter the sin of Adam. Leviticus pointed the Israelites to the components necessary to bring reconciliation between Heaven and earth.Today, in our modern era we have lost the Temple and the ability to offer sacrifices, so what do we have to offer God? We can offer our submissive hearts to God’s will and accept His authority in our daily life.

Now Christianity today would say that the Torah is divided up into ceremonial laws versus moral laws. But this is a foreign idea to Judaism (whether it be 1st century or modern day Judaism). Who decides what laws are moral or ceremonial?
God never listed His laws in categories to regard to disregard depending on one’s definition of a moral and ceremonial law. I find it interesting that many Christian will openly declare, “Yeshua fulfilled the sacrifices.” Here is why I think this declaration is absurd (in the words of First Fruits of Zion), “of what value is it for us to profess that the Messiah fulfills the sacrifices when we know virtually nothing about those same sacrifices? To simply dismiss it all by saying, ‘Yeshua fulfilled the sacrifices,’ does a great disservice to the text and to the Master Himself.” The Torah gives many explicit and intricate details concerning the service of the sacrificial system, but because the idea of sacrifice seems barbaric and backwards to our modern society, everything is dismissed by using the convenient statement “Yeshua fulfilled the sacrifices.” End of Discussion… Period.

But first, is there clear evidence that Yeshua replaced the sacrificial system? And second, even if Yeshua replaced the sacrificial system shouldn’t we at least attempt to understand what He replaced? Too often I hear people stating cliché straw men in an attempt to defend complicated theological issues. Myself included. But one should not use straw men arguments unless they have a stone castle with a moat to back them up.Yeshua Himself said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” The Greek word used here (Matthew 5:17) for fulfill is the root word “Pleres.” It can mean, “to accomplish, complete or increase.” The meaning I really liked is a common gaming term. The Greek term “pleres” can mean, “to level up.” Yeshua came and “leveled up” the Torah by giving us new instructions concerning the Law of Moses. He told the people “You’ve heard it said…Do not murder …Do not commit adultery…But I tell you…Do not hate or lust in your heart” (paraphrased). Yeshua was teaching the people the Torah of the Messiah. The Torah of Moses deals with the physical actions of mankind, the Torah of the Messiah deals with the heart of the matter—the heart of humanity.Since we live in a world unfamiliar to the sacrificial system, much of what we read in Leviticus seems perplexing and outdated. However, I would like to write on some the verses from Leviticus 2 and see what we can learn practically for today’s times. In Leviticus 2:11 & 13 we read, “You shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the Lord made by fire…[But] with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” 

No leaven or honey, but salt in every offering? What can we learn from this?
When one makes an offering to God, say people offer their life, proceeds or actions to God. It is then that these verses come into play. When a person offers something to God, how are they offering it? As the Stone Chumash commentary notes, “The prohibition against offerings of leaven and fruit-honey conveys a moral lesson regarding the full range of man’s service of God. Man should not be sluggish, as symbolized by the slow process of leavening; nor should he be obsessed with the pursuit of pleasures, as symbolized by the sweetness of honey (Chinuch).” Leavening represents laziness (It can also represent Pride). Honey represents selfish pleasure seeking. Neither of these is acceptable when making an offering to God. The Book “Growth through Torah” mentions that, “Yeast makes the dough rise higher, but it is an external additive. Honey makes things taste sweet, but it is also an external additive.” Leaven causes distortion and false growth while honey is sweetness borrowed from an outside source.
Our offerings to God should not contain either of these characteristics. Instead our offerings should contain salt. Why salt? Going back to the Book “Growth through Torah” it says, “Salt…brings out the flavor of the food, but only the flavor that is already there…[meaning one should] utilize all the abilities and talents that you have to serve Him (God).” Salt brings out/draws attention to what already exists. Salt is a preservative that safeguards what exists. Yeshua told His disciples (going back to Matthew 13), “You are the salt of the earth.” He didn’t say, “You are the Sweet N Low” or “Insta-Yeast of the world.” He called us to be (as we read in Romans 12), “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” whose “speech [should] always be with grace, seasoned with salt…” 

Salt is a seasoning. It is not something to be dumped into every relationship and action. Too much salt kills plants and soil. We ought to sprinkle salt into our daily offerings to God. Remember; allow your service, talents and abilities to shine, but not for self-glorification, instead, let it all be for the glory of God!
The last thing I wanted to note about this portion is a verse from Leviticus 1. It says, “When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord…” In this verse it uses the Tetragrammaton, which is God’s 4-letter name. This name represents God’s attribute of Mercy while the name Elokim represents God’s name for Judgment. This is interesting. Some assume that the sacrificial system was an unfortunate necessity demanded by a wrathful, avenging, bloodthirsty God.

If this is the case then why when it comes to the sacrifices in the Torah does it always invoke God’s name of Mercy? The Stone Chumash explains, “The Torah teaches us that offerings are a means to draw closer to Hashem – the Merciful God (R’Hirsch).” In fact the Hebrew word “KorBaN—Sacrifice” comes from the Hebrew root word “KaRoV” which means “Closeness or Nearness.” The sacrifices are what allowed a person to come near to the all-Merciful God. If the idea of sacrifices turns you off then what are your thoughts on factory-farm slaughterhouses?

If you eat meat, then the sacrifices were a much more considerate form of slaughter; think about it, the meat is dedicated to God rather than turned into cash to coat the pockets of some cruel animal farm. Besides, animal cruelty is forbidden in the Torah, but it’s okay on factory farms (just a consideration for those of us who are meat eaters). For those of you out there who are vegetarian, I don’t understand, but I admire you! I write all of this to say that we have a lot of work ahead in order to accomplish the work set out for us as believers! The question is where do we start? I believe 1 Corinthians 10 has the answer,“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God!”

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel
__________________________________________________________________________
A book I would highly suggest is called “What about the Sacrifices?”Please check it out as well as the other resources available. “First Fruits of Zion” has an amazing array of teaching material that is well thought out, studied, documented and highly recommended!

Parsha Vayakhel/Pekudei Exodus 35:1-40:38

In this week’s double-portion we find a reiteration of the construction of the Tabernacle. The greatest difference found between these two instruction/construction passages is its verbal communication. In past portions God told Moses, “You shall make.” Now in these two portions we read the phrase “he made,” over and over again. The portions this week give action to God’s grand-master-plan concerning the Tabernacle. Words without action are worthless, meaning, God needs people of action to bring His plan of redemption to the World. The construction of the Tabernacle was a connection between Heaven and earth, between God and mankind. But why is the building of the Tabernacle repeated? Xus Casal points out, “the last two portions of Exodus (Ch 35 to 48) could be summarized in one single sentence: ‘And Israel made the Tabernacle according to God’s instructions.’ 

So why the repetition?” Repetition in the Hebrew language is a way to emphasize what is being said. In the Gospels, our Master Yeshua is often recorded saying things like, “Surely, Surely” or “Truly, Truly.” This doubling of words is common to Jewish literature when an individual is making a profound statement or a chiddush (new insight). When words are doubled it means, “Pay attention” and “listen up!” Moreover, this occurrence doesn’t just apply to words, but to the Biblical stories we also find doubled. If we go all the back to the very beginning of Genesis we read about the “Creation Story.” There are 2 accounts of this occurrence rather than just 1. Genesis chapters One and Two give us a glimpse into the same happening from different angles. These two creation chapters, I believe, represent the view of the Creator versus the view of the Created. Chapter one records Creator God interacting with nature and humanity. In chapter two, Created man interacts within nature with God. These accounts are what join Heaven to earth, because within each separate account, both parties are looking for each other.

The building of the Tabernacle was a joint effort, God gave a Divine plan, and mankind was commissioned to implement it. Both God’s and mans perspective are recorded in the Torah. This information alone should awaken us to recognize the importance of this building. There are over 50 chapters in the Torah dealing with the construction of the Tabernacle; there are only 2 for the creation of the Universe. What is more important for us to understand? How God created the world for man, or how man created a “world” within the world for God? As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes, “The universe is the space God made for humanity. The Mishkan (Tabernacle) is the space human beings made for God.”
However, why is the Book of Exodus, which is concentrated on the building of a nation suddenly obsessed with a structure for the Divine? What does the Tabernacle have to do with nation building other than it includes the idea of “a building?” It would seem that the Israelites should be more concentrated on building a system of government and rule-of-law, rather than get sidetracked by a Tent in the middle of the desert. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z”TL writes that the construction of the Tabernacle was in fact God’s team-building project, turning the Israelites from “a group of escaping slaves into a cohesive nation.” The process of the Israelites becoming a unified nation was centered on a construction project for God.

The entire people gathered together—as a nation—donating wealth, materials and talent to build a House for God in their midst. Rabbi Sacks continues by writing, “Pharaohs calls them (the Israelites) an am, a people. But an am, as Rabbi Soloveitchik pointed out, is a community of fate, not yet a community of faith.” The Israelites were in the process of being turned from an am, a people group connected by their past, into a kehillah, a community connected by their commitment to the future. This Hebrew term “kehillah—community” is equivalent to the Greek word “ekklesia” which is translated as “the church” in the New Testament. Most Christians think that the “Church” was founded at the time of our Master Yeshua, the Disciple Peter and the Apostle Paul. This is in fact, not the case at all. One of the portions for this week is called “Vayakel—He Gathered.” The root word for the Hebrew “VayaKHeL” is the term “kahal” which means, “To gather, assemble, congregate, commune.” The Israelite community throughout the Bible is the “Kahal,” or, the “assembly.” This tells us that the Church is not a new idea; it is as old as the Mount Sinai experience. FFOZ writes in one of their Torah newsletters that, “our English Bibles have led us to believe that ‘the church’ is a new institution outside of Judaism and the Jewish people.” This could not be further from the truth! From then until now, God has called His kehillah, His community, to make the world a place acceptably suited to be inhabited by Him.

The Jewish community was a group of complaining, stubborn, former-slaves when God first brought them out of Egypt. Personal and national transformation did not take place because of “what God did for them but what they did for God.” (Rabbi Sacks) The Israelites, it says in Exodus 35:20-21 (after Moses gave the description for the necessary items needed for the Tabernacle’s construction), “departed from the presence of Moses. Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing…”Moses (to use Sports terms) called a huddle and gave his team the game plan. Once Moses was finished talking everyone “departed from the presence of Moses,” brought their gifts for the tabernacle, found their respective positions and began the work of the Tabernacle. Rambam states (aacording to book “Growth through Torah”) that, “there was no one who had any previous experience with the skills necessary for the tabernacle …But the were people who had the courage to come before Moshe to tell him, ‘I will do what you say.’” It says that those “whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing” were the ones who came to help with the building. It doesn’t say those “who had experience and prestige” came to build. God accepted the people who were ready and willing to be a part of the project, even if they didn’t necessarily have the degrees or know-how for other jobs at that time.

The entire nation came and offered themselves for the building project of the century; project #1 out of all the wonders of the ancient world—a home in which the God of the Universe could dwell. After the horrific sin of the “Egel Ma’asecha—Molden Calf,” Moses recognizes he needs to turn the peoples creativity into a healthy, productive venture. God had just given Moses the perfect answer for the people. In the words of Rabbi Sacks, the answer for the Israelites was “if you want to create a group with a sense of collective identity, get them to build something together.” It is with the future in mind, which allows a community to overcome differences, drop their diversity and build together in complete unity. James in his books poses the question, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” Why are there problems? Because of selfishness rather than self-sacrifice. Personal desires versus the good of the community.

The future is not dependent on tolerance and multiculturalism (buzz words from the modern media) that attempts to create a utopian world (the word utopia literally means “nowhere” or “no place”) of peace and harmony. What we need is the understanding of God’s desire to dwell among His people and how to bring this outcome about. All of us, all around the world can unite as one kehillahcommunity under God, to bring His will and His kingdom down “on earth as it is in heaven.” Remember, as Rabbi Sacks writes, “We are made by what we make.” If we work together in building and bringing God’s kingdom to earth, it will certainly begin to transform us, starting from the inside and working its way out.
To end I would like to read the last few verses from the book of Exodus, “So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle…For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.” Finally, the work of the Tabernacle was finished and the true test takes place. Would God accept the Israelites invitation and inhabit His house, which had been built by and among the Jewish nation? Yes! A cloud of glory completely covers the Tabernacle. It was a mini-scale Mount Sinai that would travel with the Israelites. God had showed up and was once again dwelling with His people. It was one step closer to the Garden of Eden.

Dennis Prager writes,“Everett Fox points out that Exodus ends not with a tribute to the beauty of the Tabernacle or to the skill of its builders, but with a Description of how ‘its purpose was fulfilled.’ The Tabernacle was built so God could dwell among the Israelites; now that it has been completed, the Torah affirms God is indeed in their midst.” The building wasn’t described for its beauty; it was described as serving its purpose, as a house for the living God. Everett Fox describes the complete story of the Exodus in one sentence, “Whereas the storey of the Exodus began with a people in servitude to an earthly king, it ends with a people in servitude to a Divine King.”This is our story as well. As we ascend and scale to greater heights may our hearts be turned to the service and splendor of the King of kings as He makes Himself known to the world, one heart at a time!We have now completed the book of Exodus. It is customary to say:
Chazak, Chazak V’nitchazek! Be strong, Be strong and may we be strong!

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Ki Tissa Exodus 30:11-34:35

In this portion, two new characters are introduced onto the wilderness scene. Bezalel and Aholiab, skilled craftsmen commissioned with the building of the desert Tabernacle. God tells Moses, “I have called by name Bezalel…And I have filled him with the Spirit of God…indeed I, have appointed with him Oholiab…and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all the gifted artisans.” 

Bezalel (which would’ve been pronounced as “Betzalel” in Hebrew) was from the tribe of Judah. His name means “In the Shadow of the Almighty.” Aholiab (which would’ve been pronounced as “Ohaliav” in Hebrew) was from the tribe of Dan. His name means “Father’s Tent.” I believe it is no coincidence that it was these two, which were selected to be co-supervisors of this important building project.

When the children of Israel traveled through the Desert, the Tribe of Judah would march in front while the Tribe of Dan would bring up the rear. Rashi notes in his commentary that though, “[Oholiab was] of the tribe of Dan, of the lowest of the tribes…yet G?d compared him to Bezalel for the work of the Tabernacle, and [Bezalel] was of the greatest of the tribes (Judah).” Bezalel, from the leading and greatest of the tribes was partnered with Aholiab who came from the last and lowest of the tribes. This was a match made in heaven! I believe God did this to show that everyone from least to greatest, weak to powerful all had a place in the construction and dedication of the Tent of Meeting.

But these chaps weren’t chosen just because they represented opposite ends of the Israelite community. There was something about these two individuals, which set them apart from the rest of six hundred thousand Israelite men. The first place to start would be to look at their names. Biblical names are much more than simply a title for a person to go by. The names found in Biblical literature hint toward a persons fate and fortune. Bezalel, whose name means “In the Shadow of the Almighty” as was aforementioned can be connected to Psalm 91, where it says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” This Psalm is all about finding refuge in God. God is the “Tabernacle” in which one can find safety and refuge. Aholiab, whose name means “Father’s Tent,” is a reminder of a prophecy found in Isaiah 54. It says, “Enlarge the place of your tent…stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations…” This passage describes the ingathering of the nations into the “Tent of Israel.” What is the tent of Israel? The Tabernacle/House of God.These men’s destinies were in their names; from the time of their baby naming ceremony (circumcision) their names foretold their future to become the builders of God’s House.

The second thing which set these men apart was they were “filled [] with the Spirit of God …and [God] put wisdom in [their] hearts.” The Baal HaTurim made an interesting point about these men. He wrote, “it was a miracle that a people who had been forced to perform basic slave labour for hundreds of years should have produced among themselves artisans capable of performing highly skilled work…” These men were out of the ordinary. The Hebrew slaves had been bricklayers–or in modern terms– construction workers. How did this group know how to intricately work with gold, gems and jewelry? This ragtag band of former-slaves was suddenly commissioned by God to build Him a House; and the Spirit of God came and filled the workmen. God’s Spirit gets excited when men prepare the world to receive Him.

The Spirit of God is given to build the House and Kingdom of God. There is a well-known Bible verse, which comes from the book of Zechariah chapter 4. It says, “This is the word of the Lord…‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” What most people don’t know is that this verse’s context is referring to the construction of the Temple of God.
The phrase “Spirit of God” is specifically mentioned only 5 times in the entire Torah. At creation, Pharaoh recognized it in Joseph, twice it says God filled Bezalel to build the Tabernacle and it came upon Balaam when he blessed the Jewish nation. God’s Spirit comes to create, increase, build and bless. To what end? To bring and build the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in Heaven.” The Spirit of God is not some magic force or potion for personal miracles, physical healings and fuzzy feelings. It was given to build up and establish the Kingdom of God in this world. This doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God doesn’t heal or work miracles or bring good feelings, it means that the main purpose of God sending His Spirit is for those who receive it to “be witnesses [of] Me (the message of Rabbi Yeshua = the kingdom of God is at hand) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

In fact, before our Master Yeshua instructed His disciples with these words, it says earlier in this same chapter (Acts 1) that He was teaching all about “the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”It’s written in the Talmud concerning Bezalel’s wisdom, “Bezalel knew how to join the letters with which heaven and earth were created…We see that wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, the qualities with which the heavens and earth were created, are all found in Bezalel.” Bezalel took the knowledge of the creation and used it to create a “home” for God in this world. Now, what does it mean, “Bezalel…join[ed] the letters with which heaven and earth were created?” In Psalm 33 it says, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made…” God used His “word” to bring the world into existence. In a text called the “Sefer Yetzirah—Book of Formation” (200 BCE-200 CE) we read, “By means of the twenty two letters, by giving them a form and shape, by mixing them and combining them in different ways, God made the soul of all that which has been created and all of that which will be.” 

God used the Aleph-Bet (the Hebrew Alphabet) to bring the world into existence. Armed with this same knowledge Bezalel, the former-slave-bricklayer turned chief-craftsman began construction on humanities house for God within God’s natural environment (home) for man. Rebbe Nachman wrote concerning the idea of Bezalel using the Aleph-Bet to construct the tabernacle, “the letters represent the letters of our prayers, for with our prayers we, too, build the House of God, as in ‘For My House will be called a House of Prayer for all nations. (Isaiah 56:7) The miShKaN (Tabernacle) is built by each ShaKheiN (neighbor) who joins in the communal prayers; his added presence builds an even larger ‘House of God.’” The physical tabernacle obviously represents a Spiritual reality as well. One of those was the idea of the ingathering of all nations and “neighbors” into a Spiritual “House of God.” It is only after people are spiritually prepared and ready that God’s physical presence = God’s House = the Holy Temple can come to earth. If people cannot join together into a Spiritual “House of Prayer for all nations” why would /should we expect God’s physical presence to dwell on earth with mankind?

I love the idea of Jewish communal prayer. Only in Israel have I repeatedly been asked the question “Have you prayed today?” If not then the next question (if one is Jewish) is “Could you join us?” (For Jewish communal prayers it isnecessary to have at least a Minyan = 10 Jewish men). Prayer is what prepares us spiritually to bring the physical world around us to a place worthy of receiving God’s Divine Presence. We must recognize, even as Bezalel had to, that, in the words of Dennis Prager, “According to the Torah, the artist, at least in this case, is not the source of the creative vision, but a vehicle for implementing the vision of the Creator.” We were not put on earth to make “a name for ourselves.” We were put here to bring about the Creator’s vision of redemption and restoration to the entire Universe. This is why according to Dennis Prager, “In Hebrew, the name Bezalel means ‘in the shadow of God.’ The Torah would seem to be teaching that ideally, artists should see themselves as working in the shadow of God.” We dwell under “the Shadow of the Almighty.” 

We must remember that we are not the Son, Sun, or Star. We are like the moon; we reflect the light of God into the world around us. In this portion we read of Moses’ glistening face from his encounter with the light of God on “Har Sinai—Mount Sinai.” But before I write anymore about Moses’ glowing face there is a glaring blemish within this beautiful portion, which must be addressed. In this portion we read about the “Egel Ma’asecha—Molded Calf.” The people have become restless by Moses’ delay on Mount Sinai. They are “clearly lost without Moses, [and] desperate to regain a sense of security.” (Dennis Prager’s Exodus Commentary) They tell Aaron (Moses’ brother),“Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”After hearing the desire of the people, Aaron attempts to slow this idolatrous process down by telling the people they must give up their jewelry, next Aaron again puts things off by saying, “Tomorrow is a feast.” 

However, the people are all in to accomplish what they have set their minds to do. The next verse tells us, “Then they rose early on the next day…” These idolatrous Israelites were excited for the next morning; they didn’t waste a moment of time. The word “early,” tells us how zealous these people were for their idol.
But I want to go back to when Aaron asks for the Israelites jewelry. Aaron asked for a very specific item of jewelry. He asked for “the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters…” Was this by accident? I don’t think so! In Mark 12, our Master Yeshua was asked, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” What was His reply? He began His reply with the words, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad—Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” A phrase found in Deuteronomy 6, which has become a sort of creed for the Jewish people (though some would say Judaism is a religion of deed not creed*) and the last words on the lips of a dying Jew was what our Master Yeshua determined as the greatest of all the commands found in the Torah.

The idolatrous worshipers who where among the Jewish people—instead of turning their ear to God’s Word, gave up their earrings for a god in their own image…the image of a beast. When people throw off the commands of God, it leads to the horrendous and the heinous. The Word of God instructs humanity as an instruction manual would, it tells us what people should do in order to function at full capacity. Instead of taking their earrings for the building of an idol, the Israelites should have brought their ears into submission of God’s authority.

Which leads me to Moses’ glistening face. We read that, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with [God]. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.” Moses was glowing from his Mountaintop experience. The people saw this phenomenon and were scared to even approach him. Remember earlier how I wrote that we ought to be “moons” reflecting God’s light in to the world? Moses radiated God’s light into the world, but as John 1 puts it, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The darkness cannot grasp or even begin to understand the all powerful, all consuming, infinite light of God. Moses was illuminated by his experience with God. His glowing face should be the normal for us as believers. May we all merit to radiate the bright light of God into the world, and as we do, may the entire world make the transformation “out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Tetzaveh Exodus 27:20-30:10

This week’s portion is entirely dedicated to the garments and consecration of the “Kohanim–Priests,” as well their service in the Tabernacle. Now there is something very interesting about this portion that may be missed by a quick glance through. Moses, prophet of God and leader of the Israelites is not mentioned once in this Parsha. From the beginning of Exodus until the very end of the book of Numbers, we find Moses, as Rabbi Sacks Z”TL would say, “centre-stage.” When we come to the book of Deuteronomy, we don’t necessarily read Moses’ name in every portion, but the entire book of Deuteronomy happens to be Moses’ recounting of the Exodus story from beginning to finish in the hearing of the Israelite nation. This leaves one asking, why out of all the portions in the Torah does Moses remain unnamed in this one? Perhaps it is because this portion is all about the role of the priests? The priesthood after all was given to Aaron and his sons, not to Moses. Yet, there are several portions dealing with the jobs of the priesthood, why is Moses left out of this specific portion?

The Vilna Gaon suggests that because “Tetzaveh (this portion) is [generally] read during the week in which the seventh day of the month of Adar falls: the day of Moses’ death…we sense the loss of the greatest leader in Jewish history – and his absence from Tetzaveh expresses that loss.” (Rabbi Sacks book: Covenant and Conversation) However, though this is an interesting idea and a quite reasonable one as well, I think there is something else interesting we must consider. In next week’s upcoming portion, Ki Tissa, we read an interesting plea made by Moses. In Exodus 32:32, after the sin of the golden calf, God, in His wrath, is ready to consume the entire Israelite nation. Moses pleads with God with these words, “forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” Moses is literally offering his life in place of the Israelite nation if it would appease God’s wrath.

Now we know why Moses was chosen to lead the Israelites in their time through the wilderness experience. One can debate whether God’s threat was real or simply a test, but the selflessness of Moses is unquestionable. In Hebrew this idea is encased in the phrase “Mesirut Nefesh—Giving one’s Life.” Rabbi Riskin writes, “God responds to Moses’ pleas. But Moses’ selfless willingness for himself to be obliterated as long as his nation prevails, is eternalized by the fact that one portion of the Torah, Tetzaveh, the master prophet’s name is ‘missing in action.’” This leads me to believe; the reason Moses’ name is missing from this particular portion is to show the importance of the priesthood apart from Moses. The demarcation between the role of Prophet (Moses) and Priest (Aaron and his lineage) must be clarified once and for all time. This leads me to the topic I would like to write about for this week: the significance, difference, and circumstance in the roles of Priest versus Prophet.
Ja
Moses is eulogized at his death with the words, “since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,” and “the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” Moses was one of a kind. At the same time, Moses set the standard for every prophet who would ever come after him. Aaron on the other hand is mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:12 as, “loving peace and pursuing peace.” Aaron set a high bar for the everlasting priesthood of his lineage. These two brothers set the standard for all those who would follow in their steps.The prophet and the priest, two completely different positions working in harmony to accomplish God’s will. Before we get into this though, I would like to quickly write about the hereditary priesthood.

As Dennis Prager writes in his commentary, “We believe in choosing leaders, hopefully based on their abilities and values, and not in individuals attaining positions of authority solely through birth.” This has become so ingrained in Western culture that even the idea of a Supreme Being can be off-putting to some. God was not elected in a Democratic process. Nobody chose to name God “King of kings and Lord of lords,” it just is. God did not put himself up for election the same reason He did not put the priesthood up for election. Can you imagine politicians running for a priestly position? For me it is hard to fathom a pure, incorrupt, righteous institution whenever political influence and affluence are added into the mix.

Again, in Dennis Prager’s commentary, writing concerning the hereditary priesthood, he notes, “…priests are to have no power. Their role is to serve to help the community come closer to God…by making the priesthood a hereditary institution…no one can buy or force his way into the priesthood…[lastly] priests do not have to worry about popularity. They never have to run for election…” A hereditary priesthood helps to stem the tide of corruption and power jostling within the community (Though a lot of this happened anyway in the era of the 2nd Temple). God set apart a specific family (Aaron’s) and tribe (the Levites) to serve in His house, not because they were better, rather, it was their position in God’s master plan. All of us have a place in God’s master plan. This is why the roles of priest and prophet are so important for us to understand.Rabbi Sacks Z”TL wrote an entire essay concerning the differences of the priest versus prophet, which I would like to refer/defer to in order to fully understand and comprehend the various distinctions between these two roles.

He wrote, “The task of the priest was not inherently personal or charismatic. The prophets, by contrast, each imparted their own personality.” Each priest was a connecting point between heaven and earth, each prophet was a vessel into which God could put His message. Each connecting point (priest) remained established in God’s service, each vessel (prophet) on the other hand, flavored God’s message slightly differently. The priests had a regimented system to uphold, the prophets on the other hand did not prophesy according to any one way. As is written in the Talmud, “prophetic vision…may appear to several prophets, but [no] two prophets [] prophesy employing one and the same style of expression.” (Sanhedrin 89a) Prophets prophesied according to their temperament and personality. But, “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) Rabbi Sack’s Z”TL brings up something interesting to note. He says, “the people of Israel were summoned to become a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6) they were never called on to be a people of prophets (Moses did say, ‘Would that all God’s people were prophets,” [Numbers 11:29] but this was a wish, not a reality).”

Why would God want a people of priests as opposed to a nation of prophets? Again referring to Rabbi Sack’s commentary, he writes that a, “priest worked to sanctify nature, the prophet to respond to history. Thus the priest represents the principle of structure…while the prophet represents spontaneity.” God doesn’t need a spontaneous nation of unstructured responders to history. A handful of these are enough in every generation. God wants an ordered nation whose prepared purpose is dedicated to sanctifying the world around them.Yes, “God, [] at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” But today, most likely, each ancient prophet would be categorized as “God’s fool” and a “Jesus Freak.” They could almost be viewed as an outcast from society, even from a Godly society. The prophet is not a fortune/future teller. The prophet is the one who builds a fire under the people to get them moving. In other words, the prophet is not necessarily the most popular guy/gal on the block. But the prophet also has to realize that, as Television Reporter Bob Teague said, “Lighting a fire under someone will never be as effective as lighting a fire within someone.” 

A prophet’s calling is to be “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This message makes many uncomfortable, that is the job of the prophet; they are not pleasers of men, they are seekers of God. As we see from this portion, the prophet must be willing to have one’s own name blotted out in order to save the stubborn nation they work within. They must be humble. Lastly, they must speak God’s will and not their own desires and wishes.In Modern Christianity a lot of emphasis has been put upon the idea of becoming a “prophet.” 

There are Prophecy “conferences, summits, meetings, groups, chats, studies, teachings and the like.” In fact, Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) even says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied…” Notice how I underlined the word “wish.” Moses “wished” the exact same thing in Numbers 11. But a wish is not a command. God specifically told the Israelite nation in Exodus 19, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This was the command, a nation of priests…not of prophets.
Why priests? The role of the priest was to be an intercessor, advocate, intermediary, and portal connecting heaven and earth. To the priest, the most important aspects of his service were “lehorot” and “lahavdil,” to teach and to distinguish (between the holy and the common). (Rabbi Sacks book: Covenant and Conversation) His was a job of faithful obedience to God and His Word. The priest’s job is to elevate the world around him. While a prophet calls people out for correction, a priest nurtures the seeds of Godliness within each individual. A prophet is generally for the exhortation and rebuke of an entire people, a priest is focused more on the personal attributes of an individual’s Godly life.How does this apply to us? God commands His people to be a “kingdom of priests,” Moses and Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wish for all believers in God to be prophets.

One is a wish, the other a command. Fulfill the commandment! Strive to attain the heart of a priest. A priest is a servant of God and men. Yeshua Himself came as a servant. He clarified His purpose in Matthew 20 when He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Also in 1 John 3:16 it says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Our life is truly not our own!

We ought to use what we’ve been given to bring peace between the heavens and earth. Become an “inner priest,” one who pursues God and brings the world with them. Being in this submitted position allows God to use you prophetically in greater ways than you ever thought possible!“The Modern Bible scholar Jacob Milgrom makes the important point that the welfare of Israel depended on both Moses and Aaron. Moses served as the prophet, the sublime ethical voice conveying God’s word to the people, while Aaron served as the priest, the ritual leader responsible for helping people connect individually to God. Both are necessary for a meaningful religious life.” (Dennis Prager’s commentary on Exodus)Moses brought the Voice of God, Aaron brought the Action of God. I believe most of us have callings somewhere in the middle, between Moses and Aaron. Because, as Rabbi Sacks Z”TL writes so eloquently, “Moses lit the fire in the souls of the Jewish people, Aaron tended the flame and turned it into ‘an eternal light.’” What flames are you lighting and/or tending in the world today?

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Terumah Exodus 25:1-27:19

This week’s Torah portion begins by describing the construction of the tabernacle. Dennis Prager writes in his commentary, “More chapters are devoted to the Tabernacle and the details of its construction and functioning than to any other subject in the five books of the Torah.” This means that the topic of the tabernacle happens to be one of the most important topics, which we find in Torah. Not the Creation of the Universe nor the Exodus from Egypt; rather, the primary focus of the Torah is dedicated to the creation of the “Mishkan—Tabernacle.” In this portion, we read one of the most important phrases mentioned in the entire Torah from Exodus 25:8. “V’asu Li Mikdash V’shachan’ti B’tocham—And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” 

God’s Divine Presence dwelling among the Jewish nation is predicated on the fact that the Israelites build a sanctuary. God doesn’t say “Build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell inside of it, among them.”God didn’t need a building to live inside. What God was truly asking for was an open invitation from the Israelite nation. The phrase “Make me a sanctuary”could be read as “Send Me an invitation.” God wanted to dwell among His people, but in order for God’s Presence to stay among His people, a sanctuary–a “mikdash” was necessary.At the beginning of this portion we read God’s instructions concerning the building of the Tabernacle. God tells Moses, “[take for] Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take…” There is something to be noticed here in this verse. How does one take an offering?” Doesn’t the word “offering” itself imply that it must be given of a person’s own freewill?

The wording here is definitely not by accident. The simple explanation is, we don’t own what we have while here on earth. God gives us our riches, while different institutions and governments worldwide define the concept of “money”. When using the phrase “[take for] Me an offering,” it is in recognition that everything we have comes from God. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik notes concerning these verses, “the Torah uses the term take to refer to the donations to the tabernacle even though the people were giving and not taking. This is because only the money that a person gives away to charity is really his…the money you give to charity is your eternal possession.” (Book: “Growth through Torah”) When we give to charity, we are using the wealth God has blessed us with to sustain others, allowing them to bless God as well. We are returning our blessings and wealth from whence it came.

When we “take an offering” from the abundance God has given us and bless others, these are the true treasures, which become our “eternal possession.” Only after we “take” what we have and use it for God’s glory does it actually become ours. Rebbe Nachman writes in his commentary, “In order to be charitable, a person must open his heart. Once his heart is open to give to others, it can also receive blessings and bounty…”Only a person whose heart is open to giving charity is open and ready to receiving blessing from God above. One opening leads to another.
Ja
Now when God says, “Make me a sanctuary” why does He begin to define the structure and implements of the tabernacle? In Verse 9 of Exodus 25 God tells Moses, “According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.”Why couldn’t God allow the Israelites their own creativity so they could present Him with a surprise? Why was God so controlling over the building project? Dennis Prager writes, “leaving it completely up to the subjective tastes of some of the Israelites might well have led to the building of a Tabernacle that… looked just like a pagan house of worship.”When people are left to their own devices, they will act and react to life according to their experiences. If God had told the Israelites Make me a sanctuary,” without clarifying what He meant, the Tabernacle in the wilderness would have probably ended up looking like an Egyptian temple with a few exceptions.

God does not want to be worshiped like some Egyptian god or goddess. He is not on equal footing with the idols of the world. So why should He be worshiped as such? Deuteronomy 12:4 specifically states, “You shall not worship the LORD your God [as the pagans do].” God defines how He wants to be worshiped, honored and invited into our midst. We do not/cannot set the standards or boundaries for God, therefore, we need His proper instruction on how to invite Him into our midst. When we look through history we see how civilizations, generations and peoples have defined “worship of God.” When humanity defines for itself what proper worship of the divine looks like, we end up with unspeakable acts of immorality, bestiality, human sacrifice, witchcraft/ wizardry, and communication with the dead.

The list unfortunately goes on…things that need not be described. God knew mankind’s tendencies; this is why He established the order and structuring of the tabernacle rather than leaving it in the hands of the people.When reading about the creation of the “Mishkan—Sanctuary,” it is supposed to be reminiscent of another “creation story” we read about in the Torah—the Creation of the Universe. Rabbi Jonathan Sack Z’TL writes, “The latter mirrors the former. As God made the universe so He instructed the Israelites to make the Mishkan…Just as the universe began with an act of creation, so Jewish history (the history of a redeemed people) begins with an act of creation.”In the book of Job we read that on the day of creation, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” This same sentiment appears at the creation of the Mishkan. In Sifra, Shemini (a commentary on the book of Leviticus) the Sages say, “We are hereby taught that the day of the erection of the Mishkan was as joyous before Him on high as the day of the creation of heaven and earth.”The Heavens were as excited as the children of Israel were regarding the completion of the Tabernacle.

The question is, why? In the Torah we read of only two places that reference “Keruvim—Cherubim.” The first mention is found in the creation story. Adam and Eve are being sent out from the garden, and as they leave, God places “cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Cherubim ensure Adam and Eve’s hasty exit from the garden with flaming swords; these beings are put in place to keep Adam and Eve out from the garden and presence of God. In the creation of the Tabernacle, we read, “you shall make two cherubim of gold.”But, though the Cherubim are back, something is missing. It’s the flaming sword.

The Cherubim, the gatekeepers to God’s garden and presence are now found upon the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God and man can once again talk. The God who “dwells between the cherubim” is once again opening a way for man to have a relationship with Him. The tabernacle, as well as the garden, was created to facilitate the relationship between God and mankind. This is why God was so excited about the creation of this structure, this building would once again allow for the connection of the heavens and the earth.
When reading about the construction of the tabernacle, there three different places where the images of Cherubim appear. (From Rabbi Fohrman/AlephBeta). They appear on the Yeriot—the outer Curtains of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:1), on the Parochet—the Veil separating the Holy place from the Holy of Holies (Ex 26:31), and lastly, on the Kaporet —the covering for the Ark of the Covenant. (Ex 25:18-22) Why in these 3 different places? When God created the universe, we read about 3 times God “divided” something. He separated light from darkness, He separated between the firmaments, and He separated day from night. God had to create separation in order for life to exist, as we know it. Rabbi Fohrman writes, “God made a world for us, a universe for us. God carved out a little bit of everything and made a little apartment specifically for us. God lives in the world beyond our own, in a world beyond space and time…God carved out a little piece of that – so that the one that He could love would be able to live.” God carved out a place in His “world” in order for our world to be able to exist.

If God created a world for us and we were “created to emulate God,” as Rabbi Fohrman says, then shouldn’t we reciprocate what God has done for us? Continuing with this thought, Rabbi Fohrman writes, “God made a little apartment for us in His everything. We call that our universe. We reciprocate by making a little apartment for Him; we call that the Tabernacle, the Mishkan.”We are “returning the favor” so to say, in building a structure to invite God into our realm. The 3 places in the tabernacle represent 3 different levels of sanctity and separation, which ultimately allow mankind to meet with God. Not only do we have 3 different places mentioning the Cherubim, at the beginning of this portion we also have the word “Terumah—Heave Offering” mentioned 3 times. This word is used in relation to people’s contributions to the work of the Tabernacle, but the significance of 3 mentions shouldn’t be lost; Cherubim in 3 places and Offerings taking place 3 times.

The tabernacle represents different levels that each person should attempt to attain in life.The Ramchal writes, “Each mention of ‘Terumah’ (Heave-offering) alludes to another step in rectifying the physical world and making it fit for ‘Kedusha’ (Holiness) to reside in it.” The word “Terumah—Heave-offering” hints at the idea of “lifting or elevating.” We are called to elevate the world by bringing God to the world and the world to God.The world is in a state of perpetual “Tumah—Impurity.” We are called to elevate the world. The Tabernacle gives us the blueprint.The first Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the outer Yeriot—Curtain of the Tabernacle. This first transition is from impurity to the point of the mundane or the ordinary. The normal way God created the world to exist.The second Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the Parochet—Veil separating the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. This next “step” that we must make transitions us from the ordinary and mundane to Kedusha—Holiness. This is a state in which God can dwell with man on earth.The third and final Terumah—Elevation Offering corresponds to the Kaporet —the lid of the Ark of the Covenant upon which are the Cherubim. This is when we begin to develop from the state of Kedusha—Holiness, to the place of Kodesh Kodeshim—Holy of Holies. It is at this point that God and man can once again be intimate on the deepest of levels. Ramchal writes that God “wishes for the world to rise as high as possible – to the level of Kodesh Kodeshim (Holy of Holies)”In the Tabernacle there were 4 items.

The first 3 items were found in the large outer chamber known as the “Holy Place,” while the last item was found beyond the veil in the Holy of Holies. The 3 items, the Menorah, the Incense Altar and the Table of Show-Bread in the larger chamber represent our intellectual capacities. It is only after we arrive at an intellectual consciousness of God that we can explore and proceed to the next level = beyond the veil. The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that the Holy of Holies represents the place where “not only our intellect but our entire being is engulfed in Divine consciousness.” What is beyond the veil is not necessarily anything that we could logically comprehend. However, it is the place where we can fully experience the wonderfully mysterious and mystifying God of wonders. It is not a place we can enter, only God Himself could remove the veil and show Himself to the world. What we can do is bring the world to a place of complete “Kodesh Kodeshim—Holy of Holies.” As God Himself said, “I will meet with you, and I will speak with you.” Where? In the Holy of Holies! May we all work to see the entire world soon merit to be like the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle = a place fitting for God’s Divine Presence and may we soon hear the proclamation, “The whole earth is full of His glory!”

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

Parsha Mishpatim Exodus 21:1-24:18

I grew up hearing the familiar saying “the devil is in the details.” What I didn’t know until recently however, is that this saying was formed based on another saying which happens to be much older. The foundation for the saying “the devil is in the details” turns out to be a quote created by an unknown author that states “Der liebe Gott steckt im detail” which translates from German as “God is in the detail.” I believe this portion helps us understand this idea very clearly. It is God that is to be found and revealed through the minute aspects of life, creation and the universe. The only reason “the devil is in the details” is because he works to disrupt the order of God’s design. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z’TL, “The Parsha Mishpatim, with its detailed rules and regulations, can sometimes seem an anticlimax after the breathtaking grandeur of the revelation at Sinai. It should not be. Parsha Yitro (last week’s portion containing the 10 commandments) contains the vision, but God is in the details. Without vision, law is blind, but without the details, the vision floats in heaven. With them, the Divine Presence is brought down to earth, where we need it most.”

The combination of these two portions gives us practical guidance and future vision. It is impossible to bring “heaven to earth” without the practical, everyday instructions found in this week’s Torah portion. This portion tells us, in no uncertain terms that “The twin concepts of righteousness and justice stand like pillars at the center of Torah…God loves righteousness and justice. He desires them more than sacrifice. They support His throne, which is founded upon them. (Psalm 89:14)” By FFOZ. Yet, God on His throne is interested in the affairs of men, as the Psalmist says, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Psalm 113 tells us that God, “[He] humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth. He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap…” 

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger in his book “Sparks from the Fire” writes about these verses in Psalm 113. He says, “The rest of the world only seeks spirituality in the Heavens, but we see it in the fields and marketplaces of This World…when ‘seekers of G-d’ ask where Hashem is, they look to the sky for answers. They believe He is ‘out there’ somewhere… Unlike the nations of the world, we say of Hashem’s greatness, ‘He lowers Himself to look at the Heavens and the earth, [H]e lifts up the destitute from the dust and raises the poor from the trash heaps.’ 

Hashem is even greater than the nations think He is. They believe He is only in the highest Heavens. But we know that He is so great that He also sits in the trash heaps of the confusion of our lives in order to raise us up.” The greatness of God is what allows Him to encounter us even when we are in our lowest of states. He encountered the entire nation of Israel when they were living in one of the lowest and impure times of Jewish history, Egyptian slavery. He gave the Torah to the Israelite nation so they could rise, ascend and live in way which leads to life.
Ja
Of the 53 different instructions listed here in this portion, I would like to expound on two in particular. They happen to be only a few verses apart from one another, in the same chapter, Exodus 23. The first of these commandments states, “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil” (Verse 2). Rabbeinu Bachya writes in his commentary concerning this verse “the plain meaning of these words is that even if you see a vast majority of people acting in a forbidden manner, do not make the fact that they constitute the norm an excuse to follow in their footsteps.” In our world today there are many evil and/or morally wrong things that have become cultural norms. Adultery is now called “a consensual relationship,” abortion is called “pro-choice,” and freedom to express Judeo-Christian values is called “hate speech.” The system of world pressure has led to the degrading of the very founding bedrock of God’s Word, and yet believers in the God of Israel remain silent so as not to offend.

Earlier this week I was talking to my Dad about the political situation in the USA. I began to pose the question “How do we reintroduce Biblical values into America without sounding too much like Bible-thumpers?” I stopped mid-question. This in fact is our problem. If we believe that the Bible is God’s Word and it brings life and truth to those who follow it, then why has it become so hard to say “I do/believe something because the Bible tells me so?”Medicine, Science, Art, Math…everything in the world points to God and in turn, the truth of His Word. Perhaps we do not “follow a crowd to do evil,” but are we silent all the same? Dennis Prager, in his Torah commentary on Exodus writes, “One of the saddest facts of the human condition is that most people follow the herd…people tend to act worse in groups than when alone. The herd, not to mention the mob, emboldens people to do bad things they would rarely do if they had no such support.” He later goes on to write, “It is a lot safer to side with an immoral majority.” If the “immoral majority” cannot get a person to side with them, then their tactic is to silence and embarrass those who might have the audacity to oppose them; and because they are the majority, their tactics generally work. “But anyone who appreciates that the most important thing in the world is to do the will of the Almighty will not be impressed by the fact that many people are doing something (else).” (From Book: “Growth through Torah”) Those who recognize the will of God is more important than any fading fad won’t be deterred even when going up against all the hordes of evil found in today’s world.

The statement “Well done good and faithful servant” is sweeter to the sons and daughters of God than any pat-on-the-back from an evil crowd.The second commandment I wanted to write about from this portion comes from verse 4 and 5 of Exodus 23. It says, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Dennis Prager, in his commentary clarifies, “By ‘enemy’ the Torah is referring to personal enemies, not to enemies in the sense of evil people with whom one may be at war.” If a person has a personal enemy, this doesn’t give that person a license to allow an innocent animal to suffer just because they’re at odds with the animal’s master. According to the Sages “there is an absolute obligation to return the animal, even if it flees one hundred times.” (Talmud. Bava Metzia 31a) If humans are worth much more than animals, shouldn’t our attempts at making things right with our enemy be all the more important to us? Here it states, “if [an animal] flees one hundred times” we still must return the animal to its rightful owner, even if we are enemies. Our Master Yeshua, in Matthew 18 was once asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” This was his reply, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Basically what he was saying was, “learn to forgive.” For if we held 490 grudges against a specific person, that couldn’t be called forgiveness. I was talking to a friend about this week’s portion and he brought up a great point that set my mind to thinking. If we believe that God directs our life and everything comes from His hand, then coming across the animal of our enemy, straying or in distress, is not our ‘good fortune’ to be cruel to the animal of our enemy, rather, it is a ‘God ordained’ moment in which we can choose to forget our past bad history and perhaps be reconciled through this instance.”

In the Talmud we read one of the most famous of stories concerning the destruction of the Temple. “During the 1 century, a wealthy man sent his servant to deliver a party invitation to his friend; A man by the name of Kamsa. However, the servant mistook the recipient as Bar Kamsa, an enemy of the wealthy man. At the party, the wealthy man saw the hated Bar Kamsa at his table and ordered him to leave. Bar Kamsa, attempting to save face, offered to make peace with the host, first he offers to pay for the food he eats, then for half of the expenses of the party, and then for the entire party, but each time he is rebuffed by the angry host. Bar Kamsa is so humiliated that he vows to have revenge against the rabbis present who did not defend his honor and instead allowed him to be publicly embarrassed. Bar Kamsa visits the Roman Caesar who controls the region and tells him the Jews are inciting to revolt against the Roman Empire. The Caesar, unsure of whether to believe Bar Kamsa, sends an animal to be sacrificed as a peace offering in the Temple in Jerusalem along with Bar Kamsa. On the way, Bar Kamsa purposefully slightly wounds the animal in a way that would disqualify it as a Jewish sacrifice. The Caesar becomes incensed and sends an entire army to lay siege to Jerusalem, eventually leading to its downfall in the year 70 C.E. The Temple was destroyed and the Jews were exiled from the land.” 

(Based on the storyline found on Wikipedia) Why? All because two enemies could not be reconciled; the wealthy host could have seen the moment he first laid eyes on Bar Kamsa as a “God-ordained-moment” in which he could extend forgiveness and friendship. Instead, it led to the destruction of a nation.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a story in the Midrash. “Two donkey drivers who hated each other were walking on the road when one of the donkeys lay down under its burden. His companion saw it, and at first he passed on. But then he reflected: Is it not written in the Torah, ‘When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden…you must [] raise it with him.’ So he returned, lent a hand, and helped his enemy in loading and unloading. They began talking. ‘Release a bit here, pull p over there, unload over here.’ Thus peace came about between them, so that the driver of the overloaded donkey said to himself, ‘Did I not suppose that he hated me? But look how compassionate he was with me.’ They entered an inn, ate and drank together, and became close friends.” Why? All because one enemy remembered and kept the words of Torah.
Dennis Prager writes, “Treat a personal enemy with fairness and respect, and the person might well find it impossible to remain an enemy.” One last thing about relating to enemies; Rabbi Sacks Z’TL writes in his commentary, “There is something distinctive about the Torah’s approach to hatred and enemies. It is realistic rather than utopian. It does not say, ‘Love your enemies.’ It says, help him…the Torah says, when your enemy is in trouble, come to his assistance…That is a practical way of moving beyond hate.” Our Master, Yeshua’s words, “Love your enemy” have unfortunately been gotten to the point to where they have become utopian and unrealistic. Why? Because we love the idea but hate the process. We are called to a life of aspiration and practical application. All in all, do not “follow a crowd to do evil,” instead, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”May we all become knowers of God and bright lights to this generation!

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel